Monday, October 17, 2011

Writer's Block Innoculation

So this post is really a true example of me, knowing at some point I will have Writer's Block and heading it off before it can sink its evil story stalling claws into me.  It's sorta like a flue shot.

With every story I write, I always try to have a character, who I personally love (but really that's all of them).  So I try to have a character who if put in a scene will ultimately a) up the stakes and b) create some sort of story.  Now, you may be thinking, Gretchen that's supposed to be your MAIN CHARACTER.  And yes I agree with you.  Your main character should constantly up the stakes and you know move the story along.

But when you hit Writer's Block it's probably, at least for me, fatigue between me and my main character.  We're just too darn tired.  She's exhausted from telling me all the dark things in her life and I'm tired of speed typing my fingers off. We're in a creative slump, and the only thing that can even remotely save us is: this on little side character, who I call my Saving Grace.

In my latest story, my saving grace is a character named Brody.  (Any of you who have read Foxtrot, you all LOVE Brody--you can admit this.  If I killed him you'd kill me. Not that I would....there are worse things than death....)  But the point is, whenever I pull up this character, I can't help but smile and Foxtrot can't help but smile.  It's impossible to suffer from fatigue when I plop my saving grace on the page.

I've had other successful and not so successful saving graces in the past.  Sometimes, when they don't work too well, they just repeat the same thing over and over.  OR the same thing just keeps coming up in conversations.  But with Brody, he happens to be a six going on seven year old who thinks his world is a) wicked awesome (his sister shudders at this thought) and b) that his older sister can do anything.  Really ANYTHING. (yes I know this isn't quite typical of siblings, but hey this is the future, things change.) c) he's sort of adorable....ok he's COMPLETELY adorable. So I smile every time he does something.

Even if the scene eventually gets cut, Brody can give me a new way to pull in characters, recenter myself in the story, and basically smile in the middle of a really dark world.

Do you have any ways of solving Writers Block?  Or just have characters who just make your day?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The World Be Dark.

Let's get one thing straight people, books are dark places.  Books are also light and happy places.  Books--and really stories in general--give us places where we are confronted by darkness and shown that even in the darkest situations we can triumph.  Recently, in my story analysis class, my professor brought up this book The Uses of Enchantment by Bruno Bettleheim.  (Now please be aware this is second hand info--my copy in on it's way but this is her assertions from the book)

Bettleheim is a child psychologist who studied the impact of fairytales on children.  His assertions on fairytales are that children need to hear them.  They need to hear the ones specifically with "happy endings" this is not because we too all want happy endings but because of the characters triumphs over darkness.

Children's largest fear in life is that their parents will abandon them and they will have to face the evils on the world on their own.  This is a valid fear.  How many of us feared losing our parents or being left alone, when we were children?  I know that was one of my biggest fears as a child.

What fairytales do, according to Bettleheim, is they confront children with this fear. There is no sugar coating, no talking down to them and telling them everything will always be rainbows and sunshine.  Fairytales say that yes, someday you will be left in the woods by your parents and you will be forced to deal with the evil witch, who wants to eat you.

Scary right?

Yeah, I shivered there just typing that.

Here is the reason why children need the "happily ever after."  It's not just icing on the cake.  It's a teaching method.

Who know that?

Apparently, Bettleheim.

Fairytales put children in horrible situations and then show that they, even at such a tender age, can triumph.  They can persevere.  Dark things WILL happen to you, but if you are prepared for it, you too can shove the witch in the cauldron.  

Children NEED this because they need to know they can prevail in the darkness of the world.  That's why fairytales feature children.  They are not the heroic myths that we receive in high school and college, about great men and women who affect the world around them.  Fairytales are about the ordinary boy or girl who are put into horrendous situations and prevail. 

It's part of growing up.  Facing the world head on and not waiting for people to come to you.

Now there are those (and WE know ALL about them) who would argue that literature, especially for children, has taken a darker turn.  They argue this is not a good turn.  It is in fact a horrible one, that will teach our children all of the horrible values we endeavor to help them avoid.  With the advent of dystopias as the current trend, and the love-y dove-y, sparkly vampires being shoved aside, they say we are going to disturb our children with such darkness.

To those people I say: have you read a newspaper recently?

Here's the facts: our government can't work together, our national debt is through the roof, the largest number of 20-somethings are moving HOME (reasons include, no job, lack of funds, failure to launch), the jobless rate is the highest pretty much since the Great Depression, oh and did I mention the millennials are going to be the FIRST generation EVER in the USA to not out pace their parents in terms of over all state of living?

The world be dark.

How are we supposed to face this? Hmmm?  With stories that are happy, where nothing bad happens, and everyone ends with a smile on their face?  That helps me, sure.

The book most often cited as too "dark" is the Hunger Games.  Let's look at that book for a moment.  It features a girl fighting for her life in a word where her government is corrupted, she doesn't have enough money to feed her family, her mother is less of a mother and more of child, and to add insult to injury she's fighting for her life, literally, in an arena being filmed all so that she can protect her sister and be there to take care of her in the future.

How many of those things from Katniss's life happen to deal with real world problems we see today?  (And I didn't even add in "deal with war")


And yet, we see her triumph.  She lives, you could argue she thrives, but more importantly Katniss perseveres through this life.  Whether or not you think the end of Mockingjay is happy or not, Katniss has her happy ending: family and love.

The lesson to be learned is not: how to kill the kid next to you, but rather that you as a reader can come through the darkness of the arena (x2) and civil war, losing your best friend, and STILL find happiness at the end.

So yes, the world be dark, but thanks to tales like fairytales and the Hunger Games, I can face it.    

Monday, October 3, 2011

In the Middle

So two weeks ago (yeah sorry about that), I wrote about my beginning as a writer.  That one space of time where my life went from easy and ordinary to confusing and extraordinary.   Yes, writing can make your life confusing ex. Sunday me having written all afternoon, I sit on my couch crying.  Not because it's bad prose, not because I'm upset about life.  But because I'm emotionally drained from reworking Foxtrot.  See crazy.

But this is about my middle.  That awkward space between me turning away from fanfiction and my first novel. Yes it was a scary time.  Yes it was a scary novel.  Yes I'm going to tell you about it.

The title of my first ever novel was called: The Debate Closet Debacle.  (nope it was not whimsical.  It was like Harry Potter meets present day America meets Policy debate--which yes, I did in fact do.)

It was about three girls and how they became friends and bonded over magic...and debate.  Also there was this debate closet, which if you know anything about policy debate you know it's ALL about the research.  Tubs of the stuff and it's gotta go somewhere, hence the closet.  This is a place where tubs of research have been known to try and assassinate debaters.  See brilliant!  I wrote all over the place on this story crafting characters and places and no actual plot.  Plots are hard things for me, characters--check, awesome places--double check, plot--ehhh we're still looking for that.

But it was my first solo novel and I love those girls and that closet.

My first attempt taught me a lot.  Like most things you learn for some of your early failures and you go on to discover all new and amazing failures and strengths.  Don't ever forget you have strengths. 

It may take you a while to discover them, but they're there, trust me.

I'm not ashamed of my first novel.  Granted you're not getting much beyond this post, but still.  This was my first project the start of me becoming my own writer.  Letting go of DCD was hard, but I moved on quickly to bigger and better projects.  In this murky middle ground, I found myself investigating plot.  Looking for ways to circumvent traditional methods and revamp stories that I felt had been told one too many times.  It was a time for growth and to use an obscure over used phrase "find myself" as a writer. But I did, when I wrote DCD it was the first time I type a by-line with MY NAME not a penname from a fanfiction site.

So, I 'm not going to ask you to share your first novel experience (unless of course you want too!) but tell me the time you first considered yourself a "writer."