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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Writer's Update: WALLS

(Not the original by Pink Floyd, but a cover which I prefer by Korn.)

My Writing Craft lecturer was sick this week so I don't have any notes to share with you at the moment. I'm eagerly awaiting the lecture slides to be available online, or for the recording of the lecture from another campus to be put up. I was very sad not to have that lecture.

After I got back to my room from the tutorial and watched an episode of Game of Thrones (oh my goodness, this is seriously the most amazing T.V show ever!) I was overcome by the urge to write. I'd tried writing during the cancelled lecture while I was hanging around campus with some of my Writing Craft friends who hadn't gotten the memo before we'd arrived, but it didn't come out the way I wanted it to.

So I sat down when I got back into my room, turned on my laptop, thought for a moment and opened up the file containing the first three chapters of WALLS, which I started planning and writing months ago. I haven't added to WALLS since around January/February if I remember rightly. So I read over the first three chapters, opened up the planning document and cranked out the fourth chapter.

It felt so good to be writing again! Like, for my own purpose instead of for an assessment. It felt good to be working on my W.I.P again. What made it even better was that I noticed myself applying (or at least trying to apply) what I've learned in my Writing Craft classes... and I think my philosophy brain must have found its way in there too because I found myself thinking, writing and talking deeper than I usually do, without sounding melodramatic and cheesy. I hope it wasn't melodramatic and cheesy anyway.

2,499 words up! I'm pleased with this progress and hoping to get more done soon.

What are you in the blogosphere doing? How is your writing? 

- Bonnee.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

ANZAC Day/Pace Workshop Exercise

Today (25th of April), people of Australia and New Zealand have a public holiday known as ANZAC Day. This is a day where we remember those in the Australian New Zealand Army Corps who served, and especially those who lost their lives, in World War I and especially in Gallipoli. Since the day was first established, it has extended to ANZACs in general, no matter when they served.

In WWI, the ANZAC's objective of capturing the Gallipoli Peninsula was met by strong resistance by the Ottoman Empire, one of Germany's allies during the war. Instead of the successful capture of Constantinople that was aimed for, troops from both sides suffered eight months of combat and high numbers of fatalities. While the ANZACs were unsuccessful, the day is remembered and celebrated because of the strength, courage and mateship shown on the battlefields.

I have never been to one of the dawn services until today. Not a fan of the 4:00AM wake-up, but it was well worth it. There was quite a sizable group of res kids going to the early session. This is also the first ANZAC Day service I've been to in the of Melbourne itself, and the service was held at the Shrine of Remembrance. It was inspiring to be there with so many others before the sun had even risen.

On a coincidentally related note, the pieces I wrote during my tutorial/workshop for Writing Craft when we were exercising our use of pace was set in a battlefield. Our tutor played music to set a fast or slow pace for us and this is what I came out with:

Fast-Pace, including all of my crossing out where I decided that it slowed the pace down. Just read the part that aren't crossed out. We were only given 10 minutes, so I was stopped mid-sentence too:

“Get down!”
Not even a second passed after the words left the commander’s lips before  The deafening screech of a bomb whistlinged down on us, the screech deafening. I lay pressed myself into the soil as. The earth around me rose and fell. I stood again with the others. Heads down, guns raised, we crawled forwards.
The blood-coated red-zone was a death-trap sprawled with disembodied limbs. We shuffled forward an inch, ducked as gun-fire rained down on us (from) above us, rose again, pressed forward.
“Get down!”
The deafening whistle sounded again, closer. The ground to my right exploded in a spray of spraying dirt. I waited. Someone pulled me to my feet as the rescue van came into view. We dashed forward, half-hopeful, terror-filled, but alive.
“Get down!”
I didn’t listen. My hands made contact with the metal ladder and. I threw myself up against the… 
Slow-Pace. I thought of a battlefield in slow-motion. Again, this contains all the crossing out I did, so the most important stuff is what isn't crossed out:

Not even a second A moment passed after the commander ordered us to get down. My body met the soft soil of the battlefield red-zone with a gentle thud and I saw the dirt around me rise in a graceful arch and patter back down. I lay for a moment, inhaling, and felt the pulse of the earth beneath my palms as I lay them flat. Someone’s voice called out, but it sounded muted, distant and ethereal. My cheek felt the tickling of blood form a nick somewhere above my eyebrow and I pressed it into the ground, closing my eyes as I exhaled. When I lifted my eyelids again, I could see Corey’s face, watching me from the his place in front to my right. Behind him, I saw the dirt flying up in another graceful arch, and felt the pulse of the earth beneath my fingertips again. That distant voice sounded again, but remained unheard as I watched Corey flash pass me as mall smile; something reassuring. 

I think slow-pace comes to me easier, but fast-pace is definitely useful. While slow-motion battle scenes are pretty cool in my humble opinion, we can't going into slow-motion EVERY time there is gunfire and explosions in our stories. I think that paces that contrast what is actually happening should only be used when necessary; if there is some important detail that NEEDS to be brought to attention during the scene through the pace.

If anybody else would like to try this exercise writing a piece in fast-pace and slow-pace and post in the comments (give it about 100-150 words for each piece?), my song suggestions for those wanting musical assistance are 'Kiss the Rain' by Yiruma (for slow-pace, lovely piano music), and 'Before I Forget' by Slipknot... or you know, pick your own songs, that works too! :)

I ask again, what do you think about using pace in your writing? 

- Bonnee.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Writing Craft: Pace / Writer's Update.

My list of assignments, because I'm organized!
Oh Mondays... 9am lectures when I haven't eaten red meat in over a month are not nice. A word of advice to anybody out there who has recently started doing their shopping/cooking for themselves: don't put off getting the red meat!!! Lack of iron makes you SLEEPY and DYSFUNCTIONAL! Luckily, I stocked up on iron-y goodness this afternoon...

In other news, I am glad to say that I am HAPPY with the mark I received for my first Writing Craft assessment, 'Sketching with Words' and hope to get even better on the assessment I just handed in today, 'Memory as Seed'.  My third and final assessment for the semester isn't due until June, so perhaps I'll find time to write something else between now and then. 

You know you haven't been utilizing your creative outlet often enough when you notice an increase in how often you zone out, daydream and talk to yourself when you're alone... Yes, I have noticed an increase. 

Have I mentioned how crappy the internet connection on campus is? It's really crappy. 

Also: I found the notes I lost from my tutorial last week. Yay! Moving on! 

When: Pace

Readings for week 6 were Trouble is my Business by Raymond Chandler (pages 7-23), The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker (pages 1-17) and Astronauts by Tim Richards (pages 239-251). 

The first thing the lecturer wanted to stress was that pace was mostly about variation. It is a composition of speeds and slownesses. In writing, pace is the effect or effects of how time passes for the reader. How do we experience time in our bodies and minds when we read? Pace could also be described as imitating or upsetting the rhythm of things. Our lecturer had us listen to some different musical compositions when she told us this. One of them had a beat that was like an imitation heartbeat and it infected everybody in the lecture theatre. But something that all of the pieces of music she shared with us had in common was that the pace varied. There would be lulls in the fast-paced pieces and then it would pick up again. The slow-paced pieces would speed up suddenly and then slow down again. It was interesting to take note of. 

Some tools for manipulating pace are:
- Sentence length (Longer sentences can be good for slow-pace scenes, using lots of clauses separated by commas, making it hard for the reader to catch a breath, but perhaps making a more detailed image, especially when describing something. Short sentences work better in fast-pace scenes, forcing us to pause more often and breathe, making the clauses feel more fragmented or simplified.)
- Word length and word choice
- Paragraph length 
- Register of vocabulary (whether it is posh, jargony, rigorous, vague...)
- Punctuation (This can give the writing a certain personality.) 
- The white space on a page
- Strategy in description 

Our lecturer described somebody who constantly keeps up a fast pace in their writing as similar to a teenage rock band who never plays slower music, because mistakes are more likely to be recognized, but eventually it gets boring and monotonous. Faster is not always more desirable and variation in pace is important. Important details can be caught more easily between the fast-pace scenes of a story, but you need something slow-to-medium-paced to put between them. 

Pace can also be set by dialogue. We can get a feel of whether the character is a fast-pace character or a slow-pace character by their dialogue. Dialogue should always be deliberate and purposeful and it is important to remember that readers don't want the typical conversation full of ums and ahs you'd have in real life; dialogue in good fiction is often unrealistic. Of course, that doesn't mean disregard realistic dialogue all together, but you should try and aim for the more witty, meaningful, influential words when your character says something; not necessarily something that you'd be able to think of on the spot in real life... unless you happen to be one of those unrelentingly witty, meaningful and influential people. 

Something that can catch us out and slow our pace in a bad way is when we overload the detail. So if you read over a scene that you feel should be fast-pace, but you find it's dragging, remember that you don't need to tell your reader EVERY linking detail between Point A and Point B, because our own brains will fill in the obvious details for us. Always be aware of your pace and whether it is working or not. 

Useful links: 

Have you noticed different paces in your writing? Try writing a scene while listening to fast-paced music, and then try writing it again while listening to slow-paced music. Try to match the pace of your writing to that of the music. I did this in my tutorial and I'll share it later in the week.  

- Bonnee. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Writing Craft: Structure: Sentence, Paragraph, Story... and Tense!

Greeting all! As well as being inundated with university assignments and being forced to further neglect my blog, the blogs I follow and my own creative writing and reading goals, it appears the beautiful Australian summer weather has all but vanished as winter reaches out to us down in the Southern Hemisphere. I am wrapped up in a giant blanket with cold feet and a half-eaten packet of chocolate ripple biscuits while I try and motivate myself to get an essay on the power of social media underway...

Moving on! Something I've been meaning to do for a while is give a shout-out to Victoria Simox, who recently had a give-away of her middle-grade book The Magic Warble, which I won an ebook copy of a about month ago (yes, I am very behind schedule here, I know!). You can find Victoria on her blog at www.victoriasimox.blogspot.com

Victoria was born in Scarborough, Ontario, Canada, to an Austrian immigrant mother, and a Dutch immigrant father. She now lives in Western Washington with her husband, Russ and their three children, Toby, Kristina, and William. Her other family members are a Chihuahua, named Pipsy and two cats, named Frodo and Fritz. Besides being an author, Victoria is a home-schooling mother of twelve years and an elementary school art teacher of eleven years. In her spare time, Victoria enjoys managing her two older children's Celtic band. She also loves writing, reading, painting watercolors, hiking, good movies, and just simply hanging out with her family and friends. 



Today I'll summarize what we were taught in weeks 4 (When? Structure: Sentence, Paragraph and Story) and week 5 (When? Tense) of my Writing Craft classes.

Structure: Sentence, Paragraph and Story

Readings for week 4 were Triptych by Merlinda Bobis (pages 119-121), The Book of Sand by Jorge Luis Borges (pages 117-122), and Flying to Belfast by Dermot Healy (pages 319-331). 

Our lecturer explained the difference between 'story' and 'plot', which is that 'story' is anything between the first and last event of a narrative; events unfolding in chronological order, without links, the the dot-point or 'and then... and then... and then...' feeling, whereas 'plot' is how these events are put together and linked and how their arrangement emphasizes the relationships between them (cause and effect), which creates a reader's reaction of surprise or suspense, etc. 

Our lecturer talked a lot about 'time' and how it is hard to talk about; how we can't access human incidents in time without narrative. We humanize time when we write so that we can structure it for ourselves; although time is a constant thing, we talk about time freezing, stretching, disappearing etc. So how does our practice as writers raise questions of what it is like to exist in various kinds of time? We describe someone sitting in a boring lecture feeling as if time is dragging on and on and on. How might a practice of writing and reading influence our own and our readers' experience of time? We, as writers, have the power to control or at least influence the way our readers feel 'time' when they read our stories. 

Tense

Readings for week 5 were The Lover by Marguerite Duras (pages 3-16), and The Little Friend by Donna Tartt (Pages 3-13). 

This lecture focused a lot on verbs, their function and their importance. Verbs are doing words and any full sentence or independent clause needs one. When using verbs, writers also need to consider their place in time. The base form of a verb - or the 'infinitive' - can be found by putting the word 'to' first, eg: to bring, to run, to jump etc... however, the infinitive does not tell us details such as who, when and whether the action is possible, wished, completed etc; it is the pure notion of an event before detail is added. Who or what is the subject of the sentence? Who is completing the action of your verb? What tense are you writing in? These all come into consideration when giving the verb details. Writers should also consider the subjects gender and whether they are a singular or plural form. 

Correct and consistent use of tense is important to stop your reader from becoming distracted and ensuring that you writing flows as smoothly as possible. The two most basic and commonly used tenses are 'past simple' and 'present tense'. The 'past simple' is usually used to signify the story's present and is considered the simplest and often most suitable way to write. Present tense is less common in prose and often has interesting effects on the feeling of literary prose. 

A third type of tense our lecturer wanted us to look at was 'past perfect'. When 'past simple' relates to the now of the story, 'past perfect' is used to describe the story's past, as in memories and events that are being referred to which have already happened. We use this tense when we are describing something a layer further back in time. We can identify this tense when the word 'had' is used before the verb. Eg: 'I jumped' becomes 'I had jumped' or 'I'd jumped'. Slabs of text written in 'past perfect' tense can often sound clunky, but when referring to the story's past and the story's present, it is important that both the writer and the reader can differentiate between periods of time.  

I appear to have lost the notes I took in my tutorial. This is both worrying and disappointing, because there was a really cool quote I wanted to share with you all and some more cool examples... 

Does anybody have any interesting or useful tips to share on sentence, paragraph and story structure or tense? 

- Bonnee. 

Friday, April 5, 2013

Writer's Update / Writing Craft: Memory and Incident

On the left are the two original stories
that I should be giving more attention to,
while on the right are two fanfiction I wasted
precious time on this week.
Don't you hate it when one day you have a great idea for a story, but you just can't seem to get it out sounding the way you want it and it takes you a whole day with lots of interruption to write a measly couple of thousand words? And then the next day you come up with a not-as-great idea, but still okay, and you manage to pump out almost 6000 words in little more than four uninterrupted hours... Yeah, that happened to me. To put the cherry on top of my disappointment, they were both only fanfictions. Why couldn't it have been some good original work instead?! In other writerly news, no progress has been made to the revisions of KATHERINE in over a month now, I haven't touched my W.I.P WALLS in even longer and I am two books behind on my Goodreads challenges of 24 books read in the year. How are all your goals and revisions and W.I.Ps going?

I'm just about up-to-date as far as sharing my lecture-notes with you all goes. This is what we covered in Writing Craft, week 3:

Memory and Incident

Readings for this week were The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen (pages 288-314), The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov (pages 13-26) and The Sea by John Banville (pages 3-17).

How do we incorporate isolated examples of observation into what we write? This leads on from the previous lesson about observation and accuracy. The thing is, once something is no longer before us, it is a memory. A common problem with writing about something after-the-fact is that we might write about it too generally.

But imagination is possible because we have a wealth of memories to draw upon and to transform. Just because we are writing from a memory, does not mean we have to be 100% true to that memory. Unless we are being asked to write an autobiography, a memory can be nothing more than the seed of something much, much bigger. Telling a story is a creative process and this is also true when the story we are telling is a memory. Like a game of Chinese whispers: you see something happen and you tell somebody about it later. To make the story seem worth telling, you might unintentionally talk it up or exaggerate, or maybe you really do think it was more story-worthy than what it really was. Either way, say your audience decides to tell somebody else; they're going to tell it differently, using their own interpretation of the event, which might not be 100% accurate to the story you told them, but it is what they remember and it is what comes out through the creative process of retelling a story.

So how do we use memories when we write? We discussed three different ways in our lecture:

1. Using our memories as part of the writer's craft, to add a certain detail to our story: our protagonist is wearing the same sweater as the girl we saw getting off the tram earlier the same day, because that sweater really caught your eye and you remember it and you want your character to have it too.

2. Writers can draw on memory in a broader way, using episodes, settings, atmospheres and situations that can be reworked into our writing. You saw the girl with the sweater trying not to drop her bags while she extracted her mobile phone from her pocket and you decided to get your protagonist to have a similar moment walking home with the groceries.

3. The most direct way of using memory in our writing is to use a memory as a 'performance' in the text, as in when the protagonist retells an event that happened in their childhood.

My second assignment for Writing Craft is using memory as the seed for a fictional story. I've already written a first-draft of this and my tutorial group workshopped it (everyone has to workshop one of their assignments in a tutorial). I'm glad to say I received a lot of positive feedback and my tutor was happy with the way the group as a whole handled the workshop setting.

Have you used memory in one of these ways when writing a story? 

- Bonnee.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Writing Craft - Research: Observation and Accuracy


Greetings all, and a Happy Easter to those who celebrate it! I'm off uni for the week for the trimester break and now have a little bit of time to catch up on sharing what I learned in my Writing Craft lectures, which I've found is a good way to study and blog at the same time. Last post, I discussed what I learned in the first week of classes with 'Beginning to Write'. 'Research: Observation and Accuracy' was the topic for the second week of classes, so here's a recap of what I learned. 

Research: Observation and Accuracy

Readings for this week were The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (pages 3-8), Underworld by Don DeLillo (pages 11-24) and Spring Snow by Yukio Mishima (pages 3-27). 





During these sessions, we discussed a writer's attention to detail, and how we must always be paying attention to detail, even when we are not writing. This is an exercise that all writers can part-take in. Our lecturer and my tutor, like any good writing teachers, stressed that we should not generalize because it's boring, as are cliches. When we write, we need to find something fresh. 

This is why it is important for us to pay attention to details in our every day lives and then pick the things that you notice, but that no one else is paying enough attention to. When we write, we should be creating or describing a clear and specific world, filtered through our own minds. This also means writing about the bad, not just the good, and writing about things that might not be appealing, but are interesting. 

When it comes to attention to detail, we also need to decide how much is too much and how much is not enough. Of course, not everyone will be in agreement, but we should consider that not all detail is purely visual. The use of all perceptions - sight, taste, touch, smell, sound - adds to a more accurate and well-rounded description. Then we need to consider what details are relevant to the story and find a balance between crisp and vivid detail vs pedantic and cumbersome detail, which are sometimes necessary. 

After this lecture and tutorial, I had a lot to think about. I began to notice how much I payed attention to and was happy that I'd already been doing this in my everyday life. But putting those things on paper is something I always think in the moment I could write about this and then forget about it. So it's something I can now aim to do more of. Maybe you'll see some random flash-fiction a little more often from me.

My first assignment for Writing Craft was about sketching a picture using words, which I mentioned in an earlier post. I've already handed this assignment in and I was comfortable with the product. The point was not to create any story or plot or character development, but simply to describe something. I described the pin-board in my room and I'm hoping I managed to delete all of the cliches. 

How much detail do you pay attention to? 

- Bonnee. 

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