Tag Archives: Marie Bilodeau

For Stage Or Page

A guest blog by Marie Bilodeau

Back in 2005, I wasn’t getting published. I had lots of stuff in the mail (SASEs, anyone?), but not many bites. I stumbled across storytelling, a performance art completely revolving around stories. I fell in love (with the idea of a captive audience, as most audiences are too polite to walk out). I took a class, started telling, and I’ve now had the chance to be a professional storyteller for 13 years, telling stories across Canada and the United Stated, in lovely settings like theatres, and shiny settings like under disco balls.

In my early days, I thought that stories I’d tell would be great to published, and vice versa. Except for a few exceptions, I have been utterly and completely wrong. But this is so that each story can shine in its own medium, much like books don’t always translate well to movies.

The “why” is still a question that haunts me (haunts may be the wrong word here), but I have unearthed a few reasons:

The Thread

Like most storytellers, I don’t memorize my stories. I get up there and let the words flow (I do practice them, however. Sometimes.)

To make a story memorable, I typically memorize (more or less) three things:

  • my first few sentences (so I can nicely set the stage)
  • my last few sentences (to nail it)
  • a few images / pieces of dialogue (to make it memorable / stand out)

Everything else has to flow for the audience to be able to follow (their brows furrowing is super distracting while you’re telling) and, to accomplish that, I also have to find the story thread. That’s the core of your story – the journey that everything hooks onto, from action to characters, so that it’s easy enough for the listener to sit back and enjoy the journey.

It doesn’t mean your stories are simple or that the thread is obvious! Think about some of the earliest oral storytelling examples: Epics, myths, legends, fairy tales… they all have similar beats. That’s the thread.

Also, and perhaps most importantly, if you know your story thread and you get lost while telling (a banging door, a screaming child, your feet hurt, you’re sweating under the spotlights), you can easily hop back in your story and improvise your way back because you know where to go. The teller must never break their own spell, after all.

The Audience

Your audience is there with you. You’re sharing a story, not just living it alone. You can throw in movement, song, a glance that highlights sarcasm. You’re living a story together, so you adapt as you go, to get your audience to feel or react in the best possible way. You can develop in-jokes, which you share only with your audience.

Because of the audience, the stories are never told the same. And because of you, the teller, they’re always a bit different.

You’re not just words. You’re a full package experience!

The Silences

These are similar to the breaks and white spaces in writing. But in telling, the hardest thing to get used to, and the most important, are the silences. It’s letting that empty space sit, so that your audience can digest something you’ve told them, make the connections and follow where you might be heading, sit with their emotions for a few moments. And you’re holding them by looking at your audience, sweeping over them and making eye contact, and they’re looking back, and every second feels like an eternity. You’re not there to hide, my friends. You’re there to deliver the story, silences and all.

Telling and writing may not be interchangeable (fully), but I know that they’ve helped each other get better. I’m better at story because of both of these art forms. Parsing a story differently is a great skill to develop, so even if the stage is not for you, definitely find a different medium to try out. Those skills will be handy in one way or another.

Check out some storytelling! 

About Marie Bilodeau: mariebilodeau
Marie Bilodeau is an award-winning science-fiction, fantasy and horror writer. Her latest book, Nigh, which she fondly describes as a “faerie-pocalypse,” is currently being serialized in bite-sized chunks, and is all about exploring tension through setting. Find out more about Marie at www.mariebilodeau.com.

Things that go Bump in the Night

A guest post by Marie Bilodeau.

Nigh_Cover“T’was a dark and stormy night…”

Settings can be tense little buggers.

They can be dark, scary, unknown places your characters have to wade through. Death traps waiting to munch them whole. Riddled with more evil than the brownish liquid in your fridge you think used to be a cucumber. They can be out to kill characters for no good reason aside from the fact that they’re in them.

Settings can be heightened to add tangible or intangible tension to your story, through simple texturizing or plot impacting game changers. Here are a few ideas to keep in mind when trying to heighten story tension through setting.

1. The Unknown
The things that your characters don’t know about where they’re headed can make everyone uncomfortable. Characters can theorize and try to guess, even from legends or stories. But not knowing can be freaky, because then all things are possible.

2. The Known
Flipside. Your characters know exactly how the upcoming landscape will try to eat them. How their eyes will explode out of their skulls if they misstep. It’s scary, because we know you brought cannon fodder along and we’re waiting to see who gets hit how badly. (Or doesn’t. Tension isn’t from what happens, after all. It’s the promise of what might happen. Just deliver on those promises often enough that you don’t lose reader trust.)

3. The Creep Factor
This falls into texturizing your setting. Is it a lush garden with big-eyed bunnies bringing magical carrots to your heroes? Is it an oil-covered jagged mountain that’s partly on fire? Does it smell like roses or iron? Can we hear birds or screams in the background? Think about what would heighten your story.

4. It’s a trap!
Don’t underestimate contrasts. A happy setting might put your characters and readers at ease. Good time to hit them with something painful. Like a landmine. Or a neck eating bunny. A gushing spray of blood is more striking in the light of a perfect day than it is in pitch darkness, after all.

5. Choice vs. Unchoice (that’s a word, right?)
This depends on the kind of story and character you’re writing, but does your character have to go through the bad setting? Or do they choose to do it? Choice can be powerful, and settings shouldn’t be left out. If your character chooses to go through the Swamp of Eternal Death instead of taking the Path of Happy Chocolate Making, they’re either a badass, completely insane or has no choice. How your character choose their path (if they have a choice) will impact how your readers view them.

6. Interpretation
How your characters view and interpret the setting will reveal, in subtle ways, your character’s background and experiences, without having to hit your readers over the head. Settings breed familiarity and comfort. Where we find comfort reveals a lot about us. I, for one, would not be comfortable in the Swamp of Eternal Death, for example.

In story, conflict and tension play a dance in every scene, keeping that elastic band so tight that your reader can’t put the book down at night. My favourite e-mails are from people having missed a bus stop because of my books, or a full night of sleep. I get no greater pleasure as an author.

Keeping that elastic tight, however, without making it seem tedious or overwrought with internal conflict can be a tough trick. Looking at how to heighten tension in different and subtle ways, like through your setting, might be something worth considering.

About Marie Bilodeau: mariebilodeau
Marie Bilodeau is an award-winning science-fiction, fantasy and horror writer. Her latest book, Nigh, which she fondly describes as a “faerie-pocalypse,” is currently being serialized in bite-sized chunks, and is all about exploring tension through setting. Find out more about Marie at www.mariebilodeau.com.

When the Well Runs Dry

A Guest Post by Marie Bilodeau

Marie_TurtleI’ve always seen my career as a long-term one. Whenever I envisioned my future self as a novelist, I pictured a steady growth in sales and popularity. I hardly ever dreamt of immediate bestseller success, since I’d seen so many fizzled careers based on that first, all too successful, difficult to follow up book. I wanted to make sure that I was steady, confident in my own voice and that I kept producing good stories while growing my fan base.

I sold my first book in 2008, followed mere days later by the sale of a second book. Both books were the first of a series. I was thrilled, to say the least. My publishers, both (then related) small presses, had great reputations, and I couldn’t wait to work with them.

One of those books was Princess of Light, first in my Heirs of a Broken Land trilogy. I sold it with the synopses for the next two books (which I kinda-not-really followed in the actual drafting). The agreement was that each book would come out within six months of each other, starting in March 2009. That basically meant that my next year was dedicated to these books. Drafting, rewriting, editing, reviewing final proofs from my publisher, all while maintaining a day job and paying my bills. I’ll admit – quite a few other things dropped from my plate then. Hobbies that weren’t writing related, friends (most of whom I rediscovered after the madness ended), TV shows, cooking… You know, life.

It was a mad rush and I loved it. I lost myself in the Heirs of a Broken Land for a whole year, getting the last two books drafted while bringing all three to print-ready volumes. I lived, breathed and dreamed those books, and because of that, they possess a raw energy that I would now find difficult to reproduce. They’re better for it.

After the last volume, Sorceress of Shadows, came out in March 2010, it was time for my other book, Destiny’s Blood, to release in October 2010 (thank goodness for differing production schedules!). Final edits were sent in (I’d done requested structural edits already, among all the insanity of the Heirs). Oh, did I mention all the media work, books launches, website work, etc. that goes with three released books in a year?

Destiny’s Blood wasn’t even out yet when my wonderfully story-driven and perceptive editor, Gabrielle Harbowy, asked for two more books in the Destiny series.

No problem, I thought. I’ve done this before. With much shorter timelines.

Except, when I came to write it, I blocked. I thought at first it was the story. I hadn’t anticipated returning to the world of Destiny, though I loved the ship and characters very much. But I couldn’t get it to gel. Getting my butt in chair was nearly impossible. Words came out like razor blades – painful, and they left me wounded and a bit on the bitchy side.

It took me a while to realize that I’d burnt out. That the mad dash of Heirhad left my words clunky and my mind tired. Both were now blunted.

I tried to work through it, I really did. I had to inform my editor that I wouldn’t make my deadline for Destiny’s Fall, the second book in the series. My pride has yet to recover.

I decided I‘d take a weekend away at a convent, in a quiet solitary retreat, to work on it. Get maybe another 10,000 words, which might bring me halfway. I wasn’t ready for the silence and being alone with my story. I wasn’t even willing. I was just desperate and tired. I enjoyed a (rare, thank you) meltdown that first night and went home.

Obviously, trying to force the story wasn’t working out.

I took some time to myself. I spoke with other writers. I read books on writing. I read good fiction and got excited about story again. I let myself become immersed in someone else’s world, with no expectations. I rediscovered what I loved about story. How it provides guidelines and inspiration for our own lives. Something to strive for.

After a summer of recharging, I went back to the convent, feeling refreshed and ready to tackle a new challenge. I thought I’d get 10,000 words down. But I’d refilled my story well so effectively that as soon as I opened the floodgates, I couldn’t stop writing. In three fantastic, crazy days, I wrote 45,000 words. I don’t think my fingers stopped. I don’t believe I slept. I just wrote. I let the story carry me.

I learned that refilling my story well regularly is necessary. See pretty things, do stuff I like, talk to friends and read good books. Whatever you need to keep the thoughts inside you fluid, and to keep the words flowing.

It’s worth it. The burn out and the dry well are like razor blades – it’s to all our advantages to avoid bleeding out.

Nigh_Cover

Guest Writer Bio:

Marie Bilodeau is an Ottawa-based storyteller and science-fiction/fantasy writer. Her writings have been nominated four times for Canada’s biggest SF award, the Aurora Awards. Her new dark fantasy series, Nigh, is slotted to be released this November. She’s told stories across Canada in theatre houses, tea shops, bars and under disco balls. Find out more about Marie, her writings and upcoming shows at www.mariebilodeau.com.

The Tax Man for Canadians, Part Two

 

When you’re doing your taxes, you’ll need receipts for your expenses for the previous calendar year (for example, in April 2014, I’ll be claiming expenses I incurred between January 2013 and December 2013). The receipt for the computer I bought five years ago isn’t claimable, even though I used it this year to write stories. I also can’t claim gifts, like my desk chair.

 

Saving your receipts is critical. Without receipts, you have no proof of the expenditures you made. Always assume you’re going to get audited; receipts are required to show that your claims are legitimate! Here are some examples of expenses which you can claim on your taxes. Some of them may surprise you…

 

– If you write at home, you can claim a portion of your living space as a workspace. Travelling through the house on your laptop doesn’t count! This would be the portion of your living area where you have your desk and do most of your administration and writing.

 

– You may be able to claim certain portions of bills for communication tools. In my case, I use the Internet to submit stories, learn about calls for submissions, publicize my writing, and research for stories. I’m not going to be able to claim a portion of my telephone expenses, because I do all my writing business via the internet. If that changes in the future – if I have an editor or agent who regularly contacts me by telephone – then I may start claiming phone expenses as well. This claim is based on a percentage – how much of the total use is used for business purposes – and an accountant can help you figure out this calculation.

 

– Tools and equipment for writing, which may include a lap top or desktop computer, word processing software, desk, chair, and data backup.

 

– When you buy a book, save the receipt – it counts as “research material,” since by reading, you’re learning the techniques of effective storytelling and staying current on what’s being published in your field. But be judicious. If you’re selling your work as a short story writer or novelist, you’ll have trouble justifying the purchase of screenplays or graphic novels as “research materials”.

 

– Courses, seminars and conventions to improve your craft and/or network with others in the writing field. Marie advises she can claim travel to two conventions a year, and receives credit for approximately 50% of her expenditures. This includes registration, travel costs, and hotel fees if applicable. Note that these cons are for business purposes. I’ll be claiming Ad Astra, where I met with an editor, and Can-Con, where I presented panels to promote my writing. I won’t be claiming TFCon, which I attended for pleasure, not writing-related business.

 

– And while you’re travelling, save your receipts from meals. You will need to write on the receipt itself how the meal related to your business, ie, breakfast at a convention, lunch with an editor. Don’t claim alcohol. Incidentals, such as coffee or tea, are questionable. Also, keep in mind that if you’re part of a writer’s group that likes to get together over dinner to edit each other’s work, that will likely not count as a professional expense. It’s the difference between a bunch of co-workers getting together, and a working lunch with a potential client.

 

Marie Bilodeau, who’s been claiming her writing income for the past five years, strongly recommends the services of an accountant, preferably an accountant who will represent you if you are audited. This service is a bit more expensive but will be worth the peace of mind knowing that if your taxes must be justified, the person who did them will be responsible for performing the justification. The figures to claim the correct percentages for small business income can be quite complex for someone unfamiliar with tax preparation. If you’d like to save money, Marie recommends creating an Excel spreadsheet tracking your revenue (income) and expenses, with the receipts to justify your entries. Having this information organized (rather than making the accountant do it) may entitle you to a discount. Always speak to your accountant to clarify the fees and the services you will receive for that money.

 


 

Here are some more links that may be of help:

Mystery Writers Ink’s Tax Tips for (Canadian) Writers: http://mysterywritersink.blogspot.ca/2011/01/tax-tips-for-writers.html?m=1

Canada Revenue Agency: Visual Artists and Writers: http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/E/pub/tp/it504r2-consolid/it504r2-consolid-e.html