It’s time to get serious. Time to be a professional. This is not my hobby. This is not my play time. This is my life. This is my life career. I am a writer.
I am reading an amazing book right now. Story Engineering by Larry Brooks is phenomenal. I found out about this book by reading Kristen Lamb’s Blog. It stood out, because I have been craving weighty knowledge about behind the scenes of fantasy novels. Everywhere I had looked before, said just write, or make outlines, or breathe life into your characters. Nothing was actually written in a way that taught the basics about what every story should have. I am only halfway through the book, and already I know ten times more then I did.
I have a confession to make. I have never completed a story. Admittedly I’ve never really tried (until recently). My focus used to center on poetry, and blog entry type stuff. There is another reason I never really tried however, and that’s because I knew where to begin, and I knew how to end, but I always got lost in the middle. I felt overwhelmed by all the aspects of story telling, because I couldn’t keep all my
crazy awe-inspiring ideas that were buzzing around in my head organized on paper.
If you read my first blog entry called My Inspiration and Process of Writing, you will recall that when it came to inspiration I have tons of it, but when it came time for me to write about my process, I had nothing. Basically my strategy has always been, just write. It works don’t get me wrong, but it only works so far. I had a thirst for the knowledge in this book. I needed to know more about structure, about character development, and about character arcs. I needed to know the psychology behind writing a story.
Reading this book has taught me terms, and words for things I instinctually knew, but it wasn’t there on the surface in a way that would allow me to study certain aspects in other people’s work. For example I was reading about character development. Sub consciously I know what a character needs to feel real; I am majoring in psychology after all, but after reading about the different dimensions that it takes to make a character stand out in a story, I am now seeing these dimensions in characters in every movie I have watched since reading those chapters. Additionally I am now able to study the different ways that other writers subtly make a characters backstory known without a flashback. It’s an exhilarating experience.
I don’t think that I’m anywhere near to knowing everything, but I am now five steps closer to my dreams. Which is cool, because that is why I started this blog in the first place; it gives me a way to practice, a way to connect with other writers, and a way to hone my story writing abilities.
Today I decided that I want to write about my darling baby. Now if you haven’t noticed my username; it’s ‘the dwagon’ there is a story behind that name, but I’m not going to divulge that particular story at the moment. Anyway, my little boo was coincidentally born in the year of the dragon (2012). So she is now Little Dwagon.
Little Dwagon is learning sign language, and therefore so am I. It has been an amazing experience, and she now knows enough that we can communicate with each other fairly well. She is well on her way to communicating her needs, and expressing herself. One day she will have the potential to be an excellent writer like her mom.
One critical reason that toddlers throw tantrums is the very natural response to being frustrated when they can’t communicate their wants and needs. This reason is why I started teaching her (well that, and the thought of how phenomenal it would be to share an esoteric language with someone). Now that she knows quite a few signs, when I hear a tantrum coming on, I say to her “Use your signs baby. Do you want milk?” As I say the word milk I move my hand in and out of a fist with my thumb up like I am milking a cow.
One thing that I have noticed while raising Little Dwagon, is that she will become very upset if I decide to leave the room without her. It’s not that she can’t follow me. She has been walking since she was 9 months old. I assume it’s because she doesn’t know where I’m going, and that she has an irrational fear that if she doesn’t know where I am at all times then I will be swallowed up by a black hole. Once I started signing where I was going, she immediately switched gears, and was perfectly content. So now for instance, when I have to use the restroom, I sign ‘potty’ to her by shaking my fist back and forth with my thumb in between my pointer and middle finger. I still hear the pitter patter of little feet following behind as make my trek to the restroom, but instead of high pitched shrieking, I hear the giggles of a baby girl that is oddly ecstatic about entering the bathroom. This is communication at it’s finest.
Language is crucial for humanity. Our ability to communicate our needs, and desires directly effects our happiness. Imagine being a one year old just learning about body language, and not having the capability to talk. I can imagine the gears spinning in Little Dwagon’s head. She points at something, and says “Dueh”. She said exactly what she wanted to say, and doesn’t expect to get anything less then what she asked for. Sometimes I’m baffled by what she wants, and after giving her a couple things that were in the general direction of where she pointed, and the obviousness of her dissatisfaction when she throws each thing I gave her to the ground, she finally gives in to her frustration at not being able to articulate what she wants by bending her body down, yelling, and throwing her arms at the ground like she’s trying to get rid of something. Admittedly I laugh. I think it’s extremely cute when I see snippets of her personality. It’s times like these when I remember that she is not a baby, but a little person.
It is a writers job to communicate a story, or an idea in a way that inspires other people. The other side to being a writer is a lot like mothering a one year old. There is a general direction in which a writer is pointed, and it’s up to the writer to figure out what a reader wants. Sometimes your off base, sometimes your head on. I just put in the effort to remember to keep trying new things, in hopes of becoming a better communicator. Little Dwagon has a lot to learn in this department, but that only means that I have a lot to teach her. It also means that I have to continue to be vigilant when it comes to deciphering what she wants.
At thirteen months she knows how to communicate using many signs, milk, all done, eat, drink, ball, bath, dog, diaper, elephant, and outside are among her favorites. She amazes me every day, and not only that; she inspires me. As young as she is, she is learning at a tremendous rate, and learning not just one language, but four. Everyday she learns about body language, and emotional language in addition to the english language, and sign language. I would love to be able to learn a new language as fast as she can, but while being envious of my daughter is super productive, I have decided to put my energy else where. Even though I can’t learn a new language as fast as she can, I can still continue to learn my old language.
While counting the number of exact words in the english language is near impossible, we can be safe to assume that there are at least a quarter of a million words (not including slang, or inflections etc…). I know only about quarter of that, probably less. An article done by BBC News says that a normal person should easily know about 33,000 words. There is an overwhelming quantity of words out there, that we have no idea exists! To me that’s mind-blowing, and yes I get excited easily. Anyway my point is this…I want to learn more words. I want to embed unknown words into my every day sentences until it becomes natural. More then that I want to become a proficient communicator. Who says that I can’t learn words as fast as Little Dwagon does? I’ll be a better writer for it.
Do you know a weird, or interesting word that isn’t normally used? Help me expand my vocabulary. 🙂
I find when I’m writing that one of the hardest things to do is to find words that convey emotion. I want to show the reader that my character is angry, while invoking the same feelings in the reader. To do this you have to describe the anger, or the character’s body language. It’s a lot more then just saying “Michael became very angry.” And it is not the easiest goal to accomplish.
While writing today I came upon a block. Yes, it had to do with describing emotion. It was aggravating to think that I have felt these emotions my entire life, I have been dealing with them, and I have watched them flash across faces right in front of me. Yet, I can’t seem to grasp the words it takes to describe them.
So here I am. I am going to use this blog to do a writing exercise that has to do with describing emotion. If you want to do this exercise with me, go for it! Remember to use the comment section to tell me how it went.
First I am going to pick a couple emotions that I want to explore. Mine are…
I chose these emotions based on what I’m working on at the moment, and because I want a challenge.
Next I want to take the first emotion, and describe it. Any and all words that come to mind, as well as body language. As I am describing it I will picture that emotion in my mind by remembering a circumstance in my life when I felt that emotion.
Ashamed, crossed arms, averted eyes, closed off, covered face, nervous laughter, jittery, stomach butterflies, flushed cheeks, lost dignity, humiliation discomfort etc…
This is where it gets interesting….
The next step in this exercise is creating a circumstance for a fictional character where he/she feels that emotion, without saying the “word”. In my case I can’t say ’embarrassed’.
Rodney laid in bed staring at the ceiling. Late as it was he could not find sleep. Flashbacks of the day kept making their way back into his head. He tried counting sheep, but they eventually fell away from his mind as bold memories demanded his attention. He was left; a slave to his mind, to relive the day over and over.
He had just got his lunch. He remembered the plastic red tray, filled with a mess of food that lunch ladies had just scooped nonchalantly into their designated sections, flying into his face when Austin casually flipped it upwards with a smack of his hand. Rodney was left with goop dripping from his face, and shaking hands.
Austin had hated Rodney ever since grade school, when days of throwing dirt clods at each other, and playing army suddenly ended when his dad was caught cheating on Austin’s mom with non other then Rodney’s mom. Rodney had never known his dad, so naively he thought his mom could marry Austin’s dad, and he could gain a dad, and a brother. Everything changed for Austin however. His parents went through a gruesome divorce, and he never came over to play again. He avoided Rodney at school, and started hanging out with a completely different crowd. For some reason he blamed Rodney for his pain, and it had looked like Austin just grew angrier every day.
It started in middle school. Rodney was now accustomed to the routine of name calling, and taunting along side his classes. This was the first day Austin had done anything physical however.
The food on Rodney’s face had fallen to the floor in chunks. His face had felt hot, and he had the sudden urge to run, and hide under the covers in his bed. His eyes blurred, and he heard laughter surrounding him, threatening to smother him. He had laughed nervously, and crossed his arms in front of his chest. “Anyone have a napkin?” he had said the first thing that came to mind, anything was better then breaking down in tears. Austin grabbed a rag from a bucket that lunch helpers used to wipe down tables after lunch ended. “Here” he said throwing it in Rodney’s face “Use this”. As the smell of dirty bleach water had filled his nostrils, he heard Austin’s laugh distinct from all the others fading until Austin was finally out of the room.
Coming back to the present Rodney punched a fist into his pillow. He should have done something. He should have punched Austin instead of shamefully standing there being humiliated. He put his hands to his head, and stared into the bleakness of the night until it finally took over his mind, and he fell fast asleep.
Did I convey embarrassment in an interesting, and engrossing way?
The next step is to take the words you chose, and describe them without imagery. Basically describe some persons emotion while being in the point of view of a blind person. So how does an emotion taste? How does it smell? How does it feel?
This time I’m going to use a surprise emotion.
The tapping of Aubrey’s white cane echoed in her ears along with the noises of the city that hung in the background like a constant humming. It had been ten years since she lost her sight, and she missed it, but she enjoyed the way the world had opened up to her in a whole new way. Once she had learned to except her fate she found a plethora of new perspective waiting to be discovered. As Aubrey continued down the sidewalk, she felt something that was almost like static electricity coming from her right. There were two people next to her that gave off an intense fiery energy. The reverberation in her eardrums exploded messages to her mind telling her that there was yelling going on. “It’s your fault he died!” a women screamed. Aubrey got a whiff of body odor, and she could tell that the women was sweating. “How could you!” Aubrey heard the women’s voice tremble, and that she was breathing rapidly. A man’s voice spoke then “Please forgive me, it was an accident” his voice sounded broken. Aubrey then heard a thump, and then another thump. “How can you even ask that!” the women screamed again starting to sound breathless.
Aubrey started to walk on, not wanting to appear to be eaves dropping. She was shocked by the sudden intensity of the feelings she had witnessed. She hung her head, as it suddenly felt heavy with thought, then frowned. It had sounded like the women that Aubrey overheard had experienced a very harrowing reality. Aubrey walked on in silence.
Anger is the emotion that I used for this exercise. Hopefully you were able to figure that out before I told you. If not, tell me why. I think that this exercise was very useful, and I will use it again to explore different emotions further. Thank you for going with me in my journey of writing emotions.
Photo used from here
I would love to hear your thoughts, and comments!