Thursday, September 30, 2010

Hacking Strictly Prohibited...sort of.

Looking back, I see that I wasn't quite as thorough as I might have been.  Journaling isn't really the answer for every writer, though it is an excellent habit to get into.  Maybe you are reading an author that you love, and you wish you could write like them.  That's an excellent goal, but let's be honest:  you're not them.  You don't have their life or their story or their personality.  I love reading the works of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, but I'm not British.  I'm an American who lives in the not-so-deep South (hint:  Virginia is our upstairs neighbor).  The area I live in is in the eastern coastal plains.  I grew up in a pretty normal family of four, and I have two dogs.  I went to private school my whole life (a private university included) and I have a B.A. in History.  I'm picky with what I read and I like to knit and make jewelry in my spare time, and my professional work is in copywriting.  All of this defines who I am and what I write.  If I attempt an imitation of The Lord of the Rings or the Circle Trilogy or even Twilight, it simply will not work, because I am a completely different person from all of those authors.

My suggestion is to get to know yourself first.  Corny?  Most definitely.  But seriously, make a list of your hobbies, your interests, your background, date of birth, schools, favorite stuff and whether you prefer cats or dogs.  Act as if you are introducing yourself to someone else.  You'll find that you probably are a pretty fascinating person.  Most human beings are, even the boring ones. 

Go to your bookshelf and pick five books, but not random ones.  Pick five books that you have read multiple times, because those will be your favorites.  Those books will be the ones that have the stories and the writing styles that you absolutely love.  They will be written by the authors who you may make you want to write just like them.  Now put all of those books back on the shelf and forget about the style in them.  If you even so much as try to write like another author, then you will quickly be exposed as a fraud and a fake, and I mean that in the nicest way possible.  Be you in your writing.  I've said it before, but I feel that it's a pretty important point to keep making.  I've seen way too many books (I own one, actually...) that try so hard to be another book.  The stories have potential, but potential energy doesn't do anything unless it's allowed to be kinetic energy.  Unless you write like who you are, then your story will sour and you will be left with a shadow of someone else's work. 

I guess I keep coming back to the same point.  Your style needs to belong to you and no one else.  Of course, there's nothing wrong with being inspired by another writer, just as long as you aren't completely channeling them.  (Please, no hacking the brains).  If you have to, take a break from reading works by the strongest writers that you enjoy.  The strength of their work will have an effect on you.  It may make you want to be a better writer, but it may also beat its way into your fortress and try to take over.  Be you, you fascinating human, and you'll reap the rewards.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Your Style

Your writing style can make or break your career as a writer. When your audience reads your work, they expect to be entertained, just as if they were watching a movie. It’s your job to deliver what the readers are looking for. You may have a great story in your head, but if you are unable to effectively communicate that onto paper, your story will be passed up for the next one. The next question is, how do you captivate the people that read your work?

You need to decide first who you are and distance yourself mentally from your favorite writers. I said before that you should read a lot, but one mistake that you may find yourself making is writing like the authors you love. I once wrote a short, page-long part of a story, and at the time I was deep in Ted Dekker’s Black. It’s a great novel, with elements of fantasy, political thriller, and mystery, but the story segment I wrote too much resembled how Dekker writes. It was raw, a little dark, and kind of chilling. In other words: the words were mine, but style was not. I have since rewritten the passage to better suit the story. I have my own style, and I always did, but for many years, I tried to be like other authors. Tolkien, Lewis, and Coville were some of my inspiration. My characters became some mix between Hobbits, the Pevensies, and quite tragically noble unicorns. I look back and laugh out loud at my earliest work. Ironically, it’s my journals that make me laugh less.

Those journals are where my personality comes through because they’re parts of a chronicle of my life. They’re real, sometimes funny, and sometimes painful, and sometimes a little bit weird. (One journal page from fifth grade features an old Band-aid scrawled with names of Star Wars characters and stuck to the page, which is itself in possession of a grease spot from Neosporin.) In short, they are me at different stages of life.

A great way to develop your style is to write in a journal on a regular basis. It doesn’t have to be every day. It can be every week or every few days, as long as it is regular. Don’t try to make up stories; just tell your own. The way you tell your own story will be a clue as to how you will tell other stories that you invent.

When writing your own story, you need material. Don’t worry, your life doesn’t have to be dramatic and exciting all the time. What’s important is that you take time to experience life and incorporate your experiences in your writing. Feel free to edit or change stories to use in fiction, but never discount your life because it isn’t “exciting enough.” Write what you know. Write the places you’ve been and the people you’ve seen. (On a side note, try to avoid writing about places and people you haven’t seen. Getting the facts wrong because you’ve never been to New York City, Seattle, or Atlanta can be insulting. I’ve never met a New Yorker who is as rude in real life as his fictional counterpart usually is, and I can tell you as a native Southerner: we don’t drawl sentences. I’ll cover this subject more in depth later).

Inject your take on life into your work. You may see things differently, and that can be refreshing for readers. Be different, but avoid being different for the sake of the shock value. If you don’t feel comfortable with a certain style, don’t write it. The big deal now may be paranormal romances with various non-human love interests (vampires and werewolves are big, but I’m seeing more books about tortured angels falling in love), but if your work reeks of a trend, then it won’t last and will most likely be seen as another way to cash in on your joining a bandwagon. Write in a style that is exciting, because even the mundane is fascinating when the words describing it are superbly chosen.

My brother once said that some of the best bands don’t write to be famous. They write what is in their hearts. They pour who they are into their work, and it is usually quality music. Their work is successful not because it is the latest thing, but because it’s so very real. Your writing style should reflect who you are, because then you will know that what you write rings true and pulls your readers in to your story to get lost for a little while until you lead them back out again. After that, they’ll trust you with the next story.

Coming soon: a preliminary review of Feather by Abra Ebner. I'm in the process of re-reading it now and I'm really looking forward to sharing what I have found about it. Stay tuned!

Friday, September 24, 2010

My Deepest Apologies...

I really am sorry.  The past nearly two weeks have, quite honestly, very busy and a little insane, writing wise.  I was responsible for writing content for three websites, plus several other informative articles.  I also bought a computer and attended a funeral.  I deeply regret that I haven't taken at least five minutes to make sure that this was still actively going. 

The downside:  I haven't been able to sit down and come up with content that is coherent enough to post.  I will be posting soon, though, with more helpful writing advice.  I think that next I will write about finding your own style. 

For now, check out this site.  The Graphic Raptor Forums is a discussion board that has a pretty wide range of topics.  I've been a member since 2005, and I know the owner pretty well.  Needless to say, the forum is fairly small and it would be really great if you would stop by, join, and maybe liven up the place. 

In other news, The Marsh Lantern is gearing up for the holiday season.  I'll be constructing some new pieces soon and possibly having a sale, so keep a watch on the shop to see some new things.

To all writers out there:  we're on this road together.  I am currently working on what is at this time a three-book story.  I cringe to use the term fantasy epic, because while there is some fantasy, it's not quite epic, nor is it set in what might as well be a pseudo-medieval Germany/vague version of England.  At any rate, I'll be working on my own stuff while writing this, so even giving advice to others is helping me to improve my own work.  Thanks for stopping by, and stay tuned for more. 

Monday, September 13, 2010

Something to Check Out

This post will be short for now.  I have some work that's due as soon as possible, but I'd just like to ask my readers to check out my Etsy store.  I make jewelry on the side, so take a look.  I'll be adding some more pieces as soon as I can, so keep checking back. 

The Marsh Lantern Shop

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Just a Little Something I'll be Doing

I'm announcing something that I will be posting as frequently as possible:  book reviews.

What?  Book reviews?  Did that really require an announcement?  Well, yeah, because of the way I will be doing them.

First, I'll be posting reviews of some more obscure books that are available (such as some works by Abra Ebner.  Her stuff is fun to review).  I'll also be reviewing some of the more "old news" type of books (Twilight, Elantris, and whatever else I choose) in such a way that you can learn from it.  I'll try to make the reviews as light on spoilers as possible, but be prepared to have previous insight on the things I pick. 

The way it will work is this:  I will post the review of the book, allow you some time to check the book out for  yourself, if you wish, and then post a followup, in depth critique of what I read.  Plot points, characters, dialogue, everything is fair game.  I will be fair, so I'm not going to give scathing reviews.  The point of reading widely is to learn from what you read, so I'll discuss what's good and what's lacking in a book.  I hope to be able to post these reviews frequently, so keep a lookout for them.  Thanks for stopping by today. 

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Where to Begin?

Most writers don't just decide to write a novel and go at it. On the flip side, writers rarely just get successful from following their muses and writing whenever the inspiration comes. I can tell you right now that that doesn't work well towards getting anything done.

Don't get me wrong. You can have seemingly random ideas that begin to grow, but you have to give your ideas a lot of thought. They need to make logical sense and fit together so that you have a well-ordered plot. But before you start thinking of plots and mysteries and motivations of your characters, you need to warm up.

It's quite possible that, if you're an aspiring writer, you've spent your whole life warming up. Most writers are people who love to read. I certainly do. It is true that you should read widely. I have heard this particular piece of advice many times. However, I find myself turning back to old favorites. I don't fear change, but I do know what I like. So what fiction have I enjoyed? My favorite classics are Dracula, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Treasure Island, but I've never read Pride and Prejudice (saw and loved the 2006 movie, though). I love watching Star Wars and Shakespeare, and The Barber of Seville isn't too bad either. I read the entire Twilight Saga and enjoyed it. I've read through Harry Potter twice, and they make me laugh while they tell a good story. I like reading the fairy tale renditions by Gail Carson Levine, and the young adult Christian romance created by Robin Jones Gunn holds a special place in my heart. My staples are The Lord of the Rings and the Inheritance Cycle. I tried a Stephen King book once, and I didn't care for it, because of his content and his style. Jeff Smith's Bone series is phenomenal. This list could go on forever. As you see, my tastes tend to lean towards the fantastical. All of those authors are very different. All of them have flaws in their stories because they are human. Reading books that I'm unfamiliar with at first usually results in a new favorite, a new member of the exclusive club that is my bookshelf (and the guidelines are stringent).

So what does reading do for me as a writer? It means that I get a great example of how to tell a story. Jules Verne's writing is a very different type than Stephanie Meyer's, but they both knew how to put a plot together that keeps their readers riveted to their stories.

Read widely, but find what you enjoy. You may not enjoy everything in a certain genre. I certainly don't. I often rent a book from the library by an author I like...and become disappointed when I can't pay attention to the story. I avoid most high fantasy because there are so many illogical clichés. I don't read science fiction, generally, because the setting usually overshadows the characters and plot.

Please don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying that you need to find a niche and stay in it, never leaving your comfort zone. What I mean is that you should write what you know. If you think horror will sell for shock value, but you don't know it or are not comfortable writing it and have a hard time really making something scary, then you're not going to be a horror writer. If you like mysteries and thinking things through, go for mystery, but don't be afraid to mix it with another genre that you also know. If you find yourself wanting to read something that is not on the shelf at the store or library, then write it. Chances are, you're not the only one that is looking for something to read.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


Where to begin? 

Okay, I think I got something.  The name of this blog.  You probably want an explanation.  At any rate, I don't think your day will be ruined by knowing why I've named this The Marsh Lantern.

I like a good story, and a good story includes, among other things, an excellent setting.  Places inspire me.  My mind holds the image of a deep marsh.  The tree limbs twine together overhead, and night is approaching.  Just as the light fades, a lantern winks on in the distance, a welcoming beacon. 

What could happen next?  The decision is up to me as a writer, and I could decide anything.  That lantern appeared in the night to illuminate something previously unseen.  My goal is to help you, my audience of writers, to see things you might not have noticed before.  You guessed it.  I'll be writing about writing.

However, when possible, I will have certain featured writers.  You will be able to read content by  these up and coming individuals, as well as reply to the posts and critique the stories.  I'm not sure how frequently our featured fiction will appear, but I hope to have outside content on here frequently.

Thanks for stopping by, and stay tuned!