Saturday, July 29, 2006

VW#4

Sorry I've been scarce, folks. Real life snarled this time instead of the usual techno tangles, but all is well and back to what passes for normal around here.

The winner for the VB Party Left Behind Goody Bag is Monica, who should e-mail me at LynnViehl@aol.com with your full name and ship-to address.


Virtual Workshop #4:
Extending Your Writing Range


I. The Call of Writing

Anyone can be a writer, but the journey to becoming a writer is different for everyone. Some writers seem to be born with a pen in hand, while others find writing like an oasis after years of searching for a creative outlet. Many writers are the children of other writers, either born to them or devoted fans inspired by their work. Avid readers make the leap from loving books to wanting to create their own. Still others fall into writing as the result of a happy accident: a school assignment that flips an inner switch, or joining NaNoWriMo on a lark, or throwing some ideas and words together on a boring, rainy afternoon.

How you became a writer doesn't matter, and neither does what you write. All writers who are born or made or accidentally fall into the gig all share the same calling: storytelling through words.

II. Story as Mind Cuisine

Because my parents are from the northern U.S. and moved to the extreme southern U.S. when I was very young, I was raised on a hodge-podge of Northern and Southern cuisine: New England boiled dinner with hushpuppies and Key lime pie; pancakes with maple syrup, grits and grapefruit we picked from the tree in the yard. Hanging out with Latina friends from school I picked up a love for Cuban coffee, black beans and rice and mariquitas. My chef stepdad taught me to set aside my mother's Crisco, Ragu and seasoned salt and experiment with olive oil, plum tomatoes and fresh herbs. My military years added French, German, Japanese, Korean, English, Thai and dormitory food (anything that can be made in one pan on a hot plate) to my repetoire.

Writing novels allows us to explore the cuisine of the mind. Most writers start out with a favorite, comfort genre that feeds their imagination. They come to know that genre so well they don't even have to think about measuring the ingredients. This comfort can make every other genre seem a bit foreign in comparison. Combined with a (to me) very weird attitude around the industry that writers can only write in one genre, it often works to inhibit writers from striking out and trying new things.

I was fortunate in my writing education. When I began to devour books as a kid, I didn't know what genre was. I went to the library, started at the "A" author shelf in fiction and began picking up books. I checked out the ones that grabbed me, read them, and went back for more every week until I hit the end of the "Z" section. Reading other authors' books was my only writing education, but it was a great one. Wide-variety reading broadened my horizons and helped me to see the structure of novels versus the genre label they were slapped with.

Any writer who wants to extend their writing range should not be inhibited by the comfort genre or the opinions of limited imaginations. You don't have to give up writing in your favorite genre, either. Just because you try making stirfry now and then doesn't mean you have to stop making spaghetti and meatballs.

III. Novel Recipe

All fiction novels begin with the same two ingredients: characters and conflict. Every book you read has characters who encounter conflict and an account of how they handle it. The who, what, where, when and how determine genre, but a novel about a private investigator hired to solve a series of murders is no different than a book about a cowboy who must chase after his runaway pregnant bride. You put characters with conflict, and it leads to an end result, or

Character + Conflict = Conclusion

Alone, each ingredient does nothing. Characters need something to do. Conflict needs someone to resolve it. Throwing them together in the novel skillet and turning up the story heat makes them change each other; the character is affected by the conflict, the conflict is affected by the character. Neither come out of that skillet unchanged by the other.

IV. Inhibitors

As a young writer I completely stayed away from writing stories and novels with male protagonists. My reason? I thought boys were dumb.

Once I got through puberty, I still shied away from male protags, until I saw many female authors had written books with male protagonists. I attacked my inhibition by reading novels written by male authors in order to compare the differences in my writing style and theirs.

Call it getting in touch with my masculine side, but once I had done enough of that I began to catch myself "being female" when I was writing in a male POV. Eventually I got up the nerve to write a couple of novels with male protagonists. It was definitely different, but not quite as scary as I'd imagined. I just had to think differently; step outside myself and tell the story from the character's POV instead of my own.

A common trap writers fall into is the need to make their protagonists mirror images of themselves. There is a certain vicarious thrill involved in the author making the protag a fictional identical twin. The author doesn't have to imagine what the protag will do, they already know. They don't have to write outside their personal comfort zones, either. Problem is, the author ends up with cookie-cutter protagonists.

I combat this by seeing myself as the protagonist's biographer versus their RL twin. Whenever possible, I deliberately create characters who are very different from me physically, mentally and situationally; the more so the better. It allows me to observe and record rather than steer and impose my will on a protag who is just me in a fictional mask.

V. Practical exercises

Here are some methods that may help extend your range:

1. Try writing a scene or chapter from your WIP from the POV of a character in the story other than your protagonist (I did this by writing Illumination, which is the story of StarDoc totally from Duncan Reever's POV.)

2. Set your usual story in a different place, time or circumstance. Fond of writing cowboy/runaway bride romances? Set one on an alien world 500 years in the future. Have a penchant for private investigators? Have yours investigate a soldier being court martialed for sedition during the American Revolution. Into family sagas? Make the family slaves, and chronicle what happens to them during the collapse of the Roman Empire.

3. Test drive different types of protagonists. Try writing a story from the POV of a victim, or the antagonist, or a young child, or the family pet. If all your protagonists are of one gender, switch to the opposite gender. Give your protagonist a significant handicap that deprives them of one of the five senses. Write a protagonist whose situation, philosophies or lifestyle are completely opposite your own.

4. Take a classic fiction story or myth and write it in a modern setting. Romeo and Juliet, Pride and Prejudice and Taming of the Shrew have all been updated into modern stories; how about your version of Pygmalion, Beowulf, Les Miserables or Snow White?

5. Pick a famous figure from history and write a story about one day in their life. The day can be an ordinary day, their birthday, their wedding day, or the day before they die.

VI. No Limits

Whatever attitude our peers and the industry have, the first person to impose restrictions on a writer is the internal fraidycat. We decide at the keyboard what we feel we can or cannot do, and we're always our own worst censors. So the next time you approach a story idea and something inside you says You can't write that, tell something to shut up and write it anyway. You may be surprised to find out that there really are no limits to what you can do on the page.

Post your thoughts, comments and questions about writing range in comments to this post by midnight EST on Monday, July 31, 2006, and you'll have a chance at winning the final Mega Left Behind Goody Bag: signed copies of my S.L. Viehl hardcover novel Blade Dancer and all three of my Lynn Viehl Darkyn novels in paperback, an unsigned hardcover copy of Talyn by Holly Lisle and paperback copies of Love's Potion by Monica Jackson, Moon Called by Patricia Briggs, Tiger Eye, Shadow Touch and Red Heart of Jade by Marjorie M. Liu, Threads of Malice by Tamara Siler Jones, The Attraction by Douglas Clegg, I See You and Last Girl Dancing by Holly Lisle, Dark Lover and Lover Eternal by J.R. Ward, Hunting the Hunter by Shiloh Walker, as well as a hardcover copy of The Writer's Book of Matches and Flow Chart Maker Software (good for outlining, mind mapping and organizing), all packed in a red and beige canvas tote from Books-A-Million. I'll draw one name from everyone who participates and send you the goodies; giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

Related Links:

Peder Hill's The Basic Three Act Structure

The Elements of Fiction.

86 comments:

  1. Congratulations, Monica!!!

    I've enjoyed all of these workshops :)

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  2. Man, you're giving me some heavy reading in the mornings...I need to start reading your blog when I have more time to commit :P

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  3. Congrats to Monica :). Sheila, you always give away the best things in the world, though if I happen to win, a good number of those books will have to be spread out among my friends because I already have them. Gives me a good opportunity to share some favorites though.

    Anyway, I'm actually commenting because something you said really struck a chord in me. I'm one of those born with a story on my tongue if not a pen in my hand. I originally thought my father was telling stories like his Cream Puff tales when he started reading Kipling to us because I never connected the book with the tale. Still, I got a smorgasborg (sp?) of genres and loved it once I started reading, from fairy tales, classics, SF, fantasy, romance, and historical. But I think I've fallen into that familiar place. 90% or more of what I read is SF/F or romance. Maybe it's time to reread fairy tales (which aren't genre fantasy to me :)) or a good historical...even *gasp* a mainstream novel, though my last attempt was pretty pitiful.

    Thanks for making me look beyond my current walls. The more I expand my horizons, the better my writing...in any genre...gets.

    Cheers,
    Margaret

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  4. First off, congrats, Monica.

    Thanks for another great workshop, PBW.
    These workshops have really come at the right time for me. I've been working on a project for awhile now. The beginning is set but the characters have decided to go off the beaten path and that's had me flummoxed. You've given me some good pointers on how to either reel them in or listen to them better so the story doesn't suffer. Thanks again.

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  5. Wow. This is a really great post. Thanks!

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  6. Here's an exercise I'm in the middle of that I like:

    Get a collection of 5 objects. Photos from a book. Pictures from a magazine. Matchbooks.

    Don't think about the objects if you can. You want your mind to be sparked immediately by viewing the object.

    Set an alarm clock for 30 minutes. Look at the object.

    Then write.

    Try not to think about what you're writing, but let it flow.

    I picked this up from Lileks, who wrote part of a novel about a matchbook salesman. For my project, I got a book of crime scene photos ("Evidence" by Luc Sante) and downloaded a random number generator that gave me five numbers corresponding to five plates.

    I can't say what the results will do for you. Maybe you'll discover the grooves in which your mind works. Maybe you'll uncover an inspirational sentence or observation. Maybe you'll just have fun telling a story that amuses you.

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  7. Anonymous9:46 PM

    I don't have a particular comment on the post, except to say thank you for your generosity in sharing your workshops with us! And also thank you so much for your generosity with your goodie bags - they're wonderful!

    Pam

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  8. Anonymous9:51 PM

    Thank you so much for have these workshops. They are giving many things to think about for any writer or wannabe writer.

    Diane

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  9. I love that food analogy.

    Reading broadly is valuable even for writers who want to write within a single genre, I think. So far all my ideas are fantasies, because that's what I've always liked best, but I've absorbed a lot from reading mysteries, historical fiction, and the occasional romance as well.

    Elizabeth

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  10. I have questions. But I am in the middle of the blogathon {24 hours for charity} Can I ask them monday when I am thinking straight?

    thanks for this workshop.

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  11. Phelan, I wanna know more about the blogathon.


    I swear, honest, I had something in my mind I was going to ask or say about the workshop but then I saw my book mentioned on the blog and now I'm just dumbstruck.

    The DH wants to know why I'm grinning like a loon and I can't think of anything but squealing about my favorite author is giving away something that I wrote.

    okay...i think I'm done squealing and I need to go on my walk now.

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  12. Can I extend the food analogy and suggest looking at historical cuisines? Not just Jane Austen and Charles Dickens. Fanny Burney and Mrs Radcliffe and George Gissing and John Masefield and George Eliot. And that's just a beginning. If you go back futher there is a lifetime's literature to feast on: I learned more about structuring a quest narrative from Chretien de Troyes than I have from anyone else, and Marie de France's Chevrefeuille has amazing lessons in how to describe forbidden love.

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  13. Bridget Medora10:47 PM

    Thanks so much for taking the time to write all this out, PBW. This one in particular was exactly what I needed.

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  14. For a long while I hesitated writing male protags, too. Then as I got older and hung out with guys more, writing how they think and act wasn't as difficult anymore.

    Thank you for the contest, PBW--and the great workshops!

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  15. Thank you for the links and exercises, PBW. I read "Way of the Cheetah" and using your ideas rocketed me to higher productivity.

    Still hoping I win a mega-wonderful goodie bag. Congratulations, Moncica.

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  16. My question: when writing speculative fiction and going about world creation, how do you know when enough is enough?

    For example, I like languages, and I've created some for a fantasy world I work in, but at some point I realize that I can't create an entire language system for every culture in my world; that would be too much. Yet, I feel I should have a good grasp on the linguistics before I decide on place or character names.

    So how do I know if I'm investing my time in something that will pay off, or stalling?

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  17. PBW wrote:

    "So the next time you approach a story idea and something inside you says You can't write that, tell something to shut up and write it anyway. You may be surprised to find out that there really are no limits to what you can do on the page."

    This is great advice for life. Change a few words here and there, and this should be life's philosophy. WTG, PBW.

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  18. Thank you; this is something I've been needing to remember lately.

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  19. Anonymous2:49 AM

    Thanks for all of the great advice. This is one of the few times that I've actually been able to sit down and read through a post but it was quite helpful.

    Writing in a different perspective has always intrigued me, especially when it comes to taking the side of the antagonist. The last little bit about rewriting a classic like Pride and Prejudice or Snow White in a modern setting made me think of doing short pieces about fairy tale antagonists like the evil stepmother in Snow White or deviating from the usual female main character I write about.

    Thanks again. Maybe now my friend will unquarantine the short piece I sent him. He professes that it's creepy.

    Jennifer

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  20. I had the writing a male protag issue. It just stuck until I gave in. A piece of tongue in cheek advice for women who write male POVs: If you think it's stupid, he'll probably do it.

    I think the one piece of advice that every writer must apply to their lives is read, and read widely.

    Wonderful wonderful post, PBW!

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  21. Apropros writing from a different perspective, I've found that random story generators are wonderful for this; there's no guarantee you'll get a female protag, or anything you're familiar with. They teach another important aspect to a writer: research.

    I was fortunate that my parents were readers - themselves and to us as kids. Everything from Kipling to A.A. Milne. Every room in the house had a bookcase - except the bathroom.

    Nifty idea on the recipes, too, S.

    Congrats Monica!!

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  22. I like to read everything, so when I started writing, I wrote everything, too. SF, fantasy, horror, mystery. I still like to stretch myself that way!

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  23. Hey!
    My problem is that I love so much in so many different genres that I try to cram it ALL in.
    Fear my table might break under the load.
    Thank you, PBW.

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  24. Oddly, as a youngster I only wanted to write male protagonists. I read about female protagonists so rarely that part of me assumed interesting things only happened to boys.

    Only as I grew up did I start to explore the amazing world of my own gender. I'm not going back, either. We're way more interesting.

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  25. Another great workshop. I have often been advised to "write what you know."

    Your advise to "write what you could know" frees me and allows me to explore. No admonishments like "whadda you know abboudit."

    I'm going to start today rewriting my WIP in an alternate galaxy and POV. Thanks. I'm pumped.

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  26. Another great post. Thanks!

    I've found out that reading about different historical periods on different countries can be a great inspiration. The only problem is that there are too much material to choose from which takes away time from writing.

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  27. I'm one of those who was born to read, not write. :) Now that I'm actually trying my hand on writing, I have much more appreciation for writers all over the world.

    PBW, your tale about how you start reading from A to Z strikes a chord in me; I did the same time when I was little! :) Except now I'm not only hidebound in my writing, I'm more hidebound in my reading too. Genre differentiation has become a major obstacle that I probably need to overcome.

    I've tried writing from a male POV, and it turns out that it isn't that much different from when I write in a female POV. I guess men and women are still all the same under the skin: all humans, after all.

    Thank you very much for the workshops, and for giving out the goody bags. My sincerest thanks for your great advice and suggestions.

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  28. Congratulations, Monica!!!

    Thank you so much for offering the virtual workshops this week, PBW.

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  29. This is great! I really liked your exercises. Thanks again.

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  30. Congrats, Monica!

    What a great series of workshops! Thank you, Sheila. I've been off line for a few days and am just catching up. Still offline at home, but writing range is a fascinating topic.

    Since actively taking up writing a few years ago, I've greatly expanded my reading horizons. I read a much broader range of fiction than I used to, and I'm constantly looking for ways to incorporate what I see that I like into my writing. As far as I can tell, it can only help me to be a better writer.

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  31. Wow, another amazing give-away!

    Funny that you should mention Snow White, as I have already started my take on that story.

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  32. Thanks for the information.

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  33. So we've gone from architecture to cooking, lol. Some great analogies in there.

    I find that Nano is a great time to explore a different genre. I spend eleven months working on projects in a genre I love and then one month playing with something off the wall. The speed of nano (I know, Sheila, but *some* of us think of that as speedy) really helps to blast through the inhibitions.

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  34. Congrats to Monica!
    Thanks, PBW, for this wonderful series. Lots of brilliant tips, and story-writing ideas you've thrown out here have got the gears in my brain whirring.

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  35. I love reading and writing the male protag. I've spent the last year researching, asking men questions about thought processes and the like in order to write them better.

    But the one thing I'm still learning is the "no limits" rule. It really is true and it's so...limitless, it's wonderful.

    Loved reading your posts this week--very educational.

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  36. Anonymous3:34 PM

    Thanks again PBW,

    I'll offer another brainstorming excercise. Open a yellowpages up and come up w. a story idea from the first ad or phone listing you see. It was the first excercise we did in j-school, and I did have to set up an interview and then turn in a story based on that random pick two days later.

    JulieB

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  37. You want me to buy new bookshelves, don't you? :) What an amazing bag of goodies.

    My reading habits are very varied but somehow I keep ending up writing Historical Fiction. I have some SciFi and Fantasy project ideas in my files and sometimes play a bit with them, but it's always the Historical Fiction ideas that call the strongest. Don't know where that puts me - maybe I'm the one who can make a good Chili Con Carne or even posh food like Chardonbleu, but still has Bratkartoffeln twice a week and pizza on a lazy day.

    As long as I'm happy that way .... :)

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  38. Gillian,
    so I'm not the only one to go back to way old books. I've learned a thing or two from Icelandic sagas and the Song of Roland or the Illiad. :)

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  39. Thanks for these workshops. I've learned more in the past few days than I have from any workshop I paid (too much) for.

    I can't shake the image of the Internal Fraidycat. I'm picturing a cartoon cat that looks a lot like Sylvester the cat, cowering under my desk.

    (Since I'm a recent past winner please leave me out of this draw.)

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  40. I'm guilty of staying within my genre, but lately I've been branching out a bit. It's hard to cut back on reading stuff I love so much, though. Thanks for the posts!

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  41. Those are some great practical exercises, PBW. I definitely am going to try those out. I remember reading Illumination and thinking how interesting it was to see someone else's perspective on the exact same events--I'll have to try out that with one of my own novels.

    Also, congrats to Monica.

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  42. EllenO8:28 PM

    I might actually have to try writing a short story from the viewpoint of the family pet. I actually heard the wheels turning on that one.

    I'm on a book (buying only !! ) fast for August. This might help me get through to September.

    EllenO

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  43. This is great. :) I've learned more here than I have buying a few books on writing.

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  44. I've loved these workshops, too! ^_^

    I'd wanted to post more, but once again that life thing got in the way.

    As for questions: I have one. What "trick" do you use to put yourself in the male mindset? I've been trying to write scenes from my hero's point of view, but I'm always afraid they are too feminine. Any tips would be appreciated. (*I plan to have hubby read them, but I'd rather have something strong to begin with)

    Thanks for the great posts!

    ~PJ~
    http://www.techforwriters.com
    http://www.writepamwrite.com

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  45. Anonymous11:45 PM

    I used to think all I could ever write were fantasy trilogies. I read everything under the sun, but that was what I loved the best and knew the best.

    Then I discovered SF. I liked that just as much. Then I branched out more and more, testing my limites with a short story here and a novella there until I realized that there are many genres I want to write in; fantasy, SF, horror, historical fiction, romance...

    In the end, I discovered what you talk about in this post. All genres have the same basic ingredients. There are just many ways to combine them. And I like to experiment, sooo...

    Thanks so much for these posts. They've inspired a lot of food for thought. And the goodie bags aren't that shabby, either. :P

    Crista

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  46. These workshops are great. This one in particular has made me realise just how scary I think writing from a male pov is.

    Thanks, PBW.

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  47. I find that when I have to write a male protag, it helps a lot to have a male (usually my husband) read the results, and point out "what a guy wouldn't do". Some things can simply slip past... like having anyone read your work for continuity or copy edits!

    Thanks, PBW, for all this wonderful "food" for thought... its absolutely getting my mind going, if not quite yet my fingers!

    --bella

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  48. Thanks very much for the workshops, PBW. I think your tip about rewriting a classic is an excellent idea. It has certainly worked for Greg Maguire! :)

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  49. I really like writing in different genres because it stretches the creative muscle. That was one of the first writing "rules" that was drummed into us. Pick a genre and concentrate on it. I thought it was a stupid rule since I get bored reading the same genre all the time. I like the challenge of writing in different genres.

    Thanks for the wonderful workshops! I enjoy visiting your blog very much.

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  50. I've only begun reading your blog recently, but it's great be able to see inside the mind of an accomplished writer.
    For myself, I write primarily short-stories, but I don't stick to one genre - my mind is too full of ideas for that. I like to write whatever interests me, whether it be a moment in an elderly lady's life in a nursing home or inventing an alternate way for Hitler to have died or the story of medievil twins plotting to assasinate the man who killed thier father in a battle over a castle.
    The blank page is too large a canvass to be limited to one idea.

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  51. I recognise the notion of the Internal FraidyCat!

    My fraidy is a very homely, comfortable cat, who is very into being petted and sitting on my lap purring 'you don't want to do put in all that hard work just to get rejected. It's much more pleasant just to play with me instead.'

    Thanks for a great blog - I don't comment often, but I read regularly.

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  52. Tamith5:45 AM

    Your workshops have given me a lot to mull over.

    Reading and writing in different genres is something I'm still trying to work on. I've written very few stories from a male POV. I'm not sure how far I've succeeded: I think the danger is either to underdo or overdo the testosterone. :) I'd like to think basic motivations are the same either way.

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  53. As usual, great advice.

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  54. That was an inspiring post - thank you!! (I particularly liked the idea of writing a scene from a different POV)

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  55. A great series of posts!

    Thanks

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  56. Thanks yet again for another helpful workshop. I plan on trying some of the workshops this week. Should be fun.

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  57. I was around a lot of jocks in high school, so I can write guy's POV fairly well, but what I have trouble with are different speech patterns. Everyone seems to sound like me. Unless I make them British - they're naturally verbose. Even though I can hear differences in speech and dialect, replicating that in writing has been harder to achieve.

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  58. Thanks PBW!

    I think your statement about writing a protagonist as a soul-twin is where my writing is still stuck at the moment. Other than one rather mean vampire character (who is an alter-ego), I have yet to stretch my MC to be someone entirely different. Situations/backgrounds etc are varied. But I think her decisions are frequently my decisions...

    Any advice on how to break that tread?

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  59. Not that it's a problem now, but I hope that I can write what I want as long as I want to write it. If that means I have MPND (Multiple Pen Name Disorder) and have to wear a name tag to remember the one on my marriage license, then so be it.

    Thanks for the VW's. They were exceptional.

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  60. I've slept now, and feel able to make sense.

    I enjoy writing in male POV, but other's criticize me for doing it. I was attached on a poetry site when they found out I was female and my poems were all in the male POV. Is it possible that I could run into editors/agents/publishers with the same attitude? I guess it is possible, is it common?

    On the subject of genre. I see that you say that some people think that a writer must stay well within just one genre. I too like to delve into different types of novels, will that cause problems with me finding a good agent?

    Thank you for allowing me to ask questions late in the game. I realize that some of my questions might be silly, or something you've covered in the past. I am trying to keep up. I just wish to know what kind of snags I might run into in my attempts at becoming a published novelist.

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  61. Cherie J11:55 AM

    Thanks for the great writing exercises. I loved the analogy of comparing different genres to trying new recipes. What a great way of putting it.

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  62. A very informative set of posts.

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  63. Wow, these posts are so helpful! You really have assisted me in looking at things from a fresh perspective. I am still struggling with telling my internal fraidycat to shut up, but eventually I will prevail lol! Thanks again!

    Hugs, Zara

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  64. By the way, thank you also for the most generous giveaway!

    Congratulations to all the previous winners!

    Hugs, Zara

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  65. Tina S.2:24 PM

    Thank you for all the wonderful workshops, and congratulations to all the winners!

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  66. I actually have written a story from the viewpoint of the family pet. It was a very enjoyable break from the muddle of humanity.

    Now, however, I need to work on my block against the male POV. I'm working my way through it gradually... a few chapters from the hero's POV while the main story is told from the heroine, for example.

    Thanks for the tips!

    ~Nicole

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  67. Alison S5:43 PM

    Please could you index the workshop posts, so we can find them again in the future without sifting through all the archives?

    Many thanks.

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  68. Thanks so much for doing these VWs. I love this one -- several passages really spoke to me today!

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  69. I think I'm going to try one of your exercises RIGHT NOW.

    Thanks.

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  70. Catherine H8:41 PM

    Your blog in general always has something interesting to read! This writing series has been great for pushing my creative spark in different directions...

    Thanks for all the posts and the cool goody bags...

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  71. Karen W.9:11 PM

    I've never written professionally, but I've written fan fiction (and have had it published) and took some creative writing courses, so I love to hear about the art of writing and these workshops have been fascinating. Thanks.

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  72. Zillin11:20 PM

    That's interesting about looking for an author's gender in the text. It's not something I thought much about, though when I write male protagonists they tend to be the introspective sorts. It also reminds me of how, somehow, Charles de Lint's narrators always read as female to me, even if they aren't. Something to look into.

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  73. Once again, I have to thank you for giving such in-depth insight into the publishing industry from a writer's point of view. And you are so bloody cool for all of these goody bags you've been giving out for free! ^_^

    I'm happy to see that you encourage aspiring writers to challenge themselves with new and interesting subjects to write about. I guess having grown up in an era of great change, I expect big changes to happen instantly, and part of the reason I'd like to be a writer someday is to go out there and add my own unique ideas to the world of fiction. Because there just never seems to be enough variety. ^_~

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  74. I love this week's workshops, PBW Everything sounds easier when you talk about it :). And I also like to see how eclectic the group that visits your blog is.

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  75. Phelan wrote: I have questions. But I am in the middle of the blogathon {24 hours for charity} Can I ask them monday when I am thinking straight?

    Fridays are better for questions, Phelan, because I have the open Q&A then -- Mondays I am pretty much brain dead. :)

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  76. Shiloh wrote: I swear, honest, I had something in my mind I was going to ask or say about the workshop but then I saw my book mentioned on the blog and now I'm just dumbstruck.

    Gotcha. Lol.

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  77. Gillian wrote: Can I extend the food analogy and suggest looking at historical cuisines? Not just Jane Austen and Charles Dickens. Fanny Burney and Mrs Radcliffe and George Gissing and John Masefield and George Eliot. And that's just a beginning. If you go back futher there is a lifetime's literature to feast on: I learned more about structuring a quest narrative from Chretien de Troyes than I have from anyone else, and Marie de France's Chevrefeuille has amazing lessons in how to describe forbidden love.

    Absolutely, there are no time limits involved. I once wrote a short story based on characters and imagery inspired by a poem written by Akhenaten for Nefertiti. :)

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  78. Rebecca wrote: My question: when writing speculative fiction and going about world creation, how do you know when enough is enough?

    I think it's more about quality than quantity. I respect intricate worldbuilders, and I think a writer should know as much as possible about their fictional world. The trick is not to try to dump all that on the reader in the story, because the beauty of your worldbuilding gets lost in the innumerable details.

    For example, I like languages, and I've created some for a fantasy world I work in, but at some point I realize that I can't create an entire language system for every culture in my world; that would be too much. Yet, I feel I should have a good grasp on the linguistics before I decide on place or character names.

    Language is tricky. I agree that in fantasy it's a good idea to know your characters' cultures before you start assigning details to them; you wouldn't want to call the alien samurai warrior of a shape-shifting species Bob or Tom and have him live in Jersey.

    However, I wouldn't necessarily build a full language for every race or species because you just aren't going to use it in the novel; you might try putting together some common phrases and get a feel for the contrasts it has to the sound of the primary language in your novel.

    How much invented language to put in is also a hotly debated topic among fiction linguists. Readers are not linguists and if they get jolted out of the story because they can't follow the invented language, it's counter-productive. I've grown allergic to invented language glossaries, which annoy more than aid me while I'm reading, but your reader may need one to follow what you're writing if you use more than a dozen invented-language words in the story.

    I always try to give the reader a taste of my invented language but not drown them in it. Aka a few jewels instead of the whole jewelry store. One way to do this is to write all your dialogue in English first, and then go back and see what expressions or phrase constructions are most often used by your invented-language speaking characters. Selectively replace some of those expressions/phrase constructions with your invented-language equivalent and then have someone else read it and ask them what they think. This more than anything will tell you if you've got the right balance.

    So how do I know if I'm investing my time in something that will pay off, or stalling?

    11:33 PM

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  79. Rebecca wrote: So how do I know if I'm investing my time in something that will pay off, or stalling?

    I meant to answer that with the last comment but argh, forgot. It's good, though, because this is almost a separate topic.

    Worldbuilding is seductive in the same way backreading and editing everything you write is. You can get so caught up in making everything perfect that you never finish the book, or you end up with a book so complicated or overwritten that the average reader won't be able to understand it or care to follow it.

    To combat this, you have to set limits for yourself. My advice would be to give yourself a reasonable amount of time to finish your worldbuilding, and when you reach that deadline, stop and write the book as per what you've built. After the book is finished, give yourself one final, comprehensive edit of the manuscript to change whatever needs to be changed. Once that's done, you're done with this book, and it's time to move on to the next.

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  80. Bernita wrote: My problem is that I love so much in so many different genres that I try to cram it ALL in.

    We call you a fusion writer, Bernita, lol.

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  81. PJ wrote: What "trick" do you use to put yourself in the male mindset? I've been trying to write scenes from my hero's point of view, but I'm always afraid they are too feminine. Any tips would be appreciated.

    I draw on three things when I write a male character POV:

    1. My observations of male behavior and speech, which comes from a lifetime of growing up around men, working with them, watching them, appreciating them, and noting and enjoying the differences between my gender and theirs. I am an unabashed lover of guys. :)

    2. Deliberately keeping a healthy mental and emotional distance between me and the male character. I am not what you'd call the most feminine female on the planet, but I do have some strong female characteristics, so for me to direct a male character on the page to do as I would is often gender-inappropriate. I find it helpful to stay in the "scribe" mindset where I watch the character and record their actions versus making them a fictional version of me.

    3. I compare my male characters with my female characters constantly. If they sound interchangeable, or if I remove all the dialogue tags and identifiers and find that I can't tell who is what gender, I know I'm not doing justice to my male character.

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  82. Kaplooey Mom wrote: I was around a lot of jocks in high school, so I can write guy's POV fairly well, but what I have trouble with are different speech patterns. Everyone seems to sound like me. Unless I make them British - they're naturally verbose. Even though I can hear differences in speech and dialect, replicating that in writing has been harder to achieve.

    I'm constantly battling to get characters to sound like themselves rather than each other, so I sympathize. One thing I've found that can help is to walk around an area where people are talking in small groups (food courts in malls are great for this) and eavesdrop a little. Don't be obvious or carry a voice recorder (someone might think you're a stalker or terrorist and call security) but try to pick up one or two sentences from each person and jot down the constructions in a notebook.

    Another great help for me has been to read screenplays, which are 98% dialogue, which really must convey the characters clearly so that the actors can bring them to life.

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  83. Sandra wrote: I think your statement about writing a protagonist as a soul-twin is where my writing is still stuck at the moment. Other than one rather mean vampire character (who is an alter-ego), I have yet to stretch my MC to be someone entirely different. Situations/backgrounds etc are varied. But I think her decisions are frequently my decisions...

    Any advice on how to break that tread?


    I'd try to see the protagonist as a friend or acquaintance rather than an extension of your personality. Also, give her your permission to be the person she was meant to be. If you look at your friends in the real world, very often some of them will do or say things that annoy you, or that you don't agree with, but you still accept them for who they are and respect their right to be individuals.

    I have a good friend who is an avid follower of politics and loves to arrange silk flowers. Politics put me to sleep and I can't stand fake flowers, but I can listen to her rants about bipartisan shenanigans and admire her centerpieces because that's her thing. And she puts up with my publishing horror stories and quilts, two things she can't stand. :)

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  84. Phelan wrote: I enjoy writing in male POV, but other's criticize me for doing it. I was attached on a poetry site when they found out I was female and my poems were all in the male POV. Is it possible that I could run into editors/agents/publishers with the same attitude? I guess it is possible, is it common?

    There's a slim possibility that you might run into narrow-minded people who don't think you as a female should write male POV, but I think 95% of the industry professionals out there are reasonable, educated individuals who understand that writers are not their characters, and refuse to participate in misogynistic bigotry.

    On the subject of genre. I see that you say that some people think that a writer must stay well within just one genre. I too like to delve into different types of novels, will that cause problems with me finding a good agent?

    I think there are some inexperienced or narrow-minded agents out there who might give you a pass. They're doing you a favor, in my opinion. An established, experienced agent will not try to pigeonhole you or preset limits for you.

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  85. Alison wrote: Please could you index the workshop posts, so we can find them again in the future without sifting through all the archives?

    Will do that tonight; keep an eye on the sidebar. :)

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  86. My thanks to everyone who participated in this workshop, and please feel free to continue posting comments. If you have a question about this workshop please stop by PBW on Fridays when I do open Q&A and we can discuss it then.

    I'm going to post links to these workshops on the sidebar (thanks to Alison for the nudge.) We will definitely have to do this again in the future; I had a blast.

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