Improving My Writing–Where I Began

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As I said in a previous post, I have been running across a few books that have left me a bit frustrated with reading. Fortunately, I picked up a few more books that have renewed my faith.

 

All this reading has got me thinking: where do you begin when you’d like to improve your writing.

 

In the beginning, God created…just kidding. In the beginning, I never had problems coming up with stories. I usually started with an idea, or a world and then found a story. My main issue was that I wasn’t able to convey what I’d pictured into words. (And then shaping those words into an actual story, but that comes later.)

 

I started off writing stories similarly to how I told them in real life. As Plutark stated in her previous post, this does not work in the same way.

 

That’s when all the reading I’d been doing came in handy.

 

When I read, I get immersed in the story and I don’t pay attention to how the story is being told. When I needed help telling my stories, I began to look at the structure of how authors tell their tales. This led to a revelation of how a story world is formed. I realized that you don’t have to detail every aspect of a character/battle/scene for the reader to infer things. It actually hinders the story!

 

Going back and looking how my favorite authors express certain feelings was especially helpful. Seeing what moved me emotionally helped shape how I show the same things. Writing short, terse sentences conveys action and tension. Writing long, flowing paragraphs draws out events and forces the reader to focus on the points being made.

 
Even going to books that I didn’t like, I would go over what didn’t work and try to figure out why it didn’t. This forced me to analyze the writing and eventually helped me figure out how I wanted to write.
 
One of my friends told me to try to emulate specific authors’ writings. I found that I was pretty horrible at this exercise because I wasn’t able to figure out what made their writing unique. If you ever have a chance, you should try this. I chose an author that described in a elegant and poetic way and wrote a short passage. I am blunt, and not at all poetic. This resulted in strained, exaggerated metaphors and long, drawn out paragraphs about nothing. (If I ever miss another post day, perhaps I will share this piece if I still have it…) It was embarrassing and difficult, but in the end, it proved to be extremely helpful in teaching me some of the finer points about descriptions and, more importantly, it helped me realize how I didn’t want to write and pushed me closer to understanding what my own style was like.
 
So, I found that in the beginning, when I didn’t know where to start, it was helpful to go back and read (but more importantly to practice what I liked reading).
 
Does anyone have any experiences or ideas of where to start a journey of improving your writing? Do you have any funny stories of emulating authors? Leave your experiences down below!
 
 
-Cya
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Prompt #2- Don’t Look in the Closet

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“Are you listening, Jack?”

A young boy fidgeted in his bed, pulling the covers up a little higher. He brushed back a stray hair as he huffed and sulkily answered with a rote, “Yes, Dad.”

Skeptical eyebrows were raised. “What did I just say?”

“What you say every night!” Jack played with his fingers, his elbows over his blanket. He focused on a hangnail as he repeated the warning. “If you leave the closet open, monsters come out at night.” Jack put his arms down and stared at his father. “But there no such things as monsters!” His voice raised at the end like a question, but came out in a whine.

“That’s what you think,” his father said cryptically, as he checked the closet. He found it sufficiently secured before he kissed Jack on the head and flicked off the lights, closing Jack’s door behind him.

“No such thing,” Jack muttered stubbornly. “I’ll show him. He still thinks I believe what he says, but I know better.” Jack threw his blanket back and shuffled over to his closet. He grasped the brass knob with a suddenly damp hand. “No such thing,” he said again, for good measure, before opening the closet door just a crack.

Jack opened his eyes (he had closed them as he opened the door), and let out the breath he had been holding. It was still night, he was still whole, and nothing had jumped out and eaten him. Jack knew all along that his father had been just joking.

He got back in bed and pulled his blankets up again before slowly drifting off to sleep, satisfied and pleased with his bravery.

Jack sat up in bed suddenly, his eyes flew open at the banging noise from his closet. Through the blur of sleep, he saw the door rattling in time with the loud clomping noise.

Alarmed, he looked at his clock. Midnight, it said, in a red that, under the circumstances, looked menacing. Just as the noise became unbearably loud, and the closet seemed to be shaking loose from the rest of the house, a rainbow burst from the crack, lighting up the whole room.

Galloping in came a white, glowing horse with a lone horn in the center of its forehead. It halted right in front of Jack, throwing its silver mane to the side to look into his eyes deeply. The unicorn had deep, dark eyes that seemed to be all colors at once framed by long, luscious lashes.

“It is time,” came a voice, speaking directly in Jack’s brain. He felt the vibrations of the deep tone echo through his synapses.

Jack’s father burst into the room, drawn by the loud noises. Coming face-to-face with the unicorn and rainbow illuminating Jack’s dark room, his father threw up his hands. “Nooooo!” he shouted to the sparkling ceiling.

He turned mournful eyes, looking at Jack. “Now you’re gay too.”

-Cya

Paradise Lost: Behind the Postcard Veneer of Hawaii

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Hello all,

Plutark here to talk more about a fantastic book called Boi No Good (Chris Mckinney), Mckinney’s ability to create incredible characters (and not vehicles for his opinions), and a bit on local culture in Hawaii.

It took me a lot longer than I anticipated to complete Boi No Good. While it was an excellent read to the end and my recommendation remains, I found I had to put it down relatively frequently and force myself out of the story to keep from being overwhelmed by the despairing situations in the novel, and their accurate reflections of Hawaii today.

This book interested me initially because of the summary – three abused children, the development of their identity, their struggle to reconcile who they become with who each other became – all of that is spot on with my interests (psychologist-in-training, clinical interest in children and adolescents, research focus on traumatic stressors during childhood). However, I didn’t expect this book to be able to pull me in so deeply to issues unrelated to the characters’ childhood struggles.

The book takes place in contemporary Hawaii, beyond the idyllic palm trees and beaches of Waikiki, and explores our current struggles as a society and a state, from views that many (even in Hawaii) are unfamiliar with. Mckinney bridges that unfamiliarity with ease and is able to get the reader into the minds of each of his characters, allowing us to not only understand, but to empathize with their plights, actions, and beliefs. But nothing is ever “right” and no character is hero or villain. Despite being deeply engrossed in the main character’s story, I was simultaneously validated and disgusted by him – an experience I felt with most of the characters.

Mckinney allows the reader to explore controversial issues without coloring the experience with his personal opinions (a very difficult thing to accomplish), giving his story credibility and incredible impact. I found myself reevaluating things I thought I was set on, that I thought I understood. In particular, I found Mckinney’s exploration of Hawaii’s complex racism to be well written and well represented within several disparate and fascinating perspectives.

I could write a very lengthy and very complicated (and probably very boring) post about this last note, but I will refrain and briefly mention it for any others who might be interested. One theme that persists throughout the novel is the question, what does it mean to be local? In Hawaii, being “local” is something we value, something we use to create our cultural identity. But in a multi-cultural environment, with a changing racial and socio-economic demographic, how do we continue to define “local”? Mckinney leads us through several characters’ attempts at understanding what it is within our society that we consider local, and what it is within ourselves and others that make us local.

Have you ever read a novel that made you question your perceptions about your culture/city/state/country? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Prompt: Every night after putting him to bed, a young boy’s father makes sure his closet doors are shut. His father tells him that if you leave it open, monsters come out of it at night. One night, the closet stays open. Tell me about what happened. 500 words.

-Plutark

Mediocre Books Make Me Write (Bout of Books 10 Day 4 Update)

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This picture is for my ‘Rainbow of Books Challenge’ from NeonYetiReads

My books (which were not stacking prettily) from left to right:

white- Kushiel’s Scion by Jacqueline Carey

red- Half-Hearts by Kealohilani Wallace

orange- The Sorcerer’s Plague by David B. Coe

yellow- Digital Domains edited by Ellen Datlow

green- Green by Jay Lake

blue- Lady Knight by Tamora Pierce

light purple- Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

darker purple- Come Twilight by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

black- Earth Unaware by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston

 

First, an update: hi guys! Long time no talk. I’ve been participating in the Bout of Books with Plutark and I am happy to say that I have accomplished half of my goal! I’ve finished Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name on the Wind and am now working my way through Half-Hearts by Kealohilani Wallace.

A quick review on The Name on the Wind. It was good and yet, I hate it. The book is a tad over 700 pages long and it read easily and engaged me through most of it. Rothfuss has a very eloquent style that I rarely come across when reading fantasy. He does have a few quirks that I didn’t enjoy, one being ending chapters with a ‘hint’ of what is to come. I had very few problems with the book that would’ve kept me from reading the next one, until the end. About 600 pages into the book, there was no climax, no build up, no hint at a sense of the finale coming. I warily trudged through the rest at a much slower pace. When I was twenty pages till the end, I slowly gave into the fact that I had read 700 pages of build up. There is literally no conclusion to, what I now know, is the first book in a trilogy.

The second I finished the book, I felt a betrayal I had never felt before from a novel. I don’t think authors/publishers/agents should ever put out a book that is all build up. It leads to false expectations and a sense of not wanting to continue with the series. I have read many trilogies and I know they all wrap something up before the end of each book.

TL;DR: I’m really confused by this book and why people are recommending it so fervently.

Bout of books finishes this week, so Plutark and I should be getting back to our regular posting schedule next week. Sorry for the confusion!

Bout of Books

Finally, onto a happier note: I started writing again! I had a lull, but reading these books are really pushing me to finish…well, something. Have you ever read a book that made you so mad? Do you know another book one in a series that didn’t finish anything? (Guess I’m still bitter XD) Let me know what they are so we can rant together!

-Cya

 

Bout of Books Day 3

Day 3: I am now more than three-fourths of the way through Boi No Good by Chris Mckinney. I think I’ll finish it tonight.

In short, this book is heartbreakingly realistic in its portrayal of drugs, violence, homelessness, racism, classism, and the many other social issues plaguing Hawaii. If you would like to experience what it can be like in Hawaii, beyond Waikiki’s oceanfront hotels and picture perfect beaches, this book is a must read.

It follows three Hawaiian children, rescued by social services from their abusive drug addicted mother, and adopted into three different families. Glorya, the oldest and the only daughter, is sent back to her mother and her new step-father, who is even more abusive than her mother. Shane, the middle son, is adopted by a very rich family, and given every opportunity, every want in life. The youngest son, Boi, is taken in by a taro farmer and his wife.

Shane tries to reconcile his rich boy upbringing with his desire to be “like his people”, like a local, and be street tough. Boi spends his life trying to figure out how he can keep himself from exploding with the constant rage drowning him from inside. Glorya, whose trauma didn’t end when they were rescued, is a wanted criminal who will do whatever she must to remain free. Amidst drugs, murder, political schemes, an ever growing number of hotels and foreigners, and a law that could change everything Hawaii is, the kids meet again as adults and struggle to figure out who they are to themselves, within a changing Hawaii, and to each other.

I have so far found the book to be surprisingly unbiased in its presentation of many of our current controversial issues. Each of the characters are complex and rich, whichever side of an issue they fall on. The writing is excellent and I look forward to reading more of Chris McKinney’s novels.

 

Bout of Books Challenge:

For me, Boi No Good goes with ice cream. In my childhood neighborhood, there was an ice cream truck that would come through every once in a while. All the kids would pool into the street and chase the truck, giddy and excited even though most of us couldn’t buy anything. It’s one of my fondest memories of that place. Boi No Good opens in that neighborhood and much of the turmoil throughout the novel stems from the difficulties the children faced there. The ice cream doubles as a balm for my soul (have I mentioned that this book is sad?).

 

-Plutark

Bout of Books

Cya and I will be participating in the Bout of Books for this week. I will be reading “Boi No Good” by Chris Mckinney and “The Annals of Tacitus”. Cya will be reading “The Name of the Wind” by Patrick Rothfuss and “Half-Hearts” by Kealohilani Wallace, with a stretch goal of “A Man without a Country” by Kurt Vonnegut.

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-Plutark

 

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, May 12th and runs through Sunday, May 18th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure, and the only reading competition is between you and your usual number of books read in a week. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 10 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. – From the Bout of Books team

 

Bout of Books

 

 

The Awakening (On going Beyond ‘Writing What You Know’)

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I keep saying that I came into writing late, but I do have a harrowing story from one of the few times that I wrote when I was little.

Picture this: a young girl is reading the greatest story she has read in her whole life, about a young girl’s journey to become a squire. She wants to write as good a story and decides that she will write her own adventure story. (If I’m perfectly honest, I wanted to write myself into that story). Not knowing where to start, she stares at a blank composition book, her hand poised to create a new world, then she begins to write the tale that she sees in her head.

Now flash forward. That young girl is now an adult and cleaning out her childhood room. She runs across that notebook and eagerly opens it to delve into the world that she had imagined and since forgotten.

The opening lines seem familiar. She continues on. Three characters are introduced. They, again, seem familiar–in fact, she’s sure they are the exact same characters from an old children’s book with their names changed.

It doesn’t end there. The events, the emotions, the scenery, the conflict, everything is all the same as the first chapter of that childhood book.

Although embarrassing, this anecdote seems to be common with other stories from childhood. We are often told to ‘write what you know,’ and a lot of writers seem to take that to heart in their youth.

When I tried to write that piece, that first story was all I knew. As I grew older, I read more, I learned new things, and soon, ‘what I knew’ encompassed much more than one story.

It’s a funny story, but as a beginner writer, it is important to realize that this is something you want to avoid in your writing. As someone who reads a lot, when I’m stuck writing, sometimes it is easiest to reference something that I had already read to fill in the plot gaps. My character is stuck in a hole; well one time, in this book that I liked, their character got out of it this way and it was amazing! It is exciting, but it’s not your story.

For me, it is important to take the knowledge I gained and apply it to situations rather than make an exact copy of it. I want to use the information and build upon it using my own characters to enhance it.

Drawing on practical knowledge that you’ve gained throughout your own life and putting those pieces into your book is what makes it unique and interesting. What I’ve studied through my short life, and all those odd bits of useless trivia that floats through my consciousness have found their way into a few of my stories, adding a bit of color and enhancing the fact that these stories could only have been created by me.

So, one day, I might write the story of a young girl on a quest to become a squire against all odds, but you can bet it will be much different from that book I read all those years ago.

Does anyone have any old stories that they copied almost exactly? What kinds of odd bits of trivia from your life have made it to your stories? Leave your answers in the comments below!

-Cya