Saturday, June 25, 2011


This morning I ran in the Layton Hills 5K and got 3rd place for my age group and 13th overall. I was pleasantly surprised by how I did.

What does this have to do with writing? I believe that good writing comes from good mental health which comes from good physical health. When I'm tired and out of shape, my thinker doesn't want to think. Exercise is a good time to get away from the other distractions and open yourself to a period of meditation and imagination. I can mull over problems in the plot or imagine new characters or concepts.

My Polynesian gladiator story was a mix of reading a book on roman gladiators and watching a documentary on the conquest of Hawaii by an aggressive expansionistic tribe among the islands before the USA came knocking on its door to become a US Territory, while working out at the gym (wow what run-on sentence, and I call myself a writer).

This morning before the 5K I was writing my Paleolithic (though its probably actually Neolithic) story and was writing about the physical contests and games the clan did at its annual Summer gathering. I wrote about a spear throwing contest. While running the 5k I thought to myself that they would probably have foot races too. So in the final draft, you might see a foot race, or at least mention of it in passing. It all depends on which elements remain relevant to the plot or to character development.

Inspiration can come from anywhere and everywhere. Let yourself be influenced by what's around you. And live healthy so that your mind can be fit for the sport of writing.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Uglies And Shared Creative Experiences

I recently finished reading (listening actually) Scott Westerfield's book, Uglies, for my book club. Despite heavy handed use of the "I've got a secret I want to tell you but can't because then you wouldn't love me anymore" trope and the flimsy scientific reasoning for hover boards and other technologies, I loved the book. I fell in love with Tally and Shey (Spelling could be off since I listened to rather than read the book) and their friendship. It was a delightful story set in a cheerful dystopian future about a society that has all teenagers undergo surgery at age 16 so everyone is equally pretty. Most children look forward to the day they can pass from Ugly to Pretty, though some don't.

One of the things that caught my attention was that in the heavy use of the hoverboards throughout the story, it was never made clear whether Tally and Shey skated regular or goofy foot. I don't know if Scott Westerfield even thought of it. Maybe he's not a skateboarder. I imagined the main character, Tally as hoverboarding goofy foot (right foot foward) like myself while Shey hoverboarded regular footed (left foot forward) like my son.

Omitting this detail was perfect, if perhaps unintentional. Which way they hoverboarded didn't matter to the story and it allowed me as the reader to fill in the detail with my own imagination. In doing so, I more closely identified with the main character since I imagine her "skating" the way I do. Often less description is more. No two people will ever generate the exact same image in their heads so rather than try to describe everything in meticulous detail, allow the reader to get the most important elements and fill in the rest with their own minds, turning the book into a shared creative experience. The story is just as much the reader's as it is the author's.

When our book club read the Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, one of the members of our club asked, "What does Katniss even look like?" I said it didn't matter. Until they made the movie out of the book and imprinted some young actress's face as the main character, we could imagine whatever we wanted. That is one of the joys from books, the reader gets to imagine the world and its inhabitants rather then be spoon fed the visuals like in film.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Editing versus Writing

The last few weeks I have been editing A Clouded Skye. I certainly feel that the work has been strengthened with the edits, however, I miss the sheer joy of hammering out page after page of fresh story. Part of me feels like I'm not even writing when I'm editing, like its cheating or avoiding actually writing something.

But another part of me understands that the book you see on the shelf had multiple edits and drafts. In the original draft of A Clouded Skye, I had a musical instrument get destroyed protecting Skye in a fight scene against some highway robbers. She beat the robbers and then generously helped those she had wounded. Upon the following draft, I drastically altered the scene to have her run from the robbers rather than fight them, feeling that it was more in character for her to run. The deleted scene made her appear downright skilled as a fighter, which she isn't, and over the top compassionate, which she also isn't. She will certainly help a friend or a starving child, after all, she was one herself as a kid. But helping an enemy was too large of a stretch. So the fight had to go.

And in removing the fight, that musical instrument and its various references scattered throughout the rest of the story potentially had to be altered. I came close to deleting the references but felt that they showed her affection to a broken instrument that saved her life. Instead I had to add the lute back to the robbery scene but have it save her life in her escape from the robber's ambush. But I still have to review all of the other references in the story to ensure that they accurately reflect the knew reality of this inanimate character's role in Skye's narrative.

Editing takes a lot of work. Changing one thing creates ripples of other edits throughout the work. But if it makes the story better, then it's worth it, even if I'd rather be writing the next crazy idea in my head. There's too many stories floating around up there and not enough time to write them all.

I'll just close with one of my favorite quotes from the story to whet your appetite.

“Jaceck, I’m so proud of you! What you said just then was the sweetest thing you’ve said since the mist got me.”