Andy Peloquin

I am an artist – words are my palette

Month: August 2014

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What I Loved About the Ice Bucket Challenge

I’ve heard a lot of people groaning when they see another Ice Bucket Challenge video up on YouTube or Facebook. They say, “Oh, here we go again, another person trying to cash in on their moment of fame.”

There is some truth to that. Some of the people doing the challenge–in my humble opinion–really didn’t care about giving the money to ALSA.org, but instead used the video as a sort of “look at me, look at me! Pay attention to me!” In some ways, the Ice Bucket Challenge is like the selfie phenomenon that totally ruined photographs. (The subject of another post…)

However, for the most port, I loved the Ice Bucket Challenge. Every time I hear someone say, “Not again”, I actually think, “Yes, do it!” Why do I love the Ice Bucket Challenge?

First of all, it’s funny. Who doesn’t love to see their favorite movie stars, writers, and celebrities getting soaked with freezing cold water? I liked the way it showed a bit more of the “real” side of these people–not the side we see on the screen, in their books, etc.

Second of all, it actually did something! $80 million for ALS research–a disease only .0001% of the US population has–is nothing to sniff at. Thanks to people like Charlie Sheen, Patrick Stewart, and others who made big donations, the Ice Bucket Challenge has done what it set out to do: raise money and awareness of this horrible disease.

Sure, a lot of people who did the challenge probably FAILED to donate the $10 or $100 to charity, as many of the videos neglected to include the hook “Donate to ALSA.org” or “donate to ALS”, etc. But the truth is that the Ice Bucket Challenge did raise awareness of the disease, and it did raise a pretty hefty sum of money to help researchers tackle the problem.

All in all, I’d say that that alone makes it a pretty damn awesome viral campaign, especially when compared to some of the garbage that has been floating around the internet the last few years. Here’s hoping the next viral sensation is equally useful!

How Deep Should You Go?

Everyone has s**t in their lives–the something that puts the little bit of darkness within them. We all have issues, and the truth is that those issues play a bigger part in our lives than we’d expect!

Writers tend to bleed into their characters a surprising amount–often a lot more than you think. Our issues come out on paper, and we tend to explore the darkness within ourselves as we write.

As a writer, my issues tend to come out in the form of the characters I write. My rejection issues stemming from being ostracized by peers as a child manifests itself in my current character, a half-demon assassin who never lets anyone see his real face. My desire for a better past–one I have control over–leads my character to go on a journey to discover a past he has no memory of.

The old saying goes “Write what you know”, and I’ve tried to take that to heart. While I don’t know much about being a half-demon or an assassin, I do know about being rejected and alone. So I tap into the c**p in my own past, and use the feelings that come up to help me figure out how my character should react. It’s a tumultuous journey, and certainly not an easy one.

But how deep should we, as writers, go? Do we want to tap into ALL the darkness within just for the sake of “writing what we know”?

I spent most of my formative years in a cult–not a particularly dark nor destructive cult, but a cult nonetheless. Does that mean that I should start writing stories that focus on the horrors of cults and what they do to people who leave or are kicked out?

I know many writers who have been the subject of abuse, physical, emotional, and otherwise. Does that mean that all of their writing should be about abuse, abusers, and abuse victims?

How dark should you take your writing? Do you really want to tap into the things in your past that you try to block out? Is it worth it for the craft, or do we do it just to try to add a bit more depth into these characters that almost feel like alternative versions of ourselves?

No one wants to be a shallow person, and no one wants their characters to be flat or shallow either. I feel like sometimes we just tap into our own darkness just so we can say to others, “Look, I have darkness in my life, something hidden within, therefore I am a deeper person than I appear.”

This is undoubtedly a question without an answer, but I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter. Drop a comment below and speak your piece…

Writing Mistakes: Trying too Hard

I know that I’ve tried very hard to make my writing good, often to the point where it becomes bad in an effort to avoid silly mistakes.

For example, I’ve been trying to avoid the word “that” in my writing, as that’s supposed to be a weak word. However, in my efforts to cut out the word, I often end up with grammatically ponderous sentences–sentences which could easily be shortened and streamlined just by adding the word “that” in the right place.

I’ve read books where the author has tried just a bit too hard to be funny. To some authors–like Terry Pratchett or Glen Cooke–humor comes naturally. For other authors, the humor comes across as almost a bit forced. The “humorous” dialogue is either unrealistic, choppy, or the jokes are a bit too “clever” that you just don’t understand what the speaker is hinting at or alluding to.

Other writers make the mistake of trying to be too eloquent or fancy in their writing. If you don’t have both a dictionary AND a thesaurus handy, you will never understand what they’re trying to say. I’ve seen the eloquent writing of masters like Dickens or Bronte, and then I look at the simplicity of my own writing. There are maybe 10 words in there that readers would need to look up in a thesaurus or dictionary, but other than that, it’s just basic English. Instead of trying to force eloquence–which would probably make my writing come off boring and incomprehensible–I keep it simple.

Here’s a free piece of advice: don’t impress the readers with your WRITING, but with the story itself.

You don’t want readers to look at what you wrote and think about the quality of the writing, as that will distract them from what you want to say. In fact, you want the writing to fade into the background, and simply have it as the vehicle to tell the story you want to tell.

The whole point of writing is to communicate, and you don’t want readers to get so hooked on the method of communication that they fail to receive the message. It’s like calling from a broken telephone with a shaky signal–the person on the other end will know you’re trying to communicate, they just won’t understand what you’re trying to say.

Write in your own way, but don’t try too hard to make your writing something it’s not. Play to your strengths, and let your writing paint the picture that you want it to. The words should fade into the background as your reader builds that mental image in his or her head.

What’s Your Biggest Challenge as a Writer?

All writers face challenges–it’s just the way life is.

Sir Terry Pratchett has been writing despite his Alzheimer’s for years. Agatha Christie had a debilitating learning disability. Dilbert creator Scott Adams suffered from dyslexia. George Bernard Shaw and Jules Verne both had ADD.

Of course, while these great writers face physical challenges, most of us in good health have to deal with less disabling problems like:

– Not as much time to write as we’d like

– Too much noise around us

– Responsibilities that steal our attention

– Depression, stress, and anxiety

The list goes on and on, and every writer has their own challenges that they face when they sit down to write.

For me, my two main problems are anxiety and a lack of time.

A lack of time is a problem that no doubt plagues 99% of the authors out in the world. Unless you’re able to earn sufficient income from your writing, you have to find a day job to sustain yourself and your family until you “make it”.

While some people have the problem of doing jobs that keep them away from the computer, my biggest problem is that I spend my WORK writing. As a copywriter, freelance blogger, and ghostwriter, all I do all day long is type away at my computer. I enjoy the work I do, but it makes it VERY difficult to switch from work mode to creative mode. In fact, I have to be completely finished with my work for the day in order to even contemplate sitting down and writing my novels. Getting out of work mode is a huge challenge, but getting into a creative head space is an even greater challenge.

Anxiety isn’t a physical problem as much as a mental one. With creative writing, only a very small part of the work is physical. You have to type or write, but it’s your mind that makes or breaks your writing.

My biggest anxiety right now is that I worry that my writing just isn’t going to be good enough. My story-telling skills are certainly up to par, but it’s the depth of my characters that I struggle with. I worry that I will create flat characters that no one can relate to.

See, I’ve been diagnosed with a very, VERY low-spectrum case of Asperger’s, and one of the things that I have to deal with is my difficulty empathizing with people. It’s hard for me to understand someone else’s problems if they’re so unrelated to my own, and that carries over into the struggles that my characters face.

Right now, I’m writing about a half-demon assassin, and his problems are VERY different from the ones I face. It’s hard for me to put myself into the head of this character, so it’s a huge source of anxiety.

That doesn’t mean I’m going to stop writing, but it’s just my biggest challenge. I struggle to put depth and emotion into a character when my fear is that I am a shallow, emotionless person. Obviously this isn’t true, but anxieties are never properly rational.

 

None of this is to make people feel sorry for me or pity me. I love my life, love my job, and love everything about what I do.

The purpose of sharing this is to help you get to know me a bit better. It’s to say, “Yep, I know what you’re struggling with as you try to write, because I’ve got my own c**p to deal with.”

What makes it hard for YOU to write as often as you’d like? Leave a comment below with your biggest challenge…

 

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Writing Mistakes: Commas

Commas can be a real b***h!

It’s rare to find a writer who can use commas perfectly. Truth be told, commas are much harder to use than almost any other punctuation. It’s hard to know when to use a comma instead of a hyphen, a colon, or a semi-colon.

Here’s everything you need to know about commas (taken from The Writing Center, courtesy of the University of Wisconsin)…

We use commas to signal nonrestrictive or nonessential material, to prevent confusion, and to indicate relationships among ideas and sentence parts.

GOOD Example:

When choosing a ballroom dancing partner, it’s wise to find one who has both a left and right foot.

The party people, who were all drunk, threw themselves into the Jell-O filled limousine.

Overdoing it with commas makes a sentence REALLY hard to read.

BAD Example:

Bob, Jane, and Mary, three friends from, Harvard, enjoyed an afternoon of, flaying.

The name, “Wilhelmina,” is one of the most beautiful names, in German cuisine.

 

Commas are used to join two dependent clauses.

GOOD Example:

While I prefer to eat applesauce, Bob prefers the tails of small rodents for dinner.

Commas do not join two independent thoughts.

BAD Example:

Mary and Paul decided to visit the morgue, Bob had a laugh at John’s expense.

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Here are a few more rules of comma use (courtesy of Purdue University)

Use commas to separate independent clauses when they are joined by any of these seven coordinating conjunctions: and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet.

Use commas after introductory a) clauses, b) phrases, or c) words that come before the main clause.

Use a pair of commas in the middle of a sentence to set off clauses, phrases, and words that are not essential to the meaning of the sentence. Use one comma before to indicate the beginning of the pause and one at the end to indicate the end of the pause.

Do not use commas to set off essential elements of the sentence, such as clauses beginning with that (relative clauses). That clauses after nouns are always essential. That clauses following a verb expressing mental action are always essential

Use commas to separate three or more words, phrases, or clauses written in a series.

Use commas to separate two or more coordinate adjectives that describe the same noun. Be sure never to add an extra comma between the final adjective and the noun itself or to use commas with non-coordinate adjectives.

Use a comma near the end of a sentence to separate contrasted coordinate elements or to indicate a distinct pause or shift.

Use commas to set off phrases at the end of the sentence that refer to the beginning or middle of the sentence. Such phrases are free modifiers that can be placed anywhere in the sentence without causing confusion. (If the placement of the modifier causes confusion, then it is not “free” and must remain “bound” to the word it modifies.)

Use commas to set off all geographical names, items in dates (except the month and day), addresses (except the street number and name), and titles in names.

Use a comma to shift between the main discourse and a quotation.

Use commas wherever necessary to prevent possible confusion or misreading.

(Source: Purdue University)

 

Use these comma rules to NEVER make a comma mistake again. Or, at the very least, try to reduce those errors!

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The Wisdom of a Great Man

In light of the recent passing of Robin Williams, I’d like to dedicate this post to his memory.

Robin Williams was more than just an actor, but everyone who knew him said he was a great man. I looked forward to every movie he filmed, and his short-lived CBS show The Crazy Ones was one of my favorite of the year. I still find myself laughing my rear off every time I see Flubber.

There have been hundreds of posts, Tweets, and messages talking about him as an actor and as a man, so I don’t need to go into detail. Instead, I’m going to post a few of my favorite wisdoms of this great human being:

“You’re only given one little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.”

“Everyone has these two visions when they hold their child for the first time. The first is your child as an adult saying “I want to thank the Nobel Committee for this award.” The other is “You want fries with that?”.”

“A woman would never make a nuclear bomb. They would never make a weapon that kills, no, no. They’d make a weapon that makes you feel bad for a while.”

“Even mistakes can be wonderful.”

“See, the problem is that God gives men a brain and a penis, and only enough blood to run one at a time.”

“No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.”

“Never pick a fight with an ugly person, they’ve got nothing to lose.”

“I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone, it’s not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people that make you feel alone.”

Quotes from his movies:

“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”

You don’t know about real loss because it only occurs when you’ve loved something more than you love yourself. I doubt you’ve ever dared to love anybody that much.”

To the man who has made the world laugh, may you find peace.

 

Sources: http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/film/robin-williams-memorable-quotes-from-life-and-film-1.1894547, http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/r/robin_williams.html ,   http://elitedaily.com/entertainment/celebrity/robin-williams-quotes/705991/ ,

Writing Mistakes: Overcomplicated Writing

There’s something writers need to realize: writing in a complicated, elaborate style DOESN’T make your work any better. In fact, it may actually make it worse!

If you’ve read any Charles Dickens–which, as a writer, I certainly hope you have–you know just how complicated writing can get. That man uses ALL of the metaphors, similes, adjectives, adverbs, and other writing devices that he can. Just look at the way he opens A Tale of Two Cities:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

That single paragraph sets to the tone for the entire book, and you’ll find that his writing gets more complex as he goes.

Now, you may be thinking, “But it’s such great writing. Surely I can imitate it by writing complicated as well!”

If you’re Charles Dickens, you can get away with a lot. If, however, you are not–and I can assure you that you are not–overcomplicating your writing can actually make it MORE difficult to read.

I’ve found that I’m pretty guilty of doing this in some of my writing. For example, here’s a short passage from Book 2 of the Last Bucelarii series I’m in the middle of writing:

The creature lived. Shattered and broken, perhaps, yet alive. Its heart beat, a weak thing struggling to pump the blood not yet spilled onto the ground around the creature’s body. The mind, unthinking, acted, struggling to move. Instinct alone kept it from dying, though barely. Death’s laughter mocked the dying thing, but the broken figure refused to yield. Sheer tenacity clung to life, refusing to take a final breath.

A friend of mine, when he read it, told me “It’s good, but I’d remove some of the extra modifiers.”

“But I added those modifiers to add gravitas and seriousness,” I protested.

“Nah,” he replied, “it interrupts the flow and makes it hard to read.”

Darn it! What I thought I was doing right by making the writing a bit more complex, others see as overdone or wordy.

A word of advice from a fellow writer and reader: keep it simple. Dickens had his time and place, but that was long ago. The average reader now wants to read something he/she can understand. Keep your writing simple–not by dumbing it down, but by avoiding overworidiness and overcomplicated writing. Simple is always easier to read.

The Andy Peloquin Writing Playlist Part 1

Hey all, it’s Friday, the day that I finally get to spend all day at my desk writing the stuff I love–fiction. I’m currently in the middle of the rough draft of Book 2 of the Last Bucelarii series, and I’m looking forward to finishing it so I can pick up Book 1 to do the second (hopefully final) draft of the manuscript, send it to editing, and prepare it for publishing. Look for it to hit shelves somewhere sometime soon!

Instead of doing a regular blog post, I decided to do something a bit different. Today, I’m going to share some of the music that I listen to as I write. This music helps me to get in the mood for writing, and I find that the ups and downs of the songs match the mood of my writing. It’s odd, but it works!

This is going to be a multi-part post, and Part 1 takes a look at a few of the songs that help me to get started writing early in the morning. It’s a sort of glimpse into the musical mind that is Andy Peloquin.

Be afraid. Be very afraid!

To begin, we go to the odd place that is Sail by AWOLNATION:

The “odd” continues with Lorde’s strange hit song, Royals:

Time to go a bit upbeat, but without interrupting the somber flow of music. Time for some Imagine Dragons:

Who doesn’t love Passenger’s “Let Her Go”?

Somber and melodic, it’s Elle Goulding’s Active Child:

Of course Frozen’s Let it Go is on my playlist. I’m not a hard-hearted b******d who doesn’t like cartoons!

Time to go old school with a bit of Simon and Garfunkel:

About this time of the morning, I feel the need to kick it up a notch. Skrillex’s Bangarang does the trick nicely!

This piece is piercing and melodic, perfect for more serious writing on darker themes.

Once again, it’s back to upbeat music with Martin Garrix’ Animals:

I LOVE Lindsey Sterling’s music, and the Moon Trance is definitely one of my favorites:

Fall Out Boy outdoes the rest of his album in Light Em Up:

And the Waltz Goes On–composed by Anthony Hopkins–is one of the best songs to turn up the depression knob a bit:

Avicii’s Hey Brother is another great song to keep the mood a bit somber and sorrowful:

 

That’s the first baker’s dozen songs that keep me writing. Check them out to see if they can help you get in the mood. Also, drop a comment if you’ve got a few songs that keep your fingers hammering out that epic work of fiction!

When Do You Do Your Best Work?

“You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.” ― Saul Bellow

Have you ever found yourself drifting off to sleep late at night and suddenly an idea strikes you right in the creative part of your brain? You wake up and cannot go back to sleep until you jot this idea down. By the time you’re done, it’s an hour later and you’ve basically written an entire novel!

It’s amazing how this happens to so many writers. I’ve heard lots of my writing friends say, “I hate how it doesn’t let me sleep, but it’s so awesome that it just flows out of me.”

This happens to me all the time, particularly when I’m in the middle of a WIP that I’m concerned about. If I have a passage that is troubling me or which is particularly difficult, my brain will kind of worry away at it until it figures out how to do it right. Unfortunately, that’s usually right when I’m in that sweet spot between drowsiness and actual sleep.

When the idea hits, it’s impossible to just ignore it and go back to sleep. My brain starts to worry at the thread of the idea, slowly unraveling it and basically following the story concept. It creates more and more of the story until I’ve basically got an unwritten novel in my head, and I am forced to get up and write it down.

Nearly a decade ago, I was falling asleep on a dark, stormy Thursday night, somewhere around November the 2nd–Halloween. Suddenly my brain struck with a wicked idea of a dark, gruesome ritual that would be carried out on the night when the fabric between the worlds of the living and dead would be weakened.

Goodbye sleepy time! I was forced to get up and write down the idea, and before I knew it, it was 3 AM and I had a fully-written piece of prose. The entire time I was writing it, I kept getting shivers down my spine, and the shivers are still there every time I read over it.

The night is definitely a time for creativity, which is why I no longer try to stifle the ideas when they come as I’m drifting off to sleep. The love of my life can attest to the number of nights that I’ve gotten up and taken my iPad or laptop to the bathroom to write down my ideas without waking her up. It’s been far too many sleepless nights just because some inspiration sticks in my head until I manage to winkle it out onto a piece of paper.

That’s how The Last Bucelarii came about, as well as a number of the other works you can expect to see over the course of the next decade or so. It’s just the way my mind works, and it’s a truly wonderful experience–which always leaves me exhausted the next day, of course!

Writing Mistakes: Insufficient Description

This is a mistake that I made a lot when writing In the Days: A Tale of the Forgotten Continent for the first time, and it’s one that I hope never to make again.

Have you ever noticed how some books suck you into the rich, detailed world, feeding you images of everything around the character as he/she moves? You get all the sights, sounds, and smells, and the book is a much more complete experience because of it!

And then there are writers who fail to give you all of the details of what’s going on around the characters. You get a small glimpse of the city/terrain in which they find themselves, but there is little detail added as scenes change. It forces readers to use their imagination to fill in the details, and the book is just a little poorer because of the lack of imagery.

As a writer, your job is to help people see the world that you have constructed in your head. You want them to be transported to this world with you–whether that world is Middle Earth, your own fictional continent/planet, or downtown New York City. You have to feed them details of what the world is like in order to give them an idea what they should be picturing in their head.

Here’s an example of what I consider to be sufficient description:

Business was booming at The Iron Arms tonight, though every night found the tavern full to bursting. Thanks to its proximity to the docks, the alehouse saw a steady stream of day laborers, roughnecks, and roustabouts hoping to quench their thirst at the end of a long day.

Drunken tradesmen and merchants filled the tables, while tired dockhands nursed tankards overflowing with frothy ale. The smell of sawdust and stale sweat hung heavy in the air, and peanut shells mixed in with the wood shavings on the floor. The sounds of clinking glasses, shouting patrons, and loud conversations filled the air.

Barmaids wended their way through the bar patrons, delivering drinks with a hearty laugh and a hard slap to roving hands. Their bodices looked too tight, but the men filling the bar approved of the scanty outfits. Indeed, the wenches found themselves fending off advances from all sides, though occasionally one would hustle up the creaking stairs with a customer for extra special customer attention.

(excerpt from The Last Bucelarii, Book 1: Blade of the Destroyer)

It gives you an idea of what the place looks, smells, and sounds like, and it helps to set the tone for the ambience (the presence of roughnecks, the loudness of the bar, the customers leering at the wenches, etc.).

Writers, fill in the details! Don’t leave us readers hanging in a colorless, odorless, soundless void where our imagination is forced to fill in the details, but feed those details to us. It makes for a much better read!

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