Beginnings

Oh hey, it’s 2016! I suppose the start of a new year is as good a time as any to talk about beginnings and endings.

Beginnings

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The intimidating first page. Many writers struggle to conquer it and write the perfect beginning. Sometimes it scares them so much they never start. What to do? How do you write the perfect beginning for your story?

Just do it!

You can never write your story if you never put words on the page. Guess what, you don’t have to write the beginning first! Liberate yourself from the pressure of the perfect beginning and write. If you’re feeling lost for your beginning, you can start anywhere. Get into the story and the awesome beginning scene will come to you.

Even if you think you have the perfect beginning planned out, often times you will reach the mid-point of your story and realize the story really starts in a different place. Some authors advise to always throw out your first chapter and start in chapter two. While I don’t personally advocate that practice, I do advise that you write knowing that anything you put down is expendable and rearrangeable.

Some writers start too soon in their story, some writers start too late. At this point in life I fall in the latter category. I’m always going back and adding stuff to the beginning. In fact, for my current book series, I’m having to go back and write almost an entire book’s worth of new beginning since I skipped over it in my impatience to get to “the good part” (a.k.a. the only part I had figured out). I’m missing out on all sorts of key scenes and important character development. Oops. Outlining ahead of time might have helped me there.

What goes into the beginning?

The main purpose of the beginning is to hook the reader and reel them into the story. You hook them with your first sentence, then spend the next few paragraphs to pages reeling them in. With readers you have a few pages, but with editors you only have a few paragraphs. So, pretty much your story needs to be awesome right from the start and keep building from there.

You need intrigue in the first paragraph, even in the first sentence. Establish that something is unique about your story. Show them the characters, setting, and conflict. You don’t have to introduce your main character at the start, but don’t stay away from them too long.

Beginnings build a sense of the story’s tone.

A good idea for learning about beginnings is to pick up good books and read the first few paragraphs and pages. Take notes. What does the author do? What catches your attention? What about it makes you want to keep reading?

Tip: One way to decide where to start is to ask yourself what is the most interesting scene to start with, and who has the best view of it? (It doesn’t have to be the protagonist.)

What NOT to do.

Do not start with a weather report. 99.9% of manuscripts starting with weather reports go straight into the trash at the slush pile because they are overdone. The 0.1% that don’t are astounding works of word art, and are probably written by already well established authors who can get away with things.

Don’t start with a report of the character waking up and their regular morning routine. It’s boring. The only reason to start with a morning routine is if something is different right off the bat.

Don’t start with dreams. Editors don’t like it, and it is also overdone. Only rare exceptions make it through the slush pile.

Don’t start at the protagonist’s birth unless something about it is unique, like in Natalie Whipple’s Transparent where the doctor drops the baby because she’s invisible.

DO NOT start with a bored character. Bored character equals bored reader. We don’t want them bored at the start. We want to hook them and get them interested. It’s hard to be interested in boredom.

Prologues, yay or nay?

Prologues are really a personal preference thing.

Prologues can either hurt or help. If they add to the story, then they help. If they bog things down right from the start, then they hurt. Some people skip reading prologues. Some people read them. If the information given in the prologue is important to the story, then you can just make it your first chapter. If it’s not important, but gives some cool insights on the world or characters you can leave it as a prologue. However, that cool stuff can probably be worked into the actual story as well.

Prologues should be SHORT. Readers want to get to the meat of the story as fast as possible. Don’t slow them down more than necessary.

Don’t waste time or characters to sacrifice just to show that there’s a monster in the story.  Well, you can do it, but be aware that it’s cliche. If you do, I advise making it key to the plot.

Don’t use the prologue as an info-dump. Any information about the world or backstory important to the story should be worked into the actual story itself. Anything extra you want to share can go in an appendix or on your author blog/online community you build for your special little tribe of readers. J.R.R. Tolkien and J.K. Rowling are good examples.

So there you have it.

I hope this helps you with your challenge of writing the beginnings in your stories. They aren’t easy, and there’s no one right way to write them, but I know you can do it.

Now go forth and write!
Your Writing Senpai

Much of this post came from what I learned from:
LTUE 2015 panel with J. Scott Savage & Larry Correia
Carol Lynch Williams
Writing Excuses

Words to Avoid and Why (a.k.a. Newbie Writing Mistakes #1)

Hello everybody! Today I would like to speak to you about words, specifically words you should avoid while writing your stories. You might ask why should you avoid certain words? Isn’t writing a form of self-expression? Isn’t there no one right way to write? While that’s true, there is no one right way to write, there are tons of weak ways to write. One guaranteed way to strengthen your writing is to apply the $1 per word analogy I learned from Carol Lynch Williams.

The $1 per word analogy.

First, let’s pretend you’ve been given $80,000 to write a novel. Yay!

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Just look at all that money!

However, there’s a catch. You have to spend that money on writing the story, and each word costs $1. If you go over then the money for the extra words comes out of your pocket, but if you stay under then you can save the money for future stories. In that case you’d want to choose your words carefully, right?

I would.

Don’t worry, the payment for the words doesn’t come until you start submitting to agents and editors, so you have time to trim down and strengthen your novel in every draft.

However, you can save yourself some future effort if you avoid certain words from the start. These are the weak ones that hinder your story and keep it from breathing. The ones that make agents and editors look at your story and say:

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And then proceed to drop you off the building and never give you a second thought.

So what are these words? Okay, okay, I’ll tell you.

Chief words to avoid.

They are (drumroll): “ly” adverbs, be verbs, be-ing phrases, begin/start, that, just, finally, creative dialogue tags, and unnecessary repetition. (This list subject to grow as more words come to my attention.)

Let’s go through them and discuss why.

“ly” Adverbs

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Credit:  Logophilius Editorial LLC You can go read their article about adverbs as well.

You know what they are, those conditioning words people like to stick by their verbs. There are three kinds of “ly” adverbs: defining, affirming, and expounding. The first two are bad, and the third is iffy.

  1. Defining adverbs. This is where the writer chooses a weak verb and then needs to further explain the action taking place. Examples: walked quickly and looked lovingly. You can replace all of these with strong verbs like “sprinted” and “gazed.” Save your dollars by exchanging these weak two-word verbs for strong single ones.
  2. Affirming adverb. These are redundant adverbs since they repeat something inherent in the connotation of the verb. Examples: dodged nimbly, trudged slowly, angrily stormed. One must be nimble to dodge, trudging is a slow action, and is there really any other way to storm than with anger? Don’t spend your dollars on redundancy.
  3. Expounding adverbs. These are where the adverb adds to an already strong, or at least not-weak, verb. They give details that aren’t inherent in the verbs meaning. Examples: inhaled deeply, groaned loudly, changed quickly. As they stand these phrases are concise and precise. They are okay, and can be left as-is in your manuscript. However, they lack punch or emotion. They’re uninteresting. That’s what makes them weak. Strengthening sentences with expounding adverbs is one exception to the $1 per word trimming method. There’s no way to make them better, other than losing the adverb and the tiny detail it gives, without adding words. These are good places to put similes and metaphors to liven up your writing.

Now, you might be asking, “But, Senpai, if the third type is okay and we’re trying to save our dollars, why would we add metaphors?” Well, it’s more about choosing the best way to spend your dollars and not just being cheap. Better ingredients cost more, but make a better tasting cake. It’s worth it to spend a little more in some places as long as you make sure what you add to the story is strong and pushes everything forward.

“But Senpai, I like adverbs! They’re part of my voice!” That’s okay, as long as you use them sparingly. Certain genres are more forgiving of adverbs than others. Do your research to make sure your use of adverbs fits the genre you’re writing for. However, your writing will become stronger if you trim them out. Practice writing without them first. Then, if you still desire to use them after you have that down, you can introduce them back in a way that won’t hinder your story.

Be Verbs

Am, is, are, was and were, be, being, been.

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They’re dull and lack any depth, emotion, or impetus to move the story forward. They’re passive voice. Be verbs tell instead of show, which readers frown upon in most cases. You can replace ninety percent of be verbs with action verbs.

Also, see the “Unnecessary Repetition” section below.

Be-ing Phrases

He was chasing tadpoles. She had been reading all afternoon. Gregory was laughing so hard that milk came out his nose.

Be-ing phrases can ALWAYS be replaced with a single-word action verb.

He chased tadpoles. She had read all afternoon. Gregory laughed so hard that milk came out his nose.

They cost you $2 where you should be paying one. Also, be-ing phrases distance the subject and reader from the action taking place. They are never necessary. Avoid them like the plague.

Began/Start

This is another thing I learned from Carol Lynch Williams. Adding any form of “began” or “start” before an action distances the character from the action, is passive, and slows the story down. Let your character get to the action. Don’t distance them from it. Don’t use “began” or “start” for any action done by your protagonist.

This doesn’t mean you never use them in other ways, but you shouldn’t use them in the immediate moment of the story. Examples of okay use are “When the war started,” or “I knew something was up when Jane started acting out.” Note that these either reference things in the past or a character other than the protagonist.

That

It’s a filler word for the most part. It is needed, but not near as much as you think. Write without it and then put it back in where needed.

Just

“Just” is an overused expounding adverb. It’s often unnecessary. You can make the argument that “just” helps add a degree of meaning, and that is true. Sometimes using “just” will add to your sentence/story, but only if you use it sparingly so it retains some punch. Use it all the time and it becomes meaningless.

Finally

True, “finally” is an adverb and I’ve already addressed those. However, I feel that “finally” is a special word that deserves proper attention and respect. There is a sense of relief and comfort that comes from this word. It’s actually a very strong word and I do believe it should be used AT THE END of a story, and then maybe just once.

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“Finally” is a power word. Overusing it cheapens the impact it should have, so save it for the end when the emotions and consequences are highest and it can have the most influence.

Creative Dialogue Tags

Remember how your high school teachers taught you that you should get creative with your dialogue tags? People don’t just “say” things. They shout, gripe, postulate, roar, insinuate, and all sorts of other things, right? They claimed that using “said” was boring and uncreative.
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Your high school teachers were wrong.

Creative dialogue tags pull your reader out of the story and force them to reimagine what just happened. “Said” blends in and is near invisible, the reader’s eye skims over it and they stay in the story. Or you can attribute dialogue to characters by association to action. Readers will connect the latest action to the following dialogue. That’s the truly invisible dialogue tag.

Creative dialogue tags are also redundant if you’re writing right. The action and description of the scene around the dialogue should already let the reader know what kind of intonation and volume the characters are using. There’s no need to be redundant and state the tone and volume again with a dialogue tag.

You are allowed to use “whisper” and I’d say maybe “scream,” SPARINGLY, but I recommend using them as action association instead of as tags.

Unnecessary Repetition

Avoid repetition on the page. Having too many of a type of spelling or word on a page, especially when they’re close together, trips up the reader and slows the story down. This applies to all words.

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For example, I told you in the previous section to stick to “said” instead of a variety of dialogue tags. When there’s a lot of dialogue and you’re only using dialogue tags, then there will be a lot of “saids” on the page. “Said” becomes a little less invisible when there’s a lot of it. That’s one reason why it’s important to use action association with dialogue. Mix it up a little.

Avoid using the same words multiple times in close sentences. For example, you don’t want to end two sentences in a row with the same word. The start of sentences is more forgiving, but it’s also best to avoid starting two sentences with the same word. The same applies to the subjects and verbs of the sentences, not just their starting or ending words. This is another reason to avoid be verbs. If you rely on be verbs, then you’re going to have a ton of the same word in a paragraph. It’s boring and slows down the reading experience.

You can use repetition for poetic or symbolic reasons, but again, this should be done sparingly and only after you’ve learned how to play within the rules.

Parting words on the subject.

Applying the $1 per word analogy and avoiding these particular words in your writing will strengthen your skills as a writer. However:

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Learn these principles, apply them, then find your own voice and build on it. Once you know how to write well you can break the rules in masterful ways, BUT not until you’ve mastered writing within the “rules.” Even after that you still need to follow the guidelines to make sure your writing doesn’t fall apart and your diversions from it can shine.

Now go forth and write!

Love,
Your Writing Senpai

Writing Notes #4 – LTUE & Writing Excuses – What Makes Good YA

Some of this comes from LTUE and some of it comes from the Writing Excuses podcast Season 2 Episode 2 “Writing for Children with Brandon Mull.”

What is YA?

First of all, let’s define what exactly the YA genre is.  It overlaps with Middle Grade and New Adult (which is a new genre working on blooming at the moment).  The main thing that determines which of these genres your story fits will be the age of your protagonist.  For YA it can range from 14-18.  New adult targets the ages 18-30.  But what about 12 & 13, you might ask, aren’t they teens also? Well, they’re middle grade. (And actually, 13 is a tricky age publishers hate and work hard to avoid, so it’s just best to make your protagonist 12 or 14 most of the time.) An easy way to break it down is that middle school is middle grade, and high school is YA.  Anything after high school is probably New Adult.

YA can then be further sub-divided into the genres you see in adult fiction. Examples: romance, science fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, and so on. In adult fiction these genres have strict rules to divide them, but in YA these rules become blurred and sometimes non-existent. YA is a very fluid, plastic genre where anything goes.

So, really the only key to writing good YA is to know how to write a good story tailored to your audience. That brings up the question:

How do you tailor a story to a teenage audience?

I have some tips and things for you to remember that should help with that.

1. DON’T BE PREACHY.

I know you might want to teach teenagers and young adults important life lessons, but nobody wants to be lectured or preached to, especially teenagers.  We go to church and school for that.  That’s not usually why we read.

Remember WHY kids read.  YA is the genre where the readers start choosing the stories for themselves instead of having the stories handed to them by their parents.  They will put your book down if it doesn’t satisfy their needs and desires for reading.  Personally, I read and write to have fun, to feel emotion, and to be moved by something deep.  Other people read to escape harsh reality, have a laugh, experience romance, or one of many other reasons.  None of those reasons include getting preached to.

However, that doesn’t mean your story can’t teach a lesson.  It does mean that when you teach a lesson it has to be deep in the story as a guiding theme.  Be subtle.  Show and don’t tell.  Let it be a natural part of the story, more like a side-effect than the main purpose.  They’ll get it and appreciate you not rubbing it in their face.

2. Make the characters memorable.

What makes a memorable character? Don’t worry. I’ll write a post entirely on that and link to it here when I do.

3. It doesn’t have to have a romantic subplot.

Really, it doesn’t. There’s more to life than romance and sex, and some people don’t even have that on their radar. They don’t care and don’t want to read about it.

The world is already bursting with stories about sex. We could use more stories about different things.

4. How important is family?

It depends on if it adds conflict. Ever wondered why so many protagonists are orphans? Well, if those protagonists had happy safe family lives at home they might not have ever left on whatever epic quest their story took them on. Harry Potter wouldn’t have ever needed to face Lord Voldemort if his parents hadn’t died. Simba would have happily grown up a spoiled child at pride rock if Scar hadn’t killed Mufasa. Think of some other stories about orphans or children with one parent. If they had a complete happy family, would their story ever happen? Probably not.

Every aspect of a story needs to add conflict and push the plot forward. Most often a happy home life doesn’t do that. An unhappy home life, however, does. Families can be an important part of the main character’s conflict. If having a family will make the protagonist’s journey more difficult, then by all means add one in! Dealing with family can be an entire story or character arc of it’s own. There’s no need to avoid letting your main character have a family as long as it doesn’t detract from the story. If it does, get rid of it or change it until it helps instead of hinders.

5. Teenagers can carry the world on their shoulders.

YA needs to deal with problems that affect young adults, but young adults deal with a lot. Their external issues  can be anything from battling inter-dimensional space dragons to save the world, being a teen parent or oldest sibling who has to take care of their family, to taking out the non-metaphorical trash. Some teens deal with “normal” teen issues, while others have to be adults before their time. The important thing to remember is that while their external issues might be the same as an adult’s, they will be dealing with them with the mind of a teenager. Their internal issues need to match their metal age. Even mature teens are still teens.

This doesn’t mean you downplay their mental reasoning or maturity. Teenagers see themselves as grown up and mature, so treat your character that way. I liked the way Bryce Moore put it while speaking in the LTUE panel:  “However old you are is the oldest you’ve ever been, so you’re mature, dang it!”

6. Diversity is cool! (Except for when it isn’t.)

Diversity helps make your story more interesting and unique. By adding diversity you broaden your own mind view as well as the view of your audience and make the world a better place. At least, that’s the theory. If abused and used when it shouldn’t be then diversity becomes a gimmick and fails to benefit your story.

So don’t treat diversity like vegetables in a meal. You know what I mean, with that “I have to eat them because they’re healthy” attitude so you stick them in everything.

Just because diversity is cool and something people are pushing for doesn’t mean you have to add it to your story. Don’t force it if it isn’t right. You don’t have to add a multicultural character just because it’s what’s expected. That does your story and people of other cultures or backgrounds an injustice. For example, I have a story based in Colorado. There are almost no people of color there, so adding in a black person just for the sake of diversity would be wrong. It would go against the setting. (And hey, it’s already got werewolves and other magic beasts. Do I really need to add anything?) However, in my sci-fi story based in a futuristic space station game center, making everyone white would be wrong. That setting requires a large diversity of cultures, skin-types, and species (like aliens!).

Diversity in your story can be subtle or complex and up-front. Find things that are different and cool about the location and culture of the area and make them an integral fun part of the book. If diversity will add to your story, then great! If it doesn’t, don’t worry about it.

That doesn’t mean you should just shrug diversity off and never worry about it. Seriously consider diversity for your story and whether or not it will work. If you want to make your story more diverse, but don’t see a way to with your setting then ask yourself what you can change. Would a change of location help? Maybe instead of basing your story in bleached white no-name USA, you could take it to New Orleans, Chicago, Cuba, or even Canada. Or you could change the time period. You could even change the race of your main character (which might require a location change). There’s a multitude of ways to add diversity.

Just make sure to thoroughly research whatever type of diversity you’re putting into your story. You don’t want to make/encourage stereotypes. That defeats the purpose. If you’re going to have diversity in your story, then do it justice.

Also, secondary world fantasy is a cool, growing genre to consider. What’s that? Well, it’s fantasy based on cultures other than the standard western medieval ages. A good example is Drift by M. K. Hutchins. Personally, I love stories like this and want to read more. I will write at least one someday.

And that’s it!

So there you have it. Six things to remember to help yourself tailor your story to a teen audience. Now go forth and write!

-Writing Senpai

Writing Notes #3 – LTUE – Tips for Writing Fantasy (& Writing in General)

This past weekend I went to LTUE (Life, The Universe, and Everything) a writing conference in Provo, Utah.  I went to many helpful panels and took lots of notes.  I plan to share them all with you!  First off, some notes on writing fantasy:

Why fantasy?  Because it’s cooler.  Because dragons.  (That was one guy’s go-to answer for everything.)  Because it’s a safe place to explore things that are touchy in real life.  It lets you see the interior of a character better than most other genres.

How do you avoid tropes?  It’s all about execution because there are no original ideas.  You can’t avoid tropes.  Just write the best story ever.  Write the best trope ever.  Romance publishers look for specific tropes, so depending on your genre tropes are a good thing.

My own thoughts – Personally, I don’t even bother worrying about tropes.  I focus on making amazing characters and staying true to them.  Everything else will follow.  Forget about tropes.  Go forth and be free!

Things not to do?  Don’t do something convenient, like deus ex machina.  Need to have a smart way to figure things out.  Don’t start too big and overwhelm yourself.

Things to do?  You can write a short story or a stand alone to develop your skills.  When getting advice use your own filter and take away the stuff from others that will work for you.  Always keep something with you to write in so you can keep track of you ideas and never forget them.  Start working.  Sit down and do it.

Things I Need to Remember to Teach My Children – General

Okay, so the other day it dawned on me that I should make a list of things I don’t want to forget to teach my children someday when I have them.  I had a handy list my mom passed out during a Relief Society lesson she taught that covered a bunch of the general stuff.  I figured I post it here so I don’t have to worry about losing the paper.

I’ll be adding posts with these tags to this blog periodically whenever something specific pops up I need to remember to teach my kids.  My husband is very good at pointing them out to me with the random things he does… like he didn’t know how to use a toaster, or how to set a bake time on an oven and super baked the lasagna.  Those are kind of important to know so you don’t set the house on fire.

 

Okay.  The general stuff.

Religious

  • Bible Stories
  • Book of Mormon Stories
  • Church History
  • Faith
  • Prayer
  • Baptism
  • Holy Ghost
  • Sacrament
  • Covenants
  • Temple
  • Reverence
  • Honor
  • Honesty
  • Integrity
  • Morality
  • Modesty
  • Kindness
  • Love
  • Service
  • Testimony
  • Missionary Work
  • Word of Wisdom
  • Tithing
  • Sabbath Observance
  • Patriarchal Blessings
  • The Priesthood
  • Truth
  • Family/Genealogy
  • Repentance

Earthly

  • Manners
  • Cooking
  • Music
  • Physical Fitness
  • Respect
  • Self-discipline
  • Dealing with Disappointment
  • Dealing with Boredom
  • Dealing with Differences
  • Sacrifice
  • Language
  • Communication
  • Grooming
  • Healthy Eating
  • Art
  • Academics
  • Home Maintenance
  • Personal Finance
  • Laundry
  • Sewing
  • Shopping
  • Budgetting
  • Car Maintenance
  • Travel
  • Other Cultures
  • Government
  • Fun/Entertainment
  • Truth
  • Mental Health
  • Self Reliance

I think I’ve discovered a secret

To how to keep my lips from drying out so fast.

Since I became a Mary Kay consultant I’ve poked at the makeup they sent me to wear.  Most of it went straight to my inventory, but I was fascinated that they sent me clear lip liner.  What’s the point of clear stuff?  Apparently lip liner isn’t just for adding color, but to prevent your lipstick and stuff from bleeding out of your lips and looking badly-applied.  I don’t really need it for that, but I discovered that when I wear it, I need to reapply the lip balm less often!  I have to do it even less often when I put lip gloss on top of that.  So what’s the secret?  Use lip liner and then seal the lip balm in.

What to Do with Creative Block (writing, art, etc.)

So, have you ever found yourself lacking or stuck on your stories, art, or anything else creative?  That dreaded creative block or faithless muse seems stop a lot of people from moving forward and can be super frustrating.  I know I struggle with it at times.  When it hits it sometimes seems like it will never go away.  However, creative block is a challenge to vanquish, not to surrender to.

Here are some suggestions on ways to fight creative block:


  • Take a little break from your story/art.  Just a little one.  Maybe a day or two at most.  Go for some walks, listen to good music, experience something new.

  • Learn about something you don’t know much about.
  • Do some writing/art exercises.  Find a prompt and write something with your characters that doesn’t have to do with your story, or make up some new characters and have fun with that.  Or, for art, follow some tutorials and practice different techniques.  Some good books for that are: The Writer’s Block and The Creative Block.  (These work great for both writing and art)  There are loads of books and websites with prompts, ideas and exercises to try.  I also own The 3 A.M. Epiphany, but have yet to crack it open and see what it offers.  It looks really cool, though.  I’ll have to try it and let you know how it goes.
  • Write on a different part of your story.  Do some different art.
  • When writing, ask yourself what you think would be fun to see happen with your characters, then write that.  When arting, ask yourself what would be fun, ridiculous, or risky to try, then do it.
  • Talk to friends about your story/art.  They might ask good questions to get you thinking, or talking might spark ideas.
  • Go take care of things that have been piling up.  Clean the house.  Organize.  Write letters.  Catch up on the non-creative stuff you keep meaning to do.  Getting something done should help you feel better since you were productive, and it will also ease your mind and free it up so it can start having fun again.
  • Just slog through it.  I know this option stinks, but sometimes it’s the only way.
Ultimately, though, once you do those things the most important part is to GET BACK TO WORK.  You have to push through creative block.  Write some crappy junk.  Make a mess on that “canvas,” whatever it may be.  You can edit and fix it later.  You can even start over.  Just don’t let it stop you.  SHOW your muse who’s BOSS!
After all, good creative products are 10% inspiration and 90% hard work.  You are awesome, and you can do it.

Some Writing Exercises – Post 2

The second writing exercise for my class at BYU. (These exercises are from Dr. Tourney’s English 318R class, with edits by me that make it more clear.)

Exercise 2 – Perspectives on Character

This exercise focuses on character presentation and development.  “Character” is central to story-telling.  It is the chief point of reader interest, and failure to present characters who are credible, engaging, and dynamic is not compensated for by any other success in the story.

Good characterization is achieved through careful selection of physical details and personal attributes, the author’s social awareness, and consistency with psychological realism.  It also requires recognition that character is dynamic.  Characters change with the circumstances of the plot and interaction with other characters.  Like the real people they represent they are unique, complex, and potentially unfathomable, not merely stereotypical functions in the plot.  What is essential is not that the character should be entirely understood, but be believed and indispensable.

Like the first exercise, the second consists of four parts.  It focuses on the presentation of a single character.

  1. COMMENTARY:  Two to three pages on how the stories you have recently read have contributed to the presentation and development of the character about whom you have written.  Basically, this is a personal essay about your reading, writing, and the connection of both in this exercise.
  2. EXPOSITION:  A two page description of the subject character from and omniscient point of view.  This should entail physical description, background, personality and character traits, and social environment and relationships.  You may write this in a plain or more literary style, as you choose.
  3. MONOLOGUE:  A two page representation of the subject character from a first-person point of view.  (The character talks about him/herself.)  The context of the monologue is your decision but do choose a context where such self-disclosure is plausible.
  4. SCENE: A three-four page scene in which the subject character interacts with a second character.  This should be third-person restrictive from the point of view from the second character.  In essence this is a short, short story.  It should have a beginning, middle, and denouement–or significant closure.  You may use dialogue.
Here’s what I did for this exercise in class:
A.
This assignment was a challenge.  The hardest part was that I chose a challenging character who is difficult to work with.  How do you work with someone who never communicates the truth unless they’re drunk or you’re in their head?  I found it very befuddling.  The objective view is easy enough, since you can outright state that he’s a liar and how he copes.  First person is easier than third person, since in first person you can be allowed to sit in the character’s head and see the inner workings.  You can watch him struggle to know what he wants to say and how he figures out what to say to perhaps get it across to others.  Third person view restricted to a second character is the hardest, since now you’re limited to the other character’s mind and actions.  It was a big struggle for me to figure out how he would lie while still knowing what it was he really wanted to say.  That was what made the assignment the hardest, and also figuring out what scenes and situations to write to best communicate the character to the reader.
Situations are very important for characterization.  You can have a fascinating character, but if all you have them do is sit at home no one will know.  For example, in “Cathedral” Carver strategically placed the narrator in a situation where his prejudice and closed-mindedness could come out.  If Robert, the blind man, had never come to visit the reader would never know that the narrator was uncomfortable or thought that blind people were pathetic.  We also wouldn’t have known that the narrator was willing and capable of change.  Many different aspects of his character would have never surfaced without Robert being there.  The situation is critical.
In “Where are you going, where have you been?” Connie is shown in several different situations which help the reader to discover her character.  First she’s shown hanging with her friends and with her family, so the reader thinks she’s one of those annoying selfish pretty girls with a shallow personality.  Oates shows her being arrogant by her interactions with her mother and sister, confident with her interactions with her friends and boys away from home, and selfish with her refusal to go to the family barbecue.  The reader only learns that Connie has depth and actually loves her family when Arnold Friend shows up and successfully abducts her by threatening her family.  If Arnold Friend never showed up to create that situation, the reader would have never known how uncertain Connie could be, and that she was willing to sacrifice herself for her family.
For me to properly communicate the character of Eric I had to find a situation where he could finally find out what it was like to tell the truth.  That way the reader could see how ecstatic he would be and know that he doesn’t lie just to lie, he honestly can’t do anything else and would much rather be normal.  By placing Eric and Sarah in the party environment we get to watch Eric struggle to communicate before he drinks any alcohol.  We see him try to be social, fail, and retreat.  We see him try to cope with his disorder and state the opposite of what he means or be “unsure” and have Sarah interpret it for us.  Then after he takes a drink we get to see him celebrate and rejoice in finally being able to say that the sky is blue.  It is very liberating for him to finally have the truth come out of his mouth.  If I hadn’t focused on that scene, that moment in his life, the reader might not be able to fully understand in such a short narrative the same amount of depth in Eric’s character.  It also allows the reader to see that while Sarah wants to think she’s a cool, caring big sister, she can actually be quite shallow.
So after a lot of consideration I feel that situation is one of the most important aspects of portraying character.  The situation allows the details of personality come out for our inspection and enjoyment.  Without the proper situation, readers might not ever know a certain character is actually very interesting.  Bad situations lead to boring characters, no matter how cool they are.

B.
Eric Kohei Jones, age fourteen, third generation Japanese-American on his mother’s side.  He stood about five foot nine inches.  His face was covered in acne, a breakout that had cursed him for the past six months.  He had the habit of scooting his thick glasses up his nose as far as they could go, so his eyebrows always touched the top of the frames.  He had shifty eyes, not that they seemed crafty, but they were always shifting in order to take in the world around him.  No one knew what he was really thinking, and most people never cared to try and find out.  They had tried in the past, but when it became clear that he never told the truth they all decided to quit.  It was a miracle he was even passing school, except for the fact that no teacher wanted to deal with him for more than a year.  He really needed an IEP, but his parents refused to give him any special attention.  They thought he lied to get attention, and they had no desire to encourage such behavior.  They did not bother trying to get him diagnosed, they just scolded him.  If they had taken him to a psychologist they might have found out that something inside his brain was broken.  Eric had a disorder.
Eric had Pseudologia fantastica, also known as mythomania or pathological lying.  Somewhere in his mind there was a big black hole that all the truth fell down.  The truth could never make it out of his mouth.  No matter how hard he tried he could never say the truth straight out.  He couldn’t even answer a test question without lying.  He learned ways of coping.  He found that he could skirt around the truth by pretending to be unsure.  When taking eye exams he always answered with a question, which ensured he actually got close to the right prescription.  It took him a few tries to figure that out, and for years he’d spent a lot of time walking into things because he couldn’t see.  However, feigning uncertainty didn’t help when the test questions were always multiple choice.
Eric really wanted to tell the truth.  His told elaborate tales that acted as complex puzzles one could find the truth in if they looked hard enough.  Sadly for him, though, no one bothered trying to find truth in the words of a liar.  He learned when to keep his mouth shut, because sometimes saying nothing was the best way for the truth to be told.  Then one day at a party he discovered alcohol.
Alcohol did something to him that he didn’t suspect.  It filled the gaping hole to overflowing and the truth could slide right over and out.  That discovery thrilled him, and he took to drinking.  It made him feel free.  He drank whenever he could manage.  He drank before school, and he snuck alcohol in his lunch.  His teachers wondered how his grades could suddenly improve so drastically.  He got pulled in to the principle’s office for cheating, and while in his inebriated state he could honestly say he hadn’t been cheating, no one believed him since they’d never been able to before.  Then he got in trouble for being drunk at school, as well as for being underage.
So now he mostly doesn’t talk at all, even though he has a lot to say.

C.
Huh.  I wonder why Sarah has such a bunch in her panties over this.  Shouldn’t she be just as thrilled as I am?  I mean, I finally got to tell her the truth.  I’ve been wanting to tell her the truth for my entire life!  I want to tell everyone the truth, but I guess if I’m supposed to keep the alcohol a secret I might not be able to do that.  Does she realize how suffocating it is to not be able to tell the truth?  I mean, what if I witnessed a murder, or a robbery, or something?  If I was the sole witness the person would likely get away with it because I wouldn’t be able to communicate the truth to the officers!  How could I live like that, knowing full well someone got away with murder because I couldn’t tell the truth?  That’s a big heavy worry.
There’s been so many times I’ve wanted to give her good advice, or comfort her, or tell her something, but all I could do was just give her a hug and keep my mouth shut.  Better to stay silent than say something stupid.  It takes a lot of effort to hide the truth in my lies.  If I can’t work it in good enough the monster eats it.  I hate that monster.  He ruins everything for me.  I don’t know why I bother sometimes, the monster gets smarter and smarter and it gets harder and harder to sneak the truth out and nobody seems to get it or care.  Except for Sarah.  She gets it, she cares.  She makes the challenge of sneaking the truth out worth it, even fun.  It’s a good thing I like challenges and mind games, otherwise I might not be able to try, not even for Sarah.  Although, I do enjoy the challenge just for the challenge.  It’s become as much a part of me as the lying.  It keeps me on my toes, keeps my mind sharp.  It gives me something to do while everyone else around ignores me.  I don’t like to be bored.  It keeps me entertained.  What way can I sneak the truth past the monster this time?  Sometime’s it’s in questions.  Keeping the monster believing that I’m not really sure what I’m talking about is the hardest way, although it’s the way most people can get.  Someday, though, I know that won’t work any more.  I have to feed in pieces of the truth over multiple mostly-lies in order to be sure it all gets out.  People don’t usually listen to those.  Someday I won’t be able to get the truth out to anyone at all, maybe not even Sarah, maybe she’ll stop trying to dig and find the truth hiding in my word games.
Maybe she doesn’t want to know the truth?  I don’t know why she wouldn’t.  She worked hard to figure out how to understand what I really meant.  Sure, she doesn’t get it right all the time.  Actually, she doesn’t get it right often, but she still knows and understands me better than anyone else.  At least she tries, for now.  I love her.
I wonder what it would be like on her end of this.  I thought she’d want to ask a lot of questions, to find out everything she could in order to understand me better.  I know I would be brimming with questions.  I’m fascinated by people.  I love to pull apart how their brains work, and having a moment where a liar like me could finally tell the truth would be a wellspring of information I couldn’t pass up!  Well, maybe it would be too disconcerting?  I guess if Sarah were to suddenly start lying a lot it would really get me mixed up.  I still think it would fascinate me, but I guess if she really started lying in earnest I might get concerned.
But just think of all the opportunities that just opened up for me!  I could actually start doing well in school!  I could finally live my dreams!  It’s like I just won a million dollars.  Oh the things I could do!  I should go do my homework while I’m still drunk.  I think I could get an A!  I wonder how soon it will wear off.  Maybe I should go liberate a bottle of beer from the fridge, I’m sure Dad wouldn’t notice.  He’d think Mom took it.  I’ll need to be careful about this.  How little does it take to satisfy the monster?  I need to experiment.

D.
Sarah was the life of the party.  She let her long black hair drift over her shoulders as she laughed sweetly at all the comments the boys made.  She retained much of her mother’s beautiful asian mystery, which she used to her advantage.  While she flirted she swayed with the music.  The bass thudded through her body, a jarring feeling she didn’t completely enjoy, but everyone was here in the range of the vibrations.  She would stay where everyone else was, which was away from her stuffy, strict parents.  It wasn’t that she didn’t love her parents or didn’t respect them, she did.  It was just, well, limiting sometimes to always be at home.
Sarah accepted a drink and a compliment from one of her classmates, laughing at his attempt to drag her away to the backyard.  She might have contemplated following him around any other night, but tonight was different.  She’d brought someone along this time.
A loud smack and shout from across the room helped her to find him.  She’d lost him for a few minutes in the large crowd of people.  Her baby brother stood there rubbing his acne-covered cheek and grimacing at the retreating back of an outraged girl.  Sarah shook her head and sighed, a small smile dancing over her lips.  He’d made it longer than she had expected without getting slapped, but it was bound to happen eventually.  She probably should’t have brought him along, but she knew how badly he hated being left behind.  He would always say he’d had a great time without her, but she knew that was his way of telling her he’d been miserable.  They had worked out a system so that she could always know what he meant, even though he could never say it.
She meandered over to where he was, now leaning against the wall trying to be invisible.
“Smooth Eric, real smooth.”  She grinned at him.
“Of course, I’m the slickest man here.”  She knew he meant he was the lamest.
“What did you say that made her so mad?”
“Oh, probably something that had to do with her hair?  Don’t you think it looks like she’s just wearing a wet cat?”  She knew he had said the girl’s hair looked like a wet dog, even though he meant to compliment how shining and full it was tonight.
“Things aren’t exactly going according to plan, are they?”  Sarah laughed.
Eric shrugged and acted as non-committal as possible.  She knew he agreed completely with her.
“Well, come on.  Try to have some fun before this party gets busted, okay?  Here, try a drink.”  She handed him the beer her classmate had given to her just moments earlier.
“Really?”  he asked.
“Yeah, try it.  I’ve already hit my limit.  I can’t drink any more without the ‘rents figuring it out when we get home.”
“Brilliant, I’ll just down this and solve all my problems.”  She knew he didn’t believe drinking would help him have a better time.  She didn’t really figure it would either, but it might help him forget about being so miserable by the time he woke up in the morning.
Eric took a gulp and gagged.  He looked at her and tried again, this time managing to down half the bottle.
“Tastes great, like lemonade and ice cream on a hot sunny day.”  Eric stuck out his tongue and made a face.  Sarah laughed.
“Yeah, I don’t really like it either, but it helps me loosen up.  Otherwise, I don’t know if I’d be able to handle such a big crowd of people.”
“Yeah, this little group is really tame.”  Eric watched as someone jumped off the table and started crowd surfing.  “I can’t believe people really prefer this to actual fun.”  He paused a moment before his hand flew to his mouth.
“Wait, what?”  Sarah was confused.  Eric hated big parties and the stupid things people did.  He preferred constructive activities and mind games.  What he just said did not follow up with what she’d managed to translate in the past.
“I said I can’t believe people really prefer this to actual fun!”  Eric grinned from ear to ear.  He grabbed her by the shoulders.  “Ask me a question!”
“What’s going on?  You’re confusing me!”
“I just drank half a beer, ask me a question!”  It was true, he had just drunk half a beer.
“Um, what color is the sky?”
“Blue!  Another one!”
“What do you do in the morning before I get up?”
“Sudoku!  Another!”  Also true, she was always finding his finished puzzles in the trash.
“What’s my shoe size?”
“Seven!”  Again, also true.  Eric laughed and threw his hands in the air.
“Wait, how can you be telling the truth?” Sarah was still very confused.  Eric never told the truth, not even to her.
“It must have something to do with the alcohol and how they lower your inhibitions.  It does absorb into your blood pretty quickly.  This is fantastic!  Sarah, you’re beautiful!  You have no idea how long I’ve been wanting to tell you that!  Oh my goodness, oh ho ho!”  Eric spun around and kept laughing.  People started to stare.  Sarah really didn’t want their attention just now.
“Eric!  Calm down, you’re weirding me out!” she grabbed his hand and took the beer from him.
“Why?  This is the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me!”
“Let’s go home now, okay?  We can talk as we walk.”
“Um, okay?”  Eric obediently followed her out the door.
They took the long way home.  Sarah let him talk.  Her mind was racing as she learned things about him that she had no idea she could ever really know.  His favorite color was acid green, something about it really did something for him.  She had thought it was lilac.  His favorite subject in school was English, because you could totally BS a paper and he could still get a decent grade doing that since he could convince himself that BSing was in no way telling the truth.  Although, he would really prefer to be good at math because he liked how neat and manageable numbers were.  She’d thought his favorite subject was history.  He’d really like to be a lawyer someday, or maybe a doctor, but he knew those goals were out of his reach.  She thought he’d just wanted to play video games the rest of his life.  He really liked it when she wore her hair down, it made him proud to have such a pretty sister.  The truth just kept coming and coming.  Sarah didn’t know how to handle it, he seemed like an entirely different person now.  By the time they arrived home she decided taking him to the party had definitely been a bad idea.  She stopped him in the hall before taking out her apartment key.
“Hey Eric, can we keep our discovery our little secret?”
“Why?”
“I… well, umm… I feel like we had something special going on just the two of us before.  Now suddenly it’s all upside-down and I don’t know what to think.”  She couldn’t think of anything better to say.
“Oh.  Well, yeah.  Sure.  I guess it is a bit weird to hear me tell the truth.”
“A little, yeah.”  Sarah smiled a weak smile.
Eric nodded.  “You also probably don’t want the ‘rents to find out you’ve been to parties with underage drinking going on.”
“Yeah, that too.”  Sarah said, but it had only really just dawned on her after he said it.
“Don’t worry, you’re secret is safe with me.”  He winked at her.  “It always has been, hasn’t it?”
“Yes, yes it has.”  Sarah sighed with relief as she pulled out her keys.
She was halfway finished unlocking the door when it flew open, their father standing in the way.
“Do either of you care to explain to me why you were out so late?” he growled.
“We were out drinking at a party.” Eric said, not missing a beat.  For a moment Sarah froze.  Hadn’t he just promised to keep her secret safe?
Their father rolled his eyes,  “Sarah, I hope you can tell me what you were actually doing?”
“Um,”  That’s right, she thawed as she realized there was no way their father would believe Eric, “we got hung up at the store.  I couldn’t decide what color of lipstick to get, then we took the long way home.  Eric needs the exercise.”
“That he does.  Now go say goodnight to your mother.”  Their father stepped out of the way.
Eric winked at her as he stepped inside.  Sarah took a steadying breath and smiled.  It didn’t matter whether he was lying to her face or telling the truth.  She knew he would always be there to back her up and help her in whatever way he could.

Some Writing Exercises – Post 1

One of the classes I took at BYU gave us writing exercises that were fun and helpful to do.  I thought it would be nice to share those exercises with you all so that you can learn from them too.

Exercise – Description of Place

Using passages from stories you’ve read as models, write three fictional scenes of a page each describing a real place you know well.  But write the descriptions from the following points of view:

  1. An objective description of the scene with emphasis on accuracy of detail and emotional detachment.
  2. A first person description of the same place as a viewed by a character with distinct traits and some identifiable motivation for surveying the scene.
  3. A third person description of the same place, focusing on the character’s strong emotional response to it.

Note that scenes 2 and 3 require that you create a character to view the place described.  You are not the viewer in either scene.

You can write a 2-page commentary on the scenes, indicating what models you followed and how your reading of the models influenced your own original scene.

-Identify scenes by their appropriate numbers.
-Position commentary as an introduction.
-Double spacing is recommended.

If you’d like to see an example, I’ve got mine from class.  I didn’t do the commentary right since I split it up (I don’t think it really matters). Please note I wrote this over a year ago.  I’ve improved since then.
Here it is:

Commentary for A
The models I chose to pull from the most on this assignment was Gilman’s The Yellow Walpaper and Faulkner’s Barn Burning.  While they both have character viewpoints affecting the story, the main character/narrator of The Yellow Wallpaper uses fairly objective descriptions between her opinionated comments.  She focuses on using exact details and some associations  to create an image for the reader, her descriptions were very visual.  For example the quote, “It is quite alone, standing well back from the road, quite three miles from the village.  It makes me think of English places that you read about, for there are hedges and walls and gates that lock, and lots of separate little houses for the gardeners and people.”  This was the closest to objective description the models had, so I used that influence while working on part A of the assignment.  I tried to be specific and mostly visual in my description of the beach and backyard, mixing in a few metaphors to create associations as well.
  1. Objective Description
There’s a spacious back yard full of fescue grass on a lot wedged pie-shape between two others.  A tall metal pole stands off center in the yard, holding up the large purple martin house with a little painted roof to match the house to which the yard belonged.  Starlings squabble with the purple martins for ownership of the house, an annual battle.  A wall made of retaining stones, off-pink cement blocks ninety to one hundred pounds each—all hand-placed, create the border between lawn and beach.  It is a foot high on the north end, and while it stayed level on the top, the drop on the south end was about three feet.  A fortress against the weeds entrenched in the rough sand making their way for the lawn.
The yard was gently sloped down and in towards the notch at the north end of the wall, shepherding whatever rain that fell away from the house and into the dry creek bed which lay on a black rubber sheet on the beach.  The edges of the black rubber were buried in the sand, although it still showed, and it cradled a collection of stones.  Different stones ranging in size from a child’s fist to stones that took two hands for a grown man to lift.
The beach belonged to a lake.  A man-made lake dug to use the sand that now made the beach.  It wasn’t one of your sparkling blue lakes you could see the bottom of.  It was a Kansas sand-pit lake, one that had been filled and stocked long enough ago it could contain seven-foot catfish out in the main body.  This part was just a small cove, shaped like a sock puppet.  Where it connected to the main body buoys floated peacefully, warning boaters of lurking cement and rebar.  A person could swim in this lake, and on a late August evening the grey-tan water would be warmer than a bathtub.
Commentary for B
In part B, my biggest influence was again The Yellow Wallpaper.  The key thing about the descriptions in The Yellow Wallpaper I noticed was how the main character fixated on one aspect of the environment.  She focuses on the yellow wallpaper, obsessing over it, analyzing it again and again, and spending a large amount of time talking about it.  While I didn’t have the space to obsess over a certain detail as greatly as The Yellow Wallpaper did, I tried to pick a certain detail to focus on.  Namely the rocks.  By focusing on the rocks I was able to convey more about how the character was feeling after finding out her boyfriend was cheating on her.  The rocks stand as a metaphor for how she feels the state of her heart, the same way the yellow wallpaper was a metaphor for the state of the main character’s mind in The Yellow Wallpaper.  Also, just as in the other story, the rocks offer a form of expression for my character.  By throwing the rocks she expresses her anger, the same way the main character in The Yellow Wallpaper expresses her insanity by tearing down the paper.  It says a lot about the character to have her focus almost entirely on the rocks when there’s a fun beach with soothing water to enjoy.
  1. First Person
How dare he not be here!  I can’t believe him!  I storm down the cut lined with fruit trees to the back yard.  No one is back here either.  Fine then, I’ll just wait.
I sit down on the short block wall and lean on my hands.  The water here in the cove lazily strolls up and waves to the beach, but out on the main body of the lake the wind stirs up whitecaps.  The wind yanks and pulls at my hair, waving it like a white flag of surrender.  How dare it.  I would not surrender.  I would leave this battle the victor.  To prove it, I stand and start picking up the small stones embedded in the rough sand.  I don’t care if it scratches up my manicure, I can have my nails redone later.  I march down to the water’s edge and start throwing the stones out as hard as I can.  When I run out I go back to look for more, kicking the sand around.  Small chunks of asphalt come to the surface among the other rocks.  I pick those up as well.  When I throw them I yell out, “It’s Phil’s fault!” and as they splash down, no one calls out to defend him.
Stones.  This little beach is full of them.  Small stones, stones with fossils, stones with leeches hiding under them.  Stones turned into sand, and sand turned into stones.  There’s even more stones, larger stones, stones better for throwing lying in the dry creek bed.  The stones are held there, protected from the settling sand by a black rubber sheet that shows at the edges.  How tacky for them to not keep the rubber hidden.  Tacky, just like him.  They didn’t even bother to arrange the stones well, it was like some child just sat at the top of the bed and chucked them out there.  Well, I can chuck stones as well.  I walk up and down in the bone-dry rocks, carefully looking for just the right one.  I choose the one that fits the best in my hand and wait for the sound of his car in the drive.
Commentary for C
For part C I pulled mostly from Barn Burning.  In that story, the description of the world is given to the reader in more than one sense.  It focuses mostly on the two senses of sight and smell, while also giving the reader a peek into the main character’s mind.  By focusing on the smells it helped the reader to know the boy was hungry and doesn’t get to eat a lot.  By focusing on visual detail it helped the reader know that the boy was attentive an conscious of his actions.  By letting brief thoughts come through it helped the reader to know how exactly the boy was processing the information and his opinions he couldn’t say aloud.  I focused on smell and visual elements in my description.  Focusing on the smell showed how my character is very nature-focused and enjoyed being outside, even if it was a smell that most people might think questionable.  He pays attention to tiny details of the world around him, like the toad bug footprints.  This shows his curiosity and love of the world around him, which makes the death of the baby fish even more devastating at the end.
C.  Third Person
The warm water of the lake sparkled as it gently lapped at the beach edge.  The small boy crouched, watching the water move back and forth.  He could smell the water, the fish, that strong smell of sediment and fish dung.  A water smell, a living smell, a smell that thrilled him and made him long to race through open fields instead of this backyard.  He eyed up the sand-colored toad bugs skittering along in the water-soaked sand, leaving miniature footprints that disappeared with the next ripple.  The toad bugs were fascinating, but they made far too easy of prey.  This boy was a great hunter.  He knew it and puffed his chest out.  Then he saw the fish.
Tiny fish, wiggle fish, barely hatched carp and bass swimming in the lake’s edge.  At last the boy knew his quarry!  The fry flitted faster than birds, with barely a twitch they could speed off the opposite way.  Translucent, see-through, one had to track them by their black speck of an eye and their slight shadows.
The boy grinned and stood, crouching over with hands cupped and at the ready.  He tip-toed after the fish, taking long, slow steps like the egrets he watched from the windows.  Step, stay, step, stay, step, hold… and strike!  The fry dart away and regroup, he caught nothing and resumed stalking.  Back and forth along the little beach between the dock and dry creek bed he went.  Stalking, striking, stalking, striking, stalking, striking and stalking again, and then success!  The boy squealed with delight as he held up the waif of a fish, admiring his catch.  It was so small and fast, only as mighty and clever a hunter as he could have caught such a worthy 

Visiting Artist – Donato Giancola

Just a little over a month ago we had another amazing artist come to BYU and teach us.  His name was Donato Giancola.  You can go look at some of his art and stuff over at his website.  He loved to talk and told us that if we wanted to we could call him and he could talk our ears off for hours.  He prefers the phone to email since it takes two hands to type.  Talking on the phone only requires one hand, so he can keep painting away while he talks.  Donato was very friendly, happy, generous, and a pleasure to be around.  He was overflowing with good stories and great tips, and I’m going to share some of that with you now.
He gave a figure drawing demo in the morning where he drew a couple full-body gestures, a couple feet, and a couple hands.  Apparently we got to watch him draw more than his students ever do while in class with him.  He spent a lot more time talking than drawing. He went off on tangents everywhere, so my snippets of notes might not seem very connected.  I write down what strikes me most.

  • You’re making a controlled mess.  Work through it.
  • Feel free to emphasize and exaggerate on your drawings, like on the knuckles of the hands.
  • There is NO perfect, ideal image out there.  A perfect image is a finished image.  You need to make a choice and go forward.
  • If you exude enthusiasm, people will want to work with you.  People don’t like working with people who are negative.  (So don’t spend time apologizing for your work.  Bad idea.  Be confident.)  If your work is okay and you’re a wonderful person who’s willing to work, you can probably get a job.
  • Be more objective.  What makes you happy?  What makes a hero?  Analyze things.
  • Art is therapy.
  • You absorb things from the world around you.  Go experience it.
  • In order to get some jobs you need to be available by phone.
  • He tells amateurs and experienced professionals apart by the amount of finished detail work there is on the hands and feet.  Put detail in them and don’t avoid them!
  • In the publishing industry, if you only sell them the first-time publishing rights you can do whatever you want with the image afterwards.
  • Think about what’s in it for you.  Think self-preservation and plan for the future.
  • Don’t just please your teachers.  Pour your passion into it and knock their socks off!  Blow everyone else out of the water!  Decimate them!  (almost direct quote, only a couple words off.)
  • Don’t think about what you’re drawing, just flow.
  • When he has a hard time focusing and getting motivated, he walks to an art museum.
  • Suck in what’s around you.

Later in the day he gave a lecture about how he worked and got into the illustration business.  It was a great story.  He went through a lot of hardships and had to struggle for a while, and also lost a lot of vision in one eye when he got shot by a paintball at close range just after graduating.  He never let any of it stop him and just worked harder whenever something came around.  Here are my notes from that lecture.

  • He learned how to draw by copying.  He was strongly influenced by Star Wars, then by comics. Specifically George Perez, Ian Miller, Frank Miller, Busy Busy Town, X-Men, and Ironman.
  • Have a sponge attitude!
  • Produce a lot of work!  Work hard!
  • Spend money on the nice stuff.  Get the good brushes.  Precision detail.
  • He was energetic and delivered on time.
  • He goes to bed in a timely manner as best he can.  ( I like that idea!)
  • Make the time you spend count.
  • The successful path is the path you TAKE, not the path you hesitantly start down.
  • Coolness is good, but it can’t trump content.
  • Try to get people to CLAP for your art.  Go beyond what you need to.
  • He still goes to life drawing classes.
  • He has a large reference file.  He’s taken a lot of pictures over his lifetime.
  • He treats drawing from a picture the same as he does drawing from life.
  • Being prolific is an important part of being an artist.  You learn from mistakes.
Then another point I learned from him through one of his demo DVDs is that it doesn’t matter if the brush is a watercolor brush for oil painting as long as it’s sable.
Overall I was very impressed and a little inspired by Donato.  He made me want to produce more work so that I could get better.  I have yet to start, but I mean to this winter break!  So yeah.  Go check him out!