Guest post: “Getting More Out of Your Writing” by Donald Jacob Uitvlugt

Getting More Out of Your Writing

by Donald Jacob Uitvlugt

 

Writing is both a craft and an art. There are aspects that cannot be taught; you either have it or you don’t. But plenty of the skills that go into making a good writer can be learned. The general rule of thumb: Writing more leads to writing better.

But what’s the best way to get more writing done? I’ve never been a fan of writing exercises for their own sake. They always strike me as too artificial. Writing is about telling stories. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t practice your craft. But make your practice work for you. You may even get paid for it.

Here are a few ways I’ve turned what could have been a writing exercise into something more:

 

1) Flash Fiction

Do you need to work on dialogue? Do you want to practice your action scenes? Unsure whether first person or third person POV is right for your story? Flash fiction can be the perfect way to improve your writing through experimentation.

I define flash fiction as any story under 1000 words, though there are markets under 500 words, or even 100-word stories.

There are many advantages to working in such a small scale. In flash fiction, every word counts. Practicing flash fiction can teach you to choose the right word in the right situation. Flash fiction is also great for experimentation. I’ve written flash that are only dialogue or that just paint an impressionistic portrait of a single character. In a rough spot on your novel? Write the worst day your main character ever had, and do it in 500 words.

Flash is all about instant gratification. I’ve written five or more drafts of a 100-word story and still finished in a single day. In the midst of a long project, it can be nice to remember that you can finish a story.

 

2) Short Stories

Longer fiction (say, 2,000 to 7,000 words) has many of the advantages of writing flash fiction while providing additional opportunities in practicing your craft. If flash fiction allows you to experiment and to focus on individual narrative elements, short stories are the place to work on structural features of stories such as pacing and combining scenes into successful sequences.

In the 1930s and 40s, writer in the US often got their start writing for the pulp fiction magazines. Today, print-on-demand anthologies and e-anthologies can serve the same function. You can’t get rich writing for them, but you may be able to buy that Rabbit Valley book you have your eye on.

 

3) Blogs, Forums, and Social Media

One of the goals of the Furry Writers’ Guild is to foster professionalism among furry writers. Professionalism is a broad concept, but one of the things it means is this: You should write at a level that people pay you for what you write.

Money and art are not enemies. The days of noble patronage of the arts are long gone. Even if you are never able to support yourself by your writing, being paid for your writing frees you that little bit more to create more. People show what they think is important by what they will pay for. Take your writing seriously enough to expect to be paid for it.

That said, there are times when it’s perfectly fine to write and not be paid. Or at any rate, not in money. In addition to trying to sell your stories, look for opportunities where your writing can create what might be called social capital.

The age in which we live puts the writer in control of their own destiny in a way like never before. Readers want to connect not just with your stories, but with you and your personal story. Blogs, forums, Twitter and other forms of social media enable you as a writer to connect with people around the world.

But it’s not about shoving your work down their throats. It’s all about building friendships. Take the time to write something people can connect with. Write professionally (e.g. without texting abbreviations), because people will judge you based on how you present yourself online. Put yourself out there, even for free, but do it strategically.

Today’s internet is like a bizarre cocktail party taken to several orders of magnitude. Don’t whore yourself out to anyone who comes along. Find a community where you think you can add to the conversation and focus there. Give more than you take, and at worst you may make some friends. At best, you may find a community of people interested in your work.

And yes, this blog is an effort in practicing what I preach.

 

Links I Find Helpful

I want to conclude by giving a few links I’ve personally found helpful in trying to act on the thoughts I’ve outlined here. My own interest is in speculative fiction (fantasy, horror, science fiction), so there is a definite bias in that direction. Not that these are not strictly furry markets, but in my experience, most people in speculative fiction are very open-minded, so long as the story is told well.

 

Flash Fiction

http://www.microbookends.com/ MicroBookends is a weekly micro fiction contest based on a photo prompt. A very cool community surrounds this group.

http://thecultofme.blogspot.com/ This blog sponsors a monthly flash fiction contest with a significant giftcard prize.

http://specklit.com/ One of the highest paying sites for 100 word stories.

http://www.drabblecast.org/ Home for many weird and wonderful things, including drabbles and great short stories.

 

Short Stories

http://www.ralan.com/ In my humble opinion, your best one-stop site for finding markets to sell speculative fiction.

http://thegrinder.diabolicalplots.com/ When Duotrope became a pay site, The Submissions Grinder became the best free search engine for calls for submission.

http://horrortree.com/ The best on-stop site for horror calls. The calendar view is extremely helpful.

http://thewritersarena.com/ Full disclosure — I’m regularly a judge at this weekly one-on-one writing contest. But if you’re up to the challenge of writing a story under 4000 words in one week on an assigned topic, the Arena can be a lot of fun.

 

Blogs, Et Cetera

https://furrywritersguild.com/

http://www.anthroaquatic.com/forum/index.php

https://twitter.com/FurWritersGuild

You probably know all these links already, but the Furry Writers’ Guild is a perfect example of social media done right. Writers helping other writers not because they’re getting paid but because they want to fill the world with more good stories. Learn from what the guild members do well!

 

Advertisements

Guest post: “On Tropes and Training Wheels” by Kandrel

On Tropes and Training Wheels

by Kandrel

 

As happens fairly regularly on Twitter (and other social media outlets) I was asked for an opinion. I’m not sure why people are interested in my rambling, but whatever. I like talking, and apparently there are people who like listening. Who am I to complain? In this particular instance, I was asked to provide a list of ‘tropes’ I was aware of in furry literature. ‘Sure!’ I thought. ‘No trouble! Let’s see there’s… Well, and there’s… Um…’The perceptive reader might notice that of course I didn’t have trouble thinking of tropes. No, that was easy. The tough part was thinking of tropes that I haven’t used—or that I even continue to use on a regular basis. Obviously, I couldn’t give them as examples, because then some troll would post examples of me using them and call me a hypocrite. Talk about embarrassing! But I was asked for my opinion, so my opinion I would—by damn—give! So there must be tropes that I don’t use, but that are pretty prominent in furry fiction. It might be a shorter list, but I could definitely provide that.But thinking on it, even those ones that I didn’t use, I could recognize them out of my favorite works as well. The only reason I hadn’t used them is that the opportunity hadn’t arisen yet. It would. If I continued to tell stories (and I can’t see any particular reason why I would stop) I would eventually use them. So what, exactly, are we mocking here?

So I had a sit and a think. Had a hot chocolate. Listened to some music. I let myself cogitate. What exactly was it we were condemning here? Let me make it clear—this was a condemnation. People don’t collect tropes because they think they’re awesome. This isn’t a reader’s group talking about their favorite author’s techniques and tricks. When you hear the word ‘trope’, I’ll bet you that it’s meant derogatively.

Should it be? I mean, I know that I’ve called authors out on it while editing. Multiple times. Hell, I’ve had people rewrite entire sections of story to avoid tropes. It’s the right thing to do. It’s what a proper beta reader and editor would do, right? Right?

Well…

First, I want to have you think about the life-cycle of a storyteller. In the beginning, we’re all imitating the stories we like. Thinking about it now, this is where ‘tropes’ are most important—not because of what we should avoid, but because of what we should use. I mean it. An inexperienced storyteller can use the tropes to hone their art while making passable pieces of fiction. Think of them as training wheels. So here’s one I’m sure you’re all familiar with: “Story opens with furry looking at themselves in a mirror.” You’ll hear experienced authors moan about this. Ugh. Overused. Overplayed. Cheap excuse for an infodump-y description. Well, want to know why it’s a trope? It’s because it works. It’s hard to find a reason for the character to be giving a description of themselves, and even if it’s a trope, at least it’s giving those newbie storytellers a reason to actually do a description.

But just as we’re starting to get more comfortable with the process of writing, we age and we learn and we progress. During the next phase of a storyteller’s life, we’ll slowly recognize those training wheels for what they are. Over the next while, we start to remove them. We become aware of the tropes, and once aware, avoid them. We hunt for ways to fit things into our stories in new and novel ways. Using the example above, instead of a mirror, we look for ways to fit in small titbits of the description into the narrative so the person experiencing the story slowly gets a whole image of the character in their mind. This is more elegant. But remember that trope we’re now avoiding? It trained us. It had us writing descriptions even before we were ‘ready’ to. We’ve described a hundred characters. Sure, we had a bad excuse for doing it, but at least we can write a description. We know what’s important to describe, and we know how to do it with style. And now that we’re learning to do it in an elegant fashion, we’re well prepared. Would we be if it hadn’t been for the training wheels?

This is the phase of a storyteller’s life where you see the most complaints about the tropes. Authors like me who’ve recognized the training wheels for what they are look back at their own stories that used them and shudder. They read other people’s stories, and those tropes immediately pull them out of the story. They edit with a scalpel to excise those tropes from everything they see and read. It’s as if we’re over sensitized to them, because we see how we used to rely on them.

And we look down on the people who still use them, even though we shouldn’t. We’re the too-cool-for-school kids with their eighteen-speed bikes, looking back at the young kids with their training wheels. We’re pointing and laughing from our comfortable older age and greater experience. And the younger or more inexperienced storytellers feel ashamed, because every time they try to remove a trope, they end up falling. Their story gets away from them, or they never find a way to describe the main character, or they end up falling onto a different trope they didn’t even know was a trope until another one of us upperclassmen laugh and point again.

There is a last phase of this life cycle, though. At the end, those of us who’ve spent enough time picking on the little kids finally grow up enough to look back at those training wheels we used to use. We pick them up and roll them over in our hands. They weren’t really bad. They were perfectly functional, we just used them badly. We take a second look and realize there’s actually something beautiful and elegant about them, if we use them just right. We go back to those tropes, and we play with them. We use them to set expectations, then break them. We hide them in our work as jokes, waiting for someone to realize they were just “trope’d” and never knew it. We brazenly base our stories off a well-known trope, but write them in such a way that it feels novel and fresh.

The best part of this story is that it’s a circle. When I write a story that uses one of those tropes in an elegant fashion, new storytellers read my story. ‘Hey, that worked’ they tell themselves. ‘It’s an easy trick! I could do that!’ Then they’ll try to emulate it. They’ll see the training wheels I’ve artfully used, and bolt them inexpertly onto their own story. It’ll work—if only just. It’ll give them an excuse to keep writing. It’ll give them a safe opportunity to learn. It keeps them from falling down.

We know the training wheels are stupid-looking and juvenile. But we’re authors. We’re thinkers and storytellers. We’re the imagineers. Remember that with just the right amount of imagination, a bicycle with two extra wheels could just as easily be called a car.

 

This post first appeared on Kandrel’s blog. You can view the original post here.

Guest post: “Grammar Lesson: Metonymy & Synecdoche” by Anima

Grammar Lesson: Metonymy & Synecdoche

by Anima

Today we’re going to tackle two figures of speech you probably remember from school but may never consciously use in your writing: metonymy and synecdoche.

Metonymy is referring to a noun not by its name, but by something associated with it, whether specifically or just conceptually.

Synecdoche is a more specific type of metonymy in that it uses just a part of something to refer to its whole.

When you say ‘the university would frown upon that’ you’re using metonymy, because you’re really talking about the people who run the place. Similarly, referring to the U.S. government as Washington (a location heavily associated with the government) or reporters collectively as the press (a tool essential to their trade) that’s all metonymy.

As for synecdoche, the most common examples you’ll find are things like ‘all hands on deck,’ but remember it’s not limited to human parts. http://grammar.about.com/od/rs/g/synecdocheterm.htm has some better examples of synecdoche than other sites, including one from Updike, ‘a pair of headlights.’

You may be using synecdoche without thinking about it in situations where your characters can only detect part of something.  ‘The glowing eyes tracked me from the hedge, and more than ever, I wished I’d never clambered out of the carriage.’

Some uses for metonymy or synecdoche include brevity, description, and to help convey a character’s attitude about something. If your character refers to businessmen or investors as ‘suits,’ you can draw some inferences about that. If you add some air quotes or an awkward laugh to the same word, you’ll produce different inferences.

Both can come in handy when working on furry fiction. While even conventional dialogue includes phrases like ‘get your tail in here,’ they’re more relevant in our genre of choice. Don’t be afraid to follow familiar formulas to create new idioms for your anthropomorphic cultures using synecdoche and metonymy; just keep your story’s tone in mind. It can be a fine line to walk between humor and a plausible example of parallel linguistic evolution, and you don’t want one when you intended the other.

Furry characters also offer more visual variety and more opportunities to use synecdoche.  Stripes, spots, antlers, horns, any distinguishing feature can be used as shorthand when referring to respective characters, and can also help convey the fact that the observer only got a vague impression of the character in question, because darkness, motion, or other factors interfered.

These figures of speech help make your writing and dialogue more natural; people use them every day.