|Utah Valley University's Fall 2015 Edition of Warp and Weave.|
Saturday, December 26, 2015
Saturday, November 14, 2015
The month is almost halfway over and I'm 3,973 words behind. Yesterday I did a whopping 263 words, which is my lowest daily word count yet. I bet this blog post is longer than that.
In my previous post I mentioned how I write in three blocks throughout the day. An hour in the morning while lying in bed (like right now), 30-60 minutes on my lunch break, and 1-2 hours before I doze off to happy land. But yesterday I slept in, and because I slept in I forgot my lunch at home so I left the office for lunch, and then I passed out from mental exhaustion around 10:30. I was asleep before my wife came to bed.
And that's how you get 4,000 words behind, my friends. That's how losing is done!
It also doesn't help that I've been distracted this week and writing my story has felt like I'm back in college doing research papers. And when I do sit down to write I find myself more interested in writing these blog posts than my story. Yes, right now I'd rather write about my writing than actually writing.
Wait...I've had an epiphany. Yes, why didn't I see it before? The tension is gone in my story! This blog post is filled with tension, but the story has become dull and flat. Remember what you wrote in the first blog post, Ben? Excitement, tension, drama! It's gone! You lost it! But where did it go? And how can you bring it back?
That's it, screw the outline. I'm going rogue. It's time to throw Gabby in the water.
Cue "Eye of the Tiger."
Bum....bum, bum, bum...bum, bum, bum...bum, bum, buuuuuuummmmmmm.
Tuesday, November 10, 2015
I LIE AWAKE
My eyes are closed and head is down
The mind's a race, hear every sound
And though I do not look around
My feet feel like they're on the ground
I have a dream about my friends
Who all forsake me in the end
And every single word I send
Gets broken up and left to mend
I suppose this means that I'm asleep
Though I still dream I'm on my feet
And every thought I think is deep
And what I think is on repeat
I know this thing inside my head
That keeps me here, the waking dead
Means every single night I dread
This struggle fought inside my bed
I think of all the years gone by
And all the moments when I cried
To wonder when or if I'd die
Such mem'ries now a lullaby
I think of God and if He is
A magic force that can forgive
A yearning soul, alone I live
Amazing grace, my soul I give
I think of all the thing that changed
The progress made, the times forgave
To think that now I’m not a slave
I've conquered much inside this cave
By morning's dawn, I'm not as bad
As all the sadder days I've had
So one may say that I am glad
To lie awake
Saturday, November 7, 2015
Monday, November 2, 2015
I've discovered a new joy in writing.
Creating transitional scenes has always been difficult. These are scenes where the characters are walking, driving, standing around, or just thinking. I get bored with them.
I try to outline my stories chapter by chapter before I write. It helps to organize my thoughts and ideas. But I never outline transitional scenes because I never thought they were important to the plot.
"If you hate them, why write them?" you ask. Well...have you ever sat through an action movie that jumps from one action scene to the next? Something by Michael Bay perhaps? After about an hour it feels like you're the one getting pummeled by giant robots. Transitional scenes help slow down the pace of the story, and if properly balanced it can be a powerful tool in helping to build tension and setting for the next the scene. I'm finally beginning to understand this. And it's a blast to write.
For example, the story I'm writing for NaNoWriMo is about a 16 year old girl who moves to Maine to live with her estranged mother for the summer. When I created the opening scene the story jumped right to the girl sitting on an airplane and she's reluctantly talking with the dirty old man beside her. This is important to the story, though the reader does not realize it at this point. I created it to be the introduction to the girl, the old man, and to the girl's mother. It's a funny scene and I'm happy to finally have written it.
But when I began writing yesterday I decided that it might be more interesting to include details about the girl's journey. Suddenly, all the terrible experiences I've had in airplanes and airports over the last decade and a half came flooding back to me. I'm not just talking about the long lines going through security. That's all people focus on when they share traveling experiences, but it's really not that bad. I'm talking about waking up early, finding parking and shuttles, long layovers, sitting alone in an empty terminal in the middle of the night, shrink-wrapped day old sandwhiches, trying to find an empty stall in the bathroom, trying to find your gate as people scramble past you in the hallways like it's Walmart on Black Friday. And don't get me started about flying with kids. That's a whole other monster.
In addition to these inconveniences, your first time flying can be frightening. And it would be a far more horrific experience if you did it alone. Adding some of these details helped make the scene on the plane much more powerful.
Even after the girl lands in Maine, I included a transition scene between the airport and when she meets her mother again. Originally, I had her getting off the airplane and going directly outside where her mother is waiting with the car running. But this is not interesting and the tension is flat. Yes, by this point the reader understands what a terrible person the mother is. It's discussed in the previous scene. But wait, do they? NO! They don't! I've told you about it, but I haven't shown it yet.
Instead, I have the girl walking through the airport. She's exhausted, confused, and lonely. In a daze, she wanders outside only to realize that her mother is not there! She calls her mother to find out where she is and it turns out her mother forgot!
Drama! Tension! Excitment! Now the reader really hates that terrible old wench!
Finding herself stranded at the airport, the girl is on the verge of a meltdown. But someone unexpected is there to help her out. Who? Why, it's the creepy old man from the airplane, of course! He offers her a ride. Tired, angry, and desperate, she accepts. Now, when she finally meets her mother...
Drama! Tension! Excitement!
Used properly, these short, seemingly unnecessary scenes can be powerful for building up to the next plot point. As you can tell, I find myself enjoying them like never before.
Saturday, October 31, 2015
Monday, October 19, 2015
This is the first revamp of the GOATS IN THE ATTIC blog since my declaration that "I am not a nerd!" back in May 2013. A lot has changed since then.
I live in New York now, I have a real career in sales, I'm a father of two amazing little girls, and I am still not a nerd. I'm being published again too! Awesome, right?
Rather than the GOATS IN THE ATTIC blog focusing on the mundane and superficial garbage of life, I'd like to start talking about my writing more. I've decided that in my pursuit of a writing career I've been doing it all wrong. Because of my "not a nerd" mentality, I've withdrawn a bit from the creative side of my psyche. I've refused to do certain things that are vital to my progression as a writer; like meeting with nerdy writing groups, reading nerdy stories, and actually writing the nerdy stuff I want to write. It turns out I really enjoy those things and if I want to be a writer I need to suck in my un-nerdy-like pride, accept that inner nerd, and start writing from the heart.
Finding time to write is the most difficult aspect of writing. When your family, job, and church responsibilities take up the majority of your time, it feels selfish to sneak away for a few hours a week and play with imaginary worlds and their silly imaginary characters. Sometimes it's difficult just finding the energy to write. Weeks can go by without writing more than a few paragraphs of revisions. And sometimes I'll hash out a few hundreds words on my lunch break only to forget about them and abandon the project. It's frustrating.
Her are a few excuses for why it's taken a decade to get this far.
I don't have time.
I don't feel like writing sometimes.
I need to carve pumpkins with the kids.
I'm in church and my wife is glaring at me because my writing notebook is open.
Now my daughter is trying to steal the pen from me.
These are common excuses for any artist, so don't feel bad for me.
Now I'm going to share a semi-random story because I don't know where to go with this blog post.
I "decided" to become a writer in 2005 while living on a friend's couch in Salt Lake City. I wouldn't write my first story, Happy's Nest, until 2007. For the next three years I wrote nothing but story lines for projects I'd never finish and revised Happy's Nest a dozen times. After chickening out at the deadline, twice, I finally submitted my story for publication in February of 2010 to Utah Valley University's sci-fi/fantasy journal, Warp and Weave. When I learned it had been accepted, I felt like a rock star who, after producing their first moderately successful hit, was truly destined for fame! Over the next few years I wrote a series of short stories that would all be rejected by Warp and Weave. In all seriousness, Warp and Weave is not a prestigious publication. No one outside of the English department at UVU and the families of the published writers will ever read it. If your prose is coherent and your story is remotely interesting, they'll probably accept you. That being said...my follow up work must have been atrocious. And I'm being harsh on W&W. I was accepted out of 200+ submissions so it's not like they're choosing the best 12 stories of 12 submisssions.
I've read and analysed Happy's Nest dozens of times in an attempt to uncover what it has that my other stories have lacked. The answer? Coherent prose, an accidentally structured and engaging narrative, and (most of all) spot-on humor.
Have you ever watched a sitcom tackle a dark story line like death, and still manage to make you laugh? Sometimes these jokes are the funniest because they're completely unexpected. Let me tell you why the humor in Happy's Nest worked. I'll explain by describing the crowd's reaction when I read the story at the release party.
Happy's Nest opens with a scene of chaos and riots. The world is about to end. It's interesting enough to get the attention of my audience, but light enough that they're not thrown off by what happens next - a joke. I get a chuckle from the audience. The story continues with more explaination about the character's situation and then there's a knock on his door. Who could it be? Someone to hurt him? Someone to rob him? The suspense builds as he opens the door. Oh, it's just the neighbor and BAM! another joke. The crowd laughs, this time with more than a chuckle. This scene carries on for a page or two and is littered with jokes, including the line, "What does Jesus have to do with dinosaurs?" The audience is roaring with laughter now and everything seems to be funny, even the bits that weren't intended to be. Then, in the next scene, my character moves back to the original setting and sees the horrifying aftermath of the riots. The character is startled by what he sees and the gravity of the situation sinks in. The audience is at the edge of their seats now, wondering what's going to happen next. I'm sure that some of them expected me to end it there, which I almost did. But what did I do instead? I toss in one last joke and the crowd goes nuts. I'll be honest, when I was writing it I didn't think it was that funny so their reaction threw me off. I follow the joke with a calm, retrospective moment and a embarrassingly cliched ending. Then the crowd applauds and I sit down. I don't win any awards but, man, I felt like a great writer.
The story is not as good as I make it sound. The prose is weak and cliched, and I felt embarrassed that it was included with work from more experienced writers. But the humor was perfect - a fluke maybe, but perfect. I had no idea what I was doing, but it was enough to add a publishing credit to my name and on my first attempt too.
My first truly completed piece since then is a short story titled HEADS, and it will be published in Warp and Weave's Fall 2015 edition. This story came from a dream I had about being abducted by aliens and having something implanted into my brain that took control of my body. Funny side note, when my alarm rang and I awoke from the dream, I was startled to find both of my arms asleep. It was terrifying and there's a moment in the story where I hope to convey that moment.
The story went through many drafts, some I liked more than my final draft. But I'm happy with what I created and I guess it was good enough to be published. I think the story is exactly what it needs to be for the intended publication and I can only hope it turns out as good as Happy's Nest.
I'm excited about it, though I wish I could be there to read it at the release party. I'm curious to see how the audience reacts to the "brain matter in the pancakes."