Writer Life Lesson #17: Don’t Be Afraid to Write the Hard Stuff

Writing, like every other form of art, strives to make people feel something. This is usually accomplished by making the work feel real, using real emotions and situations that force the reader or the viewer or the participant to feel something. Sometimes, this means including things that hurt us, or make us feel vulnerable, dirty, or embarrassed.

There are several events, and people and objects that make us feel that way, and as many things as there are, there are a thousand more ways to write them. A lot of writing advice will tell you to avoid things that will make the reader cringe or feel offended, especially if it has to do with real events, especially if you can find a better way to further the plot and your story, but I say

Don’t Be Afraid to Write the Hard Stuff

Why? Because if we avoid the hard stuff, the triggers and the pain of events, then we cannot get past them as human beings. If we sugarcoat everything in our writing, make it fluffy and pretty and wrapped up, it will not seem real, or plausible. If we want our readers to feel something, we have to dig deep and find the things that hurt us and bring them forth.

I’m not saying force yourself to write what hurts you, or force it out for the sake of readers and the ability to sell. What I am saying is when you feel that you are ready, just try writing what hurts, what scares, or what embarrasses you. You might be able to get through it, or you might not.

I know all about what it feels like to write the hard stuff and the difficult things. When my mom passed away in 2013, it was hard for me to write about her, about any mothers. So in 2014, I decided I was going to write a story similar to my experiences for a short story contest. I started to write it, but it was just too difficult, so I put it away for later. Will I continue it? Maybe. Will I throw it out for good? No way!

Hard things to write could be anything. It could be murder, rape, incest, or any other various tragedies or joys. I’m not saying add these things, or anything like them, in for shock value, but if it is necessary to your plot, to motivate your characters, or further their development, then add it in. Write it to the best of your ability, and then edit it like hell for it to have the best impact.

Don’t be afraid to write because the themes or events scare you.

Go forth and write!

Wednesday Works: Make a Mixtape for Someone You Hate. The Songs Cannot Include the Words “Hate You” in the Title

So This List is going to be fun!

  1. The Last Song I’m Wasting On You- Evanescence
  2. Fuck This, I’m Out- Off With Their Heads
  3. Untouchable Face- Ani DiFranco
  4. Radio- Alkaline Trio
  5. Fire and Ice- Pat Benatar
  6. I’m Looking Through You- The Beatles
  7. Mix Tape- Brand New
  8. Seventy Times 7- Brand New
  9. Passive- A Perfect Circle
  10. Good Fucking Bye- Alkaline Trio
  11. Caught a Lite Sneeze- Tori Amos
  12. Leather-Tori Amos
  13. Time Tables- The Menzingers
  14. Call Me When You’re Sober- Evanescence
  15. My Friend Peter- Alkaline Trio

Tuesday How To: Expanding and Combining Ideas

We all get ideas, sometimes they are planned through brainstorming, or sometimes they come to us out of the blue. Sometimes finding ideas is the easy part, and sometimes it’s not so easy. You can get ideas from anywhere and anything, but sometimes the ideas you get aren’t enough.

So this week, let’s talk about Expanding and Combining ideas.

Expand Your Ideas

Sometimes we get just a glimpse of an idea that when we write it will only get us so far. An example would be either a name or a setting. As an example, let’s use a character, aged 13, who comes to you in an idea saying “You are not my real father.” That’s the start of the idea, but at most it will get you one scene, maybe two. So now, you as the creator need to figure out enough about the thirteen year old to make a true story.

So the easiest way to do this is to write that scene between the thirteen year old and whoever else he/she is talking to. But if you are a perfectionist and like to write in order, that may not be the easiest way for you. So here’s what I usually do.

Most of the time characters come to me first, so I decide who this thirteen year old is talking to. Is it a step father, or an adopted father, or someone else entirely. How does that thirteen year old feel about their real father? What other issues are going on in that character’s life, what are their wants and needs, etc.
This process can literally go on for as long as you need it to, sometimes over days and weeks.

For the sake of this example let’s say that the thirteen year old has a single mother that sleeps around with strange men and that the thirteen year old is struggling with the urge to follow in her mother’s footsteps. She tries to seduce her mother’s latest sleeping partner, but he decides that he is a good guy and refuses her advances. Just like that you have a problem and a longer plot. Depending on where you put it in your order of scenes, toward the beginning or the end, changes your story.

You have a point to write from, and your idea is expanded.

Combine Ideas

If you’re anything like me, ideas are everywhere and you have several of them that are small, but don’t really have enough for a whole developed plot. If you have several small ones that can connect, why not connect them?

Here’s an example. I have several ideas about mermaids and vampires and fairytale creatures, but no real plot for any of them. So recently I have combined the ideas of a mermaid with fire magic, a witch raised from birth, and a dead girl looking for “bus fare”. What do these have in common? A plot (finally).

You might be surprised how easy it is to combine ideas. Even if they don’t seem like they connect, it might surprise you how many options you can come up with. Just be open to many options and have fun with it. If down the line it doesn’t end up working out, or you find an idea that you like, but some part of it doesn’t fit, move it around and add it to your “To be used” list.

Have fun with all of your ideas, and join me next week for the next installment of Tuesday How To! Next week we jump into characters.

To Whom I Dedicate My Novels: Taz

We first met about 5 years ago. And by “met”, I mean we had two classes together. He stood out, with his long hair, purple jacket, and name that made me think of a hectic, destructive cartoon character. I was sure I didn’t stick out at all, especially since I barely went to one class and was stuck in the sea of a million faces in the other. That was probably why we only really started talking after finals that semester. Do you ever just meet someone for the first time, and not realize their significance until much, much later?

For me, that was Taz.

Looking back on all those years we’ve known each other from a distance, he’s been around a lot. From trying to set me up with Hitler (this is a nickname. See previous posts), to talking to me throughout my terrible relationships with three other guys. This last year, something amazing happened.

He and I started talking and seeing each other more, really getting to know each other. And we’ve been together over a year now. To be honest, I’m still amazed we’re together. When we first started to date, I didn’t think he was my type. He had longer hair than I did, he wasn’t my usual “blonde haired with light eyes and glasses” type, and he was unlike any other man I had ever been with. Over a year later, and I am happy to say that I am glad he’s not my type.

We’ve gone on so many adventures together, from just down the street to his old elementary school, to Phoenix last March. We’ve shared so many experiences that I never would have had if I had stuck to my “type”. He’s made me consider the future in ways that seem real instead of just a desirable fantasy. Together we have given each other so much in just the short time that we have been together.

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Alright, enough with the personal stuff, and the romance stuff. I’m sure you’re all asking why I would dedicate my novels to a man with a funny name and long hair.

Taz, like many of my other boyfriends, has been invested and interested in my writing. The difference between him and some of my exs though, is he actually cares. He gives me valuable input when I am stuck, he types up some of the things that I have handwritten, and he gives me ideas wherever we are, whatever we are doing. He is my muse of sorts.

Not only that, he cares for not only my writing, but my well being and my other life goals too. He helped me through nursing school, other classes, and other life decisions as well.He understands me and is there for me, and I love him dearly for that.

That is why he gets a dedication in one of my novels, or maybe even all of them. He has been there for me, just as I have been there for him. We have been there for each other, and I hope we continue to be there for each other for many years to come.

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Taz and me, right before my nursing school graduation.

Who is your most unexpected writing muse?

Wednesday Works: Write a Rhyming Poem about the Last Book You Read

The last book I read was Outlander by Diana Gabaldon.

On a cold clear moore, in Scotland gay

A pretty young lass loses her way.

She travels through time, back and back

and meets a sexy stranger who calls her “Sassenach”.

Through several days of watch and suspicion,

The chapters quickly turn to needing parents’ permission.

For Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser,

Is one quite sexy hell raiser.

From a second marriage, to hot nightly romps,

Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser saves her new husband from chumps.

Toward the end, Poor Jaime is more foe than friend

Oops, I guess I shouldn’t tell you how it ends.

Tuesday How To: Telling Good Ideas From Bad Ones

Last week, we talked about how to find ideas and how ideas are everywhere. This week we’re going to take it one step further and decide which ideas are good and which ones are bad. I don’t like the term “bad” since there are no bad ideas unless they are not your own. If you are stealing someone else’s idea, word for word, that is bad. Every idea that seems “bad” or overdone, can be made better by changing it, adding or subtracting elements to make it feel like new for both you and your readers.

So let’s talk about good ideas versus ideas that are not so good.

For the sake of explanation, we’re going to use Goldilocks and the Three Bears as our main idea.

Imagine that you are a writer looking for an idea and you read you kid a bedtime story that just happens to be Goldilocks and the Three Bears. So, like we talked about last week, you’re reading and an idea strikes.

You want to write a story about Goldilocks and the Three bears. If you copy it directly, that is plagiarism, and thst is a huge mistake. So now the question becomes how do you make the idea new and fresh from the original idea?

You can do three things. You can add to the idea, subtract from the idea, move it to a different setting, or change the perspective.

Adding to the Idea
When you add to the original idea, you pull information from elsewhere and add it to your idea. For instance, if we use Goldilocks and the Three Bears say we add another character, Goldilocks’ boyfriend who doesn’t believe in Bears, now we have a story. And a new conflict. It suddenly becomes interesting for the reader. They wonder what will happen when Goldilocks and her boyfriend meet the bears.

Subtract from the Idea
Subtracting from the idea does the same as adding to it, instead of adding from somewhere else, you take away from the story. For our pal Goldilocks and her bears, that would mean taking away an aspect of the story. Let’s take away the bears’ house. What this does to the story is makes it harder for Goldilocks to break in, harder to find things that fit her, and completely changes the story, making the story new and fresh.

Move the Story to a Different Setting
Moving the story to a different setting changes the entire story most of the time. Though, if the characters are not in their same setting, they can have different motives and goals. Say we move Goldilocks and the Bears to New York City. The need to find things that fit is no longer there. Goldilocks can just go to the store and find what fits her. So why break into the bears’ house at all? Perhaps Goldilocks is a thief and needs a place to hide from the police? See, the plot becomes interesting again, and fresh.

Change the Perspective
Changing point of views is one of the easiest and most used ways of changing the idea and making it fresh again. Since the original fairytale is in the third person, we could change it to any of the other perpectives, it doesn’t even gave to be a human (or bear) perspective. Let’s say we change the perspective to the house. How would that change the story? Or if we made it Baby Bear’s perspective? Each point of view has different information than the others, and more opportunity for change and excitement.

Whatever you do improve your ideas, make them more interesting and not as overused, Have fun with it!

Think about any one of your ideas, how can you expand it or make it better?

Writer Life Lesson #16: Outline Before You Write

Whether you write essays, or novels, or anything in between, you have an outline. As crazy as that sounds, even if you swear that you always write by the seat of your pants, you do have an outline, it just might not be written down.

This week’s lesson has to do with physically outlining. And Outlining Before You Write.

This lesson is one of my favorites, because I get to talk about my outlining skills and show you some examples. If you are planning on participating in NaNoWriMo in November, or just planning to start a novel in the near future, outlining will be your friend.

Simple Outlines

I didn’t used to outline, and then I came up with the idea for my 2011 NaNo Novel, Spark: The Girl. It started out as a simple stand alone novel, and it still can be a stand alone novel, I think. But the more I thought about it and the more I planned the more I realized I needed some kind of outline. In the course of a week, I wrote simple outlines for all seven books. Though I didn’t plan it too well back then, because there are still several holes where I can add things in as I go.

This is what I like to call a simple outline. You know the basic structure and the big events, but the small events and the other characters are not always planned. There are still room for surprises. I prefer these outlines because it isn’t as rigid as a complex outline, and I don’t feel as disappointed if I forget to add a detail. It can be as simple or complex as you want the detail to be. A lot of time I leave myself notes on my whiteboard, or a single sentence in my notes

Example: Jared and Emily meet Lea at the hospital instead of at the apartment. Why are they there?

I like to end my simple outlines with questions sometimes, something to think about when I get to that point, because I don’t know what exactly is going to happen in that book once I start writing it, or what small details I can connect to it once I start working on it.

Complex Outlines

I like complex outlines for things that I absolutely know are going to be in my novel or characters that I cannot forget to introduce at a specific time.  I prefer to use Complex outlines during second or third drafts when I know what needs to be in the novel I am working on. I use Complex outlines to go chapter by chapter, or sometimes scene by scene.

Example: Chapter 5- Jared and Emily finally start talking about the issues between them in Dr. B’s office. Emily brings up the fact that Jared tells her things she’s not sure about. Jared brings up the fact that Emily is not herself. They end up fighting and Emily storms out. Next scene is in the hospital cafeteria where Jared vents to Dr. Owen and asks for a raise to gain Emily’s trust back. Chapter ends with Jared groveling.

With Complex outlines, the content tends to be longer, more in depth, and more linear. Sometimes they take a little more thought and organization,  but they do end up making it easier to write, at least for me.

I tend to not structure my outlines too rigidly, since I do enjoy creative freedom, so occasionally as I write, I will change the outline to fit what I’m writing. Sometimes I’ll take a previous idea that may or may not have originally been part of the plot and add it in.

Whether you choose to outline or not, it does help to just have simple notes and ideas. Usually I have an ending in mind first, so occasionally it is easier to outline backwards. Other times, my ideas are all jumbled and I look at the outline ready to scream “WHAT THE F@&# DO YOU WANT FROM ME?”

Whether you outline or write by the seat of your pants, it doesn’t matter. Whatever works best for you, do it!

At least you’re still writing.

Happy Writing!