Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Blind Faith

Show, don’t tell. I can assume all writers know this as Writing 101. Whenever I failed to comply with this rule, my manuscript would come back with red markings. My mentors always told me to use metaphors, similes, or strong verbs/adjectives to describe what we perceive with our five senses without telling the obvious.

My mentors guided me through the learning process: I trusted their advice. But, did that mean I had to forget about my instincts? Through this process, I accepted their suggestions blindly because I was afraid of stumbling along the way. However, all that changed when I started trusting that little voice inside of me: my instincts. One of my mentors had suggested deleting a few sentences and changing some words in my final draft. I didn’t. These sentences spoke loudly; they vibrated in my skin. My instincts were right. My story got published.

Just like writing, in real life we sometimes need guidance. Last Sunday I took my husband to O. Noir, a local Montreal restaurant, to celebrate his birthday. (Click on the hyperlink to learn more about this fabulous experience). O Noir is a play on words in French for au noir, which loosely translates, in the dark. The servers are visually impaired. When you get there, you order your food at the bar before entering the pitch-black room. Once the barmaid has taken your order (she’s not visually impaired by the way), your server guides you to your table. He tells you where your utensils, napkins, plate, and glasses are.  

After an hour, my senses were heightened: I started distinguishing my server’s voice among the cacophony of sounds. My hands were quick to learn the objects around me. My hearing clearly made out what instruments the band was playing (The members of the band are also visually impaired, and are aptly called, Les ombres, The Shadows). Although my server guided me to our table, my other four senses guided me at the table (and I’m happy to share there were no incidents).
I wanted to share this amazing experience and use it as an analogy because I realized that whether we’re guided in our writing journey or not, we ultimately have blind faith in our instincts.
Do you trust your inner voice when you write?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

My Kind of Town

A street in Istanbul - May 2011
While blogging, I was listening to Frank Sinatra’s “My Kind of Town”. In this song, Sinatra sings about specific places in Chicago and people’s friendliness.   

This song inspired me to write a post about setting which is one of the essential elements of a scene. Setting is the physical background of the story – a distinct time, place, social circumstances, as well as mood or atmosphere.  
The setting in most of my stories has been inspired by places where I’ve lived and/or visited. I said, “most” because there’s always an exception to the rule. A few of my stories take place in cities I’ve never been to. Although it's a rewarding experience, writing about a place I am not familiar with is time-consuming. I had to ensure the description and facts were accurate.

I enjoy, however, describing the setting -especially one that is meaningful to me- because it gives me the opportunity to travel there once again along with my characters.
Do you use familiar places in your setting? Do you have a special place that you’ve used more than once in your stories?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Symbolically Yours

Henry Fuseli (1741-1825) The Nightmare
Yesterday, a friend of mine asked me to brainstorm on symbols that she could use for one of her characters. I did a little research and provided her with some examples, taking into consideration that her book is for tweens (pre-adolescents).

I read that “understanding symbolism deepens the meaning and enhances the reading of many great literary works including short stories, novels and poetry.”

Some symbols may be obvious and some may be more subtle or hidden so that the reader must really think and study the work to grasp the author's true meaning.
One of the websites I found says that “Writers may also use symbolism to allude to a mood or feeling without coming out and stating that particular emotion. For example, a writer might use the symbol of a lily to represent purity or a ray of sunshine to represent hope.”

Examples of Common Literary Symbols:


Authors Known for their Use of Symbolism:
Edgar Allan Poe
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Herman Melville

Do you use symbolism in your stories? Do you think symbolic imagery is necessary to deepen your story?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Creative Process

Last night while talking to a dear friend and fellow writer, she confessed having a hard time jotting down the whirlpool of ideas that are spinning in her brain. I wonder if she was being hard on herself when she told me she sometimes doubted her creativity.

Today, I found an article by author and creativity coach, Emily Hanlon. She says, “The Inner Critic is terrified of the creative unconscious because it is the home of feelings, emotions, images and it is chaotic and unexpected. The Inner Critic likes order and loves the status quo, which is antithetical to the creative unconscious.” In the excerpt below, she explains more about this inner struggle we writers go through.
Creativity is a subtle and magnificent dance between the rational and the intuitive, between the left and right parts of the brains, between technique and imagination. Both partners in this dance are absolutely necessary and are needed in equal proportion, which means that imagination is not more important than technique and vice versa. If you only live in the imagination, you will never get organized, you will never complete your story. However, if you start from the rational, linear, organizational part of the process, (i.e. Gotta have the perfect opening sentence and first paragraph... better yet, an outline...) you will never fall into the rich, passionate cosmic landscape of the imagination where anything is possible.

However, the main problem I have seen in my twenty-five years of teaching fiction writing is over-dependence on the rational part of the equation. People want to get the story written and get it out. (Whatever that means?) They want to leap frog the process, get the words down on the page and finish the story. This is to symptomatic of the goal-oriented society that we live in, a society that is striving upwards toward success instead of embracing the deeper, more powerful and life changing journey of descent that takes us into the creative realm of the true self.

When we write from the imagination we are writing what we "know" but from such a deep level of knowing that we don't know that we know it until it is revealed in our writing. This is often the truer aspect of self, the part that we do not readily show to the world, and sometimes do not show even to our self — at least not consciously. This is what makes the journey such risky business. This is also the great joy of writing; when we are true to the process, we discover worlds within we did not know existed.

An image I use to describe the intuitive journey of creativity is "falling down the rabbit hole" into Wonderland. This is a perfect metaphor for the creative journey which can never take place in the "real" or conscious world. Writing, whether it be fiction, poetry or nonfiction, finds its origins in the dark, fertile chaos of the unconscious — your personal Wonderland.