I have a newsflash, people: S. A. D is real. (For those of you who don’t know, S. A. D. stands for Seasonal Affective Disorder, a mood disorder obviously named by scientists who thought they were hilarious.) And, more importantly, I think I have it.
I’m a Florida girl. I’ve lived in other places, sure, but when we get down to brass tacks I really enjoy the presence of sunshine in my life. Winters are pretty smooth sailing Down South, even in North Florida, where I’m from. January temperatures occasionally drop down into the teens at night, but usually warm up to sunny, bright, light-jacket weather in the afternoon. And by the time late February rolls around, cold weather is nothing more than a distant memory.Pretty much this.
Well, folks, I live Up North now, where winter is a sadistic, soulless entity bent on crushing everyone’s hopes and dreams under an impenetrable layer of ice and snow. Darkness falls mere hours after the sun has risen (not that you’re likely to actually see the sun behind the dense grey clouds shrouding the world). Don’t even bother to look good: no one will be able to tell under the eighteen layers of clothing you’re wearing, and the snow will ruin those cute shoes. Ruin them dead.I don’t understand why this white bullshit keeps falling from the sky.
I like the beginning of winter just fine. November’s still sort of autumnal, and December is full of holiday cheer and good will towards man. January? No. Just, no. The Winter Blues have officially set in, with an attendant host of fabulous and enjoyable symptoms.
1. The Sleeping.Imma just sleep until April, okay?
God, the sleeping. Don’t get me wrong, I love sleeping. Nothing beats a great night of restful sleep. But in the depths of winter, I seem to wake up groggy and grumpy after like 12 hours of sleep, and then want nothing more than to get back in bed. Last year I lost weight because I was sleeping so much I started missing meals. But not that much weight, because….
2. The Eating.Beast mode, activated.
Good Lord, it’s like my body thinks it can hibernate (see above) but forgot to bulk up first. Better late than never, I guess? Come January I want to consume everything in sight, on sight. And not even good stuff, either. I have no desire to brave the frigid outdoors for real food, so I usually wind up stuffing my face with like stale crackers I found in the back of the pantry, or unseasoned lentils right out of the pot, or a whole thing of candy beans. And I don’t even like candy beans.
3. The Sadness.“Fight the sadness, Artax! Nooo!”
I cry at everything, these days. I cried at a fashion ad the other day because the models were so beautiful. I cried at a video of corgi puppies playing in the snow. I’m actually crying right now. Seriously, though, I wept throughout the entire second half of a comedic film, terrifying the husband half to death. He kept saying “Lyra, they’re happy. They’re HAPPY!” as though that made any kind of difference. Psssshh. At this point in January, ‘happiness’ is just a myth, like ‘unicorns,’ ‘summertime’ and ‘sunshine.’
Ah well, I’m sure by the time April rolls around I’ll be peachy keen. And by June, I’ll be miserable by how hot and humid it is. Can’t. Freakin.’ Wait.
Do you get the Winter Blues? What are your worst symptoms? How do you cope? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below!
Writing always came easy for me. When most kids my age were still struggling with mastering proper spelling, I was already scribbling away at elaborate fantasies inspired by the chapter books I checked out from the library. I wrote in my diary nearly every day, recounting adventures at school and cataloguing my dreams and aspirations (I wanted to be a vet and/or jockey, in case you were wondering). In high school, English was inarguably my best subject; I glowed with pride whenever my teacher read my essays aloud in class and jumped at the chance to complete creative writing assignments for extra credit.
But it wasn’t until I took an elective creative writing class in college that the idea of “being a writer” really took hold. The other students in the workshop were impressed with my writing; one girl said my style was “Fitzgeraldian” (considering F. Scott Fitzgerald was my favorite author at the time, this rated as high praise) and the professor said “the rhythm and pacing” of my prose was “exquisite.” (Other comments hinted that my prose tended to be purple and my plot lines were derivative. I chose to ignore those comments.)“That which we call a…nope, I got nothin’.
This poet shirt must be defective.”
And somewhere between one short story by Tobias Wolff and another by David Foster Wallace, an idea took hold: I could be a writer. I could put my innate talents to use and craft genius, wonderful, lucrative stories for a living. And so it began. I gleefully penned my first few short stories, and incubated the idea for my first novel. And then I wrote my first novel. My first novel! I had arrived!
I won’t lie: visions of sugarplums (or more accurately, six-figure book deals) danced in my head. But it wasn’t long before I realized the truth: that vision couldn’t have been more naive.
You see, what I didn’t realize at the time was that the name of the writing game is persistence. I have since learned that being a natural writer doesn’t go far in this industry. Kameron Hurley recently wrote an amazing post on Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds blog about this very subject. She details the long, grueling, and often unrewarding trials of what she calls the “long con of being a successful writer.” Most authors–including those who have topped bestseller lists multiple times like Stephen King and J. K. Rowling–spend years, if not decades, perfecting their craft and navigating the complicated and fickle world of publishing. The rare “overnight success” is just that: an anomaly, a beautiful rainbow-maned unicorn that many will search for but few will ever find.This pencil stub is a metaphor.
My friend, fellow writer, and erstwhile roommate Emmie Mears recently had her female superhero novel Shrike acquired by Harlequin. This is fantastic news for Emmie–she has worked incredibly hard over the past few years and absolutely deserves to see the fruits of her labors. But in a way, I feel like Emmie’s success is also a win for me, and all the other writers I know who keep plugging along every day, chipping away at word-counts and sending out countless query letters. It’s a win for the people who don’t give up. It’s a win for persistence.
If someone had told my child self, teenager self, or even college-student self about how long, difficult and frustrating this journey would be, I might not be here today. But then again, maybe I still would be. I can’t say for sure. And I’m still learning to deal with the fact that this dream isn’t going to come true overnight: my sugarplums might be moldy prunes by the time anything big happens for me. But if Jo Rowling can do it, and Emmie Mears can do it, then maybe I can too.
There’s now a yellow sticky note on my laptop. You know what it says? Persistence.
Mention the words “info dump” to any self-respecting writer and they’re bound to go a bit green around the gills. The two dreaded words refer to exposition in a story or novel that, rather than being doled out sparingly throughout the manuscript, happens all at once. The action is moving along, the characters are doing their thing, and then all of a sudden–BAM! The author drops a big dump-truck full of information on the unsuspecting reader.
As you have probably inferred from my description, info-dumping is not a good thing. Even if the information is crucial to the reader’s understanding of what’s happening in the book, exposition done poorly is usually bad news for a story. The most rip-roaringest of adventures will screech to a grinding halt when faced with an info-dump. The swooniest romance will suddenly feel dry and boring. Mysteries heave a last gasp and then die.
But the problem is, exposition is hard. An author, who is intimately familiar with her setting, her plot, and her characters (having, um, created the whole thing), must find a way to give her readers enough information to understand the story without smothering them under a pile of history, backstory, and unnecessary detail. She must avoid info-dumping at all costs. But, to make her job even harder, she must also avoid the opposite problem–not providing enough exposition in crucial points, leaving her readers confused and frustrated because they don’t know what’s going on.
Confession time: I have the second problem.Fined?!?
Somewhere along the line I must have internalized the whole “avoid info-dumping at all costs” thing a little too well. Instead of info-dumping, I have the habit of keeping necessary exposition vague; playing my info cards a little too close to the chest. “I’ll let my readers use context clues,” I think to myself. “They’re smart–they’re figure it out.”
Unfortunately, even the smartest reader can’t figure out the details of an insane world you’ve created brick by brick in your own mind.
There’s a sweet spot between doling out too information and keeping things too vague. Authors use a variety of methods to ensure their info isn’t getting too dumpy. Dialogue can be used very effectively to dole out necessary information, although a “maid and butler” conversation, wherein two people discuss things they already know, should be avoided. Characters can read/write necessary information in a diary. Have a character watch the news. Blake Snyder, author of screenwriting guide Kill the Cat!, recommends a technique called The Pope in the Pool, ie. having something entertaining, humorous, or otherwise engaging happen while necessary information is being divulged, thus distracting the reader while they digest the information.
Any way you slice it, exposition is a difficult thing to nail in a story. But done well, exposition can be an engaging addition to a complex world full of interesting characters!
Do you struggle with info-dumping (or the opposite)? How do you craft effective exposition? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below!
Just before the holidays, I turned on the Fellowship of the Ring movie in a fit of nostalgia and passively watched as I cleaned the apartment. And somewhere between vacuuming at Rivendell and swiffering at Lothlorien, I realized something I’d never realized before: Sauron is a terrible villain.
I mean, once you get past the admittedly terrifying lidless-eye Panopticon thing, Sauron is pretty simplistic as a villain. He’s evil–that’s about it. Why did he secretly forge the One Ring in the first place? To rule all the other Rings of Power. Why would he want to rule the elves, the dwarves, and mankind? Duh–evil! Why did he send his Host against the army of the Alliance on the plains of Dagorlad? Evil! Why is he obsessed with getting the One Ring back from Frodo and taking over Middle-earth? Evil, evil, evil!Now I get it.
As a writer, you hear a lot of the same advice over and over again. And when it comes to villains and antagonistic forces, the advice is always the same: one-dimensional villains just don’t cut it. Your villain must be more than just evil–he or she must be as well-rounded and complex as your other characters. The villain must have a backstory that explains his actions and lends his motivations depth and flavor. Furthermore, the villain’s actions must arise from a place of logic; even if it is a flawed, unsound logic, his actions must be comprehensible, if not sympathetic, to the reader. The villain’s role is to challenge the hero to reach great heights. He must act as both a catalyst for heroism and a foil for the hero’s own complex motivations.
Maybe he’s born with it.
Or Maybe it’s Maybelline.
Let’s look at another widely-known villain for a moment: He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named a.k.a Voldemort. Throughout the seven volumes of the Harry Potter saga, Voldemort is transformed from a faceless shadow (physically and metaphorically) into a complex antagonist with a intricately drawn backstory and complex motivations. Rowling makes a point of making Voldemort real. Yes, we still hate Voldemort. Yes, Voldemort is still evil. But we as readers at least have an idea of why. We know what factors surrounding his birth, childhood, adolescence and adulthood shaped him into the paragon of evil Harry faces at the end of book seven.
Now, I haven’t read The Silmarillion or any of the other volumes that together make up the Middle-earth mythology. My reading of Tolkien has been confined to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. So it’s entirely possible that Sauron has a complex background to explain his raging evil-ness that I just don’t know about. But if you ask me, Sauron’s a bit one-dimensional to really qualify as a true antagonist.
So who’s the real villain in The Lord of the Rings? How about Saruman the White, who betrayed his wizard order for dark power? How about the One Ring, an inanimate object with a mind of its own? How about the greed of humanity? Or–let’s be honest–the gross incompetence of the fellowship, most notably Gandalf?
Do you think Sauron is a good villain? Do you have any favorite sympathetic villains? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below!
I went through a phase as a teenager when I really loved Famous Last Words lists. Something about the idea of all these famous people uttering pithy sentiments at the very moment of their passing struck my fancy. Famous last words are always a great blend of personality, wit, and self-awareness, revealing both the state of mind of the speaker, as well as how they viewed the journey into the great beyond.
Gone are the days of poring over famous last words while feverishly composing my own words of passing, but I still enjoy hearing about famous last words, especially when I haven’t heard of them before. So, with no further ado, and in no particular order, I present to you my top seven Famous Last Words!
“Now, now, my good man, this is no time for making enemies.”
Said by Voltaire, when asked by a priest to renounce Satan. A respected philosopher and humanist, Voltaire still manages to sees the humor in the human condition, even upon his deathbed. Where will he go after death? He has no idea, and is okay with that.Moreover, Ludwig didn’t think the
comedy was very funny.
”Plaudite, amici, comedia finita est.” (translation: Applaud, my friends, the comedy is finished.”)
Ludwig van Beethoven purportedly spoke this on his deathbed, the formula traditionally used to end a performance of commedia dell’arte. Combining cynicism with erudition, irony with dark wit, these last words are a fitting sign-off for a man whose very life was rife with irony. This was my favorite as a teenager (yes, I was a hipster).
“Die? I should say not, good fellow. No Barrymore would allow such a conventional thing to happen to him.”
Spoken by John Barrymore, actor extraordinaire. I wouldn’t expect anything less theatrical from a person whose life revolved around drama.
“I am about to take my last voyage, a great leap in the dark.”
Thomas Hobbes spoke these words, acknowledging to himself and the world that he knew not what awaited him in the great beyond, but did not fear it. Many other thinkers and writer have echoed this sentiment, expressing uncertainty about what Shakespeare called “the undiscovered country.”Sorry, Oscar, but my money’s
on the wallpaper.
“Either this wallpaper goes or I do.”
Spoken by Oscar Wilde–only recently a world-renowned poet and playwright–as he lay disgraced, broke, and abandoned in a cheap hotel in Paris. Although poignant, this quote is also pretty damn funny. Famous for his sharp wit, Wilde managed to get in one last zinger before he died.
“Dêem-me café, vou escrever!” (translation: Give me coffee, I’m going to write!)
Spoken by Olavo Bilac, a Brazilian poet. I think perhaps these are the most likely last words of many of my fellow writers.
“It’s all been rather lovely.”
Spoken by John Le Mesurier, an English actor. And these: these are my favorite Last Words of them all. Because what more could we all wish than to be able to utter these small words as our last? To express contentment with this crazy, complicated, confusing life?
Do you have any favorite Famous Last Words? Leave yours in the comment section below!
The advent of a New Year isn’t always an easy time for me. This year, January 1st found me consumed not with excitement and joy for fresh starts and brand new opportunities but with melancholy for another year gone. Instead of looking forward, I dwelt on the mistakes of the year: paths not taken, chances not chanced, opportunities discovered too late. Unfinished projects. Drifting friendships. Lost memories.
But then I chanced upon Neil Gaiman’s lovely New Year Wish post. This year, Mr. Gaiman wishes for us all to make mistakes, because that means we’re doing new things; learning, living, expanding:
“So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.”
This sentiment knocked me off balance. Throughout my life, striving for a sense of perfection has been both a guiding principle and a source of great disappointment. My quest for perfection pushes me forward, forces me to create and learn and achieve. But my quest for perfection also paralyzes me when I fall short, as of course I must. Perfection is an albatross hanging around my neck, a punishing reminder that nothing is ever good enough, beautiful enough, creative enough; never, ever enough. And if perfect can never be reached, what is the point of striving at all? But here is Mr. Gaiman, hero of my heroes, encouraging me to abandon the misguided principle of perfection and embrace imperfection. Embrace the inevitability of stumbling on this journey we call life. Stop worrying, and just do.I am a unique and beautiful snowflake, okay?
I’m not much of a New Years Resolution person. Too many times I have made a resolution at the New Year only to find that resolution soon forgotten or lapsed. And in my opinion, breaking resolutions makes me more disappointed in myself than never making them in the first place (perfectionist, remember?). But this year, I think I will make a resolution, of sorts. An anti-resolution, if you will.
This year, I resolve to let go of the idea of perfect. I resolve to dream outrageously and dangerously and not worry about whether or not my dreams will come true. To take the despair of failure and use it to make myself stronger, wiser, and kinder. To look behind me and see not the things I didn’t accomplish, but the things that I did. To value my mistakes for what they are; necessary symbols of growth, exploration, and living. I resolve to gaze resolutely forward, reveling in the capacity of the future rather than floundering in the immutability of the past.
And all the things I’m scared of doing? I resolve to do them too. Now and forever.
Do you fear your own imperfection? Do you embrace mistakes? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below!