Always Say Yes: What writers can learn from our actor friends and improv

(L-R): Nyima Funk, Colin Mochrie, and Wayne Brady from the TV show Whose Line is it Anyway?

(L-R): Nyima Funk, Colin Mochrie, and Wayne Brady from the TV show Whose Line is it Anyway?

Out of all the different types of artistic expression, the artists I seem to befriend most often are actors.

I’m not really sure why this is, for I’m sure as hell no actor.  I have no poker face whatsoever, let alone the ability to re-create a given emotion at will, and body movements range from woodenly awkward to determinedly abrupt.

As well, the mechanics and semiotics of acting are largely lost upon me. I can’t really distinguish a “good” performance from a “spectacular” one, and when I watch movies or plays, so long as the story obeys its own internal logic and follows a satisfying story arc, that’s good enough for me.

I’m a writer; I’m far less interested in the performance of a story than I am in the creation of that’s story’s script.

And yet, as different as my actor friends and their art seems to be from me and mine, I’ve come to discover the usefulness one particular actor’s tool can have for writers.

That tool is improvisation.

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Taking Over Me: On writing, obsession, and the search for artistic balance

Singer Amy Lee of the alternative rock/metal band Evanescence, from whose song the title for this week’s post is borrowed.  There’s something about the grammatical weirdness of the song’s name – the fact that, in ending with the subject “me”, it serves to emphasizes it – that really resonates with my experiences in this subject.

Amy Lee of the alt rock/metal band Evanescence, whose song I borrowed for the title of this post.

When a writer becomes utterly fixated on his/her WIP, is that a sign of artistic revelation or that s/he has become a less well-rounded person?

I’ve twice had it happen where writing has taken over my life, the first time being back in 2004 when I was writing my first (incomplete, shelved) novel, and the second in 2005 when I wrote the first volume of my two-volume historical fiction WIP.

In 2005 especially, I fully gave myself over to my writing.

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A Little Fall of Rain: The ebb and flow of my writing ideas

A/N: To my fellow Canadians, wishing you all a very Happy Canada Day!

How does an idea in one’s head go about becoming a fully-fledged plan – whether outlined or not – for an upcoming piece of writing?

This is something I’ve been pondering quite a bit lately as I continue to move forward in my novel-in-progress: this question of how it is that my writing actually comes to fruition.

Especially given that the ideas I come up with tend to rather small, vague, and decidedly non-earth-shattering in their physical and psychological impact upon me.

Case in point – the idea for this very blog post: I should blog about how my writing ideas evolve.

That was it: the brilliant brainwave in all its unexplained, undeveloped glory.

Or the idea I have for the next chapter in my novel-in-progress: I need to show the protagonist and her enemy starting to see eye-to-eye.  Okay – there’s a little more to it than that, but not much.  Heaven forbid the Muse offer me something with which I could hit the ground running.

My ideas are like – to borrow from the liberetto of Les Misérables – a little fall of rain: sufficient to get your attention when it speckles the side of your face, but not substantial enough to convince you that anything more will come of it.

For all you know, maybe you were standing too close to a conversation and just got spat on.

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All You (N)ever Wanted: My favourite (and least favourite) writing advice

Ah – writing advice.

If there’s one thing writers do with as much (if not more!) enthusiasm as actual writing, it’s seeking advice on writing.

The internet positively teems with the stuff.  Plus anyone with even the smallest portion of a novel either on their computer or in their soul is guaranteed to own at least one writing how-to book.

(Personally, I have four, plus a duo tang full of photocopied notes, and numerous downloaded webpages.)

But how much this boundless writing advice is of practical use?  At a recent meetup of the writing group I lead, this was the discussion topic du jour: writing advice – the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Everyone was to come prepared to share the best piece(s) of writing advice they’d ever heard/read/received, and the worst piece(s).

I have five pieces of favourite writing advice – the specific tips that have really stuck with me over the years, and helped me straighten out some of my own writing flaws.  And so, I give you…

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Don’t Talk About Fight Club: A writer’s paranoia in discussing a WIP

“What’s your novel about?”

Four simple words that never fail to strike terror in my heart.

Part of this is because such a simple query is seeking an equally concise reply – the dreaded “elevator pitch”, which is an art form of brevity on par with the haiku and the perfectly witty Tweet.  Plus, I’m almost never as glib a speaker as I wish when put on the spot like that.

As well, I dislike stating definitively that my WIP is the story of XYZ, when the end result may well come to be significantly different.

Stories are like life: more possibilities and purpose emerge the further along you go.  And just like life, it’s rather invalid to summarize the meaning of it all before it has approached its ultimate end.

Finally, I fear opening myself up to premature criticism of my plot through my inability to properly explain it while still in progress.  Or conversely, premature interest, and subsequent probing questions.

As a result of all this, when Australian historical fiction author Debbie Robson asked me to participate in the blog meme known as The Next Big Thing, I said, “Sure.”

Because why be consistent with one’s own personality traits?

Admittedly, I did offer the caveat that my answers would be vague, superstitious, and paranoiac since I am indeed all of the above.  Furthermore, having since put my blog on its 600-word diet gives me even more of an excuse to be equivocal.  Thus, without further ado:

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Writing Inside the (Out)Lines – Redux: A Creative Departure

(Or, Why Much of What You Plan in Your Outline Will Get Changed Along the Way)

A Distractions & Subtractions post for Rule of Stupid

Writing a novel is an endeavour of many emotions:

  • The excitement at having an idea take root in your head.
  • The pride you feel every time you sit down at the computer and add new words.
  • The anxiety that maybe you won’t be able to capture your idea in words as clearly as it plays out in your head.
  • The satisfaction of when all the plot pieces finally fall into place in your mind, and you’re finally convinced that yes, this story works.
  • And then, after months or even years of dedication, when the novel is finally completed, a satisfaction of a different sort that results from having successfully achieved a difficult, long-term goal.

But sometimes, this latter satisfaction comes prematurely; sometimes, satisfaction #2 and satisfaction #1 commingle, until they end up one in the same.

That is to say, sometimes, having devised a fully functional plot in one’s head (or on paper, or on the screen) feels like such a sense of accomplishment, the subsequent desire to actually write the novel disappears.

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Writing Inside the (Out)Lines

A Distractions & Subtractions post

A/N: Check out my Distractions & Subtractions page to read related posts or to submit your own writing subtractions.  I’m writing a blog post for everyone who makes a submission.

Today’s post is one of my own subtractions.  Coming up next week: a post for horror/dark sci-fi/supernatural writer and satirical essayist Eric J. Baker.

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There are many different types of writers producing many different types of writing in many different ways.

Yet, if you examine this creature known as “the writer” at its broadest taxonomical subdivision, you’ll find that most of them can be categorized into one of two main groups:

Plotters.

Pantsers.

Pantsers write by the “seat of their pants”.  I’ve also heard pantsers referred to as “discovery writers” – seemingly a euphemism to make what can nonetheless be a perfectly orderly process sound less disorganized.

Plotters make outlines and do pre-writing, sometimes in massive quantities.  I’ve never heard of any other name for plotters, although that two can be interpreted as one of two extremes: Plot, as in a cunning, sexy, leather-clad precision.  Or plot, as in a burial plot.

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