Friday, April 28, 2017

Prose Blip – Accents

It’s been a little while since I did a prose blip, so I thought I’d come around and do another one. This time, I want to focus on something that’s common, especially among newer writings, and something that’s also very difficult to pull off well.

Of course, I’m talking about accents.

Accents Done Poorly

A lot of times, people tend to think of accents as apostrophes. When someone has an accent, they must be speaking with their words shortened. Obviously.
Take, for example, younger me: some seven years ago, I thought it’d be cool to write a character with an accent. It wasn’t a huge role or an extended scene, but I gave this nationality a very distinct accent. It went (as much as I cringe to share it) something like this:

“Ah’right, mateys, let’s get this thing over with, sha’we? I’m yer cap’n, Cap’n Mevers, as you may call me, if’n you’ve ever a need ta speak to me. Which I doubts you might, but jus’ in case, that’s ma name. Don’t you go usin’ it too much, else it might get tired and I’ll have to find another one.” He waited, as if expecting someone to laugh. When no one did, he shrugged. “Here’s the deal. I bought ya, an’ at a fair price. The men is gonna be rowin’, the womenfolk be cookin’ till we git to where we’s goin’. After that… well, we’ll see. Some of’n ya’s gonna get sold ta someone else, some of yer is goin’ ta be dead. And the rest I’ll use ta row back here to git more slaves.”

I’m not telling what that’s from, nor will I ever bring to light again that from which I pulled it, but it serves as a good example: accents can be horrid to read.
While this particular example isn’t a struggle to decipher, it’s quite difficult to actually understand just by glance at it. There’s too much clutter.

One of the worst ways to write an accent is to write every single change in the words. Apostrophes can help, but they can also hinder. Changing the spelling of a word does get your accent across, but it makes it difficult to read. The most common mistake among writers of poor accents is that they try too hard to make the sounds of the accent pierce the page.
Here’s something interesting I’ve learned over the last seven years, which has made me a better writer of dialogue and accents: the best accents are those which neither cut nor change words.
The best accents I’ve ever read in novels and the accents which I’ve heard people talk about again and again as their favorites are written without extra apostrophes and without changing the spelling of words.
Fun side note: for excellent accents, see The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson. You will not be disappointed.

Am I saying that you should never write accents which use apostrophes?
I’m saying that it’s incredibly hard to write those kinds of accents. Southern drawls, accents that clip the ends off of words, and others can be very hard to read when written out exactly in the way that they sound.
I mean, look at movies like True Grit and No Country for Old Men. These are movies which have spoken accents in them, and sometimes it’s still hard to understand what’s being said. Accents can be difficult to understand when spoken, and even more so when written.

Well-written Accents: The Dialogue

So what then, do we do with the dialogue of a person with an accent? Do we just… drop the accent?
Accents are wonderful writing tools that can bring to life minor characters. It gives depth in a way that few other things can in such a short amount of time. I can learn a lot about a character just by reading their dialogue and picking up on the kind of accent they have.

There must be some other way, then, to write accents without having to make the reader decipher all of it. Here’s what I’ve learned: word choice, more than word inflection, can impact the way an accent comes across to the reader.
That’s right. Using the correct words will make your accent come to life without having to change spelling willy-nilly.
When you consider your character’s dialogue and word choice, dig deep into who they are and where they come from. What sorts of words would they use? Which of these words are odd and unique to that place? Why? What makes their words and word choices stand out from other accents?
For instance: a kid from inner-city New York will use far different words than a kid from southern Kansas who spent all his life on a farm. I’m not trying to draw stereotypes here, but it’s the truth. You can expand this to fantasy as well: what would the illiterate farmer say that is different from the ancient wizard who’s used to speaking in the tongues of dragons and angels more than he is used to speaking the tongues of men and dwarves?

It takes a lot of work to perfect an accent this way. It means a lot of forethought, a lot of careful dialogue writing, and a lot of thoughtful editing afterward.

Well-written Accents: The Narrative

Dialogue, however, isn’t the only way to convey accent. You can (although it seems to have been, for some reason, frowned upon) also describe accents in dialogue tags and in the prose surrounding them.
If an accent is hard to write in dialogue, then don’t. Describe it in the narrative. Describe how your slave girl hisses her “R”s and her “S”s and how the rich man lolls on his vowels and draws them out. Let the prose paint the audible image of clipped sentences or murmured drawls. So much can be done with narrative, that a simple sentence can bring alive an accent that wouldn’t be apparent in regular dialogue without an insane amount of work that no one will be able to read and understand.

Now I realize you’re saying this: “but show not tell”.
Here’s the low-down: if you refuse to tell and instead choose to show, you may. However, showing can be just as much of a stumbling block as telling is. If you have to show me the accent through changing the spelling of words in the dialogue, you’re jerking me out of the story just as much as telling would. Probably more.

Scratch that: definitely more.

It is far better to tell something and have it be understood in completeness than to show something that makes no sense and confuses the reader.

Rather than focusing on some arbitrary rule like “don’t use passive verbs”, focus on creating a vibrant image in your readers’ minds. This image isn’t just visual.
It’s audible.
If you have to tell, tell.
Write well, and your readers won’t even care if you tell them about your accents. Instead, they’ll simply hear the accent as they read the dialogue, and be content.

Friday, April 21, 2017

All Dried Up: Short Story Inspiration

Here’s the deal: I’ve been busy of late.
Very busy.
19.5 credits of an engineering course load do that to a person. Therefore, I haven’t had much time for writing. It’s a big reason why I’m pulling back from this blog a bit, and only writing posts I mean.

When I’m busy, I don’t have time to write anything. Novels, blog posts, anything. It’s been a dry spell for about two months.
Sure, I’ve written a few things, but I’ve certainly not written enough for the creative part of me to be content. I’ve been filling it with theatre-related art and creativity, but the part of me that desires to write and tell stories has been slowly shriveling up.

I’ve got a prune for a writer’s heart, right now.

Everyone has these times. Everyone has a phase in their life where their creative spark turns into a prune. It’s not something to panic about or worry over, but it is something you have to overcome.

Today, I’d like to offer a potential solution, a simple and easy way to water that prune and let it flesh back out into a full emotive spark: the short story.

Building Muscle

When you’re not feeling creative, it’s hard to dig into a full-blown novel. It’s hard to be… well… creative.
So when you’re feeling prune-ish, don’t expect yourself to be able to handle one of the most difficult tasks of the mind right off the instance. Creativity is a muscle. It’s only as strong as the application you give it and the consistency with which you use it. When you’ve had a long break from working out, you don’t go and lift the heaviest weights you can: you start out smaller, lighter, easier.
Then you work your way back up to where you were before, and then continue to lift heavier and heavier weights.

So it is with creativity.

While writing short stories can’t be said to be easy, it is easier. It takes less effort to come up with a storyline and characters for a short story than it is to come up with, fall into, and keep with characters, plots, and themes for an entire novel.

In short, writing short stories builds confidence and awakens your creative muscles.

Creating Art

Novels take a long time to write. It takes most writers months or even years to finish a rough draft manuscript (especially when the plot is complicated and when the book itself is going to be long). That’s a long time for the final payoff. Delayed gratification is good, yes, but when you’re a prune it’s hard to be patient.

Short stories, on the other hand, can be written in a day or two. You can write flash fiction in two minutes. These shorter time spans allow you to create art and prove to yourself that art is worth creating.
Short stories create immediate results, which can inspire more creativity for the long-run.

Moving Onward

Of course, it’s hard to stay writing short stories for very long. I’ve never been able to write more than two short stories before being drawn in by some other longer project. And that’s okay.

Short stories aren’t meant to be dwelt on. If you end up publishing or sharing your short story, people aren’t going to devote hours to reading it. They’ll spend time reading it, then move on.
They’re not an investment. They’re a brief moment of escape into a world of “what-ifs”. They’re a chance to really pursue what it means to be a writer. Through these short stories, you don’t have to be a prune anymore.

Take a drink. Write a story.
Fill yourself with creative inspiration and exercise your creative muscles.
Then move forward.

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Truth Of Life

Here’s the deal: I’m a busy human. I’m attempting to write a novel, edit another one, find an internship for this summer, work, participate in college-level theatre, and get a chemical engineering degree.
For the last six or seven months, this blog has not been a large part of my life.
I’ve been scheduling posts and writing them as far as a month ahead of time.
I hardly know what’s going on here, and that makes me sad.
Back when I started this, I had all the time in the world to write posts and really invest in what I was doing. Sadly, that time is now gone. I have a life. A lot of it.

Ruining the Surprise

Before we go any further, I want to ruin the tension (although the writer in me protests, I feel it for the best): I’m not ending this blog.
Everything’s going to be fine.

Except maybe it won’t.
Here’s the deal: writing has and always be a huge part of my life. Once I’m out of college, I’m going to start work on slowly finding a publisher. I’ll attend writer’s conferences, practice pitching, write and edit the crap out of novels (when I’m not working an actual job, that is), and someday be published.
Who knows, maybe I’ll become a full-time writer in twenty or thirty years, after working for a while in the line of my planned degree.

Except… that’s in twenty years. For now, I’m just writing. I’m writing because it’s my passion and I love it and will never give it up.
So I’m just going to say it: I don’t want to write something I don’t have passion for.
Of late, I’ve not had passion for this blog. I don’t have the passion for it. I’m not motivated enough to put effort into this place. The evidence is found in the lousy graphics for the posts, the cliché template of fire, and the fact that I still don’t have my own domain although when I first started I wanted to get one within a few months.
I’m just not as passionate about this blog as I could be.
And I figure out why.

The Importance of Caring

I tend to write long posts. Well, long-ish. They range from 600-1,800 words, and you know which ones I’m proud of most?
The longest ones.
Posts like “The Importance of Color” and “The One About Gender” and “Why A Mental Illness is Killing Your Novel” and so forth.
I’m proud of those.
I enjoyed writing them.

If a post is going to be good, I am going to enjoy it.
As soon as it becomes a chore, it stops being the best I can be.
I don’t want to give my readers that. I don’t want to give them the mediocre versions of my writing. I’m better than that, or at least I should be.

So here’s what’s going down:
I’m only posting what I care about.
This may seem stupid, but it’s an actual thing. I’ve written posts for this blog that I didn’t really care about, but I wrote them because I came up with the idea as a possibility and needed to write the next post.

I can’t do that, not anymore.

Instead, I’m going to become picky about what I write.
I want to write quality things. Things that, in ten years, I can say “maybe I’ve matured since then, but I still stand behind younger me at least in theme.”

Stepping Back, Learning to Care

I’m here today to announce that I’m pulling back. I’m slowing down. I’m taking time to really enjoy what’s happening in the now.

I’m no longer going to be planning out what I post two months from now. I’m not going to have seven or eight posts scheduled at one time. I’ll have one or two so I can miss a week without affecting you guys, but I’m not going to pump them out like I’m some freaking robot.

Therefore, I’ll only be posting once a week.
Every Friday.
Yup. I’m going back to old-school Story Forger, where posts were only on Friday.
And hopefully, hopefully, they’ll all be fantastic.

What this Does NOT Mean

Before anyone freaks, I want to say this: I’m not getting rid of LIAA. These posts will still happen. Perhaps not as frequently, since this is primarily a writing blog, but they will still happen.

This does not mean I’m ending this blog. I’m not. I’m just taking the time to actually care about it so that it’s actually excellent.

This does not mean I won’t post any less regularly. It will still be every single week, every Friday. Just not Mondays. And who knows, maybe I’ll post on Mondays for special announcements or something like that.

This does not mean I’m stopping writing altogether. I’m still writing. I’ve got Slaves to Prophecy to write, as well as A Pelican’s Flight, The Confessions of a Grilgen Priest, and half a dozen other stories I want to write.

The Truth of Life

The truth is, I’m busy.
The truth is, everyone is busy.

This is me taking the advice I want to give all of you: take time, slow down. Enjoy the small things. Enjoy those around you.
Enjoy the art you create. Whether it’s physical art or just the art of life.
Take time.
Enjoy it.