Write It. Shoot It.

this is uncannily tim & me in our glasgow flat
Write It. Shoot It.  Publish It.  Crochet It. Saute It. Whatever. Make.

It's no secret that I am a fan of Joss Whedon's work.  I've seen a lot of "Buffy," some of "Dollhouse," I love the prematurely truncated show "Firefly" and its summation movie "Serenity;" "The Avengers" was an amazing film, and then the casual, homely, but sparkling production of "Much Ado About Nothing" is on par with the Kenneth Branagh film.  He has a knack for telling a story with a fresh perspective, a jarring but pleasant spin - as a storyteller myself, I really appreciate his way of breaking outside the box.

The following is a list of writing tips attributed to Whedon.  I've been mulling them over for a while, and thought I might share.  
1. finish it
This one seems like a no-brainer, but I think we have all experienced that moment when the first love of the story seems to have died, when it is slugging and not blitzing.  It's that moment when you discover whether you are toying with writing, or if you are really a writer.  It's that moment when you discover how much grit you have in you, how much patience - and sometimes you don't have enough, but rather than despair, you carve out the grit and the patience as you go.  Because you have to keep going.  You'll need breaks, and research: no one is asking you to slog through non-stop, because that's stupid.  You're going to have fresh ideas for new stories, and you're going to want to hurl yourself into that fresh meat, and no one will blame you, but you can't give up on your novel.  Mirriam has two (what seem to me to be) amazing new stories blossoming in her brain-pan, but she has promised herself that she won't seriously dedicate her time to them until she has finished her work in progress.  I've had to put Gingerune aside for the time being, but I haven't given up on it.  I'll finish it.  No matter what, the bottom line is finish it.
2. structure
As much as possible, have an extensive scope for your idea with which to work.  When the going gets tough and the flame begins to die, you'll need a backup fuel supply to get through those times.  It doesn't matter if you outline everything, or write as things come to you, think seriously about the scope of your story.  Have scenes in mind off in the future.  And if you can - this is very important - if at all possible, try, try, TRY to get your ending set up.  You may not be able to do this right off the bat; that would be very difficult to do before you have discovered your characters and built their lives - but keep that idea revolving in your brain.  The tires will catch on something eventually and you'll be off like a shot!

Also (and thanks to Rachel for bringing this back to my mind) it really helps to have a familiar place to work.  She just moved her writing place and mentioned to me in a letter that she is having a lot of trouble writing since the move happened.  She's not used to her new place yet.  Her brain doesn't associate this new space with comfort and creativity.  For some people, this is not nearly as big of an issue; for others, creatures of habit like myself, familiar, structured space is paramount.
3. have something to say
I don't mean everyone has to have an agenda.  Everyone always has an agenda and there is really no point in beating that horse any deader than it already is.  But make sure you care about what you are write, make sure it is true (or, alternately, not true), make it matter - make the reader care.  In conversation, it is good manners to not speak until you have something of import to say: the same goes for writing.  It doesn't have to original or groundbreaking.  Just have something to say.
4. everyone has a right to live
Everyone has a life.  Everyone is a me looking out at the world with a backstory, with a worldview, with a purpose.  Don't write a superhero action scene in which the entire city is destroyed and countless lives are lost and we call it a win.  They're not numbers, they're people.  They matter.  Human life, even fictional human life, is precious.
5. cut what you love
Reading back over a section of Plenilune the other day, I came across a piece that I had forgotten to edit.  I'm going to have to take it out, and there were a few lines in the section that I really liked.  But you know what, no one else is going to know that piece was ever there once I take it out, and if I leave it in, it will ultimately drag the story down.  I'll use those pretty little lines somewhere else, no doubt.  But the rest has to go.  I love it, but it has to go.  For the sake of the story, always do what is best.
6. listen
Personally, I don't mean this in merely a people-watching sense: I mean it on a deeper level than that.  Listen to the way things work.  Listen to the way people work.  Listen to the way their hearts cry out - in agony and ecstasy.  Listen to the sound behind sounds.  It is like perfume: a burst of scent builds a sensation, often an image of places or colours, channelled through a wash of emotion.  Listen for that sound which you hear in your head when you hear things in your ears.  And then write that.
7. track audience mood
When people are reading a book that you have also read, pay attention to how they react to the way the plot unfolds.  Pay attention to your own reactions.  There is a kind of circadian rhythm to a good plot, a flow which the human mind finds pleasant to follow, even if it involves a thorough wrenching of emotions.  While readers are your playthings, and their hearts are toys with which you can make light, you are at the mercy of their desires, and they will kick back at you if you make the ride unpleasantly rocky.  Pay attention to what people like in a story.
8. write like a movie
At first I thought this had to do with dialogue, but now I don't think so at all.  Dialogue will always be subject to the characters, to the time, and to the setting.  A good writer will be very fluid with the type of dialogue he uses.  Writing like a movie implies a vividness of impression.  Reading a book is a very visual experience, and a movie is one of the most visual mediums of creative communication that we have today.  The two can mesh very well.  This is one thing I like so much about anime: the people who draw it and put it together literally see things from different angles and perspectives than we here in the West do, and it gives me a fresh way of twisting my writing away from the expected into the unexpected.  Problem: I need to say in the text that my character gets to his feet, but that's boring, the kind of text people skim over and don't care about.  Simple solution:
His reflection in the enormous hazel eye gathered itself together and got to its feet.
Throw the reader's angle of awareness into places it is not used to going.  It helps shake things up, keeps things spicy, and keeps the reader's brain from dozing off while reading the text.
9. don't listen
"I stare at a word and think, 'Why can't you sound like Jenny?' And then I think 'Dash Jenny.' But in a very loving kind of way."  She nodded gently upon me from a height of Hibernian gold, as if to will the words to fall as soft and snow-like as possible. I gave back a guttural whicker of amusement and sympathy, silently calculating how to wrap her round my little finger to get back at her for her advantage of height over me. "You may dash me, that's all right.," I demurred.  I kinked one hand up at the wrist and gazed with cool criticism on my nails. "I've dashed many other contemporary scribblers when I have that looking-in-the-mirror-of-writing-and-never-feeling-beautiful happenstance." I threw a daring look up at her from under my brows, something masculine staring out of my own eyes: her scarlet lips flashed in defiant amusement.  There.  I had won.

You're going to hate yourself.  You're going to want to be someone else.  Someone is going to tell you that you're not doing it right (they are often correct) and they're going to tell you how it's done (they are often wrong).  The trick is to remember that, while many people are alike, there is only one you: only you know your creative genius, only you can do your creativity just your way.  Don't listen to the others.  Don't listen to that absurd negative voice that I fight with (and lose against) every single day.  Just don't.

Simon: Captain, why did you come back for us?
Malcolm: You're on my crew.
Simon: Yeah, but...you don't even like me. Why'd you come back?
Malcolm: You're on my crew. Why we still talkin' about this?
10. don't sell out
You have to work for your dreams, and sometimes it's really not fun.  You have to watch the market swing wildly away from your interests, from your genre, from your style, from everything that fires you as a writer.  You have to face the fear of never being liked as an author.  You have two choices: write what the masses want and cheat yourself of the joy of your own creative spirit, or run the risk of never being popular and of coming to the end of your life having stayed true to your self.  And no one ever thought highly of a man who pandered to the crowd.  So don't sell out.  For your sake.  Don't sell out.

an essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail

8 ripostes:

  1. You used the quote! Ack, I love that one.
    1. Finishing is, I think, one of the hardest parts of being a writer. I've only ever finished three first-drafts, and is that a real finish, or is cleaned, brushed-up-and-edited finished? I'm not there yet...
    2. Speaking of finishing, I know the errors of not having an ending from experience - my NaNo Novel of 2011, A War For Love, to this day does not have an ending, because I though I could 'wait until I got there and wing it out.' Nope.
    3. Quite well put. I feel very inspired. ^_^
    4. This puts me in mind of Man Of Steel. No matter how I tried, I could not appreciate the ending because of the sheer amount of human lives wasted in the story. There seemed to be a lack of appreciation there - a warning to all of us writing novels that involve war!
    5. This part hurts, but you are right. Ouch.
    6-7. Yep, yep!
    8. I like the idea of reeling around perspective to get a new view of a tired action. I'll have to try it.
    9. " Someone is going to tell you that you're not doing it right (they are often correct) and they're going to tell you how it's done (they are often wrong)." - YES. They may notice something is off, but they do not know the story like you do, nor just the right correction (like you may not know yet either). I also like to think of this as Feeling Power Over Your Beta Readers Without Sacrificing Your Story. For one thing, it makes me feel better about criticism.

    (And you know I agree with you on number 10). Good stuff here!

  2. There are times I adore you.
    In case you were wondering.
    This is one of those times; no dashing whatsoever.
    Also, FPOYBRWSYS is highly accurate.

  3. Mirriam - This is a thing you will have to teach me, for you are technically my first beta-reader ever. And here's to you, whom I also adore. ^.^

    Bree - For being a strange breed of unbeliever, acquainted with Christianity, Whedon gets things right sometimes. People just need to make stuff - it's in their nature: books, paintings, food, babies... Creativity is paramount.

    As always, your very obedient. I'd make you a leg if I weren't sitting. ;)

  4. #1 is the one I struggle with the most. I've got so many ideas simmering on back burners (I must have an inexhaustible supply of back burners...) that I can't let myself look at seriously if I don't want to risk diverting brainpower from my current project. And I have a tendency to get stuck in the middle of things, a tendency I hate.

    #4 is extremely interesting—I'd say I have the opposite problem, if any, because I have a hard time killing off any characters at all, even evil ones who basically deserve it. I shrink from the idea of launching anybody into eternity, even though they're fictional and I created them. But anyway, here's one of those occasions where there's a link between our very different genres. I once read a piece by a veteran Western author who claimed this is the problem with a lot of recent Western fiction in particular: lots of gunfights and a high body count, but little or no attention given the effect of those deaths or the value of those snuffed-out lives. That's not my style anyway, but I think he was quite right.

  5. It is true that a death is often the point of no return for the reader: the person dies - do I care, or don't it? do I want justice, or is this another lame story that I could not care less about? Death to the human body, while foreign, is useful. This point just brought back to my mind the chapter on sickness in J.C Ryle's Practical Religion: sickness is an invader, and mortifyingly unpleasant, but think of all the good it brings, teaching men of the frailty of their bodies, leaning men upon the strength of the Lord. Death, while horrible, has its purpose in real life in and in literature.

    I wouldn't be too ashamed of the tendency to "shrink from the idea of launching anybody into eternity." Too few people (myself included) have a good rational handle on that concept, enough to find the death of a human being a serious matter. It does matter. That person has gone to meet his maker, for good or ill, for ever. Appreciate that, by all means! But don't let it stop you from doing your job, wherever your job falls on the spectrum. :)

  6. FIREFLY. That is all.
    (...actually, that is not all.)
    Some good things here! I need to finish more of my stories... :-/ And I know it. ;)

  7. Finishing stories... That is surely my biggest goal, hope, and deam, right now. Finish!! Finishing... *grinds teeth*

    Ooh, this post was. Excellent.

    Thank you, thank you, Jenny!