Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Short Stories | Simplify, a lesson under pressure

I was recently editing a Miss Mow story, it was meant to be ready for a competition but I was loving it so much I didn’t want to send it before I’d had a chance to make it all it could be.

But pressure can so wonderful things, after all it makes diamonds. While I was still trying to push hard to get the story ready in time, I came across a big problem: I didn’t think my story was full enough.

Not that I thought it should be longer or more detailed, it just felt thin. The fault behind the problem, I realised, was that my story was too big and complicated for the amount of words I had. Therefore I was skimming way too much, making it feel completely & utterly unexciting.
I cut a character’s role so they were only there when they really needed to be and changed a relationship so it was old not new –therefore requiring less time & words. These changes made me so excited, suddenly it made sense, the story was fuller and more interesting.

I love those moments when things fall into place and your story can be made into something special. This time I also learnt a valuable lesson I’ll take onto my future stories.
A good question to ask is “What do you really need in order to tell this story probably?”
Sometimes you don’t need that frivolous scene or that extra character and, even though you love them, getting rid of them can make your story so much better.

And that is how I learnt simplify {or a simplified version, this was really the realisation of something I’d learnt to do during my Extended Project}.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Extended Project | lessons from MP

Tomorrow marks a year to the day I completed my extended project and, with it, my advanced diploma.
Looking back, my extended project was an incredibly valuable experience and I think I have it to thank for a lot of the exciting realisations and ideas that are now coming together in my mind.

Other than a lovely email I can turn to for encouragement, I came away with a lot of great writing lessons. Michael Pryor, my mentor {who is awesome and was known throughout the project in my house as MP or Pryor Tuck}, was brilliant at telling me what wasn’t working and giving me ideas without ever giving me solutions or telling me what to do.

I still can’t believe my luck that my request came at a time he was able to fit my project in. Working with one of my favourite writers was a dream come true and it was good motivation (and pressure!) to do my very best.
I wanted to share some of the things I consider more “major” learnings than I shared in my previous post, things that have really affected the way I write and consider my stories.

1. Don’t rely on “movie stuff”. During the editing of my novella, MP would always be pointing out things that were too cliché. Now I see this was probably a case of I was writing the draft quickly so I reached for the first things that came to mind, the most obvious things. He pushed me to think passed that and to create something more unique and authentic to my story.

2. Do you really need that? In my original draft there were at least half a dozen more characters and a lot more scenes by the fire and other unnecessary things that cluttered my plot. MP challenged me to really think about whether certain characters actually added to the plot or whether there was a point to some scenes. I ended up cutting a fairly major character because she didn’t actually make sense or aid the plot. He pushed me to simplify and strengthen everything, so there was purpose behind even seemingly purposeless things.

3. Start strong. Beginning are so important, I know as a reader I don’t give books long to entice me. I ended up cutting a good 30 pages to find a good beginning to my novella per MP’s suggestion. I tend to want to show the reader everything, but to start in a moment of action is a much better way to go. It doesn’t mean you have to start during a moment of physical action, just something to pull the reader into the story. You can, as I discovered, always get back story in later.

4. Finding your story. I’ve finally accepted that its true what authors say about finding something original and how your first effort is unlikely to be that something original. My novella was a tribute to my favourite fantasies, unintentionally. MP told me this is often the way for beginning writers’ first efforts. But realising this has given me a sense of freedom, now I can move on from what I’ve loved in others’ work and find my own voice and my own story.

If you ever have the opportunity to work with a mentor, I’d say go for it! I learnt and grew so much from the experience. Doing a big project like this with someone there to point out where I could make my plot stronger and push me to think pass the obvious was such a major thing.

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a year, but I’m glad I haven’t til now because when I finished I really didn’t know what I’d learnt. I knew I’d learnt something, I just wasn’t quite sure.
Now, I remember my extended project fondly and reminiscing about it has made me even more eager to get going with a larger project.

I’m so grateful and I can’t thank Michael Pryor and the Adelaide Collage of the Arts (esp. Sue Fleming!) enough.

It was brilliant.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Hair // back to purple

Back to purple and I’m loving it! In fact, I think this is my favourite hair transformation of the year (hard to believe I only started this mad adventure this year). Maybe it’s because it was just for fun, I picked the colour out of the book without any idea as to how it would turn out, or maybe it’s because it’s such a pretty colour.

This is the third time I’ve gone purple and the funny thing is this is a semi and it’s lasted twice as long already compared to the other times. It’s a few shades lighter now and still lovely.

It’s probably my last crazy colour, but I’m not sure. I’ve done pretty much everything on my list, but it’s so much fun changing hair colour!
I didn’t go into this experiment thinking I’d learn anything, it was just an excuse to have more freedom with my hair, but this process has made me feel a lot less precious about my hair.
So, I’m not quite sure about my next hair move, for now I’m just going to enjoy my purple.

{photos by Vickie!} + straight from the hairdressers

Friday, 21 November 2014

Extended Project | editing and plotting

I learnt many valuable lessons on plotting and editing during my extended project. Crafting a story is much more than getting that first draft done and I wanted to share some of what I learnt.

When I received my first detailed feedback on my novella it came with a note from Michael Pryor, my mentor, bracing me for the impact and assuring me after thirty-two times of getting feedback himself, he still found it confronting. I have to admit, it wasn’t too bad for me because I was prepared that I’d sent a really rough draft and was ready for guidance (the first positive comment made me squeal out loud, though).

So, here are eight tips, tricks and ideas I learnt from Michael that helped me sort out the mess that was my novella’s first draft and continue to influence my story crafting today*.

1. Work in stages. Michael encouraged me to make a list of the big picture stuff I wanted to tackle in the first edit before I moved onto the nitty-gritty. I found this approach really good as I often get bogged down in detail too soon.

2. “Every word and every sentence must be as accurate as possible. Always aim to say exactly what you mean. Vagueness, fuzziness and ‘near enough’ have no place in a good story.” – Michael Pryor

3. Beware of coincidences. It’s alright to have some things “just happen” but too much becomes tedious and boring. Michael recommended I pay attention to active plotting, where characters rely on smarts, not good fortune.

4. The opening scene needs to be engaging. Think about your beginning and where in your story would really be the best place to start. Something needs to be happening; it doesn’t have to be big, just with a good narrative hook.

5. Urgency factor. I think this applies to non-quest stories, too. A sense of time pressure keeps the story rolling, but it needs to be defined early in the story to help drive it.

6. Add the right sort of detail. Overcrowding your story with unnecessary detail is obviously not advisable, but there are times when adding a bit of description can really enhance your story. It’s a hard balance to obtain, I know! Adding bits and pieces here and there builds the world and taking time to detail an important scene emphases its significance.

7. Magic, consider it carefully. Magic is mighty tricky, it needs limits, some kind of system and a cost - if there’s no cost, there’s no story because all problems could be solved with a wave of a wand.

8. Last minute doubts are normal. You’ll start to doubt yourself towards the end -or at least, I do- and your polishing can feel like fussing. You just have to see it as making the story better and better and remember most writers feel doubt throughout various stages of the process; it makes us look harder at our work and ultimately improve it.

So, those are a few of the things I took away from my extended project, hopefully they offer some inspiration, interest or are useful in some way!

* In fact, this post has reminded me of a few things I’d forgotten!

Friday, 14 November 2014

Fourteen Fiction | Lemons and Oranges

This was the first 14Fiction where I seriously considered asking for a different word.

Due to me wanting to write that day, I only asked Vickie for a word (the others were either away or at work). She gave me ‘adorable’, which ordinarily I’d find a breeze but combined with this month’s calendar prompt, it clashed.

I was imagining a short, descriptive piece on autumn but unless I just stuck some random bunnies in there, that vision was no longer going to work. Even with the bunnies, I’m unlikely to use the word ‘adorable’ unless in speech. So, they’d have had to be talking bunnies...

That was when I almost got a new word. What was the harm in that? I thought. But I didn’t. I wrote the first line and then went from there. It turned out to be a really great challenge, it pushed me pushed the obvious.

Right, the words!
Adorable {Vickie}
The winter came suddenly, stealing away the last weeks of autumn. {Calendar Prompt}

The winter came suddenly, stealing away the last weeks of autumn. The villagers felt like someone had snuck in one night and stolen time. Precious time.
Now they had days to finish preparations before they were frozen into their houses for the months to come.

Two little girls with neatly braided hair stood in the blistering wind, baskets of lemons and oranges at their feet. But not one person stopped.

A traveller, passing through when she got caught up in the shock winter, noticed the little girls with their autumn-coloured hair.

‘Aren’t they adorable?’ she said to her companion. ‘Come, we should stock up if we are to be stuck here all winter.’

Her companion grabbed her arm to stop her. ‘They are the witch’s children.’ Was all he would say.

The traveller laughed it off, how ridiculous. But her companion would not let her go. They continued on to their lodgings, but the traveller could not forget the little girls.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Extend Project | World building

When I had to build the world of my novella, I found it really hard to find any kind of list to use as a guide for what to think about. I eventually made my own based on old workshop notes and my mentor’s suggestions and thought it might be helpful to share it!

World building is an integral part of Fantasy {and all genres, really}, so it’s super important to get it right. Whether you make it up as you go along or plan every last detail, it doesn’t matter. I personally like to start writing with a sound knowledge of my world, but leave finer details to sort themselves out as I go, or that’s how I try to do it.

Michael Pryor, my mentor, challenged me to think of the world in more detail than I had before, promising it would pay off in the end {which it did, of course!}. That’s when I dug around for my old notes and did some serious brainstorming.
The End of Magic was a high fantasy set in a medieval-esque world. I had to consider the different kingdoms, how they interacted, the different races, bits and piece about the general world and some detail on magic.
I drew a map {which proved to be a great tool in figuring out distances} and then consulted the following list.

The List:
Physical geography (desert? Mountains? Forests?)
Flora and fauna (the general region to base your animals and plants on, like, say, northern Europe)
Means of commerce/exchange
Level of technology
Standard clothing

Rest assured I didn’t write pages on every topic {even though I probably could have, world building can get addictive}; I mostly stuck to a paragraph for each. Some stretched to a page and some only mustered a line.
Some of the topics might sound a bit boring or not useful, but I found ones I was doubtful about could become defining points in my story. Religion became a major part of who my main character was after I got carried away making up a system of goddess. Each topic is at least worth a thought, you never know what crazy idea you might get!

Out of all the topics, I’d say Magic is the trickiest. It needs to have limits, otherwise there’s no story, and it needs to have some sort of twist {doesn’t have to be big} that makes it interesting and not a carbon-copy of someone else’s system.

World building is hard and can be annoying and confusing, but also a lot of fun. So, whether you world building to the last blade of grass, go in blind or are somewhere in the middle, I hope this helped in some way, even just to be of some interest.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Sisters Head East | Mount Gambier

Mount Gambier was the first stop on our road trip and turned out to be a really lovely town. That thing they say about Mt Gambier being a city with a country feel is so true. It’s got a great main shopping street but also hosts beautiful nature attractions like the Blue Lake.

During our stay, we walked around the Blue Lake {and meet an echidna!}, hiked the Mountain Trail, did a day trip to the Naracoorte Caves {spectacular}, visited the breathtaking Umpherston Sinkhole Garden, went shopping and had some really lovely meals {we loved the Metro bakery}.

We all really enjoyed our time there {Amy & I started daydreaming about moving} and it was sad to go, but next was the Great Ocean Road and it’s hard not to be excited about that!

1. The Blue Lake \\ 2. Echidna buddie! \\ 3. Sisters \\ 4. Alexandra Cave, Naracoorte \\ Hydrangeas at the sinkhole \\ Umpherston Sinkhole Garden