The Rebellious Writer: Talk to People

In the vein of being a rebellious writer, I have another piece of non-advice (as in a piece of advice that I am stating but not shouting on the top of my lungs) for all writers out there.

Talk to people. Do not bring your notebook with you. Bring yourself, and only yourself.

A very classy thing many writers are doing, or saying that they are doing, is bringing a notebook everywhere with them. The store, the party, the library. Everywhere! Some people take them for stray ideas that come in the most irritating places. Some people are actually working on their stories. Though I will admit it is a great excuse to hide my face from socializing. And one has the rush of ‘getting things done’. Here we are, multi tasking even at a social event!

My dear writing friend. Please leave the writing notebook at home. The things you will miss will far outweigh the words you gain.

Here recently I had the immense privilege of listening in on a conversation about a way of life far outside my own. I know the things I learned about cash crops will make its way into a novel. It was too interesting not to! Though I could have been sitting there surreptitiously writing down what they were saying. I chose not to. For one, I had left my notebook in the car, and for two, I would have lost the flow of the conversation if I had.

There may be people out there who can somehow listen and write at the same time, I am not one of those people. I can either listen, or I can write. Never the twain shall meet. I would have lost so much of that conversation if I had written things down. Things like facial expressions, hand gestures, and tones of voice. So much of human conversation is through non verbal gestures, what would I have missed if I had missed those cues?

I know that as a writer, there are some things I will have to give up and just not worry about. But writing while someone is talking, especially while I am in the conversation, is considered rude in many circles. Just about as bad as scrolling through a phone. Either way, the person is not paying full attention to the conversation. It irritates me to know end when someone is not listening to my words, how do other people feel when I pull out my notebook?

About a week ago I had a conversation with an extremely interesting person. I listened rapt to all of his experiences in working and life. We talking about education, and finding a job, among other things. Hello story ideas. And I never would have learned any of that, if I had kept my head buried in my own world.

People are interesting. But you will never know why unless you talk to them. Or if you listen to them. In the first example I mentioned, I spent the whole conversation listening. And that was all. I do realize that there are people who find starting conversations scary. After all, I am one of them.

Consider this a challenge to truly pay attention wherever you are and whatever you are doing. It doesn’t matter whether you are speaking or listening. I think the notebook, and the flurry of writing notes, is a distraction to the conversation going on.

Leave the notebook at home. Listen and interact with real life people. You will have ideas. Listening to people is one of the best ways I have found to get inspiration. Soak those interesting people in. Pay attention and find out their why’s, their motivations. After all, as writers we are trying to create characters who resonate with others, not just a quirky character who only exists to be quirky.

Shaina Merrick

The Rebellious Writer: I’m Taking a Break

No, I am not actually taking a break from blogging. Not a planned one anyway. You never know what could happen on Tuesdays…

If you are a writer, you know what Writers Block is. It is not an actual wooden block sitting on your fingers and cackling at your bleary eyes. This is much, much worse. A wall inside of your brain keeping you from the words. Or at least the good words. There are no ideas, nothing worth writing at all in your brain. Just a wall, taunting you with its despicable firmness.

And how do we get rid of Writers Block? “By writing of course!” Say the chirpy writers with a cute notebook in hand. “Just keep slogging away,” intone the serious writers dressed in black and a faraway look in their eyes.

I tried. The wall has been a constant companion in my journey as a writer, and I have chipped away at it, day after slogging day, hoping that someday I will reach the end.

Did I ever reach the end? Sometimes. I would also be five thousand words in to an unnecessary series of scenes that would need to be cut. The only reason they existed was to get me out of Writers Block. Cutting out all those words you just slaved over is depressing.

Or, if I was lucky enough to write words that kind of go with the story, they would have to be completely rewritten because they are, in all honesty, trash.

Yes I said trash, about my own writing. Don’t gasp so loud, I can hear you.

I don’t write well while I have Writers Block. Big surprise. The wall is just too intimidating, too big. And I got really sick of forcing the words to come. I know writing isn’t easy. But does it have to feel like torture?

So I stopped the torture. I stopped staring at the wall day after day and did something else entirely. I guess you could say I gave up. Which let me say right here and now was only possible because I don’t have a writing contract. No one is depending upon me to write thousands of words a week. Thank goodness!

I didn’t completely give up on my ridiculous novel, just took a really, really long break. I checked in on the wall every now and then, just to see if it was still there. Yep still big, yep still big, yep still… Hey, I’ve got an idea!

And just like that, the wall was gone. I was past Writers Block, and with a lot less headache than normal.

Sitting there and putting words on a page isn’t necessarily going to make Writers Block magically disappear. It isn’t The formula, just a formula. And I for one don’t find it useful.

Stories aren’t made up of formulas. They are made up of imagination, starry eyes, and something no one can put their finger on. Stuffing your story, and the creation of your story, into formulas will smother it.

So don’t. Don’t buy into the idea that you have to/must sit down and conquer Writers Block. Do your brain a favor and step back. Let your creative juices steep and simmer. Maybe you have been staring at the same black and white words for too long. Tried to wring something interesting from the same old ideas one too many times.

Get into the sunshine and see some color. Ideas don’t just come from other stories. They also come from sunshine and people and real life experiences. Take a break. It can be as long or as short as you would like. However I would recommend you stay away until thinking of writing doesn’t make you cringe inside. When you have an idea, when you are ready to pick up your story again, that is the time to come back.

So get out there and do something that doesn’t smell like writing!

In other news, I reached 101 followers on this little blog! Thanks guys, I never thought I would get this far. Honest.

Shaina Merrick

The Rebellious Writer: What’s in a Name?

I hate naming my characters. The whole process is a head achy bother. While some authors happily scour baby naming books for that perfect name, I flip through the pages with a scowl. And finding names that mean something in particular? That sounds like torture.

I didn’t used to be this way. A long time ago I slammed random letters together and made up all the names I pleased. In the ensuing years, I have either gotten wiser, or lazier. I haven’t totally decided which. But I never, even in those years, liked searching for a name.

Nowadays, if you listen to all the writers, names are one of the most important things about a character. For some authors, they don’t have the character until they have the name, and for others, it completes the character.

To all that I say phooey. Why name your characters? Ernest Hemingway didn’t in ‘The Old Man and the Sea’. His character had a name, that was used all of once. The rest of the time, he was known as the ‘old man’. And the other character was ‘the boy’. No names, but you knew who they were perfectly.

And have you ever had this conversation? “I really like this one character, he is so nice, and the one time he saved his best friends was epic. What was his name again?”

How many times have you forgotten a characters name, but you did like the character? Probably more times than you can count. What you remember is what he or she did and said.

In my own writing, I don’t name a character until it is absolutely necessary. When I have no other choice but to come up with a name. And then I might.

In all honesty, I wrote an entire novella without one single name. No one had a name, only descriptors. I don’t think any of my characters suffered from a lack of a name, they trotted along just as well without one.

So really, what is the importance of a name? It is not necessary for the character. They can develop just as well without one. And since I don’t really need one, I suppose I don’t need any of those special ones either. The ones that mean a billion things all at once that perfectly match my story. Ain’t happenin’ folks.

Though I suppose they can be helpful for the reader to keep track of who is who. But isn’t that what a descriptor is for?

Okay okay, in all seriousness, we probably shouldn’t drop names altogether. As much as I would like to. I think all our readers would revolt. My current novel would be a wash of pronouns and confusion.

I just wonder if they are truly the big deal some writers make them. They are not strictly necessary to the character or the novel.

Now if finding the perfect name for a character gives you a thrill, then don’t let me stop you! However, if you are anything like me, and naming people and things are a chore, let this blog post be your excuse not to. Or at least, to procrastinate it longer than you already have.

You’re welcome.

Shaina Merrick

The Rebellious Writer: In Defense of Purple Prose

If you have been writing for any amount of time, you have most likely heard this phrase. Purple prose, the bane of every writers existence. A catch all word for any time an author is writing just for the sake of writing. There isn’t a reason for the paragraph or page (or chapter, looking at you Victor Hugo) of words and description. It is there because the author thought it sounded pretty.

Boring!

Or so they say anyway.

Writing advice now tells us to slash all bits of purple prose out of our writing, to take out anything that doesn’t have three different reasons to exist. Every phrase, every paragraph, must have a purpose other than to look pretty.

On the surface, the advice sounds great! Of course I don’t want to info dump, or to bore my readers with descriptions of characters and places that may or may not have anything to do with my novel.

But then I wonder, what would happen to a classic novel if I did that?

Far From the Madding Crowd would be a short story. O Pioneers would cease to exist. Both are chock full of lavish descriptions that only have loose ties to the story. Do those bits of purple prose have to be in those novels? Absolutely not, the story would go right along without them.

But so would half of their fans. We love those stories because of the descriptions, because of the way they were written, sometimes just as much as what was written. Can you imagine Fahrenheit 451 without the streams of thought and wonderings about the world? It would be a completely different story.

These stories were defined by their beautiful prose, and I think that if we took that out, those stories would cease to be beautiful as well.

The point of purple prose is to be beautiful. And when it shows up, it makes a story beautiful as well.

No no, I am not advocating info dumps, or random descriptions thrown in at random times. Unless of course you are Victor Hugo or Thomas Hardy, who can do whatever they want and still become famous.

What I am trying to say, is that prose is worthwhile. Writing for the sake of words is why we became writers in the first place. In essence, to write is to have a love affair with words. Prose is what makes our bare bones of a story into a work of art. The color in the picture.

Prose is where the voice of the writer comes into play. How you write descriptions and explain characters is uniquely your own. If you follow the bare minimum, your story will sound like a million other stories out there. Prose is what makes it stand out from all the rest.

So don’t be afraid of it. Throw in a bit of purple prose. Write because the words are pretty. If it ends up being too much, there is always the backspace.

Shaina Merrick

The Rebellious Writer and World Building

Conventional writing wisdom comes in many forms. What you read in articles, writing tips you find on Pinterest, and the advice you heard first hand from your writing partners. Put it all together, and you are told something like this.

‘Show, don’t tell. Unless it’s the backstory, then don’t show any bit of it. Though you have to plan the backstory, down to what your protagonists three year old self preferred for breakfast. You also need to plot out the backstory for all of your other characters down to the same excruciating detail. During this process, don’t forget to figure out the world while you are at it. Include as much history as you have time for. Typically at least five generations back.’

It goes on and on like this. ‘More is better’ is stuffed into every new writers brain. Detail is praised to the heavens, and if anyone dares to argue, a dozen authors swivel their heads around and glare at you. ‘Don’t you want to be a good writer?’ Uuuuum. Yes?

I could tell you that I have a naturally inquisitive mind, and like to consider all of my options before settling on one thing. In reality, I am rebellious. When conventional writing wisdom tells me I have to do something, I say ‘Ha!’ And go try to find my way around it.

Sometimes, I admit defeat and follow the advice. There is a reason some of it has been around for as long as it has. There is no way around those grammar rules guys. I tried, I succumbed, I am now teaching myself the secret language of grammar.

However! Story rules are not set in stone, and they are broken all the time!

For example…

There are those who say that you have to world build forever before you start writing. And by forever, I mean you have to know what has happened in your world for forever. Plan the legends, the races your characters will never see, and find out why the grass is green.

They have a point. Great epics like Lord of the Rings, and The Wheel of Time, have extensive world building. Those worlds are big enough to house multiple civilizations, and histories that are longer than ours. The hours and hours of world building I am sure they spent on their novels paid off. The world is breathtaking.

Here is the part where I raise my hand and say, ‘Wait!’

While world building is all well and good, you don’t have to do hours and hours of it to have an epic story.

Where are the legends of old in Narnia? There are some, a story here and there, but no where near the epics of the Wheel of Time.

What about the Prydain Chronicles? I don’t think the constellations are even mentioned, and as for legends. Not so much.

The world building in those two epic series is nowhere near as vast as the other series. And did the series suffer? No! Narnia is one of the classics we all study, and the Prydain Chronicles is called one of the founders of American fantasy. In fact, it is one of my favorite series ever.

They don’t have so much world building because they don’t need it. It wasn’t necessary to the story.

In The Wheel of Time, where every event is tied to the past and every character aware of the prophecies, not to have all that figured out and squared away would be silly. This series needed the lush, intricate world. Narnia did not.

More detail is not always better. If all the details given in Lord of the Rings was given in the Prydain Chronicles, the magic of those stories would have been lost.

Sure, you will always need some world building. You should decide if the grass is actually green in your world after all. But your story may not need pages upon pages of your worlds history.

You are not trying to make another Middle Earth. You are trying to build your world, where your characters will live and breath and have adventures. What does your world need?

Are your characters delving into the past to find a cure or a historic document? Then figure out your worlds history! Are your characters running for their lives in the mountains? Then by all means figure out in excruciating detail what plants grow there. After all, one of those plants might come in handy when you need to defeat the villain.

But if you are in the mountains for the whole novel, do you need to map out the eco system of the ocean? Or decide what the architecture is of the villages in the plains? No, no you don’t.

More detail is not better. Rather, the right detail is better. This isn’t going to stunt your novel, it is going to give it room to breathe.

Shaina Merrick

What do you think of world building? Do you do a lot? A little? I’m curious, am I the only one who dies inside everytime she looks at those sheets upon sheets of world building questions? (writer problems) Let me know in the comments below!