Writing

Don’t be Careful

I listened to a webinar given by author Donald Miller last night. It was a talk for first time writers. He gave a lot of tips that I found very useful. Things like believe in your work, develop a work ethic, treat your writing as a business/job.

Donald Miller

One major tip I walked away with was, “Don’t be careful.”

Writing a book, writing a blog, writing an email, whatever it is that I’m working on, I find myself being very careful. In an email, it’s probably ok for me to be careful, but in creative writing I shouldn’t be. Neither should you.

Being careful means (in extreme cases) dishonest writing.  It means the writer isn’t conveying his or her conviction – the drive that makes him/her write. If a writer is too busy keeping everyone happy, s/he is going to forget to write his/her message. The writing will flop and the writer will slip into oblivion. No one will have time to read his/her nothing work.

It reminds me of an Anne Lamott quote I read recently:

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“You own everything that happened to you. Tell our stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better.”

This ties into the original statement of “don’t being careful.” I don’t need to carefully please the people who don’t deserve to be pleased. I’m really good at trying to please people. It doesn’t work well in life and it doesn’t work at all in writing. Mr. Miller even said in his talk that people pleasers make terrible writers.

A writer needs to balance empathy and the guts to offend the status quo. Empathy to give voice to the hurting people of the world, and guts to upset the oppressors. Too much empathy and the writer becomes soft to mean people. Too much offence and the writer becomes calloused to the hurting people.

Writers need to stir up some controversy if they are going to have any sort of impact on their society.

What are your thoughts? Do you disagree? If so, sorry.

 

Image Credit: Laura Dart

Image Credit: Karen Salmansohn

Formulary Friendships

Something I’ve struggled with in writing is creating a believable friendship between my characters. There’s the meet-cute, the struggle, the development and the love. Yes, I’m talking about friendship here, not a love story. It has the same elements as a romance story without the sexual tension.
So. What have I come up with? A formula! Because no good writing come from freeverse, right? Well here we go:
How to build a fictional friendship:
– At first meeting, one character doesn’t like the other. He’s fiercly independent, “I don’t need a friend,” etc.
– Soon thereafter or in the same meeting, the one who knows the environment will save the skin of the one who does not know what’s going on. One depends on the other for understanding of the situation. Maybe there’s a bully in a new school or a self importent centaur in the middle of a magical forest. You get the idea. Typically works best if the independent character from step one is the one needing to be saved. Give your character a piece of humble pie. No one’s an island.
– Once the skin has avoided a skinning, there should be a joke the two can laugh about. This can be a funny conversation that crops up throughout the book or a practical joke they play on a less favorable character (the unsuspecting centaur?).
– The conversation drifts to common ground on which to build the relationship.
– The characters have had their own experiences in life leading up to their meeting. Now they need to have some life experiences together. Queue adventures.
– Conflict will make the friendship believable and show the audience that it’s a relationship worth fighting for. I’m not good at writing conflict. Find your own formula for this.
– Boom. Friendship.
I’m open to suggestion on this. What are your thoughts and experiences creating relationships?
Image credit: Made Man

End of the world

It’s not really the end of the world, but sometimes it feels like it. I’m employed full-time again, and I rarely find time in my busy schedule to write. I have been trying to keep up with all of the inspiration I’ve been experiencing, but by the end of the night I just want to go to bed. Though, I do have an adoring public with which comes a demand for production. It’s been a very long time since I’ve written on my blog and for that I apologize. Please stay interested in the writings of Benjamin Brede, because he hasn’t thrown in the towel yet.

The inspirations include a semi-autobiographical short story about a boy whose sister leaves on her first deployment. Also a story about an actress who was so good at pretending to be other people during high school that she had to decide between becoming a con-artist or becoming an actress. Through the help of good people in her life, she made the decision to become a famous actress and use her gift to inspire others rather than cheat them. Though secretly, conning was her first choice. I’ve already posted about a book I have started about Finding Grandpa’s Asparagus Patch. And finally, an Orwellian-esque story about a hippie commune in the middle of a booming metropolis.

Maybe I shouldn’t give away all of my book ideas in one post, but if I don’t have a community of writers and believers keeping me accountable about all the stories I want to write, I may find myself at age 65 with nothing to show for my dream.

And that’s what this is, isn’t it? I live in America for God’s sake. The land where dreams come true, right? So if this is going to become reality, I’m going to need a kick in the pants. Send some encouragement, dear readers. Mr. Brede needs to hear your voice.

 

Until then, I am ever gratefully yours,

Benjamin

More Support

I wrote a post about supporting characters. I want to talk about another element of supporting characters that has little to do with writing.

Supporting characters are the ones who do just that: support. The story is about the protagonist. The world is concerned about the lead character. The supports don’t even make the epilogue sometimes. So please don’t be a supporting character in your own story.

These characters depend on the protagonist to give meaning to their existence, and that works in books. But it doesn’t work in your life. I blame others for circumstances that I don’t want to take responsibility for, or I find excuses for never pursuing the dreams I have. Whose fault is that? The protagonist in my life? Yes! Because the protagonist is me and if I’m not living like that then no one else is going to step up to the plate for me.

Often times people will go through life without taking responsibility for their circumstances. In some cases that is a valid excuse (poverty, illness, etc.), but it’s not an excuse to sluff of one’s personal responsibility, i.e. what he/she does about it.

There was a woman who was sent to the Nazi concentration camps for hiding Jews during WWII. Corrie ten Boom and her family ran a jewelry and watch repair shop in Amsterdam when the Nazis invaded. Her father and sister died in the camps, but she survived due to a clerical error. The week before all the women in her age bracket were to be gassed, she was released.

Before the ten Booms were arrested, they had the choice of sitting back and letting history take its course, or to actively work against the atrocities that were taking place around them. They took action. They were the secret protagonists until years later when their story was told.

Corrie went around the world speaking about forgiveness and reconciliation. She wrote a memoir called The Hiding Place to reach a broader audience. Her life is a painful, beautiful story of someone who had every reason to give up on her own life and succumb to her hatred. But she didn’t.

She met one of the guards from her prison camp during one of her speaking events. The man approached her and asked for forgiveness. He began by saying she probably didn’t recognize him, but she did. She remembered the way he tortured her and her sister and the other women in the camp, and she writhed with righteous indignation. She hated the man completely and had no inkling of forgiving him.

But she remembered what she had spoken about just minutes before this encounter. She remembered how forgiveness releases people from the bondage of hate, and allows the forgiver to live a fuller life.

So she hugged the man and said, “I forgive you.”

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Corrie ten Boom was not a supporting role in her life. Not even in history. She chose to step up and fight for justice, putting herself and her family in danger. She didn’t allow the circumstances to dictate her reaction, and she didn’t allow the Nazis to destroy her spirit. She looked the dragon in the face and said, “Give me your worst.”

Maybe you, like me, have people in your life you need to forgive, even if they don’t deserve it. Maybe you haven’t moved on from a job you hate because it provides security and your boss tells you you have to stay. Maybe you’re living in a climate that grates on your nerves, but you stay because you feel tied down.

Don’t let your circumstances be the protagonist. Step up and claim your place as the hero in your story.

Image Credit: A Haven for Vee

Support

What are supporting characters? When I first think of the term, images come to mind of behind-the-scenes people. The ones without whom the main characters couldn’t function. The unsung heroes of our heroes. These people get credit sometimes, but it’s usually short lived and anti-climactic.

So who are these folks? One of the best known supporting characters (if I may reference Lord of the Rings again) is Samwise Gamgee. He puts Frodo back on his feet time after time. At first you can see the appreciation and love Frodo has for his gardener. But as the ring began to take hold of Frodo, he starts to take Sam for granted; he even tries to send him home when Gollum frames Sam for stealing the Lembas bread.

Does Sam give up? Of course not. Because his character is good. Sam never betrays Frodo during his quest to destroy the ring. Sam does everything in his power to make that journey comfortable and successful.

A supporting character like Sam is one that has spot-on intuition and has impeccable observing powers. Sam knows that they can’t trust Smeagol and he knows when Frodo has reached the end of his rope. Sam is there to keep Frodo moving forward. One of my favorite Samwise quotes is “Come on Mr. Frodo. I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you!” Ugh. It gets me every time.

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Image Credit: Spikes_Girl

That’s one type of supporting character. But that’s not the only kind.

We also have the supporting villain. Shall we stick to the LOTR trend? Grima Wormtongue is a creep. If Samwise uses his words for encouragement and support, Wormtongue uses his words for deceit and manipulation. He destroys King Theoden’s mind, body, and spirit in the name of counsel. Soon the king is possessed by Saruman and is no longer functioning as the ruler of his realm.

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Image Credit: NewsRealBlog

Supporting villains have similar traits as supporting…good guys? I can’t really use “character,” because they’re both characters. Anyway, the traits are similar: intuition and observation. Wormtongue needs to make Theoden’s subjects think that Theoden is still in control while simultaneously undermining his rule. He must have done that when he first arrived in Rohan so that Theoden didn’t realize what was happening until it was too late, but we don’t get to see that part of the story. He also has to keep Theoden alive so that Wormtongue’s influence on the country doesn’t die with the king.

These two examples show the importance of strong supporting characters. Without these people, you might as well throw the plot out the window, too. Even in one-man movies like Cast Away we have Wilson, a genius supporting character who has zero lines.

There are a million other types of supports; the best friend, the significant other, the crazy family member, the coworker, et cetera. But I think I’ve made the point. Characters are humans or based on humans if they aren’t, and humans are social creatures. We gain understanding through the people around us, and they make us who we are. Without supporting characters, we won’t have anything to judge the goodness (or badness) of the main character.

Why I Write

All writers have their own motivation for doing what they do. This is mine.

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I have mentioned the influence my grandpa has had on my storytelling. I grew up watching him spin tales for as long as I can remember. But it wasn’t only his fascinating stories that grabbed my attention; I also noticed how everyone was enraptured when he spoke. Call me vain, but I wanted that kind of attention. I wanted people to think of me as a storyteller. I wanted people to tell my stories to their friends when I wasn’t around.

But I was seven years old. What kind of stories did I have to tell? Grandpa would talk about his cow, Short Tailed Dolly, or about having coffee with some of the old men in town. I didn’t have those kinds of experiences. I went to school, did my homework and chores, and went to bed by half past eight. Nothing story-worthy came from my days.

So I started to write. The first story I wrote was about rescuing a princess from deranged monkeys. I got captured and was thrown in the dungeon. But that wasn’t the end of our hero! I cut through the bars across the window with a butter knife and freed all the other prisoners the same way. We stuffed gunny sacs with straw so the monkeys wouldn’t notice we had left, and replaced the bars by gluing them with Elmer’s Glue-All. I specifically remember the Elmer’s.

That first story awoke a part of me that has never left. I didn’t write much throughout elementary and high school, but I always thought about it. I turned my skills to letter writing and poetry during my early years in college, and took a writing course for short stories.

It wasn’t until I started traveling the world that I realized that my stories needed a home. It took me three years to start blogging, and another six months before I tried my hand at novels.

Today I don’t feel like I’ve completed a day unless I’ve written. Sometimes it’s just a few ideas that I want to work into future books, other times it’s adding several pages to my current novel. Either way, I find words pouring out of my mind faster than I can keep track of them. Which is rather unfortunate when I have a stellar idea and no notepad.

My motivation is multifaceted. I tell stories because I find it very fun, but also because when I tell a story I feel my grandpa close by. I like to think that he’s listening in and laughing just as hard as the people around me. I imagine him following up with one of his own hair-brained tales.

I am the fourth child of six. I didn’t have to fight for attention growing up, but I didn’t always get to have my say. I would get flustered in an argument and forget all the great comebacks I had stored up, and by the time I remembered them the fight was over. Writing helped me get my thoughts down. I didn’t have to worry about being interrupted. I didn’t have someone talking back to me so I would lose my train of thought. It was just me and my pen.

As an extrovert, it’s easy to get caught up in the moment and shout out one-liners during a group conversation. I enjoy that, but I miss out on deep conversation; intellectual, emotional or otherwise. Writing forced me to slow down and appreciate quiet moments. Because of that I’ve learned how to seek out those conversations and dive deep with some of my friends.

I left college trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. One of the questions I kept asking was, “What have you done all your life that you enjoy and you’re good at?” The only answer I could come up with was writing. For everything else I was either good at it or I enjoyed it. Or it wasn’t a reasonable career option (drinking beer?).

Over the years I have learned that it doesn’t matter if anything happens with my writing. I would love to get published and gain recognition for my work, but that’s not why I write. I write because I wouldn’t be satisfied with anything else. I write to honor my Grandpa. I write because I have to.

If you’re a writer, what is your motivation? What keeps you going when the well dries up? How did you get started on this hard, yet so rewarding journey?

 

Image Credit: SSWC2013

Bad Beetle

I had a dream last night about a magical, malicious bug. It was a beetle; six legs,  ivory elytra with intricate black designs painted on its back, clicking pincers in front of its mouth. I’m not a huge fan of bugs, but this one didn’t particularly bother me. I was rather interested in what it was doing.

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I was sitting at a campfire with a few friends. I was dreaming, so I had two points of view. The first being a part of the conversation taking place around me, and the second, I was the narrator. I watched the bug crawl into my pocket, unbeknownst to me. Do you follow? It’s kind of confusing, but wait till the end.

I should probably mention who else is at the campfire with me. To my left is Gimli and Legolas, to my right is Frodo, Aragorn and Gandalf. I think Samwise was elsewhere cooking something.

I was hanging out with the Fellowship, folks. No kidding.

Back to the bug. It crawled into my pocket and laid an egg. But it wasn’t a tiny larva egg. It was about the size of the bug’s abdomen, and it was a the same color, ivory. The bug left soon after dropping the egg. A small spell was left on me from the bug to make me think that the egg was a nut. So I reached into my pocket and ate the snack.

This is when things started getting freaky. The spell grew stronger immediately, and I fell asleep. My friends didn’t think much of it considering it was late at night. The next day, though, I didn’t wake up.

I had become the host to this bug. The bug was of course working for Sauron, and its egg gave Sauron access to my thoughts. As well as the Fellowship’s plan to defeat him. Because, of course, I was let in on the secrets.

When I didn’t awake the next morning, Gandalf knew exactly what was going on. He performed his counter spells and I coughed up the egg. I had the withal to keep most of the secrets from Sauron, but we had to change a few things. Like who was going to deliver the ring to Mordor. We gave it to Pippin, because who in their right mind would give him a mission like that?

Don’t steal the dream, folks. I think it’s going to end up in one of my bestsellers.

Image Credit: Terry Thormin

Throwback Thursday – Mangroves and Water Chops

A throwback to December, 2013. Initial thoughts upon arriving in Indonesia.

 

Mangroves and Water Chops

Going from Batam to the island we were were visiting in Indonesia was an eye-opening experience. The tiny motor boat was quite different than I was expecting. It was like my father-in-law’s boat in which we fish at White Face. It seemed that the pilot didn’t take the direct route from Batam to the island, though I cannot confirm this observation. It looked to me that he was taking the route that had the best views of Indo. He showed us the largest ships, the mountainous islands, the most intricate net structures of fishermen, the delicately detailed roots of the mangroves that kept their trees from touching the ocean. It was a fascinating ride.I saw islands springing out of the water like thousands of moles on an otherwise perfect complexion. Moles that were hairy with trees or so grotesquely misshaped that one should really consult one’s doctor about the high probability of skin cancer.

The second thing I noticed was the boater’s seamless ability to navigate the waters. In the hour and a half I rode with him, I was splashed once. Maybe twice. He knew just how to ride the choppy waves to make them work for him. He used them to propel us at breakneck speeds down the channels formed by cancer-ridden moles.
He also drove in tandem with other boaters. Stoney faced, and barely a glance, he would twitch his wrist just enough to avoid catastrophic collisions. The others seemed to hardly notice him, too. It reminded me of a dance. So fluid were the movements – so innately known – that the artists needed no leader. They saw, calculated, adjusted the rudder, and continued the dance. No toe stamping on this dance floor.
The trees I saw looked like a 17th century lady lifting her skirt and screaming to avoid a mouse running up her dress. The canopy of the tree searched the water wide-eyed, hoping beyond hope that the mouse wouldn’t return. There were sometimes clusters of these trees which only enhanced the perception of dainty ladies screeching from fear of nasty little rodents. When they were alone, like the one below, I felt sorry that she didn’t have a man to come kill the spider for her, or chase away the rats of the night. I later learned that the mangrove is home to hundreds of species of creepy-crawlies, so my initial assessment was completely erroneous.
Soon we arrived at the village in question. Our sore backs and jet-lagged eyes were not prepared for the cultural experiences waiting for us that evening.

Character Development

I read a post by Lynette Noni about character development. The way Lynette talks about her characters is charming and endearing. It makes me think of my characters and the antics they get themselves into.

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While writing a few days ago, something happened to my protagonist. I think I was more upset about it than he was. I was indignant and close to tears when Caspar said, “Dude. Calm down. This is life. This is high school.”

“Well, obviously I didn’t go to that type of high school.”

“Yeah. Obviously you had a different experience growing up than I did.”

And that’s when it hit me. Two things, actually. The first is that I was having a conversation with a fictional character. Perhaps I’m crazy (yes. That’s beside the point)? The second is that I’m not “developing” my character. He’s developing himself. He’s taking control of his actions and responses and decisions, and I’m just on the sideline watching him play out his story. I’m humbled that Caspar wants to tell his story to me.

This is taking a weird turn, so let’s get back on track.

Something that deterred me from writing for several years was the thought that I wouldn’t have enough imagination to create a world, develop believable characters, and get them out of sticky conflict when it’s sure to arise. And a lot of my first writing didn’t even have conflict because I didn’t want to deal with it. #avoider

But in my experience of writing a novel I’m learning that the story, though started by me, is not mine. I am just the vehicle through which the story is being told. If I chose not to write this story, I’m sure Caspar would have found another author to tell it to.

Anne Lamott said that the best thing to do for character development is to stick them into a room with other characters and listen to their conversation. The exercise is to write pages and pages of conversation to see how each character responds. Is he full of himself? Is she a brat? What happens when his archenemy makes a pass at his girl? The next step of the exercise is to not use any of the pages for the actual book. Well, maybe not. But a huge chunk of all those beautiful words you’ve worked all day on are not going to make the cut.

That’s the part that kills me. I want every word I write to count. Unrealistic, but I’m still growing as a writer.

I also have a tendency to help my characters avoid conflict. I’m learning that this is not conducive to my character’s story, because it’s turning into my storyI’m a good storyteller because I like telling other’s stories (sometimes I’ll tell my listeners that it happened to me just to make it a little more interesting). Once I tell my protagonist that he can’t make this or that decision, or say these or those words, he turns into me. And that’s rather dull.

Character development is less overwhelming now that I know I don’t have to make everything up on my own, but at the same time it’s more overwhelming because I have a responsibility to my characters to accurately depict who they are.

Image Credit: BidBeat

Inspiration

I have a goal to put up a new post on this site several times per week. I have been shooting for five times per week. When I start my job, I will probably have to cut that down. Juggling a full-time job, spending time with my wife, having a social life, writing a novel, reading many novels, and consistently writing here leaves little time for niceties. Like being extroverted. Or being in a band.

Did I mention I’m in a band? Yeah. I’m in a band.

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By this time next week, my time will be at a premium. I won’t be able to sit down and write 1500 words in a setting, because I won’t have that kind of time on my hands. So when I sit down, I need to be inspired. Immediately would be nice, but I know that you can’t force the creative process.

A writer said once that she has a routine when it’s time for her to write. It sounds a bit structured, and I don’t know how it works, but she explained it. She does whatever it is she does before she sits down, and through that process her brain realizes that it’s time to start writing.

I shied away from trying to set up a routine for myself. I want to be free flowing and spiritual with my writing. I don’t want to tell my brain when to turn on and off its creativity. It sounds rather predestined to me.

The writer also said that it doesn’t work at first. It takes time and diligence before the brain recognizes the routine (What, work?! I thought this writing business was going to be romantic and fun!). And after a while, she’s been able to do it.

What should we take away from that? The thing that all writers have been forced to face: writing is hard. If someone tells you it isn’t, then he is either lying or is touched with divinity.

I’m going to start practicing a routine next week to get myself into the writing mode. At this point, I don’t have any other idea how to get a lot done in a short amount of time.

Writers, I beseech you: How do you do it?! A nervous employed writer needs your help.

Photo Credit: Robynn: Photography