Memories as a Writing Tool

October 2, 2009

Using memories to write is a great technique, if done correctly. It can give an added depth to the readers experience by strengthening the scene’s clarity and details. There are two ways to use memories when writing (at least that I know of): direct and indirect.

The direct use would be as an actual version of the memory in a scene. The indirect method is to use the emotional aspects of the memory for the purpose of your scene.

A writer must be cautious when using this writing method. If done incorrectly, your experience and emotional connection to the event can replace the narrative voice. It can also end up changing the storyline, plot setting, or even the character itself.

For myself, I have a special technique that I use when preparing a memory for my stories.  I’m sure there’s better ways, easier ways, or “sound-and-true” steps…but I’ll give you my three-phased tips for effectively using memory-based writing:

Phase 1: Finding the Right Memory

  • Open a blank document or get a pen and blank sheet of paper
  • Note some objectives you are trying to accomplish with the particular scene (emotions, story development, character development, etc)
  • Jot down a couple personal memories that match those objectives (the emotions it caused you, the lessons you learned from it, the reaction of the people with you, etc)
  • Decide whether it’ll fit as direct or indirect

It is only at this point that I start recounting the memory and putting it down on paper.

Phase 2: Recounting the Memory

  • Write is all in a past tense, active voice
  • Keep the writing simple and direct…don’t try to be sophisticated
  • Pay attention to the details of the moment
  • Ask other people who were there and note what they experienced (you’d be amazed at the differences)
  • Describe the memory using all five senses (even with an outline method the first round)
  • Seek out visuals like videos, photos, articles, or letters
  • Detail and expand on the things that “outsiders” might not understand (Southern etiquette, nickname origins, regional slang, etc)

Phase 3: The Molding

  • Direct & Indirect: Modify the scene/emotions based on the character’s profile
  • Direct & Indirect: Change the tone to match your narrative voice
  • Direct: Align the setting to match the story and setting
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Life, Art, and the Occasional Fit

October 1, 2009

I would like to say I spent the evening continuing on my outlined work…but life got in the way. It’s funny how that happens. Especially when you have kids. Tonight, the little boys decided instead of writing, I would be an art critic. I was to review the paint they smeared all over their bedroom walls and closet.

Needless to say…beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I’m a tough critic of art for the sake of anarchy.

So, I will hopefully have actual writing progress to report tomorrow. That is, if I can get my characters to stop throwing a hissy about being put on the back burner. Right now they’re not talking to me…which means the story is not progressing. That Nettie can be a real diva!

Chow all…and here’s to wishing you a positive blend of life, art, and the occasional fit.

Focusing: The Big Picture

September 30, 2009

I’m breaking from novel progress reporting to discuss a topic that affects all writers at one time or another.

Focus.

The greatest strengths a writer can contain. Without focus, a writer has nothing but daydreams and visions. It takes focus to grab those creative thoughts and transfer them into words, then to edit those initial words into a clear and concise story. And finally, to push the finished product towards publication.

This entry will be on the big picture focus. Every writer as a lifetime goal – to be a published author. This may vary on level, ranging from small potatoes to the big time. But it’s there, in the back of every writer’s mind. “I want to be published.”

It’s a great and lofty goal, however, reality has to reach us at some point. To achieve this goal, you have to find the story, write the story, then finish the story.

For me, the tactic was to break down that life goal of publication into manageable milestones and tasks. Yes, I’ve approached this as a project manager. I am a project manager in my day job, so it’s allowed.

The following is the methodology I suggest to you.

First, break up your lifetime goal into incremental milestones. It could be year, two, or five year increments…you’re the boss here. At those milestone points outline a statement of where you want to be in your writing career. Example: In two years, I want to be published in at least one magazine and two anthologies.

Second, break your milestones into actual activities and tasks. This could include blocking writing time, completing grammar or other educational courses, and/or the research and industry knowledge you’ll need to gain.

Now, from this point, you can break it down as far as you need. There are times when my workload gets so heavy, I have to pause and actually define daily goals until I get back on track.

Okay, so you’re ready to try this. Where to start? Two options: paper or pc.

Below are several great articles on focus.

How to Focus on the Task at Hand

How to Focus: Five Levels of Mental Focus You Might Not be Aware of  

How to Focus

Goldilock Syndrome

September 29, 2009

It must’ve been poetic karma that all this changing and major story revelations kicked off with lucky Chapter 13. I’m sure it’s there…somewhere.

Any-who.

Lot’s of rearranging done tonight. Chapter 13 started out at 6,549 words. For those of you who are familiar with my writing, this is way longer than any chapter I would do. After the replotting and overall enlightenment of the last few days Chapter 13 was cut down to 980 words. This, of course, is way to small for my chapter taste. Adding the fact that it was just a Hodge-Podge of remaining scenes I was really stressing about the Chapter.

So, tonight. I went back to the basics. Paper, pen, index cards. It’s the easiest way for me to focus and streamline my creative thoughts.

  • I separated each scene and laid it out on the coffee table
  • I took some index cards and put a plot point on each one, then lined them along the coffee table
  • I ordered my scenes along the plot, where they fit best
  • I then took a different color index and identified transitions and missing scenes to complete each plot point for the chapter

It was then I moved to the computer:

  • I put a bold plot outline 
  • I moved the scenes to their appropriate section
  • Then I entered highlighted text summarizing the needed scenes to add

Whoa’la…rough (very rough) draft of Chapter 13. From that point I’ve been busy fleshing out the missing scenes, and smoothing out transitions.

In summary: I ended up with Goldilock syndrome. The first version was way to cold, the second was way to hot, and the third? It is just right! (As a new draft, that is)

Replotting the Subplots

September 27, 2009

Subplot: a secondary or subordinate plot, as in a play, novel, or other literary work; underplot. (As defined by Dictionary.com)

Yesterday’s personal honey do list started with a review and revision of my subplots.

Okay…there is a main plotline the two sisters follows, where they push and trigger drivers in each other’s story. But for the most part, they have individual stories independent of each other. For the purpose of my sanity, I’m going to treat each one as their own plot with timed exchanged points that have to happen (Back to the Future comment anyone?).

Nettie: Her story had three main subplots. I cut one subplot out all together because is was unproductive and…well, retarded in retrospect (yes, I’ll admit it). Okay, one down. It was decided (through an internal conversation between me and the character) that the other two subplots must happen. I will be working out the other kinks mentioned in September 26th post to strengthen these two.

Annie: Her story had what seemed like fifty zillion subplots that were pointless and counterproductive to the story. I took a huge mental machete and chopped away all but three subplots. These three are vital to the storyline and Annie’s motivation in the last half of the story. They need major renovations, but at least I have them identified and ready to go.

Once I worked out both sister’s plot lines I adjusted the exchange points, eliminating one of them, and moved the climax to a better position. I also ended up cutting out several secondary characters. By doing this exercise, I also managed to strengthen the theme, reduce the repetition, and delete several implausible scenes.

Plot and subplots are now strategically laid out. Today will be all about revising, smoothing, and fleshing out what’s left.

I feel like a writing surgeon…

A Honest Look

September 26, 2009

Last night I finished up my Chapter 12 edits and decided it was time to pause and take a respective look at the plot. There has been many changes since the final editing phases started. It was at this point I realized that many parts of my stories have changed so much, I needed to once again revise the ending.

To ensure the plot is believable I need to do the following:

  • Revise a few of the subplots
  • Move the climax of the story
  • Modify two of the character’s motives (one MC and one secondary character)
  • Delete several implausible scenes
  • And change several settings

To strengthen my writing, I need to:

  • Ensure my narrative voice is consistent throughout, several areas have a severe change in tone
  • Strengthen the theme through stronger word selection
  • Reduce the repetition of activity, mix it up a bit
  • Realize my strengths and ensure it’s applied throughout (description, realistic dialogue, emotional connection)
  • Realize my weaknesses and overcome (transitions, internal dialogue)

It’s important to a writer to take stock of their writing often. This is the only way they can improve. I hope that an honest approach is the key to improving my own writing.  If you’re interested in some information/tips on revisions , here’s some links:

Creative Writing Fiction  (Writing Tips)

Revising Strategies for Fiction and Non-Fiction

Editing a Novel and Surviving the Rejection Slip

Chapter 12 Revisions Complete

September 25, 2009

Revisions are complete. The  draft held a lot of issues and it took several weeks to work out.  The finished product, though, is wonderfully true to my vision. It’s interesting and inline with the moments Nettie, her crew, and her family face.

The drama was high but without seeming forced. The battle scenes are now accurate, tight, and action-packed. I almost made the mistake of having Nettie black out, but decided she should stay conscious for the aftermath of the hit. This gave an added touch of Kaitlin-ism, always my favorite scenes to write.

Next step: Editing and prepping for critique group submission. Then onto Chapter 13.

Progress, Progress, Progress

September 24, 2009

There’s been great progress on Galileo. I haven’t gotten as far as hoped on the revisions/fleshing out. But, I’m giving the quality to the piece I think was missing.

Yesterday evening I continued smoothing out the transitions. Tonight I’m working on the conversation with her parents after her big battle scene. There’s a belief for me that this will be the last item needing attention before the big editing kick off (crossing fingers).

Having two big losses in the chapter still concerns me. I hope that it’s not too much. After a big debate I decided to leave the plot line as is. It’s important to get the full sense that life during war doesn’t happen in a neat, linear fashion. Sometime’s fate just dumps it on for a while, before levelling out. Plus, it’s important for her character growth.

Sorcerer’s Carnival has taken a back seat while I ride this sci-fi train. My heart will always be primarily in the realm of space. After I finish the wizard story, I think I’m packing up the fantasy storylines…unless an AWESOME idea runs over my brainwaves.

Okay, those are my thoughts for today…chow!

Good Weekend

September 21, 2009

Okay, good weekend with nice progression on both Galileo War and Sorcerer’s Carnival.

Galileo War Chapter 12

Fleshed out the action scenes for the main battle. Worked on pinning down the emotions for the hospital scene. Annihilated a few telling paragraph’s and filled in with some showing (hopefully). Tonight I want to double check the transitions and make sure they’re smooth. Then it’s all about the grammar and final editing.

Sorcerer’s Carnival

Focused on transitions and modifying POV’s in merged scenes. Still struggling with outlining the Sorcerer motivations, but I think I might have that worked out with some internal dialogue. I’m going to focus on that tonight.

Phew! Unstuck!

September 19, 2009

Phew! Crisis averted. Yesterday evening I spent an hour trying the advice of Cliff, and let any idea flooding my head out on paper. (Yes, I revert back to paper when I’m stuck. It helps reset my thoughts and focus…a topic for another time, I think.) That led to a couple story ideas (including a twist on Little Red Riding Hood’s fable and a Shakespeare story). It also helps trigger some scenes for other shorts in the queue (Alien Ghost Ship, Damarian’s Voyage, and Sorcerer’s Carnival).

Thank you Cliff, the tactic worked and was much appreciated.

After my brain was a little less jumbled, I focused on Galileo’s Chapter 12. It’s an important transition chapter in the storyline and has to be done with a balance between her emotions as a grieving sister and her sense of duty as a soldier. In my original draft she was focused too solely on the grieving sister role. There was too much telling and not enough showing. And I grazed over the vital action scenes that leads to an important decision for her later on.

In my revisions last night, I focused on fleshing out her emotional responses to the news her sister is missing in action. It required cutting out 12-14 paragraphs of emotional “telling”. The experience was draining and left me a little emotional myself. This is because, to assist, I thought about losses in my own life and the responses I felt. It was difficult and brought back a lot of memories that, today, aren’t getting boxed back up easily.

With my focus on the emotional aspect, last night I just identified the action scenes. I jotted down what needed to happen and the results. Today I’ll work on fleshing those scene’s out. I might pause for an hour or so to do some photography. It might heal my emotional state a bit.