Author Archives: Raven

Enter Stage Right

Whenever someone says “I’m a writer,” they’re not telling you very much. They could be saying “I write short stories,” “I write poems,” or “I write essays for my high school English class.” The fact of the matter is that there is a huge range of writers, from those focusing on short stories to essays to everything in between. One type of writing that tends to go over the heads of most people is script writing. Unless you are a script writer or you’ve been involved in theater, you’ve likely not had much to do with this aspect of writing. Unfortunately, you’re undervaluing a major part of our society. Without scripts, there would be no television shows, no movies, no plays, no musicals. A great deal of your entertainment hinges on scripts and the people who write them.

There is a huge variety in script writing, just as there is in novel writing and poem writing. They can be incredibly formal, with every move charted out. They can also be no more than just a scribbled note of who stands where and who says what. You’ve probably written one of these informal scripts. If you’ve had to give a presentation in class, you’ve scripted your speech. If  you’ve made a Youtube video (that’s not impromptu), you’ve scripted that. Scripting is not hard to do.

However, it is hard write a good script. Script writing is something that anyone can do but not anyone can do well. Some things to consider:

  • One must be doubly aware of the basic mechanics of script writing. The average person rarely reads scripts, so it is unlikely that you will have a great enough familiarity with scripts to be able to write one just by imitation. Therefore, you should take the opportunity to read as many scripts as possible and study the basic format of a script.
  • Know the terms used in script writing. Do you know what a crawl is? Or a swish pan? Do you know how to use an establishing shot? Read up on the terminology used in script writing. Make sure you understand how these things are used in the script and how they translate to the performance.
  • Know the differences between types of scripts. There are different formats for scripting a play as opposed to an episode of Friends or a movie. Filmed and performed scripts are read differently. You have to have a grasp on your story and how it would best be translated into reality. Know the pros and cons of each kind of script.

These points are more important than anything. Before you can get anywhere in script writing, you need to have a solid grounding. Without that, it won’t matter one bit how great your understanding of diction or characterization or story flow.


A Certain Sensitivity

There are certain subjects that, in many social circles, are considered taboo. Some people will treat these subjects insultingly or cruelly. Some will misrepresent or dismiss them. Still others will, in response to others’ treatments, ignore any objective view of the subjective, defending them boldly, bravely, and blindly against everyone. Controversial topics are often avoided due to these treatments, and thus, we develop a certain sensitivity to them. When reading about topics such as racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, and more, we unconsciously look for any nuance that may or may not indicate a “wrong” bias towards the issue. We seek any excuse to cry foul. Whether we realize it or not, our society’s past handlings of controversial topics has encouraged us to expect nothing but biased, high-handed insults, and so we label an innocent piece as “racist” or “sexist” without ever really reading it. (Then, too, there are works that really are racist or sexist.) Yes, there are those who can look past that and see what is really being said. But there are also those (myself included) who, upon seeing that a work deals with a controversial topic, proceed warily, expecting to meet with misinformation, ignorance, and hate.

Now, this puts a writer in a very difficult position. When taking on a controversial topic, we can pick one of three sides: for it, against it, or neutral. Obviously, each position will have opposition. If you take one side definitively, then the other side will turn up their nose or openly condemn you. If you stay neutral, then you risk both sides arguing over what you’re “really” saying and condemning you for being “afraid to take a side.” I’ll warn you now: You can’t please everyone. The best you can do is take your position and stick with it. A controversial topic has that name for a reason.

There is  one thing that I cannot stress enough, though, when dealing with one of these topics. No matter what side you do or don’t take, always treat the subject, the people being discussed, and the other half of the argument with respect and tact. In every issue, there are at least two sides. Two sides that deeply believe they are right. Two sides who are looking for every opportunity to claim insult from their opponent’s own words. If you are writing about such an issue in fiction, then you have a unique position of needing to know, at least on a cursory level, both sides of an issue. You must be able to represent both sides accurately, not just present your own position in a good light and demonize everything else. Realistic representation lends credibility to your characters and plot which will bring the work to life.

There are some things that must remember when writing though. First, don’t beat your audience over the head with your “racism is bad” message. Subtlety is key. Show your readers the evidence they need to come to the conclusion you want. An author can manipulate the reader to see what they see, hear what they hear, and feel what they feel. Take advantage of this. Your readers like to believe they are in control, and having your message spelled bluntly makes them feel you’ve insulted their intelligence. This is bad, and they will instinctively shy away from your work.

Second, there are likely people who disagree with your side of an issue who will start to read your work. Unless you want to completely clear out a portion of your readerbase, you want to not offend these people. Doing this involves my first point very heavily: be subtle about your message and let your reader come to your conclusion without being told. Just as important is to address the topic in a way that shows you understand both positions and are not blatantly misrepresenting one.

Third, separate any disagreement of an idea or position from people, especially people you know. So, don’t insert Evil Character B (who happens to be just like your nemesis in real life) and portrayed him as the epitome of evil or stupidity due to not having the same view as your Awesome Main Character of Good.

Fourth, don’t use biased language when addressing the topic. Biased language gives no acknowledgement that the other side deserves respect. It thrives on insults and literary fallacies, leaving innumerable loopholes in any representation you make. Obviously, not all language that takes a definitive stance is biased; the difference is that biased language puts the focus on detracting from opposition and appearing high and mighty while stanced writing puts the focus on upholding your own side without stooping to dirty tricks.

Fifth, be accurate. I know that we’re all (more or less) very passionate about certain subjects, and this can lead some of us to deliberately misrepresent one or both sides. Don’t do this. Anyone who is reasonably informed on your topic will spot it a mile away and know that you haven’t done your homework.

And, because I have been working on this post for two hours, I think I have exhausted myself  on this potentially controversial topic.

Happy writing, everyone.

There’s a Reason It’s Called “Work”

((Note: This does not refer to the differences between creative writings and essay/report writing, just the distinction between voluntary and assigned writing.))

Everyone writes. There’s no exception to this anymore, not with education being offered and required all over the world. However, the fact that everyone writes does not mean that everyone is a writer. A writer enjoys her work. She writes because it is an action that engages her mind in a pleasing fashion (yes, even when we’re crying over having to kill off a character, it is still a pleasurable act. We are sadistic creatures). She chooses to write and probably does so frequently. When other people see a writer constantly putting pen to paper, they naturally assume that said writer is a freak of nature and enjoys writing anything and everything. Thus, it’s unheard of for a writer to dislike writing for assignments. After all, we writers are so addicted to the written word, we’ll write anything. Right?

BZZZZ!!! Wrong!

Writers are finicky. We write when, where, and what we want to write, and sometimes we still don’t do so (no, I don’t understand it either). With an assignment, all of those choices a writer cherishes are suddenly stripped away. The teacher chooses everything. Subject. Due date. Format. When you can and can’t work on the assignment in class. Depending on your grade level and the teacher’s leniency, you have to deal with content and length limitations. And in the back of your mind, there’s always that hovering knowledge that you have write something with a standard good enough to get a good grade, instead of writing something that you think is good. The work becomes stifling and boring. It’s not something you love, and that shows very clearly in the finished product.

Of course, a non-writer might not understand this distinction. It’s all writing; it should be fun for a writer. Your non-writerly friends might sneer disbelievingly or brush off your comments when you talk about how much you dislike the assignment or can’t get motivated. You’re a writer. You’re not allowed to complain about writing. Ever. Well, when this happens, you can feel free to tell them it’s just as hard, if not harder, for you to write for an assignment than it is for them. I’ll tell you why.

Non-writers have spent their whole academic lives learning how to write in exactly the way that their teachers expect them to write. They don’t have to juggle the way they know how to write with the way they like to write. Writers do. We have expanded our writing abilities and habits beyond what is required in an academic setting. We know different styles and techniques of writing. We address different subjects in different ways. We have experience writing in a setting where we are the ones to determine our writing. While non-writers must rise to the challenge of an assignment, we writers must instead stoop, twist, and bend over backwards to stay inside the limits of these same assignments.

Writers have learned to think and live outside the written box. Non-writers think and live within it. While they learn to grow and stretch to fill that box, we must constrict ourselves to stay inside it.

It’s hard. Of course it is. But  that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Just like we practice writing for ourselves, perhaps we should practice writing for assignments as well. Give yourself an assigned writing. Plan the due date, the genre, and the level of maturity (cursing, violence, gore, sex, etc.). If you get used to writing for your own limitations, then it will be easier to write for your school’s limitations. That’s not to say you should make all your writing assigned; just make some of them assigned. But a good balance between limited and unlimited writing will develop your abilities more widely than if you only write without limitations.

Here’s an assignment for you to get started:

Time Limit: Two weeks

Genre: Mystery

Maturity: PG-13

Happy writing, everyone.

Hello, Muse. Good to see you again.

You’ve all heard of the muse: that which inspires an artist to create. It is the thing that ferrets out a single gem of an idea and coaxes it to blossom into a true story. When you cannot think of a single thing to write, your muse opens the door to inspiration. The muse manifests itself in different ways for different people. For some, it is a person, such as a family member, friend, or significant other. For others, it might be a place, a song, a book, or any object. It could be an activity. It could be anything. You can also have multiple muses. Perhaps you listen to happy songs when you want to write something happy, but reading a sad passage of your favorite book might inspire more melancholy words. There is no muse that has more or less merit than another; they’re all unique and on equal levels. You should recognize that and not limit yourself to one muse nor ridicule another’s muse when it is different from yours.

Now, I urge you to think for a moment. The last time you had an idea for a story, where were you? What were you doing? Who were you talking to or listening to? What was being said and how? What were you looking at?

If you don’t already know what acts as your muse, these questions are useful. Knowing what naturally inspires you is the key to being able to conjure inspiration, not at will, but at least more reliably than just “waiting for it to come to you.” Sometimes, you have to go looking for inspiration. How you use your muse, though…that’s a little trickier. I can’t tell you how to make your muse work. Inspiration isn’t a thing that you can threaten, bludgeon, or trap to get what you want. Inspiration is notoriously hard to trap; it slips through your fingers like mist. It doesn’t respond well to threats, merely runs and hides, cowering in a secret place. Bludgeoning just results in a dead muse. So how does this work, this muse?

You must be gentle and kind. Relaxed, but not quite passive. Be receptive to what’s around you. Don’t analyze. Don’t focus all your attention on it. Just enjoy it. Let your mind wander and go where it will. That’s natural. That’s the whole point. Your muse, essentially, is a tool that will remove the inhibitions you have built up over the years.

Do you remember when you were a child? You had so many ideas for stories that you couldn’t write them all down. You didn’t have to search for inspiration; it was just there. As you got older, you learned what the people around you expected. You had certain expectations that you had to meet, and to be honest, creativity isn’t usually one of them (even art and music classes limit your creativity). When you’ve assimilated all the things that you’re supposed to conform to, there’s no room left for your mind to be saturated openly in creativity. Your mind is regulated, and that makes it harder to find stories. Your muse, though, can work in two ways. You can either be relaxed to the point where your mind pulls down the walls that separate your regulated thoughts from your unregulated, creative thoughts, letting your creativity mingle peacefully all throughout your thoughts (this would be sparked most likely by music, art, etc.). Or you could be stimulated to break through the walls separating your thought and latch onto a streak of creativity that mirrors your muse (this would be more likely caused by a phrase you hear or a passage you read in a book, where the jump from muse to idea is pretty quick). One your muse has opened up your mind, it will steer your consciousness toward an idea that closely matches it.

Please note that I’m not a psychologist. This isn’t “officially” or “scientifically” what happens with your muse. This is simply what I’ve observed and what it seems like to me. The music that I listen to relaxes me and helps me to shut out the world and how the world has taught me to think. My thoughts wander toward an idea that I latch onto, develop, and write down.

Your muse doesn’t always work though. It won’t always throw ideas at you. This is normal. You may be too stressed by work/school/life/etc. or burned out from periods of hardcore writing to do anything new. That’s okay. Take a break. Go for a walk, read a book, let your friends know you haven’t forgotten them. It’s fine. Don’t worry. You can always try again later.

Happy writing, everyone. I hope your muses all decide to be helpful.

Fair warning: This next bit may seem a little schizophrenic. I apologize.

This is for when your usual muses aren’t working.

If you’ve gone for a long, long time without writing and can’t think of anything to write, I have an idea that may help (or it may just be fun). I’ve seen a lot of writers online talking about their muses in a way that’s unlike what I’ve been talking about here. They talk as though their muse is an actual person (or persons) inside their head, talking to them, encouraging them, guiding them, etc. Their Muse is a person completely separate from them. I personally think that if you honestly believe there’s a person inside your head apart from yourself, that’s not just a “writerly quirk,” and you need to talk to someone about it. However, I have experienced a time where none of my traditional muses were working, so I wrote a little conversation between myself and my “inner Muse.” It doesn’t matter if you believe in inner Muses; this is a way of temporarily personifying that inner self of you that is in charge of your inspiration. You’re turning yourself into a fictional character briefly to organize your thoughts and try to figure out why you’re not feeling inspired.

I can’t guarantee that this will be helpful in any way. It’s just something I thought I’d share (partly because it’s fun and is a good way to practice writing honest dialogue).

Happy writing, y’all. I’m out.

He said. She said. I said. You said.

Point of view is not the single most important thing in your story. Choosing between first and third person is, essentially, a minor point of contention when compared to the more far-reaching consequences of plot and setting. However, point of view (POV) is also the very first thing that your readers will encounter. It is the lens through which a reader will see and experience the world you have created, and it never goes away. It dictates your reader’s view of the story from beginning to end. So, the decision of which POV to use holds great weight in the long run.

Hunger has given you all a brief overview of the different types of POV.

  • First person (I, me, my)
  • Third person (he, she, they) – (This can be broken down into omniscient and limited. Omniscient means that the narrator has knowledge that the characters do not and that the narrator is not limited to the thoughts of a single character. Limited means the narrator is limited to one or two characters’ thoughts, but consequently, the reader doesn’t have information that the characters don’t have.)
  • Second person (you, your)

Each of these have their place, and peculiarities associated with each makes them well-suited to certain types of narratives. First person is especially useful for diaries and journals. Third person is suited best for stories with multiple main characters, dual plots (two separate plots being told in alternate chapters/sections), etc. Second person is rarely used, mostly because it is exceptionally difficult (and sometimes unwise) to tell a story as though it is occurring to the reader. Generally, such a story would be better-written in first or third person. One stunning example of second person is the Choose Your Own Adventure series. Feel free to Google it. (Henceforth, second person will not be referenced.)

Writers tend to have a certain POV that they prefer writing. Some feel that they write more convincingly in first person. Some feel that third person gives a better overview of plot. But sometimes, despite your predisposition, there are some stories that you know better lend themselves to a certain POV. You may begin writing third person and unconsciously switch to first person. Perhaps it’s a fluke, but if you keep doing so, it may be a sign that you unconsciously recognize that first person is more suited to this story. I, personally, prefer third person, but I recognize that first person is more appropriate in some instances. What I hope that everyone can see is that there is no ultimate POV that is always best to use in every circumstance. Each is dependent on many factors (including personal preference, natural flow, type of story, plot requirements, etc.), and each POV lends something different to a narrative.

I’d like you to try something that will, hopefully, let you see the merits of each type. Write a single scene in each POV. The same scene. The same things happen, but they are told in different ways. Let me show you.

First person: I could feel the cool breeze on my neck from the open window. It was warmer than it should have been for January, but at this moment I didn’t mind. It felt like spring; there was even the sound of lawnmowers far below. I let my mind wander, only half-listening as the professor droned on. A quick glance around the classroom told me that I was the only one that felt that way. There were a few people looking down at their notes, but most were gazing intently at the professor. I supposed I should have been looking in his direction too, but I was suddenly very tired. It had been a long day, and that breeze was absolutely wonderful. I leaned my chin heavily on my hand, trying to stay awake.

Third person: The sound of lawnmowers on the Quad drifted up to the second-floor classroom, clearly audible through the open windows. Several students had taken it upon themselves to hoist the glass panes up (one nearly falling through) to keep the room from becoming to stuffy. A good, cool breeze, far warmer than was normal for an early January day, would keep everyone awake enough to pay attention to the professor. At least, that was the mindset. For one girl, the open air had a different effect. As the class wound on, she found herself paying less and less attention to what was being said. Instead, the breeze on her neck was slowly dragging her mind to beautiful weather. What was so interesting about poetry anyway? She settled further into her desk, propping her head up on her hand. Her eyelids slid down, perilously close to being closed, but as she wasn’t disrupting class, no one bothered to prod her awake.

You get a different view of the situation each time, and it can help you to see which POV is more appropriate to the story you need to tell. Another way to perform this exercise would be to take a passage from a book (any book you like) and rewrite it in another POV. If it’s third person, write it in first person, or vice versa.

“Happy writing, everyone!” the author said cheerfully, quickly hitting ‘publish’ in the upper right corner. Another post well-written. Now, she just had to wait for the glowing replies to flow in.

(For the record, I’m not really that egocentric. xD No glowing reviews are necessary, though they are appreciated.)

Love is in the Air…

…wait. Wrong season. Isn’t spring the season of love? According to just about any book or movie or song you come across…no. No it isn’t.

These days, romance is like the salt and pepper of the entertainment industry. So you think you’ve got a good story? Good plot, good characters, good interaction. Just to be sure, let’s add in a little romance. If you feel your story is starting to slip a little, put in a lot of romance so hopefully no one will notice that the story’s not really going anywhere. You see the problem here, right? Romance, in itself, is not a bad thing. It can fit into any genre (slice-of-life, fantasy, sci-fi, western, dystopian, etc.). It can be a genre of its own. But when you put in too much–when the romance overpowers the plot–it starts to lose its appeal. Just like when a novice cook puts the entire shaker of salt into the omelet, novice writers often put too much romance into their stories. Even veteran writers do this.

Once again, romance isn’t a bad thing. Lots of people like to read and write romance. They like to feel what it’s like to be in love. But for the majority of books, the romance can stand to be toned down a bit. I don’t know about you, when I pick up a book about wizards, I want to read about magic and battles and struggles and the wonder of doing things mere mortals couldn’t dream of. I don’t want to read about how being a wizard makes you automatically attractive and desirable and will get you into the pants heart of whoever you want. It’s okay to include a little love, but at the end of the day, that’s not what the story’s about. A story about defeating an evil werewolf should not revolve around the wolf-hunter’s love life.

If romance is what you write, then I wish you all the luck in the world. You’ll find it to be very well-received, especially among women and young girls (let’s face it, they’re usually the types who like to read romance, though they’re by no means the only people who do). I just have one favor to ask. If you’re going to write romance, be honest about it. Don’t try to cover it up by slapping a pseudo-plot over it. Don’t insult the integrity of other authors who actually do have plots that aren’t romance-based by trying to fit a non-romance plot into a romance novel. Let the romance take center stage, instead of having it be the advertised side-show that just happens to take over the show. Don’t beat around the bush. If people want to read romance (and lots of people do), they’ll pick up your romance book. If you advertise a plot and people buy your work because of that, they’re going to be sorely disappointed when all they get is romance.

Like I said before, romance can fit into any genre. It doesn’t need to take center stage in all works. There are plenty of books with a larger plot that also include romance (Tamora Pierce and Robin McKinley do a good job of this). It’s a fine line, though, between “just enough” romance and “waaaaaay too much” romance. You have to ask yourself a couple of questions when writing romance into your stories.

1. Is my story Romance-with-some-plot or Plot-with-some-romance? If Romance-with-some-plot, then embrace the romance and get on with it.

2. If your story is Plot-with-some-romance, do you spend more time overall on the romance aspect than on the actual plot?

3. If you spend more time on the romance aspect, does this advance your plot in any way? If yes, then congrats! You’re doing it right. Romance should contribute to the plot in some way; otherwise, cut it. You don’t need it.

4. If you don’t spend lots of time on the romance aspect, is it there for a specific purpose or just to be there? If it’s just there because you like it and not because it’s useful for anything, consider cutting it. If it’s there to add emotional depth to your characters, then that should be fine.

Balancing plot and romance is a very tricky business. Do you have too much or not enough? Is it the main focus when it shouldn’t be? Could it be used more effectively in another story? At the end of the day, though, you really need to look at your work as a whole. You can tell for yourself if the romance is at the appropriate level. Also, ask your friends or some other writers that you trust to take a look; ask them what genre they would classify it as (do they mention romance at all? should they?).

Romance can be a really great thing. It can add depth to your characters. It could provide a way to advance your plot. It could be your plot. Just remember to have a clear goal of what role you want romance to play in your story and try to stick to it as much as possible.

Happy writing, my dears.

On Building a World

Writers have the greatest job in the world. We get to play God of our own stories. We tell our characters where to go, what to wear, who to talk to, what to say, what to feel. We are the final authority. We are the ones who get to say “Yes, this is in my story, my world,” and “No, there is no way in hell I’m letting that near my baby.” It’s great. We are so incredibly powerful. But, as they say, with great power comes great responsibility. This responsibility is almost more evident in the worlds we create than in the characters we bring to life and the stories we tell.

Our world is the base for everything else. The world (Bob), characters (Amelia), and plot (Julie) all exist simultaneously, but it is only Bob that can exist on its own.  Amelia and Julie don’t need each other to exist. Amelia can exist and just live, making up a plot as it goes along. Julie can grab any old character and force it to do what must be done. But both Amelia and Julie need Bob to exist. They cannot exist without having a place in which to exist, and that place is Bob. Bob, however, doesn’t need Amelia or Julie. Bob can go on being Bob and not give a darn. Bob–our world–is the base for our story, and it’s imperative that we make as good a base as we can.

That’s where worldbuilding comes in.

Believe it or not, every author worldbuilds. Some do it before they write. Others do it while they write. Some might even do it after they finish writing, to piece together loose ends. Whatever way you feel most comfortable worldbuilding is the way to do it.

When people talk about worldbuilding (before writing), they usually have this idea that you’re going around making maps and planning forests and rivers and cities and towns and castles. It’s common to think that you’re supposed to spend weeks and months deciding how many species of tree are in Forest B and what the ecosystem is and all that. Well, that’s a part of it, and it’s not. Worldbuilding isn’t about making lists and lists and lists. The point is to make a solid base for your story. Focus on the parts that directly relate to your story.  If trees aren’t integral to your story, don’t worry about them. If somehow your story revolves around trees, list all the trees in the forest that your characters will need to come into contact with. Try not to map out all of the cities and rivers; stick to the ones that you know your characters will come into contact with.

In short, if there’s information you need to know before your start writing (such as if your country is at war with its neighbors or not and your characters are on the border), then figure that out. Writing it down clearly and legibly.  Then get to writing. Don’t take too much on this pre-writing worldbuilding. Some people worldbuild for months and years and never get around to actually writing their story. It’s another way of avoiding writing, so don’t do it.

Worldbuilding during the writing process is more common than worldbuilding before writing–after all, everyone does it. There will come a time in your writing when you’re struck the idea to have a mountain where there was previously a river or a religious association that you hadn’t counted on and hadn’t planned out. When that moment comes, there is one thing I can tell you: Make it up. This is your in-writing worldbuilding, and it’s very important. It doesn’t matter if it changes plans you had or messes with things you wrote earlier. You can fix any inconsistencies when you edit. Later. For now, just go with it.

If you don’t want to plan your world before you write, that’s perfectly okay. I rarely do. In fact, when I do, I always end up changing and adding things anyway. I make up new things. It’s okay to do that. Worldbuilding is not as tedious as building a house; really, it’s just rambling on paper about what might or might not be running through your story’s world (real or imagined). So, ramble. Think out loud, on paper. Go with it. First drafts are there for you to figure out the mechanics of your world. This is your time to make your world reveal itself to you. Then, once you know your world, you can choose what, how, when to reveal your world to your readers.

Happy writing, everyone.