Monthly Archives: March 2011

Literature Adds to Reality

So today will be a short post, but a post nonetheless. I found this quote from one of my favorite writers, Clive Staples Lewis, to be profound (as always).

Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it. It enriches the necessary competencies that daily life requires and provides; and in this respect, it irrigates the deserts that our lives have already become.” – C.S. Lewis

This so true. The creation and exploration of other worlds only helps to enhance this once. Stories are like dreams. How dull sleep would be without them! Yes, there would be no more nightmares without dreams, but there would also be no wondrously impossible dreams. Stories are like waking dreams. In them, we can go places we could have never gone before.

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Impromptu vs. Outlining

What kind of writer are you? Do you write going from scene to scene, making it up as you go and not really knowing what happens next? Or are you the type of writer who plans everything out?

I like to call my style of writing “impromptu”. I don’t know how legit of a name that is, but it is what I like to use. Basically, I dive into all my stories knowing very little about where they are going. Yes, I have images and scenes in my head I want to implement into the story, but oftentimes they are the epic scenes of the climax, near the end of the story.

For example, most people are familiar with the story The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien. If you know the storyline, imagine sitting down to begin those books with only a few things decided. You have developed the idea of The One Ring, the Dark Lord, and your world in general. You have hobbits, dwarves, elves, orcs, men, and have even cooked up some of Middles Earth’s history in your mind. Knowing you want to start the book in the Shire with one of your main characters, Frodo, you sit down and begin writing. You might have epic mental images of a fight underground with a massive beast of fire (The Mines of Moria, The Balrog), and of a vast swamp full of dead people (The Dead Marshes), but you really have no guidelines or plan. It’s all just scenes with no names. You have no idea how you are going to get there.

As you write, you create new and unexpected characters and throw them into the fray. Your imagination is the limit as you invent your story. It goes where it wills and in retrospect you realize you unconciously took one road out of hundreds. The story, as you write it, could go this way or that way, and ultimately you choose a path and dozens more paths open up. The story grows and grows. Slowly, everything starts falling into place and the skeleton begins to fill out, forming a solid body of work. Before your eyes lays an evolution of literature that had no plan, no sense of direction until it finally evolved to encompass all those grand images you began with.

I start my stories with just a few images and scenes to inspire me. The hard part is creating the scenes in-between that connect the dots and to do it in a way that makes sense. However, impromptu writing is a sure recipe for breeding writer’s block. When you make up everything as you go you will find that some days you just don’t know how to direct your story. Your characters begin to scream back at you “this is stupid! Turn us around and start over!”

What do you think? How do you approach stories? Which style do you think is best? Personally, I love the evolution of impromptu writing but know an outlined story is worth the time it takes to make one. Maybe someday I will actually outline a story before I write it. For now, the story I am editing continues to evolve, just as it has since the first day.

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Descriptive Writing

“We are all apprentices in a craft that no one ever becomes a master.” – Ernest Hemingway

Descriptive writing. That and character dialogue make up most of a novel. I personally abhor books that drag on and on and on with descriptions. Others might enjoy the lengths authors such as J.R.R. Tolkien go to set a scene, but I tend to strive for a quick action, movie like approach to writing. Sometimes I find myself feeling smug in the fact that if my book has any problem, its briefness, not excessive descriptions. However, have I taken my intent to be more brief too far?

You need a perfect blend of descriptiveness to make a scene (and novel) work. In some areas you will need to cut or revise descriptions. In others, you will need to add. Below are some ideas for revising, cutting, or adding descriptions.

Idea #1: Let your characters “describe” during their dialogue. Let them discuss what it is you are trying to get your reader to envision.

Idea #2: Most of the time, less is more. Try to keep this in mind. It’s hard to not have enough description. Oftentimes, your (intelligent) reader will fill in any gaps you leave with their imagination. This is typically a good thing. Give a framework, but allow your readers individual and unique imagination to create the rest of the scene.

Idea #3: Sprinkle descriptions. You might want to cut that huge paragraph (or paragraphs) you have setting the scene and spread the description through the scene as your character interacts with it.

Idea 4#: Ensure your descriptions add to the story and move it forward. Don’t add description for it’s own sake. Sometime it’s tempting to describe things that are relatively irrelevant to the story. Don’t do that. Even if you have a great description of a character but that character doesn’t really play a role in the story, leave it out. Only describe what you must.

I love great descriptions. They really add to a story. But remember, when it comes to descriptions, quality is better than quantity.

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Listen and Write!

Writing to music. It’s like writing on steroids, for me.

This is one of the best things for writers, I believe. People talk about situation and atmosphere in writing and how it can effect your tone and levels of inspiration. Having a good situation and inspirational atmosphere help immensely. Music is perhaps one of the art forms that inspires and affects the human soul the most.

I love music. A lot. Most people do. I particularly enjoy trance and techno but find movie soundtracks inspirational in writing as well. I listen to music during most of my writing periods. It just helps the words flow. If I’m writing a battle scene, I listen to intense music. If I’m writing a scene about the natural beauty of the world, I listen to serene music. If I’m writing an epic description of something, I listen to epic music.

If I can’t seem to find the words for what I want to say, I change the song. Suddenly new images flash into my imagination and the words begin to come. As the music moves me, I begin to write, hoping to move my reader in the same manner.

Music and words have a lot in common. Music provokes thoughts and images. I hope to use the music of my words to provoke thoughts and images as well. It’s like a dance. It’s like poetry. Poetry is word music. It’s lyrical. Novels aren’t so poetic, but they can be as inspiring and moving as any great song if done correctly. This is an aim of mine: to move people with my words as much as the greatest songs of all time have done. Knowing the power of music, if I can do that, my writing will be successful.

Listen and write!

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The Dichotomy of Good and Evil

Good vs. Evil. It is the classic conflict of nearly every story ever created. It is the classic conflict in the world we live in at large. The interesting part is that those we perceive as being evil often view themselves as the “good” ones, or, at least, never the “evil” ones. Even Adolf Hitler believed he was acting rightly in exterminating the Jews and advancing militarily on his neighbors in Europe.

“As a Christian I have no duty to allow myself to be cheated, but I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice.” – Adolf Hitler

Often, it is one’s worldview that influences what you deem to be good or evil. The real world aside, how you portray good and evil in your stories is significant. The foggier you can make the two sides, the more suspense and mystery you add to the story. That is the challenge, I believe. Taking the dichotomy of good and evil and smoothing over the divide.

You may be asking what purpose could that serve?

Well, how much more exciting is a story in which the good guy could be the bad guy or vice-versa? Leave the reader in suspense. The greatest villains of all time tend to be those who are charming, handsome, wise, smart, even lovable but have some corrupt flaw or flaws at their core that turns them into the ultimate Supervillain. As Ben Bova puts it in his Tips for Writers:

“In the real world there are no villains. No one actually sets out to do evil. Fiction mirrors life. Or, more accurately, fiction serves as a lens to focus what we know of life and bring its realities into sharper, clearer understanding for us. There are no villains cackling and rubbing their hands in glee as they contemplate their evil deeds. There are only people with problems, struggling to solve them.”

If you have a villain that is easily identifiable as such, in all likelihood, you do not have a complex Supervillain. Make your villain charming and lovable. Even make his ends seem, in a way, desirable and good. I don’t know if I have this idea mastered in the novel I’m writing but it is definitely something I have been thinking about recently. I personally believe if a writer can master the art of creating a protagonist and villain that are shrouded in uncertainty it will make for a superior story. The unsure protagonist versus the is-he-really-evil?-supervillian.

“This is a brilliant observation that has served me well in all my writing. (The bad guy isn’t doing bad stuff so he can rub his hands together and snarl.) He may be driven by greed, neuroses, or the conviction that his cause is just, but he’s driven by something not unlike the things that drive a hero.” – David Lubar

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Edit, Edit, and… Edit

Want to fine tune that manuscript you’ve had sitting around? Think three steps.

Step 1: Edit

Step 2: Edit

Step 3: and… Edit again

Seriously, I am finding out that getting a novel ready for publishing requires almost just as much editing as writing. I think I heard somewhere that a novel is 10% planning, 50% writing, and 40% editing. It took me two years from start to finish to complete the first draft of my book. Will it take almost two years to edit it? Probably not, though it seems like it. I was balancing high school and college work over those two years I was writing. Today, I am able to spend much more time editing so it won’t actually take me too long to edit. However, I’m about two months into the process and there is still a lot to do. I have at least a few more weeks worth of editing.

I should clarify that any plan you have for editing shouldn’t be as simple as I stated above, obviously. I was simply ranting about the enormous task of editing a manuscript without hiring a professional. And yes, I hope to do most of the editing myself. It is way too expensive to higher a professional. I sent in my first chapter to a professional editing company to received a sample edit. The sample edit came back and they wanted me to give them the go ahead to finish editing chapter one… for 80 dollars. With 27 chapters in my manuscript, it would be over two thousand dollars for a professional edit at that rate. Sure, they probably have a quantity discount, but still. They even claimed to have some of the lowest rates. Scary.

As I am discovering, editing should entail some steps. You should have order; a plan of action. Basically you should begin with general content editing. Plot holes, additional or deleted scenes, character voice… etc. That should come before grammatical edits. I was doing both (content and grammatical editing) at the same time and ended up throwing out three chapters, adding four, and rewriting another. I then had to go back and edit those new chapters. Lesson learned? Save grammatical editing for the final stages. If you are looking at your manuscript with a truly critical eye there should be plenty of content editing to keep you busy.

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City Profile: Khan-Kedhron

Khan-Kedhron
Role: Capital of The Dradikhan Empire
Population: 50,000,000
Ruler: Emperor Ghadal
Age: 2,000 years old
Status: Old Age (advanced) Metropolis

Khan-Kedhron is the largest city in my world. It lays near the center of the world. It is the only technologically advanced city still standing after The Fall, an apocalyptic event that occurred nearly a thousand years ago. Its massive size dwarfs all other cities. Renewable sources of energy (i.e. solar, wind) have allowed it to continue to thrive in the centuries since The Fall. It has never been taken by an enemy force in its long history.

Combine the skyline of New York City with the futuristic skyscrapers of Dubai and then put them both on steroids. Now, add an even more grandiose backdrop of towering mountains than those that grace Denver, CO, or Salt Lake City, UT. Can you see it? Can you envision the vast, futuristic city basin surrounded on three sides by towering mountains? Can you grasp for a second the jaw-dropping magnitude of this majestic metropolis? Say hello to Khan-Kedhron, the city that will play the largest role in my books.

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Names and Images Copyright 2009-2011 by Seth Olive. All Rights Reserved.

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Originality: is it Possible?

After thousands of years, hundreds of generations, and millions of books, is it possible to be original at all? This is something I have been thinking about lately. I want my book to be entirely unique; a one-of-a-kind story like no other. But in the end, don’t we draw all our “new” ideas from old ones? Past experiences, previously learned information, and age old archetypes influence us all. Below is an interesting quote on originality and authenticity. My verdict and thoughts on it will follow.

“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees , clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic.

Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent.

And don’t bother concealing your thievery – celebrate if it you feel like it. In any case remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.”

Jim Jarmusch

I agree, to a degree, with Jarmusch here. As I said above, so much has been written that it is nearly possible to come up with something so new it has never been considered by the human race. But as Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.” In all honestly, not many of the individual parts and ideas of your stories will be original. However, I believe a story in its entirety can be authentic and something new. Yes, you may have a king, or an Empire, or a terrible betrayal. Those have all been written about in various forms a thousand times over. But your king, or your Empire, or your terrible betrayal can be like none other. Stories will always have similarities to others, but you can take your story where no other has gone before.

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Anyone Could Write a Novel

I believe nearly any literate, well-educated person has the ability to write a novel. From a purely grammatical point of view, most people can put together sentences in a way that makes sense. The sentences grow into paragraphs, paragraphs into pages, pages into chapters, and chapters into books. The real catch is not writing. It’s a great plot and solid characters.

Most people feel like they don’t have the creative power or patience to write a book. Indeed, many people have stories they wish they could get down but simply don’t have the time or inclination. When I tell people I am writing  a novel oftentimes they are impressed. I will admit it does take a tremendous amount of effort, so some surprise is expected. But as a word of encouragement to those considering starting a story, if you have the time and inclination, do not think you’re not good enough. I have been writing since I was young and have only become better. The more you write, the better you will get.

So keep writing. Keep your pen sharp. Stimulate your imagination. To write a novel, all you need is you, and some pen and paper (aka. word processor).

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The Art of the Prologue

Yesterday I finally decided my story needed a prologue. It’s called “Prologue: Eye of the World” and it really helps set the stage and pull the reader in. My first chapter begins in a region similar to Eastern Asian in culture. The secret warrior order I throw you into is not far removed from the Shaolin Monks of China. It could be a start that would turn some readers off. I had one reader tell me it was a little weird. I needed some impetus for the reader to progress beyond, what I believe, is a perfectly interesting and involving first chapter. However, I do realize it is not a standard environment for the opening of most books. It’s a bit “spiritual” and “transcendent” in nature. It has that Eastern feel.

So I journey back in time to a moment that would set the stage for the rest of my series. I journey back one thousand years to the last moments of an enormously important time in the history of my world. In my prologue I give massive foreshadowing and, hopefully, the reader more to draw from as they turn to the first chapter. I believe the prologue I wrote could be a masterstroke. Based on what I’ve read of prologues, they are either a masterstroke or ruin the beginning.

If you do not have a prologue, chapter one is perhaps the most essential part of your book (the climax challenges for first, but what good is a climax if the reader can’t make it past chapter one?). It will decided whether the reader will go on or not. If you have a prologue, it becomes more important than even chapter one. Based on my reading on the net, I’ve found that prologues get hard reviews. Editors and professional writers are extremely skeptical of using them. And rightly so. It can be the trademark of a young and/or inexperienced writer. Often, your prologue should simply be labeled chapter one, if you get my drift. Unless, of course, you are going back in time, to the future, or are dealing with a totally different POV (point of view) and/or character than your main character. However, if the tone of your prologue differs greatly from the rest of your book, it will fail.

Also, never use a prologue to give a backdrop for your main character. This will bore your readers beyond belief. They want to experience and learn about the character as the story moves along. If you are not growing and expanding your character in your readers mind as the story moves, they will become disinterested. “Show” don’t “tell” your reader about your character.

All in all, prologues are generally not a good idea. Start with chapter one. A good beginning can be as simple as starting with the beginning. That is what I did until I realized there seemed to be a need for a prologue and some foreshadowing early on. In defense of prologues, I would like to say when done right, they can be powerful tools. Most of the prologues I have read in published books have benefited the story.

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