Troy Kirby

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Flash Fiction For Your Audience

There are a lot of things you can do to rev up your writing. Sometimes, the mental exhaustion takes over even when you are ready to write. Those moments mean that what you are working on is too on the front burner and your brain is melting down as a result.

The best method: Flash fiction.

Flash fiction is taking three components and making it into a story.

Take an object, a character, and a place.

Then, make a story out of it.

The story doesn’t have to be good. It shouldn’t always be something you want to save or keep forever. It is a way to push those ideas forward, get yourself in the mood for writing and return to those things that you want to write about.

News reporting in many ways uses the flash writing beast the best. A snap of the fingers, too many little stories, little components in order to develop your writing. Forget the bad sentences, the wrong paragraphs or terminal edits. This is about you developing a small story to push yourself back into the writing mode.

That object: apple.

That character: A fat worm.

A place: On the kitchen counter.

Now, think of the possibilities. A lot of them. Including a side character who walks in on the worm coming out of the apple on the kitchen counter and shrieks. Or maybe the person eats the worm out of indifference (extra protein). Or what if its from the view of the worm, who gets stuck in the apple and is screaming as the human comes forward with a knife (or drops the worm’s living remains in the trash compactor).

A lot of ideas just came to me in this. It builds a story quick. Maybe its funny, maybe not. But who cares. It gets me in that writing mood. And that’s what counts.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Basics

I’ve been working on a lot of different writing components lately. It has helped me understand the difference between dialogue and placement of characters, as well as the technical portion of how names and places fit into a story as well as paragraph description. You’ve got to take a step back once in a while, see what is out there, and really form your writing back to the basics. If you don’t, it tends to get sloppy, even on the last draft where you finally believe you have something.

My latest effort has been writing more journalism style prose. The type that you find in those rags called newspapers which are on actual paper. I know, that’s so 1980! It’s too bad that we don’t look at those efforts as keys to good writing. Because you had only one shot at it. Even typing at a keyboard is easy because a word processor can erase a bad sentence. With a typewriter, you had white-out, meaning you had to retype the entire page again.

It’s that “back to basics” mentality of newspaper journalism form that most writers haven’t experienced. But the contextual side of things is good stuff in the manner of learning, which you do every day, even if you swear you don’t. Either you learn bad habits or good ones, your choice in what you do with your time.

Journalism writing is simple. It is on a sixth grade level of writing and reading. The inverted pyramid was developed in the 1850s, when it was important to get as much information out as possible in the top of the story, lest a telegraph wire was snapped and the story didn’t make it to the home press. Three sentences or less make a paragraph. First off is a lead, then a supporting sentence, than finally a sentence which sums up the top two sentences with any remaining information.

Writers should attempt to use all different forms of the art. If you are a journalist, you should practice writing poetry or novel description. The same can be said for the reverse. It’s all back to basics and helps you learn, and in the end, improves what writing you have to show to the world.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The lure of distractions

I’m dealing with a lot of different distractions at the moment.

For me, they come in huge tidal waves, then end up being nothing later on. But dealing with them, brushing them off when they attack me at all sides, is something that I am coming to terms with. Namely, it’s that point of focus that I sometimes lack.

There are periods in which I am so focused, so selfish to what I want to do that it is uncanny how different I am when I am distracted. As if there was no focus, no selfishness to me at all. I’m all over the place in small periods.

Luck for me, as I mentioned, this happens in small periods. If it happened in large ones, I doubt if I could hold a page of content let alone a book together.

I will look back at those short periods of erratic behavior with awe. Damn, that was WAY too unimportant for me to be focused on. Look at all of the things I could have done, had I not worried about that.

And that’s where I’m at. Most of those things distracting me from writing are useless nonsense. They need to be compartmentalized in order to help me progress as a writer. It’s the application of that method of focus which I tend to lack, but have to reinforce on a weekly basis.

If I tell myself that I am going to write, I will plan out a good period of an hour or two hours where I refuse to do anything but write. On vomit drafts, this can be difficult because the guidelines are less for the expansion of notes. By the rewriting portion of draft two or draft three, with those guidelines, it becomes somewhat easier to sit and write for longer periods. I mention the word “somewhat” because there are exceptions.

And boy, as a writer, I have found them.

Those times in which your friend calls and talks for two hours on random issues or topics. Or you find yourself sitting around, thinking about nothing, but trying to get in the mood for writing. Or going to see to a movie which is not worth your money, then arriving back home to write, only to find that you are too tired to sit down and bang out that story.

These are some of the distractions which pull me off focus.

Others include work related nonsense which I bring home with me and never gets solved anyway.

These distractions haunt me. They come at different times even when I am ready to sit down and write. Periods in which I’ve sat at the computer, convinced myself of spacing out writing time, and still something takes me off course.

But I do remind myself that these distractions come as part of a larger choice. It’s something which I remind myself of daily. Do I want to be a writer bad enough?

Do I want to be a full-time writer someday or am I thrilled to not be and to serve only as a reminder to others of what could have been?

That fear resides deeper than any distraction can. It makes me sit back and think. I don’t want to be that guy who could have made it. I want to be the example of the guy who did make it.

Therefore, my focus has to continue to be primed.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Vomiting all over the logic train

I’ve been seeing the “logic train” quite a bit during my drafts of my new novel. This is a good thing, and although it can be frustrating at the time to have to redraft something, it is very necessary. How many times have you heard that the hard thing to do is often the right thing as well? It stinks because you want to pound those keys, have it turn out perfect. But the more you know yourself as a writer, the more likely you will come to terms with the fact that you will not be one on a vomit draft.

Maybe I’m wrong on this. Perhaps Shakespeare was a vomit draft type of guy and never edited a word or never wrote a sonnet if you watch the new movie Anonymous (keep in mind it’s written and directed by the guy who did Independence Day).

I doubt that Ernest Hemingway sat at his typewriter in Ketchum, Idaho (among other places such as Paris and Key West) and wrote A Farewell To Arms on a single draft. Things, if they happen in that form, are outliers not exact principles.

I took a writing class in 1997 from an Olympia writer named Steve Charak (1953-2004). Steve was a great teacher, good friend and I do think about his instructions. He edited and ran Young Voices Magazine out of Olympia (way before the internet was cool) and loved teaching children. I enjoyed having someone who would actually read what a young person wrote, work with them, instead of dismissing it or patronizing the writer because they were “too young to understand.” He always said that if it was important to be seen, it must be quality. That only happens when you rewrite something. Over and over again. Until you can’t stand the text, know the story WAY too intimately, and are convinced that it is the best result you can get. (And still someone will find an editing mistake).

That comes back to the logic train statement. It’s that imaginary metal beast on tracks that rip-roars through the country of your mind. Those quirky ideas showing you patterns and plots; things that make your stories different from everyone else. Without that hubris of plotting or logic, there is no real story. If anyone could do it, everyone would, and it wouldn’t be art, or a skill, or something you could sell to someone who can’t.

But the logic train sometimes is self-defeating. It shows you errors out of that vomit draft that by draft three you are kicking yourself for not correcting prior.

Those are the little nuances where you ask yourself why you wrote a character to do this, instead of that. Why, if a family is being robbed, would you have the husband so chatty, friendly? Why make the wife withdraw money from a bank account right before having her husband killed? The vampire talking his victim to death, when all he has to do is bite the victim, make them a damn vampire, then can talk until the sun rises.

Absurdity is found in the vomit draft. It usually takes a lot of logic train routes to get from draft one to draft five. Or draft eleven. Yes, even though it may take you a few drafts to understand, it doesn’t matter. The reader is all that matters. Even after that point, if the reader is having difficulty with something, that’s on you as the writer. Tough lessons even I have to learn from time to time.

The good thing about logic trains is that they frequently avoid vomit drafts. There is no reasoning for a logic train to be scheduled to come through your first draft. A vomit draft serves the purpose of puking out whatever comes to mind. And if you write like I do (even if you don’t), you probably need that. All of the different ideas crushing the page for me is the only way to determine what works and what doesn’t. I’ve had several ideas that I’ve written down as notes, only to see them become failures when expanded on the page.

But I wouldn’t have known that without getting to that point with a vomit draft.

There is no emotion to a vomit draft, which is why it works. No wall preventing you from putting out more information, getting more facts into the story. Sometimes, it contradicts other things you’ve already written.

The only thing I don’t do is develop different names for the same person in the same draft. While I may change a name for a specific reason, if I did it in the same draft, I would worry it would lead to confusion for the readers. If by some accident, the editing process of draft two or three did not make the same character utilize the same name, this would be bad

My vomit drafts do illicit some great dialogue. Stuff I keep throughout. But it is also gets mundane, to the point dialogue. Sometimes two characters will just talk, say obvious, stupid stuff in the vomit draft. It’s a way of advancing the story.

Everything in a vomit draft gets puked out. By draft two or three, there should be less vomit. Things should be cleaned up.

The goal is to get less vomit each time. Clean it up with better results. So you can get to that point in the story where everything hums. Once you have that going, you have a good story. And then, nothing looks like the mess you initially created.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

What Lies Beneath

The first draft for me appears as a betrayal by the second or third draft.

At least in portions of it, mainly because things change. Everything within the story is organic, it grows or dies as it progresses. And the first thing to go in the first draft are some of the story components that I felt were completely awesome when I had the idea in my head.

By draft three, a lot of those components have been altered in a way. Some of it looks so different that I feel as if it’s a Hollywood starlet getting her third round of plastic surgery.

This comes from several factors

A. I never know everything little twist and turn in a story from page 1 to page 300 in a first draft.

B. I like the first draft sit a while. It starts to churn with new ideas that come in my head, things people have said to me in different conversations, etc.

C. Sometimes a new idea overtakes an old one.

This is how I operate. And no matter how often I believe that I am going to write an awesome first draft, by draft three, I look back at the first draft and know how bad it really was. But that is why we redraft things, revisions, rewrite. Because if we all believed that the first draft was king, there would be nothing to rebuild at all.

I am starting a new novel. Got the notes down over the last year, waited to finish a few projects, then went back to it. The amount of notes were about five word documents, one of them that lasted fifty-two pages. All different ideas, scenes, characters. Thoughts on theme, language and setting.

And you know what?

I still penciled out a good 26 chapter outline that shrunk all of those notes down.

Then, I started writing the first chapter. Easy as can be, right? Except that things don’t often appear as far away as they do in the mirror (because it reality, they are closer than they appear).

That was what got me started thinking about how I feel in the second or third draft. All of the effort to change things, to improve them.

Sometimes this doesn’t happen.

Just look at the reviews for "Crunk" - Some people liked it (5 of the reviews are at 3 stars). Others thought it was worthless (one lady gave it 1 star & wrote "It makes me wonder whether this author has personal experience with these actions somehow"). NOTE: I've never been arrested, nor am I criminally insane. That's why it's called "fiction" - FYI.

Even though I can suggest to you that I don’t look at those things, I do. Reviews of your work tend to gloss over how hard you've worked (or how long) on each sentence, plot or story. That's why everything in terms of writing is very internal. Doing the best you can with what you’ve got (talent, story, characters, taste) is all you can hope for.

Especially after the third or fourth draft where you’ve really started to ensure that everything adds up. For some people, it’s not going to. They are predisposed not to enjoy something. It fits in their demeanor or character.

And the worst thing you can do as a writer is stop at the first draft. Because this “sounds” more like what the reader wants to read. That’s the thing about the reader, they are waiting for you to surprise them. Despite what they say or ask for, in the end, they wish to have a surprise.

That’s why the third or fourth draft, despite the feeling of betraying the original draft and concept, is actually a good move for any writer. It means that you are treating it as an organic piece of work.

And aside from that, what else can you hope for?

SIDE NOTE: I will be changing this site in the coming weeks. It will be in connection with my latest novel release and the ability to have a more fluid system for my blog, etc. Things are a changing for the better. I just hired a graphic designer to take over the covers for my novels and plan to release 2-3 novels in the next couple of months. That’s why I’ve been out of touch lately, writing takes charge of your life sometimes and all you can do is hold the reigns and keep from falling off into oblivion.