Category Archives: Writing About Writing

Why I Believe in the Oxford Comma and a Tidbit on Van Gogh

Today’s post feels very random, but these two links are too fascinating to pass up so why not post them together?

The first is on the importance of the Oxford comma. While some prefer to drop it (and I don’t judge), I prefer to use it for its clarity. As it turns out, the use of the comma has been helpful to some dairy drivers get overtime pay. Read more about that here. (Warning and apology: There’s a smidge of language in it.)

The second is about the Impressionists, specifically Van Gogh. If you thought “Starry Night” was a cool painting before, you’ll never be able to think of it quite the same way. It appears to capture fluid dynamics in action. Read that article here.

And since the video mentioned in the article isn’t linked, it’s here.

Enjoy!

What do you think of the Oxford comma? Are you a fan of “Starry Night”?


Musings on Storytelling

Story inspiration comes from everywhere. A trip to the grocery story. A conversation with a friend. People watching at a restaurant. But one of the most inspiring sources are often the stories I love most.

Obviously, Tolkien’s Middle-earth has had a huge impact on the stories I write, but it’s certainly not the only source. In fact, right now I’m playing through one of them: The Legend of Zelda. (And, yes, this means that Breath of the Wild is shaping up to be better than I anticipated.)

Like with The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars and so many other great tales, it all starts with someone who starts off (usually) rather ordinary, finds that he (or she) is the answer to a desperate need, and goes on an adventure to fulfill that need. The call to adventure, the selflessness of heroism, that touch of magic… they’re all the things that I love in a story.

One of the things that I think is most interesting about Zelda is the storytelling. According to The Hyrule Historia, there is a timeline and the stories do fit together. However, I have always had my own view on it.

Cultures around the world tell the same story over and over again. Tales of creation and great floods, faithfulness and betrayal, heroes and sacrifice. And that’s how I’ve always seen these stories. The hero and the princess face incredible evil and defeat it. It looks different every time it’s told, but it’s always, in essence, the same story. And that’s okay.

After all, that’s what we do. The stories come in different shapes and sizes, but most of the stories are retellings of things that have been told for years.

Years ago, I worried about this, but a CS Lewis quote fixed me of that fast: “Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.”

That, and seeing that Zelda tells the same story over and over again and somehow it never gets old.


Back to the Beginning Again (or, Returning to Novel #1)

After deciding that the steampunk/fantasy/sci-fi novel needed some time to simmer, I spent a little time trying to decide where to head next. However, the answer was a bit inevitable. It’s time to return to the world of Carrick that I’ve been working on since middle school.

The latest draft was version 9 (with at least fifty saved drafts between all of the versions… never mind the early ones I deleted years ago), so I opened it up and started reading to get my bearings again.

I expected plenty of cringing. After all, this story has sat for two years, and I’m just used to that. However, this has been an unusual experience. The more I read, the more I’m impressed with what’s on the page.

I can’t remember if I had intentions of adding more to the story the last time I worked on it — adding supplementary story between the characteristic letters that the story has been made up of all along. I thought about adding some third person parts to expound on the story. Now, though, I’m not so sure. Is it better as a group of letters or does it need more?

I suppose the only way to know is to finish reading the draft and then start experimenting from there. I’m just glad that I’m still happy with it 25 pages in.

Have you ever tried mixing POV’s (first and third person) before? Have you read stories that do? Or do you prefer sticking to one POV?


When Stories Won’t Cooperate

This steampunk/fantasy/sci-fi mash-up I’ve been working on has been an adventure filled with plenty of ups and downs.

During NaNoWriMo this year, I thought I struck gold. A side story blossomed to life and took me by surprise. It was deeper and more challenging than I was expecting. And its ending… well, it left me feeling like a horrible human being because it was both heartbreaking and beautiful. It was just the ending the story needed. (See my lament when I wrote it here.)

But then I had to return to the main story. I had hoped that fresh inspiration from the side story would be enough to breathe new life into the main story, but it soon fizzled out. I’ve been trying to force it ever since, but it just won’t cooperate. Something is missing, and I’m not sure what it is.

Originally, I thought it was more conflict. While that helped, it didn’t fix the problem. Something else is missing, and the characters can’t tell me what it is. We’re all feeling a little frustrated, like we’re just stuck in mud.

So, for me, I think there’s only one solution.

It’s time to set the novel aside again. Like a cup of tea, it needs a little more time to brew. It’s time to move on to another story and let this one steep in the back of my mind until it’s ready. Then, that adventure will begin again, hopefully with the fresh infusion of inspiration that it needs.

So where to now? Back to the beginning again. I want to experiment with some storytelling elements in my very first novel that I think will kick it up to the next notch. And maybe this will be the final draft? Maybe?

What do you do when a story just won’t cooperate? Do you set it aside or do you have techniques to push it forward?


Kisses and Tells (and What They Have to Do with Twist Endings

There are some storytelling elements that you know about but don’t think much about until someone mentions them. That was the case with twist endings for me this weekend.

Twist endings have a special place in my heart. It’s the reason I love O. Henry’s stories (the one in “The Last Leaf” is so beautiful that it makes me cry every time) and The Twilight Zone. But in spite of how much I picked literature and the art of writing apart over the years, I never really considered what makes a twist ending work (or not).

This video made it all clear, though. It’s definitely worth watching, if you’re interested in really picking it apart.

It all boils down to this, though: twist endings work best if the tells are in plain sight and the reader discovers the twist when the protagonist does. When all of the pieces are sitting out in the open to be discovered on a rewatch, it work well. If it comes out of nowhere, it can fall very flat.

Considering that I do plan to have a twist (near the end) in the steampunk/fantasy novel I’ve been working on, the timing of this couldn’t be more perfect. Now to make sure that I do reveal just enough in just the right way so I don’t blow it.

What are your favorite stories with twist endings? Do you write twist endings in your own works?


2017 Writing Goals

2016 was a productive year in different ways than I anticipated. That means that the goals I set out early in 2016 aren’t quite accomplished, but plenty of things still got done.

Finish a solid draft of the steampunk/fantasy/sci-fi novel
Not so much. The mid-year stall set me way behind, but NaNoWriMo helped make up for lost time by adding a new section that didn’t exist before. It’s a worthwhile addition that’s challenged the main story itself in good ways, so while the draft isn’t done like I had hoped for, it’s in a better place than it was before.

Find some writing competitions and submit some works
Again, not so much. Actually, I didn’t really touch this one at all. With the novel floundering, most of my attention was focused on it or on the blog, so this goal fell by the wayside. There’s always next year, though.

Blog at least weekly but aim for three times a week
With only a few exceptions, mission accomplished here. Considering how inconsistent I’ve been in the past, this is really good.

So what about 2017?

Well, here are the writing goals I’d like to focus on:

  • Continue to blog at least weekly, but aim for three times a week
  • Complete a draft of the novel
  • Read more books

Last year was about perseverance (and I needed it). This year’s motto is finish the fight.

What are your goals for 2017? Do you lay out specific goals or do you have another method to keep yourself accountable?


How Star Wars Has Saved My Stories… Twice

All storytellers have stories that have inspired them and shaped the stories that they tell. Tolkien has been my largest influence for many reasons, but his works didn’t started my serious writing bug. It was actually Star Wars.

I was about twelve, and we spent a night watching Star Wars. I don’t remember how many times we had watched the original trilogy before then, but I know it wasn’t the first time. After all, I knew what was happening. (My brother and I the only people I know who were introduced to the original trilogy in reverse order because of their availability at Blockbuster. That was an experience!)

I don’t remember what it was about that night, but something about the story tickled my imagination in a way it never had before. Instead of going to sleep afterwards, I spent half the night writing a story. The first draft of my first novel.

The story has changed dramatically over the years — so much that they hardly share any similarities anymore — but it never would have happened without Star Wars.

Fast forward to now.

I’m still working on that nameless steampunk/fantasy/sci-fi novel, but I’ve hit a snag. The world of the protagonist just isn’t as compelling as it needs to be. Something is missing, but I haven’t been sure what it is. The writing has ground to a halt and thinking has taken over, but as much as I let the story brew in my mind, it just hasn’t been cooperating.

However, that has changed thanks again to Star Wars.

Though the universe in Rogue One is rather different than the one I’m working on, they both share one crucial thing: they are driven by causes that are fueled by hope. They have virtually no chance, but they’re trying anyways.

So far, this part of the world has been a quiet one. The wars are long over and they’re living with the aftermath, but the aftermath just isn’t that interesting in itself. It needs more conflict, and Rogue One has spawned just the ideas I’ve been looking for.

And thus I have Star Wars to thank for two stories. While its influence might not be evident in the finished product, I’ll always know it started with a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

What stories have influenced the stories that you tell?