Wednesday, May 30, 2012

What is Conflict?


- What is Conflict?

Writers will often hear advice like: ‘Write conflict into every page’ or ‘every chapter needs to be centred on a conflict’. Lately, I’ve come across a few people who misunderstand ‘conflict’ to mean ‘confrontation’ and end up trying to write an argument into every scene.

I find this faintly baffling. We’ve all seen TV, read books and watched movies. We know not every scene has an argument in it. Why on earth would you take advice to put a fight in every scene advice seriously?

Conflict, according to my dictionary is:
1. A battle or struggle.
2. The opposition of two forces or things.
3. To be or come into opposition.

The first point is probably the most obvious one, and where the argument idea stems from. However the second one is probably more relevant to writers. A conflict could be a group of scientists trying to escape an island filled with rampaging dinosaurs (Jurassic park) or two lovers being kept apart by a jealous husband on a big boat (Titanic). If your character is caught in a blizzard, he and the blizzards are in opposition, him wanting to survive and the blizzard being, well, cold.

Now you have some idea what a conflict is, let me say: Yes, I believe every scene needs a central conflict. It doesn’t have to be a dinosaur or a blizzard, but without a conflict, not much is happening.

Keep an eye out for a longer version of this writing tip on my tutorials page in my upcoming tutorial on conflict and stakes.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Better Editing


- Never get the same feedback twice.

When you get good feedback regarding a grammatical error or a weakness in your writing, it typically applies to all other simular instances. For example, if a reader says you need to capitalise a name, they shouldn’t have to point it out every time you use that name. Likewise, if someone points out that an info dump is boring or the description lacks sizzle—unless they say it’s only in that scene, you can assume all your description needs work and you should remove as many info dumps as possible.

When I get feedback from my edit, she’ll highlight an instance of something she wants changed—explain why she wants it changed and politely informs me she’s certain I can find and fix the rest on my own. Which I do.

In stark contrast, when I am giving friends feedback on their writing—I’ll address a number of issues in one chapter, only to have them hand me the next chapter two weeks later with the SAME ERRORS.

Now, I’m not saying there aren’t editors and agents in the world who won’t hold your hand and point out the same mistakes to you over and over. However it’s just about the most lazy and unproductive approach I’ve ever heard of. Aren’t we all striving to be better writers? Do any of us really think we’ve peaked and further improvement is unnecessary?

Well, fixing those things you KNOW should be fixed is part of being a better writer. Remember the feedback you receive and apply it to future writing. Conscious editing is good editing.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Enjoy Writing


- Enjoy Writing.

You can’t be a professional writer if you don’t enjoy writing. Well, you CAN, but you’ll be really miserable all the time.

People often say they ‘know they should write’, but it’s hard, frustrating and stressful. Firstly, you shouldn’t write. No one is obliged to write fiction for self gratification. Writing does not make you a better, smarter, more successful person. Secondly, if you don’t enjoy it—if it’s a negative experience for you--don’t do it. Do something you like. No one will mind, really.

The internet is nice, because authors can connect with their fans—if they want to—and have some interaction with people beyond the domestic. However, while a few authors may go to conventions or book launches once or twice a year, every other day of the year they’re writing 2000 words a day, at a desk, probably somewhere in their own house.

Those 2000 words are going to seem like a lot more of you’re sitting there, hating every mind numbing moment you’re in front of the computer, simply longing for the end product.

Me? I love writing. If I get 1k on my novel, I tend to also get about 2k on other, non WIP related projects. That’s my relaxation after working hard on the things that matter. If there is a day where I don’t write, I am stressed and miserable. For me, there is nothing better than being in the zone, tapping away, with nothing but the whirr of the ceiling fan and my fingers clattering on the keys.

If I just described your hell, you need to start looking for a new hobby.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

"I am a writer." – believing what you say.


- "I am a writer." – believing what you say.

The human brain is designed to respond in a very specific way. They way respond is hardwired in a manner that allows us to quickly navigate our environment and survive. For example, if you have not eaten in a few hours and you see a picture of your favourite food, it’s likely you’ll feel hungry. As recently as thirty or forty years ago, even in western societies, food was not readily abundant—so if good food was on offer, it was sensible to eat, even if we weren’t really hungry.

Obviously this hardwiring in our brain is doing us no favours now with the obesity epidemic—however our brain is littered with millions of these hardwired reactions and when we understand how they work we can use them to our advantage.

We are also hardwired to believe things people say—to a certain degree. If someone says: “Don’t follow the eastern path, it’s dangerous.” We would reconsider following the eastern path—or at least, be careful when doing so. If five people told us the eastern path was dangerous, we’d be even less likely to do use it. If everyone we knew told us the eastern path was dangerous, we probably wouldn’t go there. Have you ever stuck your hand in liquid nitrogen? I’d assume not, if you still have two hands. We can say, scientifically, sticking your hand in liquid nitrogen is bad. We believe this, because we have been told and possibly seen evidence—even though it could, technically, be a huge complicated lie.

If you hear things enough, your natural inclination is to believe them. It’s wise to fight this inclination in many cases, but you can also use it to literally change your own behaviour through repetition.

Put up a sign (or several) where you will see it every day. Have it say something positive and general. Mine says: “I am a writer.”

Don’t be too specific. Don’t say: “I write 1000 words a day.” Or “I will be published this year.” If this doesn’t come true, it will cause cognitive dissonance.

However you could say: “I am a brilliant writer.” Or “I enjoy writing every day.”

You could also put up a sign that says: “I am beautiful.”, “I love my wife.” or “I make healthy choices.”

All of these things will slowly be imprinted into your brain as ‘true facts’ through repetition. This is exactly how advertising works, by the way.

Make it work for you!

Copyright Talitha Kalago. 2011