J.X. Burros's Blog: Mr. Burros - Posts Tagged "art"

Well, I think I'll take a break from writing boring things and give you a little taste of one of my favorite things: writing. I'd like to tell you that there is a sure-fire way to get a novel up and going, and that I can make you a star in 30 days. This is not the case. As with any other art, there is no right or wrong way. I cannot stress that enough.

I've looked at a lot of different sites, blogs, books, and everything else to get my novel, Scarlet Spotlight, going. About 95% of them told me to spend one-third of the time planning my novel out, before I even started writing. That's all fine and dandy, but there were two problems with that. One: I had already started the novel. Unless I could go back in time and tell little 16 year old J. X. to stop and plan out the novel before writing, this plan was going to be a little off. Two: That sounded boring as f**k. I didn't want to outline my novel, figure out what would happen, then write it all again. That sounded completely awful.

So, I did what every other mad-crazy, author would do; I made up my own process. To me, planning everything out was stagnant and provided no character drive. When I write, the characters tell me what they're doing; I don't direct them. Every project that I've started so far has gone the same way, and it has worked perfectly for me.

First, I start off with a scene or an idea. Let's go back to Scarlet Spotlight. The first thing that ever came into my head was the first scene. I had an idea that, since vampires were "sexy" they would appear in a lot of pornography. What would happen when things went wrong? What if the camera and the cameraman survived? I took that idea and I wrote it down with as much detail as I could. It ended up becoming the prologue to the novel.

Next, I logically let the scene plan out. I honestly set my fingers to the keyboard and listen to what the characters tell me. I listen to the characters' personalities--what they'd say, what they'd do, and especially what they'd think. I let one character do one thing and let the rest unfold. If character A says, "Stop that," characters B and C are going to stop it, but character D is going to say, "Screw you," and attempt to fight. Level-headed B is going to hold D back, while A is laughing, and C is going to cry. At this point, characters A, B, C, and D all have a personality to you and to me, allowing us to see what logically happens.

Soon enough, I have to take the environment into account. The environment is the only place that authors should have real license. That is where we can decide that a tree is going to fall or, like in Scarlet Spotlight,
****SPOILER****the snow will ravage the area without mercy, even though the world is full of vampires thirsty for human flesh****END SPOILER****.
However, it doesn't stop at scenes, and it doesn't start there, either. It begins and ends at the world. We decide whether the world has vampires or werewolves, a deadening sun, a rebirth of the wooly mammoth, or a malevolent god bent on destroying romance. That is the world of Science Fiction/Fantasy/Paranormal. That is my world.

Now, if I happened to imagine an ending or a middle scene first, things get a little hairy. Then, I have to back-fill. When that happens, I normally fill out the scene, with no exposition, to the highest detail that I can. Afterwords, I go all the way back to the beginning and try to logically piece together the events that make that scene come alive. That part always is the hardest because you might find out that the characters you wrote wouldn't actually make it to that scene at all. They may be too smart to fall into the trap, or they may be too timid to charge into battle. No matter what, though, I always have a story unfolding in my hands.

Some of you may be saying, "X author told me to write the most exciting things first, then fill in the rest," or "Z author told me that you can't have flashbacks." That's fine. That's their process, but it's not mine. I always try to work in chronological order, according to the main character's thoughts. If from the time of the exposition, the character never reflects on an event a year ago until the end, so be it. To me, like I've said before, the characters drive the story, and writing too out of order is going to diminish their ability to live. If you write too many scenes beforehand, you may realize that, while they may have said that in that situation, they may not have gotten there, since they were eaten by wildebeests. But if X's and Z's method works for you go for it.

Like I said, there's no right or wrong process. This is only my process for writing, and it works well with my sporadic schedule (See Time Management). I will say, I'll start a story and the plot will run miles away inside my head before I have a chance to write it down. However, it never turns out exactly as I thought. The characters run away or get themselves killed, but they always drive the story--not me.
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Published on April 14, 2012 11:36 • 80 views • Tags: art, book, burros, characters, jx, jx-burros, planning, plotting, process, publishing, red-war, scarlet-spotlight, scenes, writing, writing-process
Stephenie Meyer. Stephenie Meyer. Stephenie Meyer. Twilight. Twilight. Twilight.

Did you know that my blog will be now view approximately twice as much? Did you know that my book, Scarlet Spotlight, will now see about a thirty percent increase in sales? It's all about name dropping and branding. Be warned, I plan to brand the heck out of this post, but I'm sure you'll enjoy it.

So, this came about a few days ago when I was reading City of Lost Souls by Cassandra Clare. On one of the first pages, I noticed that there was a cat named Chairman Meow--a cat's name I'd heard on American Dad. I started thinking, Why did I get so excited when I read that? There was a connection, a remembrance. Everyone wants to feel a legitimate connection with the book or the author to help place themselves in the story.

The first time I really noticed this happening was when Scott Westerfeld wrote about a character wearing a Fall Out Boy shirt. Fall Out Boy is my favorite band of all time, and I wanted to dance with joy. Soon, I started seeing it everywhere. In Fear, Michael Grant mentioned things like Facebook, and I had the same feeling. Everlasting by Alyson Noel would mention BMWs, which have a lot of cars I love to look at. Every book nowadays seems to have an iPhone placed somewhere, by name.

Then, there's author blurbs. Would I have ever bought Skinned by Robin Wasserman without Scott Westerfeld's approval? I don't know. Many people have gotten into the Gone series by Michael Grant with Stephen King's approval, or, in some cases, the comparison to his writing. I doubt that the Mortal Instruments Series by Cassandra Clare would have never seen as much popularity as it did without Stephenie Meyer's blurb on the cover of City of Glass.

I'm not the only one who has noticed this. Anyone who has read The Future of Us by authors Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler was susceptible to the branding. I know that I only bought the book because it was about Facebook. In addition, the book So Yesterday by Scott Westerfeld actually plays on this whole idea. He refuses to name any brands by their names, but is descriptive enough to let you know what he's talking about every time--including Apple, Pokemon, and a wide variety of shoe companies.

Is it dirty and underhanded? Yes. Is it effective? Yes. Is it moral? Yes. There's no problem with establishing a connection with yourself and the readers by adding some insight. Do I do it? Of course. I don't watch the news, I watch CNN. I don't have a smartphone, I have an iPhone. It's more real.

So, with that said: J. K. rowling, iPads, Twitter, and Obama.

Thank you.
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In honor of Mother's Day, I thought that I would share with you one of an author's best tools of characterization: parents. From birth, one of the only things that we know is our parental units. Even those who do not have the love of their parents or something similar, can die. (Take a look at Born for Love by Bruce D. Perry and Maia Szalavitz if you're more interested!) What does all this nonsense mean? It means that parents are an integral part of our development as humans, and they are just as important to our characters. Whether it's handling a back story, progressing the plot line, or just more filler characters, parents drive our characters to continue going, or to stop.

So, let's take a look into my own work, first. In Scarlet Spotlight, Tom has a father with an absent mother. He still remembers her a little bit, but she's always been out of his reach. His dream of reuniting with her one day forces him to continue with what he's doing. Not only that, but his father, who secretly holds his past mistakes, keeps him stranded.

Right now, I'm knee deep into City of Lost Souls, which is riddled with parental issues.

****SPOILER****

Obviously, the element of an absent parent is still there, although the role of the father is nicely covered by Luke. Then, there's the twist where Valentine, the most evil of all Shadowhunters, ends up being her father.

****END SPOILER****

Anyone who stayed for that will see that her parents really drive the plotline. Her father's role is the center of the entire story. And, if you read, City of Lost Souls, it says in plain words that Clary's actions are fueled by her mother's attitude.

For those of you who have read Evermore by Alyson Noel, you'll notice that the parents are not present at all in the novel, or any of the other following sequels. In their place is Sabine, her relative who she never spent too much time with. While they share something similar to a mother/daughter bond, the newness of their relationship helps shape the story in a way that allows Ever to pursue her wild adventures.

Richelle Mead is a master of parental issues. In Vampire Academy, Rose has little to no contact with her parents. Her mother is a famous guardian, which drives her to become known just like her mother, and she tries her hardest to live up to the expectations that everyone has set for her.

****SPOILER****

She later finds that her father does know of her and loves her in his own way, leading him to pull her out of tight binds using his connection with a vampire mafia, of sorts.

****END SPOILER****

In the same book, Lissa loses her parents in a car crash, and is wondering left how she and Rose left alive. Being the only one left in the Dragomir line, she blames her parents from time to time, but misses them all the same. As well, her boyfriend's parents have willing turned themselves into Strigoi, creating a horrible picture thrust upon Christian's shoulders.

In Richelle Mead's book, Storm Born, her biological father is absent, but her adopted father took her under his wing and turned her into the bada** shaman we know and love today.

****SPOILER****

We later find out that her father was a powerful faerie who thrust a destiny of bearing a powerful faerie upon her, driving the entire story

****END SPOILER****

In Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater, Grace has normal parents, but their boring lives have led her to approach the wolves of Mercy Falls, and add a bit of excitement in her dull life. Without that aspect, Grace's personality would have most likely have led her to be more preoccupied with her life, then the wolves.

Every good novel you see today can be partially rooted to a parental problem. In the cases of J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and Cassandra Clare's Clockwork Angel the main characters are left as orphans, to fend for themselves. With The Declaration by Gemma Malley, Intertwined by Gena Showalter, and Marked by P. C. Cast and Kristin Cast, the parents abandon their children, forcing them to try their hardest to find their parents love. When you read Twilight, The Lightning Thief, and The Hunger Games by Stephanie Meyer, Rick Riordan, and Suzanne Collins, you'll notice the one absent or distant parent. Parents drive the characters, and the characters drive the story. (Check out my blog, My Writing Process, to learn more about how my stories progress.) The entire storyline is based on the characters, and parents play one of the most important parts in the development of the characters. So, choose your parents wisely. (I bet you wish I could say that about real life, huh?)
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Anybody who is a die-hard Owl City fan like I am will know that quote. While I do not actually agree--I love living my life--I thought a tasteful connection would get a fair amount of extra eyes. But today, I'd like to thrust into more writing advice about connecting real life and writing life. Not in the way that you make your significant other read all of your writing or only having friends that are writers, but of putting your life into your book.

I don't know much of the lives of my fellow authors, so most of this blog will be about Scarlet Spotlight, but I'm sure I can get a few things out there. Now, let's talk about the beginning. Tom is obsessed with his movie project, much to the extent that I was writing about it. It worked out perfectly; my feelings were his feelings. When he got discouraged and moped around, it was exactly how I had felt in the past when my projects didn't really pan out. When I wrote Scarlet Spotlight, I was essentially writing the book about writing the book, but in more of a metaphoric way. In all honesty, I never planned it that way, but your personality will always come out in your writing. Look at Stephenie Meyer. I'm not saying she's a bad author (even if Stephen King would disagree), but with both Twilight and The Host, both Bella and Wanda were essentially the same character thrust into different situations. Can we assume that this is Meyer in disguise? Probably, but it isn't a bad thing. It makes your story more believable if you can believe it yourself, and you should always trust in yourself--or anyone you pretend to be.

Now, I'm not going about and killing vampires left and right, then capturing it all on video, but that doesn't mean that Tom is partially me. He's lazy except for certain "projects" as I am. He goes out to drink at a party, then changes his mind after one shot. He's paranoid to an insane level when something bad happens. He falls for all the wrong people. He's a poor man in a rich town. Tom is me, but in a world of vampires and a tweaked situation.

It doesn't stop there, though. All of the characters that I know are me. Hannah as a child is me at twenty, when I buy a shiny new iPad. Tom's father is me, never letting our past mistakes go, whether it was our fault or not. Jack is the "go with the flow" that comes out from time to time. Even Alicia is a projection of myself as I wish I was: powerful, flawless, calculating, and mysterious. Your characters are you.

The best way I can represent this without referencing my own work is Modelland by Tyra Banks. A world full of models written by a woman in a world full of models. See the parallels yet? I haven't read this book since it came out, so forgive me that I forgot the name of the Intoxibella that served as Tookie's mentor, as it were. Both Tookie and her were the different parts of Banks. Tookie was how Banks started--a bit different and overshadowed, but willing and destined to outshine everyone, against all odds. But the Intoxibella is her, too. All of the self-punishing she goes through has no doubt gone through Banks's head; while it may not be as physical, the struggle is still there. She is the leader of the free world as her fictional counterpart is as well. No matter how much she tries to make up for her mistakes, it will weigh on her forever, and while I may not know Banks personally (yet, hopefully!), I know that she is human and has the same feelings that we do.

So, advice-wise, what am I saying? It's funny; I actually was having a conversation with a friend who is also a struggling novelist. He asked me how to write when real life takes a turn--for better or worse. Where do you find the time? Where do you find the mental focus? The answer is: you don't have to. Your life and your writing can be one and the same. It's like therapy. Make your characters feel the way you feel, and just as they pull through, you will, too. When you're elated and excited, share it with the world like you know you want to, but in your writing, it will be there forever.
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Are you stuck in a creative slump? Unable to get a word down? Then have I got some fun for you!

Writer's block happens to everyone. Even worse, sometimes authors feel inadequacy in their work and give up. I know that I got that sometimes while writing Scarlet Spotlight, but I never gave up, and neither should you. However, you need to take a break to help combat writer's block. In the linked blog, I tell you to write something else, but if you're fresh out of ideas for the day, here's a little exercise to help you along. This little tactic, I like to call Sing Me a Story, is very fun, and it helps remind you that you are a good author, you always have ideas, and writing is fun.

Step One: Pick one of your favorite songs. For this step, I've picked Wish We Were Older by Metro Station.

Step Two: Put the song on repeat. Constant repeat. This is why it has to be one of your favorites. You're going to be listening to it for a good chunk of time.

Step Three: Write out a line of the song, then narrate what you imagine happening.

I wish we were older...

I sat at the edge of the room, constantly flipping my blonde hair out of my face. My brother had taken me to a basement party of one of his frat friends, using me as his sober cab. I thought he just wanted to keep his eye on me, but I was the one with my eye on him. He was too drunk to really even notice me doing exactly what he'd told me--nothing--but I'm sure if I'd taken even one sip of beer, he'd see it and be over in ten seconds.

Step Four: Repeat until the song is done. You may have a story afoot, or just a scene, but you'll have something.

Keep your body moving, girl; the beat is thumping.

I could feel the bass leaking through the floor, and I urged to at least move my hips, but my self-conscious nature kept me grounded to my chair. I flipped my hair again out of my vision, but in the rotation, my eyes caught with dark blue staring from across the room. I looked him over, tall, my brother's age, dark hair, and a light in his irises that rivaled a burning car fire.

Go ahead and let them talk; their words mean nothing.

I looked down and my cheeks flushed a bright red, but I instantly knew that he was walking the space of the room to get to me. He said, "Hey." and flashed me a dazzlingly white smile. I couldn't stop my cheeks from exuding an even brighter red as I said, "Hi." back to him. I looked around to see a few people around look at us and murmur a few words that made them laugh, but this boy didn't mind. "I'm Nick," he stated, holding out his hand. "Tina," I replied grabbing his. Instead of shaking it like I expected, weird as it was, he took it to his mouth and kissed it like a gentleman.

I know you're scared, but don't leave this place.

My face, not quite back to its normal shade yet, was overtaken by crimson, growing deeper from the growing embarrassment. I quickly turned away to face the wall, unable to figure out what to do. I instantly fished in my pockets for my car keys, ready to grab my brother and leave.

Just turn around, and let me see your face.

He put his hand on my shoulder lightly and whispered, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to come on so strong." The music seemed to get much louder at that point, drowning out what he said after that. I sighed and faced him again. I didn't know what was wrong with me. Whether it was his age, my age, or my own demons strangling my thoughts, I couldn't fathom, but I ignored it all and willed myself to listen to him. All I heard was, "...quieter..." and he took my hand, dragging me through a door that led to the concrete room that held the laundry. He shut the door and the music quieted. I looked him over in the cramped space. He wore a tight jeans and an even tighter t-shirt, bulging against his muscles. On the edge of the fabric, I saw a tattoo of a falcon poking out. I pulled up his sleeve to see it, and upon touching his skin, my heart beat faster, and my breath became more shallow. I looked him in the sea that was his eyes and our lips met without another word.

And now you're crying and you hold me and you whisper in my ear...

His lips were warm and moist, and my lips parted with pleasure. He slipped his tongue to mine, touching it gently. I suddenly pushed him in the chest, feeling the hard muscles under his shirt on his abdomen. Tears fell slowly down my face, and I turned away. He grabbed my arm and asked, "What wrong?" Between crying breaths, I questioned, "How old are you?" He replied, obviously confused, "Twenty-four, why?" "I'm sixteen," I explained. "I can't do this again."

"I wish we were older."

"Why does that matter?" he questioned. Surprisingly, I laughed. "I wish we were older; then, it wouldn't." I couldn't bring myself to tell him the story. It seemed juvenile and stupid, but I held onto it. "It's okay," he responded, and tilted my chin up to his. I looked at his face, dotted with stubble and perfectly soft.

Tonight, we'll touch, and they won't know.

"No one has to know," he said, and pulled my lips to his again. I let myself melt along his touch, and kissed him back. My hands felt the line of his waist and eventually reached under his shirt to feel the tight muscles in his back.

I know you're dying to take off your clothes.

He followed my lead, reaching under my shirt. His hands hesitated at my bra, but he didn't unhook it like boys my age would. We broke the kiss, and I looked at him with calculating eyes.

Just trust in me; I'll never run away.

He leaned to my ear and whispered, "Trust me." He kissed my cheek, feeling the length of my arm. It made the hairs on my neck stand up straight, and I loved it. He kissed my lips softly again, and I felt myself wanting more, even if my mind said no.

You kiss my lips, and you taste my pain.

We looked each other in the eyes, and he said, "We all have baggage. I won't ask if you don't." The words rang in my head, and I leaned up to press our lips together one more time before another tear found its way out.

While I'm pushing, and I'm moving, somehow you manage to say...

I didn't push away this time, but the tears took over. He held me in his arms and stayed silent.

"I wish we were older."

When the tears finally slowed to a hiccup, he repeated my words and said, "I wish we were older." He held me in a tight embrace and tried nothing else. This man I barely knew comforted me with a single touch, and I basked in it with a comfort I hadn't felt in so long.

Just take my hand, I'll never let go.

The world around us faded, and I could hear his heartbeat in sync with mine. His touch was cool, but it set my skin to flame. I could see myself tipping my tear-stained face to his and pressing our lips together again to taste his alcoholic kiss again, but we didn't. He simply kept me in his arms, only making small, comforting movements, like he would never leave.

I wish we were older.

My brother, drunkenly, burst into the room. He looked at me and at Nick, and then, he narrowed his eyes back to me, saying, "We're leaving." as if he had completely sobered. I took one last look at Nick, and he let go. We didn't kiss goodbye, even though I could see in his eyes that he wanted to. I couldn't help but think, I wish we were older.

Don't cry now.

I followed my brother out of the party, through the crowd that seemed to part for our walk of shame. As we walked up the steps to greet the cold air, I fished in my pockets for the keys. Covering the keys, there was a small piece of paper that wasn't there before. I pulled it out and read, For when we're older, followed by a ten digit number. The tears didn't fall anymore; I shoved the number in my wallet and continued to the car.

Now, no editing, no rewrites, and it was all done with no planning. You are a writer, and you can turn anything into an entire world. Your mind has no limitations. Music is the perfect way to open the doors to creativity for a while. I listen to music every time I write, and while I may be listening to Ex's and Oh's by Atreyu when I'm writing a scene about a field of peaceful dandelions, or Fuzzy Blue Lights by Owl City when I wrote the fight scene in Scarlet Spotlight, the music helps me visualize.

Now, if you've followed the steps with your own song, you have a scene on your hands. You can do with it what you wish, but remember that the song is the work of someone else, and you need to credit accordingly. If you turn it into a novel, take out the song and put them in the acknowledgements. Don't steal artist's work. If you have no monetary gain, but you're still putting it out there, like me, credit them, link to them, whatever you need to do. Show them that you're grateful for their contribution to society. If you just want to keep it for a warm, fuzzy feeling inside, then do it and read it over and over. Just know that writing is fun, you love it, and you're good at it!
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Mr. Burros

J.X. Burros
This is the official blog of J. X. Burros, author of the Red War series, including Scarlet Spotlight (2012) and Crimson Hunters (expected late 2012). He promises to be honest and engaging, and to writ ...more
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