The only two things your protagonist needs to be…

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

What makes an effective protagonist? There are a lot of theories out there that list a number of critical characteristics, but I think they confuse an effective protagonist with an effective plot. The protagonist is the main character of your story. The plot is what happens to, around and because of your protagonist. And whilst an effective plot must be interesting, goal-oriented, active and full of tension and twists, an effective character need only be two things.

1. Early

2. Suffering

Image courtesy of Zuhair A. Al-Traifi via Flickr Creative Commons

Image courtesy of Zuhair A. Al-Traifi via Flickr Creative Commons

The human brain is a weird and wonderful thing. Most notably, it is hardwired for stories. Readers have subconscious expectations about the key components and pace of a story – years of listening to and reading stories has given them an appreciation of the three act structure: They expect trouble for the protagonist, they expect trouble to intensify, they expect the protagonist to achieve and then have their hopes dashed, and they expect  the protagonist to triumph (unless they are reading a tragedy, in which case, they expect the protagonist to fail).

Just as they have a subliminal understanding of the storyline, they also have a precognitive awareness of the protagonist. Interestingly, this understanding of the protagonist is bedded in the word itself. Protagonist is an ancient Greek word that means “one who plays the first part”.

And this is definitely one of the two critical components of a protagonist. They must arrive in the story’s beginning – after all, it is their story. But it’s more than just being early and, indeed, more than just being first.

To be a protagonist, the character must be the first with whom the reader empathises or sympathises. I won’t delve into the semantics of empathy vs sympathy, suffice to say they both are defined as a compassionate response to another undergoing a recognised trial or tribulation.

The protagonist, therefore, must not only appear early in the story, they must also be noticeably suffering from something which elicits an emotional response from the reader. They must be victimised (but not necessarily a victim). They must be suffering – even if this suffering is a) trivial (I missed the train; I broke my watch; My date stood me up; My dog ate my homework) and/or b) in no way relevant to the real trial(s) the plot will eventually throw at them.

I came to this conclusion after watching the first episode of The Newsroom Season 3. Whilst we were first introduced to the character of Will McAvoy (played by Jeff Daniels) way back in Season 1 Episode 1, we weren’t given cause to feel sorry for him. He wasn’t suffering – in fact he was the aggressor. And whilst he is, possibly, the central character around which the other characters and plots revolve, for me, he is not the protagonist. I don’t cheer for Will – he didn’t grab my sympathy first (and hasn’t really grabbed it at any stage of the series). For me, the (largely obscured?) protagonist is Maggie Jordan (played by Alison Pill). We meet Maggie a scene later – she’s having a very public disagreement with her dominant and arrogant boyfriend who is trying to weasel out of meeting her parents…again.

Image courtesy of HBO

Image courtesy of HBO

Ding, ding, ding – we have a winner.

Now, I don’t like Maggie – she’s kind of neurotic and lets herself get pushed around and sometimes just says things that make me cringe. I don’t relate to Maggie – I would dig a whole through the newsroom floor before I had anything that even remotely looked like a disagreement with my boyfriend in front of my colleagues/boss. I don’t even sympathise/empathise with Maggie in most cases throughout the series – mostly I find her annoying.

But, for some unknown reason (which is now not so unknown), I found myself cheering for Maggie throughout the first episode of Season 3 – much as I had silently cheered for her during the previous two seasons. All because, in that first episode of Season 1, she took pole position in making me feel sorry for her. (Incidentally, it is probably the same reason that I still don’t cheer for her ex-boyfriend, Don. Ever).

And, the “feeling sorry” is key once we consider the three act structure – the whole putting a character up a tree, throwing rocks at them and letting them find their way down. An introduction to a character experiencing an extreme feeling of elation or achievement or confidence can elicit empathy and emotional responses from readers – but it doesn’t predispose us to cheering them on when it is time for them to face their hurdles.

So, forget about making a character likeable or interesting or active – let the plot achieve that for them. Just make sure they turn up early (if not first) in the story and make sure they have a hint of suffering about them with which to pull at our heartstrings.

Straight & Narrow vs Zigzag Helter-Skelter: Which Character Arc is your Protagonist on?

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

Now that I’ve past the midpoint of my WIP, Divided Elements, and am on my way towards the second plot point, darkest hour of the soul and shattering enlightenment of Act III, I’ve been thinking a lot about my protagonist’s character arc.

“Her what, now?” you ask.

(Hahahahaha. Oh, reader – you are such a card!)

Her character arc. Wikipedia knows it as the status of a character as it unfolds throughout a narrative; Jim Hull stresses that we heed the difference between character growth and character transformation in a character arc; and Gabe Moura sums it up as the way in which a characters evolves, grows, learns, or changes as the plot unfolds.

Basically it’s the path your character (in this case, the protagonist) takes on their journey of self development, discovery, awareness and actualisation.

Image courtesy of SwaloPhoto via Flickr Creative Commons

Image courtesy of SwaloPhoto via Flickr Creative Commons

Now, for anyone that has ever taken a road trip, you’ll know that there are many and varied paths that can lead to a destination. And, in knowing this, is the ever-constant reminder that “life is a journey, not a destination”.

(interestingly, my autocorrect wanted ‘destination’ changed to ‘detonation’, a Freudian slip on behalf of my keyboard, perhaps?)

Random, tangential observations aside, Ralph Waldo Emerson had it right. A thousand protagonists could end up at the same point (UN Secretary General) and still be incredibly different characters depending on their starting point (orphan vs the wealthiest 5 year old in the world) and their journey (complete with pirates, smugglers, assassins and moonlit seductresses vs lots of hard work, bribes and the occasional extra-marital affair).

So, yes, character arcs can be wildly different in terms of NATURE, but what of DIRECTION?

This has been the major question on my mind lately…

When I look at the plethora of images tagged with “character arc” on Google, I get this:

Screenshot 2014-10-30 20.16.34

Yes, they all seem vastly different. But, do you notice the one thing that they all have in common? (Have another look – I’ll sit here singing the Sesame Street song – you know the one…)

Yep, they are all LINEAR.

Not linear, in terms of straight, but linear in terms of no double-backs, loops or crazy spirals. I don’t know about you, but I change my mind a couple of times a millisecond. I think I want A, get distracted by B, get bored by B and remember that I love A, and then remember why I got disillusioned with A in the first place and go after C.

Unsurprisingly, my protagonist is a little like me in that respect. And I’m wondering whether that is a good thing. Yes, it may be authentic, but is it readable? (Incidentally, that is the second major question I have been toying with lately, and will no doubt become a blog post in due time…)

So, let’s look at some of the kinds of character arcs, different in both NATURE and DIRECTION, that we can play with as writers:

1. The straight and narrow: Your character is born or gradually endowed with what they need to do to fulfil their destiny and they grow in stages accordingly to reach their destiny.

For me this is the most boring – it screams privileged white boy growing up in a gated community with all the trappings of an entitled life. A boy who is groomed to become the CEO of a multinational corporation worth gazillions by his demanding father and subsequently goes through a series of trials to gain the remaining necessary skills to do just that. Uggghhhh. I can’t think of any movie or book with this plot line because it is so boring it either wasn’t made or I fell asleep somewhere in the middle… Or, could The Last Starfighter fit this description? (in which case, I may have to write a lengthy retraction…)

2. The slight deviation: Your character needs A and knows that they need it, but somewhere along the way the become distracted by B and take a little detour, before realising their mind snap and dutifully return to their proper path.

Slightly more exciting that the rich white snob, but still pretty tame. Having said that, this is 30% me on a daily basis. I’ll be driving towards our agreed dinner destination, will see a neon sign for a new Mexican restaurant, convince my passenger to go there instead and instantly regret it when faced with plastic chairs, cutlery and queso, beat a hasty retreat and end up where we were meant to be all along. Plus, some of my favourite stories employ the approach. Think Crazy, Stupid, Love, or Easy A, or Divided Kingdom, or Animal Farm.

3. The variety is the spice of life: (bear with me, it’s a little like #2, but with a twist) Your character needs/wants/is lost in A, gets distracted/enticed/entrapped by B, jumps at the chance/agonises over whether to make the switch (or resists making it), makes the switch, learns to love/endure it, life is great.

This falls more into the ‘transformation’ arc and is very, very, very popular (as in, you’ve probably read it in a hundred books or seen it in a hundred movies). Think Fahrenheit 451, the entire Wheel of Time series, The MatrixBreaking Bad, etc etc.

4. The I want it, I want it, I want it: Your character is stuck with A, finds their ultimate soul mate (person, job, life) in B, faces obstacle after obstacle to get B, but throws such a tanty – everyone and everything else be damned – until they get B.

I want to hate on this arc, but, if done right, can be cool – think Whip It – but if done wrong, is like the girl with the curl (horrid) – you can figure out your own examples, because I am not going there :)

5. The I don’t know what I want, but, when I find it, I will probably change my mind a thousand times before I realise I want it: Yes, as you can tell by the vitriol, that is where I am at with my protag: It’s the arc where your character wants A, then something happens and they want B, but then B is not all it cracked up to be, so A is looking good again, and then A turns out to be exactly the thing that made it possible to be distracted by B, which just ends up in messy confusion and lots of soul searching and a heap of tension.

Sounds like a messy relationship, but this arc isn’t specific to romance. I think it is specific to character-driven stories, however. Because characters, by their very nature, are complex and (largely) unpredictable, and (following the ‘character arc’ theme) undergoing a serious and profound transformation/change/evolution. I also think it is specific to the human mind and goal setting.

Without going on a long and boring nerd-track, if you’ve read or heard of Daniel Kahneman and his Thinking, Fast and Slow, you’ll know that humans do not think rationally. About anything. Especially the things they care most about – love and money. So, having a character that bounces around and back-flips in the #5 profile isn’t unreasonable.

Whilst these arcs are more goal-oriented than growth-oriented – i.e. they focus on the goals and path of action that the protagonist takes – they can incorporate the strict character arc either directly or indirectly.

Directly, we can apply the same approaches to character development and growth – e.g. with the first approach, you can have a protagonist who starts out as a little shy an timid but with a spark of bravery in a particular area (when they are wearing their red spiderman underpants), who continues to grow in courage until they are fighting fires and saving kittens and disarming nuclear bombs. With the fifth approach, you can have a protagonist who starts off as emotionally distant, falls for someone and becomes more vulnerable, gets hurt by them and decides emotionally-distant and alone is better than vulnerable and heartbroken, but then finds there is no satisfaction any more in being aloof.

Indirectly, you can use your protagonist’s inner development and growth to drive the decisions and actions that generate the plot paths above – e.g. your protagonists wants B because they have become more loyal, or selfish, or curious, or grounded (etc, etc. you get the picture).

As you can see, the goal arc and inner-growth arc are inevitably intertwined. As Robert McKee says:

We cannot ask which is more important, structure or character, because structure is character; character is structure. They’re the same thing, and therefore one cannot be more important than the other.

What do you think? Which character arc does your protagonist follow?

Form Follows Function – The Ongoing Process of Structuring Your Novel

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

It is a common misconception amongst writers that the structuring process is an activity undertaken only at the beginning of the writing process. Structuring is firmly located after generating your story idea and definitely before you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). After your structure is developed, it’s just a matter of using the blueprint to herd the plethora of chaotic words, sentences and paragraphs into a coherent story. Right?

Hmmm, maybe not.

As you know, I recently hit the midpoint of Divided Elements, my first novel. In many ways it felt like I had finished a mini-novel – there was a full character arc, an ending with clear references to the beginning, major conflict and a very definite sense of beginning, middle and end. But as Dan Wilson sang, “every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end” and Maria Von Trapp mused, “When the Lord closes a door, somewhere He opens a window”, the ending of this mini-novel is just the catalyst for the next mini-novel, the closed door to the first half of the story just the opened window of the second half.

Don’t get me wrong – I was prepared for this. I had diligently structured my novel from the first to last scene and had a very clear outline for how the second half of Act II and all of Act III would play out. What I wasn’t prepared for, however, was how the fleshing out of the first half outline – with new characters, interesting dialogue, hidden motivations and complex character reactions – would create an internal logic that was completely at odds with this outline.

Internal logic is continuous and progressive Image by 2., courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Internal logic is continuous and progressive
Image courtesy of 2., via Flickr Creative Commons

Suddenly, I found that the earlier reactions of my protagonist were hinting at a vulnerability I hadn’t planned for, a vulnerability that would take her on a different journey of discovery from the midpoint towards her “all is lost” moment. I discovered secondary characters with motivations and secrets that would cause different opportunities and threats for the protagonist in reaching her end-goal. I found that the dialogue and interaction between characters were creating an unexpected dynamic between them that would, in turn, create new and unexpected tensions over the following scenes and chapters.

In summary, I learnt that the micro-level stuff – the stuff you can’t plan and outline – was having major consequences for the macro-level structure. 

My response? I rewrote the outline for the next half of my novel – a process I am still playing with. I am using my newly-developed knowledge of my characters, world and conflicts to reshape the rest of the story. And this knowledge can only come with a deep and intimate understanding of your story – something you can never have at the beginning of your writing process, when characters, events and tensions are just ideas floating in your head.

Image courtesy of Michael Shaheen, via Flickr Creative Commons

Image courtesy of Michael Shaheen, via Flickr Creative Commons

In trying to capture the importance of how the detail of the early scenes sets the logic for the following scenes, I was reminded of how, in 1896, proto-modern architect Louis Sullivan famously argued that form follows function.

In his classic (albeit prosaically-titled) essay on The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered, he wrote:

It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic, of all things physical and metaphysical, of all things human and all things superhuman, of all true manifestations of the head, of the heart, of the soul, that the life is recognizable in its expression, that form ever follows function. This is the law.

In other words, it is paramount that your writing follow a consistent, internal logic – that your creativity in the writing process (the form) follows a structural integrity that is both continuous and progressive across the full narrative (the function). 

In order to achieve this continuous and logical progression of the narrative, you may find yourself (like me) needing to review and restructure your novel outline. In this way, novel structuring is not a static process undertaken only at the beginning of a novel’s development, but a dynamic process that should be undertaken regularly and used a tool to strengthen the internal logic of your narrative.

Let me know what you think – do you find yourself changing your novel outline or structure because of micro-level details in earlier scenes or chapters?

Tipping the Balance – How to find Plan B and write your Midpoint

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

As with all things chased with dogged persistence, the middle of my first book, Divided Elements, is growing larger and larger as it comes within reach. Not the general middle of the second act, but the specific middle – the actual halfway point. With the WIP at just over 42,000 words, first plot point reactions and repercussions are a distant memory and it’s time that the fun and games of the first part of Act II give way to the business end of the story.

Which brings me, and therefore us, to the Midpoint.

For me, the Midpoint has two definitions – a functional one and an allegorical one – both of which are equally important; as it should be with something called a midpoint.

The functional definition articulates the Midpoint as the middle point (shock! who saw that coming?) – The point of your story that separates the first half from the second half; the mathematical halfway point that acts like a signpost, directing you 45,000 words that way to the start of your story and 45,000 words this way to the end of your story.

That way to the beginning, this way to the end (Photo courtesy of Violscraper, Flickr Creative Commons)

That way to the beginning, this way to the end
(Photo courtesy of Violscraper, Flickr Creative Commons)

In contrast, the allegorical definition is, obviously, more interesting. Many authors, readers and writing mentors identify the midpoint as the point at which everything changes. I don’t agree. Everything can’t change – that would mean that we are reading a completely different story; and there is a very big difference between a new direction and a new story.

And so, for me, the midpoint is not just a distance marker set to the middle. It is a fulcrum. And the definition of a fulcrum is so much more interesting than the definition of a mere middle point:

A fulcrum is the “point or support about which a lever pivots” (wikipedia), the “thing that plays a central or essential role in an activity, event, or situation” (oxford dictionary), or “any of various structures in an animal serving as a hinge or support” (free dictionary) – and yes, my story is an animal; sometimes all wet licks and puppy yelps of excitement and sometimes a netherworld beast determined to wreak havoc…

So, the midpoint is the point on which the story shifts its balance – the centrepoint of the see-saw that facilitates the shift from a) the safety of being down on the ground, legs crouched and ready to spring, to b) the wild abandon and panic of being airborne with legs dangling and gravity resisting.

Finding your story's tipping point (Photo courtesy of Simpleinsomnia via Flickr Creative Commons)

Finding your story’s tipping point
(Photo courtesy of Simpleinsomnia via Flickr Creative Commons)

 

And that point, in any story, is the realisation that something needs to change – that Plan A isn’t working or isn’t sufficient or isn’t right anymore and that a Plan B is needed.

Plan A is the first part of the second act – the plan that is borne of the shock of the first plot point; borne of reactions and naiveté and resistance and ignorance and general hubris of the protagonist who finds themselves in a new world they didn’t want, but nonetheless got. But the reveal of the midpoint lifts the veil and forces consideration, development and implementation of a Plan B.

For me, Plan B comes back to triple loop learning – with the protagonist deciding that either the HOW (actions), the WHAT (strategy) or the WHY (motivation) is sabotaging their goal.

When the second part of the second act is driven by a “HOW” Plan B, the Protagonist is shown to change how they achieve their goals. Consider the following storyline – A girl has lost her lucky charm and she decides (in Act II, Part 1) to  try to find the all-powerful magus who will be able to restore it to her. In this first part of Act II, the girl attempts to find the all-powerful magus by teaming up with a private detective. At the midpoint, she discovers that the private detective is just another hack and comes up with a new plan – Plan B – to find the magus. Her actions change.

In a “WHAT” Plan B, it’s not the how that is holding the Protagonist back, it is the what. For this type of midpoint, the private detective is the real deal and working with him is the right way to find the magus, but the problem is that the magus is just a myth – a bad Wizard of Oz fake. So the girl and the detective come up with a new plan to find her lucky charm. Her strategy changes.

And then there is the “WHY” Plan B, the nuclear game changer. What the protagonist is doing is keeping her on the right path to her goals, and she is doing all of the necessary actions perfectly. The magus is the real deal (definitely all-powerful and fully capable of restoring the girl’s lucky charm) and the detective is brilliant at finding him. But somewhere along the way, the protagonist realises that what she really needs to do is let go of her lucky charm. Her motivation changes and her new Plan B is to let go of the charm and create her own luck.

And it is the midpoint that kicks off this Plan B. In the “How” scenario, the midpoint could be an amateur mistake made by the detective – causing the protagonist to question his credentials and decide to go it alone. In the “What” scenario, the midpoint could be the detective tripping over his own shoelaces and falling into the tech haven of the nerd behind the magus illusion. In the “Why” scenario, the midpoint could be the culmination of lessons learned along the path of Act II, Part 1, teaching the protagonist that luck is earned and not gifted.

And so, to craft the midpoint, all you need to do is ask yourself, “What will tip the balance?”

Fighting the Blank Page – How to Beat Writer’s Block

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

Writer’s block – it happens to the best of us. You are brimming with the desire and motivation to write, but the spectre of the blank page has you sitting at your writing implement du jour in pure terror.

The white page syndrome is not an affliction unique to creative writers and aspiring authors – it happens to artists staring at a blank canvas, architects at a blank sheet, policy writers at a blank screen. For me, the white page syndrome is a function of three very specific preconceptions and perspectives:

1. ‘Nothingness’ is immense – The white page can sometimes seem infinite. It goes on forever and forever… and ever. Unless you do something to mark it. Similarly, the options for combatting the white page are also seemingly limitless. Where do you start? What do you choose?

2. The white page is purity – The white page is perfect in its nothingness. An icon of purity. White as the driven snow, virginal and untouched. And who might you be to think you can interrupt its purity with something that will always be less than its white perfection?

3. The white page offers no hints – With all the universe and beyond to choose from in selecting the words that will spill from your mind to the page, how do you figure out the write ones to end the nothingness and break the purity? The white page doesn’t help you, it just sits there mocking you with its never-ending emptiness.

Photo courtesy of Andrew Prickett, via Flickr Creative Commons

Photo courtesy of Andrew Prickett, via Flickr Creative Commons

 

I find the first two problems easier to combat:

1. Limit your choices – Before you start writing, narrow down your choices. It’s the same with all decisions in life – what should I have for dinner, where do I plan my next holiday, what shirt should I wear, what book should I buy next? Rather than rattle through a hundred or so options that are easily available, narrow them down. What should I have for dinner? Thai, Italian or Japanese? Chicken, Pork or Lamb? Chips and Salad or Veges and Mash? Where do I go for my next holiday? Beach, Countryside or Snow? Europe, Africa or Middle East? Cultural Hub or Natural Wonderland? 

Choosing between two or three options is much easier than struggling with a hundred. And each choice will lead to related ones, until you’re in Cuba sipping on mojitos and eating bbq pork with sauce dripping down your fingers.

2. Pop that cherry – First times are typically and universally awkward. Make it easier on yourself and just put anything on that page to take away the pressure of interrupting the white. Draw a squiggle or smiley face in your notebook. Type out a row of asterisks, change the background of your page to an ugly vomit green, mash your hands on the keyboard to bring up a garbled mess as a header paragraph. Things can only get better from there.

 

My solution to the third problem has only dawned upon me recently. And I love it:

3. FInish (and, therefore, start) mid-sentence – I used to finish my writing spells at clear breaks – at the end of a beat, scene or chapter. But all that did was introduce a new beginning – a new white page, if you will – for me to conquer the next time. Beginnings are tough.

When I was in school, my favourite activities were the ones where the teacher would give me a piece of paper with one half of a dissected image and I would fill in the other side.

Start your creativity from the middle of something else (Derived from photo courtesy of Kenny Louie via Flickr Creative Commons)

Start your creativity from the middle of something else
(Derived from photo courtesy of Kenny Louie via Flickr Creative Commons)

Or the ones where she would start a story with a sentence and the kid next to her would write the next, and the kid next to him would write the next, and so on until it was my turn to add the next piece.

It’s easier to be creative when you have a starting point to build on. So, recently, I have stopped my writing process mid-sentence. To give you an example – tonight’s writing session ended with this:

He sits closer to her, his shoulder resting lightly against her own. This close she can see

What? What can she see? I don’t know yet, either. It’s like a mini cliffhanger for myself. Instead of the thing that makes me turn the page or tune in next week, it’s the thing that will ramp up my eagerness to write tomorrow. I won’t have to struggle with the blank page, because there is a springboard for me to jump off, a starting point full of unknowns and promise.

And that, dear reader, is how I plan to beat writers block.

Supporting Indie Authors

Indie authors don’t have the benefit of corporate machines behind them to generate awareness and excitement about their works, which is why reviews and recommendations from readers are so important for generating the kind of exposure that can lead to sales.

Support an indie author - write a review (image courtesy of Prad Prathivi, via Flickr Creative Commons)

Support an indie author – write a review
(image courtesy of Prad Prathivi, via Flickr Creative Commons)

Recently, I wrote about the importance of community for indie authors and self-publishers. To practice what I preach and engage more fully within this community, I recently set up an account with Booklikes. 

Booklikes is pretty much the blog version of Goodreads – a place where you can discuss the books you love and hate in detail.

My Booklikes blog – pen, ink and pixels – is dedicated to reviewing the indie and self-published books that inspire, engage and challenge me. It is part karma-generator (giving back to the indie community that I love and that supports me) and part journal of discovery (a commitment to proactively seeking out indie books to read and enjoy).

I’ve just posted my first review – discussing my reaction to eden Hudson’s “How to Kill Yourself in a Small Town” – a book with great characters and a light, youth-with-attitude touch (despite the ominous title). Every seven reviews, I’ll post a summary here on my [w]rite of passage blog in celebration of the joys of reading great fiction.

I hope it inspires and encourages you to seek out your own indie masterpieces and share the love by writing your own review or recommendation…

Link

Being independent doesn’t mean you have to go it alone. Check out my latest post on Publishing Insider on how a strong and supportive community is critical for indie authors and self-publishers.

http://publishinginsider.net/5-reasons-why-community-is-critical-for-indie-authors-and-self-publishers/

Art vs Science in Writing: Antagonistic or Symbiotic?

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

Recently, I strayed from my usual posts on tips, tricks and techniques on how to write and let loose with a burst of creative writing. It was an unfiltered stream of consciousness piece that captured a pure moment of joy, a snapshot in time, an unedited response to life. I was surprised at how many people liked it, which got me thinking – was I spending too much time reflecting on the science of writing and not enough on the  art  of writing? And that got me thinking about how the science and art of writing, of literature, and of creativity generally, are related…

All artforms are a delicious meld of art and science.

Art vs Science

Art vs Science
(image courtesy of Zach Baranowski, via Flickr Creative Commons)

Music is heavily grounded in science, with its mathematical progression of notes and chords, its meticulous tuning of tensions to precise values, and its consistently-timed beats in meter signatures written as mathematical fractions. Our understanding of music is grounded in the fundamental science that tells us hitting a certain shaped object, of a certain density and material, at a certain velocity, will result in a sound of particular pitch, volume and timbre. Our ability to perceive music is also grounded in the science of physics and biology. And yet, in spite of all this science, there is that something else. The soul of the music. The part that can’t be captured by mathematical equations or scientific models. That intuitive understanding that a formulaic approach to creation will, in the end, leave the music devoid of creativity.

Literature is no different. Its science manifests in the hard and soft rules that abound in writing advice published in books, articles, websites and blogs (like this one). Hard rules – grammar, spelling, punctuation – speak more to the fundamentals of legible, written communication. Soft rules – develop your antagonist, don’t forget the inciting incident and plot points, ensure every scene has tension or conflict – speak more to the best practice of creative writing. And whilst it is good to remember the science of writing (especially for a debut indie author such as myself), it is important to not overlook the art of writing – the joy, the creativity, the unedited, unfiltered emotional response that writing (and reading) sucks from us.

So, in an effort to live this beautiful dichotomy of art and science, I am going to occasionally intersperse my observations on writing compelling fiction with random outbursts of emotion at the art of writing.

I hope you join the conversations on both – because good art and important science are always enhanced by considered and interesting discussion.

Utopia

Is there anything more soul-satifying, deeply engaging or expressly utopian than that moment when you find yourself immersed in writing and surrounded by music?

I sit here, night deep in its dominance, finding new depths and opportunities in my story, falling in love with my characters and yearning to see for myself the world that I am creating. All the while, harps and harmonies play out into this small room I type in. A room cluttered with a jumble of remnants from past lives and potential new lives and warmed by a small bar heater whose strength comes from its sentimental value as much as its technology.

Inspiration and memories deeper than space abound in a mundane setting, calling to me from melodies, words, rhythms, sentences, beats, transitions and lyrics. A world captured by bytes. The genius of poets and artists shifting with each shuffling of binary code.

And within this beautiful dichotomy and contradiction of simplicity and complexity, I am alive.

Utopia, Vitality, Dreams and Destinies.

And the award goes to…

very-inspiring-blogger-award

I was delighted to receive word today that the very talented, supportive and generous Ronovan (famously of Ronovan Writes) had nominated me for my first ever award – the Very Inspiring Blogger Award. I love this award, not only because it is my first, but also because it has that delicious Willy-Wonka-fantastic-chocolate-creation kinda ring to it.

For those of you that are yet to meet Ronovan, allow me to introduce him:

Being what is called a Southern Gentleman, which is something one may be born with a right to but must earn through the years, I long for the ability to convey the images through word of how sunshine glosses the dark leaves of a magnolia tree as the scent of the snow white blossoms drift lazily with the breeze and clings to the sun-kissed hair of one who is a lady in every word but action.

Now, in order to accept this award there are a few rules I need to follow:

1. Thank and link to the amazing person who nominated you (check!)
2. List the rules and display the award (check!)
3. Share seven facts about yourself.
4. Nominate 15 other amazing blogs and comment on their posts to let them know they have been nominated.
5. Proudly display the award logo on your blog and follow the blogger who nominated you (check and check!)

 

As for the seven facts about myself:

i. Since fully immersing myself in the challenge of learning this craft we call fiction writing, I have begun to see new possibilities for all the unfinished manuscripts I have abandoned over the years (and must now resist their siren calls until I have finished Divided Elements!)

ii. I am a reluctant logophile – I hold a B Arts (majoring in International Relations), a Master of International and Community Development, a Graduate Certificate in Journalism and a Master of Environmental Science. I love studying, because I love learning. I hate studying, because studying.

iii. I LOVE words. I love reading them, I love writing them, I love listening to them in spoken word, poetry slams, lyrics and nonsensical babblings. I LOVE them. My favourite words are like my favourite songs – great meaning and lyrical aesthetic.

iv. My favourite X-man is Gambit – who can resist a Cajun boy raised by thieves and assassins who comes complete with a wry sense of humour, vulnerable sense of bravado, killer French accent and the ability to kinetically charge playing cards into weapons of destruction? (Not me, obviously).

v. I can play A, D and G on the guitar (as well as E), but have not started a band…yet.

vi. The first and only time I was sent to the school Principal was in Year 11 when I was caught wearing unsanctioned, unofficial and certainly unappreciated Elvis socks.

vii. I am passionate about fighting ignorance and injustice and desperate to make a small but significant difference in this tragedy and comedy of human life played out on a chunk of rock hurtling through immense space and unforgiving time.

 

Enough about me, on to my nominations. These are ten blogs that inspire, motivate, entertain and challenge me:

1. Janice Hardy’s Fiction University
2. Derek Murphy’s CreativINDIE
3. K.M. Weiland’s Helping Writers Become Authors
4. Joel Friedlander’s The Book Designer
5. Fred Colton
6. Corina Koch MacLeod and Carla Douglas’ Beyond Paper Editing
7. S.E. Sinkhorn’s Maybe Genius
8. Sara Whitford’s Writing Journal
9. Kristy Acevedo’s Writing Challenge
10. Writers in the Storm

Wait a second! I hear you say. The rules said fifteen blogs! So they did. How about you help me finish the list? Comment with details of blogs you think deserve some love and recognition and I’ll update the list with my five favourites.

And with that, I will conclude this post – I can hear the Academy musicians getting antsy…