Saturday, June 23, 2012

Random Writing Tips and Tidbits: Guest Post by Alexandra

Hello, one and all! My darlingest Amy asked me to guest post today, and I’m soooooo over-the-moon thrilled and honored!

Today I thought I’d share a few writing tips. I know peoples around here enjoy writing, and being that I’m in the thick of writing a story myself at the moment, I would take this opportunity to share a few “tidbits I have learned through this” with you all. Not to mention that writing takes all my brain power so I can’t think beyond “writing” at this point. Thus why I am not posting about any other subject. :)

1.       Don’t be afraid to follow plot bunnies…as long as you’re not in the middle of a project.
This is crucial. My latest WIP was a lovely plot bunny that popped up when I was in the planning process of another novel. As long as you’re not smack-dab in the middle of writing something else, go with your idea while the idea’s hot and fresh in your mind. The only exception is when your novel-in-progress is at a dead point, to which I say, drop it and follow the plot bunny. I had one instance before where my inspiration for a story was stone-dry. I went off on another project, got that done, and came back to project A ready to write again – and got that book finished in three months.

2.       Don’t be afraid to cast!
I’ve written about character casting before on my writing blog, and honestly, I’d say even if you don’t usually…give it a try. It’s amazing how it can help. And when you cast – do some research. If possible (depending on if the person you’ve cast is in anything you’d actually watch :-P), look up films or clips or whatever. Don’t be afraid to steal ideas – one, it’s fun to have inside-trivia with yourself about your characters, and two, as the great quote says, “Good writers imitate. Great writers steal.” I recently got an idea for a scene that turned out adorable from watching a film the actress I cast as my heroine was in.
In that vein…

3.       Don’t be afraid of casting people You Really Like.
In other words, if you keep thinking up story ideas for that actor or hero who you think Is Awesome, then go for it. Let me say from experience, if you think the Hero is awesome, then it’ll show in your writing. I’ve cast several people from what I like to call my Awesomest Actors Evah circle (a group of actors who are complete geniuses in their field…and also very handsome and give me warm fuzzies which has nothing to do with it), and the heroes in my stories…always end up pretty awesome as a result. That goes for heroine and minor characters and plots and everything – if you’re crazy about it, your enthusiasm will show up in your writing. It’s not silly (and if you think Certain People [brothers usually fall into this category :-P] will make fun of the fact that you’ve cast A Certain Someone as your hero, just don’t tell them. :-D) Quite easy.

4.       Don’t be afraid to steal ideas.
Did you know that Shakespeare stole the idea of Romeo and Juliet? As any good Leaguette knows, superheroes with their alter-egos came from our own Sir Percy. Don’t be afraid to take an idea and put your own twist on it. No one’s going to arrest you for it, and besides, there’s one helpful thought – until you publish the book and people all over the world read it, no one will know what you do. It is kind of a freeing thought, no?

5.       Don’t be afraid to go out of your comfort zone.
Like anything else in life, you’ve got to stretch yourself and do things you find difficult if you’re going to get better at writing. Don’t keep from doing something just because you haven’t done it before or think you can’t do. Write that nice mushy proposal scene. Try your hand at a mystery. Kill off that character. Add that odd plot twist. Give that character a melodramatic speech.

6.       Don’t be afraid of romance.
In my humble opinion, a story ain’t a story without a romantic angle somewhere in the story, whether it’s the main plot or two minor characters. A lot of girls are squeamish about writing romance in a story, mainly for the understandable argument that being as most of them are single, they haven’t experienced romance for themselves and don’t want to be inaccurate. Understandable, but not true. Jane Austen was never married and wrote some of the most famous romantic couples ever. What if she had thought “I can’t do it, I’ve never been married?” There’d be no Austen vs. Orczy argument. And then life would be so much duller for me. :-P Don’t be afraid of it…especially proposals. I love writing a good proposal scene. I love writing those back-and-forth flirtatious sparring. I love the excitement I get when the hero and heroine get that mental jarring moment where they suddenly realize “ooh…there’s feelings there, wow…”. Tense Moments (the staring-at-each-other-for-ten-seconds-and-we-all-hold-our-breath-before-the-moment-is-broken-by-someone-or-something) are my very very favorite and I highly recommend anyone have tense moments in their stories (they also work great to replace kissing scenes if you don’t want them in there but want that romantic tension). If you treat writing romance like it’s no big deal, it isn’t. Enjoy it. It’s really fun.     

7.       Don’t be afraid to have the characters show their emotions.
Heroes crying are epic. Now, that shouldn’t be confused with a sopping crybaby. But the hero who at some point breaks down is awesome. Let your characters yell at each other. Cry if they need to (the heroine crying always is nice because it gives the hero a chance to comfort her, thereby inducing Warm Fuzzy Feelings on both the heroine and reader’s part).  Don’t be afraid of melodrama.

8.       Don’t be afraid of holding out tension.
This is very important. Keep throwing roadblocks in the way. Don’t give in to the temptation to resolve everything right away. I’m terrible at this, so I’m very thankful for my writing partner, who always insists that I stick with our agreement and wait until page X to have the hero and heroine resolve their issues like we’d planned instead of succumbing to the desire to have them go ahead and do it ten chapters before. Don’t be afraid to throw some hard punches at your characters. If there’s one thing your character would never do, make them get into a situation where they’d have to do it. Get your character close to their goal and then pull it outagain from under their feet. I’ve recently gotten obsessed with the show Doctor Who, and one of the biggest things I’ve gotten from watching it writing-wise is that the viewer (or reader in our case) will continue if they’re emotionally invested, if you keep taking away what the character wants. They continue because they want to see the character happy and finally get what they desire or are working for. Would The Scarlet Pimpernel be quite so awesome if Percy and Marguerite resolved their issues there in the hallway in the scene after the garden party in the 1982 film? Would you really care quite as much if Charlie got the golden ticket the first chocolate bar he got, or if Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth got over their prejudices in the first ball scene? Keep dragging out the tension. It’s worth it.

9.       Don’t be afraid of writer’s block.
It happens to everyone, in every book at sometime (that’s where I love co-writing…I just pass the buck to my friend until further inspiration. :-D). Everyone has different ways of dealing with it…I always write other scenes I’ve got in my head. Or write something silly. Or throw a weird plot twist in. And unless you’re on a deadline, sometimes you’ve just gotta give it a while. Like artists who leave their paintings for a while to get a fresh “eye” for it and come back days later to work on it again, sometimes we just need a rest, a time to recharge. I took a two week break from a story once and thought up a character who completely brought a new angle to the story during that break. It is ok.

10.   Don’t be afraid to write scenes out-of-order.
I always do this. ALWAYS. The proposal for my present book…which is the last scene…is already written. So are several tense moments that don’t come until a ways down the road from where I’m technically at now. If you get an inspiration for a scene, treat it like a plot bunny…write it down while the idea’s hot. You may end up losing the inspiration for it if you wait.

And lastly…

11.   Have fun.
It’s not a job, and unless you actually get into the publishing business, it most likely never will be. Look at it for what it is – a chance to create your own world. It’s crazy, and it’s awesome. I love creating character and situations, spending months with them, and then when it’s ended, feeling as if these characters are real. Don’t stress over the little stuff. Don’t worry if your style is perfect or if you’ve used too many adjectives. That’s what editing is for. Just have funwriting.

And now I’m off. My characters are calling… :)            

Alexandra is twenty-three years old and passionate about everything in life. She is a Christian, a homeschool graduate (Class of 06!), daughter, sister to ten siblings, and piano teacher. While the sun rises and sets on The Scarlet Pimpernel, her biggest obsession in life, her other non-TSP obsessions include reading voraciously (classics are her specialty), singing, musical theatre, Doctor Who, playing the piano, anything and everything British, talking, accents (Scottish in particular), costume reproduction, and costume dramas in general. 

She blogs about costume dramas, musicals, costume reproduction, classic literature and everything historical related at Of Trims and Frills and Furbelows, her writing projects at The Breathings of My Heart and about everything else in her life (yes, she does have one) at The Value of One, where, despite her best efforts, a bit of The Scarlet Pimpernel always manages to wiggle itself in. She also has the enormous honor and pleasure of contributing to The Day Dream, the most awesome (in her humble opinion) TSP fansite on the web!


Alexandra said...

Thanks so much again for letting me guest post, schweetums! I had such a blast!

AnnaKate said...

I loved this! Fabulous job, Alexandra! I really enjoyed reading this post and it was all very true and helpful.

Anne-girl said...

Thanks Ally! You've made me feel alot better about my melodramatic-the hero has cried twice already-lots of roadblocks lots of tension, book. I was worried that there was too much melodrama ect.

I am however heartbroken to find that my story is not a real story because it has no romance.

Haha just kidding. There is romance but it doesn't come till the third book or possibly the second.

I loved this post and it is going into my list of good posts about writing. Which I am compiling at the moment.

Abby said...

I've just embarked on writing regularly again, so these tips are really helpful! :)

I love character casting, I can literally spend hours doing it! I also like to 'cast' the buildings and rooms and streets that my stories take place in, especially if it's somewhere I'm not so familiar with.

I do try to strike a balance when it comes to writing about romance, but I agree that you shouldn't be afraid to write about it! It's always so fun to write about a friendship as it develops, and I love including a little flirtatious banter :)

I always write scenes out of order, and though I don't plan to stop doing it, I am trying to write my stories a little more consistently, simply for the sake of organisation! I have so many pages of hand-written stuff floating about, and about twice as much on my computer as well. But if I have an idea, I have to get it down as soon as possible as otherwise I forget it and the knowledge that I've forgotten this elusive something torments me for days :')


Hayden said...

Great post! I needed to hear about writing scenes out of order..until this point I haven't really done that, but I'm know at a part that I really need to research before I can I'm stuck.

But now I'll just skip it and move on until I can go back :)

I love casting characters. I'm super crazy excited because I just cast my main character who I've been wavering about for years. I kept going between two actresses, but now i've found a third one who is perfect and looks so much like my character it's scary. *happy skip*

Maribeth said...

Alexandra, thank you SO MUCH for this post! I've been working on a trilogy (finished first draft of first book, now working on first draft of second book) and this post has both encouraged and challenged me.

I almost laughed out loud reading Tip Three because (*raises hand timidly*) I did that! One thing I found helpful was to save a whole bunch of pictures of This Particular Actor/Character, each showing a different facial expression. I also watch a few scenes of This Particular Person when his image starts to get a little fuzzy in my brain. And yes, he's ended up pretty awesome as a result :D

I confess, I'm terrified of writer's block--and romance is somewhat new for me but required as a major part of my plot. But your tips and encouragements have really blessed me this afternoon, especially since I'm trying to work on battle scenes and a blossoming romance and (horror of horrors) I'll soon have to kill off a supporting character whom I really like. All these are way out of my comfort zone, but I can do it, as long as I relax, have fun, PRAY about it, and stay crazy about my plot and characters :)

Alexandra said...

Amy, hope you don't mind my piping in again!:)

AnnaKate- so glad you enjoyed it!

Annegirl - well, hey. As long as there's romance SOMEWHERE in the series, then you're ok. ;-) So yeah, it's a real story. :-D

Abby - YES, I know. :-P I do sometimes go overboard with my random scenes and have to stick to some kind of order. So that would be something to look out for!

Hayden - Oh, I do that ALL the time. Just leave a note for myself and skip the scene. Yep, do it all.the.time. :) And isn't casting a blast? It's honestly my favorite part of the writing process.

Maribeth - yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay!!! Heheh, I do the EXACT. SAME. THING. After I've picked someone, I save TONS of pictures of different facial expressions (like, um...I *might* have...well...over a hundred pictures of my present hero's facial expressions...*cough*) and stuff. Videos are FANTASTIC, too. So yeah, glad to hear I'm not the only one! :)

Ooh, killing off Awesome Characters is so hard! I had to do that once to a really cool character and my writing partner and I were just torn up about it...we tried resurrecting him in a rather Agatha-Christie-turn-of-events, but it didn't work. Terribly sad. :-D

Miss Melody Muffin said...

Excellent post, Ally!!! My comments are numbered by the tips they are a response to.

2. I'm actually fairly new to the idea of character casting. Formerly, I simply imagined what my characters looked like, which is easy for me because I have a vivid imagination. I just never really thought about selecting templates for them based on my mental images. To date I have only begun casting one of my stories. I believe I shall go ahead and cast all my main stories though; it will stretch my comfort zone a bit and be good for me. And it IS kind of fun!

3. I certainly shan't tell my sisters who've I've cast for ALL my characters, because they most definitely WILL laugh and tease.

4. Most assuredly a freeing thought, and one I've often comforted myself with.

5. Comfort zone! Oh, I agree very much with you, doesn't always come very easily to me. I like my comfort zone, you know! I must say though, it is far easier for me to cross out of my comfort zone in my writing than it is in real life. And once I get started I always have fun, looking on it as an adventure and thinking "Where will this take me next?".

6. Romance. All of my stories have it to a degree but I am emphatically not a fan of the really mushy stuff. I don't have a problem writing romance just not MUSHY romance! Definitely pushing my comfort zone to write those scenes. I prefer 'strong, quiet, passionate emotions' to mush. (If that makes any sense!) :)

8. I love drawing out the tension!

10. I am CONSTANTLY writing scenes out of order. Then I have to go back and arrange them all so they ARE in order in the story. I just find it so much easier to fill in the gaps if I already have the stronger scenes written.

Abby, I have cast the buildings in my stories for a long time. Magnificent European castles (Carnarvon is my favorite, I think it features in two fantasy stories so far.) gorgeous British estates, you name it. Even the cottages in the one story! And I've done the not-written-it-down-so-it-torments-you-until-you-remember-what-it-was!!! I keep a pad of paper in my nightstand and I have to say, some of my best scenes tend to come to me at night. One of the most emotionally powerful scenes I ever wrote (a character's death) came to me at 11:30 at night and I was up writing it until almost midnight; because I knew if I waited to write it down, it would lose the passionate emotions I was trying to convey.

I do love discussing writing with fellow writers!

GreenMedallion said...

Wow, this is such great, fun advice. Awesome! Thanks so much. I feel like writing now. ;)

Lauren said...

Hi Alexandra

I really enjoyed this post and found it very helpful. I love creative writing and am currently working on a few stores.

I had to disagree on one little point, and that is romance. I think being the author of a book you have the right and freedom to choose what ever storyline or style of writing you like.

Romance is good, and many girls only love books with romance, but sometimes I feel like as the author I want to bring across deeper meanings and thoughts and romance is distracting. Also if you try short stories, you often don't have time for romance.

Besides there are sooooo many romances, I don't see why we need more.

But that is just my humble opinion, and I am no expert, and am still learning.

I generally agreed with you on all the other points.

Thanks for guest posting ( :


Alexandra said...

Just had to jump in again because I'm loving this! :)

Miss Melody Muffin - GREAT idea about the buildings! I did that once and it was fantastic. And I am SO not a "out of my comfort zone" lover, so I totally that way. :)

GreenMedallion - Glad you enjoyed it! Talking about writing always gets me in the mood...after I wrote the post I ended up writing another chapter. :)

Lauren - thanks so much for sharing your opinion! I enjoy hearing all different points of view.

Here's my take. First off, I realize that romance in a story *is* a personal opinion, and looking back, I hope I didn't come across as 'everyone has to do this or ELSE'. Because that's not true. Although personally I'm just not interested in a book or film without any kind of romantic interest at all (I'm the kind of girl they stick the love interest in action/war films for :-P), I can understand where people are coming from.

Romance in general has gotten a really bad rap in many homeschool circles, and it's a subject I'm very passionate about (no pun intended...hehehe), so I tend to get vocal about it. :-P

I am very passionate about it because it's one of the most beautiful (and misunderstood) aspects of God's creation. It was the first institution he created (can you imagine the amazing love-at-first-sight moment it must have been when Adam first saw Eve?! Wowwww...), he devoted an *entire book of the Bible* to simply the story of the intense love a couple had for each other. God created us for romance, and while there are some that have been blessed with the gift of singleness, I believe that it is the purpose of most Christians to one day fall in love, marry, and raise their own families for the Lord. He could have had us like animals, simply pair off with someone without any emotional bond, but He created this amazing and beautiful thing that He has given us as a gift to experience. And romance in a story is just another way to celebrate it. You asked why we need more...why do we need more flowers? More summer days, more adorable babies...because they're just beautiful things God created.

All that very long rabbit trail to say, that's basically the reason why I write it. I completely understand why other may not, but I also don't think we should slap a label on it or condemn those who write it (not that you are...just making a point :)). A lot of people have gotten it into their heads that romance is somehow wrong or sinful or a waste of time (the same way, I guess, that flowers are a waste of good vegetable-growing space), and that's just wrong.

I hope my response didn't come across wrong! I really appreciate your sharing your opinion!!! I'm just explaining why I do what I do, I guess. I feel a post on my writing blog coming on now. :) Thanks so much for the feedback!

Miss Dashwood said...

I think I shall just comment as if this were someone else's blog--and since it's not my post, it makes sense anyways. :P

So. Point-by-point. First of all, thank YOU for guest posting, Other Schweetums! I so loved reading this!

1. Frankly, the idea of dropping a dead-point novel-in-progress is freakishly scary to me. Because I'm always afraid that if I do drop an idea, I will nevuh be inspired again. This is probably because that is what always happens-- I'll stop a WIP to follow a plot bunny and then come back to the original only to find that all inspiration has fled and 'tis Dead Forevermore. Sigh. Then I return to the plot bunny only to find that it died from neglect, too. Moral: Amy does not do well with pets, bunnies air otherwise.


3. YAY CASTING PEOPLES WE LOVE! Hahaha.. of course the warm fuzzies have nothing to do with it. Naturally.

4. Cool, Shakespeare really stole R&J? I didn't know that.

5. But... but I don't WANT to go out of my comfort zone! Oh, wait, that's why it's called going out of my comfort zone. Heh.
In all seriousness, I think the best scenes I've written have been those that were a kind of "leap of faith." Now you've inspired me to give a character a melodramatic speech at some point... I haven't done that yet...

6. (By the way, the debate surrounding this has been great. Loving it.) I agree with Lauren that not every story HAS to have romance, but I also agree with you that romance adds a great dimension to any story. The thing I don't like, though, is when an author sticks in a romantic angle just for the sake of having romance, and it doesn't serve any purpose or interest the reader in any way. Sigh. Or when the romance is conducted between two thirteen-year-olds, and I'm like, UM. Heehee. And I SO agree about replacing kissing scenes with Tense Staring Sessions. Heeheehee. And YES, we need more romantic stories the same way we need more adorable babies and gorgeous roses! Nail on the head and all that!

7. Oooh, yes, if a hero breaks down, I melt. :D Warm Fuzzy Feelings indeed. Haven't had the courage to write it yet, but Someday.

8. "Would TSP be quite so awesome if Percy and Marguerite resolved their issues there in the hallway in the scene after the garden party?" YES, Ally. The answer to that--at least, coming from any true Leaguette--is YES. Because, hello. Percy would still be there. And PERCY is what makes TSP awesome. The End.
But I do see your point. ;)

9. Yay for weird plot twists that come from desperation!

10. Oooh, me too! LOVE doing that. It feels so... freeing, somehow.


Okay, this post was OUTSTANDING. Thanks again!

Jemimah C. said...

What a lovely, helpful post, Alexandra! I shall definitely apply these tips to my writing projects.