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message 1: by Charles (new)

Charles Hash | 1054 comments I've not been on Goodreads for very long, but one thing I have noticed are all the rules for writing. So many rules. Do this. Don't do that. At times it's like watching a mortician perform an autopsy upon a corpse for their students. I can see them now, gathered around the table, immeasurably bored by the mutilation of a human body. Once you've seen the strings, you can't enjoy the puppet show.

And yet time and time again we see authors break these hallowed rules and rise above the slush. How can this be? There are run on sentences, poor editing, a generic concept, or any other number of issues. Was this even proofed? Etc etc. I could demonize traditionally published authors all day long, call them out on their flaws and lack of diversity and creativity, but that wouldn't get anyone anywhere, and I would just come across as petty and bitter. How could I fail when these hackneyed chumps have succeeded. Everyone fails. It is just a part of life and learning. If success teaches us anything, it is how to fail.

But I've seen no mention of method writing. I suspect it is because it is something that nobody really understands. To an extent, possibly, you either can do it or you cannot. Why does it matter?

There are really two kinds of authors in my opinion. Those that write as an observer, cold and distant from the story and characters, things they've culled and molded from intentions and abused cliches. The all seeing eye that sits over everything, monitoring everyone's thoughts and actions and the process as it churns forwards with no real impact. Those authors have their time and place, and they're stronger in some genres and styles than others.

Then there are those that become the characters. They become the story. They dredge them up from somewhere inside, born from an ache to express these things for a reason that remains unknown to even themselves. It is a tough way to write, especially if you write darker content. Sliding into the skin of your characters and feeling and thinking and sharing their world vision, regardless of their intents and beliefs. Becoming people you hate. Killing people you love. Suffering with them and laughing with them and living with them and dying with them.

Dare to become your characters. Dare to step inside of them and understand them and take them somewhere you fear to tread. Dare to live your stories. Put yourself in the environments, feel them, breathe them, love them and hate them, because when you are finished, they are gone and you will never be able to recapture that particular feeling ever again.

All the rules and discipline in the world can't replace that. You are either relegated to watch, or you get the front row experience. When your reader picks up the text, they will most likely follow in your footsteps as either a neutral observer, or become immersed within the text and live it.

Not saying that rules aren't important to writing. They very much are. I just haven't seen this addressed anywhere. Everyone loves to debate the technical side of prose, and I've learned a lot from those types of discussion, but there is an organic side that seems to be ignored. Some writers choose to live in one world or the other, but I've found that blending and balancing the two can often lead to places that you could have never imagined going. There are tools in your toolbox for a reason. Use them all. Use them as they are supposed to be used, and discover new uses for them as well if you can.

I'm not suggesting anyone that is writing a Vampire novel should drink a shot of human blood, or that you should stalk people if you're writing about serial killers. That's absurd. Both of those are things that happened too.

And that is my hippie BS about writing stuff 101.

But it works.


message 2: by Riley, Viking Extraordinaire (new)

Riley Amos Westbrook (sonshinegreene) | 1510 comments Mod
....Charles...get out of my head. I JUST did a guest post for someone going up on may 11th saying that I sit and talk with my characters, and I feel it's the best way to express what it is they want me to convey. But I use this method as well, I find it much more satisfying than trying the "Tried and true" method of mapping everything out and knowing everything. I fully expect by the time I'm done writing that there will be some people that know my books, and the universe they're set in, as well if not better than I do. Part of the reason I leave easter eggs in my books!


message 3: by Christina (new)

Christina McMullen (cmcmullen) Excellent points and yes, I agree. I admit to being more of a 'play god with my characters' type author, but I can't just arbitrarily do things to them. I have to get into their head and discover their personality. Not everyone is going to have the same reaction to the same event. This is especially true for making characters do something dumb. I hate when a stupid move by an otherwise intelligent character comes out of left field for no other reason than to advance the plot. Get inside their head. Find out what they would do and write the conflict around that.


message 4: by Charles (last edited Apr 22, 2015 11:50AM) (new)

Charles Hash | 1054 comments Riley wrote: "....Charles...get out of my head. I JUST did a guest post for someone going up on may 11th saying that I sit and talk with my characters, and I feel it's the best way to express what it is they wan..."

I approach it as method acting. Understanding the character and why they do what they do. How they would react. It is emotionally draining, but at least I get to just dump everything into what I'm doing and start fresh tomorrow. Cathartic, I believe.


message 5: by Charles (new)

Charles Hash | 1054 comments Christina wrote: "Excellent points and yes, I agree. I admit to being more of a 'play god with my characters' type author, but I can't just arbitrarily do things to them. I have to get into their head and discover t..."

I do both if I can. I've found it is jarring when you switch between the PoVs of two characters that hate each other. But I am having fun with it.


message 6: by Charles (new)

Charles Hash | 1054 comments V.M. wrote: "Nice post Charles, I kind of have to detach a little from my characters, as the villains are pitiable and reprehensible - not a good way to spend a lot of time.

The heroes on the other hand, have ..."


I probably put more of myself into the villains than I do my heroes. There are some that would argue it is the villain that makes the hero, and not the other way around. :D

Don't be afraid to bleed a lot of yourself onto the page. When I write a scene from a character with anger problems, I try to make myself angry beforehand. I try to put myself in the mentality of the character and scene. When I write a melancholy scene, I put myself back in a time when it seemed like everything was pointless.

The drawback is my other characters can seem flat and lifeless compared to the povs. Often it is just the way the PoV perceives them. Sometimes we don't see much of the person that is presented in front of us, and even then our judgement of them can be skewed, especially if we disregard them.

I think everyone should give their villains more love. :D


message 7: by Riley, Viking Extraordinaire (new)

Riley Amos Westbrook (sonshinegreene) | 1510 comments Mod
I thought we were supposed to use red ink for a reason V.M. Was I wrong to tap a vein to write my books?


message 8: by Charles (new)

Charles Hash | 1054 comments That's what that dripping sound is.


message 9: by Dwayne, Head of Lettuce (new)

Dwayne Fry | 4284 comments Mod
Charles wrote: "I think everyone should give their villains more love. :D"

I'm thinking a tag-line, if I use one, for my novel might be "There are no heroes, There are no villains, There are only humans".

At any rate, wonderful post, Mr. Hash. I try to get to know my characters, even the most minor. It's something I began doing way, way back in those days when I wrote by candlelight.


message 10: by Ann, Supreme Overlord (new)

Ann Andrews (annliviandrews) | 687 comments Mod
Excellent post! In my writing, I feel more as though I'm merely listening to their story and they're telling it through me. Whether I get attached or not, "whatever happened, happens" or vice versa -- as per Lost.


message 11: by Charles (new)

Charles Hash | 1054 comments Yes, I prefer to think of it as the character's story, and not mine.

Even the villains that need to be punched in the face were once someone's child! That villain has a mother! Or something. You don't even have to use it to make the villain more human. You can use it to go the completely opposite direction as well.


message 12: by Owen (new)

Owen O'Neill (owen_r_oneill) | 1509 comments Charles wrote: "I've not been on Goodreads for very long, but one thing I have noticed are all the rules for writing. So many rules. Do this. Don't do that. At times it's like watching a mortician perform an autop..."

Excellent Charles! As to why, well rules are easy. Like you, I've seen that here and on writing blogs and guides and elsewhere. When I made part of my living as a photographer, I had a studio which I would rent out. It wasn't unusual to get a group of guy renting the studio who'd show up with a few models and then sit around for 2 hours talking about their cameras and how to take a photo, while the models and I twiddled our thumbs and waited. Then maybe they'd take a few photos. And they paid for this.

The feeling I got was the moment they took a photo, all the talk went out the window (so to speak). There was a photo and all of a sudden their $20K of equipment didn’t matter so much. If it sucked, saying “But I used a $10K camera with a $2K lens!” wasn’t much of a defense. So taking a photo was kind of scary.

What you are describing is much the same. It is hard, there are no rules, and not much to latch unto. It can be scary -- at least it scares me. I’ll admit that's one reason I write with a co-author. I'm really sort of timid in a lot of ways and some things scare the bejezzus out of me. (Sometimes we do this for a couple of hours: "We gotta go there." "Ya think?" "Yeah." "You first." "Why me?".)

And even if it's not scary, it's personal. You can get a lot more naked than any stripper while writing. Some people aren't comfortable with that (I wasn't for a long time. "Did you write this?" "Oh, hell no! That ain't me! I've never seen that in my life!")

I also don’t think there are any “baby steps” to this. You just leap in or you don’t. “There is no try” as someone once said.


message 13: by Charles (new)

Charles Hash | 1054 comments Those waters are deep and unlit. Unknown. It is up to us as authors to shine a light on them and illuminate the hidden wonders. Scary indeed what you might find crawling around recklessly in places you'd rather forget existed.


message 14: by Micah (new)

Micah Sisk (micahrsisk) | 1042 comments I usually like getting into philosophical discussions like this...but I keep thinking of what I write and I always come back to: "I don't know what I do, I just try to write a story that's entertaining to me."

I mean I do have a feel for the characters and their motivations. But I don't really feel like I step into their shoes. Some stories require more distance from them. Others it helps to hold them closer. But that's a function of the story, not really any methodology.

At least for me.

Not sure what all this rule bashing's about. I'm either too much a conformist, or the rule Nazis haven't picked my number yet.


message 15: by Owen (new)

Owen O'Neill (owen_r_oneill) | 1509 comments Micah wrote: "Not sure what all this rule bashing's about. I'm either too much a conformist, or the rule Nazis haven't picked my number yet..."

If people read everything I've posted about writing rules, I suspect they're gonna think I'm nuts, wishy-washy, or wanna agree with everyone to score points. To a degree, that conflict genuine. Show me a rule and I almost instinctively reach for a hammer.

So I do struggle with a "rational" position on rules, but what I think it comes down to is this: in the beginning (the process of creation) no rules. At the end, apply the rules necessary to meet the primary goal.

My feeling is that applying rules too early stunts creativity, and not applying them at end tends to result in a mess.


message 16: by Melissa (new)

Melissa Jensen (kdragon) | 468 comments I think when it comes to the rules of writing, Pirates of the Caribbean said it best - they're more like guidelines. I see so much "do this but don't do that" only for someone else to say "no, it's okay to do that, but you really should stop doing this" that it makes me feel bad for beginner writers still trying to get a handle on the crazy, mixed up world of writing.

And guilt-tripping. I've been coming across a disturbing amount of guilt-tripping in the form of "writing advice", namely "if you use *this trope* in your writing then you're a gross, horrible person!" Despite the fact that said trope is perfectly valid depending on how it's handled.


message 17: by Owen (new)

Owen O'Neill (owen_r_oneill) | 1509 comments Melissa wrote: "And guilt-tripping. I've been coming across a disturbing amount of guilt-tripping in the form of "writing advice", namely "if you use *this trope* in your writing then you're a gross, horrible person!"

Yes, the Dark Side...


message 18: by Charles (new)

Charles Hash | 1054 comments Micah wrote: "I usually like getting into philosophical discussions like this...but I keep thinking of what I write and I always come back to: "I don't know what I do, I just try to write a story that's entertai..."

You use all the tools in the box I believe, even the obscure ones that most writers pick up and immediately think "wtf is this for" and toss it aside. I've learned a lot from reading your posts on obscure techniques and rules.

But the other side is often forgotten, or not even discussed.


message 19: by Owen (new)

Owen O'Neill (owen_r_oneill) | 1509 comments Charles wrote: "You use all the tools in the box I believe, even the obscure ones..."

My co-author and I had a discussion about the writer's "toolbox" and where one gets it and how it's assembled. It was because we were looking for new "tools" for a story told in quite different style than what we've attempted. Fascinating topic, I think.


message 20: by Charles (new)

Charles Hash | 1054 comments Mine is mostly different kinds of bourbon.


message 21: by C.M. (last edited Apr 24, 2015 05:23AM) (new)

C.M. Subasic (colleesu) | 13 comments As graphic designers say: You can't break the rules until you know them.

A writer needs to be both the camera and the actor. The camera looks at the big picture. That's structure, story arch, plot components. The actor is responsible for motivation, character intentions, rhythms, voice. As a writer, you need to perform both roles and as the original post says, each writer tends toward one or the other. I come from an acting background, so I get into the skin of the character. But I have learned the importance of the camera.

Each writer develops their own process, right? Their own toolbox of things that work for them. That's why it's good to hear what others are doing that works for them.


message 22: by Charles (new)

Charles | 148 comments Great post, Charles. When I write, I write! I lose track of time. Characters and events carry me away. Then, only then, afterwards, I think, I question, I edit, I rewrite. The writing is an act of creation. The editing, rewriting is where the craft and the toolbox come in.


message 23: by Hayden (new)

Hayden Linder (haydendlinder) | 85 comments Hey Charles, Great post, obviously. I think the reason you see more comments about the minutia of how to write a good story is due to that being the easy part. I mean, how do you convey to someone, 'HOW' they can get into their characters heads? That can be a difficult lesson for some people to pick up and an even more difficult lesson to explain in terms that are not demeaning... Of course posts like this would probably be a good answer to my question... Forget I said anything.


message 24: by Charles (new)

Charles Hash | 1054 comments It's not that much different than playing with action figures or dolls as a child. We all have to have that child buried deep inside of us. Some have killed it more than others.


message 25: by Riley, Viking Extraordinaire (new)

Riley Amos Westbrook (sonshinegreene) | 1510 comments Mod
And some of us still have it all intact. #IDoNotWantToGrowUp


message 26: by Charles (new)

Charles Hash | 1054 comments Mine's been beat to hell, but it's still there.


message 27: by Mary (new)

Mary Criswell-Carpenter | 44 comments This is a wonderful post. Thank you, Charles for starting this thread.

The voices of the characters talk to me. I have to wait until they are really loud before I can write. In the meantime, I do mind maps and fill in details until they are very loud.

The problem I have is deep characterization. I have it in my head, but I don't seem to be able to release it on the page. Any suggestions?


message 28: by Charles (new)

Charles Hash | 1054 comments It's different for everyone I suppose, and the only thing that matters is the madness works. I've never actually talked to my characters, but when really into what I'm writing, it's no different than reading. I see everything unfolding from the character's perspective, and speak with their voice. I feel their emotions when I write, and make the same decisions they do. I don't know if that makes me a part of them, or them a part of me, or both. Both I guess.

I guess it all sounds crazy to a lot of people, and I'm just glad to know I'm not the only one that does it, even if we all tap into it in different ways. :)


message 29: by Charles (new)

Charles Hash | 1054 comments Emotive is one of the terms that comes to mind.


message 30: by Micah (new)

Micah Sisk (micahrsisk) | 1042 comments Charles wrote: "...I've never actually talked to my characters, but when really into what I'm writing, it's no different than reading. I see everything unfolding from the character's perspective, and speak with their voice. I feel their emotions when I write, and make the same decisions they do..."

That's exactly how it seems to me when writing.

It's natural to me, probably because since I was a kid, I've been into role playing. Me and my brother would entertain each other by making up our own worlds and "being" characters in those worlds. [This is what TV with only a dozen channels, no internet, and no video games does to children.]

Later I was heavily involved in roleplaying games (yes, D&D).

So getting into a character is like slipping on a comfortable glove.

It's also why I find the initial writing process to be the most satisfying part of self-publishing. Even the eventual release to the public and (miniscule) sales don't give me as much satisfaction. I find worth in the writing itself, not so much in the final product. And after I've written something, it almost becomes something external to me, as if it isn't mine at all. I had the same experience when creating art and music.


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