Thursday, July 24, 2014

Horsemeat on a shelf

Master Chef Scott G.F. Bailey tagged me on a blogger hop-skippity, and because I have not posted this month, I will hop along!

What am I working on? The majority of my writing time lately is spent on a fantasy novel for teens call Sister Soul that is based on the lives of my 4th generation Japanese-American sister-in-law and her sister. Both of these women are big readers and constantly talk about how much they wish they had magic powers. So, I'm giving them powers in fictional form. I'm also including a couple of other characters who I've always wanted to include in a story. I'm about a third of the way through the third draft, and have about 50k words. I'm hoping to get a polished draft done by Christmas to give to them as gifts. They would like me so much if that worked out.

How does my work differ from others in its genre? I'll talk about my writing in general. I think I tend to be more spare than other American writers. I'm often inspired by (translated) Japanese literature and Tolstoy. Also, not being a fan of plot maps, my work probably feels more flat and meandering than your average story. In a way my novels are more like a series of episodes instead of one big story. I also try to be very sensitive to emotion.

Why do I create what I do?  I think it's mostly greed. For the same reasons I sing along to songs, I think I want to participate in the act of art that gets me excited, and I want to be able to own art and have it on my shelf. Ideally, the art I make will be the art that entertains me most.

How does my creative process work? I constantly get ideas for things that I think are interesting, such as a world where the characters are all named after race horses or a character who is able to draw out negative emotions from people she is near. Or a man who volunteers to be eaten. Those little ideas accumulate, usually with no concept of story, beginning, middle, or end. Eventually, I'll have a handful of them and will force them to play together in an attempt at a novel--again with no concept of story, beginning, middle, or end. I'll just start writing and see what takes shape. I'm not saying this is a good idea. It's just how I work.

Can I just tag Michelle again, since she's already been tagged?

What's Peanut eating? Duck jerky and cucumber.

His nose is a little wet from having just had some water

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Chocolate Lava Cake

Every once in a while I'll read a piece of fiction and recognize in it a writer's technique that I didn't (couldn't?) recognize before.

Recently, I decided to read through a collection of short stories by Anton Chekhov, mostly due to this guy, and pay more attention to what makes Chekhov so influential.

As I read, I asked myself what made him different from other writers I admired and how his stories were different from my own. Several characteristics came up, including his impressively large portfolio of well-rendered and diverse characters and his wide range of endings with different emotional impacts and twists.

Another thing I noticed was how much character information Chekhov puts up front. In the last couple of days, I've read about a dozen of his stories, and in all of them the opening paragraphs are almost entirely focused on characterization. Many of the stories start with a character's name and go on to describe who he or she is. The stories may well start in the middle of action, but Chekhov slows the action down to get all of this information in.

This technique accomplishes a few things.

First, I think this creates more excitement for readers, as they have more information on which to see potential outcomes. They have more data and can guess at the results. I think this engages their imaginations and can create a different form of suspence.

Second, I think readers may have more of an emotional investment in the character because they know the character. It's the difference between seeing a friend versus a stranger getting hit by a car.

Third, this technique creates something that I think of as momentum. The confrontation of character to conflict is presented up front, and now the rest of the story just has to unfold. This is different from a situation where the character is still being revealed, in which case the journey of the story is a combination of both information gathering and outcome. When a character is slowly revealed, the tension comes in the form of questions about the character. When the character is revealed more quickly, the tension comes in the form of "How does life unfold?"

I don't know yet if I like this style of writing more than other styles, but it's an intriguing one. And I think I'll be rewriting some of my stories with this in mind to see how that changes the reading experience.

What's Peanut eating? Salmon and carrots.