Monday, February 24, 2014

Coloring Your Writing

Apologies for the late post today.  I've had a bit of a family shake-up, as my aunt passed away last night.  Today has been spent making arrangements and trying to figure what to pack for North Dakota in the middle of February.  (Answer - every sweater I own, and a few more I'll have to buy.  Also, thermal underwear.)

I've found that, when I read through some of my earlier writing and journals, I can learn more about my mood at the time of writing from the way that I write than the words themselves.  It's something that I've found really helps flesh out a character's emotional state when writing, even if the character isn't speaking.  For instance, I've found that I tend to use shorter, simpler sentences when I'm very upset or angry.  Longer, more rambling sentences can mean that I'm either happy or anxious.

+Mary Robinette Kowal has spoken before (on the podcast Writing Excuses) about using breath in puppetry, and how it relates to writing.  Several short sentences used in succession gives the impression of speaking and breathing quickly, which makes the character sound upset or excited.  Using this kind of sentence structure when in that character's "head", even if they are not speaking, can give the reader a taste of what the character is feeling without dialog.  It makes the immersion experience for the reader a little smoother, and when done well, is nearly invisible.

What other tricks have you found to help set a character's mindset when they aren't speaking?  This is one of those skills I'm always looking to improve, so any ideas are always welcome.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Plot Bunny Management

I think it must have been during my first trip into NaNoWriMo that I encountered the term "plot bunny", and I've found it immensely useful in describing my thought process.  Plot bunnies, for those who haven't been introduced, are those little bits of an idea that spring up - usually when the last thing you're doing is even thinking about writing - and demand your attention.  It can be something small, like an image that is just begging for you to write a scene around it, or more complex, like the basis of a civilization.  Admittedly, the latter tend to come to me in the form of fever dreams, but they are plot bunnies either way.

I think Terry Pratchett said it best when he said "Inspirations sleet through the universe continuously," and sometimes there's just no getting out of the way.  Sometimes I feel like Richard Madoc from Neil Gaiman's Sandman series, constantly hit with ideas.  It takes some time, but I've found a decent way to herd the plot bunnies.  At least it keeps them from keeping me up at night.

I keep a document on the cloud (so I can access it from work or from my phone, if needed) called Plot Bunnies.  Any time one of those ideas comes about, I jot something down to serve as a placeholder for the idea.  Sometimes it's just a phrase that caught my attention, sometimes it's a character or a location.  Later, when I'm looking for inspiration or need an idea for something I'm writing, I'll peruse the file to see if anything strikes me as useful for that particular scene.  It's come in handy a large number of times, even if some of the ideas jotted down make absolutely no sense under the harsh light of day (see also:  fever dreams).

I also started a Pinterest board called "Plot Bunny Food" (I'm including the link on the sidebar) that includes photos or links to articles that I think could come in handy or serve as inspiration.  I was fortunate to have a member of my writing group who frequently perused the Reddit forums and would send along things she found interesting, so I created the board to help me keep track of it all.

How do you handle random acts of inspiration?  Do you have some way of tracking the inspirations as they come sleeting down, or do you let them bounce harmlessly off of you?

Monday, February 10, 2014

Word Choice and Mental Illness (TW: Suicide & Depression)

Just to be on the safe side, I'm going to put a trigger warning for suicide and depression here.

The other day, I was listening to a podcast in which the hosts were discussing a friend of theirs who had recently committed suicide.  They were discussing their own history with depression and anxiety, and I noticed that they kept using the word "suffer" - as in, "I suffer from anxiety" or "I suffer from clinical depression."  I realized that this is a pretty common word choice when dealing with mental illness.  Most people, if they are discussing either their own illnesses or that of another person, will say that the person suffers from that illness.

To a certain extent, this makes sense.  Speaking from my experience with clinical depression, generalized anxiety and panic disorders, I know that it can feel as though something is attacking you from the inside, and there isn't much you can do but suffer.  Considering how hard it can be for people with mental illness to reach out and ask for help, it definitely feels as though suffering is all a person can do.

However, we don't talk that way about physical ailments.  People don't generally "suffer" from cancer; they "fight" cancer, or they "battle" it.  I wondered why it was that we use such a passive word in "suffer" to describe mental illness, but much more active words when describing physical illness.

Perhaps it's because physical illnesses seem to have a definitive beginning and end point.  You're diagnosed, you go through treatment or have surgery, and if you've "fought" hard enough, and your doctors "battled" well enough, then you'll be cured and done with the illness.  Go team you!  Mental illness, however, doesn't really have a "beginning" or an "end".  You're diagnosed (maybe), you go through some sort of treatment (or not), still have the illness.  You may have better days, but it's always there, in the back of your mind, reminding you that you aren't "well" yet, and you may never be "well".

Or, maybe it's because it's easier for us to see physical ailments as something foreign to the body - an alien invader to be exterminated, or something that was broken that needs to be fixed.  Even though cancer, for example, can come from a cell in your own body that goes haywire, we still see it as something outside of ourselves, an adversary worth battling.  Mental illness, on the other hand, come from within.  We don't see how certain influences in our past or different circumstances in our upbringing could influence our mental health; we just see that our brains don't work properly, and there's no one to blame but ourselves.

I've had a few times where I've hit rock bottom and started to dig.  I have attempted to end my life in the past.  It's been very easy for me to see myself as suffering to the point that I just couldn't handle it anymore.  All of the times I've gotten that low, what has helped me to climb back out was getting angry.  Angry at myself, to a certain extent, but angry at the depression in particular.  I started to see my depression as an adversary - a strong one, and one that had knocked me down several times, but something I could fight.  Once I could see my illness as something I could actively fight against, I was able to convince myself to keep going.  I did get help, as well, and am on medications and in therapy.  For me, however, the first step was finding something to fight.

I absolutely realize that what works for me isn't going to work for everyone, and I'm not about to tell anyone how to talk about their own problems.  For me personally, I try like the devil to keep from suffering from my mental illnesses.  Every day, I wake up and do my best to fight them.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Making Stories Behind the Pictures

So, for those of you who don't know, I live near Seattle.  Yesterday, there was the Big Sportsball Game, in which our local team did very, very well, and won a championship they'd never won before.  Naturally, this has led to much rejoicing on the West Coast, and many, many tears of lamentation pretty much everywhere else.

Watching the game last night, I found myself focusing a bit more on the expressions of the people on the sidelines and in the stands than the action on the field.  (This, of course, is in no way related to my general apathy towards all things sportsball-related.)  Through most of the game, I kept making comments on the faces I saw, making up what I thought they could be saying and thinking.

I realize this is something that I do frequently, and I'm wondering if I'm alone in this.  I feel as though there's a lot of inspiration to be had in a captured moment of time, even if it isn't something as dramatic as losing the Super Bowl.  It seems like the reverse of my acting training, where I always tried to express certain emotions through my body language and facial expressions.  Learning how to do that myself makes it easier to recognize when it's being done by others, consciously or not, and it helps me figure out a story behind those expressions.

While the inspiration is there, I find it difficult to capture what I see in the picture when I translate it into words.  It doesn't feel right to just describe the details of the picture, because then it reads as dry and technical.  I know it helps readers to determine what's important by what's described in detail and what's left out, but it all seems important, which is less than useful in this arena.

Does anyone have any tips or tricks on capturing an image in words?  Do you have a similar problem with determining what's important and what isn't?  And did anyone else fear for the lives of everyone else in the box with John Elway during the game?