N. Renee Brown

Part-time Author, Full-time Book Junkie

Improv for writers!


So about 12 weeks ago (along with all the other HUGE changes in my life: joining Weight Watchers, getting a trainer again, going Vegetarian) I decided to start taking an Improv class. It is a great class, and a wonderful outlet for all those strange and unruly emotions hiding beneath the surface of us “regular” human beings.
But as I began working with Improv, I began seeing it as more than just a chance to perform (I am a performer by nature and by genetics, having had a long line of carnies/magician/actors/storytellers in my family line)…I began to see this is a chance to expand my writing as well.
Improv is all about NOT thinking. It is about getting into the moment and finding the funny in the experience…and I think writing should be too.
We, as authors, think too much about subtext and character motivation. Perhaps that old woman ate that fly because she was hungry, not because of an eating disorder. Perhaps that young man put the cat down the well because he’s an ass, instead of taking a stand against the moralistic society he has been thrust into. Perhaps, people do things just because…
My wife has a HORRIBLE habit of asking me what I think. It is her default. When in a discussion, if she is not getting the answer she wants she will say, “Any thoughts?” Sometimes I just don’t have any, sometimes I just don’t care. Or sometimes it is so convoluted I don’t want to try to tease it apart.
And guess what, our characters are just like us. Sometimes there is no rhyme or reason to them, and it isn’t worth figuring out…or sometimes there is so much to it, that to bring it out would just cause more confusion and tension than it is worth.
So cut them a break, cut us all a break…leave some mystery, un-plumb (what is a plumb anyway????) those depths, get shallow. If it is worth knowing, you’ll figure out a way to show us.
So, the challenge this week…
A) Don’t think, just write.
B) Find out what a “plumb” is. (Edit: Found it!)

DL Thurston Month!

You know it’s good when someone names a month after you…yeah?

Well, one of my intrepid co-writers at the Cat Vacuuming Society has found himself the inspiration for this month’s writing.

See, D.L. is a novice like me. And while we’ve both struggled in the past, I have begun to notice an uptick in the level of his writing lately. It is a slow, steady improvement that has astounded both my partner (Day) and I in it’s duration and scope. He has gone from having issues with plot AND character AND setting…to only minor plot holes OR minor character development OR minor setting adjustments. And where do we see this improvement the most? In the shorts he creates and posts on his blog (http://www.dlthurston.com/blog/).

These little flash pieces come up once every 2 weeks and are called Fortnightcaps. (Seriously, if you get a change scoot over there and look at some of them.) And while they aren’t long or involved, they are most assuredly having an impact on the way he writes!

Thus, this month is DL Thurston month! I’ve decided to write 3 stories in 30 days, and I’ve kept up with it so far…I’ve got one done (working title: Crazy Train) and I’m halfway through the next (working title: Hawaii Bug). They are a little longer than his shortest ones, but I feel good about this outpouring of work.

Why? Because the only way you are going to get published is to have things TO publish!

So, find someone to inspire you…and get to it!

P.S. Check D.L. out over on Unleaded: Fuel for Writers too!

Pounding the pavement…

You know, writing is a lot like being out of work.
No, seriously, bear with me on this…

In talking to a friend the other day about her husband’s lack of job, I asked if he had considered volunteer work. When she said no, it hit me…(no she didn’t hit me, she’s a very good friend and knows I am looking out for them when I ask these sort of forward questions).

When you Write (with a capital W) you spend your time churning out the word count, making dramatic forays into plots heretofore unexplored, developing characters that will impact not only your story but the world that reads about them…and when you write you are struggling for every word and doubting everything you put down.

BUT I’m here to tell you, there isn’t a lot of difference between the two.

Ok, so back to the job analogy. You’ve lost your job or your drive to write…now you get right back out there because you are a brave little toaster and you work to find a new job (aka the next great idea or plot twist). BUT all you are doing is looking, you aren’t putting anything on that resume, you aren’t keeping your hand in, you aren’t keeping up with the latest developments…AND you feel justified, because you don’t think you CAN take time out to do those things.

You spend your time trying to come up with the next paragraph when a sentence will do. You spend your time struggling for character development when a bit of dialogue will get you on the road.
You spend your time angsting over the plot, when you just need to get your butt in the chair and write anything.

Anything is better than nothing.

Now, I’m not saying you need to keep this “part-time” job when you get offered a “full-time” job. Then again, it’s some extra scratch you didn’t have before, now isn’t it? And who knows, perhaps having this thing on the side might blossom into something amazing later…

So today, instead of looking for that career making plot or character, just write one sentence, just one paragraph, answer just one question, come up with just one scene…just do something to keep your hand in.

Good luck, and peace out,

-Renee

P.S. Got a new phone!!!! I love new gadgets!

The feet have it. (Blog Bite)

This is going to be a strange story, but I promise I’ll try to make it amusing…but it’s about feet and how amusing can you really make feet anyway?

For the last few years…at least the last 8…I’ve fought with my feet. Seriously, with weapons fought with them. I’d walk around for a while, like say at the zoo…but there would come a time when my heart and mind were still willing but my feet started putting up a fuss.

They would fuss so badly that I would sit down every chance I got, and when I stood back up it would be agony.

I couldn’t keep up with anyone, because I was always on the lookout for the next seat I could slip into. I spent more time watching those silly videos in museums than you would care to count, not because I wanted to see them but because I was desperate to make my dogs stop howlin’.

Well, in a moment of utter defeat and demoralization Day finally convinced me to get some gel inserts (Dr. Scholl’s even!)…I didn’t think they would work. I think I may have even turned up my lip (or tried to but was in so much pain neither of us are sure where it came from). I slipped them into my shoes and haven’t looked back.

I walked around the zoo the other weekend for about 4 hours without stopping…I kept up with TWO 19 year old girls…THEY were the ones that said, “Ok, my feet are getting tired.”

Well, thinking about this foot thing got me thinking about the writing thing…I’d been looking so hard for that magic bullet, that THING that would make writing make sense and come easy that I had neglected to hear the very practical advice coming from many different quarters.

Do it until it makes sense.

Sometimes we have to get demoralized and give up before we will open up enough to realize there is no special pill that is going to make us a great writer. It’s all about work, and work includes working through things that make no sense. Work means banging away at it until you want to scream and hoping for the best. Work means not having fun but looking back on the completed project with pride. Work means get your butt in the chair and write. Write. Write. Write.

And do it till it makes sense.

Find your peace, and live it.

Renee

Book Research is FUN!

So a friend of mine, from the writing group, is working on a novel with a blacksmith as a main character.  She’d been doing book research and decided it was time to “invade” the Blacksmithing Guild of the Potomac. 

So we did.

I accompanied her and another member of the group to the meeting announcing itself as “Beginners Night”.  We arrived at a nature center and found men talking in the parking lot…they were members and told us where we needed to go…down an unlit path to a building illuminated by one lone light shining on its far end.  EEP?  No not really, it was a neat place (what little we could see of it) and with the moon half full it was more than light enough for J. and I .  S (the other friend) even had a flashlight with her, so if we needed it we could have called upon her.

We braved the “wilderness” and made it to a wonderful little wooden building…no windows, great big double doors, and metal hanging from every wall.   At one end the forge held court, men (already at work) paying it homage, their sweat scarce in the frigid winter night but the intensity of their eyes offering enough.  In the center, a potbellied stove tried to heat the far end of the room, men just coming in clustered around it trying to warm their hands and cheeks…but more importantly reconnecting with friends that gathered there as well.  Scrap of all shapes and sizes piled into the corners and spilled out to tug at your pant legs as if begging to be used once more, and turned into something beautiful and useful.  Reclaimed scrap, examples of how to makes leaves and twists, nails and hooks, and one impressive dragon head blowing smoke filled my eyes and fired my imagination with possibilities.  And over it all the smell of smoke that wasn’t really wood but had a sort of oily metal tang. 

It was a magical place, one that instantly fired my writers brain…too bad I wasn’t writing something including a blacksmith (must remedy that, ASAP!!!)…but even better were the men there.  Now, this is not the first “all male” enclave I have infiltrated, it’s not even the second, but on the whole my experiences with trespassing on the old grunt and spit club have not been very successful or fun.  (Astronomers are the worst!)  Yet, the blacksmiths…the blacksmiths were cool.  No better than cool, they were funny and welcoming and I had a terrific time. 

Normally, when you are new someone “adopts” you and shows you around, and introduces you to people…well, C was our adopter.  C started off our night with an off-color joke and the rest was one guffaw after the next.  S described him as puppy-like, but with a dirty streak a mile wide, and that sums it up.  He was sweet and funny and introduced us to everyone we knew.  The best thing though…he wasn’t the only one to adopt us.  A LOT of the men talked to us and gave us pointers and looked out for us, they were the most welcoming grunt and spit club I’ve ever encountered.  They sat with us and talked about blacksmithing and about the love of anvil and hammer…and by doing that infused all 3 of us with a desire to return again to laugh with them.

See, not all book research is dry reading and internet searches.  Sometimes it’s magical and creative and you walk away with a leaf that is a little bit deformed but all yours.

 

Find your peace and live it…even if it gives you a sore arm and hand,

 

Renee

Location, location, location!

Much like real estate, location in a novel can be as important as character or plot. Location not only gives us a framework in which to ground ourselves, it allows us to think outside the words written and fills in the gaps the author does not have pagespace to dedicate to.

Telling you my latest novel is set in the bayous of southern Louisiana is going to give you a very concrete vision of where we are. You can almost see the Cypress trees, with their knees poking up through the muddy water…the Herons looking impassively on as you pole by in a flat bottomed boat…the thick skinned Gators splashing past with a powerful thrust of their tail…and the rich southern Creole accent. Ok, perhaps not in that detail but we all know what the swamp is supposed to look like, we know it has water and greenery and animals. We know that getting in the water might not be the best idea and we know that it’s going to be hot and muggy.

We’ve got a starting point to work from and a place we can build on. Having told you this I can now tell you some other things, this is set in the future after a devastating disease has killed off a large portion of the population. I can tell you this swamp is mostly deserted and those that are left have moved from the stilted houses in current use to tree houses connected via long swinging bridges. I can tell you that the swamp, while mostly unchanged the fear of it and the people that live in it has grown over the years, leaving it and everything in it mostly untouched.

Now what do you think we are going to find in there? Something terrible or wonderful? You don’t know, but you’d like to now wouldn’t you?

All of this and all I’ve done is describe the location and how it has changed (or stayed the same) in response to my plot.

Location can also be a dangerous place to tread. Before going to Louisiana I’d written a scene where my heroine visits the Gray City, which just happens to be the ruins of New Orleans. I’d never been to that city before, but thought it would be much like any other city but with the addition of the French Quarter.

NOT SO!

There is a unique flavor to that city…history runs through its heart like the great muddy Mississippi, pride hangs as thick as the moss from the bayou trees and the love of fun is as mixed and overwhelming as the taste of gumbo. Without seeing it, without experiencing it I would never have captured the regal ruin that it could become. Without my experiences I would have been left watching the city from the outside, doomed to recreate the one-dimensional façade captured on every Hurricane Katrina and Mardi Gras documentary.

My favorite story about location comes not from a book, but from the popular TV show “Bones”. In the very first episode Bones gets off an international flight at Dulles Airport (it even says it is Dulles at the bottom of the screen). They show her talking with someone in front of a huge window and famed in that window is the Washington Monument.

Now if you’ve ever flown into Dulles (on purpose or accident) you know that if you saw the Washington Monument from there you’re either a) looking at an advertisement, b) hallucinating or, c) are Superman using crazy long distance see through anything eyes. Dulles is nowhere near the Mall or that monument; as a matter of fact it’s 40 minutes away (without traffic). I know that many people here in the area groaned at this, it would not have been hard to use one line of dialogue to explain that she was catching a connecting flight from somewhere to D.C. to put her in at Reagan (right downtown), but they didn’t. Instead they screwed with the landscape of an area that many people know…it wasn’t a great idea although I’m sure many people didn’t catch it, but for those who did it stretched the suspension of disbelief. Suddenly we are snapped back into a world where we know that there is no “Jeffersonian” or super cute Forensic Anthropologist that is allowed to carry a gun and accompany an FBI agent on interrogations (although I know a few super cute Forensic Anthropologists -bones are cool- none of them have their own personal FBI agent!).

Moral of this story, take us there and drown us in the details but let us paint the background for you, we’ll be a lot happier that way. Also don’t move the major landmarks too much or you might lose us. Ok, now that we’re cool…

Find your peace and live it, even if it’s in a land far, far away…once upon a time…or just next door.

-Renee

Eating a reader because reader’s digest and writers cramp.

We all knew it was bound to happen…you can’t keep up a 2,000 word a day life (up from nothing since I was editing before this) without a few stumbling blocks.

Today is my first one.

I would rather do anything but write today.  Anything!  ANYTHING!  I’ve been listening to British Next Top Model for God’s sake!  How desperate must I be?  I’ve punched out 500+ words but only because the terror of having 4000 words to put to paper tomorrow makes my heart beat in a sort of painful off-kilter way.  It’s not even that I have writers cramp, far from it actually, I’ve got an entire chapter outlined and ready to go…I just DON’T WANT TO DO IT!

I cannot figure out what is wrong with me.  I’ve had to reward myself over and over again today for doing the barest of work!  Five minutes writing…get to listen to a 40 minute podcast.  Ten minutes writing…and an installment of ANTM (well, BNTM) an installment being 10 minutes or so.

What is wrong with me?  OYE!  I just wish I could find the drive today…the need to keep going to beat out imaginary (ok, so they are real but not in my life) foes and make them cringe at my wordcount…unfortunately I’m thinking of going back through all my stuff to see if I can wring out a few more words (via missed files and random bits and background info) so I don’t have to write the rest of my 1,500 words for the day.

It won’t happen, we all know that if I had more than 200 words hiding somewhere I’ve already pulled that puppy out and used it.  Amen.  And don’t get all holier than thou, you know you do the same thing…

Anyway, find you peace and…hey I wonder if this would count?  It IS writing.  No?  You guys are so mean. 🙁

-Renee

Writing Frustration!

I am frustrated by my writing. By the way I write, by the process in which my brain organizes these novels and processes them. By my own lack of work ethic when it comes to these damn novels.

I am trying to edit the novel I wrote last year, and it is proving very difficult. Why? Well, put simply it’s the way I write. I begin at the start, but when I hit a snag…when I can’t figure out what I want to say or how to say it…I skip to something else. Not just the next scene, but perhaps the next chapter or the one after that or even one that I haven’t decided on yet.

Ok, that may work fine while writing…and it has so far, I’ve gotten two rough drafts for novels out of it. Yet, when it comes to editing it makes my life hell. I really don’t like to edit…and I think the reason I don’t is that I have to organize the story from this chaos into a linear thing. If my writing were more organized perhaps I would like editing more than writing…then again perhaps it is a case of the grass being greener, but I doubt it.

Right now I am looking for a scene I know I have written. I remember it, I know what happens, and I know it is somewhere…but where???? I am usually very organized even in my chaos writing style. I break my writing into: part one-beginning, part two-middle, and part 3-ending. Inside those parts I try to write a linear story, but often leave huge gaps where I need to have something happen but don’t know what it’s going to be yet. Then when I am “finished” writing that part if I come across an idea I would like to stick in it I save it as an individual file and give it a unique name. Like, “Part 1 – Is he going to be a monster?” for the scene were a couple comes in to visit Harmony about their infected newborn.

Sounds like a good idea, huh? Yeah, but I said usually. I’m guessing this time was one of those “not so much” times. (Those actually occur quite a bit as I am prone to moving events around in my story…a LOT.) It’s just killing me, because I feel like I can’t go forward, like I won’t know what goes into this chapter until I get to edit this one scene. It’s important because we meet the 2nd dog, who will play a large role later.

I just can’t find it. I’m wondering if it is on another computer. *sigh* I’m telling you, this year…organized! And this year, if it is a problem I’ll write a line telling me what the scene should be or telling me that something needs to happen there and then move on from there…but NO skipping around! No playing pick a wildflower bouquet with my novel!

Yeah, I know pipedreams and rubber tree plants…but a girl can hope.

Find your peace and live it, but get organized…

Renee

Ideas, like government cheese, are cheap!

“Ideas are cheap!”

Listening to Murr Lafferty say this at Balticon, was like a bomb being dropped in my lap. My initial response was a mix of curiosity and fear, as if wrapping my head around the idea might cause my creative juices to explode. It would have been very easy to dismiss this most dangerous statement out of hand. It would have been simple to just get up and walk away muttering about podcasters trying to write novels…but I’m not a “naysayer” by nature, so instead of scoffing I listened and she rewarded me by expounding.

“Ideas”, she said, “are the easiest part of writing.”

The EASIEST part!?!?!?! Thinking back on my plot struggles I was inclined to disagree. My hours of struggling to put the right characters in the right places to make everything work out as I had planned haunted me. The delete key nearly worn slick on my new computer from the struggles with the prose I was creating beat down from my memory. Then again she didn’t say PLOT or CHARACTER or PROSE now did she? She said ideas…the nugget upon which the plot is steadied.

Thinking about this further, I began to examine my thoughts and feelings about story ideas. I knew I had a whole file folder full of ideas, little 100 word descriptions that could (if every given the chance) develop into an event upon which a plot could be built. I knew that every month when my writing group announced it’s latest challenge I could USUALLY walk out of the meeting with an idea of what I was planning to write. I knew that ideas were everywhere. Ideas could spring from anything from that penny on the ground in front of me (Where did it come from? Is it unlucky? Who would be looking for it? What would happen if I picked it up?) to the trip to Hawaii I am planning (What happens if I decide to stay? What would a hurricane be like? What if I am kidnapped? What if I get lost at sea?). Ideas are not the gold that fill the coffers of kings…ideas are the lead that we as alchemists must turn to gold.

The real expense of writing is not the idea, no those are a dime a dozen in any open-air market, it is what we do with those ideas. It is the hard work of putting pen to paper and spinning a tale that is worth reading. It is the sweat of reviewing your own work to make it perfect. It is the investment of time and energy editing, reading and critiquing others work to get a better handle on your own.

So, remember ideas are cheap…it’s the making a dream a reality that is priceless.

Find your peace and live it…even if it is full of lead!

-Renee

The Ebb and Flow of Writing

There are days that you can’t stop me writing unless you pay me, and even then it might not happen. There are days that the story is hot and I want to pin it down before I lose it in the avalanche of celebrity gossip and computer hotkeys. I know you know them, the days you lock yourself away from your family, forget to eat, and generally enjoy the heck out of yourself.

Who knew one could be so easily entertained?

Those are the days I live for, those are the times…for me its sunk in a comfy couch with Korn on the headphones and my hearing suffering for it. Some food lying out in another room to be grabbed when I MUST get up to stretch. And most importantly, dogs curled up at my feet. Salad days. Golden days. The sweet spot of creation.

Still, for every wonderful high-quality writing day…there are a million (or more) low-quality days. Times when writing a paragraph is torture or WORSE. That low point when you can’t even bear to look at your computer, much less open it. Why? Because it doesn’t feel right? Because you don’t have the ideas? Because the words are stuck your soul like cement?

Nah, I think it’s because we all need a little down time.

Without those low-points what would our Golden Days be but another day? Without the pains of wordcraft how can we enjoy the fruit of it? Without the doldrums how can we recharge our brain (and give it a little time to dump all that celebrity gossip)?

Now the problem comes with trying to battle through the bad days to get to the good ones. For me, it’s taking time to blog and taking time to write e-mail and taking time to write things at work. All of these are “easy” writing for me. Something I can do without taking too much time to think about it or edit it. If I have misplaced a comma (and yes I suffer from comma saturation, but I’m trying to wean myself off them) who cares? If I don’t have the perfect phrase does it matter? My friends may suffer, but hopefully they will forgive me.

So, what do you do to combat the writing blahs?

Find your peace and live it…even if it has too many commas!
Renee