Saturday, October 27, 2012

Good or bad writing? Discussing the Paranormal Activity Films

I am a big fan of the Paranormal Activity films. I know a lot of people think they are boring and they hate waiting for something to happen. Not me. The long periods where nothing happens are some of the most frightening parts of the film for me because you sit there all tense. When something does happen and it is usually something simple like a door slamming shut it really startles me!

One of the things I love most about these films is how simple they are. They do not have big expensive sets or waste a lot of money on make up. They rely on things like music, lighting, sound, good acting and a clever script to build up tension.

I hate horror films that are nothing but blood baths or ones that use too much computer animation or bad rubber masks. One of the things I found the most scary about the first paranormal activity film was their clever use of thumping footsteps coming up and down the stairs. So simple, so bloody scary!

There's been four paranormal activity films now. I still enjoy them...despite their flaws. They've written themselves into a hole and they know it. Every film is the same as the last one: some weird stuff starts happening in a house, the occupants freak out and start filming it, the activity gets worse...eventually resulting in the death of one or more of the people in the house.

The people behind these films sure do know how to keep people coming back for more. They are experts at dragging out the plot. It's very frustrating. Each film always reveals something new...and leaves more questions begging to be answered. These films are a lot like the tv show "LOST" : lots of good ideas get thrown around, crash into each other, fall over...and nothing really gets answered.

And yet I still like them. I know the writing is not the best (and at the same time is still clever), but I don't care. These films are like popcorn. Good, silly fun. I hope they stay good and don't turn dumb like the Scream films did.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Does writing with an outline kill the creative process?

I spend a lot of time planning a project before I begin the writing process. It starts with me going online to find inspiration. Once I have the seeds of an idea I will write a paragraph or two of raw thoughts. From there I'll write a list of characters. Next step is a detailed page long biography for each character. I sometimes skip that step. One thing I don't skip though is writing the outline.

The outline acts as the skeleton of the book. It is the path I will take. A lot of the time I will stray from that path because as I write the book the characters come alive and might go in a different direction or the plot might evolve and go in an exciting (or sometimes wrong) place than I intended.

An outline can be both a good thing to have and something that can kill the creative process in me. I've written without outlines in the past and have gone galloping off in random, strange directions and ended up with an end project over 1,000 pages long.

And I've written with incredibly detailed outlines colour coded for each different plot line and character.

I don't think plotting is one of my strengths. Even with an outline I still hit plot troubles with Deep Embrace. Every writer needs to do some planning (or world building as it is also called) before starting a project to a certain degree. You need to know what direction you want to go in. But sometimes I overdo it. I become so obsessed with replicating what I see in my head into words that I quite often will spend hours or even days slaving over the same sentence or paragraph.

And it drives me nuts and sucks the fun out of writing. Knowing what you want to write...seeing it in your one thing. Getting it down onto paper in actual words that make sense in sentences is another.

I did something unusual for me today. I started writing without an outline. I came up with an idea "A story from Hera's point of view!" and I left Hera appear in the location that she wanted and from there a whole story appeared before me. It didn't take me hours of planning. I just put my fingers to the keyboard and let Hera appear and start talking.

And god it was like someone took a massive weight off me. Since I didn't know what I wanted to write the words flowed from my fingertips and onto the screen because there was nothing standing in their way shouting "No! No! This is not the way I pictured this scene!"

Sometimes you just have to write. Forget about being perfect. Forget about getting that scene just right. Just let it happen. Let the story unfold like a beautiful flower and take shape on its own. You don't have to be in control of everything. Take a deep breath. Let go. And write. You might be surprised what you create.

My new short story is called When I Look Into Your Eyes.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Show Don't Tell! You should know this rule JK Rowling!

I tried to start JK Rowling's new book the other day. I'm up to chapter three and I honestly do not know if I will be able to read much more. The first chapter was terrible. The opening line was boring and did not hook me at all. And that is unacceptable, JK Rowling. You're the author of the frigging Harry Potter books! You should know how to write a good opening hook! Telling me that "So and so did not want to go out to dinner" is not good enough.

The entire first chapter was written in past tense and in what is called "Telling". One of the biggest rules of writing is to SHOW DON'T TELL which means do not tell me that Barry does not want to go out to dinner, Ms Rowling. Paint me a picture with words of him slouched in a chair, holding his keys, and looking reluctant to get up and leave with his wife. He has a headache? Don't TELL me. Show me wiping sweat off his brow. Show me him groaning. Show me him rubbing his forehead. Make me feel like I am there.

The first chapter was boring and so badly written I almost found it hard to believe that JK Rowling, my idol for over ten years, wrote it. What happened? Where did that spark go? If I posted that first chapter for critique on the internet I would be told to rewrite the whole thing from scratch. It irritated me so much I almost felt like rewriting it myself simply because I wanted to read a better version of it!

Why is it so bad? Obviously, it's not my cuppa tea. But I'm wondering if it's JK Rowling's, either. I think she's writing out of her genre. Her talent lies in fantasy and I think she needs to go back to what she does best. Why not write an adult fantasy novel? I can understand her desire to do something so radically different after being hand cuffed to HP for so many stressful long years. I really can. But this book is bad. There was nothing to hook me in the first opening 50 pages. It's boring and I quickly lost track of who the characters were.

Go back to writing fantasy, JK Rowling. Let your imagination sour. And write a better opening hook next time!

And then they lived happily ever after

A month ago I finished reading John Marsdens' "Tomorrow" series of young adult books. The series has 7 books in it and is about Ellie Linton, an Australian teenager, who is forced into becoming a freedom fighter with her friends when Australia is invaded and occupied by an enemy army.

As an Australian I was fascinated and horrified by this series of books and forced to ask myself the question "What if this really happened?" The idea of someone invading my home country is alien and shocking and frightening to me. It made me question a lot of things and realize just how sheltered and naive I am to think that it could never happen.

In the last book Ellie is separated from her friends and is told by the enemy that they were all killed in combat. Ellie is forced to ride out the rest of the war alone and find her parents herself. I was horrified when I got to this point in the books. "How could the rest of them be dead?!" I began searching the internet for spoilers to find out if it was true or not. I found out it wasn't.

Sure enough, the last book ends happily, Ellie is told her friends are alive and were just imprisoned. She is reunited with them and the whole book ends on a high note.

And it was a terrible ending. Yeah, sure, it was what I wanted. But it wasn't realistic and it was a cop out. It was giving the reader what they wanted. And that is not always the best thing for a writer to do. It would have been more realistic for her friends to remain dead and for Ellie to have to find the strength to go on by herself in life.

The "Tomorrow" series was a dark, gritty, fast-paced read. It was shocking, gripping, and was an honest reflection of the horrors of war. John Marsden did not hold back. I liked that. Which makes the ending all the more odd. It didn't fit with the style of the rest of the series. It was too...perfect. Too fitting. Unrealistic. Too nice.

Do we always need a happily ever after ending? Can readers handle a "And then they picked up the shattered pieces of their lives and tried to move on" ending?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

My muse has gone to a happy place

When I was in school I was bullied a lot and didn't know how to make friends. I distrusted everyone around me and those who were nice I always wondered "Why are they talking to me?" and assumed that it was a trick or a dare of some sort. I withdrew into myself and became more and more comfortable with my own company. I stopped wanting to make friends and started writing.

I started telling stories out of loneliness. I made my own make believe friends who would later become the characters in my first novel. I am so glad that I woke up one day and decided "I'm going to be a writer!" because I honestly think if I hadn't had made that decision I might have gotten really depressed as a child. High school and primary school were difficult for me. Escaping into writing saved me. It gave me something to focus on, something to think about, a goal. I would go to the library at lunch and read or pull out a notebook and hand write my latest novel.

I needed to write like I need air. For a long time growing up it was my dream to one day become as popular as JK Rowling. I was so determined to be a writer I couldn't think of anyone else I wanted to do. Nothing motivated me as much as writing did. It was my passion.

In my 20's I continued to write as much as I could. I would take notepads with me to work and do work during my breaks and on the ride home on the bus. I no longer dreamed of becoming the next JK Rowling though. I was older, wiser, and knew that it must be terribly stressful to be her and decided that I didn't want success and popularity to suck the fun out of writing. Writing slowly became less of a career choice and more of a simple hobby.

It was still an escape for me. I was still desperately lonely and without a lot of friends. Things are so different for me now. I am married, living out of home, and finally have a stable job! It's just a little office position, but it pays well, the people are lovely, and I'm happy.

Over the past year I have noticed I have been writing less and less. This has worried me and got me asking "Do I still want to do this anymore?" The answer is, of course, yes - but things ARE different for me now.

Writing used to occupy my whole world because there was only ME in it. Now I have my wonderful, loving, fun husband to share my world with. I've found that I am writing less and less these days because if I have a choice between trying to write, which is difficult, or curling up on the couch with my husband I will pick my husband.

I guess I am entering a different phase of my life as a writer. My muse is still there - the passion still there - it has just gone to a happy place. I no longer write out of loneliness or a desire to have friends. In the rare moments I decide to devote time to writing (usually on the weekends when the hubby is working!) I do it because something inside me is whispering "Write! write! write!"

I need that voice to talk to me. I can force myself to write, of course, but without that URGE to want to do it, that desire, it is not fun. It is hard, hard work. Like getting blood out of a stone.

I don't want to escape from the world anymore isn't that nice? At 28 I am finally happy, truly happy, in all aspects of my life. I write now for fun. It is a hobby. I don't expect to ever make any real money from it. I don't care anymore. I don't do it for that. I do it because when my characters sing to me it is the best feeling in the world. My blood tingles.

How much writing will I do in the future? I don't know. Between studying at university, working, and planning to get pregnant next year it might be that I will start to do less and less of it. But I don't think I will ever stop being a writer. I'm just in a phase of my life at the moment when it is not the most important thing for me. I need some inspiration. But I'm not going to go chasing it. Because I believe it is best to sit back and let it come to me. I have every faith in the world that it will too. Why? Because I am a writer. It doesn't matter if I write a dozen pages a day or a dozen words a week. As long as I have a love for the written word no one will be able to tell me I am not a writer.