Category Archives: Writing

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!

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.

A Community of Books

The last couple of months, I’ve been going to more cons. In part this was because of convenience, since there were wild cons appearing almost in my backyard, so it was very easy to attend. Most cons sell cool things, and provide a convenient platform to discover new things. In part, though, I guess it is also because I have been looking for something.

Both reading and writing are fairly solitary exercises. This fact is fine on it’s own, but if you love reading and writing and want to talk face to face about the things you are passionate about to others, it is problematic. There are many websites and online communities that offer platforms to talk about both. But while talking to others online is fun, educational and worthwhile, I find that talking to physically present people about books and writing every now and again is important to me as well.

For writing, I’ve mostly got this covered with my writing group. We meet regularly and discuss the things related to writing that occupy our minds at length. For reading, I have also gathered a small group of people, but we just can’t seem to manage getting the group together. So I’ve been looking for places where other book-enthusiast congregate. Looking for places where people exchange ideas about reading, books and stories. A community of book-fans.

So far, it has been a partial success. I find that if the con has an extensive program with smaller program items, not just the items for hundreds of people at once, I find what I am looking for. The exchange of ideas about reading. But the massive things, while fun, are too anonymous for this. The irony is that it’s the bigger, more established cons that so far appear to have more of the program items I am looking for. Not the smaller or the newer cons. The disadvantage of wild cons appearing, is that they tend to be either on the smaller or the newer side, or both. Fortunately, if they’re successful, time tends fix both these issues. Here’s to hoping for the future 😉 And perhaps in the meantime I’ll try a more established con abroad.

A Slightly High Dosage of Life

It’s been a rough couple weeks, causing me to completely miss several weekly posts.

It was one of those times where ‘life happens’, where the dose of life happening was a little higher then I strictly speaking would prefer. With two deaths, a birth, a lot to do at work, the flu and leakage in our bathroom in the wake of a conference which was awesome but left a lot of information and impressions to process, I’m now hoping for a couple of more quiet-like weeks, so I can process and start writing things down.

Now, I haven’t completely shut down or anything- I had that experience once as a teenager, when even more life happened then it did now and every piece of it was bad, and I hope to never again experience that numb bleakness before the pain hit a couple of days later. But to write about my impressions and thoughts, I need some semblance of brain space to sort them.

Fortunately this does not matter for my creative writing – a whole new story materialized out of nowhere the past couple of weeks. It’s my way of coping. Sometimes difficult, sometimes highly convenient. Especially since I also clean a lot. So now my house is sort of sparkly, and my word count is up…

The Added Value of Bling and Pride

Last week, I got to attend a book-gala (by verge of e-mailing them ‘I would like to attend’ in time, no special circumstances or anything) organized by a newly founded local initiative for promoting the fantastical genre. There were a couple of writers there I really admire, and a very large of aspiring writers like myself.

One of the big things where they deviated from earlier book events I have attended, was the dress code. We were supposed to dress up for this event.

Now, I have a slightly troublesome figure for affordable black tie dresses, since the waistline tends to be too high for my figure, or the chest-space too small, so I figured I’d make one myself. I didn’t manage in time, so I had to settle for more of a cocktail dress(those tend to be more figure-hogging and thus work just fine). Still I dressed up, and so did almost everyone else.

I thought it was merely just fun to dress up, until I was at the event. The atmosphere had somehow transformed from a group of people hanging out, to an official event. Instead of feeling like an enthusiastic hobbyist, I felt like an aspiring professional. That was a very magical feeling. I realized it was something that mattered to me, and that while growing from an aspiring writer into an actual writer might be hard and in the end might even prove impossible, it is something truly worth aspiring to, to me.

This very personal realization was not the only the only realization I had at the event. One of the people hosting the event, and one of the founders of the initiative, said that he wanted people to be proud of writing fantasy, and proud of reading it. Even though there are a lot of people enjoying fantastical tales, and most works within the genre is not what you’d call ‘light’ reading, especially not in the literal sense, and even though it is a big part of books for children where fantastical tales are celebrated openly, there is not a lot of pride in reading these books for adult. Sometimes, a lot more frequently then I’d like, when people speak about books in the genre, the fantastical elements are downplayed as unimportant. Like it’s uncool to read or write fantasy, and the related genres. You have to ‘look past’ those elements. Like it’s easy to craft a well developed world, or like you can not tell interesting, worthwhile and inspiring stories through fantastical tales. He wants to change that reputation, and I wholly support this initiative. Besides all the other things I read, I read and write fantasy, and I am proud of this.

Editing and Rewriting

A lot of people can not read past small imperfections, especially with regards to spelling. I know, this is a fact of life. Personally, I mostly care about what is being said and how that is structured. The exact spelling of words matters much, much less to me.

What matters to you tends to be reflected in the stories you write. At least, that’s something I notice with my own stories. Most of my first drafts tell a relatively original tale, have round and complicated characters, and a thought trough and working world behind the words. They have plots with fairly few plot holes. But they also tend to be riddled with spelling errors, cause well, I just don’t care enough to catch them earlier.

This makes editing and rewriting before I show my stories to others extra important. I ran into the “I should have rewritten this” snag a couple of times, recently. Where people couldn’t get past the spelling imperfections, which I know I should have caught earlier but didn’t, and never got to the story I was trying to tell.

Ah well. I’ll just have to make sure I remember this, next time. Letting people read things before I’ve triple-checked the spelling is a bad idea. I must fix the spelling first, before I can get the feedback I am looking for. Because I do need other people to track down those plot holes I missed, and to point out where the world the story is set in needs more, or often less explanations.

Editing in the Dark

Coming up from feeling sick, I’ve been spending a bunch of nights, while the world outside feels wet and dark, motivating myself by doing some editing. This may sound funny, but unlike most people, I enjoy the hell out of editing. For a long time I felt like I didn’t have the patience to finish a long story. When I am editing, I am looking at the proof that yes, I sat down and actually wrote all of those words. And now I get to fix the mistakes I made the first time around! (I am a total perfectionist. Making things better is something I always enjoy doing.) Also, I tend to write what I love. Wading trough the words is therefore fun. And because it refreshes my memory on what I’ve built, it’s very inspiring. I always end up having new ideas for little pothooks, either for the story I am polishing or for a different one, sometimes within the same story-world. It gives me a platform, all mine, to explore from.

One thing I have been spending a lot of thought on while editing, is the action versus detail balance. I have written about this balance before. This time, I have been working on a different balancing of this concept. Sometimes, describing instead of showing can speed up the pace of the story. Less detail, more skipping the less exciting parts. Sometimes, though, it turns something that could have been beautiful, meaningful or exciting into a bland description. I guess it’s also a part of the ‘showing’ or ‘telling’ balance, where I generally prefer showing wherever it doesn’t boggle down my story with too many details.

So within my editing I’ve been addressing a lot of smaller descriptions, asking myself, whether or not the description mostly speeds the story up or makes it more bland. And then the task of turning the bland bits into bits with more detail follows. I do hope in the end, this edit will improve the story. I think it will, and regardless of whether or not I’ll be successful, I am learning oodles about balancing my stories.