Tag Archives: writing

Hello, there! I’m Back.

Hello, everyone. It’s been…. quite awhile. One year, four months, and nine days to be precise. Yikes.

What have I been doing over the past year? Not a lot, honestly. OK, that’s not true at all. I’ve been busy, I just haven’t been writing. That kind of sucks, but it’s also been good in some ways, I think. I’ve taken some time to re-invest in my physical, mental, and emotional health through travel and running; worked really hard and grown a lot at my job; and done some definite values reassessing. But let’s get to some specifics, yeah? And then I can share some exciting news with you all! Continue reading

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Filed under My Novel, Uncategorized, Writing

Creative Theft: 3 Great Writers Who Stole Their Best Ideas

It’s vital that all authors find their own voice and strive toward a creative approach to their story. However, it’s also a little ridiculous to believe that all works of fiction must be entirely new and original. For instance, I grew a little nervous when a friend compared the magic system in my book to alchemy in Fullmetal Alchemist. But then, after considering historical precedent, I relaxed. After all, many of the great storytelling franchises relied heavily on past works. Here are three:

Screencapture - Fullmetal Alchemist (2003, directed by Seiji Mizushima

Screencapture – Fullmetal Alchemist (2003), directed by Seiji Mizushima

 

The Works of William Shakespeare
Assuming you believe Shakespeare existed (If you don’t, keep that opinion to yourself. This is a bard-friendly blog.), you are probably familiar with the fact that he did “borrow” the plots of most of his plays from other writers. One of those writers would be Geoffrey Chaucer. Like Shakespeare, Chaucer also borrowed many of his plots from other writers, including an Italian poet called Giovanni Boccaccio. A good example of this borrowing can be seen in Shakespeare’s play, Troilus and Cressida. Shakespeare’s plot was heavily influenced by that of Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde, which itself was influenced by Boccaccio’s Il Filostrato. So, even the great writers of history have stolen from each other from time to time.

Boccaccio

Engraved portrait of Giovanni Boccaccio (1313–1375) by Raffaello Sanzio Morghen (1758-1833) after Vincenzo Gozzini and dated 1822 (Source: Wikipedia)

 

The Lord of the Rings
Sometimes seen as the father of high fantasy, J.R.R. Tolkien is much loved and respected by readers the world over. I, too, love Tolkien; The Hobbit was one of the very first chapter books I ever read. It’s also well known that Tolkien based much of his world building on pre-existing cultures on Earth. Mythology too played a huge influence on Tolkien’s writing, a good example of which is displayed in Tolkien’s favorite plot device, The One Ring. Tolkien based his ring heavily off of Plato’s Ring of Gyges, a mythical artifact that turned the wearer invisible. Furthermore, the Ring of Gyges sparks a debate in Plato’s works between Socrates and another; they argue over whether that power would always be taken advantage of by the wearer, or if a just person could withstand it and resist his base desires. It’s pretty easy to see the link between the corruption of the Ring of Gyges and that of The One Ring; the biggest difference is that no one can resist The One Ring forever.

Plato

The School of Athens (detail of Plato). Fresco, Stanza della Segnatura, Palazzi Pontifici, Vatican. (Source: Wikipedia)

Star Wars
A cultural touchstone in its own right, many modern works owe a great deal to the Star Wars franchise. However, like the previously mentioned franchises, Star Wars owes much to other works. What resonates most with many fans of the original films was the blending of familiar elements (plots structures, character types) with futuristic settings. George Lucas pulled those familiar elements from mythology from around the world. For Luke’s journey in particular, Lucas relied heavily on the works of Joseph Campbell. And, lest I forget, I feel I should also mention the Japanese film The Hidden Fortress, directed by Akira Kurosawa. This film is told primarily from the perspective of two bickering peasants (not so different from C-3P0 and R2-D2), and also features a battle-hardened warrior (like Obi Wan Kenobi) and a rebellion-leading princess (like Princess Leia).

While I want my books to feel fresh and original, I also have to be aware that borrowing from other works is not a sin. I do feel, though, that I should be aware of my influences. One thing I do admire about George Lucas is that he has never shied away from giving credit to his influences. If nothing else, it’s a good way to introduce younger audiences to time-tested works.

How do you guys feel about borrowing from works? Should it be frowned on, or celebrated? Is there a line between the two, and when have you seen it crossed?

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My Favorite Poems

I love poetry, in all its forms. And guess what? April is National Poetry month. So, in celebration of this great art form, here are my favorite poems. My normal gig for listing my favorite things often includes my reasoning for each. However, I think I’ll withhold my analysis this week and just provide a simple list. For me, my experience of poetry is intimate and personal and sometimes it’s impossible to explain why I connect with a particular piece.

“And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.” – Walt Whitman, “The Song of Myself”

 

Dulce et Decorum Est“, Wilfred Owen

Song of Myself“, Walt Whitman (read aloud here)

Ornithography“, Billy Collins

The Weary Blues“, Langston Hughes

Daddy“, Sylvia Plath

Early in the Morning“, Li-Young Lee

DSCN1023

A pretty flower in Germany.


As an extra present, here’s a link to 10 British poems being read aloud. They aren’t my favorite poems, but, for me, hearing poetry aloud is a true delight.

Do you guys have any favorite poems?

 

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Two Approaches to Worldbuilding

Worldbuilding is one of my favorite aspects of storytelling. Whether the story is fantasy, science fiction, or some dystopian future, a great world design can make or break a story’s credibility and inspire countless future stories. In celebration of this marvelous act of creation, I’m going to share two basic approaches to start building your new world.

But first, let’s discuss what worldbuilding actually means.

Forgotten_villa_by_CptHandel

Sometimes I like to start my world building by sketching . Here’s a building I sketched for one of my older stories.

Define: Worldbuilding
Worldbuilding is the creation of an imaginary setting, whether it be a small town or an entire universe. These imaginary worlds should have internal logic based on geography, history, biology, and so forth. They can be used for fictional novels, video games, tv shows, movies, and pretty much any other story-based media form. The best created worlds serve the story, enriching the setting of the characters and plot but not overwhelming them.

There are many aspects of a world you can latch onto when starting your story. However, I’ve found that there are two basic but reliable approaches to starting the worldbuilding process.

scan0001

This is Ofrina, an early map of a continent I created. I used political map because I was trying to decide the country borders.

Top Down Approach
A fairly common approach to worldbuilding is what I like to call the top down approach. The concept is simple: you start with the details of the world you want to build, and then work backwards, figuring out the world’s history and so forth to support the end product you want. For instance, say I wanted to tell a story where my main character was a member of a tribe of blue-skinned people. To build a world to support this idea, I’d need to work backwards, and ask myself questions about how this group of people came to exist. Are they the only blue-skinned people in this world? Were they created by a higher being, or did they evolve? From these questions, I can start to branch off these few details I know and create a fully realized world.

The top down approach has its positives and negatives. It works well because it allows for a clear picture of the end product. In this way, it’s easier to not forget the story and be overwhelmed by the immensity of an imagined world. It helps with early character creation, too. However, if the creator doesn’t have a clear understanding of what the world should look like when they start, the top down approach might cause more problems than it solves. If I change my mind and make my blue-skinned people have the ability to fly, I might have to go back to the drawing board. So, for people without a clear picture of what sort of world they want their story to be set in, it’s better to start with the bottom up approach.

The Bottom Up Approach
The bottom up approach begins with the very foundation of the world you’re going to create. Basically, you start with creating a world (earth-like or not) to serve as your canvas. To this, you add geography. What does your world look like? Also, it’s a good idea to decide how the sciences play out in your world. Some storytellers are happy saying that physics, biology, chemistry, and so on are just like earth’s. That is just fine. However, if you want to play around with those, feel free. Just make sure you research things so they stay internally logical. If you want to build a world where photosynthesis doesn’t exist, you better know what photosynthesis is and why it’s important for plants. Now is also a good time to decide if your world has some special aspect, such as magic or a unique energy source.

Once you have your foundation, it’s time to add the people/life forms that inhabit this world. How does this environment affect them? It’s probably not a homogeneous group (and if it is homogeneous, you better have a darn good reason why), so adding various cultural makeups is a good idea. From here, it’s a matter of figuring out details like language, politics, history, and so on before refining the final product to fit your story. It’s important to keep that internal logic you spent so much time crafting, but you also want to make sure you leave room for your story. Hopefully a this point your imagination is firing on all cylinders, and you’ve found a great source of conflict or a really interesting idea for a main character.

So, how do you guys feel about worldbuilding? I’m considering writing a second post with finer details about what we need to think about when we build a world, like infrastructure and political systems. Would that interest people?

P.S. Sorry I missed last week’s post. My husband and I were a bit under the weather, and also I’ve been trying to finish my latest draft of Footfall.

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My Characters and a Q&A with the Artist Who Drew Them

Oscar and Mary Drake. Art by Michelle Luise.

 

I’m so excited today. Why? Because I finally have a visual representation of my work-in-progress’s main characters, Oscar and Mary Drake. This picture is so beautiful. I love the lighting, particularly how it streams through the trees. I love how you can get a little glimpse of Oscar and Mary’s personalities just by seeing their faces. It’s just so AWESOME!

I’m also pleased as punch to say the picture was drawn and colored by artist (and good friend) Michelle Luise. She did such an amazing job. What’s more, she agreed to answer a few of my questions on her art and her process. I hope you guys enjoy this interesting insight into an artist’s world!

H: How long have you been an artist? Did you go to school for it, or are you self taught?
M: That’s a bit of a tough question! I’ve enjoyed creating art for most of my life, but I would say that I really started to draw consistently around 2001, so I guess about fourteen years at this point! I’m primarily self taught, though I did take art courses throughout my college career, as well as several courses over the past decade dealing with graphic design. It’s been in the last four years that I’ve begun to take art more seriously as a potential career path.

H: What is your favorite medium to work with?
M: My work is done primarily using digital means, and I would say that is my favorite medium to work with! I currently work with a decade old Wacom Intuos 3 tablet, and the bulk of my work is done using Paint Tool SAI, though I will occasionally use Manga Studio/Clip Studio Paint for inking. Working digitally allows for me to cut down on art supply costs – while a tablet and art programs are expensive up front, I don’t have to worry about the costs for canvas or paper, etc. When it comes to traditional mediums, however, I do enjoy working with charcoal or graphite.

H: When you decide to draw a person or a scene, how do you start? Is the picture fully formed in your mind at the beginning, or does it take shape as you go?
M: It depends on the piece! A lot of time, when I’m constructing a piece, I do have one particular part in mind but not necessarily the entire image. I will often times know the expression that I want, or I know one tiny piece that absolutely needs to be included, and the whole image can be built around that. A recent piece I did, for example, was constructed around wanting to draw two characters clasping hands – from that point, I worked to figure out how the rest of the drawing would work in relation to that part of the pose. For the painting of Oscar and Mary, I decided early on that I wanted to position Mary facing the viewer, with Oscar behind her. Their exact poses changed a few times, but where they were in relation to each other stayed the same. Other times, I will have a set goal in mind when working – I want to use negative space effectively, or I want to use a particular color scheme. There are, of course, times when I have a full, complete image in my mind. Actually, at initial concept stages, I do almost always have a complete image. However, I try to focus in on what parts of the piece I consider the most important aspects and work around those, and I do try to be flexible, as sometimes the complete image I have in my mind does not translate to a drawn image quite how I envisioned it.

H: Are you strictly interested in producing portraits/drawings, or would you also consider working on cover art or book illustrations?
M: I would absolutely consider working on covers or illustrations! In general, what I most enjoy drawing is the human face and figure, but that by no means limits me to only portraits. I have actually done some work in the past with designing book cover images, and I’m currently working with a close friend on a short comic. Drawing more complete scenes and paintings is something that I am certainly interested in working on more!

H: Are you currently accepting commissions?
M: If I was answering this yesterday, I would say yes, but I am now actually fully scheduled with commissioned work! I will likely be opening up commissions again in the next few months.

H: Where can people see your art work?
M: I am currently working on putting together an online portfolio where people will be able to view my artwork, though I do not yet have this up and running. This is another thing which will be hopefully up and running in the next few months!

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Four Great Female Friendships From Classic Literature

Literature is full of great, timeless friendships. Currently, however, there is a scarcity of really great female friendships circulating publishing these days, especially YA. This is sad, because with all the great heroines we’re getting, it seems a massive oversight. Look at The Fault in Our Stars, a great YA book with a female heroine and no important female friendship of note. Or, even consider The Hunger Games. Again, there is a strong female character, but Katniss’s most important female friendship is with her little sister (who she sees almost as a daughter to be protected).

I’m so interested by female friendships because I see them as a key cornerstone in establishing more diverse books. If a story’s heroine has a solid relationship with her female friend, it also goes to say that the book has more than one female character. Also, the great friendships show that a woman can draw strength from her relationships without having to relate through a man.

So, to remind the world that lady friendships can rock in works of fiction, here are my four favorite female friendships from classic British Literature*.

Elizabeth Bennet and Charlotte Lucas: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
The relationship between main character Elizabeth Bennet and her friend Charlotte Lucas offers a great example of a female friendship. Both women depend on the other for emotional support. Even though Pride and Prejudice is seen as a great romance novel, Elizabeth and Charlotte’s relationship is not defined or motivated by either one’s relationship to Mr. Darcy, Mr. Collins, or any other man. Another reason Elizabeth and Charlotte’s relationship is so great is because it’s not even intrinsic to the plot. I feel a lot of writers worry that if they invest too much into a pair of characters’ relationship to one another, it’ll overshadow another relationship. However, with Lizzy and Charlotte we see a natural, important female friendship that does not overshadow any other aspect of the book. Another bonus to Pride and Prejudice is that Elizabeth is really good friends with her sister Jane as well. So, we not only have one great female friendship, we have two!

Lizzy and Charlotte

Besties through and through

 

Jane Eyre and Helen Burns: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
I first read Jane Eyre  at a point in my life when I still enjoyed reading romance, and petulant, Byronic male love interests were my favorite. However, if we look at the tragically short relationship between school-aged Jane Eyre and her friend Helen Burns, we see a beautiful female friendship. What I love most about Helen and Jane’s relationship is how much Jane grows from it. Jane has a hard upbringing, but from Helen she learns not just kindness, but also how to deal with the idea of people not liking her through no fault of her own. This is a hard life lesson, but a genuine one that Jane carries with her for the rest of her life. 

Beatrice and Hero: Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare
Cousins, Beatrice and Hero are an example of how even relatives can become great friends. Beatrice teases Hero about her affections for Claudio, and Hero schemes to get Beatrice and Benedick together. Their affection for one another is genuine and free of petty jealousies and rivalries. In fact, when Claudio accuses Hero of being *ahem* not a maiden and breaks off their engagement, Beatrice storms into one of my favorite lines in the play:

Is [Claudio] not approved in the height a villain, that
hath slander’d, scorn’d, dishonour’d my kins-
woman?–O that I were a man!–What, bear her
in hand until they come to take hands; and then,
with public accusation, uncover’d slander, un-
mitigated rancour,–O God, that I were a man! I
would eat his heart in the market-place.

You read right folks. Beatrice just threatened to eat the heart of the man who scorned her best friend. It’s just so awesome. There’s so much solidarity between Beatrice and Hero.

beaucoup de bruit pour rien

“Touch my cousin and I’ll cut you like a fish!”

 

Clarissa Dalloway and Sally Seton: Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
There’s a passion and uniqueness to Clarissa and Sally’s relationship. Clarissa loves Sally’s lack of inhibition and frankness. Clarissa even recounts Sally kissing her in the garden to relay an element of sexual tension in their relationship. What I love most about Clarissa and Sally’s relationship is how it spans years. It does not end with Clarissa’s youth, but continues on into their adulthood. Also, even though Clarissa and Sally have not seen each other for some time, when Sally arrives at a party Clarissa throws she still clearly considers Clarissa a very close friend.

 

So, what are your favorite female friendships? Can you think of any great friendships from modern literature, film, or television?

*I studied mostly British literature in college; hence, my favorites are all from British literature.

 

 

 

 

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Villains Part II: Crafting the Ideal Foe

Last week I discussed a few of what I see as the key archetypes for villains in literature and pop culture. I had a lot of fun researching it, but the discussion left me wondering what separated my favorite villains from the rest. In other words, what makes a good villain. Continue reading

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Villains Part I: The Archetypes

Villains are a great storytelling tool. Not only do they usually fulfill the role of antagonist, the opposing force to the protagonist, they also serve as a source of bad or evil in the world they inhabit. Without a villain, our hero’s morals would never be tested. Continue reading

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Seven of My Favorite Songs for Writing

Not every writer wants to or can listen to music while they write. I know there are some days where any form of sound, music or otherwise, will distract me or throw off the natural rhythm of my typing. However, there are times where I really do need music to help me set the scene in my head. For those times, I have a ready list of go-to tunes that help me reach my emotional center. Here are my seven favorite songs to listen to while I write. Continue reading

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5 Ways To Become a Better Writer (what worked for me)

I never used to seek advice from other writers. In fact, I actively avoided it. I was afraid of criticism. However, someone at some point gave me three very powerful words to chew on: grow up, Hannah. So, I did. The only tricky part was finding the advice that worked for me.  Luckily, we live in a world where hundreds of successful authors have an online presence and are happy to offer the tricks they’ve picked up. I began to read articles by Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, and J.K. Rowling, among many others. Above all things, they told me, no one can tell me how to write my story. No one can write  it but me. However, they did have a few simple tips, which I’ve collected. These tips have helped me improve my writing immensely. So, here they are. Feel free to steal/borrow them. They aren’t mine, after all. Continue reading

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