All the World’s a Stage

crowded-apple-store_9to5Mac

A Crowded Apple Store, Image Source: 9to5 Mac

I wasn’t sure of what I was going to write about today, but I thought I’d turn my attention to my experience yesterday of going to the Apple Store and finally getting my phone fixed.  Although, more accurate, I guess would be the fact that they replaced the defective unit with a replacement phone, but irregardless, I now have working phone.  While that is great, what I really want to note was the amazing level of diversity in the store as well as the fact that there were plenty of examples of characters that were in the store during my brief visit.

Characters, Characters, Everywhere
So, unlike most of the customers, I wasn’t in the store to shop, but to get technical assistance.  In doing so, I (and the few who were like me) had to do a lot of waiting on the outskirts and so I got to do something that I rarely do and that’s to actually observe people as they interact with others.  Remember, I don’t necessarily enjoy “people watching,” and perhaps that’s why I don’t write characters as well as I do plots.  Well, yesterday I got to observe, really observe, people and I saw a huge range of emotions, personalities, and personal interactions that I have stored away for future references.  Normally, I consider people watching a useless endeavor, but for some reason, yesterday, I found myself mostly “bemused” as I waited for the technician to diagnose my phone and I actually watched the people.  In particular, I saw (in no order): two typical high school students (boys joshing around with each other), a mother with a stroller, a young boy watching the Apple TV in the store and playing games on it, a husband and wife deciding on a laptop, another husband and wife deciding on phone, an older gentleman with a phone problem much like mine, an early career woman looking for a new phone, and a business man dressed in button shirt, slacks, and a tie, among others.

Character Sketches
So, I remember from watching episode of Star Trek Deep Space Nine, Sisko’s son, Jake, while wanting to be a writer, sat on the ship’s promenade and noted the people who were entering the station and he wrote one or two sentences down as character sketches.  While I was only in the store for a fairly short period of time (50 minutes approximately), I still feel like I got a year’s worth of potential characters just from visit.  For instance, the business man was dressed just as one might expect and he was even checking his watch in manner, that while not completely displaying impatience, did seem to indicate that time was important to him–perhaps he had an important appointment, or perhaps he needed to pick up a child from school.  Whatever the reason, time was important to him and that’s something I could use in a future story somehow.

So, even though losing the phone was an ordinary frustration of life, I now have a more concrete understanding of characterization because of it.  I doubt that I’ll ever come to love the phenomenon of “people watching,” but maybe if I can at least learn to tolerate it over short periods of time, I might yet be the writer I’ve always hoped that I’d become.

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Unplanned Project=Project Skies

So, I tried really hard really hard to write a Character Sketch for Skye that I could be really proud of, but no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t figure out a way to encompass all facets of her character–feelings, physical description, likes and dislikes.  I finally resorted to something that I know and am familiar with (even though it earns me little to no money): a short story.  Yep, I’m writing a short story in the world of Project Skye with Skye as the protagonist in order to nail down her character–how she looks, how she acts, how she responds under pressure.  I do intend to market the story, but even if nothing comes of it, I’m hopeful that it won’t be for naught.  The goal is to take what I’ve learned int the story and transfer it a novel length work–hopefully, the character work that I do with the story will translate into a deeper understanding of her character so that I can work with her on a longer, more intensive work.

Jonny Quest “movie idea” as Inspiration
A white back–late 90s, early 2000s–the character of Jonny Quest became hot again.  He was a character created in the 1960s, who along with other Hanna Barbera, had a resurgence of popularity in the early/mid 80s and again in the mid/late 90s.  A live action movie was mentioned in the trades (my library used to have a subscription to Variety, a movie trade magazine & remember seeing mention of in there, if memory serves), but it never came to pass.  I remember thinking how cool it would be to write the movie adaptation of it, and as I’ve seen all the episodes, for both the original and the subsequent sequel series, I set about developing a “plot line” for the “movie.”  I really liked the original title sequence and wanted to update that for my JQ “movie,” so I developed this elaborate flight intro sequence around Air Racing (yes, alert readers can see where I’m going with this).  Well, the movie never happened, Hollywood (for now) has lost interest in most Hana Barbera projects (the two live action Scooby Doo movies are probably the best known movies that came from that collaboration) and even if it had, as an unknown writer with no written or produced feature length scripts, Hollywood wouldn’t have been beating down MY door for the idea anyway.  I never used that flight sequence or even wrote it down–it has existed in brain all these years.

Fly Free
Lester day I realized that I would never be able to write a traditional character sketch for Skye–that I was just beating my head against the wall.  Instead, I turned my attention to what would happen if I put her in a stressful situation–maybe not the one I’d been working on for the novel, but another one.  In fact, what would happen if I put Skye, instead of Jonny Quest, into the scenario I’d devised all those years ago for the “movie.”  Well, I tried it and . . . it worked!  I’ll have to check with my Writing Consultant, but Skye seems now like a living breathing person, a fully round three dimensional character who has wants, drives, needs, and feelings.  She emotes, she feels, she does everything a good protagonist should do.  Again, maybe I’m too close, but not only did I finish the first major “plot element” before I stopped writing, I was also able to outline all of the rest of the plot elements out to the “climax” of the story, which I left intentionally vague for myself (I have a feeling based on her character what’s going to happen, but I want the ending to feel “organic” and not overly plotted).

Still Committed to Project Star
Yes, I will be working on Project Star as well (where, o where will I find the time?), but I simply HAD to stop and draft Project Skies.  It was necessary (IMO) to understand Skye’s character and without it, I don’t think that the novel would ever get off the ground.

Writing a Scene

So last week I began to create a tentative “Bible” for the world of the novel.  It wasn’t much, I just put down on paper some of the ideas floating in my head and fairly hastily sketched out the ideas for the world that I needed to know such as the history, important people, and the important institutions of the world.  Again, nothing major, but all of it is helping me to refine my process of thinking about the larger world and Skye’s relationship within it.

This week, while I finally have decided on how Skye should look, I still don’t have a clear handle on her personality, so the consultant and I decided I should write a scene with her in it.  I know next week is going to be hectic for me so I actually wrote out the scene write after I the session.  I’m not sure that it accomplishes my goal.  It is an action scene, so it has Skye doing a lot of things and being clever, but she doesn’t really say a whole lot, nor does she really emote.

I think I’m going to have to try to find time to write a non-action scene that is heavy with dialogue as well to see what that looks like.  I can’t seem to find the emotional resonance with her character.  I’ll see what the response is next week, but I think the action scene doesn’t show enough of Skye’s emotions or feelings to really give an indication of who she is and how she acts in real life.  I really need to know more about her personality and what makes her tick in order to do this story correctly.

EDIT: While search for a heading image for this blog post, I came across this interesting Infographic about 5 ways to write a scene.  Considering that Infographics was one of the “genres” that I taught this semester, I thought it only appropriate to include one in my blog post–also, since I’m still having issues, maybe if I try writing a scene in each of the 5 “ways” that the graphic suggests, maybe by the end of the process, I’ll have a better understanding of Skye’s personality and who she is as character and person.

Entering the “Flow”

Trying to find time to write (even these short blog entries) has been challenging this week.  It has been difficult because of all the time constraints, myriad of school responsibilities and life events that have interfered with writing.  But even more disruptive has been the loss of the “Flow,” that I found on Saturday, but haven’t seen again since.

Now, apparently there is a TED Talk describing the “Flow,” but full disclosure, I haven’t seen it.  I just caught the last part of a NPR episode on it.  In a nutshell, the “Flow” is humans operating at their Peak Performance for a time (usually short).  In sports, it has long been known as the “Zone,” or “being in the Zone.”  It is when we humans get so caught up in the activity that we are doing that we transcend ourselves and create something or do something that borders on the miraculous.

Saturday, I had the “Flow.”  I wanted to completely rough draft out the rest of the basic story of Project Children so that I could work on a scene a week (really I wanted to do a scene a day, but with all of the work I have to do, a more realistic option would be a scene a week).  I completely wrote out a strong draft on Saturday and it didn’t take me anytime.

Well, today was the first day I had time to try to write a scene and everything conspired to keep me out of the “Flow.”  I couldn’t find my notebook where I’d written down the rough draft and I had to clean up to find it.  When I finally found it, I had to stop and work on something else, and one thing led to another and here I am, still haven’t written another word on the story even though it is literally pencilled in my notebook.  I can’t find the “Flow” all of a sudden.  I really need to work on this if I want to write that novel. I have to find a way to find the “Flow’ daily, otherwise all the planning in the world isn’t going to help me get a novel written in this next year.

Baby Steps To a Novel

So, yesterday I took my first steps to trying to complete a novel.  Regular readers of the blog will note that I’ve tried before (without much success) to try to write a novel, but this time I’m using my university’s Writing Center to help.  I’ve worked in the Writing Center myself all last year and I have a friend and colleague who is working there now who has agreed to a “Writing Partnership” with me–a fancy term for a standing appointment to talk about writing over the course of the semester.  Generally, they are used for long term projects (thesis, dissertations, etc.), but they can also be used for just improving one’s writing in general.  We talked about what I wanted to do ultimately (short-stories or novels) and we decided that writing a novel would be a good way to “grow” as a writer.  Then we discussed the idea I had for a novel and what the next steps should be going forward.

Character Sketch
So, my homework is to complete at least one character sketch–the main character/protagonist–and have it ready by the next meeting.  We talked about who the main character is (Skye–which longtime readers will remember from earlier blog posts) and what is her personality like.  If possible, I’d like to write a character sketch for her father as that is her major familial relationship in the book, but based on school work and obligations, there may not be enough time for that.  We spent quite a bit of time talking about the importance of characters and how they should act appropriately–something that I don’t think that I always do well because of my interest in the plot.  Hopefully, I can really nail Skye’s personality and be able to create a convincing character arc for her.

Plot Outline
I also need to produce a plot outline for the next meeting.  Again, one mandatory, but two if possible.  I have “story map” that I use that is a 1 page “synopsis” of the characters, setting, plot, climax, and resolution.  However, I’d like to also provide a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of the story as that is where I always seem to break down when writing the novel, but I may find that that might be better suited to do after we talk about the character sketch/synopsis of the novel.  In any case, I do intend to do what Brandon Sanderson noted about how he writes novels on his podcast, Writing Excuses, where he notes that he writes down big tentpole scenes as he’s generating ideas for his novel.  I think that the tentpole scenes, in addition to the synopsis, would be helpful to do before trying to tackle the larger, chapter-by-chapter breakdown.

NaNoWriMo
November is National Novel Writer’s Month (NaNoWriMo).  I’ve never really tried to do anything for the month because I always had school (or a ton of things to do in the month of November), but as I’m in the midst of trying to write a novel and as the Writing Center will be holding a “Write In” on November 17, I guess I’ll give it a try.  I don’t know what the outcome of all this will be, but I’ll blog about the process here to hopefully inspire other writers (aspiring or practicing) and maybe provide, tangible techniques and tricks to my fellow writers out there as well.

Wish me luck! 🙂

 

Early Morning Writing: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

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Early morning sunrise, Image Source: Keeptothewrite.com

So, yesterday I thought I’d try an experiment: I often wake up early (5:00-5:30am), but I don’t usually have to start getting ready for another hour/hour and half.  I usually use that time for leisurely waking up, reading, catching up on homework, etc., but I thought that since I was having such a hard time finding writing time during my busy schedule that I would get up and get ready early and use the extra 2-3 hours as writing time.  Well, here are the results:

The Good
I ACTUALLY got writing done!  Yay!  I was able to write approximately 250-500 words written on a Sci-Fi story (Project Children) that I’ve been working on (outline, character sketches, etc.).  I was able to completely finish the first scene of the story.  I also was able write a rough draft of my Teaching Philosophy that we were asked to do for our Graduate Teaching Discussion Group.  I was also able to write yesterday’s blog entry and post it on schedule (something that was really hard for me to do all of last week).

The Bad
You would think with 3 successful writing projects worked on yesterday, there would be no bad side.  NOT TRUE!  I rolled into my morning duties with no problem, but then I had the afternoon to get through and I was so tired that as soon as I came in I CRASHED.  I had so much reading that I needed to do for class, but the moment I opened the textbook the words just all blurred together and I just couldn’t read any of it.  I went to lay down to “rest my eyes” and recover, but of course, I fell asleep and it was time for dinner.  Also, MTSU’s library opens at 7:00am and I wanted to get there as close to the opening as possible to give myself approx. 2 hours of writing time, but thanks to clothes, traffic, forgetting things, etc., I was only able to get there at about 8:00am and felt rushed to work on my story and the Teaching Philosophy at the same time.  So instead of the 2 hours I’d envisioned on when I embarked on this experiment, it really only came out to be 55 minutes.  55 productive minutes, but 55 minutes nonetheless.

The Ugly
The worst part of this is that I was never really able to recover after dinner to read the material for school, so as I type these words, I’m really going to have to really use my morning to “catch-up” and read the material before class today at 2:40pm.  While there’s not a lot of it, there’s enough and this is a struggle that may not have needed to have happened.  Also, I struggled to get out of bed this morning, so even if I wanted to, there will be no miraculous repeat of yesterday’s writing performance.

The Lesson
So while I was successful early yesterday, I struggled later in the day yesterday and made today a much harder day than it needed to be.  The early morning writing works, but I’m going to have be more strategic in where and when I use it (perhaps weekends, holidays, MWFs, TU/THs, not really sure), but I this experiment has given me some idea of my body’s capacities and limitations when trying to find a good consistent time to write.

Lovely Fall Break 

I am currently on fall break. While I have a lot of things to do, I also want to make sure that I take time to rest. The first part of the semester has been very intense, so I want to be sure that I don’t burn myself out.
I am also trying to recover some writing time, meaning that I’m trying to rediscover a time to simply draft.  I only need a little time–anywhere from half an hour to one hour–but it needs to be consistent.  I’m more dedicated when I can tie my projects to something that I already have to do. For example, I finished Kristen Britain’s The Green Rider just this weekend by reading a little bit each day with the nightly snack that I eat each day.

This is what I need for my drafting–to find a simple time when I’m at my most creative and just draft.  I may just have to do something similar to what I’m doing now, which is to compose on the phone.  It is more convenient, but it is also much slower.  Hopefully, I’ll find a good time/activity to help me get back into not just creating projects/revising projects, but also drafting projects.