How Creativity Works: A Parable

On the dusty plain where your mind exists, you dig through the earth with crumbling fingernails searching for soil where thoughts will grow. You till the earth with a pen and are ready for the rains.

Last year’s crops were terrible, anemic excuses for crops. Tasted terrible, provided no sustenance. But the rain, the rain had been powerful. You just didn’t do enough work. This year every day, even as crops die and life becomes the toil of waiting, you work preparing the fields. The rain is coming. The winter is harsh and cold and barren, seeping the juices from your soil. All that’s left is endurance, the day-in, day-out churning of words from dirt, however malnourished.

Then it begins as a breeze, a tickling behind the ears, the neck, the ankles. Carry your hoe, shovel and sword; stand against the wind until you can see the wall of rain pounding toward you under onyx clouds, a stampede. Ride the flood.

Allow the water to crash through your veins and cleanse the dust until you are new and raw and enlightened. Strike fire with your sword as the storm overwhelms you. The speak has finally come, great streaks of lightning like Neptune’s trident in the dark. Your mind is ready, a circuit begging to be completed. So when genius and creativity arrive in the form of tumultuous storms, your tools are sharp, your mind prepared to bear crops.

Allow the storm to consume you as you consume the storm.

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nathanmarciniak/6285185919/
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The Importance of Carrying a Notebook

Two days ago, I blogged about the importance of paper. How writers, more specifically I, feel about paper and its uses for writers and within society. What about the notebook? With the innovation of the IPad and tote-worthy tablets, haven’t physical paper notebooks become a thing of a past for writers? I would contest no because I write in notebooks every day. Yesterday, I bought a new one.

Newest notebook, small enough to fit in my pocket.
As you can see, I've already christened the white paper with a new poem as of last night.

When I first got the Nook tablet, I figured that I would no longer need a notebook. There’s an app called Fliq notes where I can type in reminders to myself. Of course, I cannot do so at school. And perhaps I cannot do so quick enough when the Nook is turned off. Just pushing onscreen buttons is a hassle which takes longer than writing down the note would be. So while Fliq notes is great, I do not use it to record lines of poems I think up.

Sitting in class and you think up a paragraph for a short story you’ve been working on. Here is a place to write it.

Personally, writing in journals gives me a sort of connection to the writers of the past. Ernest Hemingway wrote in notebooks before typing up his stories. Like those writers, I can practice thinking slowly about a story instead of rattling it out too quickly. Perhaps with more time, I will be able to write something more eloquent and less fraught with spelling mistakes.

When later, I must type up the draft of a story, I am allowed to again revise the story giving me an even better story than I started off with. It’s less obnoxious as well than carrying around an IPad or laptop wherever I go. Recently, I’ve created a rule for myself. I must only buy notebooks that fit in my pocket. That way, I can carry it whenever I am going out, and in the middle of the street, if I hear something brilliant or am struck suddenly with an idea, I can write it down.

I’ve filled an entire shoe box (and more) full of notebooks, both ornate and plain. This is a collection I’ve kept since about the ninth grade. Each notebook is completely filled with words. Stories, poems, and thoughts.

I realize, that is rather a lot of words inside of those notebooks. I even included my Nook, which can served as a note-keeper too.

Here are some of my favorites:

I bought this notebook in Germany two years ago. It has musical notation on the cover and inside to one of Chopin’s most famous pieces.

Here is a better look at the cover.

This next notebook was the one I bought during Black Friday, though it was decidedly not on sale. It is actually the larger version of my newest notebook.

This next notebooks is another definite favorite for two reasons. First off, it is small with rounded edges, also thin. Making it very easy to carry in my pocket wherever I go. Though my newer notebook is smaller, it is thicker, which can be irksome at times. Also, this poem was the last bought during my trip to Alabama three weeks ago. It is already filled with stories and poems.

Lastly, my utmost favorite notebook. My uncle bought this notebook for me in Karlsruhe at which point I stopped transcribing my adventures in marble notebooks and began in this. In fact, the journal entries and sketches in this notebook were the inspiration for my poem “The Savage Summer.” The cover design and spin held together by strings, the entire poem is just… a work of art. See for yourself.

I hope you have enjoyed viewing these and learning about my own notebooks. Do you hold notebooks dear to you as well? If so, share your stories in the comment section below. Tell me about what sort of notebooks you own and how you use them. Until next time, Ciao.

What I Learned From Acting: How to Make Characters People

If you ever want to learn how to make a character become a real, fleshed-out person, audition for a play. Become a character.

A few weeks ago, I auditioned for The Crucible on the spur of the moment and learned the following day that I had been cast as Giles

This is what I'm SUPPOSED to look like. Handsome, eh?

Corey, a combative 87-year-old man whose wife is arrested as a witch. He storms the courts in an attempt to save her life.

Never having acted in a play before, there was much to learn. But what I really wanted to figure out was how to make a character come to life. Set in Puritan times, we could not convey the characters as modern people, yet had to be relate-able to modern people. This created an interesting conflict.

Who is Giles Corey?

In the script, he’s almost daft, certainly crazy. I was an old man, yet I was 17. How could I act older, appear older? What might I think differently, being much, much older?

But what does he care about? BECOMING a character forces you to ask more questions. Therefore, even a minor character in a story has great internal conflicts. Giles is fiercely loyal and for that reason, dies by the end of the play. Yet he is frightened by death, angered by those who permit innocents to die.

When writing a novel, use some of these same questions to help make your characters more real. If it works for actors, it works for writers too.

1.) Understand the many facets of your character

Even if your character does something horrendous, perhaps he or she does it for a good reason. Even “evil” characters have qausi-good intentions at times. At one point during the play, I lunged at another man, screaming, “I’ll cut your throat, Putman! I’ll kill you yet!” While seemingly a deadly promise, consider that I scream this line at the man who just damned me to die. It’s understandable.

In your story, make sure to understand everything your character does and make sure it’s “in character.” Even if you don’t reveal these reasons in your story, you need to know them to keep your character consistent.

2.) Know your relationships

If you’re character is a cruel guy, maybe he’s not cruel to everyone. Nice people are not nice to everyone. Know how each character feels for the others. Are they jealous or respectful or resentful? Especially if characters are relation, figure out their family dynamic. Again, there’s no need to overtly explain this, but it’s safe to know how each character might react.

3.) Know what your character owns

This may sound weird, but it’s important to know what a character owns. His clothes. His possessions. Does he have a wallet or a money clip? Does he wear bowler caps or cowboy hats? What do these things say about him?

Know what sort of car he or she drives. Know how your character might decorate his or her bedroom/apartment. Know whether or not your character owns pets. Again, you don’t need to describe all of this, but know it.

One great trick I learned is to pick a single object of great importance to your character. Make the character own the possession. Whatever it is, this is distinctly this character’s possession. In The Crucible, Giles walks with a cane. The cane became a very important part of my character. I could use it in so many different ways to help show my emotion.

I might shake it at someone because I’m angry. I might rub the top nervously. I might spin it in my hands.

All of these visual cues can be translated into a story to represent what your character is feeling. After a number of times, the reader will understands that, “Giles stroked the cane, spinning it in his fingers” means “Giles was nervous.”

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These are all the pieces of advice I have at the moment, but take them into consideration to help your characters breathe. We justfinished the first weekend of performances. The last 3 start on this Friday. I have learned so much from acting in this play and will definitely blog about it later on in the week, because the people I’ve met are amazing. It has taught me a lot about character development and a lot about people.

Flashback Thursday: The Hogwarts Dorm Life

My friends and I began a vlogging team that cataloged the lives of Hogwarts students. Here are the introduction videos for all three of them, myself included. There is also a short film we did as these characters, which I intend to post soon. Enjoy.

Me:

Tim McFall:

Anna Brisbin:

What did you think? This was actually a really fun, cool idea, but did not work. Anna ended up going to NYU for theatre, so how cool is that?

The Character Arc Corellation

You cannot write a good book without good characters. Compelling characters drive the plot of any novel, even those which are “plot-driven.” Because even in the midst of an alien invasion, you won’t really care about what happens unless you care about who it all happens to.

The thing about a novel is, a novel has no budget. It’s not like a Hollywood blockbuster that must use a set amount of funds. Well, perhaps people need budgets for marketing, but in plot terms, a writer can do whatever they’d like. The same stands true for characters.

The novel is a unique art form in that you can make whatever you’d like happen– in music, in films, the creators do not carry that same freedom. But to mold characters fully formed– realistic with flaws and contradictions and wide ranges of emotions– that’s a quite difficult task.

If a character can make you both laugh and cry, that may well be the gauge of how well you can relate to him or her. Relating to readers, however, relies on more than what most authors surmise. Many authors believe that by attributing quirky traits to characters, it helps their characters seem unique. That’s not true, though, unless this characteristic will play a crucial part in the story.

For example, in Chuck Palahniuk’s Invisible Monsters, the narrator is missing the bottom half of her face. She’s an ex-model. In this way, a characteristic is more than just a characteristic, but an important plot point. This contradiction of what she used to be and what she now is demands the question of what occurred since then and now. In Black Swan Green by David Mitchell, the narrator speaks with a stammer; rather than be a simple characteristic, it helps propel the story.

A character, sure, might own a lot of cats, but that novel better have a lot to do with cats. If you give a character a huge scar across his face, you better explain what car accident or dark wizard gave him that scar. Don’t fall into Dickens syndrome, attributing exaggerated physical traits to characters with only stereotypical consequences. Those do not help us understand and sympathize the character; instead, we merely know that if she has a big nose, she is nosy.

People, though, are weird, jammed to the trachea with contradictions. Use that. Characters must act in the same way. Consider what makes the people you know unique. Their hobbies, their aspirations, their beliefs. These very real characteristics drawn from life contribute the motives behind which characters act.

To help a reader sympathize with a character, you need to make them go through Hell. I’m not going to care about a character for whom everything goes right– frustrate him and make him misunderstood. Make him suffer. Make him sometimes cruel. No one’s motivations are simple. Remember that.

What must be kept in mind is that characters must be fully developed. If I do not care about your characters, I will not care about your book. It doesn’t matter what happens to people that I feel I cannot care about. So, in writing stories, make sure you feel that you’re writing about real people. It will make your ability to reach people that much greater.

Facebook’s Dirty Secret

Using Facebook nowadays, I feel like an old woman dipping her toes into social-networking waters. Calling out to my son to ask how to comment and how to look at Aunt Judy’s new album of her new cat. In my me-as-old-woman fantasy, it’s a Siamese cat, and I get to use a Mac Book Air, but have no clue how to.

Since joining Facebook in 2006, I have survived through dozens of website design changes. The newest change literally puts a live-action news feed in the top-right corner of your already existing news feed. Soon, it will release the “Timeline” feature which will confuse me further. But why must Facebook make changes? Why are people up in arms about this? Simply, read on.

When I first joined, Facebook looked like this:

Now, it looks like this:

Soon, it will look like this:

So, what’s up with the changes? Well, a site like Facebook can’t afford to not evolve. With Google + as a new viable competitor, Facebook must……. oh, who am I kidding? Google + doesn’t stand a chance.

Sure, it will gain new users after the “change,” but really the change might help us. Now, I no longer have to spend hours of the day checking each person’s status to see what comments were left. Now, Facebook does that for me. So, do you need to stalk your ex or find out where the nearest party is? Well, it now requires absolutely no work.

Facebook repeatedly puts us all on the same level of clueless confusion. Once our parents and grandparents joined Facebook, our generation laughed at their ineptitude. But now we find ourselves… scrambling for answers.

No, Facebook! You’ve taken away our savvy, our only source of pride. Now we’re on the same level as our grandparents. We are old ladies using the internet for the first time.

Well, at least they haven’t figured out Google + yet.

So, maybe, this is a conspiracy to knock us down a level. I’m watching you, Zuckerburg. I’m watching…

SENSATIONAL HEADLINE GARNERS ATTENTION!!!

Writing for a newspaper, you keep strict guidelines on what you right about. Even as a columnist, you’re not allowed to spread gossip or back up your argument with hearsay. Like, did you guys hear that Obama is an illegal alien? No, like an Extra Terrestrial alien, straight from Jupiter. He crash-landed here in 2006. After two years, he successfully took over AMERICA!!

The truth is, the truth is boring. What is exciting is sensation. Oh, you’re girlfriend broke up with you? Yaaaaaaaaawn! How about, your girlfriend cheated on you with your half-brother, so then you committed a brutal double homicide?

What is worse, now, is that what we think is sensational is not. At least fifty years ago, reporters squawked about murders and embezzlement scams, but now all that’s kept hush-hush. Now, the government’s part of the game, with all the Aces up its sleeve, so we shout new sensations like…

MILEY CYRUS SHOWS CLEAVAGE

like…

LADY GAGA EATS A BURGER KING WHOPPER!! GAINS 1/2 POUND!

like…

THE SECRETS TO WINNING SCRABBLE

We cop out to sensationalism, but we can’t even do it right. I use this notion when creating names for poems. Names like…

Skinny Dipping with Strangers

Sexting While Driving

Anything to render a reader’s attention, or that of a listener. We use flashiness, though, to hide that there may not be real stories. We ignore the real to highlight the trivial. Like… the innovation of new ketchup packages…

Shopping habits of frugal buyers.

Listen, if you want to me to listen, give me a serial killer, give me a historical building being blown apart, give me a mob war… surely the most interesting news we have to offer isn’t that Ashton Kutcher is now part of Two and a Half Men.

ALL CAPS IN BOLD HOLDS GREAT POWER.

True Blood: Season 4 in Review

True Blood is one of those dirty secret shows– a secret pleasure that can be indulged in on your computer, so that your parents don’t realize your actually watching a show with… well, sex. Or even worse, vampires.

If you have not watched the finale or any of episode of Season 4, don’t read this. If you have, please share your thoughts below.

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The finale was disappointing, honestly. It may have been okay as a regular episode, but does not stand up to the insane mind-bending finales of seasons past.

When Marnie entered Lafayette’s body, I could have seen a lot of worse stuff going down. The wrap-up? Gran and Antonia team up kick Marnie’s… I mean, teach Marnie that once you’re dead, you should move on to Heaven or “the great unknown” rather than dwell on earth like a sulky little child. Although Marnie began to irritate me, Fiona Shaw did an awesome job as unhinged witch. For that matter, so did Nelsan Ellis. I mean, that guy has talent! He was THREE different characters in one season.

Although I really really hated the fairies, I’m confused about why we haven’t revisited them. It just seems so lost, beyond that single hook-up with Andy that that one fairy had. It just seems like Alan Ball realized that he may have introduced fairies too soon, so he’s hiding them under his skirt until later. For the same reason, the creepy, incestuous were-panther clan did not make a return. When someone came a’knockin’ on Jason’s door after Jessica Riding Hood left, I thought for sure Crystal was coming to drag him back to her love shack. NOPE! It was only the kindly reverend, only now with fangs.

Although I really don’t like Sookie and if she died, I’d still watch the show, I HAVE to talk about her. So, she did show some strength throughout this season and growth in her character. By rejecting both Bill and Eric, she finally made a sensible decision and really showed resolve. As in, she did less crying for help and did some more shooting Debbie Pelt in the face. Sure, it’s a gratuitous death, but no one really liked her anyhow. Speaking of deaths… Alan Ball must have realized he was running too many story lines.

I got bored of Tara after Eggs died, so I don’t even mind that she got her head blown off. I’m surprised, in fact, she hasn’t already died. Despite her being annoying, though, I wish Ball had done MORE with her. At the beginning of this season, she was a butt-kicking kick boxer, and by the end– right back to boring, helpless Tara.

Jesus died. Which is too bad, because I really liked that Lafayette had someone. And also, his brujo powers, though freaky, could be a little cool. I suspect Lafayette has inherited said powers, which will become important next season. No one can seem to just be in a happy relationship. Apparently, not even Terry or Arlene, because Rene came back in ghost form to warn Arlene about Terry’s past. Could he be referring to that Marine guy who just suddenly showed up in the finale? Yes, of course he’s talking about that guy. Also, why would Arlene listen to her serial killer ex?

Tommy is dead too, another character who showed absolutely no growth. I liked him at first, but then, like the others, he became boring. He never really changed, rather just finding new ways to mess with Sam. I am digging that Sam is happy (which naturally can’t last) and that he and Alcide have become bros.

Speaking of Alcide, he finally did the smart thing by trying to get with Sookie, and then Sookie did the selfish thing and said… Hm… no. At the end of the episode, he found a whole in a concrete car lot with severed chains nearby. Hm… Is Russel Edgington returning? If so, yipee! Seriously, that guy was awesome. He’s a gentleman AND ripped some dude’s spine out on live television. He certainly makes the show more exciting.

Eric and Bill are bros too now I guess. And they worked together to kill off Nan who actually wanted to help them fight the authority. Not smart, because she could have helped. Whoever “the authority” is, they sound pretty powerful. I guess if they need someone with a bloodlust for the “authority,” they could appeal to Edgington. They’re likely on pretty good terms after Eric silvered him and trapped him beneath a ton of concrete.

So, the big problem was that… the fourth season did not compare to season 3. It was good at moments, but otherwise, it fell flat. It did not meet expectations. Of course, it’s True Blood, so I’ll come crawling back next season for a fresh serving of gore, sex, and confusing story lines. If I were in charge of season 5, I would do the following:

1.) Hoyt and Jason battle-royale for Jessica’s love. TO THE DEATH!

2.) Pam leaves Eric for good, because Eric is annoying.

3.) Eric returns to his devious ways and tries to hook up with girls other than Sookie.

4.) Lafayette becomes a super witch and basically just chills with his ghost boyfriend.

5.) Russel Edgington kills Sookie, Bill, and maybe Holly too. That way, all the annoying characters will be gone.

6.) Jessica (Deborah Ann Wohl) will appear in more nude scenes. (Just a personal wish.)

7.) Alan Ball conveniently forgets that Charlaine Harris added the fairy element to his books. Scratch those were-panthers too. Get it? SCRATCH them? Because… they have sharp claws and will eat your face.

8.) More gore and violence (let’s be honest about why I like this show.)

How to De-stress

Since 8 o’ clock this morning, I’ve been fretting over college applications. And personal statements and scholarship essays. Pile these life-changing applications atop mountains of schoolwork:  essays and research projects and benumbing busy work. Atop poetry submissions to various magazines and the need to work on the design for a chapbook and the need to further edit my novel and the need to send more queries and hope that this time, there will be one agent who won’t be “sorry to inform” me of anything.

So, instead of working on any of those things, I play Mario Kart.

I pick the largest racer (Bowser, usually, or Donkey Kong) and I pick the largest vehicle possible. I will play online as a visitor and spend the time knocking opponents off the edge. It doesn’t matter if I topple off with them, because winning the race isn’t the point. The point is to fee better. And by being a jerk to people on Mario Kart, I feel better.

Some people punch holes in walls or sob heavily or immerse themselves in work. I play Mario Kart. Think of this as the geek’s version of going to bars and getting in fights. Sometimes, I even pick out just one person to terrorize. After they fall off the edge of a rainbow path, I pause to wait for them so I can knock them off again. This may seem rather aggressive, but it helps.

That’s not the only way I de-stress.

Some people find that yoga helps. I like to cook pasta for myself and others, only eat it all of it myself. I’ll write mocking poetry. I’ll buy things I clearly don’t need and that are incredibly overprice:  Fruit Gushers, for example. Because what says “happy” better than a bag of fruit snacks filled with delicious?

Sometimes life gets stressful, so yes, sometimes you have to be a jerk on Mario Kart Wii.