Tag Archives: writing

Influence and Archetypes

3. Allow your influences to shape your voice, not drown it.

Creativity is borrowed. None of us formed our thoughts in a vacuum, and all of us were subject to a myriad of different models. Inspiration lives inside us, and our subconscious never forgets. We need not copy our heroes, their hand is always there to guide us.

(From 10 Ways to Avoid Writing Insecurity)

I am perpetually second-guessing my inspiration.  I make playlists for almost everything I write, then wonder if I’ve drawn too heavily on the musical themes.  I pick out people to provide a rough physical representation of a character, then worry that I’m borrowing too many mannerisms.  I’m inspired by archetypes and tropes almost endlessly, for the fun of twisting them to my own skewed vision of the world and setting them loose again.  I worry that my ideas aren’t new, that my pop culture filter isn’t of a fine enough mesh to weed out wholesale theft.

This kind of insecurity feeds a case of Faker Syndrome like fertilizer feeds a garden.  Beautiful things will grow, vegetables will flourish, and every time someone takes a bite, you will wait for them to voice what you secretly fear- that whatever you’ve handed them, as transformed and amazing as it may be, is still full of shit.

Here’s the truth: My ideas are just as new as yours, or anyone else’s.  Which is to say, they aren’t.  If it’s under the sun, it’s been written about, and that’s okay.

Write about your bad boys with a heart of gold, your competent, deadly women, your perpetual jokers.  Bring on the battered heroes, the reluctant revolutionaries, and yes, the girls next door, but for the love of little narwhals, please make them your own.  That’s why your idea is worth writing, after all.  It’s your spin on the same story everyone wants to tell that makes it new, and worth reading.

Being ashamed of your inspiration does nothing to build better writing.  Nobody can tell you’ve got Nickelback on your playlist if what you’ve made is better than what you borrowed.  Honestly, nobody can tell anyway, but you’ll probably convince yourself they can, if you’re looking for a way to hamstring your progress.  Filing the serial numbers off someone else’s work isn’t going to fly.  Finding your angle, creating layer upon layer of the things you love, your borrowed shiny parts of everything you find value in, every story you wish was a little different, that’s going to get you somewhere.  Maybe somewhere you never thought you’d wind up, telling the story your way.

Please Finish Your Sentence: Writing the Emotionally Constipated Character

Authors, I know what you’re doing.  You’re experimenting with styles.  You know your characters, and they aren’t the guys who have eloquent conversations about their feelings.  Hell, you’re lucky if you can get them to acknowledge that they have feelings, beyond pain, hunger, and a vague yearning for existential poetry and a glass of something cold.  And maybe only part of the last one.

I get that.  There’s something really disconcerting about a woman who can’t manage to talk to someone without tripping over her own words suddenly turning into the smooth-talking star of her own life.  It feels forced, and as a reader, I call shenanigans 9 times out of 10 when it happens.  I’m not saying that even the most reserved or awkward person can’t find a moment of eloquence now and then, but when it happens, it has to be their words, not yours.

I see a lot of people leave characters like this hanging.  They have entire conversations around their chosen topic.  Sentences never get finished, thoughts are implied, but never shared, even outside the dialogue.  While fine to a point, it’s a safe bet that if someone is doing their level best to avoid talking about something, they know what that something is.  Whoever they’re talking to either knows what they mean, or didn’t need or want to in the first place.  A little bit of deflection and misunderstanding builds the tension, but when every emotional scene reads like this, you lose people.

So if you can’t force it out of them, and they won’t actually say it themselves, where does that leave you?

In a pretty good position, actually.  Because the character might not know how to put what they want or feel into words, but you, as the writer, should know what your character is thinking, and be able to convey it even if they can’t.

If most of your conversations reads like this:

“I know.  It’s just… Well.”

“Yeah.  I know.”

then you should know that a) you’re making my dentist very happy, because my jaw is clenched again, and b) both of them may know, but your reader doesn’t.  No matter what you think you’re implying with vague, circular dialogue, unless you give some level of context, mostly what you’re doing is frustrating your reader.

If you tried something more like this:

“I know.  It’s just… Well.”  Tisha’s fingers clenched in her pocket.  Karen had seen the note, she was certain.

“Yeah.  I know.”  Karen sounded resigned, her gaze darting to Tisha’s face for a second before she looked away again.

your reader has some context for the emotional flailing.  Obviously, within a story, your audience is going to have more than two lines of dialogue to orient themselves, but those emotional markers make it easier to relate Tisha’s halting speech to something real.  You’re not giving away your emotional payoff too soon, but you are making sure that someone (other than Tisha and Karen) has a clear idea of what Tisha isn’t talking about, and the tension between Tisha and Karen is actually ratcheted up a little, because your reader can understand Tisha’s reluctance.

I enjoy emotionally constipated characters.  I write them all the time, and I love the knots they can twist themselves into, just to avoid accidentally having a feeling.  Your character can be as emotionally withdrawn as you want, but your story can’t be.  Even if they can’t finish a sentence, you, as the writer, have to.



Fifteen Minute Fiction – Inkling, pt. 14

Finally, new Inkling.  In which Grays brings a stranger home– or is it that his home is stranger?

(If you need to catch up, you can always read the full story (for free!) here: Inkling )

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Fifteen Minute Fiction – Inkling (pt. 12)

When last we left Our Protagonists, one of them was bleeding, and one of them was pretty sure his day had just gotten even weirder– and that’s saying something, given the day he’s had so far.  We now return you to Inkling, already in progress.

(If you need to catch up, you can always read the full story (for free!) here: Inkling

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Fifteen Minute Fiction – Inkling, pt. 11

Inkling returns from hiatus!  When last we left Our… Er, let’s call them protagonists, shall we?  Heroes might be stretching the definition a bit.  Anyway.  When last we saw or intrepid duo, this was going on:

Collin spoke again, low, glaring at Emygdia as though he’d prefer to yell.  “If I was lying, I never would have come here.  You might not trade in kind with the family, but there are plenty of people in the valley who know my name, and who would throw their lot in with me just to try ousting my uncle.  I could lie, say I still have the power for it, but I don’t.  And I don’t want that.  He promised me a life, free of his interference, and that’s all I need from him.  If he finds out what I’ve done, dying will be the least of my worries.  If he thinks someone else knows anything…”  His cadence didn’t change, but his gaze dropped, until his final words were addressed more to the floor than either of them.  “Secrets aren’t the same thing as lies.”

And now, we return you to you regularly scheduled mayhem!

(If you need to catch up, you can always read the full story (for free!) here: Inkling


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Free Read- Want, Take, Have. (A Slipstream short story.)

Those of you who didn’t get the chance to participate in the Long and Short Reviews/Whipped Cream Reviews 4th Anniversary blogfest can still reap a reward- we wrote a brand new short story featuring the characters from The Slipstream Con, celebrating an anniversary of their own.

Enjoy, feel free to comment, and spread the link around.  (Be aware that the story does contain minor spoilers for The Slipstream Con.)


Want, Take, Have.

Fifteen Minute Fiction – Inkling (part 9)

In which Grays is licked by the supernatural, and Collin may or may not be lying.

As always, you can catch up on the entire story (for free!) here: Inkling

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Title of Book

Titles are worse than summaries, taglines, or pitch packets. A title has to grab you, has to promise something about the story, has to invoke an instant reaction from a reader, so they’ll pick up your book and get a look at the pretty cover, or the blurb that makes them want to buy it.

Naming books is like naming children – unless something strange happens, they’re going to be stuck with that name for the rest of their lives.  Sure, some of us do things like randomly rename ourselves, or get packaged up into omnibus editions.  But by and large, you’re making a decision that is going to influence everyone that book ever comes in contact with, and you don’t want to get your manuscript beaten up on the playground.

My current working title for this manuscript is The Memory Keeper.  There’s nothing wrong with that title, but it rings kind of boring in my ears.  It tells you something about the story, but makes it seem distant, as though the grand adventure has passed, and someone is telling you about it.  That’s absolutely nothing like the story itself, and I can’t saddle my book with a title that makes it sound like a pensioner recounting his glory days of hunting mutant river otters.  This story is about movement, fighting, the family you make, and the home that finds you, even if you can’t stay in one place.  It’s not a stationary story, and it needs a title with some hustle and flow.

Because it’s such a stumble for me, I decided to take the main concepts and keywords that jumped out at me and write them out on Post-It notes, so I can shuffle them around and play with the language until I find something.  Even the notes for this book are fidgety, it seems.

After careful consideration, the only possible title has been chosen:

Jessup’s Wasted Running Memory of Dust Stained Wind

Or not.

I’ll hit on just the right title soon enough, and then this poor book will finally have a name of its own.  Until then, I’ll just keep adding to the Post-It’s.  But I probably won’t go with For God’s Sake, Please Buy Two Copies, either.



Fifteen Minute Fiction – Inkling (part 8)

Part 8 – In which Our Heroes arrive at their destination, only to find that it’s still out of reach, and Grays contemplates his next Facebook status update.

As always, you can catch up on the entire story (for free!) here: Inkling

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