What We Can Learn: Music

Hi everybody! I say this tentatively…but this might be the last post in this series. We’ll see. I hope you’ve enjoyed it!

One of my favorite things to do is to connect songs with characters from books, movies, and TV shows I like. I enjoy having context for a song, and finding the perfect one for a character. You could try doing this with your own characters. Listen to some music, and look up the lyrics if you need too. Music adds a whole other dimension to writing and characters, and it can really make you feel more for the people you are writing about.

You could also do it the other way around. Find an interesting song, and see if you can make up a character for it. Try to be specific. For example, one character from a Rick Riordan book fits well with the chorus of “Try” by Pink (Where there is desire there is gonna be a flame, where there is a flame someone’s bound to get burned, but just because you’re burned doesn’t mean you’re gonna die, you’ve gotta get up and try, try, try). This connection works because the character is “fireproof” so to speak; he can produce fire and it won’t hurt him. He’s had a hard childhood too, so some fans of the book imagine his mom singing this to him, encouraging him to keep going. See what I mean? The song doesn’t have to mean a literal flame, but it can be interpreted that way as an interesting trait for a character. See if you can use things like that, single words or phrases, to create a unique character.

Some songs may even suggest a plot. I like songs that seem to tell a story through the lyrics, or that have “characters” of sorts. An example would be “Cinderella” by Steven Curtis Chapman. This song is also a good example of one that evokes emotion.

I also know that some people have specific music they listen to while writing, for inspiration or background noise. I’ve never done this, but I know some people work better with music. I believe Elizabeth did a post here once about her novel’s playlist. I think this would be interesting to try, getting songs that match the themes or plot of the story.

What about you? Do you match songs to characters? Has a song ever inspired you?

What We Can Learn: People

Hey guys!

This post was inspired by an Instagram account I follow called Humans of New York (username: humansofny). I think they have a Facebook too. Anyway, the account owner goes around New York (and some other places too) and talks to people about various things (aspects of their lives, etc.). Then he posts a picture of them and captions it with part of their conversation. Their bio is “New York City, one story at a time.” I think this is so cool! Because who are we writing about anyway? People! And it’s so cool to see diverse people with their diverse stories.

Here’s an example: “My father came from Nicaragua and got a job as a construction worker. My mother immigrated from Puerto Rico and got a job as a cleaning woman. One day he was working high up on some scaffolding at an office building, and he saw her cleaning inside, so he knocked on the window. And here I am.”

I mean how cool and sweet is that?! Real life people can be story opportunities waiting to happen.

(Quick note: This account is super cool, but I can’t guarantee it’s always appropriate/happy. Not everybody has cute stories like this one, and some people’s struggles and experiences are pretty rough. There’s the occasional curse word too. Just saying so y’all know what to expect if you check it out )

Also: talk to people. Watch them. Listen to how they speak. What phrases do they use often? Do they pronounce certain things differently? What about using different words for common things? My classmates were talking to my math teacher about this once. She’s originally from another state, and we were talking about how there, people have different words for things (buggy vs. shopping cart, etc.). Things like that would be really fun to include in a character’s dialogue!

Talk to older relatives or friends. Ask about their childhood. Ask about your family history. My dad has been researching our family tree lately, and he found an old church record (in Latin!) that has one of my distant relatives’ baptism recorded on it. He also found the house where that relative grew up (we think). It’s pretty cool, to see the early parts of your family’s story. Let these things inspire you.

Have you ever been inspired by someone from real life?

What We Can Learn: Classics

Hey everyone! Today we’re talking about classics (be prepared for a small rant).

So I go to a classical school, which means, obviously, that we read a lot of classic books. I know that classics are not always everyone’s favorite books. They can be quite wordy, full of telling instead of showing, confusing, etc. Full of today’s “writing faux pas,” so to speak. So why are they considered classics? Why do we still read them today? Why are we subjected to them in school?

There are likely more reasons than just this. But in my opinion, it is because they display human nature in an intense form. They contain emotion, and even today, we can connect with them. Or in Italo Calvino’s opinion, “A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.” I think that is so true. So let’s look at a couple classics.

1. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. Suffering. Injustice. Revolt. Resurrection. Guilt. Sacrificial Love. I hope that these simple words have made you think of specific people or feelings. These are big, broad topics, so even though A Tale of Two Cities was set around the time of the French revolution, they are still relevant today. We still see suffering and injustice. We still sacrifice for those that we love. Combined with sympathetic, memorable characters, they make for an amazing, classic story.

2. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. Corruption. Brainwashing Media. Destruction. Again, broad subjects. This story is about a society entirely brainwashed by media and obsessed with pleasure, where books are illegal. And though today books are, of course, legal, this story still conveys relevant elements of human nature. The love of anything pleasurable and the allure of technology. The tendency to crave the things that are taken away. Out of context, they don’t mean nearly as much. But applied to characters, you get a realistic, emotional sample of human nature.

There are many more examples, of course. To Kill a Mockingbird, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Lord of the Rings just to name a few. So what can we writers learn from such stories?

1. Try using big ideas/themes/feelings. Think of some of the ones I mentioned above. Try to find something that fires you up, that evokes emotion in you. These are things that resonate within people. Things that we can identify with. I’m not saying to turn your story into a huge allegory or anything. But your characters are human, and they experience big human emotions (guilt, righteous anger, strong love, etc.).

2. Use these subjects and emotions alongside strong characters. Innocence, for example, is just an abstract term. But pair the quality of innocence with a character who embodies it, and you have something tangible, sympathetic, and emotional, like the character Scout in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Or take righteous anger and give a character that trait. Show us a real person who has that emotion.

3. Apply conflict. In the example of Scout, her innocence doesn’t mean a lot if there is no conflict or tension. Threaten her innocence, and you have emotion. Or show us the character with righteous anger. Let us see her in tears over the oppressed people she longs to help but, for whatever reason, can’t. Use the story events and characters to display the big ideas.

So those are some of my ideas when it comes to classics. Emotion is a common factor here, I feel like. Emotion is so big to me in stories (I have cried over To Kill a Mockingbird, The Lord of the Rings, and Sydney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities). To be honest, I love stories that make me feel to that degree.

How do you all feel about classics? Anyone care to flail/cry with me over Sydney Carton and/or other characters and books L?
Katie

A NaNoWriMo Revelation and Blogging Stuff

Yes, that is a long title. And this is probably going to be a relatively long post.
So how is NaNoWriMo going? You’re probably wondering. After all, you haven’t been posting much this month, your goal must be almost met.
As I’m writing this, I’m stifling laughter on the couch in my grandparent’s house while my mom and grandma prepare for Thanksgiving. Yes, you might think that. You might think that I have written a bunch of words this month. But that isn’t the truth.
The truth is that I have about ten thousand words. Yeah.
The whole story of how I’m failing NaNoWriMo is very long, but I’ll spare you all the boring details and give you the short version: The month started out great, I lost my steam pretty quickly with all that I had to do, and now I’m majorly behind. What have I been doing all this time? School, reading, writer’s group, and procrastination.
And now I have a revelation. One that has made me a better writer. I learned that there is one way to write. And that is to write.
Surprising, right? I bet you never saw that coming. But it is so true, and I didn’t realize that until a few days ago.
I was so frustrated with myself, wondering why I couldn’t just sit down and write, why I always found excuses. Then I realized that I was avoiding the one thing that would help. And that was writing.
I wish I could tell you that there is a secret formula to get you to write more, but there isn’t. That there is a magic writing genie that will help in the creation of your novel. But there isn’t. There’s only blood, sweat, and tears. Okay, maybe not literally, but it sometimes feels like it.
So the next time you find yourself procrastinating, pinch yourself, stop whatever you’re doing, find something to write with and WRITE. That’s all there is to it. It can be so hard and so easy.
Trick yourself into only writing for ten minutes. Then twenty. Then thirty. Then an hour. Now you’re writing.

Okay, that was my little rant about writing. Now onto my blogging part of the post.
So this blog is feeling kind of unorganized to me, so I’m going to start getting it organized.
So should we post at morning or at night? I’m leaning towards night US Pacific time, but if you would rather have us post in the morning, please comment below. Also, how many times a week should we post? Right now we might only do three times a week, but if you want more, please, comment below. If we’re only going to post three times a week, then I’ll post on Monday, Katie will post on Wednesday, and Hazel will post on Friday.
Oh, and in other announcements, I’m starting a newsletter for Middle Grade and Young Adult writers. It’ll probably be started in December or January.
That’s all for today, and be sure to come back tomorrow for the first post in Katie’s new series.
Elizabeth

NaNoWriMo and a Writing Exercise

Hey guys, this is Elizabeth. I’m really sorry I haven’t been posting lately, but between NaNoWriMo and the looming threat of midterms, I haven’t had much time to blog. But a new post from me will be coming tomorrow. And now, onto Katie’s post.

NaNo Update: Well, as you know I was planning to do NaNo, but then life happened, and by that I mean I was unexpectedly away from a computer for the first few days of November. I sort of lost all motivation after that, and what with the massive amounts of schoolwork…it just wasn’t happening. Ah, well. That kind of thing happens, and there’s always next year. But how are you all doing? Give us an update in the comments.

Anyway, I wanted to share with you all a writing exercise that I tried and really enjoyed: writing from the point of view of your antagonist. I took my story’s villain of sorts and wrote a short story about her when she was a young woman. I focused on the events that shaped her motivation and her character in the actual novel, and I was therefore able to see firsthand how she reacted to them. Let me just say, I had WAY too much fun doing it. She is so deliciously twisted. I also found out a few little things about her while doing it. If you try it, let me know how it goes! And have fun!

~Katie

NaNoWriMo 2014

Hi everyone! So continuing on the recent theme of NaNoWriMo, I have a question for y’all: how many of you have done or are doing NaNo as a rebel? That is my plan this year. I need to finish a novel I’ve already started, and I plan to use NaNo to do it. Even so, I’m slightly overwhelmed, to be honest. This is my first year doing regular, November NaNo (I did Camp in July), and with school and everything…let’s just say it will be interesting. I also found out I’ll be away from a computer on the first few days of November. Yikes! I may have to set a lower word goal for myself than the 50,000, just to maintain my sanity.
I have about 20,000 words to go on this novel, and then I’m planning to work on a novella for a contest. After that, I’ll hopefully take a few weeks off and begin to edit the novel.
What are your plans for this November? Any tips or tricks for a first-timer? For those of you in school, how do you get your homework and writing done everyday?

~Katie