Month: April 2014
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Something a lot of authors miss when writing are the opportunities to collapse two or more scenes into a single scene. This means that whatever they’re writing is longer than it needs to be, and also might contain static, one-dimensional scenes – scenes that singularly exist to deliver their point and nothing else.
Let’s say we’re writing a first-person story about a relationship. The narrator lives alone and we want to establish the domesticity of their life. Of course, being in a relationship, the narrator talks regularly with their partner. Obviously, these are very broad strokes, but we need only a general scenario to set up our examples.
Okay, next, let’s consider two scenes – the first is a conversation between the couple. It might begin like this:
- I was driving home when the phone rang. I pulled over to the side of the road to answer it.
‘I wanted to talk about tonight.’
Now imagine this conversation goes on for a page or so as they talk about something to establish the rapport of their relationship. For the sake of this example, the specifics aren’t important.
In the second scene, we’ll deal with the narrator coming home. This follows directly after the conversation …
- I hung up and swung the car back onto the road, contending with peak-hour traffic. It was dark by the time I got home. I pulled into the drive and hauled the shopping out of the boot. There was so much I should’ve made two trips, but instead slipped my hand through the handles of all the plastic bags until they cut into my palms, then started for the front door.
From here, the narrator goes inside and puts the shopping away. The point of this second scene might be to establish the narrator’s domesticity so that we see their everyday routine – they’re busy, like to do things all at once, buy plenty of shopping to tide them over rather than just shop for the day, etc. It’s part of the world and character building of this piece.
So what we have are two scenes that deliver different pieces of necessary information, (or for the sake of this blog, let’s imagine they’re necessary for whatever story they’re part of).
There exists, however, the opportunity to collapse these scenes into one another. After all, visualise this as if it was a movie playing out in your mind. How exciting a scene is a narrator sitting in a car on the side of the road having a conversation, or the protagonist lifting the shopping out of their car and then putting it away?
Imagine we do it like this, though:
- It was just getting on dark when I pulled the car into the drive. I opened the boot and stared at the shopping. There was so much I should’ve made two trips, but slipped my hands through the handles of all the plastic bags until they cut into my palms, then started for the front door. That’s when my phone rang.
I lowered the bags in my right hand on the doorstep and wrestled my phone out of my pocket. A orange rolled out of one of the bags. I nudged at it with my foot while I patted myself down to find my keys, only to realise they were clenched between my teeth.
I flipped open the phone. ‘Hey.’
‘Hi, honey, it’s me.’
‘You sound puffed. What’s wrong?’
And so it would go on, the narrator juggling the conversation as they goes inside their house, wrestle with all their shopping bags, and put their shopping away.
By merging these scenes we’ve layered what’s happening. The narrator is no longer just sitting on the side of the road talking with their partner. And the domestic scene is no longer just a tour of the narrator’s life, but becomes integrated with a conversation that has to happen.
This also helps in another regard – actions interspersed through dialogue. So often, I see something like this:
- ‘What’s going to happen tonight?’
‘I’m still thinking about.’ I run my hand through my hair. ‘What do you think?’
‘I’m not sure.’
I bite my lip. ‘How about a movie?’
Authors constantly feel the need to break up their dialogue with action, but are the actions of the character running their hand through their hair and biting their lip essential, or just something for the character to be doing? Often, they exist simply for the sake of existing. Using our example of the protagonist putting away their shopping whilst holding a conversation, everything that happens is needing to happen.
Moreover, presenting the situation like this – and let’s remember, this is the most basic example – actually contextualises the scene in a new light. Sitting on the side of the road having a phone conversation, there’s no emotional resonance, other than what the narrator brings in. Here, the narrator might be frustrated because they’re interrupted, they might be harried, the phone call might be the picker-upper they need, etc. The story drives what’s happening. And in trying to juggle everything, not only do things happen, but we’re challenged with new opportunities.
When writing scenes, question if you’re getting everything out of them, and/or whether you can merge them with other scenes.
It’s a simple technique, but it can help unfold your story in a whole new world.
April 6, 2014
First, complete isolation is required. No one is to be in the same room as you. Turn off your phone and any chat windows you have open.
Next, we need dim, moody lighting. Draw the blinds or read this at night.
Finally, find some public-domain music, preferably something that amounts to an ominous drum beat. Press play.
Got all that? Okay. We’re ready to talk about writer’s block.
With page seventeen’s submission window just about to open, it feels like a good time to address one of the most notorious concepts behind being a writer. Maybe you’re someone looking to submit to page seventeen #11, or preparing for the competitions – maybe you even have an idea all ready to go.
Then the problem arises. You can’t get that idea on the page. You can’t get past the opening. Maybe you can struggle past the first few paragraphs until you find yourself on the edge of a canyon, and you can’t see any way to the other side. You can’t start. You can’t finish. You just can’t, can’t, can’t.
I could propose a series of methods to beat writer’s block. I could list the ways in which successful writers have dispelled the deadly curse. But chances are you’ve already read that. Writer’s block is one of the most widely-discussed aspects of being a writer; any how-to I put together will only join the mountain of articles that have come before.
So when it comes to methods, if you still need them, peruse what’s already out there and use trial and error to determine what works best for you. Half of it is contradictory anyway. One article will tell you that writer’s block is the cue to get away from your desk and do something else for a while, whereas another article will insist that you need to ‘chain that muse to your desk’ (in the words of Barbara Kingsolver, if you’re interested).
No. I’d rather talk more about writer’s block itself.
Turn the drum sounds off now.
The paralysis of writer’s block usually stems from insecurity – either one particular anxiety, or a tight little knot of several preoccupations. You’re not good enough. The idea is terrible. The words won’t flow. No one will read it anyway.
Pardon me for being direct, but no wonder you don’t get anything done if you’re that miserable about your own writing.
We’re all plagued by doubt, but if you’re letting doubt and insecurity get the better of you then you’re focusing on the wrong things. You’re a writer because you like being a writer. You like creating the stories, the articles, the viewpoints. Right?
Maybe you’re even set of making a career out of it – or you already have. And there’ll be bumps along the way just like with any other career – or any other hobby, for that matter. But if you want to keep going with that job, or that hobby, you find ways to overcome the situation if only to avoid the alternative: quitting. You adapt and evolve your methods based on the challenges you’re faced with. And you pat yourself on the back for finding a way through a sticky situation – then, you move forward.
Because guess what: writer’s block? It’s not that big a deal. There. I said it.
Open the blinds, or switch on a light.
The concept of writer’s block has enormous weight for many authors. The idea of writer’s block itself can often be the paralysis. Would there be so many writers struggling with this problem if the concept wasn’t named, catalogued and discussed so widely? One could say it’s the equivalent of a hypochondriac getting the flu and treating it like the Black Death.
Forget about writer’s block the same way you forgot about the boogie man being in your wardrobe. Tell yourself that you’re allowed to be stuck on something, to need a little more time than expected to get a specific passage the way you want it, but don’t call it writer’s block.
It’s actually a lot easier than it sounds. You just need to find the right way to communicate the idea to yourself. Talk to yourself in front of a mirror if you have to. Just don’t do it with anyone else in earshot – it can be a tad awkward.
Sometimes it’s a bigger matter. Life can disrupt the best-laid plans. Major events can derail your normal habits, or leave you with no mental space to be creative. Well, unless writing is your livelihood – in which case I might recommend having a plan B – sometimes it’s better to let it get in the way. Life’s an unpredictable mistress sometimes, and big things will happen that leave you bereft. Don’t punish yourself for that. The key is remaining optimistic that when you’re ready, the words will come again.
And if you’re still stuck on an idea, or can’t get past a scene no matter how hard you try – well, there’s a pretty straightforward way to start breaking down that barrier.
Invite someone into the room with you; alternatively, call or message someone. Tell them the idea you’re stuck on.
Because remember – you’re better than that, even if you don’t always believe it. You’ve devoted yourself to telling stories and embracing your own creativity – whatever your medium is. Don’t let a little hiccup like writer’s block get in the way.
Beau Hillier | Editor, page seventeen
April 3, 2014
This is Kev Howlett. He’s one of the co-founders/owners of Busybird Publishing, Busybird’s resident artist and photographer, is responsible for the weekly ‘Busy the Bird’ funnies that go up on Facebook (and are archived here on our website), cuts our videos (like the Open Mic Night highlights) and does an assortment of other things.
He also had the goal to climb up to Mount Everest Base Camp before he was fifty – something he just accomplished, with several years to spare. What’s more, he integrated the trek into a fundraiser for CMT (Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease), a condition his eldest son has, and took photographs of his expedition, which will comprise a full-colour coffee-table book due out in November, entitled Walk With Me, (a portion of proceeds which’ll go to CMTA Australia, to raise awareness and contribute to finding a cure for CMT).
That’s not a bad CV.
And it’s one that makes you think about pursuing and achieving the goals in your life.
What is your goal?
Be honest, you do have a goal. We all do. Maybe it was born in our youth, when the world was impossibly large and filled with boundless opportunities, and we had nothing but uncontainable enthusiasm. Or maybe, just maybe, as the everyday grind (work, household, kids, et al) shackles the innocence of our dreams, our hopefulness, that belief that all things can be possible, it’s become a symbol of rediscovery, reinventing ourselves into who we ideally want to be (or at least recapturing it, however fleetingly). Or maybe it’s just something we’ve always wanted to do.
Somewhere, inside of us, we have something we want to do that goes beyond everyday desires. It might be something outrageous, something most might scoff at. It might be grand and worldly. It might just be the sort of life we want. The point is it’s our Everest – and can come to represent something seemingly unconquerable. Or perhaps that’s just the way it grows as time goes by.
It’s easy – far too easy – for this goal to become unattended, if not neglected. For it to become buried. It can even become identified with a lament, Oh, I remember I wanted to do such and such. But now it’s no longer a goal. It’s not a dream. It’s just something that once existed, like flares on pants, or disco. The reality is there’s no time. Or it’s too hard. Or you’re too old. Or … well, there’s any number of other reasons which prohibit us from fulfilling our goal.
We get stuck in who we are, what we are, the circumstances of our lives.
But we have choices. We always have choices. And it’s important – vitally important – that we try to be true to that part of ourselves, even if everything else in our day-to-day lives is demanding (sometimes kicking and screaming) that our attention be focused elsewhere, and even (or perhaps especially) if our everyday lives shape our conscious, practical, adult minds into stodgy, doubting, pessimistic know-it-alls: Don’t be silly. You can’t do that.
But you can.
This doesn’t mean shove the kids in the closet, dump your partner, ditch all responsibilities and ties and go off on a wild adventure. But if there’s something you’ve always wanted to do, if you’ve had a lifelong goal, or even if it’s something new, there’s someway to be true to it, to be true to yourself, and to find a way to do it.
The number one regret of dying people is that they didn’t take enough chances, didn’t pursue what they wanted.
Don’t wait until you’re on your deathbed to realise there are things you’ve left undone.
That there’s things you should’ve done.
And want to do.
April 1, 2014
Please, everyone, calm down a moment. I know you’re excited.
Soon enough you’ll get the chance to submit. Whether it’s for general submissions or having a go at our competition prize pool, there’ll be plenty on offer. Personally, I can’t wait.
Any questions can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org, but in the meantime a quick crash course might be called for so that newcomers know a little more about what we’re about, and what we’re looking for.
Because we’re page seventeen, there are seventeen points. Whether that’s a clever promotional tie-in or a lazy and uninspired gimmick is for others to decide. I would probably call this The 17 Stretched Out But Still Highly Relevant Things We Want to See From You. But let’s settle with The Seventeen-Point Checklist.
So, what do we want from contributors?
1) Creativity. Be daring with your writing and test your restraints. Use different modes of writing – experiment with different and interesting ways of telling a story.
2) Clean Writing. Obviously not everyone’s a trained editor who knows about split infinitives and dangling participles. But take the time to read over your work one more time before you send it. Weed out all those typos and make sure the messages are clear.
3) Courage. Be bold enough to send your work. Be brave enough to champion it. But also be resilient enough to remain open to the next point, which is …
4) Willingness to Edit. Not as big as it sounds. We’re not likely to want to renovate the entire piece. But please keep an open mind towards changes we recommend, as we’re as determined as you to make the writing as good as it can be.
5) Entertainment. Whether it’s happy or dark, the story should be entertaining and compelling. Remember you have an audience to win over – or lose.
6) Passion. Whatever you’ve written, we want to feel the love you have for what you’ve put on the page. It’s always refreshing to see a piece of writing that has been tended to with loving consideration, and has a sense of heartfelt conviction.
7) Conflict. A lot of submissions we receive are light on trials and tribulations. Don’t be afraid to hurt your characters. Hurt them bad if you have to. Put your narrator through the wringer. Drag your poetry through hellfire. As long as it’s not Job-level sadism (unless there’s a reason for it) it’ll result in a more compelling piece.
8) Imagination. ‘Write what you know’ is great, but so is stepping out of that comfort zone and diving into unknown waters. Go where your mind takes you – worry about the cleanup when you’re done with the draft.
9) Following the Guidelines. We have criteria like word limits and formatting preferences in place for good reasons. Help us out by sticking to them.
10) New Angles. There are going to be far more submissions then we can create spots for in the issue. So ask yourself: what’s my point of difference?
11) Awareness of page seventeen. We don’t stick to themes or certain styles, but it’s always beneficial to check out previous issues, to see what we’ve published in the past and how our mission statement reflects in our backlist.
12) Professionalism. Not to the point of being stuffy and impersonal (see #15). But presentation and prompt communication counts.
13) A Love for Reading and Writing. Naturally.
14) Ambition. We take pride in being career-starters, and love seeing the ambitious types that are intent on making the most out of their craft.
15) Personality: No one else is you, as you might have heard in a dozen self-help validations. So let that shine through.
16) Support. Not meaning donations (although that would be nice). But telling people about page seventeen (especially if you’re going to be in the latest issue!) and joining in with the conversations we have in social media and elsewhere.
17) You. We want to get to know you. Say hi to the good folk at Busybird. Bring something to read out at the open mic nights. Post something on our Facebook page. However it may be, we want you to be part of our growing community.
Also, don’t forget that we champion new writers, and emerging wordsmiths still trying to get their submission count up. We don’t turn veterans away at the door – hence why this addendum isn’t on the list – but we strongly encourage new writers to take the chance and let us have a look at their strongest work. It could be the start of something.
I hope the checklist gives some indication of what page seventeen is all about. We love new talent, and we love individuality and unique voices. We want to see your imagination at play on the page. We want the highs and the lows. We want you.
Start counting down. In a fortnight the game is on.
Beau Hillier | Editor, page seventeen