The Fictorians

Archive for the ‘Frank Morin’ Category

Life vs Story

17 September 2014 | No Comments » | frank

Great SunsetWe’ve seen some incredible stories this month. I know I’ve enjoyed them.

Reading through the posts so far this month, I’ve been left wondering why real life is often so much stranger than fiction. Fiction is make believe, but it has its limits. They’re not the same limits set in our physical world or we’d never accept things like time travel, hobbits, and big magic. Yet those wonderful figments of our imagination are believed and embraced while some events that transpire in real life are rejected as ‘unbelievable’.

Why is that?

In fiction I can have purple unicorns or good fairies or soul-sucking demons and readers will clamor for more. But I cannot have serendipitous coincidences, unexpected miracles, or meaningless tragedy without risking the breakdown of credibility.

As authors it’s a critical element to understand. If we get it wrong, we knock our readers out of the story and they dismiss us as hacks. If we get it right, we suck people into our worlds and spin tales of wonder that can enchant for a lifetime.

First, it’s a matter of setup.

We define our worlds and transport the readers into them. We can set any boundaries we want, and sometimes we set some pretty wild ones.

I developed a story with my kids once that included a completely random magic system. We had a blast with that one because no one had any idea what might come next. It included assault rainbow ponies, fajita blaster go-karts, fifty foot pits of jell-o, and much more. And since we had defined it as a random chance based experience, all of that was believable.

The catch is, once we define the boundaries of a story, we cannot cross them. Once we build a world within those boundaries, everything that happens must be ‘believable’ within the context of that world.

So why are things that happen in everyday life not ‘believable’ in fiction worlds?

That’s the second piece to the puzzle. Life is not story.

Real life is unpredictable, chaotic, and often downright unfair. We don’t know what’s going to happen, and no matter how skilled or prepared or determined the protagonist of our lives might thing we are, there’s no guarantee we’ll win the day, get the girl, or live happily ever after.

A great example for me of the difference is the emotional balance of characters verses the emotional roller-coaster that is life. In a book we don’t like to see characters cry, even though in real life that is a very natural occurrence. We like our protagonists to be level-headed, calm, and kind all of the time, even though many people who should be adults regularly act like spoiled brats or worse.

Third, and most importantly, stories are entertainment. Reality is life.

We escape the stresses and challenges of reality through fiction and therefore it cannot be as unsatisfying as life often is. Authors take readers on an emotional journey that can drag them through the deepest abyss and transport them to the highest levels of heaven, but in the end we need to leave them feeling satisfied or fulfilled. If we don’t, then we’ve failed in our mission.

Life has to be lived, but Story needs to be enjoyed.

Write On

29 August 2014 | No Comments » | frank

TimePieceHave you ever heard anyone say, “Wouldn’t it be great to go back in time to high school and re-live those days knowing what we know now?”

I’ve always thought, “No way!”

If I could take my hard-won experience back in time, it wouldn’t be to high school. Maybe to college. At least then I’d be an adult and I could apply that knowledge to something useful. High school was a pretty crazy time. I didn’t know who I was yet, and no one around me knew who they were either. Getting stuck there with the wisdom and experience of an adult would probably drive me nuts.

There are no shortcuts to wisdom, and that’s probably a good thing.

One ancient proverb says:

Wisdom is knowing when not to do something stupid.

Wisdom is gained through experience after doing something stupid.

We can’t go back in time, but enough wisdom has been shared this month to prevent us from wasting a whole lot more time than we might have to if we all had to learn it all the hard way. I’d like to thank everyone who participated this month. Writing is a long-term commitment and the journey is rarely a simple cruise with smooth sailing. Then again, it’s from those struggles of life that we glimpse the greatest truths and learn the hard-won lessons that really matter. Hopefully now we understand a little better how to pick our battles.

Thanks to the excellent guest bloggers this month. Mark Leslie, Bobbi Schemerhorn, Lisa Mangum, Brian Herbert, and Peter Wacks.

At the beginning of the month, I suggested we’d hear some great advice, and this month’s posts exceeded my expectations. I hope you enjoyed the outpouring of hard-won wisdom and can apply some of it to your life and/or your writing.

Write on.

Enjoy the Journey

25 August 2014 | 2 Comments » | frank

Enjoy the Journey“The road to hell is paved with works-in-progress.”
—Philip Roth

“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”
—Stephen King

“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”
—George Orwell

“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”
—Ernest Hemingway

“Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind, is written large in his works.”
—Virginia Woolf

“Write. Rewrite. When not writing or rewriting, read. I know of no shortcuts.”
—Larry L. King, WD

“When your story is ready for rewrite, cut it to the bone. Get rid of every ounce of excess fat. This is going to hurt; revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done.”
—Stephen King, WD

“Long patience and application saturated with your heart’s blood—you will either write or you will not—and the only way to find out whether you will or not is to try.”
—Jim Tully, WD

“Beware of advice—even this.”
—Carl Sandburg, WD

“I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.”
—Harper Lee, WD

“People say, ‘What advice do you have for people who want to be writers?’ I say, they don’t really need advice, they know they want to be writers, and they’re gonna do it. Those people who know that they really want to do this and are cut out for it, they know it.”
—R.L. Stine, WD

“Remember: Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations.”
—Ray Bradbury, WD

“I think all writing is a disease. You can’t stop it.”
—William Carlos Williams

“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is … the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”
—Mark Twain

“I always start writing with a clean piece of paper and a dirty mind.”
—Patrick Dennis

“Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now.”
—Annie Dillard

“Write while the heat is in you. … The writer who postpones the recording of his thoughts uses an iron which has cooled to burn a hole with.”
—Henry David Thoreau

(Those were a few of the best writing quotes compiled by Writer’s Digest)

I would add my own to the list:

“Writing is a journey, just like life. Some of the best moments will be unexpected and fleeting. Don’t focus so much on the future that you forget to enjoy the present.”

Embarking on a career as a writer is a long-term commitment. It begins with long months and even years mostly spent alone as you hone your craft and develop your skills. Authors who break out as ‘instant successes’ usually take years to get there.

It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. Get used to the idea that you’ll be doing this a very long time. The price may be high, but it’s totally worth it when you see your vision on the page, when your words bring to life the images only you used to be able to see. It is magical, thrilling, and humbling.

To paraphrase an old proverb, A journey of a thousand pages begins with a single word.

Make it the best word you can.
Then write the next, and the next, and the next.
It’s a journey. Enjoy it.

Get Out of Your Own Head

19 August 2014 | 1 Comment » | frank

Calving HeadI loved to write as a teen-ager. I even completed drafts of two novels by filling hundreds of pages of notebook paper with my cramped, almost illegible handwriting. I was going to be a writer, I just knew it. Then I got to college and got side-tracked into other things, including a computer programming career.

My decision to begin writing again years later came rather abruptly and I dove into the process with great enthusiasm. If I could go back and talk to myself as I pounded away on my first monstrous epic fantasy novel, I would applaud the enthusiasm and the tenacity.

I would also say, “Get out of your head.”

I wrote in a vacuum. It was just me and my imagination and my computer. I labored for what became years on revision after revision, with little input from anyone other than my wife until I completed a novel that could never be published. And still I wrote on.

That process did provide ample opportunity to write hundreds of thousands of words, to develop plot and character, and build the basic foundational skills of crafting sentences and chapters. I improved my writing technique, but I missed out on so much more.

Many aspects of writing are solitary, but not all of them. Sure, I have to sit down and type or take up my voice recorder and dictate. No one can do those things for me.

But the truth I wish I had known earlier was that we are not alone.

It was not until I attended my first professional-level writing seminar after years of writing that I began to see the truth. The knowledge gained there helped dispel long-held misconceptions about what it meant to be a professional writer, not just a hobby artist. The writing group the students formed after the seminar became a source of great support.

Since then I have attended many other seminars and conferences. Every time, I’ve met more great people. As my network has grown, so too has my confidence. At first I was usually on the receiving end of advice and wisdom, but that is slowly transitioning. Now I find myself sharing my own experiences and giving advice to newer authors, most of whom are a lot smarter about getting connected sooner that I did.

Writing may be a solitary art, but being a writer is not.

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