Motivational Objects

Often just the sight of some object can motivate writers to put butt to chair and fingers to keyboard, even when they feel like doing something else.  Do you have such an object?

jv pic 011I do.  A couple of decades ago, I put this framed picture of Jules Verne directly above the computer in my den.  The text states, “Keep writing, Steve!” – Jules Verne.  I’m not sure what prompted me to do that, and the whole thing may seem silly, but there’s just something about it…

After all, musicians have long placed a bust of Beethoven atop their piano, and from that perch he gazes sternly as if passing judgment on the pianist’s skill.  I have suggested that some enterprising person could make and sell small figurines of some of the muses as inspiration for their various creative talents.  If offered inexpensively, such figurines might sell well.

But let me get back to my picture of Jules.  It seems ridiculous, but the notion that my literary idol might communicate to me from the grave, urging me to keep writing, is something I find encouraging.  It’s as if he’s allowing me to tap into his dedication and maybe a sliver of his talent.  JV is assuring me that if I keep at it, I’ll improve.  Moreover, when I’m not writing, I feel guilty for letting him down.

Half of you are now wondering if you’re reading the blog entry of a lunatic.  The other half is questioning whether this really worked for me, and I’ll respond to that second half.  When I first hung the picture on the wall many years ago, I think it worked well to instill the daily habit of writing.  I’d be playing some computer game, would glance up and realize Jules Verne himself had commanded me to write.  So I’d click out of the game and write.

In other words, yes, that very personalized object did serve to motivate me.  These days, with the daily habit of writing well formed, and with several of my stories published, I’m not sure I need the framed picture any more.  But Verne still stares from my wall, and will do so until I can write no more; I can’t imagine taking it down.

I’d welcome your comments on this idea.  Would a motivational object work for you?  Do you already have one?   I suppose I’d even take comments about my sanity from the half of you with strong feelings on that subject.  In the meantime, I’ll resume work on my next story; after all, Jules Verne himself has given an order to—

                                                                   Poseidon’s Scribe

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Describing Your Characters’ Feelings

How are your characters feeling?  It’s important for your readers to know.  I’ve written an earlier post about conveying a character’s thoughts, and another one about facial expressions, but it’s time to tackle emotions.

For this blog post I’m going to regard ‘feelings,’ ’emotions,’ and ‘moods’ as being synonymous, even though neuroscientists draw distinctions between these terms.

Emotions are part of the human experience, and seem to result from how we’re hard-wired, what our individual background has been, and a recent external or internal stimulus.  Since we all have emotions in the real world, the characters in your fiction must have them too, to make them convincing.

Whether there are six basic emotions, as depicted by Dr. Paul Ekman…


…or eight as pictured by Dr. Robert Plutchik…

591px-Plutchik-wheel.svg…writers just need to know there are many emotions, and characters can feel them in combinations and in various intensities.

As a writer, it’s your job to convey these emotions to the reader with clarity and accuracy.  There shouldn’t be a doubt in the reader’s mind about what a character is feeling.

How do you do that?  Here are some guidelines to follow:

  • Make sure the emotion is appropriate.  Remember, it’s based on a character’s background, but is also a response to a recent stimulus.
  • Show the emotion through the character’s actions:  speech (not only what is said, but word choice and tone of voice), facial expressions, hand motions, or body posture.
  • Show the emotion by describing the character’s thoughts or mental state.
  • Use metaphors and similes, but shun clichés.
  • In certain situations (fast action scenes, very short fiction, or if applicable to a minor character or sub-plot), just tell the character’s emotion.  This is not as effective as other methods and indicates amateurish writing  if used too often.

If you get stuck trying to portray a character’s emotion in words, one technique that might help is to recall a time when you had that feeling yourself.  See if you can draw on that memory and maybe even recreate the emotional state within yourself.  If you can conjure up within yourself the same emotion your character is feeling, you stand a good chance of finding words to describe it.

There are some helpful websites that list adjectives useful in describing emotions, notably this one and this one.  But I caution against an over-reliance on such adjectives.  It’s more effective to show emotions through a character’s actions or by describing what’s going on inside the character’s mind.

How did this blog post make you feel?  Are you now confident you can convey a character’s feelings in a more precise way?  I welcome comments from you on this topic; in fact few things in life bring greater joy and serenity to—

                                                      Poseidon’s Scribe

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Your Author Platform

Several years ago, the writing world buzzed about the concept of “author platform.”  Here I’ll briefly define the term, state the purposes of these platforms, describe mine, and offer thoughts on yours.

There are many sites where you can get a good definition of author platforms, notably here, here, and here.  Basically your platform consists of the ways you use to stand out in the crowd, the methods you use to attract a fan base of readers.

An author platform starts with your stories, your books.  From a platform point of view, it’s best if they have something in common—genre, theme, style, etc.  But the other aspect of the term platform is how you connect with readers.  Not just how you connect books with readers, but how you connect you with readers.

There are many ways to do that, including appearances at conferences and other venues, interviews, and your web presence.  Web presence includes blogs, social media, e-mailed newsletters, etc.

What’s the purpose of this platform?  In the ‘old days’ publishers would build a platform for the author.  No more.  Now it’s expected the author will take out saw and hammer and construct it herself.  If a publisher or agent sees that a writer has an existing platform, that represents a low business risk, an established product that’s ready to sell to already-waiting customers.

Readers don’t need to know about platforms, but they do enjoy connecting with authors they like.  When they take delight in a book and do a web search for the author and find a rich and varied web presence, they feel they can join the author’s circle.  When they find the author has other books just as good and similar in some way, they feel comfortable shelling out money for them because there’s a familiar consistency there, a set of established expectations.

For authors, the platform serves the purposes of connecting to both readers and publishers in the modern, web-based world.

Author PlatformAs for me, my platform is still under construction.  I’ve mainly been working on writing stories, as many as I can.  Although I’ve dabbled in different genres, I’ve found I enjoy writing about the problems of people dealing with new technology, especially in historical and foreign settings.  The stories in the series What Man Hath Wrought, put out by Gypsy Shadow Publishing, are the best examples.

My web presence is slowly increasing, by means of this blog, Twitter, and my author page on Amazon.  I’m still working on Facebook and other venues.

What about your platform?  My advice is to do what works for you.  Start with writing stories; hone your writing skills.  If you can get some of them published, even at non-paying markets, that at least gets your name out there.   Then work on the various marketing methods.  As you try things, pay attention to sales and spend more time on things that increase sales and less time on things that don’t.

As with any trend or movement, a backlash is forming with respect to platforms.  See section 3 of this entry.  I think Jane Friedman’s advice to new fiction writers (for whom I write my blog) is sound.  Just write.  Think about writing, focus on writing, enjoy writing, and let the marketing develop later.

What are your thoughts on author platforms?  Feel free to leave a comment and let me know.  In the meantime, see that guy trying to erect some sort of raised dais there in the middle of the internet, using two-by-fours and bailing wire?  Don’t laugh, that’s—

                                                              Poseidon’s Scribe

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A File Full of Ideas

If you’re a writer, do you keep an “Ideas File?”  You might have a different name for it, but I’m speaking of a single place where you store ideas for future stories.

The philosopher Socrates opposed writing anything down, whether it was a good story idea or not.  He had his reasons, but it occurs to me the world would never have heard of Socrates if his student Plato hadn’t written down much of what the great philosopher said.  Similarly, you could trust your memory to retain all the story ideas that occur to you.  Or you could type them or write them by hand and store them for later retrieval.  It seems obvious that, as writers, we’re not adherents to Socrates’ school of thought in this regard.

Ideas FileIt doesn’t matter what form your Ideas File takes, whether it’s an electronic file, a paper one, or a list on a white board.  The important attributes are that it’s available to you for storage of new ideas and for later retrieval.

The ideas you store there will likely be based on flashes of insight you get when your mind is otherwise idle; when you’re commuting, or cleaning the house, or taking a shower.  These idea sparks can also occur based on reading books, magazines, or newspapers; or from listening to radio or audiobooks; or from watching a movie or TV show.  Suzanne Collins, author of The Hunger Games trilogy, said she got the idea for the series’ first novel from the juxtaposition of two TV shows while flipping channels.

The entries in your file can be basic story ideas, plot layouts, character descriptions, images of settings, even just metaphors or clever turns of phrase.  The file can contain a combination of all of these.  The file can be organized or not; order doesn’t matter until the file gets quite large.

Your attitude toward your Ideas File is important too.  Don’t worry if the number of entries grows and grows and you never seem to be using any of the file’s ideas in your stories.  Don’t berate yourself if you look back over early ideas and they appear stupid or juvenile.  It should give you a good feeling to peruse the file from time to time, especially when you’re stuck for an idea.  That’s what it’s for.

Let’s look at things from the point of view of these ideas, the thoughts you’re putting into the file.  They each start life in your mind.  At that moment you’re enthused about them; they take on a sure-fire, best-seller glow in your mind.  You write or type the idea and put it in your folder, only because you are in the middle of another project and can’t flesh this idea into a story right now.

The idea then sits there in your file for a while, maybe years, along with other ideas.  It waits there for you to come across it again.  When you do, the idea might look worse than it did before, or the same or even better.  Sometimes the idea appears to lack something, but combining it with another idea lifts it to greatness.  Sometimes a poor idea sparks an unrelated good one, for reasons you may never understand.

As for my own Ideas File…well, there’s little point in telling you anything specific about it.  I’ve kept it for decades now and its entries span the spectrum from idiotic to pretty good.  If I described my file or its entries, I’m afraid it might cause you to construct your file in some way that doesn’t fit you.

If you’d leave a comment, I’d love to hear about whether you think such an Ideas File would be useful to you.  If you already have one, has it helped you?  While I await the deluge of comments, I’ll thumb through the files of—

                                                               Poseidon’s Scribe

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