GUEST – Abigail Falanga – Glorious Boundries

Today, I’m glad to have author Abigail Falanga to share her insights on how the boundries of fanfiction can help you become a more creative writer!

Abagail falangaFrom Abigail:

Confession:

I don’t read fan fiction.

I don’t even write much fanfic any more.

Anyone still reading?

Good. Because, whatever my failings in the fanfic regard, what I have written has taught me so much – about writing and even about the world.

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Dear Anne #8 – Words Are Your Trade

Dear Anne,

I realized this week that it has been a month since I’ve written, and for that I want to apologize. I’m sure you understand how crazy summer can be sometimes, even though it’s supposed to be “vacation” time. Ha!

Right now you’re starting back to high school and you’re getting ready for your Sweet 16 party. How did this happen? You make me feel old. Maybe I am. But I won’t admit it for another two years.

As you’re getting back into daily social interactions with your teenage friends, I wanted to write this letter to remind you of something very important. If you’re going to be a writer, you must embrace the fact that words are your trade. You are to become an expert at the manipulation and proper construction of words and sentences.

Have you been watching the Olympics? I have. I’m struck with this one simple fact: when an athlete keys in on who they are as an athlete, they train insanely in their chosen discipline. The announcers revealed that rhythmic gymnasts train ten hours a day, six days a week. Katie Ledecky gets up at 4am to begin her training day, putting in about eight and a half miles of swimming. Every. Day.

These athletes have embraced that thing that makes them an athlete, so they train at that thing excessively.

Words are what make you a writer. They are your tools, your friends, and sometimes your worst enemies. But without words you could never be a writer. You should thrive on words, exercise your words, train your words, and embrace words in all their complexity and mood swings. Because words are your trade.

You are an athlete of words.

darth grammarWhat does that mean? Listen to the way you speak, listen to the way others speak, and improve your words. Practice saying things the right way, rather than flippant teen-speech. When texting or posting on Facebook, write your words all the way instead of abbreviations. Vulgarity in speech could never compare to the power of a cleverly crafted comeback.

Also, listen to your English teacher intently. Absorb all you can about the construction of words into complex sentences. Understand how words interact with each other and how subtle meanings can change based on the nuances of grammatical structure. You don’t have to make English your favorite subject, but you should take it seriously.

Expand your vocabulary. Always look for new words to add to your arsenal. Make a thesaurus your best friend. But don’t just add more weapons, understand how they work and when to use them. Words are powerful and fun, but not all words are appropriate in every situation. Learn what words to use and when.

I’m not saying you have to be a perfect speller. I’m not. But I’ve trained myself over the years and I’m better than most people whose words are not their trade. I’m not saying become a grammar nazi. I’m not. But I’ve trained myself over the years and I’m better than most people whose words are not their trade.

Words are your trade. Learn words. Embrace words. Use words properly. Become an expert with words. Train with words as if you were training for an Olympics for word-smiths.

And if I see lol or jk or idk or anything like that in any of your stories, I may just crawl through the computer, forget the fact that you’re about to be sixteen, and make you stand in the corner until you apologize.

Respect words.

-odk

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Dear Anne #6 – Dealing With Life and Motivation

Dear Anne,

Life and motivation are big problems for writers. Life will always get in the way and much of the time motivation to write will be a difficult thing for you to find. I must admit, this is how I feel most of the time. When the creative juices are flowing I can write very quickly. But when I can’t get my head in the right place it is very difficult to stay motivated. Most anything can take my mind away…church responsibilities, spending time with my family, lack of inspiration, chores, writer depression (that sagging feeling every writer gets that they are a failure at writing), accidents, unexpected expenses, unexpected trips to town, TV, internet, loss of my “want to.” The list goes on and on. But if I’m going to be a writer, I have to deal with all of that and find ways to write anyway. You’re going to need to do the same thing.

So with that introduction out of the way, here are some ways to deal with life and motivation.

waiting to write1. Life happens. It can’t be helped. Admit it. Accept it. The most well-intentioned and prolific writers in the world have been derailed by life. And there will come times in your life when you just don’t feel like or can’t emotionally handle the writing process. You lose your “want to.”

But dealing with life is a part of the reason writers write to begin with. It’s their escape from reality if only for a few minutes. It’s their creative outlet that helps them recharge. It’s their emotional expression that helps them vent. Sure you must know how to balance life with writing, but life is also the fuel for writing.

You may not be able to actually put fingers on the keyboard, but you can write in your mind. Let life be your inspiration.

2. Write in the cracks. Do you have any idea how much time we waste everyday? Ten minute here. Fifteen there. Just one more Netflix episode. I know this is a rerun, but I really like this one. Find those cracks of time that you’re wasting and find a way to use them to write. Evernote or Onenote on your phone or tablet may be perfect for this. When you have a moment and an idea, jot it down. When you have more time you can return to that idea and write it more fully. Look for those little nuggets of time you can use to write a few more words.

3. Write what you’re passionate about. In an interview with Joss Whedon, the writer and director of The Avengers, he answered the mystery of how he stayed so prolific in his work. How did he get so much done so quickly? His answer was simple…he writes what he’s “into” at the moment. In other words, if there’s a particular scene that he can’t get out of his head, he writes it. It doesn’t matter where it is in the story…he writes what he’s into. And once he gets all of those things out his system, he begins the slower process of piecing the story together with the scenes he skipped. If you’re having trouble being motivated to write that boring scene you’re just not into, skip it and write the one you’re passionate about.

one word - neil gainman4. Butt in seat. (This is actually an official battle cry of writers everywhere.) Sometimes it’s just this simple. Sit your butt down in front of your computer and start writing. You’ll be surprised at how difficult this can be. Life and everything will tell you to ignore that seat. But that seat will start staring at you…pointing its finger. You’ll begin avoiding it. You won’t even look at it. You know it wants you and you can’t ignore it forever. Just sit your butt down and write.

Because writing is a discipline.

In an earlier letter I talked about studying what you want to write by reading the things similar to what you want to write. But you must also realize that writing, like anything worth doing, requires practice. It’s a discipline that must be exercised whether you feel like it or not.

I was in the band throughout high school and college. I was a music major and a band director for a few years when I graduated. At one point I was practicing over an hour a day on my instrument. Many of those days I didn’t feel like it, but if I wanted to be an accomplished musician I had to do the work whether I felt like it or not.

Singers practice singing. Athletes practice their sports. Artists practice their art. I’m sure you know that practice is essential to getting better at anything, but the often overlooked part of practice is that you must PURPOSE to practice. A baseball player doesn’t just accidentally show up for practice. A dancer doesn’t accidentally show up for rehearsal. And you won’t accidentally write.

There are days the baseball player doesn’t want to practice. But he goes anyway. There are days when the dancer doesn’t want to rehearse. But she does anyway. There will be days when you don’t want to write. And those may be the most important days for you TO write.

Just get your butt in the seat.

one word - stephen king5. One word at a time. This is Stephen King’s secret to writing. Just write one word at a time. Neil Gaiman says to just put one word after another until it’s done.

One word leads to one sentence. One sentence leads to a paragraph. One paragraph leads to another, and so on until you’ve written a whole page. Pages lead to chapters. Chapters become books. Don’t know what to write or where to start? Try writing just one word.

6. Find your routine. Habits are habit forming. If you write every day at 4:30, then that time becomes sacred. You’ll schedule your entire day around that sacred time. You’ll feel incomplete if you miss it. Find your habit…a daily habit. Whether it’s an hour, thirty minutes, or just fifteen minutes…it doesn’t matter. Just lock it in and say, “This is MY writing time. Do not disturb.”

But no matter how good intentioned you are about writing with a routine, life happens and you’re going to drop the ball. One of your scheduled writing times will be interrupted. And the next time you’ll find it easier to be distracted, until one day you think, “Hey, I should really start writing again.” That’s when it hits you that you STOPPED writing and you’re kinda okay with that. Never be okay with that.

Find your routine and protect it like a wild animal.

7. Kill the time wasters. You can’t write if you’re letting time wasters suck all your extra time away. You may intend to sit down and write and spend all your time on Facebook instead. Then you’ve missed your writing time. Your routine becomes a Facebook routine and not a writing routine. So you must learn to recognize the time wasters and kill them.

Close Facebook. Turn the TV off. Put your phone in another room. Get rid of any and every possible distraction around you. Open your story and use your writing time to write. That’s when you have time well-spent.

I hope this helps you when life derails you. Don’t let lack of motivation be an excuse for not writing. If you want to be a writer you’ve got to learn to write even when life gets in the way.

-odk

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Dear Anne #5 – Basic Story Planning

Dear Anne,

I write this letter on basic story planning, because that’s what you need right now. We’ve had some conversations already on this very thing, so I want to give you some more basic tools to help you properly plan your story.

Simply put, you have to know your story before you can write your story. There are writers who construct a plot first and populate it with characters to act out that plot. There are writers who create characters first and then give them something to do. There are even writers who have something to say to the reader or society, and they create the plot and characters in order to say what they want to say.

I’ll talk about these three approaches in more detail later. But what I want you to know is no matter what the approach or which approach you naturally take, these writers all have the same thing in common…they have an idea of what they want to write before they write it.

Even “seat of the pantsers” (writers who write by the seat of their pants without detailed planning) have something in mind – a goal, certain characters, developments, or plot points – before they write. Writers like this are usually more character driven, and they KNOW their characters.

It may sound like knowing your story is a no-brainer, but it’s easier said than done.

First, let me restate what we discussed in chat. Create timelines. This works really well when getting to know your characters. The more you know about their past, the deeper the character becomes. Your readers may not always need to know this information…but YOU know it, and it’ll help shape the personality of your characters and even help to determine their actions and motivations.

Speaking of motivations…this is essential when working on your characters. What do they want? How are they going to get it? I don’t want to get too deep into character development (that’s another letter), but you can’t plan your story if you don’t know what your characters want to get out of the story.

Next, I want to say a word about outlining. I’m a big outliner. Some writers are not. Some writers think outlining is the only responsible way to write a story. To each his/her own. But I do think that some form of outline is necessary to create a balanced story without spending months or years on rewriting. Balance is absolutely necessary, and the writer who goes into a story without some kind of plan has a difficult time creating that balance from scratch. Often they write many many drafts, just to fix the story problems they could have worked out from the beginning with an outline.

That’s my opinion though. Other writers might argue with me. (And if they’re reading this, feel free to leave a comment with your planning method!)

However, my outlines are not incredibly detailed and they are fluid. In other words, I write one or two statements about what I want to happen in a chapter. But I am open and willing to let the story change if the story wants to change. Then I adjust my outline accordingly. There have been times when I had a clear outline early in the story, but I wasn’t sure about things later. I let the story tell me what to put in those places. (Kinda having that issue with current book at the moment.)

Writing a good story is like raising a child. A good parent guides their child in the right direction and teaches them the right way to live, but allows them become who the unique person they want to be. Guide your story. Teach it how to be a good story. But let it become what it wants to be.

However, the clearer and more detailed your outline, the faster you can write your story.

snowflakeFinally, I want to talk about snowflaking. This is a method of planning developed by the godfather of story planning, Randy Ingermanson. He developed what is known as the Snowflake Method, and even has software available to help you do it. You can find out all about it here – http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/articles/snowflake-method/.

This gist of it is that you start small and build outward, the way a snowflake grows. First, write ONE sentence that accurately describes your story. That’s a lot more difficult than it sounds! He even suggests spending an entire hour just on this one sentence.

Once you have your sentence, you then expand it into a single paragraph, of about five sentences long and covering all of the major developments. Next, you take these five sentences and you expand them into paragraphs. You’ll now have a page long summary of your story, broken into five sections, each ending with a major plot point or disaster. Then take each paragraph of this page and expand it into a full page, so that you have a 4-5 page summary of your story. From there, you’ll probably be ready to hammer out your first draft.

Ingermanson says it should take you about a week to do all of this, if you’re taking your time and really thinking it through. I do want to point out that if you read his instructions on it, you’ll see he breaks it down into four sections and I have suggested five. That’s because I use a 5-stage plot system that I’ll tell you about later.

The Snowflake Method also recommends you do this same kind of snowflaking for every major character. Start with a single sentence about the character, expand it to a paragraph, and then expand that to a page. You should include that character’s specific timeline and plot development, even if the reader never reads about it. In other words, describe the story briefly from THEIR point of view, even if that’s not how the final story will be written. Include important history, background, and training. Include the character’s goals and motivation in the story. You’ll need to do this for every protagonist and villain…any character that is important to your story.

I use a little bit of snowflaking, but I don’t do the entire Snowflake Method. I do the smaller story summaries, but I don’t go beyond the one page. Once I get my one page, I launch into my 5-stage plot system. I also do not do the detailed character writing, though a probably should. Those things don’t really work for me in my current books, but they might work for you.

And that’s really the whole trick to this. You NEED some kind of planning…whether it’s plot planning or character planning or some combination. But you have to find the planning methods that work best for YOU. What works now might not work later as you grow and learn as a writer. Keep trying and experimenting until you find that magic formula that is YOUR process, bearing in mind that as you mature in your career so will your process.

-odk

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Dear Anne #3 -Types of Projects

Dear Anne,

By now you should already be writing. You’ll never be a writer if you never write! In your case, Anne, I know you’re already busy working on your first real project. I’ve been reading and nudging you in a few areas, and I’ve already begun to see some growth. Keep it up!

But because you’re already writing, I wanted to take this letter and go over some of the different projects you may choose to do. Being a writer is a very broad term that covers many different writing disciplines. I happen to be in a somewhat unique position, in that I’ve dabbled in most of them…even the non-fiction ones. If you want to try your hand at non-fiction (things like magazine or newspaper articles, how-to blogs, academic papers, etc.), know that those things are a completely different animal than fiction disciplines. I can teach you some of that too, but it’ll be different rules and approaches to things. Just let me know, and I’ll write a letter on those things, too.

For now, I’ll just stick to fiction. The types of creative fiction you might choose to write are, in order of length: epic/series, novel, novella, short story, and flash fiction. There’s also poetry and screen-writing. Poetry I’ve done, though I’m bad at it; screen-writing I haven’t done, though I’d like to try it one day. I have a friends who do both, so if you want more info, I can get it.

I want to talk about the novel first. A novel is a lengthy work, typically between 40,000 and 200,000 words. It is a complete story, with a definitive beginning, middle, and end. It fully develops its main characters, settings, and major events, with a climax just before the end. I’ll talk about all of those different things in later letters, but I list them now because some of the other projects don’t always need all of those things.

Some authors can write more than one novel in a year. Those that do are very prolific at what they do. Most novelists do good to complete one in a year. A novel is a major commitment that takes a lot more time than you think. Many aspiring writers want to start with the novel, and they quickly get so bogged down in the overwhelming task of finishing it that they quit writing.

And speaking of being overwhelmed…those same aspiring writers often have grand ideas of a huge saga or series. These are multiple novels, in some ways self-contained with all the elements I listed for the novel, but they also span over huge story arcs between several books. That’s why I cut the novel off at 200k, because anything larger than that many publishers and editors would recommend splitting into multiple books. Sure, some single novels are that big or bigger. I’ll define those large single volume stories, that probably should be divided as a saga, as an epic. The saga is a multiple volume story, that follows a unified plot. A series is simply stand alone novels (or novellas) that use a recurring set of characters, settings, and/or themes. Got it?

My “novel” that I worked on in high school was supposed to be a three book saga. After college I wrote a stand-alone novel that was the prequel to that trilogy. (Your dad has read it.) But I still haven’t gone back to try that trilogy again…because it’s a huge overwhelming story that I still don’t feel ready to tackle yet.

It would probably do good for you to choose smaller projects for now. Save your grand novel, series, saga, or epic idea for later in your career. You’ll be glad you did.

A novella is simply a short novel. It follows pretty much the same rules as a novel, but on a smaller scale. A novella might range between 8k and 40k words in length. Within that, you could even break it down again, with another category called a novelette, which is even smaller than a novella. To be more specific, some literary awards define a novelette as a work between 7.5k and 18k words, and a novella between 18k and 40k words. Other awards don’t distinguish the two at all. It’s kind of arbitrary, which is why I gave you a general 8k to 40k. So if it’s between 8k and 20k, call it a novelette. If it’s between 20k and 40k, call it a novella. If it’s over 40k, then it’s a novel.

This brings us to the short story. If you’re paying attention, you saw that some works as small as 7.5k can be classified as a novelette. That’s a really small novelette. I’ve read short stories longer than that. In fact, some people just refer to novelettes as long short stories. A short story is usually between 1k and 8k (novelette size), though a short story can get longer in some cases. But at some point you just have to give up on it being a “short story” and just call it what it is…a novelette.

So what’s the difference? I’m not sure there is one, really, but in my mind I like to think of it like this. A novelette has all of the foundational elements of a novel: character development, setting, story development, tension, climax, resolution, etc; just on a smaller scale than a novel. But a short story doesn’t need all of that.

A short story is a specific scene in the life of your character. It’s a snapshot…a moment in time captured on paper. The reader doesn’t need all the exposition details you’d put in a novel…just the important ones to the story. The story doesn’t need as much development, because you’re really only developing one scene and one major character. Short stories tend to focus on emotions or morality rather than fully developing a plot.

I’ve written short stories, but I’m bad at them. I like detail too much and I write on much larger scales to ever be good at short stories. But I have a friend who is a very active short story writer, so if you want some more on that I can get her to write a letter for you.

Finally, there’s flash fiction. Flash fiction is what you call anything less than 1,000 words. At this size, you can’t help but take small snap-shots of what’s happening, and you have to be very clever to get the dramatic elements you need to keep it interesting. Flash fiction can be broken down into other categories, such as: micro-fiction (300 words or less) and nano-fiction (50 words or less). Of course, the smaller the word count, the less details you get to write, and the more clever you have to be to weave a complete story. Try writing a complete story in 50 words or less! It may not be as easy as you think!

Before I end the letter, I want to tell you about two things you might try. First, there’s a thing called fan-fic or fan-fiction. Basically you take the characters and settings of your favorite things and you write your own stories with them. It’s fun and there are entire communities online out there where fan-fic writers get together and share their stuff. You could write a Doctor Who fan-fic, where the Doctor shows up at Hogwarts and takes Dobby to his home planet (because house elves are really aliens). There are no rules on what you can do with fan-fiction! Just have fun! Well…there is one rule. You can’t publish them. 😦 (Although, there have been cases where fan-fiction was so popular that a publisher changed all the details and published it as an original story. Fifty Shades of Gray was originally fan-fic of Twilight. How sick is that?)

Second, there’s this thing called NaNoWriMo…that’s National Novel Writing Month. It happens in November, when writers all over the world, professional and amateur alike, commit to writing a complete 50,000 word novel during the 30 days of November. You can go to the website and officially register to participate (it’s free) and log your progress along with writers all over the world. Or just unofficially declare your participation. I’ve done the unofficial thing (as a way to try to get motivated to finish the book I was working on) but I never completed the month out. I’ve never won NaNoWriMo. To win all you have to do is finish your 50k word novel and you get to claim yourself a winner. It might be a fun thing for you to try…but it’s a lot of work and it takes a lot of pre-planning before November even gets here.

So there you have it! All kinds of exciting projects for you to try. Let me give you a quick breakdown of them. Remember, the wordcounts are only guides…there’s no definite rule…and some writers may even disagree with me on these definitions. But you’ll probably know what it is you’re trying to write, even if it doesn’t always fit into these wordcounts.

  • Epic – A fully developed stand-alone work 200k+ words.
  • Novel – A fully developed stand-alone work 40k-200k words.
  • Series – Multiple stand-alone novels that use the same characters, settings, and/or themes, that don’t necessarily depend on one another and usually tell separate stories.
  • Saga – Multiple novels with the same characters, settings, and/or themes, that depend on one another for a continuing story.
  • Novella – A fully developed stand-alone work 20k-40k words.
  • Novellete – A fully developed stand-alone work 8k-20k words.
  • Short Story – A developed “scene” 1k-8k words.
  • Flash Fiction – A developed “scene” 1k words or less.
  • Micro Fiction – A “scene” 300 words or less.
  • Nano Fiction – A “scene” 50 words or less.

Good luck and go write something!
-odk

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