13 April 2010

Jello and The Art of Writing

Getting back to my roots a bit here, I thought I’d do a post concerning this blog’s namesake.

I’m quite fond of jello (whether it’s generic fruit gelatin or a Bill Cosby-endorsed brand name, doesn’t matter) as both a snack and a philosophy. That’s right, a philosophy. The philosophy of jello can be applied to writing, among other aspects of life.

Think of jello flavors as genres. Writers have a choice of genre to frame their story. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like much of a choice - even if I tried to write urban fantasy, it’d probably end up being women’s fiction or erotica, and even when I swear I’m going to try a new flavor, I end up falling back on an old favorite.

© Nikolay Okhitin/www.photoexpress.com
There are plenty of other bells and whistles for your jello, too. Fancy-shaped molds, a dash of alcohol, a handful of fruit, a dollop of whipped cream, a spritz of seltzer. All of these things are a writer’s tools of the trade. Dialogue, flashbacks and flashforwards, backstory, characterization, humor, sarcasm, hyperbole, story arc, plot structure…. A writer’s list is considerably longer than jello’s list, but the idea is the same.

You may be asking yourself if I’m saying anyone can write a great novel by selecting a genre and a few bells and whistles and fitting them together. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Think about it in terms of jello again.

Lime flavor. Sprite, pineapple, grapes added in. Not sounding too bad, right? Now take all those and make a cake. Or pudding. Or cookies. Not so great anymore, right?

Similarly, a person can’t just pick a few things and throw them together and be called a great writer: Romance genre. Love triangle, murder, family secrets. Oooooh, sounds intriguing, right? Sure, but that doesn’t mean Joe Schmoe off the street can turn it into a viable novel.

What makes jello so freaking great isn’t the shape, color, added goodies, or even the flavor. There’s just an innate awesomeness to jello that makes it irresistible no matter what you do to it. Think of your favorite book, or favorite author. I bet you’d never say “The realistic dialogue makes this book totally RAWK!” or “I’ve read all of his books because I just LOOOOOVE the way he uses flashbacks!” No, it’s something more, something even greater than the sum of all the little parts, something intrinsic and almost impossible to communicate.

Some may call it voice, or style, but I think it’s even more than that. I can’t tell you what it is, or whether I myself have it (I hope so!), or how to get it, or what to do with it. All I know is that it’s what I strive to create every time I write, and it is mine alone. You may not like my flavor of jello, but it’s still jello, and it is awesome.

06 April 2010

Art Imitating Life

I realized something the other day about my writing style and my real-life social preferences. Turns out, the same things I dislike about dialogue in writing are the same things I dislike when interacting with people: 
  • Small talk and meaningless words.  I never really understood the point.  Some people are just uncomfortable with silence.  Sometimes characters are too.  If that's the case, and a character rambling on and on about nonsense is part of their personality, that's brilliant.  But just to fill space, it's no excuse.
  • Sometimes you can get a sense that someone is saying something to you to get a certain reaction, for their own benefit - whether it’s fishing for a compliment, or making vague comments in the hope that you’ll ask questions and allow them to talk some more about their topic of choice. I equate this to dialogue that is rife with the author’s agenda instead of sounding true to the moment.
  • Taking twenty minutes to tell me a five minute story.  Get to the point, already!  Better yet, don't tell me the story at all.  If it were that important, you'd spit it out faster.  In dialogue, this is using 45 words where 10 would suffice.  Again, if something is important enough to say in dialogue, you should find the most precise words to say it.
You could argue that this is actually a case of life imitating art - that I'm so entrenched in my writerly mind it's rubbing off on my real life.  But anyone who knows me - especially if they've known me a while - knows I've always been this way.  I was the girl in the middle of a crowded, noisy room, who could tune it all out and take it all in at the same time.  Listening, I feel, is infinitely more valuable than speaking.


01 April 2010

Aspiring Author Profile: Maxwell Cynn

You may remember Max from the erotic poetry duet I posted last April (I can't believe it's been that long!).  Here's his profile.

Name: Maxwell Cynn

Age...ish?: 48

Location/Country: Matthews, NC - USA

Genre(s) you write: Everything, but always with a touch of romance.

Books/Authors you love: Tolkien, Lewis, Poe, Burroughs, Twain, Wells, I love the classics. Modern works that inspire me - Richard Bach, Douglas Adams, Stephenie Meyer (Host more than Twilight), Anne Rice (Lestat not Interview), and of course Dr. Seuss rocks!

How long have you been writing? An English teacher in the tenth grade encouraged me to be a writer after reading some of my short stories, but I seriously began my first novel about three years ago.

Do you have any professional/industry experience as a writer? No, but I built a website and published my first book "ArchAngelxx" online. Then I republished it, along with my second novel "CybrGrrl", as eBooks on MobiPocket and Kindle. I'm currently trying to break into print with three manuscripts I have ready, and two more I'm working on. I NEED AN AGENT!

Had anything published? ArchAngelxx (MobiPocket and Kindle), CybrGrrl (MobiPocket and Kindle)

Agent status (please X all that apply)

[X] Need one

[X] Want one. Desperately. Want. One.

[ ] Got one

[ ] We're "talking"

[ ] I'm cyberstalking him/her, but so far they have yet to respond to my inappropriate sexual advances.... Erm, I mean, my query letter.

[ ] Agent? Who needs an agent?

Either/Or when you write:

Pen and paper, or computer screen? Computer. I used to write on paper, but I hate going back and typing it out. It has to get on the computer eventually, so why not start there.

Plotster (outlines, scene cards, etc.) or Pantster (writing by the seat of your pants)? Both. I do a good bit of plotting, but when I write it often goes off in a new direction all its own.

Music on, or off? Off when I write, but I like music when I'm editing.

Solitude, or surrounded by people, sounds, things? I would love solitude, but I'm generally surrounded.

Cleanest first draft possible, or screw grammar/spelling/punctuation and fix it later? My first draft is pretty clean, but there are still plenty of revisions later.

Slave to the whimsy of your muse, or writing like it's your job, even when you don't feel like it? Total slave of my muse, but I do try to take the "job" approach. If I'm not into writing something new - I edit. I try to be productive every day.

Do you have a certain place/time of day/writing implement/obsessive ritual/etc. that is crucial to your writing process? No. I write whenever I have the chance - wherever I happen to be. I take my laptop with me everywhere.

Where do you get your inspiration? I generally start at the character level. I envision characters - then location, plot, and everything else comes from that. I get my character ideas from all over. I'm a people watcher, and after 48 years I've seen and met a lot of interesting people.

What one thing do you really love about your own writing? My characters.

What one thing do you wish you could do better? "Show don't Tell." I hear that all the time. I'm a natural storyteller and it's hard for me to just let the story unfold. I want to speak right to the reader and tell them a good story.

Anything else you want to say? Thank you, Jen. This is my first interview, and it was fun.

Anything for us to read? ArchAngelxx is available on MobiPocket eBooks and the Kindle Reader. You can also read the full version free on my website. CybrGrrl is also available on MobiPocket and Kindle, and I have excerpts of some of my manuscripts, as well as short-stories and poetry, on my website. Come visit.