Tuesday, April 26, 2016

How to Write: Dystopian

So, I obviously didn't post last week, because I had some big stuff happen. Check back in Friday for the exciting news! In the meantime, here's a post from Alexa.

Thanks so much for having me, Krissy!
Greetings, readers of Words in my Soul! I am Alexa *bows* here to offer a few do’s and don’ts for writing the suddenly-very-popular genre that is dystopian fiction.
First off, I’d just like to say that I am not an expert by any means and basically have no idea what I am doing. But! These are a few tips I’ve collected and invented as my co-writer and I hash out our little dystopian project, and I think they’re all pretty solid. The tips, I mean. Though the project and my co-writer are pretty cool too.
Tip 1: Get Creative:

If you want to not-so-subtly hint at how horrible everything is in your society, then bring in this special ceremony/terrible thing that happens when teenagers come of age, culminating in an epic battle where everyone must RISE UP for freedom, that’s perfectly fine. But there are a lot of books like that, I mean, a lot of a lot, and since people are always searching for something unique, I think the most important thing in writing dystopian is to take that common storyline and make it your own. Add a fantastical element here, flip the whole world on its head there, you could even toss out the “epic battle” if you want to, depending on how you’ve formulated the action so far. Consider making the classic teen-girl protagonist the antagonist, or having the villainous society actually be the hero; just whatever you do, make it new.
Of course, that’s not to say you absolutely can’t use the classic storyline (my co-writer and I actually did), just that the more conventions you keep, the more creative you have to get with their execution. Which is actually not such a bad thing, because then you get to do more crazy worldbuilding. Which brings me to...

Tip 2: Thoroughly Develop Your World

If you develop your world enough, you truly explore the backstories and the complicated nuances of your society, carefully crafting it into something strong enough to suspend your reader’s disbelief, your story will most likely follow suit and begin to evolve into something unique and amazing.
To be perfectly honest though, I’m not stellar at worldbuilding. I’m very good at random-ideas-in-the-middle-of-the-night-or-while-washing-dishes worldbuilding, but thorough, systematic development of an entire world system? Not something that comes easily for me, at least not without prompting, and there were a lot of dystopian factors in our storyworld that I was just taking for granted without actually exploring what might be behind them or how they could be better. 
If that sounds like you, I’d suggest reading a lot of blog posts on the topic and maybe even finding a book about it (we used Storyworld First by Jill Williamson, and it was fantastic). Whatever you do, don’t let worldbuilding be something you brush off until the end. It’s one of the most important elements in writing a strong dystopian, and, though you do have to be careful of Storyworld Builder’s Disease, it can also be one of the most interesting and inspiring parts of the process. After all, you might discover something that spawns some brilliant plot twist or fills that massive plothole you’ve been racking your brains to fix. Worldbuilding can be as intricate and important as plotbuilding; make sure you use it to its fullest possibilities within the context of your story. :)

Tip 3: Make Your Characters As Real As Possible

This is not to say that you should kidnap a bunch of teenagers and force them at gunpoint to act out the situations living in your psychotic head--while incomparably good for research, which I obviously do not know from personal experience, kidnapping, coercion, etc, etc, is all somewhat illegal.
No, what I mean is to develop your characters the same way you develop your storyworld--carefully and thoroughly. Spend time with your charries, daydream about them, take some situation in your life and consider how the babies might react to it. Figure out who they are, why they’re that way, and make sure they stay true to themselves (not to say that they shouldn’t change at all, but for the love of the SS Katniss and Peeta, PLEASE do not have your sassy, street-smart, kickbutt dystopian hero suddenly have his/her brain melt and leak out of their ears the moment they lay eyes on their soon-to-be significant other. Please).
Also, making them real doesn’t always mean you have to fill out every character sheet, know the name of their favorite ice cream, and why they hated their kindergarten teacher. The most important things to know about any characters are who they are now, why they’re that that way, and how they’re going to change throughout the book. Now I tend to discover these things as I’m writing and editing; character worksheets are rarely--not never, but rarely--more than interesting information to store in the back of my head. However, if you are a worksheet kind of a writer, here’s a link to one that my co-writer and I used for both of the main characters in our dystopian, and I know there are a bunch more charts on that site as well. You just might have to do a little digging. :)

Tip 4: Study The Genre

Yeah. So I spend the whole post telling you to just create your own world and do your own unique thing--then for my last tip, I turn around and say to study the genre. Well, I think it’s a good idea so that you can figure out, one, what you could emulate (not plagiarize), and two, what’s already been done and what material you have to put your own unique spin on.
That said, here are my recommendations:
Hunger Games: simply because it is so popular, and if you want to make it big in this genre, it might be good to know what everyone is raving about.
The Giver: I didn’t actually like the book (I think the visual effect just works better as a movie), but I’ve been informed that it was actually one of the first modern dystopian novels, plus it has an interesting way of showing its society that’s very different from a lot of the other series that have taken off (i.e. Divergent, Delirium, Matched, etc)
The Always War: Not my favorite dystopian, but it is interesting, it’s not particularly violent, and it’s also unique to its genre. A good starter, if you haven’t read a lot of dystopians before.
The Safe Lands series: Because this is my favorite dystopian, it’s beautiful and brilliant, and I will never resist recommending it when I have the chance. ;)

Well, here’s the thing, I don’t really have any don’t’s (other than, don’t write a boring story, and don’t be cliche) because when it comes to writing, I’m a bit of a free spirit and I don’t want to tell you there’s anything you can’t do. Honestly, that’s one of the awesome things about writing speculative fiction: even the sky’s not the limit; it’s just the beginning (sadly, can’t take credit for that quote, but it’s pretty awesome, amiright?). To be honest, as long as you keep your story uniquely and gorgeously yours, I don’t see that there’s anything you cannot do. :)

giphy (you got it).gif
You got this. ;)


When she was little, all Alexa wanted was to be an artist, but she realized later that being a writer is an art in its own right. Besides, everyone knows it’s way easier to write a few paragraphs than to copy the Mona Lisa. Well, she thought it would be anyway. Then she tried editing fifty thousand words and started to rethink that Mona Lisa thing.
You can find Alexa on Pinterest, Goodreads, Fanfiction.net, and her blogs, Summer Snowflakes and Verbosity Book Reviews.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Camp NaNo Update: Week #2

   So, it's been two weeks since camp started. How is this possible.

   Since my aunt and uncle left on Tuesday, writing's been easier, and I'm right on track! Also, my friend Katie is hosting a giveaway on her blog! Go check it out! But don't enter. I want to win. (Just kidding I'm not that mean.)

  • My word count—5274 (I'm halfway to my goal of 10k!!)
  • Children of the Nameless total word count—70,113 (holy crap that's so many words)
  • First line written—"Sai pulled the crossbow’s trigger."
  • Last line written—"He pressed a gentle kiss to her forehead and they left the room that smelled of blood."
  • Worst line—"So when they finally took her knife and forced her to the ground, she could be proud despite her split lip fresh bruises because she’d fought."
  • (Krissy, there's supposed to be an "and" in there)
  • Best line—" 'Oh, no. Leave that off. You look good.' She stared drunkenly at him, appreciating his sculpted chest and the ripples of his abs and suddenly she wanted to touch him.
      He just laughed and disobeyed her. 'You can admire me later, Katria, promise. But I’d rather not die without gettin’ a few more kisses from ya.'
      'I like this plan.' "
  • (this is a very shippy chapter and I love it to death)
  • I'm three quarters of the way done with this chapter, and after that I only have one more chapter before THE END
  • no I'm not freaking out
  • at all
  • (also I'm suddenly insecure about those lines I shared, so, show some love if they're not terrible? you guys are the best)

We survived week two, fellow campers. Here's to week three! May the words flow easily and not be total crap.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

How To Write: Surrealism

   Again. It's difficult to post with four small children running around your house. But today is their last day here *cries*, so I'll have time to post. Today's is written by Cait Potter.

Writing surrealism

   When people think of surrealism their minds usually lock onto Dali and dream interpretation and of course, with its main connotations being weird and strange and illogical, it’s easy to see it as something unapproachable, only attempted by the strangest among us.  But there is a sense to it, a method.
   Surrealism started as a movement in the 1920s, deep-rooted in politics and the ideas of dreams, such as the practice of dream interpretation Freud was bringing to light, artists and writers of that time explored reality in a way the completely uprooted it. But at the same time, creating work that made complete sense.
   By bringing a sense of familiarity to the viewer or reader.

   The idea was to take reality and twist it through dreams and the subconscious. Much the same way things feel familiar in a dream.  What you’re writing has to be real, quite possibly as real as you can make it and then you explore everything behind it. Reading between the lines so to speak. Finding the symbols then asking yourself, What do they mean?
   Is that house really just a house to that character? What does it mean to the character?
   Reality can be perceived in many different ways by many different people and surrealism offers a way to do that.
   Surrealists take this idea of reality, those all too real themes and the explore them through a veil of absurdity (There is actually a lesser known genre called absurdism and it usually goes hand in hand with surrealism) and strangeness. By doing so, they, in a way, lighten those heavy often dark themes
Surrealist writing can follow its roots back to writers such as the poets Arthur Rimbaud and Charles Baudelaire, with Andre Brenton kick-starting the movement with his manifesto ‘Manifeste du surréalisme’

The stream of consciousness (Surrealist Techniques)

   It’s been argued that surrealism isn’t about the content of the story but how you write it and since surrealism is a broad movement thus having a broad definition, I feel that it can be both.
   Automatic writing conjures the imagery of a psychic hunched over a crystal ball scribbling down the messages they scried from the future. That’s all well and good but I raise you the image of a simple writer, hunched over for completely different reasons, pen whipping across the page like their hands are on fire.
   Automatic writing or stream of consciousness is one of the main surrealist techniques, used by the great artists of however many years ago, it creates a sense of flow that you might not have if you were actively thinking about what goes where in your story.  I reckon every writer has tapped into this flow at least once.
   It’s hard to say what gets you into that zone because it’s different for everyone! Music certainly helps me!
   For me, everything slows down, I get uber-focused on my writing and I fall into this lull. It feel like the words are just floating out of my brain and the next thing I know I’ve written 6000 words and I feel like I’m going to pass out!
   Anything is possible I guess!

Setting and atmosphere

   In writing surrealism, your main goal is to immerse your reader into the story. I find that some good ole world building can really push you in that direction.
   It’s all well and good throwing things in there for affect or aesthetic until you find that those things have absolutely no purpose.  When it comes to surrealist settings that familiarity really comes into play.
   Your character will only notice certain things in that setting, things that stand out or are familiar to them.  Make those things important; tie your character to the setting by giving them something they can relate to. Build the atmosphere with emotion and symbolism. Focus on your character and build the world around them.
   For example, I find that giving the setting an unsettling feeling helps me build a tense atmosphere and it helps me put my character ‘on edge’ 
   Makes them think;
   Is something going to attack me?
   Makes those shadows on the walls appear like more than just shadows.  

Modern surrealist writers

   Many writers can have surrealist vibes (I bring to mind The Secret History By Donna Tart and The raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater) and so can genres, like sci-fi and punk subgenres like cyberpunk and steampunk.  
   But when I think of surrealist writing I think of writers such as Kafka and Vonnegut. Writers that birth incredibly absurd stories into the world while at the same time dealing with dark, almost too real themes. 
   Kurt Vonnegut, in his book Slaughterhouse 5 examines aliens keeping a human zoo, the end of the world and concept of a character that can, or believes he can, travel through time. 
   But he also deals with heavy themes like war, death, even PTSD.  
   To me, surrealism is a way of exploring the bad things in the world in a way that makes them less harsh, easier to comprehend, offering an escape in a sense.  I hope all of the tish tosh above made sense! 

   Cait Potter is an 18 year old artist, writer and photographer. They spend most of their time scribbling odd things and working on one too many projects. You can follow them on Instagram here.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Camp NaNo Update: Week #1

   I meant to post this yesterday, but having six extra people in my house has been making it difficult to have any down time.

   My favorite aunt and uncle and their four kids have been visiting for the past week, and we've been busy showing them around the area. Somehow I've managed to write a lot, though?

  • My word count—3600 words (yay me for ending on an even hundred???)
  • Children of the Nameless total word count—68,439 words (how is this possible)
  • The word count updater stopped working for half a day and it was very frustrating
  • First line written for camp—"A few people glanced at her, but no one payed much attention to the girl who had once been their princess."
  • Last line written—" 'I thought I’d killed you all,' she said."
  • Worst line—"...the wind winding its cold fingers around her..."
  • Favorite line—"Barrow, whose face and chest were a patchwork of cuts and bruises. Barrow, whose thin nose looked painfully broken. Barrow, whose eyes were full of more terror and relief and longing than Danica thought a person could feel at one time.   “Danica.” His voice was rough with desperation, aching, and something deep and intimate."
  • (okay that was more than one line but I love it)
  • Also I'm including cameos of Aimee's characters Saija and Havard because they're adorable
  • (I have a country based on Norway, and Havard and Saija are from Norway)

How's Camp Nano going for you? Did you have the same problem with the updater? If you're not doing Camp, how's your writing going?

Friday, April 1, 2016

How To Write: Historical Fiction

   So...sorry about last week. And this Tuesday. Not sure what happened. But now we're back with a lovely post by Lydia.

Step One: Get Started

Seriously. Don't get hung up on research and the nitty-gritty's. I say, my dear writer, hammer out an opening line and dive in. You can change it later. For the moment, it's easier to work with something, no matter how terrible, than trying to work from scratch. Great things rise out of first draft confusion.

But to help you along, here's some raw advice from a writer whose barely begun to figure it out.

Set the Stage

This goes along with research (and that's next), but it's slightly different. The parts of setting come first so you know what to research.

Here's an equation:

Setting = Time + Place + Mood + Culture

There are many factors that determine setting. Where does it start? What is the location much of the story happens in? Think of Dickens. Many of his works are set in London, which plays a defining role in the mood.
. . .And Set it Well


What is era-appropriate? Theme and names are important to consider.

A good example of this is the follow your heart trope, something that turns up often in Historical fiction. (Especially that featuring independent young women.) 'Follow your heart' is a mindset that has only become a popular and acceptable in the last 50-100 years. Even if that's how your character -and you-really feel, you may want to call it something different for the sake of accuracy.

Delve into the matter a little deeper and look for specifics. Is your character following their heart, or trying to survive on the streets? (See: Oliver Twist) Or find their identity? (See: Elnora Comstock in The Girl of the Limberlost.) Trying to follow the crowd drew her deeper into her love for nature. She didn't change fundamentally.

This has the potential to add a new facet to your story. I used a variation of it myself. The MC in my novel isn't following his heart as much as he's seeking approval from his family to use his talents on stage. Oh, and, it's a He. Guys faced opposition for breaking out of the mold too. Remember that. Historical fiction needs more male protagonists. I can hardly think of a title that does.
Do a Little Research.
Do a LOT More Research.

Okay. I love research, but some might dread this part. If that's the case you have three options: change, cope, or find another genre.

Historical fiction is easier to write today than it ever has been. You can find a lot on the internet. But be wary of Wikipedia and other sources of common knowledge. Gain facts, but develop your own opinion. There's plenty of bias out there on history. Remember: Our view on a historical issue today does not change the past; it can only change the future.
Only Include Relevant History
Mentioning definitive events is a good way to add currency and inform the readers of the exact era in history.For instance, you could say that Hitler just invaded Poland, even if your story isn't about WWII. Or that gold has been found in California, even if your story has nothing to do with that. Those are major events that definitely got around. It's a great way to ground your story in reality.

Be careful. Not every world-shattering event has to be connected to your story somehow. Just as you probably didn't have a relative affected by the latest catastrophic event, your MC likely doesn't have a relative on the Titanic. Take a cue from some old fiction. What current events does the writer mention? Not a whole lot. The result is a focused narrative that doesn't distract the reader from the story with digression. I would love to see this mindset more in historical fiction.
Allow the Research to Shape Your Story

Don't resist change. Issues with your plot absolutely will surface as you research. (Hint: If you haven't researched thoroughly your perception is flawed in some area.)
Dressed to Kill (Your Story)

This part may be my absolute favorite thing to research. No matter the era, clothing never ceases to be interesting. Be careful not to go into overkill mode. Drop subtle hints about the costuming here and there. I had to restrain myself in this area, but I've found a fun way to do this is to share one character's thoughts on another character's outfit.

And remember to keep it fitting to the time in history. A period piece I watched recently featured the young lady MC turning heads by riding astride in breeches. The movie should have been set a good thirty years later than it was for that to be the case at all, and I spent half the movie wondering if the producers had ever heard of split skirts. That almost ruined it for me.
What's in a Name?

Just like in fantasy, names are important in historical fiction. They carry weight. Don't make your story cringe-worthy by accident. You may like that name. A lot. I understand. But using very modern names can push your reader's buttons and shed a bad light on you as the writer.

This is a no-brainer for some, but everyone needs a reminder.

Here's a good/fun/cool way to look into era-oriented language.

Go to Google and type in 'define fumble' or 'define (Your Word Here)'. A box will appear that has entries like a dictionary or thesaurus. I use this prodigiously when I'm writing as it's ten times faster then either of those. At the bottom of the graphic, when you expand it, there's a graph that shows when the word is/was most common.

This feature only goes back to the beginning of the 1800's, but if your book is set anytime within the last two centuries, this can be helpful. It's a good way to acquaint yourself with your character's vocabulary and add period nuance to your prose. Click on the synonyms until you find your best match. (I'm not suggesting we all revert to Jane-Austen-style formal writing; don't always choose historical popularity over suitability. Just use it now and then or when you need a suggestion.)

And as Always . . .

Be on the lookout for minor details gone awry.

Things in history are likely to slip past. I set a foxhunt in August, not reckoning that England has hunting-seasons. Other people might not realize that's an issue either. But assumptions can steal from your credibility.

Have Fun!

Lydia Carns writes historical fiction. She loves books, sugar, dresses, and music, and when she isn't writing, she is either in the kitchen baking, illustrating her books, and/or procrastinating on her blogging. She can be found on Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, and of course, her blog, where you can read about her current projects, and life in general.