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Inspiration to Writing

I mentioned many days ago in my Pen’s Catalyst post that I have many folders of pictures on my computer. These are separated into “funny”, “animals”, “landscapes” and “people”. The two that are most useful for writing are, of course, people and landscapes. Before writing this I counted how many pictures I had in each of these folders. The landscape folder has 446 and the people folder has 116.

This discrepancy perhaps says it’s hard to find characters you like or interesting portrait shots. However, my landscape shots tend to have a lot of pictures within them that aren’t strictly landscapes, too. This ups the total.

Below is a sampling of my people folder.

As you can see, I seem to trend toward black and white photographs. I’ve always had a love for them so I’m not sure if this is just preference of the timeless and placeless quality of them.

The main point of having all these pictures in a folder is to inspire me. Sometimes I look through the pictures and don’t do anything. Sometimes I’m just fascinated by the colours and compositions. This may be the old artist in me or it may be the subconscious mind gearing up to a new idea. Who knows, who cares; the main thing is the pictures improve my mood and, sometimes, get me thinking, too.

  1. There are many ideas in these pictures. The first one for example: is it a girl or a boy? Are they running over rooftops or jumping over a wooden wall on the beach? Is it a war zone or an industrial area? Are they a thief of in costume? Playing a game or poor?
  2. The second picture shows my love for eccentric individuals. There’s so much you can ask about this guy and what he’s doing, where he’s going. He’s one big enigma caught in a photograph that I can play with in my mind like a riddle.
  3. The third picture is similar in this way. Only, here, it also gets me thinking about how I can use objects in different ways and create a new world with new values and preoccupations.
  4. The fourth picture is in colour, showing I do like colour after all! But, it also makes me think better of mankind. There is a contrast of one man saving food and material belongings and the other being, in my eyes, a winner, as he saves some beautiful little tabbies from the horrid water. News stories can often be great for these sorts of shots.
  5. The fifth picture is a bit weird. It did what a lot of pictures do in my folders: it caught my eye and wouldn’t let me forget about it. I always save these pictures. They somehow prevent me from scrolling on by. That’s good. You should save them to. What makes a wandering net surfer stop, will almost definitely make a reader pause in wonder, too.
  6. In the next picture I love the colour and bleakness of the landscape. It’s one of the shots that has blurred boundaries. It could easily have gone in either the people or the landscape folder. Sometimes I put pictures in both when they’re really blurred so I can always find them when it may be what I’m looking for. This picture tells a story in the still. Is she suicidal? Why? Is she playing with balance? Is she copying someone she’s seen before? Is she a ghost? What does her face look like? The questions just keep rolling.
  7. Now, this man in the city is also very interesting. His shoulders are hunched in. Is it cold? His expression is very ambiguous. Is he happy, crafty, miserable? The blackness of him in the landscape amplifies his character, too. He’s important in some way. It makes me yearn to create a world for him, a day and a story.
  8. The last guy is just like a song turned to a photo. He’s peddling an instrument home on a bike. It screams France to me. It’s also pretty surreal. There’s no discernible building anywhere near him. So many stories could be made from him or using him as a metaphor. Perhaps someone is taking something else ridiculously big home or riding into nothing?

Now here’s a sample of the pictures in my landscapes folder…

There are all sorts of pictures here from the surrealist art to the natural shot of a landscape. They are all useful to writing. Perhaps the bedroom tells you what a character is like, the sort of house they live in. Perhaps a beach starts a love story or a castle a failed siege? Landscapes can be used as much as objects and outfits to create a character, too. Perhaps your Charlotte has the temper of an ocean or is as flexible in ideas as sand. These pictures span a swath of ages and genres to me. They have many different associations and yet are all in the same folder.

My advice is to create a similar folder. You have been told, I’m sure, to have a notebook. This is your digital image inspiration book. Keep it fresh and keep adding to it.

For somewhere to get you started, this forum thread is where I get a lot of my pictures. (You don’t always have to do all the work! Sometimes people with similar taste have done some compiling for you!) INFP Forum Post  .

Now for the writing exercise!

  1. Grab a pen and notepad or a computer and blank document.
  2. Pick any pair of person and landscape and think about a short story or a poem including them both. The landscape doesn’t have to be the setting. It can inform their character. Similarly, the person doesn’t actually have to appear in the setting. Their qualities can be like a ghost in the landscape or the voice of the person describing the landscape. Give it a go!
  3. If you feel adventurous, feel free to add an extra person or landscape to the story. Maybe there’s a whole novel in there somewhere if someone can connect the dots!

Good luck and tell me what you get up to here or here!

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What Your Shoes Say About YOU :)

This is a little writing technique similar to ones I’ve been taught. I’ll show you two full outfits and then we can assess the character of the people who may wear them. This is easy character creation but also gives new ideas for how to describe pre-existing characters.

This is a woman – unless you have transvestite or transsexual ideas for characters.
Now let’s think of adjectives for her; sassy, formal, well-turned-out, posh, snobby, moneyed, rich, spoilt, fashionable, workaholic, fitness freak, minimalist…
You get the idea. The clothes give you some associations to work from.

Here’s a very different outfit.

This to me would suggest insecurity because of the layers or a scene-ness. Perhaps a punkiness, casual, street sports, attitude, sassy-ness, talks back, stays up late, creativity, sexual, if not insecure than confident. Perhaps this is a bravado…

Try creating your own characters in this way – search google images or look on your favourite and most hated clothes sites. Or give these characters a go. View the outfits, form your own evaluations of their character and write a story with both of them in.

Let me know if anything is useful and share if you want to!

Fish or Beef? Family and Taste.

We all know family changes us. There’s the big nature/nurture argument to go with it. What if our ancestry, our genes, does too?

The three pictures of forests spread throughout this post, for example, show the diversity of life even within one snapshot of forest. Place effects story and lives so much. Don’t forget if your story is based in cold climates to make it snow in winter or in wet climates to have swampy areas etc. Think about how these climates affect lifestyles, too; do they swim, canoe, ski, snowboard, travel, hitch-hike, rock climb?

Place is more important than you think. I read a book last year: Who’s your city? by Richard Florida. The idea is that certain qualities in people such as creativeness, liberalism, traditional etc will draw people to certain areas where these qualities are popular and centralised. It makes for an interesting read and some videos can be found online that talk about it. I read it as a: where should I live? Where would I like?

These qualities, if in the wrong amounts for your character, can, of course, create a lot of great tension in a piece. It’s worth experimenting with!

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Many families don’t know much of their history, at least not beyond grandparents. This can be where you find out who you really are. I’m not plugging any ancestry sites – usually the best information is on site anyway – but perhaps there are some places you can get started.

Personally, I know my grandfather was Latvian. I’ve looked into their culture, their way of life, and realised a lot of it I’d picked up without ever going there. From an incredibly young age I’ve loved anything pickled and vinegary. I thought, and still do think, that it is sweet. In Latvia dishes like sauerkraut and verrry vinegary fish are common place.

I also love potatoes and prefer chicken to beef. I also absolutely love fish. A lot of these things are popular or usual in Latvia, too.

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Perhaps it would be useful to get into your own histories to find a story. I’m thinking of writing a novel based in Latvia so perhaps there is a whole story of injustice, love or adventure hiding in your past too, whatever origin you may have.

If not, at least this might give you ideas about how to portray characters from other cultures: often they’ll pick up some, if not all, of the likes and taste, even if they never lived there.

Character: My Credentials.

Or something like that…

I have a little success story to report! I have won the October competition run by The Literary Consultancy on their facebook page to describe a character in three sentences based on the Diderot painting above.

I have received an analysis of my entry by Rebecca Swift and my writing is showcased in a post atop their facebook page . I’m very thankful for the recognition.

For those interested, this is what I wrote:

“Peteris was the shy, shuffling type that walked through squares with his eyes to the cobbles but, once home, sat dreaming through dark windows. He was a stable, dependable chap that was often called upon to fix watches, sketch portraits or thread a woman-friend’s needle. He never spoke an unneeded word.”

Please tell me what you think and maybe try your hand at the premise of the competition. I’d love to see what you come up with!

“Hello, Sir. Nice day, isn’t it?” *Character*

Character is a tricky thing to get right. If you get it spot on, it should be seamless, natural.

Dialogue is often the biggest facilitator of character.

Perhaps the first sentence is a little like this guy?

The title to this post, for instance, would imply a formal individual – the sentence uses formal language and is essentially small talk. It also leans toward implying a man over a woman – the speech is to the point. The pause before “Sir” indicated by the comma suggests something else: anger or the idea they are not quite happy deferring to the listener. It’s amazing how much you can give away casually in speech. Try reading things aloud, with punctuation, to spot things.

A girl may be more likely to phrase the sentence this way: “Hello Sir! Don’t you think it’s a lovely day?”

How about this one for a woman?

Both of these sentences are obviously high class when looking at word choice. This one seems more feminine because the world gets more layers of feeling than “good” “bad” and “crap”. Also, the exclamation point indicates an excitement or happiness about a very banal subject that most men don’t seem to have. She also asks for more validation than a man would with “don’t you think”. I’ve never heard a man phrase it that way.

Now, a lower class male may instead say: “Good day, ain’t it, eh Sir?”

Or this one for a worker?

The sentence structure here has dissolved. It’s less proper and there also seems to be no problem with the address of “Sir”.

However, there are other ways to impart character than dialogue. Narration and actions laced through it are also great ways but they are often done badly.

Many starting out writers will overload readers with information. (The colour of their shirt, eyes, hair, skin, shoes, necklace). Most of this is unnecessary: a big dollop of information all at once is normally never good. Information needs to be dispensed slowly throughout a piece of writing. The appearance of a character beyond small amounts of info (well dressed, shabby, ruffled, sporty etc) isn’t needed and is no substitute for character. Even the things I have mentioned here can be shown in setting. For instance, they may have a messy house with cheap goods littered about and no TV or they could have a treadmill and weights by the window.

If you show character well enough, a reader should be able to fill in the blanks – just give them the stuff that is unchangable, necessary or central to the plot and only if  you don’t show it elsewhere. Always, always, wonder if it is worth showing in other ways, too.

Good narrative manages this balancing act well. For example:

Thomas sat straight up in the wing back chair, a ruffle of hair over one eye. He jerked it free and took a large sip of red wine, savouring the taste before the swallow.

This is much better than, for instance:

Thomas sat in a wing back chair, old and patterned like wallpaper – the repetitive kind. He had dark mahogany, curly hair and often moved it to the side before drinking more wine. His ice blue eyes and porcelain skin made a great contrast to the drink.

This has much less character and implies less about the man. It tells us more about him, yes, but these facts aren’t all necessary. It’s pretty clunky, too. In a story, this would slow down the plot and bring a reader to a halt. Keep that story moving!

Hopefully this has given you a bit of an insight into how I do character. Please let me know what you think!

When I was little I was a vampire and got free sweets. I never thought of death.

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This is me with the scariest eyes I could find. If you want to know how to do the make up then scroll down over the historical bits (if you don’t like them) until you see more pics of yours truly!

We’ve all been that age when, once a year, our parents dress us up in adorable little outfits and take us down the street to collect free food. Once we’re a bit older we may even be let out without an adult escort.

What started off this family tradition? What is the history of Halloween?

Simply put, death. Humanity has been struggling with the concept of death for what seems like eternity. Different cultures and time periods have accepted it with varying degrees of success.

In Britain, for example, 31st October marks Halloween. It’s a festival for spooky outfits, pumpkins and scary tales of ghosts or monsters. But it’s also a day for free sweets (nom!)

However, Halloween was originally “Samhain” and was the start of Gaelic preparations for winter. The Celts must have had some very bad luck around autumn as this is also when much chaos, illness and crop failure was blamed on a thin line between the living and the dead.

Perhaps it was easier for them to explain these catastrophes, and death, through spiritual happenings rather than natural problems. There was no science then, after all. (Though I do acknowledge, and agree, that the spiritual explanation is much more fun).

It is possible that the festival has gained a much livelier, happier air because people in today’s world tend to ignore or put death off in order to function. Many people simply don’t face up to death on a regular basis in the modern world.

Alternatively, it could have become a bit of fun simply because the disasters attributed to the dead are now attributed to the weather or pests, even earthquakes.

However, the old tradition of facing the dead once a year is popular in other countries, too. For example, Mexico has long been known to celebrate The Day of the Dead.
To outsiders they seem to mock death – skull have smiles, are decorated in colourful ways…today sugar skulls are often eaten with the name of a dead relative on them.

Skulls in these countries were historically taken as trophies after battles, skirmishes and wars. They symbolised death and rebirth and kept their significance in later years. After all, aesthetically, the face is what a person is remembered for.

The lighter take on death in Mexico perhaps reflects their beliefs. It is believed that life isn’t the important part of living. The afterlife is the continuation of life and is like waking up after the dream. Therefore, death has a much more positive impact on their lives than in Britain where death is an ending, not a beginning.
Instead, it is a celebration of life, an acceptance of death and a view towards a better future.

I believe that both of these traditions are a way of explaining and dealing with the unexplained as well as gaining closure or positivity from death. The original Samhain and Day of the Dead show the opposite viewpoints on death (positive and negative).

Looking into the history of both has not just encouraged me to explain away their beliefs with scientific, modern solutions but also made me think.

What would it mean for the world if the dead really can communicate? What happens in a world where ghosts can interact with us? Where vampires are real?

These celebrations tap into that inner child in all of us that loves all these ideas and deeply wishes them real.

(A great, non-scary, family friendly movie to demonstrate this would be Halloweentown  ).

To end on a positive note – I hope you all enjoy your halloween – you’re never too old to dress up!

Like I have done! Here’s the first pic. I start by putting some dark black/grey eye shadow around my eyes and some black crayon-y eye-liner in the inner parts to make them less fleshy. Cheers!

Then I paint all my face white apart from the bit around the eyes.

Now I do the bit around the eyes a dark reddy-purple. Messed it up a little bit – not so neat! No true make up artist here!

Next I start outlining with these embellishments. Then colour them in blue, then add silver bits. I also added the nose – outlined an ace of spades and then filled it in. Simple.

  

Now even more outlining on the forehead! And some more blue and silver. 

Then I colour in my lips a terrific bright red and finish up with the black lines around the mouth and colouring in the heart.  The finished shots are the last two from the front and profile.

Here’s a full length shot. Ignore the mess please :).

A rainbow me too because rainbows are awesome 🙂

These were my tools

Any questions? Did you like what I did? Do you have better pictures to show me? Did you even enjoy/like halloween? Be sure to let me know – comment below or message me on twitter.
That’s all for now.

Thanks for reading!

My twitter: https://twitter.com/Holly_emma_Ice

Is My Novel in Tune? *Writing Soundtrack*


It has been too long since I last posted. I went home for the weekend, enjoyed the countryside but this doesn’t matter.

Music is today’s issue. Long journeys are best for music – by car, by foot, train, aeroplane. They zone out those horrible little munchkins that sit and scream on their mother’s knee. Spoilt brats. They stop the incessant beat of some hoodlum’s tasteless music. Besides all that, they give you an excuse not to have to talk to the last individual.

However, music is helpful for writing, too. I usually find I need silence when I’m first getting into the world I’m writing. I need to wander through their lives and this takes concentration, not beeping alarms and drunken warbles.

These things are, of course, all very useful for inspiration…just not the practicalities of getting started!

A lot of famous writers have admitted writing to music, too. So, what’s the allure?

Does the genre of music change the subject or tone of what you’re writing? Does it change the speed in which you write? Do the beats of the music naturally occur in the prose/poetry you produce?

This exercise should give you some answers to these questions and help you plan a soundtrack to your novel writing hours, should you want/need one.

I’ll try it first and analyse what I get. Here’s what you’ll need:

  1. A computer or notepad & pen.
  2. A stop clock: Timer (It’s free)
  3. Some videos/music from your mp3 player of choice.

I suggest you play the same songs/similar ones to me when first trying this to see if you get similar results but you are welcome to experiment.

The videos that I use (just below) have been placed on repeat. You can do this with youtube by going to the video you want and deleting the “uk.” or “au.” etc out of the URL bar before “youtube.com/”. Then change “youtube.com” to “youtuberepeat.com” and keep the rest of the URL the same.
Press enter and the song should be on repeat.

This allows each piece of writing to be effected by only one song.

Now, write without stopping (as far as it is possible to) and didn’t judge what you’ve written. No editing beyond spell check! Deal? Deal.
You can either time your writing or just write till you come to a natural end. I’m the latter kind of writer so have set no time limit.

This is what it inspired me to write:

The door slammed, a splash of water ruining her suede heels. She wiped her eyes, smearing the running eye liner, and blinked into the night. Prickles erected the hairs on her shoulders as water dotted her skin. Ignoring it, she checked the alleyway.

A cat was under the rubbish bin, its eyes flashes of colour reacting to every headlight, but she didn’t notice. she only saw the bin bag pyramid, the wet rankness that went hand in hand with damp cardboard and newly watered walls outside a waterhole.

Smiling, she hiked her tights, pulling a new hole into the smooth material, and took out her phone as she headed for the main street. It was an old thing: white scratches nicked the paintwork and the often bashed screen dulled its back-light with tiny trenches in the glass.

The clap of her heels was soon hidden by the screech of old breaks in double decker buses, the distant horn of an angry driver and the always present whir of a police car on patrol.

“Drop the phone.”

The words were cut by the metal at her neck. It was ungiving, maybe a thumb’s width at most. But, he had a posh accent. He spoke proper. She thought she could reason with him.

“Sorry honey, do I-”

“Don’t turn around.”

She stilled her neck, bit her lip and dropped the phone from her hand. It crashed to the floor, the last straw in their abusive relationship, and split into parts.

This took me around 15 minutes. (Sorry, I forgot to time it). Obviously, there will be some problems with it as it’s a first draft and unedited. That’s normal. What I will try to work out is if there are any simularities to the music.

For one, I had it rain in the scene. This is intrinsic to the song. I also seemed to have played off the beginning of the video and the images of 90s clubs that the video showed. I went for a young woman around the age of Shirley Manson when she sang the song and the melancholy feel to the track played out in the dangerous swing at the end of this section of prose. It also shows itself through how unaware the girl is, caught up in her good night out.

The echoing feel of the music could also have played into the auditory sounds in the story; the clap of her heels, the splash of the water, the screeches and whirs of the street. It has brought more than just the sense of sight to the story.

It took about 5/6 playthroughs of the song to write this much but it didn’t bore me when I finished, I just found a natural break in the piece.

I’ll try this exercise again with what you will (hopefully) agree is a very different style of music. This time I’ll try my best to remember to time it!

I grabbed my shoes and ran out the door, bag over one shoulder. The bus was at the stop, the end of the road. One minute. I sprinted, the bash of the bag bruising my back. Damn thing. I gulped air and reached the bus door as the doors started to squeak  The driver kept the door open, glaring. He’d have to deal. I nodded at him anyway, delivering my best good girl smile. His lips didn’t even move. Bad day or not, he was a jackass.

I moved down the bus, fingering the wire to my ipod around my neck. Most chairs were full. I could smell the nappy of a sleeping child. The mother stared out the window, eyes blinking with the break of the white stripes on the road. At least one person couldn’t taste the stench, then. Lucky cow.

A guy at the back was alone, reading the newspaper. The rustle was stupidly loud as I sat down. I looked over, to see what was so interesting. It looked financial. Boring. I covered my ears in music and zoned into my newest big thing: The Thumps. They had music right. It thumped, it moved, it sang. My feet bobbed on the chewing gum floor and added new black streak marks to its pattern. I liked to think of them as my feet’s sheet music. I’d be able to write it all down some day, after the classes, after I’d learnt all the moves.

the bus stopped and I jumped down, imagining a pirouette as I landed, absorbing the force of the fall. The great pillars of the contemporary dance academy posed above me. I forced my feet to a slow, decorous walk and tried to keep my face serene, serious.

It was a losing battle.

The inside was just as impressive. Wooden panelling reached half up the wall and above that leafy wallpaper spread to the painting ceiling. It was old world, grand. A bony lady, wrinkled and sat sideways in her seat, watched me carefully. She saw that my outfit was wash-bobbled, that the shoes wrapped around my wrist were scuffed threadbare. Well, fuck her.

“Sara Wilbury. I’m here for the six o’clock session?”

The grey haired matron checked her lists and grimaced when she found my name, checking it off; she couldn’t send me away, after all. Ha!

“Second door on the left. Be good.”

I snorted. I am and that’s her problem. You have to be good to get in here and this is not going to be the last she sees of me.

“See you again tomorrow, lady.”

I said the last with just the right spice of sarcasm and slipped through the floor to ceiling brass-knobbed doors. My first day. Here it is!

This took me 14 minutes and 16 seconds to write or 5 playthroughs. Again, there are mistakes. There are places where paragraphs need to be split or description added etcetera but it has the bare bones of a beginning.

The song actually really helped me for this one. The fast paced beat to the track helped me get into the mind of an energetic teenager who’s as excited and passionate about their day as a four year old on their first day of school. The prose therefore reads fast, almost as stream of consciousness.

The class issues it speaks about are probably what helped me create the conflict with the public and the secretary too.

So, give it a go. Maybe music can create ideas where you didn’t have any. As I can tell you honestly, I had no story ideas in my head at all until I started writing to these tracks. Give it a go! It doesn’t take long, promise.

You might even find something you like and want to expand.

Even if you don’t, perhaps this exercise helped in other ways. It’s possible it has taught you what works and what doesn’t. For instance, on a slow writing day a fast paced song might help you punch out those words or a particular theme of music might help for a certain genre of writing. Experiment with it and find what fits.

***The pictures in this post are all picture I’ve found after doing the exercises to give you something to go with the story, for the more visually inspired. ***

As usual, I still have a twitter.

If you want to contact me in general though, feel free to comment or message me either here or there.

In case you’re interested, my next post will be about characterisation.

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