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.