Prodigal Son

Well, now, it’s been a while, hasn’t it?

Like a  medicine long forgotten, WordPress tastes weird but strong, and it cures what ails me.

How have you all been? I see that my friends have stayed vigilant in writing, in sharing, in inspiring.  I’ve been good myself, riding a wave that tosses me this way and that most days but never bores me.

I haven’t stopped writing because I haven’t stopped breathing. The novel in my mind trickles down to my fingertips, and it feels good to let it spill onto my keyboard.

However, I have been delving more and more into streaming and YouTube content creation. I’ve been focusing more on videogames, but I do long to come back to my roots and simply share ideas with my wonderful fellow bloggers. 🙂

So I hope to keep my blog up to date more often. I also have a website–www.mikereverb.com if you’re interested–and my YouTube channel is www.YouTube.com/MikeReverb.

But to all my friends, do tell me how you’ve been in the comments below. We shall palaver & pass the time wonderfully. 🙂

prodigalson

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NaNoWriMo

 

It’s about that time, eh? The thirty days of parole for our usually restrained brains.

National Novel Writing Month!!!

My brain was a bit disheveled, squinting in the sunlight, unsure what he should do with all the freedom. But like a fat kid in a bacon house, my brain’s starting to tear things up.

I’ve been writing quite a bit the past three days, thankfully, and I’m looking forward to interacting with the NaNoWriMo community for inspiration and laughs. The periodic emails from the staff are a great start;  if you haven’t yet, and you’ve got a potential novel burning in your heart, mosey on down to http://www.nanowrimo.org and sign up. Don’t leave for tomorrow what you can do today.

For this month I’ve vowed to abandon my usually perfectionist tendencies, which have kept me tinkering with a single chapter for weeks on occasion. But not this time! Just gotta keep my eyes on the 50,000 word goal.

For those of you who have finished a National Novel Writing Month in the past or are knee deep in one for the first time, what tips can you share for “winning” it by December 1st?

Diggin’ Dialogue: Zombie Tears

Just a short bit of dialogue I was messing around with the other day. Bon appetite!

“You think zombies cry?”

“Come again?”

“Zombies. Shed tears. Weep. Cry.”

“Here—use this bag. Crying? That’s like wondering if trees fart.”

“It’s a serious philosophical question. Do they even feel pain? Have they got any sense of loss? You know, whatever’d make you cry a little.”

“Careful, he might hear you.”

“No ears, genius.”

“One’s right over there, under the dumpster.”

“So?”

“Yes, ok? They cry. Can we get back to this please?”

“Why would a zombie cry then?”

“Because all he wants to do is give us a hug and a kiss, and we keep running away.”

“Seriously, man.”

“Or he wants to share the Good News with you so that Jesus will live in your heart, but you won’t open the door for his prayer group. The fuck should I know? I don’t even think about this shit. Have you ever seen one cry?”

“Sort of; I saw one that looked pretty depressed. She was hanging out by the liquor store—”

“I’d cry if they ran out of vodka too—”

“—and she had this look on her face, like she was upset or hurt and–careful around the teeth. Yeah, turn the head around. Anyway, she just sat there on the sidewalk staring at nothing, and I felt kind of . . . I don’t know . . . sorry for her? Do you think she was remembering something sad?”

Flash Fiction: “Supply and Demand”

I felt motivated today to write a short piece set in my novel’s world. It’s a bit of an offshoot, a side-story rather than a part of the novel proper.

It’s definitely got my writing mojo working, however, so I’ll probably write some more of ye olde novel tonight.

Enjoy!

 

“Supply and Demand”

Daniel cried.

From the darkness around his bed came a low, deep hum. He couldn’t see anyone, of course, but in his mind’s eye they were hulking forms that swayed from side to side.

Every few seconds one would move closer, and the smell of its hunger caused him to scream. Daniel fed them, he knew, thickened them and made them louder. But he didn’t know how to stop the tears. He felt something cold on his cheek, and he screamed louder and harder than he’d ever done before. He tried to pull away, but his arms and legs ignored him.

In the distance, somewhere beyond his bedroom, he could make out the low hiss of whispers. It sounded like two people, and a few words pierced the humming and his sobs. Words like “enough” and “almost.” He tried to ignore the things hovering over him and to focus on the whispers. Who was there? Why weren’t they helping him?

More words.

“Client will be . . .”

“. . . yes, purest around . . . ”

Daniel tried to say something, but his throat was raw and flaky from screaming, and all that came out was a pitiful whine. He didn’t notice when the cold thing was lifted from his cheek or when the humming began to die down.

He wondered where his parents were . . .

Reading as a Writer: “Don’t Do It!” he exclaimed.

Feathers rustled.

Alrighty. I’ve got this theory, and I’d like to share it with you: reading books from the perspective of a writer will rarely give you an accurate impression of what your readers think when they read.

Let me explain.

I’m a writer. As a wordsmith, I enjoy clinkin’ and clangin’ at the old literary anvil, producing text that’s strong and sharp. Or so I hope.

The problem is that to be a writer, you consciously have to notice things in writing that other people usually don’t (literary techniques, word usage, etc.). We’re able to analyze the structure and elements of a story, poem, or any other piece of writing.

Why is that a problem? Because as a writer, you tend to project your unique perspective onto your readers. You see the literary world in a certain way—you notice adverbs, plot devices, and dialogue attributions because you’re trained to use them yourself—and you assume that every component of your writing has the same effect on your readers.

But I’d wager that most readers don’t care about the details that you and I, as writers, give meaning to and obsess over. Take dialogue attributions. I’ve seen it mentioned in more than one manual on writing that “said” is the only attribution you should use. “Said,” it is said, is stealthy, invisible.

To use another attribution is to draw attention to your writing and to take your readers out of the moment.

“I hate you” whispered Oliver. NO!

“I hate you” said Oliver. YES!

But, wait, no, it actually doesn’t because most readers are NOT usually reading a work with writers’ eyes. The analysis above is based on already knowing a rule, one that frowns upon using anything but “said.” A rule that was established by someone else and which has a reasoning behind it, a very subjective bit of reasoning.

So when you see “whispered” or “yelled” or “muttered,” your writer’s brain goes “What the fuck?” and you frown.

Non-writers? Totally oblivious. Their frame of mind is different from a writer’s; they point out different things that they love or hate. Don’t believe me? Scan reviews for popular and not so popular books on Amazon and other websites. You can tell almost write away who reads a book from a writer’s perspective and who represents the average reader. What they point out is VERY different

Seriously, when was the last time you heard an average reader complain about the minutiae writers tend to notice?

So, the next time you’re deciding whether to use a technique or not, think about how you’re looking at your own writing: are you seeing your work through the eyes of a writer who knows a ton of rules, or are you seeing it through the eyes of the average reader who is oblivious to 90% of that stuff?

Ok. Un-ruffling feathers.

But that’s just my humble opinion.  What do you guys think? Do writers and readers view books differently, or do we all notice the same things and just express them differently?

“Fuck It” or A Treatise on Procrastination

Psych! This isn’t a treatise. Who writes those anymore, anyway?

It will deal with the subject of procrastination, however,  a topic that was crammed into my brain pan after reading the latest post by Ms. Honesty.

Like any other human being on the planet, I’ve fallen victim to procrastination again and again. It was a way of life in college–I’d write essays the morning they were due. Not just 2-5 page ditties but 20+ page symphonies.

Fortune cookie procrastination

This habit has seeped into (or perhaps originated in?) other areas of my life: household errands, appointments with doctors, paperwork.

Oh, and finishing my novel . . .

My weapons against procrastination tend to be twofold:

1) external motivation (“motivation” can be replaced with nagging, threats of violence, or being disowned, depending on who is involved) or

2) Fuck it

Now, the first is one that we’re all familiar with. You put off doing the dishes long enough, and you will get a bit of external motivation from your spouse, parents, or child services.

The second, however, is a different beast. It involves abandoning all types of inhibitions, rationalizations, and poor excuses.

It is the purest expression of internal motivation that I know of, and it goes something like this.

I want to write 2,000 words today. But, I also want to watch a movie, read a book, play a videogame, call up a friend, eat a cheesestick, anything BUT what I know I really should be doing.

So I sit and weigh the benefits of writing those 2,000 words: I’ll have a few pages of my novel done, so I’ll be closer to editing it and publishing it and making tons of money (I didn’t say they were realistic benefits).

But I still feel the pull of those other things, particularly the cheesesticks in my fridge– I tend to eat them slowly, sinewy string by string. It’s a process.

That’s when my final defense kicks in. It’s an overwhelming sense that I should just do it. In my mind, I keep saying “fuck it, just do it.” No reasoning, no cost/benefit analysis. Just get up from my seat, pull up my Word document, and write. I then think of each of my body parts moving. “Fuck it, just pick up your feet, put your ass in your chair, and type.” I keep saying it until I feel a kind of involuntary tingling or twitch in my limbs, and when it becomes unbearable, I get up and just do what I should.

There’s no voodoo, no multi-step program, no affirmation necessary. It’s a silent prayer that starts with “fuck it” and ends with me writing.

But what about you guys? What do you do to beat procrastination? If you don’t procrastinate, then what does godhood feel like?

 

Time Is On My Side

Oh, time. How are we supposed to think about you? Are you linear with a firm past, present, and future? Or are you cyclical, repeating yourself occasionally?

 

This past weekend, I watched another great episode of Breaking Bad, which is in its fifth (and, lamentably, final) season. Every time I watch a new episode, I try to pinpoint exactly what it is that I love so much about the show. It grips me in a way that few other programs can, and the usual analysis of acting, character development, plot progression, and more can yield potent reasons for why it’s such a fantastic show.

However, I realized that one of the many reasons why I enjoy the show so much is how it handles time.

Most shows provide a very linear progression to their plots. You meet the characters, find out their motivations and goals, and watch them try to achieve those goals. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes they fail, but events are pretty straightforward. Sure, there are some flashback sequences, but for the most part, things progress linearly towards a climax sometime in the future.

Not so with Breaking Bad.

Walter White, Breaking Bad, Final Season

Each season begins or at some point includes a glimpse into the future:  a scene introduces us to an event that won’t take place until the middle or end of the current season. A season might open with destroyed objects—burned toys for instance—and as the season progresses, we try to figure out what exactly happened: why are those items destroyed? Was there an explosion? Was someone killed? Maybe a major character?

It creates a unique kind of tension because you know that something bad will happen, but you don’t know when, how, or why. Everything you see on the show is framed by that one event: is THAT person going to cause the explosion or whatever destroyed those objects? Is THIS why they decided to go there? You just don’t know!

It’s a storytelling technique that has absolutely captivated me, and I find myself testing it out in my own writing. It’s a tease, a “hey, this is going to happen, but you don’t know why, and whatever conclusions you come up with now are going to be challenged as you read/watch more!”

But I’ve also read many books on writing that frown upon these kinds of techniques. Flashbacks and scenes set in the future take readers out of the present action, they say, and thus have the potential to bore and/or disorient readers who want to know what’s happening right now.

Well, if you’ve been following my blog for a bit, you already know how I feel about some of these “rules.”

But what do you think? How do you enjoy time in books and movies? Do you enjoy flashbacks and scenes in the future, or do you prefer linear storytelling?

What’s In A Name?

Ah. It feels good to be back.

Let’s hop right into a bit of mental massaging, shall we?

Names.

 

Those sounds you make to identify someone, something, or someplace. Since I’ve dived back into my novel writing,  coming up with names for my characters has become a renewed source of fun.

There’s just something . . .  fulfilling about finding the right name for a character. A villain named Maurice just doesn’t have the same “oomph” as a Max or Magnus. The right name fits the character like a glove, and you can imagine other characters referring to him or her in anger or hate.

Yet names don’t have to be complex, polysyllabic affairs either. Who would ever suspect a name like Walter could inspire sympathy, respect, and fear, but it happened in Breaking Bad.

I tend to find names in a variety of places. I once found the name for an antagonist while watching a documentary on the history of cocaine. The expert who was interviewed had an intriguing name, so I opened up a chapter of my novel and tried it out. And wouldn’t you know it: it fit!

J.K. Rowling has mentioned that she researched names by scouring phonebooks, which sounds like an excellent idea.

So how do you find names for your characters?

Watching Groundhog Day Will Help You Understand Fiction Writing Better

Phil: I’m a god.

Rita: You’re God?

Phil: I’m a god. I’m not *the* God… I don’t think.

Oh, Phil, how right you are. If I may, however, I’d like to add another group to your pantheon: writers.

That’s right, writers are godlike. But before you begin jotting down your commandments and demanding calves be burned in your honor, keep in mind that our powers are limited to the blank page (sorry!).  Let’s discuss what Groundhog teaches us about godhood and writing.

Know Your Worshippers-er-Characters

After reliving February 2nd several times over, Phil Connors knows quite a bit about everyone in Punxsutawney. He’s gotten them to share their beliefs, desires, and memories; he knows some of them so well that he can manipulate them to do what he wants.

Phil learns everything he can about his co-anchor Rita, from her love of French poetry to her dislike or white chocolate, in order to woo her properly, to get the desired result he wants.

Writers, take note: if you’re looking for a reaction from your characters, know what motivates them. Learn everything you can about them. It doesn’t have to be all at once—some writers prefer to write an entire history of their characters; others favor developing the character as they go along.

Either way, a clear understanding of who your character is can be helpful: what he or she likes, how she’d react if she received white chocolate instead of milk chocolate, how her past has affected her growth as a person. Otherwise, you may find it difficult to keep the character’s actions consistent throughout the story.

Your Will Be Done

In Groundhog Day, each day plays out exactly the same . . . until Phil does something to change the routine.  In one version, he’s taking money from the back of an armored truck. In another, he’s trying to make a homeless man’s life as enjoyable as possible.

Without Phil’s input, the day would go on as usual. Each choice he makes creates a different outcome, and he’s able to go back and try something different the next day.

Phil is basically living several different narratives based on what he does and to whom.

Your characters and story are exactly the same. Different actions = different reactions. Does your character kiss the girl or push her away? Will he take that job in Paris or won’t he? Is he going to accept the pact with the demon or reject it?

Personally, I like to write out mini scenes that branch out from a single choice. If my main character’s talking to someone, I’ll let him agree with her in one version and disagree in another; the outcomes should be and are very different, and like in Groundhog Day, it’s only when I hit that sweetspot that the day/scene progresses normally.

So the next time you’re in front of your digital page, remember what Groundhog Day teaches us: you’re a god.  Learn everything you can about your characters, then poke them and see how they react.

Or try the reverse, poke them, see how they react, and learn from it.

Want to learn more cool stuff? Fill your braaaaaaain with  What Zombies Can Teach Us About Writing.

Music is My DeLorean Time Machine

Aaron looks up at me with brooding eyes and sighs.

Something’s not right.

Usually, he’s clever and confident, ready to cut anyone down to size with his rapier wit.

He doesn’t feel depressed, nor does he whine, which is what he’s starting to do right now. He’s complaining in the middle of a post-apocalyptic wasteland full of demons, werewolves, giants, and other supernatural creatures. They’re itching to toss something heavy at him to shut him up.

Then it dawns on me: Aaron, the main character in my novel, hasn’t changed a bit—I have.

I’ve run across this problem more than once during my writing. I’m the kind of guy who writes and polishes a scene over the course of a few days, not in one sitting. I’ll start my journey into a decrepit shopping mall on Monday and won’t leave until Wednesday or Thursday (note: it’s pretty scary in there).

Unfortunately, life isn’t always the most understanding of forces, and emotions do shift throughout the week. So what I felt as I started the scene on Monday may be quite different on Wednesday.

I don’t know about you, but my emotions affect all that I do, including poor Aaron who’s wondering what’s going on!

But! I have just the solution for times like these: start up the old DeLorean Time Machine. I call her Spotify, and I’m eager to hop into the back seat, tap the flux capacitor, and push her to 88mph until we’re back to a few days earlier when I was in a different place emotionally.

I feel the bass of “Feel Good Inc” by Gorillaz, and I’m back in the groove. Suddenly, Aaron isn’t taking crap from anybody, and I’m smiling again.

If your writing starts to look a bit off when you come back to it, if you’re making changes that you normally wouldn’t, stop! Take a step back. You might be in 2015!

It’s time to travel back to 1955 and make sure Biff doesn’t kiss your mom!

Well, uh, something like that.

“But Doc!” you might ask. “What if we run out of uranium, and we’re stuck in 2015?” Emotional ruts can happy to anyone.

I’d suggest looking for an alternate energy source. Pour your writing into another scene entirely to take advantage of your newfound emotion. Maybe there’s a darker scene written from the perspective of your novel’s villain.

Or, perhaps you have a side project–a short story, a poem, or even another novel—that has a very different tone from your current one. This could be the perfect opportunity to work on it a bit until you’re at the emotional level you need to be to write your novel again.

Before you know it, you’ll be back where you belong!

The journey of a writer is a difficult one, but we’re strong enough to make it. When the road gets bumpy, remember one thing: where we’re going, we don’t need roads. 🙂

So what’s your DeLorean Time Machine when you find yourself in a rut?