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Week 4 – The Writer’s Platform & A writing excercise February 25, 2010

Posted by mattfarmer in Writing Group.
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I have begun this blog because I have read so much positive and encouraging words regarding the Writer’s Platform. The first place I heard about this concept was here – Tribal Writer. Justine Lee Musk has said other things regarding this topic, including a guide to getting on to Twitter. These are articles and concepts I am still trying to digest.

I further investigated this concept through the Creative Penn, by author Joanna Penn, and in particular this article.

This is all new territory for me. I have written for years, in the classical style of the author, alone at his desk. I have hand written stories, messed around with a type writer, and finally I now have a desktop and a fantastic little net-book to carry around with me. The first time I ever encountered a writing community was the National Novel Writing Month. I had always been told to join a writing group, and beside a failed attempt post-university to meet up weekly at a pub, this was the first time.

The people I have met through Nanowrimo have been fantastic, creative, scary and absurd. All the things you would expect in a creative melting pot. They were also supportive and encouraging.

So, 8 years of Nanowrimo, and 8 completed novels, it is only now that I am venturing into the world of the online. I will admit to being shy. However, nothing ventured, as they say in the classics. So here I have my blog. I have a twitter, and am setting up my Facebook presence.

I did read somewhere, some time ago, that an author should not have an online blog, as it would take away time from their creative writing. We will see. This is an experiment by me, after all.

Writing group last night. We did talk a lot about this concept of the Writer’s Platform, hence my thoughts above. And when it came time for setting the writing exercise for the week no one had any suggestions, and went to bed without one. THis left me with the joy of setting it for them, with just my input.

I have a few websites I have tagged as great resources for inspiration and creativity. I have found the forums of rpg.net to be absolute gold mines. Roleplaying is such a creative pursuit, collective storytelling with characters not controlled by you. And the people on that site are always looking for creative ways to improve their games.

The 7th Sanctum is also a great place to spark something.

I also enjoy grabbing portraits and artwork from Deviant Art and Elfwood.

For the excercise this week, I grabbed a phrase from a thread in the RPG forums:

“J.D. Salinger’s final, unpublished manuscript was uncovered last week, and Limited Edition – a Seattle auction house – will be hosting the sale of rights.”

I then selected 8 pictures of characters from my folders, various people from various genres, and challenged the group to do one of two things- put their own character, from their verse, as per the other assignments, at the auction, and include at least 2 of the provided characters; OR, use one of the characters as POV, and then at least 2 others, at the same auction.

I will report how I go with the assignment later.

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When inspiration strikes, and where to keep it February 23, 2010

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I remember the first thing that was told to me in my writing course at university. Every writer should carry a note pad and pen with them at ALL TIMES. That very day, at lunch time, I went to the uni shop and bought a fancy note-book and pen. I discovered the fancy note-book did not fit into my pocket. I also discovered you do not need to spend a lot of money on fancy note pads. They are merely paper with which to record ideas.

I now carry around with me, everywhere I go, a Canadian notepad. This is an important fact. Canadian notepads (or North American, if you must be accurate) open out like a regular book. Where as notepads in Australia flip open upwards. I carry these Canadian note pads around with me for two reasons: 1. I bought them while in Canada with my friend. So now when I run low she must send me more. 2: my friend bought me a fantastic hand-made leather notepad holder designed specifically for this very type of notebook. So you see, I HAVE to always have this type of notepad.

It goes with me where I go and whatever I am wearing. My friends know I always have it on me, and those who don’t, always get a surprise when they ask for a pen.

Monday night just passed, I was sitting on the train platform, heading home after basketball. We lost, I was tired and sweaty and just wanted to get home. It was a mostly empty set of platforms, at night, pale fluorescent lighting, vending machines and discarded news papers. An express train wooshed past on another platform. I was reminded of the Matrix films, when Neo and Agent Smith fought in the first movie, and when they chased the Trainman in the third movie…

… and so my mind begins to wander. I am visualising a fight scene on the mostly deserted platform. I actually thought it would be a fun idea to bring some screen writers and film makers down here and perhaps plot out a fight scene, just as a creative exercise. I am imagining a great beast of sorts, fighting a more human looking character. I have a story seed buried somewhere which would fit this scene perfectly.

I can see the fight, light poles being bent and twisted, vending machines being destroyed, cans hissing and fizzing on the platform. I can see the big bad guy picking up a beaten and bruised good guy and throwing him into the path of an oncoming train. Being supernatural (of course), the good guy manages to get away somehow, which angers the big bad beast. Live to fight another day, as they say.

So, sitting on the platform, I grope through my sports bag and find my leather-bound note pad and my simple black pen. I thumb to a blank page and write, with atrocious hand writing, the bones of this fight scene, some notes on who the beast is, on who the human could be, have another spark of inspiration, and make the human a butler for the lead characters, rather than the lead himself. That gives him more an air of mystery. I make notes as to which idea seed it belongs to, and along comes my train.

It is such a simple thing to have, a note pad and pen. I do know that if I didn’t carry it with me all the time, many a brilliant idea, those sparks of creative awesome, would fizzle on the winds and be lost.

Week 3 Writing Group February 19, 2010

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For Week Two I proposed a minor character have a rant at the main character. I had the First Officer aboard the tramp freighter Ter Vitas have words with the Captain, Jarred, over his current relationship with a pirate. It lacked a bit of spice, so I added a table full of empty pint glasses and shot glasses, and it got messier, rawer.

I brought this to group, and was, not remonstrated with, but was told that while yes, anger can grow easily from alcohol, it does remove the emotional content and contact from the piece.

So the exercise this week, was to turn the mood around. Show a side character and their LOVE for the main character. It can be a monologue, a crush, a love letter, something that indicates the minor character loves the main character.

I suddenly thought back to my anger and hate story, where they characters were drunk, and thought- natural progression – drunken anger turns into drunk – I love youse.

But then I was called on it, and how that lacks an emotional contact with the subject. I was challenged to write the ‘love’ scene, without any alcohol involved, and if I could, with the same two men.

So that is my challenge this week. To have a bromance, an admission of love, between my First Officer and the captain.

I chose these two writing exercises so my writing group could get to know their established characters more. Its something they seem to want to do. Write shorter fiction around already established characters. They are enjoying looking at characters they already love and hate, from different angles and points of view.

I liked the ‘hate’ exercise because often people love their main characters. They may be flawed, but they are the GOOD guys. so it can be hard for you to show ‘hate’ or ‘anger’ towards them. You have invested time and energy in creating a hero to champion your cause, to drive your story onwards, so why would you want to take that character down a peg or two?

I love my characters too. I invest in them, I create them, and as such, I become fond of them. While I can put them in bad situations, I don’t want to kill them, and I don’t want to hate them. But, I am learning, not how to round a character out, but how to see them in different lights.

This is a good thing

Fitting promises around life February 17, 2010

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I have stated I will commit to writing Tuesdays and Thursdays, and my short stories on Sundays. This is a commitment I am making to myself, however, it is written here in black and white, so I have let you all know of it.

Sunday was Valentine’s Day. I had a lunch and movie date, so no writing was done. But I am okay with this. I don’t feel worked up and stressed that I did not write. I have since made up for it tonight with my Short Story class homework, but still, I was okay with not writing on Sunday.

I visited a book store and read some inspiring things about writing, copy writing as well. And I also saw a great film- The Hurt Locker. As I said in a previous post about inspiration from reading, I also find inspiration from films and television. Everyone does. I always try to take something away from a film, or a book, that I use to improve myself.

What I took from this film was the awesome focus on character. Talking about the film afterwards, we agreed that if this was a big budget film, there would have been a Big Bad, a villain with a face, and the end of the movie would be the Bad Guy being killed, and the American bomb disposal team winning the day.

The fact this does not happen, was fantastic for me. Of course, SOMETHING happens, you see the heroic journey of the main character travel full circle, but that the movie was all about this flawed man, and not about chasing down bad guys and conspiracies, was utterly brilliant.

I also did not write Tuesday night. Again, I am okay with this.

Wednesday has come around, and it is the night of my writing group. I have written a nigh-on 1000 word emotional rant at my main character, attacking his relationship with a known pirate. It is great how well dialogue and a scene can flow out of you when it is really driven by emotion. Directing anger at someone, no matter how small the thing you are angry about, and the work just pours out of you.

I will speak about emotion and writing at another time. However, I have managed to fit at least one of my commitments into my life, if indeed I had to squeeze it in. But, until I am a paid writer, a professional writer in whatever form that takes, I will, by necessity, have to squeeze writing around life. It is what we all do. I am just trying to show life that yes, Life happens, but I will carve some time our for my writing work.

Reading as inspiration February 13, 2010

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This year I hope to be a significant year for me. I have made promises to myself, I have finally put my writing out there, but I have also declared that I would like to make a conscious effort to read outside my pet genres. I love speculative fiction, science fiction, fantasy, cyberpunk, and all fantastical things.

I have quite a collection of these books on my shelves, and in boxes in the garage. It is an old adage that you read what you like to read, and you write what you like to write, and both these things are connected.

However, an author told me once that he was reading gumshoe mysteries as research for his latest science fiction. This sounded strange to me at first, however after discussion, it made perfect sense. Just because a book sits on the science fiction shelf, and a book sits on a the crime shelf, does not mean once cannot influence the other. There can be elements of mystery and horror, romance and comedy in science fiction and fantasy.

This idea sounds completely obvious to me now, but it was such a revelation to me at the time. Of course!

A year ago a friend gave me for Christmas some Harlan Coben crime novels, starring Myron Bolitar. He bought them for me because the main character is a basketball with a knee injury. That would be me. He thought I would love it because I was the main character. Of course, that did make him Windsor Horne Lockwood III. He was quite okay with this.

This was the first time in a long time, possibly since university, that I read outside my genre. And I liked it. I enjoyed the story; I enjoyed the writing, the characters and all that. And not a space station in sight. This appreciation of a different genre lead me to prompt my writing group to write outside their genre. I tried to write a romantic comedy. What I wrote wasnt so bad, and there was a seduction to a Bon Jovi song.

So, this year, to broaden my horizons, I have put it out there that I wish to read outside my genre, watch tv shows outside my pet genres. Of course, I will stray back into speculative fiction, but i will try to be strong.

So far this year I have read ‘The Book Thief’ written by Markus Zusak. I will admit I wanted to read this book purely because of the title, however I am so glad I read this book. Utterly amazing. The narrative point of view, the language, the description, it was beautiful. And it influenced me, of course. We are all sponges, what we read, hear, watch, it all sinks in and influences what you produce. I know that when I was writing a gun fight in my novel I used different descriptive words than I would normally use, and I liked it.

I am now reading a biography of Black Sabbath, just to mix things up. What I am enjoying about this book is reading about people, saving tidbits for possible future characters in stories. I am reading about characters, who are real people. I don’t know where or when, but I am sure one of my characters in the future may have a past in a band, touring, creating albums in 1 week, with crazy managers and fans.

All reading is  good imagination fodder.

Commitments to writing February 11, 2010

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As I said in my introduction, I host, run, participate in a weekly writing group. It was the second week of the year last night. The first week, last week, went well. Introductions, hopes and wishes for the year. The writing assignment in week one was to take a heroic main character and show them doing something “bad”. And then take one of your villains and show them doing something “good”. You had to use some already established characters you have written about.

It gave me some depth to characters I had already thought I knew. Who knew that one of the Board of Directors actually liked to bake cookies with his mum?

So this week we discussed commitments to writing; promises you make to yourself to say- I am going to write. For me it is a case of Tuesday and Thursday nights will be dedicated to writing established work, be they novels, or working on short story re-writes, or writing this blog. And Sundays will be for my weekly writing homework from the writing group. Monday is basketball, Wednesday is writing group, and the weekend is the weekend

This isn’t to say that writing outside these planned writing times is not allowed. Far from it! You can write anytime! I plan to write more on the train into work, once I get my novel back up and running. I discovered I wrote more on the train to and from work, and during my half hour lunch break, than I did at home after work.

Back to the writing group. When discussing a writing assignment, it was decided to continue looking at already established characters some more, to write around them and see what we could see about them.

So this week the assignment was to look at the main character in your story, and then look just to the side of them, or just behind them. See a minor character who is not the main character. Then, have that minor character absolutely lose it. Get angry, rant, swear curse and just go nuts at the main character. See  what it is like from the point of view of someone who isn’t in the spotlight, but is really ticked off at the lead.

Already I like that the group wants to write, and has a say in what they want to write about. I enjoy being with people who want to write. I now have to find someone who is pissed off at Jarred.

But who could possibly be angry at him? He is the hero! He has been through adversity and heart ache and he is a nice guy and everyone loves him. Don’t they?

Introduction February 10, 2010

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The Who am I says it briefly. I am a writer.

I have written eight novels through the National Novel Writing Month, four of which were urban fantasy set in the Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy, and my four latest books being science fiction (What I like to call sc-fi-lite). I am very impressed with my four science fiction books, and I can see myself growing stronger as a writer with each one I write. I have the fifth and final book to write now. I have made myself a mission- write the book OUTSIDE of nanowrimo.

I host an online writing group each week which is specifically aimed at the short story. We discuss writing, and set weekly writing assignments. This keeps my creative mind fresh and onto different subject, not totally focused on the world of my novels. I will update on my blog what we discussed and the writing assignment for the week.

I will also update my blog with any other thoughts or events related to my life as a writer. I may post pieces of fiction as well.