Genre Reflection

Knowing Where You Are

When writing stories and selling them to potential publishers, you have to think about where those will eventually end up. A few questions I wanted to ask myself, and perhaps ask you as well, are:

  1. What kind of book do I want to write?
  2. How does it compare to other books in this genre?
  3. What about a sub-genre?
  4. Are there certain rules I should adhere to in order for my book to be classified in a certain way?
  5. What are my book’s strongest aspects and how can I use them to the best advantage when I present my manuscript to agents and editors?
  6. What are the expectations that come with this genre?
  7. Can I meet these expectations?
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Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash

It’s hard to give a simple, “Yes” or “No” to any of these questions. In fact, it may be damn near impossible. Yet the reality of the situation is that you MUST know “what” you’re writing.

I don’t think it is necessary to map and plan out the “what” before you’re writing, but when you’ve settled on a genre, you need to make sure you’re considering these questions. Have you created something coherent or something hodge-podgy? Not many writers realize that the “genre” that your book ends up in is widely decided by the publishers or bookstores or libraries that purchase your book. If you’ve written something that is “unmarketable”… well, you’ve got a problem.

However, if you’re writing for yourself – if your book is all about making you feel good or accomplished? Well, there aren’t strict rules that you need to adhere to. Rather, make sure that what you’ve written is your absolute best!

The rest may fall into place at that point. Just remember, half of writing is about marketing yourself and your product. Make sure that if publishing is in your plan that you’ve gotten a grip on your genre.

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Photo by Jamie Taylor on Unsplash

Then What?

I suggest looking into books on publishing. Even though you don’t need to go out and buy a bunch (there are plenty at your library) it is imperative that you’re looking into the business side of things. I’ve also found that researching online gives me a headache.

Books are more personal, more linear, and usually more trustworthy when they come from specific authors or publishers. I like cross-referencing them, too, to get an idea of how different genre authors view the market.

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Writing is Hard…

…when you graduate from college.

Not because you’re suddenly out of practice or don’t have a good excuse, but instead because you’re desperate to become the dreaded “adult”. A person with a real job – a 9-5 that pays the bills and whittles down the mountain of student debt you’ve accrued.

As an anthropology major with a writing minor, I have seriously misjudged just how difficult it can be to “follow my dreams” into the world of cultural studies, writing and travel.

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Trying to organize my life… ***Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Currently, I’m attempting to work on a Nonfiction about modern Michigan witches in the United States, as part of a personal study on religion. However, because I’m so tremendously poor, I’ve had to forgo a lot of planning and prep work for the book in favor of eight to ten hour shifts at my current (terrible) job. Mostly I feel like I’m falling down an inescapable, creative-less hole of self-pity and debt.

What I’m trying to say is, writing can be so difficult without the proper time and motivations. I’m currently without both of those. However, my local library has a lot of good books on writing and novel building, so perhaps that will be something to look forward to in new issues of the blog!

For now, signing off,

Shelby

The Color of Sound

Quick Background Information:

This is a short story I submitted to my school’s creative writing journal in my Freshman year of college. AND IT GOT IN! So I thought I’d share it here as my “Posting Stories” Project!

The Color of Sound

The concert hall was exactly sixty four degrees inside. Rather chilly, especially on a cold autumn evening. The audience flooded in from seven different entryways. Three on the balcony, four on the floor. While they are waiting for the production to start, women dressed in long skirts raise their eyebrows, purse their lips, and shield their snickers behind fans and expensive opera gloves. One woman openly glares at another, who dared to buy the same Mac Duggal peacock bodice ball gown. Needless to say, they did not make eye contact for the entirety of the performance, but after, feathers would fly.

The men however, could not possibly care less. Once every two weeks they were dragged to this same opera house by their wives or sisters or mothers. Sometimes even daughters, and definitely during a football game. They were pulled here to sit in the same red velvet seats and stare dazedly at the same cream and gold high ceilings. The architecture was the same. The players and conductors were the same. It was decidedly dull. The production had hardly begun before one elderly gentleman in a tailcoat had fallen asleep. He was frighteningly motionless, but no one dared to reach over and check his pulse because the lights had begun to dim.

A hush went over the audience. As the conductor made his way across the stage, the only sound that could be heard in the grand Vienna State Opera House was the ruffling of fur wraps and the crossing of aristocratic legs. The conductor turned to the audience and bowed. He then turned back to his orchestra and took a deep breath, raised his arms, and tapped once. Twice. On the third tap the head violinist raised his arm and drew the first note.

It was beautiful.

The color that ghosted out of the violin was a light aqua. It clouded over the first four or five rows and dispersed in a quick movement. It was ribbon like.

Then came the cello. Its deep melody was a wine burgundy, and it did not ghost but thrust into the air. A storm cloud of red, and then it was gone. Suddenly following it was the great booming sound of the timpani, which covered the audience in a blanket of Charleston green. Forgetting their matching gowns, both peacocks were smiling and playing with the smoky tendrils, wafting it between their fingers and tweaking the sounds.

That was the beauty of the opera; the symphony. It was about shaping the colorful sound waves between your fingers and letting it wash all over you before it disappeared into the rafters.

“You can get the same effect turning on the radio at home.” One husband or brother or father would scoff.

“It’s not the same, and you know it. There’s something about…LIVE music that just makes you feel exactly that. Alive.” She’d counter.

Both would agree to disagree as they headed off to the Vienna, neither truly dissatisfied. Because once dragged from their couches or work benches, or even from the underbelly of their cars, the men would enjoy being doted on by their female companions. Adjusting bow ties and jackets. They would feel rich and important as they walked through the ornate doors, their expensive black shoes clicking on the marble floors. They would check the coats and file in, only sulking to prove a point. When the music finally started, they would feel, in a small way, alive. While not a single jacket sleeve would find its way into the air to play with the sounds, many secret smiles would play at the edges of their mouths.

As the climax of the piece slowly grew, the excitement and rainbow of sound would build. The string section was always the deepest oceans of blues and teals, and small trickles of sea foam green. The winds were yellows and oranges and pinks, darting around like the sparks of fireworks. The percussion was a forest of deep greens and dark greys, mixing together to be the ominous yet beautiful backdrop to their bright companions. Tonight a piano accompaniment joined them, and from it sprang the most beautiful reds and purples that danced over the heads of the enraptured audience. One of them tickled the nose of the sleeping elderly gentleman, and the young man next to him sighed in relief when the old man jolted awake, proving he was in fact alive.

The final note was always the most extravagant. Everything seemed to hold still as every color at once waited in anticipation. There was clear silence, and then the color of music was everywhere. It splattered itself all over the women and their gowns and furs. It etched itself into the buttons and bow ties of all the men’s coats. Everyone was a different color, and the conductor was every color. An occupational hazard that he never ever tired from.

Finally, the colors evaporated. Like chalk in the rain, it was erased from existence, fading away from the dresses and jackets, and disappearing to wherever the color of sound goes. The conductor lowered his arms in one fluid motion, turned to the audience and bowed.

Applause erupted and everyone stood, as was customary for such a brilliant performance. When it was done, the men stretched their limbs and offered their arms, escorting their ladies from the building and back to their expensive cars. On the long drive home, no one tuned into the radio.

It would be a pale performance in comparison.

Copyright©2014 – by Shelby Sullivan

I’m Posting Stories!

What’s Up With That?

I know I do a lot of writing about… well… writing on here, but so far I haven’t shown any of my own. That seems incredibly counter intuitive to what this site is for, so I’ll finally be putting some stuff on here (fiction usually) for your reading pleasure!

Also, feel free to give constructive criticisms on anything, though please make sure it’s in both our best interests if you do so.

That’s all! Look for them in the “personal fiction pieces” category and on the front page.

“Mapping” Your Story’s Plot…

No, I Mean Literally

Like old Pirate maps from 80’s movies, mapping your story from beginning to buried treasure is as simple as connecting the dots. To illustrate (haha, puns) this idea, I put together a round-about story map of my own. Now, it doesn’t go to any real story, and honestly won’t make a lot of sense, but it’s a good visual representation of what it could be like with your own plot.

You can do this with “Beginning, Middle, End”, By Chapter, By Major Plot Point or any other number of ways, but for our purposes today, I did the first option.

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It took me 2 tries and about twenty minutes to make this, so please don’t take it too seriously…

Doing this Yourself!

Now, like I said, mine is a jumbled mess of things, but yours wont be! When you “map” out your story, plot, novel, movie, TV show (etc…) you know exactly where you want it to go. Well… maybe not exactly, but you have a vague idea. You know where it begins, the point of the map is to show you where it’s going. Where it could go! The farther you get, the farther your characters get, and in the end it’s all “Happily Ever After” or “Damn… that happened”.

Doing it Myself

Either way, the point of this exercise is to get a firm grasp on your plot from a visual perspective. Outlines are fun and all, but there tedious to make and even worse to look at. I personally like this idea, and plan to work on it with my book in the near future. This exercise was fun for me, and from it I learned:

  • Summarizing is your best friend. There’s nothing wrong with having a concise idea of story, and adding detail later to the final product.
  • There are a lot of potential bumps in the road. The first time I did this (not shown here) I was amazed at how many loops, twists and turns that I had drawn into my “plot”. It made me think of my own story, and whether or not it had enough or needed all of the twists that it currently had.
  • How to make outlining fun! This is WAY cuter and more hands-on then just typing out a long, boring outline on my computer. I used colors, my own handwriting and allowed myself to just stick to basic pens and sharpies. Not having the distraction of the internet was a blessing.
  • Use LARGE PAPER (or many sheets)… Now, this one was for scanning and uploading here on the blog, but boy can you NOT fit everything you need to. Gods forbid I needed a character’s hometown name, setting, backstory or anything else relevant from my story. When this was suggested to me, it was pointed out that using a roll of paper or an easily stored roll of poster board would make it easier to get a better visual. Hell, turn it into a poster you hang in your room. Let it inspire you, without overwhelming you.

Anyway, the idea is pretty cool, the execution fun and the potential? LIMITLESS!

Thanks for checking out this post!

Re-Working

You Know You Need a Re-Work When:

  • You Cringe at your own Dialogue
  • You’re not sure what the scene looks like / can’t picture it
  • Your character annoys you
  • You re-read the same paragraph at least twice (2 times is too many)

The process of writing is exactly that: a process. If you can get it all in one go, you’re probably Bradly Cooper in Limitless. If not, then you’re just like the rest of us.

I used to get so frustrated when I’d have to rewrite a sentence, paragraph, page, A CHAPTER… (pauses for calming breath) but I’ve realized, over the course of my casual writing career, that rewrites and re-works are a good way to pause your progress momentarily so you have long-term inspiration and a clear head.

Trust me, they’re not the enemy.

I Love Re-Writes!

I know that sounds like a bunch of bullshit, but it’s not. When I was in High School, for some reason I told myself that if it needed a rewrite than it must not be salvageable, or that it was too shitty in the first place to keep giving it any thought. I was totally wrong. I realized that rewriting was one of the best things you could do is to take another look at your writing.

Here’s the biggest reason why:

YOU PICKED THIS STORY FOR A REASON!

You don’t just sit down to a story because your fingers start typing of their own accord.You have an idea in your head. Whether it was conceived in the shower, in a boring classroom or at night when you can’t sleep, your idea struck a cord with you SO much that you actually sat down to try and write it. You put in some effort. Just because what came out wasn’t “New York Times Bestseller” worthy, doesn’t mean that the idea itself wasn’t very good.

Have faith that what you’re working on is worth it, even if you’re the only one who will ever read it. No matter what genre, topic, fanfiction; anything. Remember: it’s your story, you like it, YOU are writing it.

So What’s Really Wrong?

It’s hard to decide what’s wrong with a chapter, or what about a paragraph or a character interaction that just isn’t working. There are lots of things that could be going wrong, but a few here are:

  1. The plot isn’t affected or furthered by this interaction and therefore the reader finds it trivial or unnecessary.
  2. The dialogue doesn’t match your earlier style from the previous chapters and everything seems…off?
  3. It could be that the setting isn’t properly shown or explained, therefore you feel like you know what’s going on but you’re having trouble seeing it.
  4. You left off a few days ago and can’t remember where you were going with it, and are now panicking because you really liked what you had, but can no longer re-create it.

There’s also the possibility that it’s just a bad first try, which is easily messed with for a second, third or fourth time. I personally like to cut the part out that you don’t like and paste it into a separate document or on a separate sheet of paper. That way I don’t forget it. I then re-work with a blank start, keeping the old idea but making the new one something completely its own. It doesn’t have to be drastically different, just drastically more appealing.

Now, to address the 4 possibilities I wrote earlier (in case this is you), here are a some corresponding suggestions.

  1. What about this is trivial? Why isn’t the plot moving forward? If your characters are just having romantic dialogue in the middle of a novel, have some of it pertain to the plot, or the past moments of the plot. To keep the story going (in an otherwise stale moment) make it lead up to some ACTION. If they’re settling in for the night, have a huge, boring talk and then go to bed, the reader will probably not find this part of the book overwhelming or interesting. If an interaction is happening that allows a character introspective thought, or maybe they’re just talking to themselves, remember that there IS a story going on, and that this should be a crucial moment for that character. Not just some random babble by the babbling brook.
  2. Remember, you created these characters from nothing. Like the gods, magical wizards and divine intervention, things that come from nothing are created with a real, specific purpose. You NEED to know your character inside and out. KNOW what they think, what they love and how they feel. You shouldn’t be confused by your characters actions without the characters themselves also being confused. Sure, we all act out of character once in a while, but there must be some huge reason. Maybe they’re falling in love, maybe they’ve just escaped death? Maybe they’re under a lot of pressure or stress and exploded out of nowhere. Make whatever is happening (if it’s different than normal) COUNT. If this moment in time isn’t supposed to mean that much, then consider thinking about what you know about your character and go for a re-try.
  3. WHERE AM I? If I’m your reader, I shouldn’t be going through this very important situation, action scene, conversation or monologue trying to remember where we are or how the Hell we got here. I know reading is just some really good hallucination, but that doesn’t mean I’m always going to know what it’ll look like. Don’t forget to help every chance you get with minor details. “The blood spatter on his face dripped closer and closer to his mouth. She knew that if the massacred orc blood made it onto his tongue, the Battle of Red River would have been for nothing. Nothing at all.”
  4. Okay, if you can’t remember where you were going with this, IT’S TOTALLY FINE! It’s actually WONDERFUL! This is a perfect time to shake things up, try something else. If you’re here working without a very clear outline, then you’ve got nothing to lose. This could send the story in a whole new direction, or add a few more awesome scenes before it gets back on track. There’s nothing wrong with flying by the seat of your pants, or your character’s pants either. Most of the time your second thought turns out WAY better than the first.

In Conclusion What I mean is:

Rewriting things is totally worth your time. I know that we put our hearts and souls into our work, and I know that it can be scary to tear it apart, but in the end, you know better than anyone what your story could be. There’s nothing wrong with a little critique, a lot of patience and a nice red pen.

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Here’s a comforting picture of Sage to let you know that it’s all okay, and when you’re done, you can take a nap.

Character Creation!

There’s no ‘one’ way…

When creating characters, we put a lot of effort into them. Their names, family, friends, appearance, occupation, where they live, what they like, dislike, how tall are they? There is a lot of planning and structure that goes into a character. Sometimes we have difficulty figuring out how we want to build these characters, or what’s the ‘best’ way to go about creating them.

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Ben White – Unsplash.com

“What if I miss something?”
“What if they’re not relatable?”
“What if no one likes them?”

Creating characters should: A) Not be this hard… and B) Be fun and exciting!

When I create my characters, I have at least one specific idea in mind. Mostly I start with their gender (they don’t need one of course) and then go into appearance, personality and finally when all of that is said and done, I attempt to match them with an appropriate name. But where does this process start?

Their role in the story.

If I’m creating the main character, there’s a lot to consider:

  • How do they talk/act/move?
  • Is their personality strong or weak?
  • Are they more likely to cry or scream?
  • Dance or sing or neither?

Questions like these really get you interested in, not only your character’s back story, but who they are as a ‘person’. If you’re interested, there is a good chance your reader might be, too.

But, what if this method doesn’t work for me?

This post is derived from poewar.com, and their post on the 10 days of character building: http://www.poewar.com/10-days-of-character-building-wrap-up/

Together, we’ll go through one of their techniques and create a random character from scratch! As I go through this, hopefully I’ll be learning a new technique, and you’ll be getting a better idea on building your characters in the future!

In the future I’ll probably use a few more techniques, especially as my research continues in the book I’m reading, but for now, let’s just use one.

A Day in the Life:

Using poewar’s “A Day in the Life” article for character building, we’ll create a random, imperfect, interesting main character for any sort of book. While plots and stories might change, the character shouldn’t. For example, you wouldn’t just change your morals, values or language with a blink of an eye. You wouldn’t be walking down the street one day and just murder a man with your bare hands! (Or would you???)

Using this method, we’ll be able to create some concrete and consistent traits that should be followed throughout your story, until (one day) your story changes that character forever. Or, in more popular films, the character changes the world they’re living in.

The article’s suggestion is a normal drive to work, but for this blog’s purposes, I’ll choose a different scenario to get the same feeling. How about: a day at work.

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Kevin Lee – Unsplash.com

Alright, first some quick decisions:

  • Male – Alex
  • 32 years old
  • Black hair, blue eyes, 5ft 9in
  • Wife, son, three German shepherds
  • House
  • No remaining parents or siblings
  • Occupation: Taxi Driver

Cool! Now that that’s out of the way, let’s dive in. (In retrospect, this is similar to a drive to work, but when your job is driving…well…)

Alex drives and works in New York City. His small home in the outer city of Secaucus, New Jersey is comfortable, quiet, and close by. He is by no means against working in the city, but could live without the traffic and angry pedestrians. A few gray hairs have already shown on the top of his head, and he regrets the microwave burrito that he had for breakfast.

His taxi is clean, suggesting he takes pride in his work. He likes the radio, usually talk shows, but sometimes old rock music from the 80’s. He doesn’t like to fiddle with the radio, it distracts from his driving, and when he chooses a station it usually stays that way until lunch, and then the new station lasts from lunch until his shift ends; provided that no customer asks for anything else. After ten years of driving for a living, he is a calm, relaxed driver. He’s used to the hustle and bustle, and drives smoothly through traffic, even during rush hour. Their’s is such a cool, familiar personality that most of his customers keep him as a regular, and in fact ask for him personally. One gentleman in particular, an ancient banking CEO with an affinity for taking a cab, always has something jovial to discuss with him during their early mornings. He’s even been to Alex’s house once or twice for dinner.

OKAY, STOP.

What does this paragraph tell you? What do you feel when you think of him? Is he anything like you pictured when you thought of an NYC taxi driver? And who is this mysterious man who requests his services and dines with his family? Is the CEO kind? Suspicious? There’s another character plot right there. While this is a quick look into the life of Alex the taxi driver, there’s no guarantee if he’s the main character, a side character or someone we only see once.

Maybe he’s murdered. Maybe he’s abducted by aliens to be an intergalactic taxi-man. Maybe he’s none of these things.

That’s the beauty of character building and story building. They could go literally anywhere! Sometimes your character creation builds the story, and sometimes the story builds the character. For example, just by going through this quick paragraph (which took me less than ten minutes) I imagine that the old CEO of the bank dies suddenly one day, and poor Alex winds up as the last man to ever see him. Now he’s on the run from people who want him dead, a corrupt police force and his family’s lives are on the line. How does it all end?

Final Thoughts:

This exercise was SO FUN! The whole thing took me less than ten minutes and I have a vague outline of a story! Does the writing process take a lot more? Of course, but now I’m excited with a great place to start! While I may not pursue this story at this time, it will always be there for me to add onto, ten minutes here and there, every day/week/month.

Don’t let things like the name of a character or what color hair they have to get you down. Names can change, colors can be dyed, but personalities are concrete and influence a character’s decisions. The story might throw them curve balls, but the character knows what they’ll do when they come.

Do you?