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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky
Ah, ‘the middle’ – bemoaned the world over. Middle child syndrome causing siblings to feel overlooked and resentful; middle of the road thrown out in conversations to denote something boring and unoriginal; middle sections tortured by never-ending diets and exercise regimes. Even the adjective - middling – is a disaster, sending otherwise attractive nouns (like income, skill and appeal) into mediocrity.
I’m at that stage in my WIP where I am revising, fleshing-out and drafting my novel’s middle. The occasional euphoria at seeing that mandarin/sunrise orange of my Scrivener progress bar is always subject to the unease about the expectations of a great middle. Recently, I blogged about how I’ve discovered a range of business tools and techniques that are assisting me to tackle the challenge of writing a great middle – from triple-loop learning to gap analysis. Today I want to talk about SWOT analysis.
The common culprit behind many writing problems is a distinct lack of conflict. For problematic middles, poor or non-existent conflict is a killer. When you consider that the first plot point is the transition from the set-up of conflict in your first act to the realisation and consequences of that conflict in the second act, the importance of infusing well-developed and attention-grabbing conflict into your story’s middle is a no-brainer.
The easiest way to generate conflict in your book is to delegate it to your antagonist. Often, as authors, we are so caught up in the plight of our protagonists that we place too much a burden on them to carry the story for the entire novel. Middles are a great opportunity to give our protagonists a break and let the antagonists carry the story for a bit. In order to ensure our antagonists’ shoulders are broad enough to carry the load, we need to build them up. Developed, well-rounded and authentic characters are critical for generating solid conflict and a great technique for writing these characters is to put them through a SWOT analysis.
SWOT analysis is a business analysis technique, which, despite some debate about its ongoing relevance in the business world, still offers useful application in the business of fiction writing and character development.
SWOT analysis comprises the identification, discussion and evaluation of an entity’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats – hence the acronym. Implicit in these terms is the potential for all sorts of conflict and tension - on an internal and an external level.
As indicated by the graphic above, STRENGTHS and WEAKNESSES evaluate the characteristics internal to the character (in this case the antagonist), whereas OPPORTUNITIES and THREATS articulate the circumstances external to the character. Let’s look at each one in turn.
S is for STRENGTH
Strengths are the advantages an antagonist carries with them into the battle against the protagonist. Like greatness, some antagonists are born with their strength, others achieve their strength and others have their strength thrust upon them. Strengths can be skills, attitudes, knowledge, superpowers or positions of authority. Moby Dick was born with his ferocity, strength and size in Melville’s classic, whereas X-man Magneto had his ability to manipulate metals thrust upon him at an age of manifestation. Misery’s Annie Wilkes achieved her physical dominance over Paul Sheldon due to his misfortunate accident, whereas Fahrenheit 451′s Captain Beatty worked his way up to the position of Fire Chief.
Developing or intensifying your antagonist’s strengths will help to further your story’s tension and conflict.
W is for WEAKNESS
Weaknesses are the vulnerabilities in our antagonists’ armour. Sometimes the weakness can be a a less-than-concrete commitment to the cause – e.g. an antagonist that ends up falling in love with the protagonist or an antagonist that is thrust into a family feud but has no direct, personal cause in it. Other times the weakness can be time-limited -e.g. a storm that cannot go on forever, or a superpower that can only be used for a period of time, beyond which the antagonist is severely exhausted. Weaknesses can be physical flaws or intellectual deficiencies, emotional connections (or disconnections) or problematic attitudes (e.g. over-inflated egos, delusions, misperceptions).
Exposing and testing your antagonist’s weaknesses will bolster hopes for an eventual protagonist win.
O is for OPPORTUNITY
Opportunities are the events and circumstances that are generated external to your antagonist and often beyond your antagonist’s control – A corrupt official that allows your antagonist the opportunity to get fraudulently elected; a once-in-a-hundred-year storm that provides the conditions for advantageous genetic mutation; the arrival of an exotic stranger that allows the antagonist to cast suspicion away from themselves; a painful rejection that allows the inner antagonist to question the protagonist’s hopes and dreams. Opportunities are not borne of the character, but antagonists can catalyse or facilitate them (by nudging a character here, or manipulating a circumstance there) and will almost always capitalise on them.
Giving your antagonist the means to capitalise on opportunity will help drive action, tension and conflict.
T is for THREAT
Threats are the events and circumstances generated by external entities that, if realised, will undermine your antagonist and possibly exacerbate their weaknesses or mitigate the advantages of their strengths. The most obvious threat to an antagonist is the developing strength and advantageous opportunities of your protagonist, but there are other, more creative, threats to consider. Distractions can offer viable threats to your antagonist – in much the same way as putting out multiple spot fires can take its toll on the ability to fight a firestorm. Threats can also come from the inside – a minion who dreams of a coup d’etat or a corrupt official who is willing to be bought by the highest bidder.
Plaguing your antagonist with a range of threats not only helps out the protagonist, but also gives you the opportunity to craft a story of two sides on the foundation of two fully-realised main characters.
How does your antagonist shape up after a SWOT analysis?
Got that feeling that something just isn’t right with your work in progress? Check out my recent post on PublishingInsider for details on how a business management tool can help diagnose the problem.
by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky
Once upon a time, I used to be a pantser (one of those people who writes by the seat of their pants, not knowing where the next sentence will take them). I was a pantser, not because I liked the thrill of the unknown, but because I didn’t know about story structure. It was only when I decided to take writing seriously (and became desperate to finish just one novel, rather than add to the pile of unfinished manuscripts dying a lonely death in old computer hard drives built in the day when 100MB of memory was HUGE), that I was introduced to the Three Act Structure.
With my newfound enamourment of the three act structure and a recent purchase of Scrivener, I thought my days of writing failure was over. In the time since I embarked on this ‘serious writing’ adventure with my WIP, Divided Elements, I have crafted a world description, character profiles and a story outline that I am really excited about. My word count is growing, but I’m finding that it speeds up when I am drafting scenes that occur in the major plot points (the inciting incident, the first plot point, the midpoint) and slows down considerably when I’m crafting the in-between.
I’ve blogged about being stuck in the middle previously, and concluded that (while getting from A to B is difficult), it helps to think of it as a road trip – you need to know your start point, your destination and the type of route you want to take. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately – when I’m staring at the computer screen, when I’m in the shower, before I go to bed, when I’m at work surrounded by other tasks demanding my attention… A lot.
Sometimes being stuck at work when you would rather be writing has its advantages. It was while considering my dilemma at work, that I started to think about my WIP in project management terms. With any work project, businesses are looking to make an improvement – to advance from their current unsatisfactory and flawed state to their ideal future. They set goals and then they figure out how to reach them. Basically, it is the same process authors go through with our protagonists – we have them in one place at the start of the story and use our novel to move them to a new endpoint.
Intrigued by the cross-over application, I took it a step further and started applying other project management concepts to my WIP.
Let’s start this week by looking at Gap Analysis.
Gap Analysis is all about articulating your ideal future and your current situation and then comparing the two to a) identify how they are different and b) define the gap that exists between them. Once you’ve compared the two, start to list the contributing factors that generate these two states – those things that actively produce or indirectly facilitate their existence. Now start thinking about the obstacles that prevent moving away from the current state and/or towards the ideal state – the lack of resources or skills, rules and regulations, cultural perceptions and attitudes, etc, etc. As GI Joe exclaims, Knowing is Half the Battle! Now that you know where you are, where you want to be, what’s going to help you get there and what’s going to stop you – you’re ready to start planning strategies to optimise/maximise the contributing factors and overcome/eliminate the obstacles.
The great thing about Gap Analysis is that you can apply it to the spaces in between all of your novel’s plot points. At each plot point, ask yourself: What is the current state of my protagonist’s world? What is the current natural order? What are the (physical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, attitudinal…) features that currently define my protagonist? What is the current state of my protagonist’s relationships?
Now look forward and ask the same questions for your next plot point. How are the answers different? What are the key differences? Can you categorise them into broader differences (do you have a group of differences that relate to a change in attitude, or in new opportunities or in knowledge and skills)? Often articulating these differences will help you to more easily identified the contributing factors and obstacles – what’s holding the protagonist in their current status quo, what’s stopping them from moving on? What’s stopping the protagonist from moving towards the situation of the next plot point? What do they need to get there and why don’t they have that yet?
Now that you’ve identified your start point and end point and have surveyed the width, length and depth of the huge chasm that separates them, you’re ready to start building the bridge between them. Thankfully, building the bridge is as easy as giving your protagonist what they need and taking away the obstacles in their path. The fun part is deciding how you will give and how you will take away (insert evil laugh) :)
Stay tuned for future posts on how to navigate the in-between using other project management techniques…
by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky
It’s the phrase that you dread when you’re in a relationship, the thinly-veiled euphemism for a breakup by someone who is too kind or cowardly to deliver the coup de grace. It spells the end of hanging out together, spending time together, being together. They find other things more fun, more important, more interesting. Or maybe they just find the whole relationship (or you) too claustrophobic.
I’ve been there recently…with my WIP, Divided Elements (and with my blog readers, for which I deeply apologise).
It wasn’t my WIP (or you), it was me.
A new job, a challenging university degree and a new city meant that time was limited and working on Divided Elements was something that I couldn’t justify. Like splurging on a meal at Osteria Francescana when you’re struggling to pay the rent. I knew what I would rather be doing, but sometimes what you have to do and what you want to do don’t see eye to eye.
When I sat down this past week to pick up where I left off, I was worried that the manuscript would be a stranger to me, that I wouldn’t be able to fall back into the mindspace and rhythm I had built and nurtured in the months prior. What I discovered was the opposite.
Reading back over my WIP, I found myself engrossed in the story – approaching it as a reader and not a writer. This had two major advantages – 1) I could get lost in the storyline and connect with my characters as though meeting them for the first time, and 2) I could more easily locate the holes, inconsistencies and lags.
While cliched, not seeing the forest for the trees is a real thing. It reminds me of that scene in Ferris Bueller, where up close a Seurat painting is blobs of paint and from a distance a complex picnic scene. The closer you look at it, the more you look at it, the less you are able to perceive it.
Getting some space from Divided Elements gave me a new opportunity to see it in a new light and to rekindle my fire for writing it. In this case, absence definitely made the heart grow fonder (and not the fond heart wander).
So the WIP is once again a work in progress. Writing (for now) is coming easier – I know how to take the story where I want it to go and I am distant enough from the flaws to edit them without reproach. And, I am now a fan of some space :)
by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky
Click on the picture of link above to access my flash presentation on how the three act structure works – with examples from the Hunger Games, Divergent, Ready Player One and Under the Never Sky.
by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky
Recently, I finished reading two YA dystopian novels that, while very different to each other, contained a common thread that I have identified as one of the core themes of dystopian literature – The High-tech utopia vs the Savage natural world.
Ready Player One and Under the Never Sky both have this as the dominant characteristic of their respective physical worlds. In Ready Player One, the dichotomy takes the form of an online virtual reality called OASIS versus the crumbling urban infrastructure of an environmentally wasted city. In Under the Never Sky, it takes the form of pristine ‘Dweller’ pods and virtual ‘Realms’ versus the aether-blighted wastelands.
In both, the high-tech virtual world is presented as the Utopia – although this is less pronounced in Ready Player One (whereby OASIS is more a kind of advanced Second Life platform) than Under the Never Sky (whereby the Realms are virtual worlds that dominate existence and provide a life free of fear, injury and consequence). Similarly, both present the ‘real’ world as uninhabitable, hostile and dangerous. This clear polarity allows both stories to set up the high-tech world as the false utopia (another core dystopian theme that I will explore in a later post). Again, Ready Player One does this less successfully than Under the Never Sky, the latter showing the inherent flaws of an overly-designed society and virtual existence through the character development of Aria, the novel’s protagonist.
Perhaps the best and well-known example of this dichotomy is found in Brave New World, where the engineered and scientifically-advanced society of Bernard is set in stark contrast to the savage and organic world of John.
The plot device is a useful one, in that it sets up the dystopian analysis of the ‘hidden’, almost insidious, dangers of technology. This is, of course, is an old and well-worn theme, seen most notably in robots gone wild texts (Robopocalypse and Terminator) and built on a kind of ‘technophobia’. At the core of these books, films and media is an implied discussion on the ethics of technological development.
Technoethics is a continually-developing field of thought and discussion. Whilst intuitively it may seem only a new consideration, debate about the immorality of new technology has been around as long as Socrates and Plato:
The move from one set of dominant information technologies to another is always morally contentious. Socrates lived during the long transition from a largely oral tradition to a newer information technology consisting of writing down words and information and collecting those writings into scrolls and books. Famously Socrates was somewhat antagonistic to writing and he never wrote anything down himself. Ironically, we only know about Socrates’ argument against writing because his student Plato ignored his teacher and wrote it down in a dialogue called “Phaedrus” (Plato). Towards the end of this dialogue Socrates discusses with his friend Phaedrus the “…conditions which make it (writing) proper or improper” (section 274b–479c). Socrates tells a fable of an Egyptian God he names Theuth who gives the gift of writing to a king named Thamus. Thamus is not pleased with the gift and replies,
If men learn this, it will implant forgetfulness in their souls; they will cease to exercise memory because they rely on that which is written, calling things to remembrance no longer from within themselves, but by means of external marks. (Phaedrus, section 275a)
Socrates, who was adept at quoting lines from poems and epics and placing them into his conversations, fears that those who rely on writing will never be able to truly understand and live by these words. For Socrates there is something immoral or false about writing.
As technological development continues to advance at a rapid rate and debates about moral imperatives and ethical considerations develop in response to stubborn resistance to change, this dichotomy of High Tech vs Savage Organic will remain a key inspiration for dystopian creators.
As I continue to draft Divided Elements and read a vast range of dystopian literature, I find myself picking up and analysing the core dystopian themes. Over the coming weeks and months, I will share my observations and insight with you all in the hope of generating some great discussion and unearthing new treasures to read.