People Watching

I don’t think you can really be a writer unless you are also an avid people watcher. I really like to sit with a coffee and watch the people around me. I don’t write stories for them, I just observe and come to my own conclusions about who they are, what they think and feel. Do they seem tired, grumpy, cheery, clever, amused, interesting, rushed or laid back? Are they well dressed or a bit too casual? Does that hair style really suit them? You can go on forever.

What things do you see that cause you to decide who someone is, on one sighting alone? I think the way they dress, their body language and how their face, are big first impression tip offs. Next time you are people watching consider the first three things you notice about people. Do you notice different things than I do?

Do you write that way? When you describe a character do you write about them as if they were someone you just saw at the mall, in the parking lot at work or wherever you happen to be writing them. Do you give details about their appearance, body language and facial expressions?

Have you ever written about a stranger you watched somewhere? Try it. Give yourself a challenge and write in a different venue than your usual. If you write fiction try poetry, if you write non-fiction try fiction and so on. Go nuts and write a greeting card just for them!

Most of all, keep watching those passers by, you never know when they will become inspiration.

Character in Victory and Defeat

Do you agree with the idea that a character can be shown better in defeat than in victory? Think about the last character you wrote about. What was happening to him or her? Were they being defeated or conquering? Would it be easier to show their defeat or victory through dialogue or description? Or would you just narrate that and not leave it up to speculation?

I’d like to think people’s characters can thrive in either situation. You know, that idea about good winners and poor losers. It should work both ways. Maybe it’s more about the writer’s own character than the character created for the page.

It’s worth thinking about. How would you describe the setting differently if the character was happy, doing well and having a great victory compared to the setting of a character who was having a bad day, etc.? There would be small details like how they carry themselves, body language and tone of voice if they speak. Larger things like their reactions to other people and things that interact with them. Aggression and violence could develop for the defeated character. Whereas someone who has won would be aggressive but not in a violent or threatening way, over exuberant perhaps. Both can be intimidating for different reasons.

How much does the mood of a character influence their surroundings. You know when you are feeling angry you see things differently than when you are sad, happy, or laid back. Do you consider that aspect as you write the scene? Back to that is the glass half full or half empty.

Anyway, it’s something I read in a book about fiction writing, an old book but still some interesting ideas. Yet another way to show without telling.

Writing Without Fluff

You can find a lot about cutting the fluff out of your writing. I know, I just searched Google for writing fluff. I did this because someone argued that there is too much gloom and reality on BackWash lately. So, I wondered if there was a guide to writing better fluff pieces. (Not so far in the search but I’m sure it’s out there, somewhere).

Anyway, life is full of drama, conflict and ugliness, sharp edges, people running with scissors, mean spirits and other assorted generally bad things. It balances out all the sparkly fluffy bits. The balance is called reality.

When you write, do you write reality or fluff? If you write fiction do you have one main conflict and focus only on that. Do you forget what it’s like to have a bad day, a day when it seems all the little things keep going wrong. Does your character live a cardboard life where she/ he has no headaches, other than the main one you’ve plotted out for them?

I think we need to trip our characters every now and then. It makes them human, keeps them real. It doesn’t have to tie into the main plot, not directly anyway. Give him a bad knee from some soccer game when he was a kid. Give her a fear of dogs from seeing her sister bitten. Or just have him skin his knee as he’s leaping all those tall buildings.

Don’t write fluff and expect us to swallow it. We know about conflict, we’ve lived it. Every day can’t be sunny and nice. Besides, if you admit it, isn’t it really those windy, blustery days you love the best? I do!

I Don’t Feel Like Writing

I don’t feel like writing cause my bra strap is too tight. I don’t feel like writing cause I’m not in the mood. I don’t feel like writing cause I’m too tired. I don’t feel like writing cause I don’t have anything really brilliant to say today. I don’t feel like writing cause my typing is worse than my penmanship tonight. I don’t feel like writing cause my asthma is bugging me. I don’t feel like writing, I just don’t feel like writing. Can’t I just not feel like writing?

I can always come up with reasons why I don’t feel like writing, some of them are real reasons. But, in the end, later I’ll still be trying to catch up on everything I didn’t write the night before. Time keeps passing, you can’t politely ask everything to stop for you.

What do you do to get back on track when you don’t feel like writing? Sometimes I have a shower. Going for a drive or a walk also works, weather and gas money permitting. Even just taking yourself away for the time it takes to make a fresh coffee is now and then enough to get yourself back into a writing frame of mind.

If not, maybe you need to make a list instead. Lists are a short form of writing. You don’t have to obey rules of punctuation, grammar or spelling. You just make notes for yourself. List your plot developments for fiction you’re working on. List possible spin off articles if you’re writing non-fiction. Make a list of ideas you could work on if you felt like writing.

In the process of making a list I usually find I suddenly really feel like writing again. In fact, I often start writing right on the back of my list.

Debating Yourself

Could you argue in favour of something you disagreed with? Could you take the side, against your personal beliefs, and come up with a great debate? Debating is a skill. It’s not easy to come up with strong, winning points when you don’t agree with the overall ideas. But, as a writer, that is what you have to do, sometimes.

If someone pays you to write, speech write or ghostwrite something for them, you have to do it to the best of your abilities. Once you take on a job you need to do your best with it. Your personal opinions can be useful as you will already know the reasoning behind the opposite point of view.

I think one challenge would be keeping your focus and not letting your own point of view creep in to influence the writing/ debate. It would be so easy to slip in a subtle zinger. So easy to not try to really come up with the best points and just settle for your first ideas. But, you’d be selling yourself short that way.

As a writing exercise debating against yourself is a great way to get your brain working. Could you apply this to writing fiction too? If you were stuck at a point of choice for a character, would it help to write a scene where they do the opposite to what you feel they should be doing? By writing what you don’t want them to do could you not find what you want them to do, think or feel?

Create Yourself in Your Own Image

We know about presenting a good, professional image and using effective body language. If you work in fiction you’ve likely used body language, style and first impressions to create a character. But, do you present a good image of yourself?

If you are in a professional situation do you know how to appear professional and confident. Do you look at people when you speak to them? If you look at someone’s eyes while they speak they will feel you’re really listening. Don’t sit or stand with your body scrunched or folded up. Good posture counts. Also, don’t sprawl and have people tripping over you, but – don’t be afraid to take up some space. When sitting, standing or walking don’t appear small and intimidated, talk with your hands a little, rest your arm on the arm of the chair.

Is your conversation full of slang, do you tend to use any bad language (anything you wouldn’t say in front of a 4 year old)? Coach yourself to speak clearly and avoid pauses with “ummm” and related phrases. If you find yourself stumbling over your words, sounding nervous, stop. Take a breath, a sip of water and remember you’re talking to a fellow human being not a rabid skunk, relax.

Can you carry a conversation, do you have some prepared chit chat? Avoid talking about the weather, politics or religion, come up with something a bit more interesting and uniquely you. If you have hobbies try working them in. Don’t go overboard talking about yourself, just enough to break the ice is fine. Ask questions about their own interests to pull them into the conversation. You don’t have to be full of yourself, you don’t even have to be genuinely confident, but you should appear to know what you’re doing and be at ease.

Take a look at your wardrobe. Do you have at least one ‘interview suit’? If so, do you feel confident when wearing it? If you don’t go shopping for something that flatters you and makes you feel good when you have it on. It should be comfortable to wear so you aren’t distracted by a tight jacket, a colour that makes you feel mousy or any other of a hundred problems that can come up. Yes, you want to be dressy but you don’t want to feel unnatural or inelegant. If your style of dress is casual try finding something casual in a dressy fabric. Or something dressy, like a tailored suit, in a casual fabric.

Of course, you are groomed, have brushed hair and teeth, lathered up (recently) in general. Make sure your fingernails are clean. Give yourself a check over just before the get together. Anything stuck in your teeth? Did that garlic at lunch stay with you? Any dirt, strings, or very tiny aliens, hanging from your clothes?

Writers already have a small image problem. People tend to assume writers slack off and have it easy. We work at home, may not even get dressed or out of bed all day. We don’t work at a ‘real’ job. Don’t assume another writer or editor or publisher will know better. Dress for success. Create the image you want people to have and then be there.

The Reframing Matrix

Here is an idea for the next time you are stuck with an idea and can’t fight your way out of a wet paper bag with it. Try the reframing matrix plan.

The Reframing Matrix is a formal technique used to look at problems from different perspectives. It helps to expand the number of options open to you for solving a problem.

You draw up a reframing matrix by posing a question in a box in the middle of a piece of paper. You then draw a grid around it. Each cell will contain approaches to the problem, seen from one perspective.

One way of using the technique is the ‘4 Ps’ approach. This looks at the problem from the following viewpoints: Product, Planning, Potential and People. Another set of perspectives is to ask your self how different professionals would approach the problem. Useful professions to consider would be medical doctors, engineers, systems analysts, sales managers, etc.

I found this on a site called Mind Tools. Consider applying the reframing matrix to your writing blocks or hold ups. What would your four perspectives or viewpoints be? Overall you could say: Story, Publisher, Reader, Characters. But it could be applied to sections of your fiction too. Look at the situation from the viewpoint of four different characters. If you are working on a non-fiction article look at it from the viewpoint of four possible readers- other writers, professionals, your siblings, a checkout cashier, etc.

It does help to give you fresh ideas and slants/ angles on the ideas you already have.

Shameless Blogging

I just posted this for the Erotica community at Adult BackWash.

Is your life enough of a soap opera or do you embellish it for your blog? Admit it… you’ve played with a few details, added an inch or taken a mile, here and there. It’s all for the cause of the readable blog. We all want readers, feedback, numbers on our traffic counters. Being human is human.

What if you traded in the whole truth thing and went for the complete fiction. I’ve read blogs that were blatantly fiction. Unashamed to be totally inspired rather than perspired. Is it bad? Is it wrong? Why do you care! It’s a blog, not life and death. Have fun, take it as far as you can and see what happens. Experiment and explore and live the fantasy in text.

How far would you go, if you could go? Toss out the politically correct, the inbred values and do anything and everything. What comes to mind first? What taboo will you plunge into? No need to think twice, if you’re timid about it go for the anonymous blog. After all, do you really want to meet anyone who would read the stuff you plan to write?

Have fun, keep on blogging. 🙂