Originality

“Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.” Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis

I like this quote, because I sometimes feel that my stories are not original enough. I look at what the plot boils down to and think, who wants to read this again?

But I find when you boil any plot down to its essence it sounds old hat. There’s a reason we like to read the same stories over and over. There’s something true about them.

Happy Yarning!

Advertisements

Too Many Novels!

Lately, with all the great ideas my husband and I have come up with from our brainstorming game, I’ve found some shiny new ideas for novels. Not only that, sometimes the ideas fit well with old existing story concepts and rekindle my interest in those projects.

I’m writing them all down for later and sticking to Featherfolk, because I know what happens if I stray down one of those enticing new paths without completing my current project (nothing gets finished).

But my head just feels so crammed full of energy for other projects.

Anyone else feel like this some days?

Happy Yarning.

Also, happy All Hallow’s Eve! Don’t forget the Saints as you devour your loot tomorrow. (Americans sure are good at twisting holidays around.)

Fun Brainstorming Game

IMG_3628

On the drive back from a recent weekend adventure, my husband and I invented a new game.

We took turns challenging each other with random elements from fantasy or sci-fi. The object was to come up with a new and interesting way to use it in a story.

Some of the prompts we played with were Werewolves, Tree Spirits, People Living in Caves, and Music as Magic.

When one of us collected a few thoughts on how to use the element in a non-cliché way, we talked it out. Together, we developed it a little further, asking more questions, coming up with possible plots and sources of conflict. When we ran out of ideas for that prompt, we moved on.

We actually invented some pretty awesome stuff that I jotted down for possible use later.

Like, “Werewolves: They’re not human and never were. They’re a race of shapeshifters, wolf-like in appearance, whose power is tied to the sun and moon. So when the moon is near the sun and “new” they can shift into anything. As the moon gets fuller and farther from the sun, they have a harder time maintaining anything but their own shape.”

I don’t know if anyone has done werewolves that way before, but I’d read it.

I highly recommend this as a way to flex creative muscles and just play with stories.

Happy Yarning!

Surprising Myself

IMG_3543

I just finished reading over the first draft of Featherfolk! When I began, I wasn’t sure if the manuscript had sat long enough for me to gain the distance and fresh eyes I need to revise.

As I read, I realized enough time had passed. I kept discovering small twists and turns I forgot I wrote. One bit the other day was so perfect and unexpected. It made me feel very clever indeed.

Thinking back, that particular twist was not part of my original outline. It came to me as I wrote, following naturally from the words and scenes I’d already typed.

I want to do that. Over and over. I want to surprise and delight myself.

Because if I can do that, I can surprise and delight others.

And that’s why I wanted to tell stories in the first place.

Happy Yarning!

Book Report: Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

IMG_4111Sense of Place 101. This is your textbook.

I enjoyed Tuck Everlasting as a preteen, and I picked it up again because I realized one of my manuscripts has a few similar plot elements.

I’d forgotten how excellently written it was. If you struggle with creating a sense of place (a.k.a. filling in that white void around your characters with sensory details), this is a great book to read. And re-read.

I recommend Tuck Everlasting to all ages. I also recommend reading it out loud.

Happy Yarning!

Book Report: Inheritance by Christopher Paolini

IMG_3468

First, a caveat: you may have guessed from previous posts mentioning Inheritance that epic fantasy isn’t my thing. My preferred method of escape is what I term “fluffy fantasy.” This tends to be middle-grade, shorter, more episodic books (as opposed to lengthy, involved books aimed at adults and sometimes teens, with plot points carrying over long distances between books in the series.)

However, I’m glad I finished out the series. Paolini has always been a hero to me, because I’ve had authorly aspirations since I was ten, and he provided hope that kids can get published.

What I liked about Inheritance:

This was a fitting epic finish to an epic series. Paolini didn’t balk at dealing with all the ramifications of a continent-wide, multi-racial conflict. He depicted the effects of a drawn-out campaign in detail and allowed painful things to happen to his main characters.

As always, Paolini is a good descriptive writer. The settings were well-fleshed out with sensory details. In addition, the dialogue felt natural, with each character using his or her own distinctive voice. I especially enjoyed the camaraderie and banter between Eragon and Saphira. The bond between them felt strong and real.

Inheritance satisfied many of my expectations as to how the series would end, and surprised me a few times as well.

What I disliked about Inheritance:

I felt that the narrative should have begun later, leaving out one or two of the battles that make up the first half. The second half had much more character development intermingled with the battles, and the characters are what I cared about.

(Pet peeve alert) I counted no less than four times Paolini had a character come up with a Crazy Plan That Just Might Work and explain it to other characters without letting the reader know what the plan was. I got tired of sitting there while characters said, “There’s no way that’ll work!” or, “You’re nuts, but I’ll stand by you,” without even knowing what they were discussing.

<SPOILER>While the climax was fitting and the denouement tied up numerous loose ends quite nicely, I felt the very ending was a cop-out. I really didn’t buy that there was nowhere on the whole continent he could raise the dragons. What does he think he’s going to find across the sea? More people who won’t want dragons in their backyard, that’s what.</SPOILER>

I recommend this series for teens and lovers of epic fantasy. Those who fall under both categories will love it.

P.S. Anyone else catch Paolini’s allusions to Princess Bride and Doctor Who? They totally threw me out of the story, but they were entertaining. (pg. 665, 814)

Happy Yarning!

Writing Groups and Why They Rock My Socks

If you’re serious about writing, find yourself a writing group.

My favorite creative writing professor, Carol Lynch Williams, assigned the class to work in writing groups, and I am hooked.

As a part-time housewife/part-time writer, I’ve been able to meet the demands of two separate groups at once. Both groups are based several states away, and I participate via skype, thanks to modern technology and my friends’ willingness to deal with me as a talking head. ( 😀 Thanks, guys!) From any given 1000 words of my manuscript, the two groups often come up with different pointers. I have had so much fun, and I’ve gained a crazy amount of help from my wonderful groups.

From my experience, here are five good reasons to be in at least one writing group:

1) A group will keep you accountable. There will be someone you have to say “sorry” to when you don’t submit anything. If, like me, you don’t have deadlines from editors or publishers (yet), making a commitment to a group of friends can help keep you writing and revising.

2) A group can be a great regular ego boost. My sister taught me that you can’t be an artist unless you think you’re better than everyone else and you deserve attention. Strong confidence is important for being a writer as well. Having a group who can tell you what they like about your manuscript and what points of craft you’re good at is a blessing. (That pile of a heck-of-a-lot-of other points of craft I’m not a star at yet can be pretty intimidating.)

3) You get to critique more manuscripts. When you come across a hole in a friend’s work and help her come up with ways to fix it, you hone problem-solving skills that you can then apply to your own plot holes.

4) Inside jokes. (Collar bones O.o) Enough said.

5) You get regular feedback. No matter how awesome your story is in your head or how amazing you believe your manuscript is, your work is not done until every scene is clearly communicated in the text. While ego and confidence are important, it’s way better for your ego to take a blow than for your manuscript to sit unpolished and unread.

So find a writing group. Or start one. You already know writers among your friends and family. Pick two or three that are close to your level of talent and motivation (doesn’t matter what genres they write), and start swapping segments of your manuscripts. Once a week, once a month, however often you can.

I’m probably preaching to the choir here anyway.

Happy Yarning!

Book Report: How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell

IMG_3396I picked this up on Saturday afternoon and finished it before dinner. It was a breath of fresh air for me from Inheritance. Well, perhaps not “fresh” air–more like a well-needed burp. This book would be great for boys  aged 7 to 12 (and girls too if they’re not above a bit of nose-picking).

The plot of the movie of the same name resembles the plot of this book in much the same way that an apple resembles an orange. Which is to say, not at all. The conflict was aged-up for the movie (hint: the addition of a love interest). However, both are clever and funny. I don’t know if I could pick my favorite.

One thing I liked better about the book was that the dragons had more personality. This is of particular interest to me because the next story I’m looking at writing involves (to put it simply) griffin familiars. Cowell’s dragons have different motives from the humans, which creates friction and conflict between them as Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third, the Hope and Heir to the Tribe of the Hairy Hooligans, tries to figure out what makes his dragon, Toothless, tick.

I need to consider what kinds of conflicts would be inherent in a society made up of both humans and sentient griffins. It may be that because the griffins’ sentience stems from their bond with humans they operate on the same kinds of motives, but then again perhaps it is not so simple.