Author Archives: liserozenrood

Writing likes and dislikes

A couple of weeks ago, I met up with a local band of fellow writing enthusiasts. I meet with them every couple of months, to discuss writing preferences. This time, we spoke about what kinds of tales we like to write, and emphatically not like to write, what we feel we’re good at and what we find difficult.

I love reflecting on what I like and dislike with regards to writing. It helps me gain insight in what I want to do, and where my weak points are.

Personally, I am quite diverse in what I like to write, although I have a penchant in writing stories about a character looking for his/her place in the world. It’s a theme I have a lot of affinity with. I love to give the theme a twist, though. Like for instance taking a pretty nasty main character or someone set adrift later in life. I’m good at world building. Almost every one of my short stories is set into a universe of its own. I don’t like writing horror pur sang, with gore for the gore. And I need to work on intimacy within my stories, I am terrible at that.

Identifying those things helps me work on exercises to become a better writer. I allows me to think along lines like ‘what makes it that I feel like I am good at world building? And how can I help others get there as well?’ and work on what I am less good at. In light of that, for our next meet, we agreed to each write something we find difficult to write. We’re then going to look at each other’s writing. So we’ll both practice, and receive feedback to improve future attempts.

What do you like to write? What do you dislike to create yourself?

Women in series and Jessica Jones

I mostly stick to posts about written narratives on this blog, but during the past couple of months I’ve been spending a fair amount of time watching movies and series and there was one that really stuck out for me. I recently finished watching the first season of Jessica Jones, and I need to share my happiness about this series having been created.

It’s a solid story, gritty, noir, with a couple of nice plot twists. It’s an interesting take on super heroes, and the dark sides the concept can bring along. It properly tackles a couple of big issues, like PTSD, consent and sexual violence, in its storylines. They even tackle, which I especially like, a sense of entitlement that people feel towards women smiling. And this is all really, really, cool, and combined with the solid acting makes it a good show, but it’s not why I am this excited about the show’s existence.

The reason I am thrilled about this show, is because it is female driven. It doesn’t just have a female lead, and themes relevant to women’s issues. Most of the main characters are female. The story itself also is about Jessica, who is effectively a female antihero with superpowers. She’s dark, traumatized, drinks a lot and is unapologetically herself. She, and the other female members of the cast, are the driving factors in the story.

There is a ‘test’ applied to movies which assesses the place of women in the movie, the Bechdel-Wallace test. Introduced jokingly in a comic in the 1980’s, it exposed a fairly important issue with a lot of movies. The test is met if there are 1) at least two women in the movie, 2) that talk to each other, 3) about something other than men. This should be easy, right? Realistic female characters talk to each other about all sorts of things all the time. So with an exception for a couple of romcoms where all conversations in the entire movie are about dating, this should not be an issue? Wrong! A shockingly large amount of movies fail this test. If you want to read more on this, you can find more information on https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bechdel_test and http://bechdeltest.com/

Jessica Jones doesn’t just meet the tests criteria. The show flips them. There are very few conversations between men, and most are about women. Men are almost entirely relegated to the parts of eye-candy, sidekick and villain. They’re not empty characters, that have nothing to say, but it’s the women that dominate the show.

Now, I don’t believe that men do not deserve an important and significant role within fiction. I believe both genders deserve this, and that it’s important to show genuine and believable characters on both sides. However, the current discourse, the sum of all movies out there that are being watched and spoken about, is still mostly male dominated. There are A LOT of shows where women can pretty much be replaced by ‘a sexy lamp’. That’s why having a show like this matters. A show that flips expectations. A show that shows the other side of the coin, and that adds a couple of powerful, complicated, jaded female characters that aren’t there to ingratiate themselves to the body of work out there, and to the societal dialogue we have.

Not everything is for everyone

When it comes to stories, written or told, whatever medium, I am a ferocious predator. There are examples in pretty much any genre I have devoured with glee. But even in my case, I have to say, there are things that I just don’t like. Blood and gore, for instance, only work if it’s there to support the plot. Horror pur sang isn’t for me at all. Some writing styles don’t mesh well with me either.

This is okay. Everyone likes different things, that’s part of what makes us wondrous and unique creatures. Not everything other artists have made need to work for me. There are plenty of people out there that do like those works. It’s important and valuable to have variety in what we as audience can consume.

When I write myself though, for whatever medium, I want it to work for other people. When people don’t like what I have created, it feels like I have failed. Even when they didn’t like it because the genre just isn’t really for them. So while I know not everything is for everyone, it’s always hard to apply that concept to what I create myself. Which is silly, really, because I know it works that way. That even I, myself, one of the most fanatical story consumers in my direct surroundings, don’t like everything, and that it doesn’t mean the works I don’t like are not good or not well made.

Naturally, that doesn’t imply everything I create is great. But I need to be kinder to myself. Just because someone isn’t swept of their feet by what I have created, doesn’t directly mean that which I have made is bad.

I’m putting this realization out here, because I think I am not the only author that should be a little kinder towards themselves, every now and again. Because in the end, it’s important that you remember you do not need to please everyone. That goal just sets you up for permanent failure and misery. And it says nothing about the quality of your writing.

Writing regularly

Winters aren’t my brightest part of the year, and the last couple of months have been hard. Between a very busy last half year on the day job, and a move last year, I went into the dark winter months tired. I had hoped to mitigate this with a vacation. While the vacation was absolutely amazing, the jetlag hit hard, and undid a lot of the good the vacation itself did energy wise.

Now, no man over board here or anything, but it meant that I was mostly too wiped to write, and when I wrote it went into my projects, not my blog. Since the days are slowly getting longer again, I’m picking it back up, though. And I am trying to see if I can post a little more regularly.

The question is how to achieve it. I’m starting by doing two things. Scheduling a little bit of time to write each week, and when I have the energy to write, to write some backup posts.

This is both good for the blog, as good for my writing. It’ll help me pick up the habit again, and hopefully I’ll be writing a little every day before summer gets here again, on both the blog as my other projects. Later this year, I’m going to see if I can find a way to enable myself into doing this, writing every day, by seeing if I can find a way to write during my daily commute.

I am curious though, how other people manage to keep up their writing. For those of you that write regularly, how do you enable yourself to do it?

Working on projects

Apparently my goal for this year, to post every week, isn’t going to happen. However, I am still writing, and working on other types of stories. I’m thinking of picking up an old project again in November. A project I’ve worked on a fair bit, but which still needs oceans of TLC to come any closer to being done. I am not starting a new project for November Novel Month, like I did last year. I want to finish projects before I start another large scale project. While there are plenty of cool ideas to go after, I am still very excited about some of the projects in progress. And as long as I don’t finish the story itself, it’s hard to share with others. So time to type more!

Playing with tradition lore

A lot of writers in the (urban) fantasy genre use forms of traditional supernatural elements, like the vampire and the fae, people or beings from folk tales, myths and sagas, and sometimes even from influential writers of the past. Generally, they give it a bit of a twist. Sometimes that twist is minimal, sometimes it is so drastic that it’s barely a reference.

One of the things I find myself very enthusiastic about, and one of the things I thoroughly enjoy, is seeing the different incarnations of lore-twisting. How an author re-invents vampires, werewolves and other were-beasts, witches and fae. How they make the lore their own, pick, choose and reimagine to suit their story-world. Especially when they manage to do it in such a way that it reinforces the story they’re trying to tell.

One of the books I have recently read that did this right was the All Saints trilogy by Deborah Harkness, of which the first book is A Discovery of witches.

Press more to read on, but be warned, it contains potential spoilers
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Life Strikes Again

So. Life has really been catching up on me this year. After a really rough patch, I entered a really good one. I got to move to a bigger house. Which my love and I, being the avid collectors of books, movies, and items for our interactive theatre hobby, really, really needed. However, writing, when I could barely reach my computer past all the boxes… not so much… Then, when the writing was slowly returning as we were clearing boxes, my grandfather passed away. Which cluttered up the writing even more and slowed down the disappearance of boxes…

So a couple months of silence. Doubtlessly, though, when there are less boxes and I am coming to terms with the new house (I love the house but moving is not something I am particularly good at) there will be lots and lots of writing again.

For now, I have spent a lot of time watching tv, rewatching old movies and shows. Firefly and the Chronicles of Riddick work excellently for me at times like this. Slowly I have started watching new things again as well. This seems to be a really good year for science fiction. I am loving it.

Also, I picked up a new book. It took me a week to get into it, but A discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness got its grubby little claws in me, and I finished all three books in the series in no time. I really liked what she did with several kinds of supernatural lore, but I will go into this in a separate post.

The Relativity of Time in Narratives

Something I find tremendously interesting is how time is treated in different types of narratives. I’m currently reading a book where they’re playing with the flow of time. Time does not progress at the same rate in different areas of the story’s world. But this is by far not the only way an author can play with time.

The way we experience the flow of time, varies from day to day, year to year, activity to activity. Everyone knows the hours that feel like forever, while sometimes years go by in what feels like an instant. By slowing part of the story down, interestingly enough generally achieved by using more words to describe a certain scope of time, authors can change and/or increase the feel of the experience their readers or viewers have.

An author can also change the flow of time for only one of the characters, like for instance the reversal of aging in Benjamin Button. Another example of this is the brief flashes of forward moving time that were out of the ‘normal’ sequence for one of the characters in The Time Travelers Wife.

Another possibility of manipulating time is not in the manipulation of the flow of time, but in the sequence of which the story is told. A particularly memorable example of this to me was the movie Memento. How there was just enough information provided for the story to move on, while keeping it exciting until the very end, is something that still deeply impresses me.

A recent example I encountered of how time can be manipulated was how extreme speed and the time continuum can affect each other. It proposed the question: if you go fast enough, would you travel to the future or the past?

I try to play with these effects when I am writing myself, although I do not do this in every of my stories. This is mostly because I find most manipulations of time work best if the manipulation of time is the central element of the story. Also, balancing your time-continuum can be… tricky. I totally love to read books and watch movies that play with the concept of time, though.

What was the most memorable way an author manipulated time that you have encountered?

Writing Exercises

Last week I met with my writing group. We do something reminiscent of a write in every couple of months. It’s great fun and while I always write less than I expect going in, I always leave massively inspired. This was the first time we did a writing exercise in advance.

We’d agreed to all write a letter of approximately half a page from one of the characters out of one of our stories to another character from that story. It’s a great way to help develop your characters motivation further. It makes you think about what that character would say, how they would say it, and how they relate to that other character. This effect was what I’d hoped for, and pretty much an expected result based on the experiences several members of our group had at a writing event a couple of months earlier.

What I hadn’t expected was how excellent of a discussion starter it would be. I thought there was little left to learn about world-building, but we ended up having an interesting discussion about information distribution and character motivation that was both inspiring and educational. As far as I’m concerned it was a very successful experiment. It left me looking forward to see what effect other writing exercises have.

Which brings me to a question for other (aspiring) authors: do you have other writing exercises you’d recommend?

Polishing

A lesson I run into every now and again is that people can not see past a lack of polish. This is not just with writing, but with many endeavors in life. When you’re selling your house, you learn most people can’t see past your stuff into the space they would actually be buying. In social occasions people can’t see past your outfit and your make up choices into who you are and what you have to say. In the case of writing, it implies that a lot of people can not see past spelling mistakes or grammatical imperfections, into the ideas that drive your stories. Even when they can, they are not always willing to invest the time and effort if the first appearances of your story isn’t pleasing. So I really do need to remember that polishing my story is very important.

When I write, I really want people to look at the bones of my story. I want them to tell me if the construction of my story works, if the characters make sense, if the plot is well crafted. That’s what I spend most thought on, put most work into and what I care about most myself.

When people are caught up on the metaphorical weird dress my story is wearing, they’re not even looking at the picture as a whole, let alone at the story´s bones. While those bones are what determine how much potential your story has, if no one takes the time to look at them, good bones get you nowhere. And if you ask for feedback, people will point out your spelling mistake, not the problem in the construction of your story. Especially if the people giving you feedback are people that you don’t know very well.

So for now, returning to crafting stories after a brief holiday into lyrics and poetry, I am beginning with polishing. And when I have done that, I will do some more polishing. Because writing more gets me only so far. If I want to work on my skill-set and get better at crafting stories, I need feedback on the bones. And to get that, I need to eliminate the imperfections in the story´s polish. So back to editing it is!