Books

My own case study: building a storyline

I wasn’t expecting writing inspiration to come from watching “The World’s End” last night, but to my great surprise, Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg went through their process for writing the movie.
As I mentioned last week, I struggle when it comes to nailing down a storyline. I’ll frequently get decent ideas only to see them crumble in a heap of disappointment and frustration after trying to give characters a purpose for their existence.
Back to the movie. Wright and Pegg showcased numerous pages of their development process, from the basic one-line idea behind “The World’s End” to a complicated set of paragraphs and a fully realized 105-minute movie. They were struggling to creat the same thing I wanted: a solid, entertaining storyline that takes people on a journey through characters’ lives.
So, this afternoon I set out to attack a short story in a similar fashion to their scriptwriting process. Start with a simple concept and develop the storyline from there, branching out to describe the setting, motivations for the main character, Marty (Monica Woods’ “The Pocket Muse” was a great help to get the ball rolling). My morning today was spent getting Marty’s background in line and giving him reasons to exist in the world I create for him.
Before I begin putting the story on the page, I’m describing the important parts of the story: a new store in town, Marty, and the town itself. From there, I’ll give a 40,000-foot description, breaking down the plot into acts and summarizing the big events in each section. Each next step down, like Wright and Pegg, will add more to the story, factoring in the little elements that can turn a small idea into one that’s manageable and interesting.
Sure, my concerns about turning this simple idea into a fully-developed story are still there. But it won’t progress into the next stage by taking up space inside my head.
The roadmap of our writing lives is often full of detours and delays of our own creation. “Will this sell?” “Why would anyone want to read this?” “I don’t know enough about that subject, so I can’t write it.” “This idea about elves and spaceships isn’t mainstream enough.”
Instead of worrying about whether something will sell, just write. Think a story isn’t good enough to turn into a novel? Just write and see.
This week, I’m blocking out 40 consecutive minutes in front of the keyboard every day. It’s a start, but actually taking the time to hammer out an idea will get things rolling, even if it’s not the direction you initially wanted.

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Running into the hurdles of writing

One of the most difficult parts about writing, for me, is storyline.
I’ll get a concept going, albeit a small one, and try to form it into something coherent. Sometimes that works, most of the time the idea ends up in a folder in the corner of my closet, buried underneath plastic bags of clothes I haven’t touched for years. On the rare occasion that it actually works, I’ll be at the keyboard for hours at a time, hammering out the details and making characters and situations follow the melody of that storyline.
A storyline is really quite easily compared to a song, one where the rhythm is persistent and purposeful with every action the characters are made to take.
The challenge of making a coherent storyline is the reason why I stuck to writing short stories for a while. (That is, when I actually made the effort to write them.) For years, I let my professional writing intrude on the personal writing. Instead of creating stories about a young man discovering the true story behind a box of items willed to him by his grandfather, I focused on making sure my newspaper article was properly structured.
Instead of writing that spinoff to “The Office”, I stuck to ensuring I didn’t have more than three or four sentences in the paragraph of a news article.
And, instead of bolstering my creative writing, I made excuses and told myself “I’ve done enough writing this week. There just isn’t any left in the tank.”
You see, writing isn’t easy, and I’m not trying to boost my ego or make further excuses here. For some, crafting a story with various subplots and making everything flow smoothly in line with the storyline’s drum beat is easy. For others, writing a 20-plus word lead and filling in the rest of the details in an article just over 500 words is easy.
For myself? I can write a traditional news article simply enough. It’s merely churning out a simplistic storyline and tossing some quotes in to balance the article’s objectivity.
But ask me to create a world from the chaos of my imagination and turn it into a coherent work? That’s not easy. Add in the challenge of making it marketable to a mass audience, and that’s a pretty tall order.
That is precisely why I’ve strayed from creative writing over the last few years. It isn’t due to a lack of ideas or a lack of ability. Creating a cohesive plot that works for several hundred pages is enough of a challenge on its own, and one that I haven’t ever successfully accomplished.
I would, however, like to add that to the ever-growing list of goals for this year.
A couple of good friends have already published their own novels. It’s time I join their ranks.

Reacting to “The Hunger Games”: Wow

I can sum up “The Hunger Games” movie  in one word: Wow.

But, there’s a lot going in to that one word.

I haven’t read the Suzanne Collins trilogy, although I’m really considering it after seeing the movie. In fact, it arrived last week, and after I’m done with my current book, “Michael Vey and the Prisoner of Cell 25,” it’ll be my reading material. I know this is a bit late, seeing as the movie has been out for ages – I meant to get this out quite a while ago…

The story in “The Hunger Games” was rich, the characters were complex and the pacing was nice and steady. It’s an incredible movie that’s both visually appealing and mentally engaging. Not to mention, it’s the only movie that’s made me think Elizabeth Banks was a man until I heard her character speak! (I’m sorry, it’s just the costume and makeup that made you do a double-take. I didn’t know it was her until a few days after seeing the movie.)

That being said, I had a weird look on my face throughout the two hours that rarely went away. My brow was furled with a puzzled expression as to what was happening on the screen. The one thing going through my mind was, “Why don’t they speak out against this game?” (more…)

Five books currently within reach

With all the hustle and bustle that comes with the routines in life, it’s pretty easy to leave books strewn around the room. Like any book addict normal person, some of those are good enough to be in arms’ reach. The rest just kind of sit in boxes between my closet and the CDs/games/Larry Bernandez bobbleheads/old work files box next to my desk.

The ones that are within arms’ reach are obviously the more important ones. Here are five that are currently nearby.

The Pocket Muse

I swear, this book hasn’t left my backpack, while in college, or my desk since I bought it in the store. It’s brilliant. Writing ideas, tips and suggestions on how to improve on each page. Heck, even some pages are just photos, meant to inspire. While some of the tips tend to lean toward fiction, short story and novel writing, many of the practices and ideas it lists are great for a person like me.

If you’re stuck and can’t seem to visualize a final concept, or just want an idea that you probably haven’t thought up before, The Pocket Muse is perfect. (It’s pretty cheap for a new copy on Amazon)

The Wednesday Letters

One of my favorite books. It’s an incredible tale of redemption, forgiveness and relationships. We’re hardly perfect people, and this book illustrates that concept perfectly. At the same time, we’re taught the best way to love, and turn it into an outstanding marriage. All of the characters are very real and hardly fluffed up to the point of “Hallmark Channel” status – something that we’ve all seen in stories like these. (Again, pretty cheap, under $10 on Amazon)

America’s Prophet

I’m pretty big on history, especially American history. This book is perfect at combining faith and history, looking at the influence and impact of Moses throughout our country’s history. It’s told through a documentary style by Bruce Feiler, as he interviews and discovers the importance of the biblical figure.

The book is separated into about four or five distinct parts where Moses played an integral part influencing either an opinion, or being a metaphor for a movement. Looking at the pilgrims, our founding fathers, the Underground Railroad and even Martin Luther King Jr’s vision. It’s an incredible book that journeys from the 1600s to even covering his influence on President Obama. (It’s out in paperback and hardcover, and pretty affordable)

Survivor’s Club

Just the story of Ben Sherwood’s trip through a military training course is interesting enough to read the book. But, he also speaks to a large number of people who have survived traumatic events in their lives. Just like the lady who survived falling on knitting needles as she walked up some stairs.

Sherwood is an excellent wordsmith and is able to flawlessly tell someone’s story. It’s that greatness that led him to be named the president of ABC News. He knows people, and he now knows how to survive those incredible situations we hear about on the news. The information in the book is overwhelming, but easily broken down. It’s a brilliant gift for those looking for ways to survive the odd situation, or lend some help to those trying to survive with a life-threatening illness.

So many of us are survivors. Give it a look. (Really, do yourself a favor and buy it)

All My Friends Are Dead

A hilarious book that’s worth discovering on your own. I promise, it’s a kick.

Unshakeable, unbreakable and unreadable

(Flickr photo by Sindesign) This is probably what my book problem will look like if unsolved next week.

They pile up like no one’s business, and I can’t seem to get through one without buying another three along the way.

Books are quickly becoming something that won’t come off my to-do list.

I’ve always been a bit of a big reader, but have fallen out of the habit of reading as often as I should. As a result, my list of books to read has grown to somewhere around 15. And new, interesting titles are printed almost continuously.

It’s rather sad, really, that books are the one thing with which I’m losing touch. But, that seems to be the modern message of the day.

When I was younger, I could spend a weekend just reading and knock out at least one book each weekend. Some of the stories I read were incredible – Frank Peretti, Diane Carey, Dean Koontz, Stephen King, Clive Cussler – all modern writers who have brilliant imaginations. Their creations danced in my head for days when finished, showing just how strong their words are.

Unfortunately, I think I’m not alone in the matter of not reading as often as I’d like. Like a past post about not having the Internet said, time opens up when you’re not on the computer doing “homework.”

Now, I should also mention that my taste in books has changed just ever so slightly. Instead of the edge-of-your-seat action book, or the suspenseful thriller, I’ve found myself engrossed in some current events and history books. Yes, I take an odd liking to history… just when I can get around to reading about it.

Instead of purchasing physical books, our eyes have been turned to the fascinating possibility of Kindles and Nooks, eReaders and other high-tech gizmos. Why have 15 books lying around when you can have just one?

At times, that actually seems rather appealing…

Some friends of mine say that they read more with an eReader, since they can always just carry it with them wherever they go – just like a book. They also argue that they can read it at night – just like a book (with a little thing called electricity). They also say they never lose their place with an eReader, unlike in a book – something that can be solved with a bookmark. Sure, it looks cooler to have an eReader, and one could fit in with the crowd.

There are even some places that are considering eReaders in school – for elementary students. Whether it’s more cost-effective or not, in my opinion, it’s the wrong path. After all, districts are facing almost persistent annual budget cuts. I find it amazing that some can afford iPads and eReaders yet toss out some decent staff.

So, to remedy this persistent problem of a growing book supply, it seems that there are really only two options.

With one, I could read more. Sure it might take a bit more time out of the day, but then again, it would absolutely cut the number of books just lying around, like a bunch of squatters. The second option is to stop buying books, which would only lead to a massive binge someday soon.

Either option has its own perks and downsides, but I figure something needs to be done. At least reading books isn’t nearly as bad as needing to clean dishes, or toss out a litter box, or wash some clothes.

Or perhaps, I could just buy an eReader.