Why Do You Write What You Write?

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I completed a twelve week writing course recently to help me clean up my manuscript’s plot and what-not.  The last session was on living a writer’s life: basically setting up a routine, making time to improve your craft, journaling, etc. Our assignment was to tell why we are writing the story we are and what makes us qualified to do so…Easy, right?  Wrong.

My major professional flaw is an inability–or at least a strong resistance–to claim to be, or think I am, innately qualified to do anything.  So I get the same gut twisting sensations saying I am qualified to write a particular novel–better yet to write at all–that I did when I first stepped into the rickety airplane I planned to throw myself out of a few moments later.  I had a parachute to soften my landing and I’d taken the required class, but was I really qualified to jump out of that airplane?  Probably not.  But I did it anyway, and although fear told me I shouldn’t complete this assignment I did it anyway.

No one will ever believe you are qualified to do something if you don’t believe it yourself.  

What I submitted to the instructor:

I hate to start with the cliché I had a dream, but I will anyway because that’s really how this book began—unless you count my Happy Potter induced childhood love affair with all things paranormal.

I’ve always loved writing.  It was my outlet during my parents’ divorce and subsequent custody battle.  It was a way to rationalize through difficult decisions.  It was how I persuaded my mom to buy me my first cell phone, my first computer, my first car, and my first trip overseas.  It helped me earn my 4.0 GPA in college.  It’s how I worked through questions of faith, a form of prayer and meditation.  Writing has always been a part of my life in some form or fashion, just not always with the intent of sharing with others.

My thoughts about writing began to change once I had a child.  I had always been afraid what people would think if they knew I wrote, what they would say.  I tell my son daily to pray, be himself, and always be brave.  It didn’t take me long to realize I wasn’t practicing what I preached.

The first book I started made it six chapters before I lost motivation; I let someone’s comments influence me.  I stopped writing for a while, but then I had this vivid dream about a girl watching her home engulfed in flames and no one could stop it but her.  Her tears were my tears and her pain was my pain.  Figuratively speaking, I had been that girl once upon a time.  I woke up and started writing what I remembered, and the story progressed from there.

A common theme in everything I write, every song I choose when choreographing for my dance students, and every piece of advice I give to my son: accept who you are and what gifts God gave you.  You have to love the person God made you to be and be brave, especially when you don’t want to be.  Fear overwhelms us, it paralyzes us, and sometimes we need some external force to push up toward facing and overcoming those fears.

I think that’s what makes me uniquely qualified to write this story.  I have been this character—minus the awesome paranormal abilities—feeling friendless, struggling with family secrets, and not fitting in.  I learned that most of that isolation was created from within myself.  I had to overcome me.  I love these characters, cried when they cried, laughed when they laughed, and my bravery grew just as theirs did.  Acceptance is something we all crave as humans and something we all fear won’t be given.  We spend so much time worrying about what others will think of us; we base our worth on their opinions.  This book is about realizing it’s okay to be odd, different, and unique.  It’s those things that make us special.  You should embrace that thing about yourself that makes you different, because it is what makes you you.

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Concepts, Themes, and Premises…oh my, what???

Just to clarify, if the title isn’t a helpful hint, we are working on our story themes this week and turns out…themes, subjects, concepts, premises, etc. etc. etc.  are not synonymous.  Also turns out that there are a whole bunch of people on the wonderful information-filled web who believe some of those terms have the same definition.  Needless to say, this made defining my story’s theme that much more difficult.

Click image to find this book on Amazon,

Click image to find this book on Amazon.

A couple of definitions from my lecture notes and textbook (^^^depicted above ^^^)

Theme: “A theme conveys a concept.  It is the over arching message you want your story to convey to your audience.” (Concept being the one word or short phrase like ‘love’ or ‘war’ and the theme being something you want people to learn about that concept like ‘love heals all wounds’ or ‘war destroys nations’, that kind of thing…)

Premise: “A theme is what you are trying to say, a premise is why you believe to be true or false and want to prove.”

I found a few sites that helped me  with clarifying the difference between these three literary terms and defining what I thought the major theme was for my story.  This particular page was my favorite of the ones I perused.  I think it was meant for students critiquing/analyzing literary works, but it gave me questions to work through with my story and helped me organize my thoughts.  (I may or may not have also given my hubby a list of the questions and had him write his answers for the story to compare.)

Can anyone give more clarification on the differences between these literary terms?

 

Characterization Exercises

The first section of my creative writing class was about characterization and developing a character’s voice.  We had a couple of creative writing exercises to do.  One prompt was to imagine running after someone who can’t hear you, you are out of breath.  You have a secret that you must tell this person.  Anyway, this was what I wrote.

 

 

 

Feet jarring against unforgiving pavement and arms flailing through ashy air like a cat caught in the currents of a river rapid, I feel like I’m drowning.

It’s humiliating.

It’s fitting.

My lungs burn with a bloody fire that would put the demon dragons to shame.  I swear I’m the first soldier allergic to running, but I’m not the first allergic to death and I find myself moments away from succumbing to its threat.  Trying to stay afloat in a whirlpool of tumultuous associations and betrayal; ironically, here I am running straight into the arms of the blackest heart.

If I wasn’t desperate.

If I wasn’t a masochistic imbecile.

“Jori!”

He doesn’t hear me.  Of course he doesn’t, a bird on my own shoulder wouldn’t hear that pathetic whimper.  Surely he sees the unflattering spasms running up my arms.

“Jori!”

Turn around man!  Turn around, turn around, turn around!  Nothing.

“Spike!”

Desperate times, desperate measures.  No one’s called him that in years.  Then again, no one else is crazy enough or hopeless enough to risk impalement over a poorly chosen, centuries old nickname.

I drop to the ground, my face now intimate with the earth beneath my feet, as a dagger streaks over my unarmored shoulders.  He missed.  He never misses.  I’ll take that as my warning and disregard it.  By the time I make it back on my feet he’s started off again.  My heart is banging, threatening to break out of it’s cage, in cahoots with its neighboring lungs to kill me before Jori gets the chance, or the others.  Maybe I should be grateful.

“Jori, st-stop!”  Stuttering, nice.  That always encourages obedience in the lawless.

He stops and stares through me.  I’m not fooled; he doesn’t follow anyone’s orders.

“Did you not receive my parting gift?  Trust me, I will not miss a second time.”

There it is, the I’m only stopping because I want to murder you and not because you told me to line.

“You don’t miss the first time either.”

I swallow audibly and place my hand at the base of my own weapon.  I must truly have a death wish.

He runs roughened fingers through his choppy black locks and wraps his hands around the back of his neck, still staring.  “No?  Still think I’m perfect, I see.”

“Ha! God no!” I choke down a humorless laugh and look at his troubled slate grey eyes in earnest, “I mean, no.  No one’s perfect Jori.”

“About time you figured it out.  That mean you’re stepping down from your pedestal?”

I am silent.  If you only knew how far removed from that pedestal I’ve fallen.

Jori gives me a once over and turns his back on me.  That’s better; it’s easier if he’s not looking at me.  I make sure my hand is steady on my weapon—just in case—before finding my voice again, “I killed them, all of them.”

“By your blade?” I can’t read any emotion in his voice.

“N-no, but it might as well have been.”

“You have to wield the weapon to be the one to kill.”

“Even if you personally signed the death warrant?”

His sword is at my throat in an instant.  I’ve never seen a man move so fast.

“How?”

I hold his gaze, refusing to back down.  Bluff confidence; he taught me that at least.

“By telling the truth.”

“And what would that be?” His eyes flicker and I wonder if he already knows.

“The truth is that love isn’t easy, because the heart has a will of it’s own.  You can tell it not to attack, but if it wants to stop beating it does.  You can tell it not to break, but sometimes it crumbles to pieces.  You can tell it it’s not allowed to love someone, but every once in a while it chooses to love that person anyway.  My heart chooses to love you, Jori.  Against all laws, against our council’s orders, against my common sense, it chooses you.  And because my heart chooses you, my council will force their hearts to stop beating.  They will die today.”

My throat feels as though it’s coated in sand and my eyes sting.  His sword is still at my neck.  I will not cry.

After what feels like hours, he lowers his sword and I shuffle back a step—my eyes on the ground before me, no longer watching his face.

I hear his footfalls before I see his boots before me and I know.  This is it.  I’m not allowed to love him; he has the right and duty to kill me.

I feel his knuckles under my chin, lifting my face to his, “They won’t die for your foolishness.  For it is foolish to love me.  In the end I promise our love will be the end of both of us, but I will not allow it to be the end of my entire race.

“Our love?” My heart leaps, though my head is more cautious.

“Yes, you fool.  Our.”

I vault into his arms, my legs wrapped around his solid waist, my lips planted solidly against his.  Anyone can see us here.

I’m going to die anyway, so to hell with the consequences and to hell with the world—literally.

 

Any thoughts or tips on developing character voice??