Artists Inspiring Artists

 

During my break, I spent time getting to know a couple of new friends of mine. One of them I now call The Artistic One.

I honestly had no idea that she had such artistic pursuits until I visited her place one Sunday ago. Here, she revealed her hidden world; watercolor portraits, black and white photographs of street art, charcoal sketches, and several journals loaded with her own recipes. She had done all of this, and she was brilliant at all of it. I asked the next obvious question from one artist to another.

“Why don’t you still do…well, any of this?”

She shrugged. Yeah, that’s my answer whenever I am in the middle of a break, too.

So we made an agreement: we would meet up at least once a month at her place (she didn’t have a choice in that matter because she lives on the beach). Here, we would encourage each other with at least one artistic pursuit. Last time, we took the culinary route and created a cherry limeade cheesecake. This weekend, I will be writing and she will be drawing. Her boyfriend agreed to act as cheerleader and the bringer of snacks. At the end of the evening, dinner and Netflix would wrap the day.

This is the first time that I have ever done a joint creative weekend, but I think it could be a great way to start the engines up again.

This entry is a little shorter and early because I have outpatient surgery tomorrow, and I honestly don’t want to put anything additional on my to-do list for this weekend. Recovering by the beach and doing some freestyle art with a good friend is my plan. I should be back to my normal fluffy self next week! 🙂

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Burnout: No One Is Immune

I realized a couple of seconds ago that I am, in fact, burned out.

I’ve been denying it for about two weeks now, but when this weekend came and went, and I couldn’t find the physical or mental energy to write anything longer than a tweet, I had to face it.

Burnout comes on really slow. It usually shows a lot easier in something you’re not fond of. It had started showing at my job at least a month ago; I am still doing a great job, and my boss loves my work and my work ethic. But the symptoms were there: hitting the snooze button at least three times each morning; not being able to sleep because I didn’t want to face the next work day (like I’m doing right now); withdrawing from my work buddies to slave away alone in what I considered to be “peace and quiet.” I just didn’t think those same symptoms would start to apply to my writing.

I realized earlier tonight that I haven’t written anything in a week. For me, that’s absurd. That doesn’t compute. That doesn’t make a lick of sense. I’ve been reading pretty voraciously…but writing? *Insert crickets chirping*

I’m a bit mad at myself for allowing the burn out to get to this point. The sudden re-introduction of mindless TV watching should’ve been a huge sign. Instead of writing, I spent the weekend sleeping and watching Animal Planet (River Monsters in particular, for some odd reason).

With that in mind, I’m giving myself a small break from blogging. Trust me, if you’re at a point where learning about 42 different types of flesh-eating piranha is more appealing to you than writing, you probably need a break as well. My plan is to pick back up the first weekend in May, although I may emerge sooner if the creative energy returns quicker.

Wish I could take a similar break from work…

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Naming A Character

Do you like your name?

Is it a name that already has a personality or trait attached to it, even if that trait doesn’t match you at all?

Does it lead to jokes? For example, my name is Angel. For every three people who I meet, at least one of them says the following when I give my name: “Are you really an angel?” Ugh.

These are things to consider when it comes to the task of naming a character. If they’re in the background, that is one thing. They may have a name just because they have some loose connection to the main character. In my novel Blind Fae, I named the main character’s human parents because they were critical for the prologue and referenced here and there throughout the series. Their names were pretty standard for this very reason (Joan and Michael).

A writer cannot be as relaxed when naming their leads. Take two female lead names that I love: Phoenix Calderwood from my BFF screenwriter’s  first script, and Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games. Their last names are pretty unassuming, but the first names jump right at you. The first thing I thought when I saw those names was : “These ladies mean business.”

I went the opposite route for my current female lead in Blind Fae: Samantha Dunbar. Her name appears typical, almost boring. Research the name, though, and you discover a lot more: Samantha is the feminine form of Samuel, which means “God heard.” The suffix of the name, -antha, means “flower” in Greek. The full translation: “God heard his flower.” Samantha is a “good” witch, and has a strong connection to the spirit world. And her last name is Scottish, from a country loaded with spirit and fairy folklore. A so-called typical name just became anything but typical.

Male leads are no different. What do you think when you hear a name like Bruce, or Gaston? More than likely, you think of a tough guy type. The name Dexter may remind you of a geek (or a serial killer, if you watch the show…but a smart serial killer). Names like Kevin, Brian, James, or Scott seem to be everyman names, but check out the links with the names and you get not only the meaning, but a personality profile as well. As you can see, names have quite a lot attached to them.

Another writing tidbit courtesy of the screenwriter is to be aware of naming your characters after their parents. In some spiritual circles, naming someone after a parent bestows all the good and the bad from that parent onto the child. If the father was an alcoholic, some believe, then a son named after him will suffer the same affliction.

A word of caution: Writers can easily get caught up in a naming frenzy, going into massive research over what the names mean, their origins, the family crest, and so on. Don’t forget to actually write a story for your newly named characters. 🙂

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Lessons from the Screenwriter, Part 2

First, sorry about missing last week. I was actually in LA with the subject of this post, and the two of us were literally running around last Saturday from 6:30am to about 9:00pm. I couldn’t put together a coherent thought after that, let alone write a blog.

I’ve mentioned her previously in this blog; she was the one who took a main character of mine from my spy series and broke down to me exactly why the character sucked. She was blunt, but she was right.

Anyway, I love the fact that she invites me to her screenwriting classes whenever I am in town. The professor in this class, Eric Edson, actually remembered me from the last time I had dropped in a few months ago. There is something very cathartic about being in a class with a wide scope of people who are all there to become better writers. Every time I attend, I walk out with a new writing tool or tip.

In this particular class, the students had to present a favorite movie and break it down into scenes. Next, they had to identify the hero/main character’s goal for each individual scene, who complicates the goal (because there has to be conflict in every scene, even if it is internal), and the outcome of the scene (if the goal was accomplished or not). On top of this, they still had to identify the traditional story arc moments in the story overall. It was a brilliant multi-level assignment.

So, I offer a similar challenge to my fellow novel writers. Look at your story. Does each scene have a hero goal, even if it is just making it to work on time or making small talk with the cutie at the coffee shop? Are there complications to that goal (traffic jams, nerves)? Does the scene have an ending (late to work, gets the cutie’s phone number)? If you can’t tell, then the scene may need some fine tuning and focus.

By the way, the movie we watched was The 40-Year Old Virgin. And yes, the student presenting was able to clearly identify the goal, complication, and outcome for each scene. One of my favorites was the scene where Andy, having revealed his secret to the poker crew the night before, had the goal of making it through the work day without getting teased (or at least handling it well if he did get teased). He got to work, and lasted for about 10 seconds before the comments started. Clearly, the goal was an epic fail.

I’m waiting to hear about my friend’s presentation. Her movie of choice? The Wedding Singer.

 

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There Will Never Be “More Time”

Wow, Doreen Virtue has been a very inspiring figure for me lately!

I actually got to meet this lovely woman on Friday after a certification class that I took (I can do Oracle Card readings now…go me!). She smiled when she heard my name (Angel) and said that my name fits my destiny.

Anyhoo, today she spoke to a much bigger group of us during the evening keynote of the I Can Do It! Tour’s San Jose stop. If you saw last week’s entry, you know that she inspired it. Well, she inspired this one as well.

She told the audience that she had once met a man in his 80’s who said that he wanted to write a book. She asked the most logical question for that comment: “So why haven’t you?”

His answer: “I don’t have the time.” Mind you, he meant that he doesn’t have enough free time.

Doreen then said politely informed us that there is never “enough time.” People say that they will write when they are retired, or during a vacation, or…or…the list goes on. The problem with that concept is that it sets you up to always put the goal in the future instead of the present, and goals in the future are easy to put off. She added that she wrote her first few books in 30 minute time pockets, and a lot of the time she still does this today. Every now and then, she gets an hour. Despite constant speaking engagements, hosting a weekly radio show, touring the world, and cranking out at least four more Oracle Card decks this year, she still finds time to write.

Take a good look at your daily routine. There are pockets of time in there where you can write, it is just a matter of finding them…and actually using them. If Doreen Virtue can find time, I know the rest of us can.

 

PS- Yes, this blog entry is a little shorter, but the I Can Do It conference is going on, so I am happily focused on that this weekend. 🙂

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You Are Never “Ready”

At the bottom of this post is the video that inspired this blog. The parts that I think are most helpful to writers are the first two minutes, and then from the 5:00 mark onward.

Doreen Virtue, the woman in the video, made an amazing point. She basically said that you are never completely “ready” to start a new adventure or go forward with a dream. There will never be a time where you will say, “Well, I know everything I need to know about this, let’s do it!” Because of this, you will be tempted to continue to “research.”

Writers are sooo good at this, aren’t we? We will research a topic to death. For the Fae Sight series (which I *finally* started blogging), I bought several books about faeries. I interviewed a expert on fairy lore. I even started going on nature walks and took pictures of places or spots that reminded me of possible “fairy hangouts.” Was it fun? Sure. The problem, though, was that I wasn’t writing. Oh, I took notes. My OneNote “binder” on the subject is loaded with notes and write-ups about the series main characters, settings, geography, plots, creatures…it will make a great reading companion one day. Still, that is not the book itself. The first draft of the book was down, but I had not done any editing on it, and my self-imposed deadline to start blogging it was fast approaching.

You probably noticed that I didn’t blog here last weekend. There were two reasons: first, my allergies had reduced me to a sniffing, sneezing mess. But more importantly, I had finally decided to sit down and prepare my other blog for publication, so to speak. I edited the first few pages of the novel and separated it out into smaller, blog-sized chunks. I almost got distracted by searching for a new WordPress theme for it, but pulled myself back to the book.

This all came down to a battle against fear. In fiction writing, there isn’t an authority for you to get accredited from and become a Certified Fiction Writer (if there was, I bet nearly all of us would sign up). You can get an MFA, but does that really mean you’re “qualified” to write fiction?

The truth is, there will never be a point where you know all you need to know. There will never be a point where you will think that your writing is perfect, and if you do think so, someone will be quick to knock you off of your high horse. You will always feel that you could benefit from one more class, one more instructional book, one more critique.

Eventually, you will have to just shrug, polish the novel up nicely, and send it out into the world. Ready or not, here we go…

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The Villain

I feel that the villain is the most important character in a story, because without them, the hero/heroine has absolutely nothing to do. There has to be a fight, a battle of some kind going on. If you think about it, our lives are a series of battles and decisions, from the time we wake up (“Must…get…out…of…bed.”) to the time we go to sleep (“Wait, it’s 2am already?! Damn you, YouTube!”). And like our characters, we face various villains. Sometimes it’s the weather causing accidents that make us late for work; other times he or she is more tangible, like that supervisor or co-worker we’d like to just tell off. Whatever the case, we have obstacles, and our characters need obstacles.

Keeping with the trend, I am going to list some of the most common types of villains I’ve seen both in my writing and others. They are have their advantages and disadvantages, but the main common thread is that their goals are in direct opposition to the hero/heroine.

The Evil One: Many of us believe that evil exists. It threatens our existence, corrupts our souls, and gets blamed for damn near everything. Naturally, it makes for a great villain. The Evil One comes in many forms (Satan, a demon, that little kid that enjoys killing people), but it usually has no motive other than the fact that it is evil and likes to do evil things. You cannot reason with it, and if you’re smart you won’t make a deal with it. The only option is to destroy it.

The Revenge Seeker: These villains didn’t start out as villains. Most of the time, they start pretty normal. Then, someone (sometimes a Power Tripper, see below) comes in and does something horrible to this person/being. It can be intentional or an accident, but the budding villain has been wronged badly, and someone must pay. The spiral starts, and the villain becomes obssessed with getting back at everyone who hurt them. Every now and then, you get a Kill Bill type of setup, where the Revenge Seeker is the hero/heroine.

The Misunderstood: Some classical monsters fall into this one. They are not evil, and they honestly aren’t looking to kill anyone. It you try to shoot or burn them, they will naturally defend themselves, but that’s expected. People fear what they don’t understand, and that statement can lead our hero/heroine into some interesting run-ins with a Misunderstood. This villain usually leaves three choices for the hero: protect Misunderstood, join the mob against Misunderstood, or put Misunderstood out of their misery.

Power Tripper: We have probably all met this one. This is the person who is in a higher position of power and likes nothing more than to flaunt it. It isn’t always someone at a job, either. It can be a family member, friend, or significant other. They have strong influence, and it corrupts them. When a subordinate does this, it is nothing more than a mild annoyance at best. For most stories, this villain is nearly always at least on the same level, but usually higher.

Like the other character types, these can overlap and there are many subsets of villains. These are the ones I see often. Next week, I’ll look at the supporting characters, also known as Sidekicks.

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