Staying True

I mentioned in my last post that I’m applying for a freelance writing position. I really want it. I’m not going to tell you who it’s for, or what it’s about, simply because I’m still in the applying stage. If I get it, I’ll tell you more about it.

I also mentioned that I’m struggling with the application. The application is several phases, and I’m currently in phase 2, which entails a series of writing assignments. The assignments are quite different from just about all other writing experiences I’ve had. Here’s a basic rundown: the program I’m applying for is already up and running with someone else writing the content. In my assignments, I need to write similar content while maintaining the current “voice” of the writer.

Yikes. I’m pretty good at writing in my own voice, but writing in somebody else’s? A real person, and not just a character (which, face it, comes out of my head and contains a bit of my own voice anyway)? And with content that I’m not overly familiar with? It’s daunting, and I’m terrified that I’m going to screw it up. In my mind, one little mistake will kick me out of the running, and the opportunity will be lost forever.

I worked on the first assignment a few days ago, and I agonized over it. Sentence by sentence, word by word, it felt foreign and wrong. I put the words down, only because the clock is ticking and I need something to turn in when the buzzer sounds. I’ve been dreading the next 2 assignments.

I did the second assignment tonight, and I had an epiphany. I’m still going to do my best, and try to format it the way they’ve requested, but I’m not going to worry about doing it “just right”. I’m going to do my own research, and write the piece the way I feel does it justice. I’m trying to preserve the voice, but it’s taking a backseat to me writing what I think is the best work I can do.

I may fall flat on my face. I’ve already passed phase 1, which means they like something about me. And if I’m trying to copy someone else’s style perfectly, I’m not being true to myself and to my own work. Hopefully they’ll see my best and decide they can work with what I bring to the table. I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing it any other way.


Struggling With Tension & Betrayal

Apologies for the long absence. I feel like I apologize a lot, but the truth is, this blog is quite far down on my list of priorities. So many other things come first, and if I don’t get around to writing a post, then I just don’t. This past week conspired against me. I’ve been fighting a head cold, and it’s hard to think coherently when you feel like your face is about to fall off and hit the floor. So, I’ve mostly vegged on the couch and watched old episodes of Supernatural.

I’ve also been trying my hand at something new. I’ve applied for a freelance writing position, and they’ve sent me writing assignments as part of the application process. It’s different for me, and hard to tailor the work to what they’re looking for, so a lot of my spare brainpower (which hasn’t been much lately) has been diverted to that.

But, I did manage to get a little bit of work done. And I’m struggling with it. I’m rounding out chapter 15 in my current fantasy project, and I’ve hit a snag that I just can’t seem to push through. My protagonist has been betrayed by his master, and they come face-to-face in this scene. Ideally, it should be full of drama and tension, and I’m not quite sure what to write for it. I need dialogue. The master needs to try to explain his actions, and  Callum needs to deal with his feelings and respond appropriately.

I also don’t know how much to tell. Originally, I planned to have the master monologue for a while, talking about his history with the antagonist and their past relationship. I tried writing it that way, and ended up deleting it. It just didn’t feel right. Now I’m thinking it should be brief. A few sentences, maybe a paragraph, tops. Something for Callum to think about, but not really get resolution from.

I know how the scene ends. Callum offers no forgiveness, but neither does he kill him. He lets him go on his way, and I’ve yet to decide if they meet again or not. Callum has mixed feelings. His master has been a father figure to him, and his betrayal cuts deep. But at the same time, he can’t bring himself to raise his hand against him. It’s a complicated scene, and it feels like nothing I write does it justice.

I’m going to give it another go tonight. Hopefully I can wrap it all up with just a couple hundred words. I last worked on it 2 nights ago, when my head was so congested I was having trouble stringing two thoughts together. My head is clearer tonight, and with the time away maybe I’ll have more luck.

Talk to me in the comments. What scenes do you struggle to write? How do you get through them?

Time Constraint Experiment

I recently read a blog post from an author on Writer Unboxed (I forget who the author was, and I’ve already deleted the email) who told a story about writing in an airplane on a 45-minute flight. The post was chiefly about how this author felt during that time, the sense of excitement and terror and pressure to produce something with such a limited amount of time. This author repeats this exercise often, believing that under such constraints, they are bolder in their approach and write things they never would have thought to otherwise.

I didn’t give this approach much thought at the time. I prefer to block out several hours in which to write, and if I run out of things to say before that time is up, then I just stop early. But today I’m going to run a quick test, and see what I can accomplish in a short amount of time. See, I haven’t gotten around to getting any writing done yet today, and my laptop only has 22% battery left. Which leaves me with two options: try to accomplish something now, or plug in the laptop and get back to work later (the cord is currently trapped behind the tech station, and I cannot easily plug the laptop in and continue working).

So, I’m going to use my 22% as best I can for the moment, and see what I can accomplish.

RESULTS: Better than expected. My battery is currently at 5%. I wrote for 29 minutes, and put down 712 words.

Interestingly, I did find the time constraint somewhat freeing. Knowing I had a limited amount of time, I put down the first words that came to mind without thinking too much about getting them perfect. I ended up with my protagonist confronting my antagonist earlier than I had planned, and I think I like it better this way.

The other author was right about the terror, too. I felt incredibly pressured, and tense, worried that my time would run out before I had told a sufficient story. As it is, I ended in the middle of a scene, the middle of a conversation, even, and it’s going to bug me until I have the opportunity to finish.

All in all, it was an interesting experiment, but probably not one I’ll repeat often, or even again. I still prefer my blocked out time, and being able to end where I choose, not where time cuts me off.

Talk to me in the comments. Do you ever write under intentional time constraints? What are your impressions of the practice?

Breaking Up Dialogue

I’ve never been good at writing dialogue. Describing a scene I can do all day. The poetry of it, the sensory experiences, finding just the right word to describe something perfectly. I love it. If I could write a story without dialogue, I probably would.

I have gotten better at dialogue over the last few years. Establishing a character’s voice, their thought patterns, the things they’re likely to say. I’m still not great at it, but definitely better than I used to be.

What I struggle with now, is where to put the dialogue. When I read stories from published authors, I’m always impressed at how they’ve managed to find just the right time for a character to say just the right thing to move the story along. A lot of explaining happens through dialogue, and it’s tough to make those things come out naturally, when they’re supposed to.

In my current fantasy project, my protagonist, Callum, is trying to find the answers to some questions he has about magic. The only way he can find these answers is to ask other practitioners of magic. But I’m having trouble keeping the dialogue scenes short and not filling up entire chapters with them.

At the moment I’m embedded in chapter 13. Callum encounters a friend he hasn’t seen since chapter 3, and she’s going to answer some of these questions for him. But I don’t want it to be some kind of question-and-answer session between them. I want the answers to come out naturally in their conversation. Also, there’s a lot of information she needs to give him. If she tells him everything at once, it’ll take up half the chapter.

I’m assuming that readers don’t want to read entire chapters of dialogue. At least, not often. They want that dialogue broken up by action scenes that progress the plot, or else they’ll get bored and put the book down, which I definitely don’t want. But how do I know where those dialogue breaks should be? When should other characters reveal this information to him? How often should he talk to the same person? What information can he be given to act on, and what information should be saved for him to act on later?

I don’t want to bog down my readers with extensive dialogue scenes, and give out all the information at once. But I don’t feel like I’m experienced enough to parcel it up like it needs to be.

I don’t have the answers. If you do, let me know. This post is more of an I-don’t-know-what-I’m-doing rant of a post. So, I’ll just keep working on it, and maybe one day I’ll have it all figured out.