Writerly things – Reference sources

Lately I’ve been on a sci-fi/urban fantasy kick.  And by lately, I really mean the past few years.  It just sort of showed up and then decided to stay.  Accordingly, I’ve found a few sources to help me along as I’m plodding through my writing projects.  I’m sure they’re supposed to be for more intelligent, academic pursuits, but they certainly suit my purpose for chasing potential muse-rabbits down their plot-holes.

 

The Medieval Bestiary is exactly what it says it is.  And it has some fun graphics.  The site itself is a bit out of date, but it’s dealing in old lore and folktales so the information isn’t terribly likely to have changed too much since it was put up.  Everything sources back and usually has neat quotes from ancient texts, just in case you don’t like their summaries.

 

Encyclopedia Mythica is a bit more straightforward and less graphically-inclined than the Medieval Bestiary.  It’s set up like a wiki. In my poking around between the two, the Mythica seems to cover a broader range of topics.  It includes an option to check their references but it doesn’t have the same handy quotes right there on the entry page.

 

And then there’s WolframAlpha, which is a cool little quick-fact generator.  Type in a topic and it will do a breakdown of the information for you.  For example, type in the name of a city and it will return with a page full of stats and demographic information and random facts useful toward the goal of writing about them.  Very user-friendly, rather like Google.

 

A friendly warning:  All of these pages are rather easy to get lost in, just like tvtropes.org, tumblr, or urban dictionary.  One search leads to another which leads to another and before you know it you’ve lost an hour to looking up if bears really pee in the woods or if that’s just a fairy-inspired wives-tale.

 

Writerly things: Take the train!

Train travel is still a viable and reliable transportation system in the United States, despite the popularity of planes or cars.  Christina Vuono, a 30 year old speech language pathologist from Philadelphia, PA, travels by train to Atlanta, GA, every year.  Amtrak is her preferred and trusted carrier.

“I like it. Now that I’ve tried a sleeper car I never want to go back. It takes longer but the conductors are usually friendly and helpful,” said Vuono. For her, it’s something of a different experience than that of planes and busy highways.  “I like seeing the countryside. I find it relaxing. I can read or do work.”

That change in experience is exactly what Amtrak is hoping will attract more customers and travelers over the long run.  Vuono, like many other customers, is a hobby-writer with a twitter account, and that combination is good for business. In the new age of social media and instantaneous word-of-mouth recommendations, the positive experience outlined in a single 120 character tweet from a happy traveler can encourage new ticket purchases.

This year, thanks to a chance twitter conversation with a writer who later took the trial pilot run, Amtrak rolled out plans for the Amtrak Residency program for writers.  The program is now a reality and a limited number of 24 passes will be awarded by application process over the next year.  The Amtrak Residency program will allow selected writers to take a round-trip, 2 to 5 day tour of the country on any of their long-distance rail routes in a sleeper car with a desk to help encourage writers’ creativity.

The application asks why a writer wants to take the residency program, requests a writing sample, and a writer’s twitter handle as confirmation of their intent as a “creative professional.” Anyone can apply at no cost.  There is no requirement that a writer be published, or even write a review of their experience if selected.  The applications are reviewed by a panel to determine approval for the residency program.

More information, and the application, can be found at Amtrak’s blog. http://blog.amtrak.com/amtrakresidency/

What would you write if you had a week on a train?  The next Great American Novel? A news piece on the changing historical/political landscape? A kid’s story about trains? Or a sci-fi novel about space travel?

 

Some Thoughts on Storytelling

I found this great article, “What Makes a Really Good Story?” by Ted Albrighton, that looks at storytelling through the lens of commercial use.  You don’t often think about commercials as “stories” because, in theory, you know they’re trying to sell you something, not to entertain you.  Stories come with this connotation that they are how we “waste time” and check out of reality.  We don’t often think of them as valid forms of communication and a tool set to be relied on; if we did, getting an English degree wouldn’t have resulted in my hair-dresser telling me I wasted my money and should have gone for a business degree like she did.  Storytelling is a business, it has a function, people can profit from it if that is their goal in life.  Storytelling has been around as long as mankind; it wouldn’t have survived that long if it didn’t have a purpose. The marketing world is tapping into that.  So, buyer beware, they’re looking to lure you in with stories. And it will work, hook, line and sinker.

The one thing I dislike about this article is the very narrow focus they have on what constitutes a story. A story is anything that gives you something to follow to a conclusion. One of the best examples of this that I’ve ever heard is “I threw the ball. It bounced. You caught it.”  That has a beginning, middle and end.  It evokes engaging images. It has characters. It is the movement of information from one source to another. Nine words made a story. Six words can tell just as effective a story; I’m sure you’ve heard of “For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.” largely attributed to Hemingway. Did I just sell sports equipment or baby shoes? No. But they were stories. So my caution here is to not get caught up on formulas of what works or what defines a story, because there are an endless variety of ways to craft a story. The only one that’s “the right way to do it” is the one that eventually gives you a product you’re satisfied with.

The article has this really useful infographic that breaks down traditional storytelling in an easy to follow fashion, but with the focus being instead on what will sell.

Image copyright ABC Copywriting.  See the link!
Image copyright ABC Copywriting. See the link!

If you’re in advertising, this is useful.  If you’re looking to be published, this is also really useful! Publishing is sales, because people have to buy the work you publish. So in that sense, the graphic gives you some “insider” perspective on what’s most important and why.  In terms of just a writer, sitting down to put words on the page and get their story drawn out of their brain in the most logical, understandable way, this is still useful because it is relying on the recognized elements of a story. The article goes into more depth on them, but is focused on the marketing perspective to the point of distraction.

Look through it, add your own, come up with your own “writing rules” to live by.  There is no such thing as a “proper” story.  It’s yours, so tell it how you wish!

 

 

Writerly things, with a Blogging Bent

I am brand new at blogging.  Sure, I’ve been on the internet since the dawn of time.  (Okay, not actually that long, but I once ran up a $100 AOL dial-up bill, and I can imitate the sound of a modem.)  I have done my turn on Twitter, and Livejournal, and Facebook, and tumblr, and ohmygawd I remember myspace.  But blogging with the intent to communicate is a new thing I’m still trying to get the hang of.

So when a friend pointed me to Single Dad Laughing’s “100 things I Never Expected to Learn Blogging” I pounced on it, because I have yet to meet a SDL post that I didn’t like.  And then, as I read it, I realized some of the concepts behind the points on the list are applicable to all writing.  All forms of publishing or broadcasting or idea-sharing.  Not just blogging.  And, as always, SDL has a helpful reminder to be nice to yourself as a content creator, such a novel idea!  So it’s a nice handy list to have in mind.

It still gets down to an axiom preached by many people, lately most notably by Dean Winchester and Wil Wheaton: Don’t be a Dick.  Especially not on the internet.

Some neat Writerly Things

The Writer’s Digest is just a treasure trove.  I love them.  Thanks to student loans, my subscription has lapsed, but they still have the online offerings!!!

I found a few, so I’ll share what I liked in the hopes of remembering them later. 😉

How to Create Your Own Bad Guys and Sleazy Protagonists
This had some interesting ideas and I want to employ them at some point.

The 5 Differences Between Professional and Amateur Novelists
And then there was this, which was just a few things to keep in mind on the whole “I wanna be a writer when I grow up!” front.

So, What Exactly is Steampunk?
Ha!  This is only the tip of the iceberg!  (I Steampunk’d my Masters thesis!)

I am a big fan of sitting on the shoulders of giants.  There’s so much that can be learned if we just listen to the people who already did the legwork!  Science uses a similar model, after all: Read the process, repeat the process, prove or disprove the theory.  Same goes for Writing.  We have some really great classics to draw from. (I’m sure at some point I’ll ramble pitifully about Shakespeare.  Just give me time.)  One of the giants, for me, is a filmmaker you may have heard of named Alfred Hitchcock.

A cool article from WD on his writing tricks: 6 Writing Lessons from Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window

But there’s this even cooler actual interview with the man that is really worth the watching.  I found it at the Alfred Hitchcock wiki. There is really nothing I don’t love about that interview.  So… go check it out!

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