Writers’ Camp: Day 1

Bella (http://isabelladelallo.blogspot.com) is hosting a writers’ camp: an online event sort of like a blog party, but its focus is to encourage and inspire writers.  She’s created a nicely flexible schedule and some interesting themes; see this post http://isabelladelallo.blogspot.com/2016/08/i-have-official-date-for-writers-camp.html and this one http://isabelladelallo.blogspot.com/2016/08/glass-beach.html for details.  And I’m thrilled to participate!

Day 1 of the camp involves the writers introducing themselves and explaining the genres they write.  Off we go!

Okay, so who is this writer?

I’ve been writing since age 13.  My first serious project was a trilogy, started at the oh-so-experienced age of 17.  🙂  An ambitious project, but one too big for my skill level at the time, it took almost three years to finish the first draft.  By the time I started revising, I saw fundamental flaws in the story construction and wasn’t sure how to fix them.  So I set that project aside and worked on others.

As you may suspect, I have nothing published yet.  Which is okay—I’m going for writer before author.  I would rather spend years scribbling in an attic and learning how to write great stories than churning out second-rate novels.

I want to write stories that, ultimately, glorify God, but that also inspire people to wonder and think about the world.  And on that note, I write to explore or explain my beliefs; writing about them help me to understand them better.  Besides, it’s just plain fun to create characters and stories and details!

Like all writers, I have several quirks.  Here are some fun ones:

  • I’m one of the meticulous planners. Before writing one word of the official draft, I need details about the characters, setting, and world, so that if one plot thread goes awry, I have enough information to create another.  Fortunately, I enjoy this process.
  • I refer to my characters as though they were real people (occasionally identifying them as “my John” or “my Charles” if they share names with published literary characters), and I hold conversations with them in my head.
  • Personality traits like skills, fears, strengths, weakness, &etc. are a must for my characters —but so are these minor and quirky details:
    • The age of my character. Whether crucial to the story or not, I always like to know his or her age.  Maybe because I feel a kinship with a character whose age I share?  Anyway, it’s a good detail.
    • Whether the character is a morning person or a night owl. This is a fun detail—and it brings humor and life to a romantic pairing if the partner is the opposite type!
    • If the character can swim. No idea why I like to know this.
    • Demeanor.  For me, this is more important than mugshot appearance.  I heard a saying once: “Actions speak louder than words, and attitudes speak louder than actions.”  How a character carries himself provides more clues about his personality than hair color or eye color.
    • That said, I do like to know a character’s hair color—but I couldn’t care less about eye color.
  • I have at least 5 works-in-progress going on right now; I work on only one or two seriously, and just fiddle with the others until a light bulb shines somewhere, indicating the story is ready to start.
  • And I am terrible at titles. Really terrible; it’s hard to sum up my whole idea, with its Inception-style layers and details, in just a few words.

I write fantasy, but my stories are often fantasy sub-genre crossovers.  For example, one story is a steampunk/fantasy of manners* combination; another is equal parts literary fiction, alternate history, and fantasy of manners; a third is a cross between literary fiction, Victorian-style Gothic and Romantic-style Gothic; and a couple of are completely un-categorized, taking place in fictional worlds but each based on a historical time period.  Hard to categorize, but fun to write.  🙂

*“Fantasy of manners” is a genre of stories set in an imaginary world, but a world that often draws inspiration from a historical culture or period.  Magical elements are of little to no importance in this genre, and the social hierarchy creates problems and dilemmas.

I write fantasy for three reasons.  The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings were fantasy and two of my favorite stories as a kid; therefore, as a young teen, it was natural to create my own worlds in the same manner.  But as I grew older, I added two more reasons: freedom from restricting details and mirroring this world.

Fantasy gives me the freedom to make up or change details, even if I’m using a historical time period or culture as inspiration. A lot of my ideas are historical “what if?” questions: “What if the 1832 Reform Bill hadn’t been passed?  What if women were allowed to understand business and politics long before the 20th century?  What if, in a Victorian culture, science was a common hobby for everyone?”  Historical fiction wouldn’t let me explore those scenarios to the extent I want.  On the flip side, I do extensive historical research, partly because I enjoy it for its own sake, but partly so that I can understand the time period—and then tweak it for my stories.  The old “learn the rules before you break them” practice.

Fantasy also lets me reflect reality and truth in a vivid way.  Lloyd Alexander said: “Fantasy is hardly an escape from reality. It’s a way of understanding it.”  The genre works this way because a fantasy story removes the reader from his preconceptions for a little while, kind of tricks him into being more open-minded because he’s seeing a new world through new eyes.  And therefore, he might understand the meaning of the story better.  For example, if I were to write a social critique set in the modern day and age, I suspect that the audience, instead of really thinking about my point, would either vehemently oppose or vehemently support what each person has already predetermined is right or wrong.  (Trust me, I’ve read enough comment threads to make this assumption.)

But set a parallel issue in a fantasy world, one step removed from what surrounds you constantly, and suddenly you’ll see your own world, the good, the bad, and the ugly, in a new way.  To use my favorite analogy: suppose your bathroom wallpaper has an interesting pattern, but since you go in that room 10+ times a day, you’ve almost quit seeing it.  Then, one day, while washing your hands, you catch sight of the wallpaper in the mirror—and suddenly take notice of the pattern.  Nothing about it has changed; but it has been reflected at you from a different angle.  Fantasy is that mirror.

 

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