October 2014 – Andy Peloquin

Andy Peloquin

I am an artist – words are my palette

Month: October 2014 (Page 1 of 2)

Thoughts on Life

 

Life is ten percent what happens to you and ninety percent how you respond to it. —Lou Holtz

Life has taught us that love does not consist of gazing at each other, but in looking together in the same direction. — Antoine de Saint-Exupery

 Life is just a mirror, and what you see out there, you must first see inside of you. — Wally ‘Famous’ Amos

 Life is a zoo in a jungle. — Peter De Vries

 There are only two ways to live your life, only two ways to be. One is the right way, the other the wrong way. The right is to give, to share, to love. The wrong way is to snatch, to exploit, to accumulate. Love and money are the symbols of these two ways. Money is neurosis, love is ecstasy. Love is the right way and money is the wrong way. — Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (Osho)

Life is divided into the horrible and the miserable. — Woody Allen

 The supreme irony of life is that hardly anyone gets out of it alive. — Robert Heinlein

Everyone is trying to accomplish something big, not realizing that life is made up of little things. — Frank A. Clark

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 True friendship multiplies the good in life and divides its evils. Strive to have friends, for life without friends is like life on a desert island?.to find one real friend in a lifetime is good fortune; to keep him is a blessing. — Baltasar Gracian

 Life doesn’t require that we be the best, only that we try our best. — H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

 What matters in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how you remember it. — Gabriel Garcia Marquez

 Life is like an onion: you peel it off one layer at a time, and sometimes you weep. — Carl Sandburg

There is only one way to get ready for immortality, and that is to love this life and live it as bravely and faithfully and cheerfully as we can. — Henry Van Dyke

I have found that if you love life, life will love you back. —  Arthur Rubinstein

 Life is a tale told by an idiot — full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. — William Shakespeare

 Death is more universal than life; everyone dies but not everyone lives. — A. Sachs

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Following Your Obsessions

Franz Kafka said, “Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.”

As writers, that is exactly what we do!

I don’t know if this has ever happened to you, but when I get an idea for a story in my head, it’s all that I can think about. It’s like a thread on an old sweater that you can’t help but pulling on. The more you pull on it, the more it unravels. In this case, pulling on the thread helps to unravel the story, and it slowly lays itself out in front of you.

It’s a truly amazing thing, but it’s definitely an obsession. I believe that all of us writers have some obsessive tendencies, because that’s really the only way that you can sit down and write a story over the course of days, weeks, and months.

When I’m writing a new story, I often spend every waking minute thinking about the next plot twist and turn, the next chapter in the character’s life, or the ending to the particular story I’m writing. Over and over again it goes through my head until one day I’ve discovered how the story ends. I’ve got the thing laid out in my head or on paper, and only then can I sit down and start writing.

Then, as I write the story, new things come to me. I go back and change the story to reflect the new direction it is going, and slowly the story continues to morph. Whether I’m lying in bed trying to sleep, sitting at the breakfast table, or running at the gym, there’s always some part of my mind mulling over my latest obsession.

But that’s the amazing thing of being a writer! As a writer, you can follow your obsessions and actually see where they lead you.

If you’re obsessed with stealing other people’s things (kleptomaniac), you get to jail. The same is true of obsession with fire (pyromaniac) and almost all of the other obsessions common today. It’s a good thing that there’s no “writing-maniac”, or millions of us around the world would be diagnosed with the disorder!

A writing obsession can be a very healthy thing if indulged properly. As a writer, following your obsession can lead to that magnum opus, that work of literary art that you can be supremely proud of. It takes work, but letting your obsession take you away and following them mercilessly is the key to finding contentment with your life.

Writing Mistakes: Fluffy Dialogue

Your dialogue can make or break your novel–something I am learning the hard way as I work on the second draft of The Last Bucelarii Book 1: Blade of the Destroyer. Reading over my dialogue, I’m discovering where I’m going wrong with the way my characters carry on conversations. Not only is there a lack of emotion in some places where things should be pretty raw, but also I find myself using fluffy dialogue.

“What the heck is fluffy dialogue?” you may ask. Basically, fluffy dialogue is anything that is unimportant to the story.

Dialogue should be included for a number of reasons:

It should tell you more about what a character is thinking.

It should give you more insight into the character’s personality and motivations.

It should establish relationships between characters.

It should show emotion and be filled with tension.

Fluffy dialogue–or marshmallow dialogue, as some writers like to call it–has elements of the above, but those elements are usually lost in wordiness, useless phrases, curses, and unnecessary additions.

Think about this sentence:

“If I ever see you again,” Jack snarled, “I’ll kill you.”

Simple, concise, and pretty much says what the character is thinking and feeling. Now examine the sentence below.

“God damn you, Charles,” Jack snarled. “Don’t ever let me set my eyes on you if you value your life. If I ever see you again, I’ll kill you in a way that will make your ancestors shudder.”

Same meaning, but WAY too long to say something simple. It does give a bit more insight into Jack’s character, but it’s too much for what you’re trying to communicate.

To keep your dialogue from becoming fluffy, keep it short and simple. Only include information that is necessary–both to the development of your character AND the story. Once you have that, trim everything else out.

Select a random page from your WIP and read the dialogue aloud. If it doesn’t sound like something that you’d say, it’s probably in need of a bit of polishing. Make sure your dialogue:

Has conflict

Is compressed

Gives each character their own unique voice

Only gives relevant information

After that, trim the rest of the fat!

Note: 21-time New York Times bestselling author, Jerry B. Jenkins has a great post on how to write dialogue effectively.

Check out: How to Write Dialogue That Captivates Your Reader

 

 

The Pitfall of Being a Fantasy Writer

Patrick Rothfuss said something that pretty much sums up an issue I’ve been wrestling with for the last few months:

If you want to write a fantasy story with Norse gods, sentient robots, and telepathic dinosaurs, you can do just that. Want to throw in a vampire and a lesbian unicorn while you’re at it? Go ahead. Nothing’s off limits. But the endless possibility of the genre is a trap. It’s easy to get distracted by the glittering props available to you and forget what you’re supposed to be doing: telling a good story. Don’t get me wrong, magic is cool. But a nervous mother singing to her child at night while something moves quietly through the dark outside her house? That’s a story. Handled properly, it’s more dramatic than any apocalypse or goblin army could ever be.” ― Patrick Rothfuss

Interesting, isn’t it? We get so focused on the creation of our own world–one that we have total control over–that we often forget to include the important things that make our story worth reading.

I know that I’ve tried to go too “big” with my stories. Instead of focusing the story around the character, the focus is on the plot, the action, the intrigue, the twists and turns, and everything going on in the world. There is so little focused placed on what’s going on inside the character’s head, how he’s feeling, or what he is actually experiencing.

In my opinion, the greatest fantasy stories are NOT the ones with the most epic story lines. A great story line is a big part of making a great novel, but it’s not what really matters. I think that a good fantasy story is made because of a great character.

I wrote a post not too long ago titled “The Story Doesn’t Really Matter“, and what Rothfuss said above definitely serves to illustrate that point for me. After all, his books are quite famous and sell well, but I couldn’t read them simply because I couldn’t connect with the characters.

As you write your story, forget about the action scenes, the plot twists, and the nifty things that you think will make for a great novel. Instead, bring some reality to your fantasy, and tell the story of the character/s that is the focus of your writing.

Get into their heads, and see the world through their eyes. Feel their opinions, prejudices, hates, and loves, and let those things color the world around them. You’ll need to build the world, but add the unique flavors of your characters to that world.  Don’t get so wrapped up in world-building that you fail to bring a touch of reality into it.

A great fantasy world is one that has plenty of reality, which your readers can identify with. It’s not the made-up world that they’ll care about, but it’s what happens to the characters in your book.

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The Second Draft

Work on The Last Bucelarii Book 1: Blade of the Destroyer is coming along swimmingly! (Check out the cover art by clicking the link…)

I got all of the comments back from my beta readers, implemented the necessary changes, and have begun work on the second draft.

That term “second draft” is sort of a misnomer, truth be told. Libba Bray said, “There are a gazillion revisions, large and small, that go into the writing of a book.” She was talking about how the “second” draft is really a never-ending process of tiny corrections and edits.

Since I began work on the second draft, I have already made two rounds of corrections. I will be reading the book myself, looking for all manner of typos, mistakes, and general horriblenesses in the overall writing. Once I have read the book and marked it up, I’ll have to go over it and make a few more corrections. Plus, I’ve gotten comments back from beta readers who pointed out a couple things in my second draft that I should change.

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It’s all part of the process, but boy is it a long process! The second draft is the one right before the book is sent off to the editor, and it’s one that takes a long time to complete. You pore over that book, making sure to find any final mistakes or inconsistencies–many of which you will miss, which is why you have an editor in the first place!

The second draft is one of the most terrifying stages in the book. The story is pretty much locked into place by now, so there’s no last-minute changes to the characters, the events, or the story line. Now is when your story has taken on its life, and it’s getting close to that creature you will share with the world. The nerve-wracking has begun, for you have to stand by your work.

This is when most people begin to doubt the quality of their writing, for they find so many mistakes from their first draft that it’s almost disheartening.

But that’s part of life as a writer. The second draft is the most important stage, for it’s when you make those final tweaks that turns the story from your brain into the novel that people will read.

It’s scary, but that fear is a huge part of life and I’m loving it! (or trying to)

Writing Mistakes: Clichés

Clichés–you can’t help but hate them every time you see them!

Here’s a list of some of the more common clichés:

  • In a nutshell.
  • At long last.
  • Going forward.
  • All walks of life.
  • At the end of the day.
  • Bring to the table.
  • I’m giving it 110%.
  • Don’t put off till tomorrow what you can do today.
  • As bold as brass.
  • Uphill battle.
  • If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
  • Too little, too late.
  • Sleeping like the dead.
  • Actions speak louder than words.
  • Two wrongs don’t make a right.
  • Never say never.
  • Laughter is the best medicine.
  • People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.
List courtesy of: http://www.skillsyouneed.com/write/cliches-to-avoid.html#ixzz3GhPU4OGi

“But,” you may be wondering, “why are these clichés bad? Isn’t the fact that they’re clichéd mean that they’re ‘tried and true’?” (another awesome cliché!)

Well, when your writing is full of clichés, it makes you–the writer–appear to be both uncreative and lazy. After all, good writers are supposed to create NEW things, not use the same tired phrases, stories, and plot lines that have been around forever.

When a reader sees clichés in your writing, it basically tells them “This writer isn’t really trying hard enough.” It often makes your readers lose interest in the book pretty darn fast!

In reading over my first draft of The Last Bucelarii–Book 1: Blade of the Destroyer, I encountered a few interesting clichés:

–          “His pride deflated like a balloon” — Do you think the classic fantasy story has “balloons”? I don’t, but even then using “like a balloon” is pretty lazy writing!

–          The kindly priest — I wanted to use a kindly priest to help convince the Hunter–a remorseless assassin who kills only for money–to do the right thing, but that’s amazingly clichéd. Thanks to an alert beta-reader who pointed that out to me, now the priest is a hair away from killing the Hunter in retribution for his actions, but is only leaving him alive because he needs him to do a job. A less clichéd option that works much better.

–          The monologuing villain — Near the end of the book, the villain needs to give the Hunter a lot of information. The villain rambled on and on, with the Hunter saying little. That monologue is very clichéd, and usually ends up with the hero escaping while the villain’s attention is focused on his speech. Definitely had to change that!

–          Single-file fighting — Like in kung-fu movies, many people will only fight one at a time. In the climactic scene, I had “number two” villain fighting while the “big bad” villain stood by and watched. If they were truly trying to kill the Hunter, they’d take him down together.

Watch out for those clichés–not just the phrases and words, but also plots and twists. Get creative, and don’t resort to lazy writing!

The Story Really Doesn’t Matter

I’ve been making a pretty intriguing mistake with my writing up until fairly recently: I tried to tell an interesting story.

That may sound silly, but hear me out…

In my first book–In the Days: A Tale of the Forgotten Continentthe entire focus was on the story. The characters in the book were only there to tell the story, and they came and went as the STORY demanded.

That was my mistake: placing too much emphasis on the story, or the plot.

Someone once said, “Plot is people. Human emotions and desires founded on the realities of life, working at cross purposes, getting hotter and fiercer as they strike against each other until finally there’s an explosion—that’s Plot.”

The truth is that the story you are telling doesn’t really matter, but what matters is the PERSON or PEOPLE that the story is about.

Think about the Holy Bible, a book that is filled with amazing stories. Things like Noah’s Ark, the wars in the Book of Judges and Kings, and even the prophecies in the Prophetic books. All with huge potential to be fascinating stories, but those are the books you tend to skim through. Why is that?

It’s because there’s no connection with the characters in the story. That, then, is the secret to a great story: telling what happens to a person.

Plot is one of the LEAST important elements of a book, but it’s simply what helps your character to make the journey of progress, change, and growth that they must embark upon. If you focus too much on the plot, you usually end up neglecting your characters. That is a mistake that will lead people to read your book and say, “What an interesting story”, and then put the book down forever.

But what is it about books that are read over and over? What makes you come back to them time and again? It’s the characters in the story.

Instead of telling a story, tell someone’s LIFE STORY. Write about the life of a person, rather than using that person as the means of getting through intriguing plot points and twists that you’ve created.

I made that mistake for far too long, and it’s one I intend to correct. From now on, it’s not the plot I’m going to focus on, but it’s the characters!

What Really Gets to You?

I find it highly fascinating how something that doesn’t affect you AT ALL one day can move you so deeply the next.

Here’s what I mean:

The other day, I was listening to a random song on my playlist–a song called Shatter Me, by Halestorm singer Lizzy Hale. Great song, but nothing too special. I have heard it easily two dozen times, and nothing.

And then, that day, something about the song hit me. It brought me to tears–the last thing I would expect from a song like that. Something about the song resonated within me at that moment, and it hit me much harder than anything has in a long time.

Perhaps it was the fact that I was half-way through a massive cup of espresso coffee. Perhaps the chills down my spine came from the fan blowing away the sweat breaking out thanks to the VERY hot day. Perhaps the emotional writing I was doing at the time had something to do with it.

Whatever it was, it was a pretty overwhelming emotion that came from out of nowhere.

Fellow dark fantasy writer Gianna Perada said something that caught my attention: “Some things scratch the surface while others strike at your soul.”

It’s amazing what will hit you in a way that you are least expecting it. You may think that your day is going along swimmingly and all is well, and them, WHAM! You’re hit with some overwhelming emotion from out of nowhere, brought on by the last thing you’d expect.

It reminds me of this video I saw by Louie CK:

Don’t be surprised when something random comes out of nowhere and hits you with overwhelming emotion. Give in to it, let it flow, and feel it as it washes over you. It’s going to help you not only get in touch with the character you are trying to write, but also with yourself.

Writing Mistakes: Repeated Words/Phrases

This is a problem I didn’t know I had until I got my latest book back from a particularly awesome beta reader.

Her note went along these lines:

“Great story, but I can’t help but notice that you repeat yourself a number of times throughout the book. Makes it kind of hard to read.”

Ouch!

Every writer has a “crutch” word that they use all the time. Hillary Clinton way overuses “eager”,  Jack Kerouac used “sad” too many times in On the Road, and Jennifer Egan used “abraded” just a bit too noticeably in Look at Me.

There were a few words I leaned on a bit too much in the first draft of my new book, The Last Bucelarii: Blade of the Destroyer

Felt. I used this one not only for emotions (felt sorrow), but also for sensation (felt something cold and wet). It’s a good word when used in moderation, but I realized it could be removed. For example, instead of “he felt a rough hand grab him”, it is now “A rough hand grabbed him”. Simpler, more concise, but it leaves “felt” free for when the character really does FEEL something.

Scream. The demonic blade the Hunter carries talks to him, and it tends to “scream” when it senses its victim is near. But when other people are screaming in pain, the word “scream” stands out like a sore thumb. I have to go through it and look for all the uses of the word to see if I can change it to “crying”, “shouting”, etc.

  1. When his blade isn’t talking to him, it sort of pounds in the back of his mind like a headache. I could probably go over the book right now and find at least 100 uses of the word “pound”, and most of them would be referring to this sensation. I think I’ll have to revert to using words like “throb”, “pulse”, “chatter”, and others to avoid overusing this one.

It’s important to find the words that you use too much, or even the phrases that are overused.

The characters in this book tend to curse very colorfully, using expressions like “Watcher’s balls” and “Keeper’s taint”. While these curses can be funny, they can often seem out of place. Simpler is often better.

How can you tell if you’re overusing a word? Well, if you don’t have AMAZING beta readers like I do, here’s a tool to help you:

Spork Forge

Basically, you can copy and paste your text into the box, and it will tell you how many times you used certain words and phrases you used a lot. A wonderful tool to help you make sure you’re not overusing or repeating the same words too many times!

What Emotion Do You Fear Most?

Laurie Halse Anderson said, “Write about the emotions you fear the most.” 

That’s a tough nut to swallow!

We all have those shadowy corners of our minds that we want to avoid, the touchy subjects that are better ignored. If we delve too deeply into the emotions, fears, and insecurities we have tucked away, there is the very real chance that we will be so strongly affected by them that we will be unable to function.

Or at least, that is the fear that stops us from examining our fears…

The truth is that everyone in the world is ruled by their emotions in some way or another. The people who yield to their emotions are carried on a roller-coaster journey of ups and downs. Those of us who try to block out our emotions end up becoming hard, unfeeling people who struggle just to get in touch with the feelings that so many others can tap into so easily.

There is always going to be something in your mind or heart that is going to cause you fear. Whether it’s the loss of a loved one, a traumatic situation, or a worry about the future, the emotions that are brought up when you think about those things can be absolutely terrifying.

But don’t you see? It’s those things that make for such great stories!

What makes you identify with the characters in your favorite books? It’s not the fact that they went on an epic adventure, solved a mysterious crime, or married the hero/heroine. Sure, those things are awesome, but they have nothing to do with why you really love the book.

The thing that sells a book to your mind is the recognition of someone else sharing your own fears and insecurities. The emotions, doubts, problems, and issues that plague you are written by someone else, and you read how the hero/heroine overcomes those things. All of a sudden, they are like a hero to you, because they are showing you how to deal with the problems in your own life.

If you want your stories to really be good, you’re going to have to face the emotion/s that you fear the most. By “good”, I don’t mean “sell a million copies”. What I really mean is “someone will close your book and say ‘damn, that was a good read'”.

You don’t want people to forget about your characters or your story once they close your book, but you want to hook them. Hooking your readers is a very subtle thing, and I’m highly convinced that the best way to do so is to present them with characters that they can identify with. No one will identify with a perfect character, so you have to give them those same dark fears and emotions that you/your readers can recognize.

In my humble opinion, shared fears are the best way to bond a reader with the author!

 

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