Category Archives: Reflection

Writing for Children

Yesterday, I went to a lecture on children’s books, organized by the local chapter of IBBY (http://www.ibby.org/) and the national museum for children’s books. It’s a yearly lecture, in which a locally famous author of children’s books  is given the opportunity to speak on something they greatly care about.

Most of my work is for adults, some for young adults, and rarely I write something intended for children. But academically, I am fascinated by books and stories targeting children. So even though I tend to feel like I am the only person that does not know everyone else in the room, I tend to attend this lecture almost every year. The lecture tends to be funny, interesting and it tends to make me think. This year’s lecture was no exception.

This year, the author spoke about the role of children and those that work for children in our society. She argued that children are not being taken serious enough, and by extension, people that work for children aren’t either. People blog on the negatives of baby’s, without paying attention to the positives, and tend to wave off things that are mayor discoveries for children as things that are given, because they already know them. A lot of people have forgotten what is was like to be a child. Because of all this, a lot of people do not see the value in working for children. They think it is easier, and less important. And this is a shame, since today’s children are tomorrows adults, and they can’t be successful adults without learning and exploring today. And working for children isn’t easier, it tends to require a similar skill set working for adults does, only it gives you less status and generally lower pay.

This is also true for writing. Writing for adults is allocated much more importance, while the skill set in writing for children is not that different of the skill set required to write for adults. Writers of children’s books, she indicated, are often asked why they write for children. As if it’s a strange choice to make.

Now this is not new information. I have known this pretty much since I first went to college, well over a decade and a half ago. It’s good to stand still and think about it every now and again, though.

In the end, to me, children are probably more important than adults, since they are quite literally our future. The lecture did make me look long and hard at my own behavior. As a mom of a young baby, talking about poo-explosions and vomit comes naturally, especially with a slightly wry humorous note. So does pausing at the marvels of a young being, though. The mesmerizing moments of acquiring and mastering something new. And I make sure I share both sides with those closest to me. But I must mind the balance. My baby is not a burden. To me, she is a gift, someone I get to show the world to. The stories I tell her matter, the books I read with her are important. Probably even more important than the stories I share with other adults.

Different media, different voices

Outside of writing fiction, I play Larp. For those unfamiliar with it, it’s a form of improvisational theatre without an audience. If you’re curious, more information can be found here, for instance: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Live_action_role-playing_game. While my short story and novel writing was slowing down, I did write several characters for Larp, and some plot for Larp, for other people to encounter. It got me musing about the similarities and differences between both kinds of writing.

With both kinds of writing, I first write the backstory of the character(or imagine and fail to write down, sometimes, with short stories). How did the character end up there? What does the audience need to know about the character, and how does the character’s background influence their decisions. I try to make the character as realistic and vibrant as possible, without making the background so complex I can no longer work with it, either in the game or in the story.
Also, with both kinds of writing, I try to create as interesting a setup as I can. To put the starting condition so, that the characters have something interesting to deal with.

Which brings me to the major difference between the two. Players happen. So from the moment you send the setup into the game-world, how the players interact with it, solve the problem, is out of your hands. All you can do is hand them tools, if necessary, or try to put them on a path by what information you release when to them. Even still, if you come up with 5 or 6 possible solutions or courses of action, they will present you with a 7th. If you’re writing the entire story, you can steer your characters to the most interesting outcomes, determine exactly when what reaches them, and if the outcome is unsatisfactory, you can go back and tweak until it works better for you. You write the continuation of the story of the character you’ve created, and control all the aspects of the story. You are chained by your own imagination, though, if you are inventing all of it.

Thus, both have a lot in common, while they still differ significantly. They have their own challenges, but also a lot of potential to build synergy, the one helping you become more imaginative in the other. I am enjoying how doing both is expanding my horizons very much.

Achtergrond bomen Keukenhof

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?

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?

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
Continue reading

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.

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?

Lyrics and Poetry

It’s been a busy couple of weeks, to the point where I have been a bit blocked on writing narratives. There has just been too much on my mind for me to be able to sit down and string multiple pages together.

Mostly my mind was filled with good things, though, which was a welcome change to the bittersweet months that came before. Amongst others, I’ve been working hard on several really cool things at the ‘day-job’, which to me were personal achievements. Also, I’ve had the honor to attend a bacheloresque party of two friends, a slightly alternative version of a bachelor party which suited them very well. We spend the day building bridges and climbing things.

All in all, they were good months, but they left me with a lot of thoughts on the brain. As a result, I’ve been a bit blocked with regards to overarching storylines and stringing plotlines together. The images and ideas I usually try to capture in narratives have not left my brain, though. So instead, I’ve been writing lyrics and poetry.

For me, playing with ideas, words and descriptions comes kind of naturally. For a long time, I believed I didn’t have the.. well.. serenity to write a novel. Once I had the idea of the story worked out in my mind, I found it difficult to stick to it long enough to commit it all to paper. But I loved to read, and I thoroughly enjoyed writing. I’ve always had a very active imagination, which I tried to express, capture and share. Mostly, I did this trough writing poetry. I wrote a lot of poetry as a teenager. I wrote it on anything I could get my hands on. Notebooks, post-its, pieces of decorative paper, napkins, even receipts from stores. To this day, almost a decade and a half later, I still encounter random bits of poetry every now and again that I wrote back then. After a while I started playing around with form and I started writing lyrics, too.  Most were never put to music, something I wasn’t good at then and still am struggling with now, but I’ve always enjoyed trying.

Nowadays, I write poetry and lyrics less often. When my brain is too full to spend a lot of time examining a single idea, though, I still tend to switch back to poetry and lyrics.

What kind of poetry or lyrics I write can vary greatly. While I had scholarly training into how to read poetry, place it in the time-period and social context it was originally written in, finding the layers within the poetry and placing and interpreting it’s imagery, writing poetry is very different from studying it. Writing poetry to me, is more like an experience. It can be light and fun, or heavy and complex. I like to play around with rhyme schemes, concepts, types of repetition and the type of story I’m trying to tell. A couple of years ago, I took a Coursera class on songwriting, which left me with many ideas about balancing and unbalancing, even and uneven stanzas, integrating concept and form. Nowadays, I vary between free form and highly structured, depending on where the idea behind the piece I am trying to write takes me. And although as a scholar I doubt most of what I write can be considered ‘good’ poetry, I do enjoy myself immensely building my intricate word-constructs and am able to use the writing process as a creative outlet regardless.

Climbing

Blended Media

For a couple of years now, I’ve been writing straight up stories behind a computer screen. I mostly write fantasy and science fiction, although I also indulge in the occasional ghost story. I spend my time writing thinking about concepts, what could have happened if’s, magical and scary tales, and turn them into printable words. While I positively love doing this, there are so many other options besides writing a straight up short story or book.

A year and a half ago, I participated in the Iversity course The Future Of Storytelling. This was a bit of an eye opener for me, and the first time I was thoroughly exposed to what technological progress and blended media could do for a story. With blended media, I am referring to using a combination of video, games, digital narratives, audio books, social media and paper media to tell a single story. You can use multiple media besides each other and make the people enjoying your story switch between media, like for instance having the characters of your TV or book series blog, and have those blogs be part of the actual story ark. You can also integrate different media into one neat little package, and create a game-like immersive experience. Looking at all the options, I was enchanted. I positively loved it.

IMAG0829

So I’ve been looking into developing something along these lines myself. I’m working on a project where I will be combining real life locations, through a walking tour, written and spoken narratives, new media and photography. It’s a lot of work, and requires a whole new way about thinking about the narrative, a different kind of buildup of the story. But it’s a lot of fun. And I am making it spooky story. Because I can.