Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Skeletons and imagination

Just a short post today. How has your imagination been lately?

My 5 year old nephew came over to my house for the weekend, and we played on the swings outside. He told me stories about his "Team Skeletons". Apparently, he has 5 skeletons that go with him wherever he goes, each with their own names and personaliteis. He reminded me that playing is a part of what I do, an esential part. You can't survive if you can't play in your own mind.

When was the last time you talked to YOUR imaginary friends? I'm trying to reconnect with my old pals. Maybe I'll develop my own team of skeletons. What do you think?

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

A Penitent Note and Building Characters

Okay, okay, I know. I haven't posted for a few days. I'm really sorry about that, but upkeeping a daily blog is more work than I thought it would be. I'm still adjusting to my new schedule and starting a new job at the same time.

Enough about me. Let's talk about YOU. Today you and I are going to do a little homework together. I promised you exercises, and exercises you shall have.

I think today's homework will be about...


Characters are one of my favorite aspects of writing. You can meet anyone from anywhere and anywhen you want. Want to have lunch with an Astronaut on the moon? Go for it. Want to wrestle with Ghengis Khan? The mat awaits you. One of the great joys of writing is found in creating and discovering characters.

Coming up with new ideas, however, can be a real chore.

So for your homework tonight you're going to do something a little different. You're going to create a character, but you're not going to start with a name. You're not going to start with race. You're not even going to start with gender. Not location, not clothes, not history, not anything from the standard character "templates" everyone else will give you. You're going to start with...

What the character has in their pockets.

What's that? Am I nuts? Well, there's no "official" word on that yet, but most probably. I am, however, quite serious. Pick a few random objects, the more random and unrelated, the better. For mine, I chose a computer USB cable, an alarm clock, three marbles, and a stick of dynamite. You can use my list if you want, but it's more fun to come up with your own.

Now comes the fun part. Start asking questions. Who in the WORLD would have those kinds of things in their pockets? What would they do with them? What are they wearing? Why would they use those things? Start listing your ideas on paper. Just let them flow. They might seem silly at first, but most of the best ideas do. It's really a good way

It is going to feel pretty strange at first, like crossing your arms the wrong way. I think you'll find though, if you give it a good try, that you will create a character unlike anything you've ever made before. Besides, don't you deserve to have a little fun with your imagination every once in a while?

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Flames of Inspiration

Creative work is never an easy endeavor, and fiction is no exception. I don’t care if you’re writing a short story, a novel, or a limerick, eventually you’re going to hit the wall and nothing worth reading will come out of your efforts. It’s true of every great mind in every great endeavor. There will come a time when you just don’t know where to go. Characters won’t tell you what they want. Words don’t seem to rhyme even when they should. You’ll be ripping your hair out trying to find just one step in the right direction, but it seems like you’ve already tried every point on the compass.

So what do you do? Do you sit down with a notebook and force yourself to write? Do you build a bonfire and dance around it under the light of the full moon? It gets to the point where that last one will probably start to sound appealing if you think it would work, but I’m going to suggest a radical idea you can try. If that doesn’t work, you try the bonfire idea and email me how it turns out. Okay? Okay.

The answer to this problem, like most answers worth listening to, is sublimely simple. Are you reading closely? Because this trick might change your writing habits for the rest of your life. The answer, in a nutshell is…


That’s right, I said it, stop writing. The answer is you’re probably too close to your work. You’ve lost that spark. That fire that got you started writing in the first place.

Listen up.

Have you ever been to a live concert somewhere and stood with jaw on the ground wondering how it’s possible for someone to do something so perfect? Have you ever been reading a favorite book and looked up, only to find tears in your eyes you didn’t even realize were there? That’s art. It’s real, honest to goodness, powerful, gut-wrenching art, and there’s no way to really describe it in words. It makes you want to be better, strive for more, and work harder.
If you find you just can’t write anymore, you’ve got to get off your butt, get away from the computer/typewriter/napkins in the coffee shop and find something that’s akin to an out of body experience. It shouldn’t be that hard, it’s really all around us. I have a writer friend who goes out camping for a weekend to regain his spirit, and goes back to work on his manuscript on Monday with more freshness and vitality than anyone I know (I’m convinced if I could bottle his secret, I could make a fortune).

Once you get that power back, you’ll know it. You’ll feel ready to start again. You might have no idea what you’re going to put on the page, and that’s okay, because now you’re going to put your heart and soul into it again. So happy traveling, and long live the journey.