I saw words in the ink
I wrote until the spiderweb tore
I wrote until their bloody cage broke
I wrote until their blood flowed
I wrote until I set them free
I wrote until their story breathed
© All Rights Reserved Kim Koning.
I saw words in the ink
I wrote until the spiderweb tore
I wrote until their bloody cage broke
I wrote until their blood flowed
I wrote until I set them free
I wrote until their story breathed
© All Rights Reserved Kim Koning.
Imagine being one small part, a word, of a story…Now imagine your skin being part of a global story.
This is what SKIN is.
…while thinking about how much I liked forms that reflected their content, I thought of my unfinished story “Skin,” and suddenly it suddenly occurred to me that there is a kind of “publishing” we already do on skin: tattooing. The idea of publishing a story on volunteers, one word at a time, was only a few mental leaps away. The whole concept of the Skin project leapt into my mind in that moment. I put out a call for participants in summer of 2003…
– Shelley Jackson
2003 – Shelley Jackson came up with this idea to craft a new medium for story. She would write the 2095 word story and then request volunteers to have one word of the story tattooed on their bodies.
…The existence of the author is a necessary flaw in this (every?) story. But this project makes me keenly aware that I am not the only, or even always the dominant voice in it. I recently took great pleasure in watching three “words” coach a fourth, nascent word through her first tattoo: “Have you eaten anything? Here, have this apple. Do you want us to hold your hand?” My presence was a comfortable irrelevancy to them at that moment. Furthermore, my story is being rewritten, one word at a time, by my participants. As my words enter the specific contexts of their lives, they change forever. In the end, 2095 other people will have signed their names to my story…
– Shelley Jackson
Each person would be given a word by Shelley and would then need to tattoo this word on their body. Once accepted as a WORD each volunteer would then receive the complete story. The provision being that they would keep this story forever confidential.
…I was quite serious when I called this a Mortal Work of Art. As words die, the story gradually changes; it’s possible that the first word will die before the last one has been published, meaning that no complete version will ever appear. But I consider each version of the story legitimate; each successively shorter version of the story that will be created by these deaths is the story too, right down to the one-word story that will be its final printed form. If all my words hold to their promise not to share the story, that will truly be the end. The work includes its own disappearance in its aesthetic project, so it is not complete until it is gone. However, like all living things, each “word” has a complex destiny of his or her own, affecting many other lives, and I consider that part of my project too. When I die, the destiny of the project will fall into the hands of the remaining words, who might decide, who knows, to do something different with it than I intended! Some people have asked if they could will their words to their children, creating a second-generation story…
– Shelley Jackson
I love the idea of this project on so many levels. I love the exclusivity of the story only being made available to 2095 people. I love the secrecy and the intimacy of tattooing a story one word at a time on different people around the world. I love the idea of being a WORD in a story in both a figurative and a literal sense.
Tattooing is an ancient art form. I have always been fascinated by the whole process of tattooing.
Who gets a tattoo?
Why they get a tattoo?
Where they choose to be tattooed?
“There is something wonderfully melancholic about a piece of writing that’s living flesh and finally dies and is grieved over.”
– Shelley Jackson
Tattooing is one of the most intimate experiences.
I have long been fascinated with tattoos and I have been designing my “dream” tattoos for years now. I have not yet found the perfect tattoo that I would want inked on me permanently yet so the search continues. But a tattoo is so much more than a symbol or a fashion accessory, in many cultures it is an integral part of the culture’s history and spiritual practices. Tattooing is a bizarrely intimate ritual: a ritual where a person literally carves a symbol, words or an image into your skin with permanent ink.
…the body interests me most as something to write about, not to touch (not in a professional capacity, anyway). I am fascinated above all with using it as a object of fantastical transformations, because we care about the body and we know it intimately, and I think that makes it possible to invest bizarre scenarios with very strong, creepy, personal feelings…
– Shelley Jackson
As a writer alone this bizarre ritual where blood and ink are fused together into a permanent “stain” sparks my imagination.
This long-held personal fascination with tattoos and the desire to seek out their history in different cultures sparked the idea behind The Tattooist my current WIP.
Would you get/Do you gave a tattoo?
Do you prefer Literary (words/quotes/mantras) tattoos or image tattoos?
Would you be a WORD for Shelley Jackson’s SKIN project?
All Quotes courtesy of
Written on The Body: Interview with Shelley Jackson
Images courtesy of Shelley Jackson’s Ineradicable Stain
I love road trips. Always have. It started when I was a babe in my mother’s arms and the minute the vehicle started I was in “happy-land”. I love road trips with no clear destination in mind. You know, those times when you get in the vehicle and just drive following the road as your only map. Travelling fuels my sense of adventure, exploration and discovering the great unknown. The best adventures don’t usually happen on the main highway. They usually happen when you take that pothole-ridden abandoned side-road. There’s a sense of risk maybe even danger. Your adrenaline is fizzing through your bloodstream. Anything can happen. It might not all be good but it will be an adventure.
So what’s road trips got to do with this post. Everything. To get very profound, life is a road trip: unpredictable, risky, mapless, pitstops unknown, destination murky and a complete adventure. But this is not a post on the profound meaning of life. That is for another day. This is a post about writing, story, creativity and inspiration.
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.
– Robert Frost
Writing both as a vocation and the act of writing individual stories is a lot like a road trip. As a writer, words are my vehicle and inspiration is my driver and gritting-your-teeth-clenching-your-knuckles persistence is the fuel that makes this trip possible. With writing even if I start with a map, I usually tend to veer off the main road and take that tempting side-road. Sometimes these side-roads turn out to be dead ends or cliff tops but the beauty of a vehicle is that it reverses as well so I can always turn back. But more often than not these side-roads tend to give me nuggets of pure gold. They give me the little twist in the tail in my plot, they work out that ugly knot you may have written yourself into and sometimes they change your whole plot into something even better.
I am on just such an adventure right now with my two WIPs. One of them is in the final drafting stage and the other is new and shiny and keeps on catching my eye. I had a map with the first WIP, all neatly outlined. But something was not working, some magic was missing. So I figured the map was holding me back. I threw the map away, refueled with some gritty persistence and took the pitted side road. I am about 2/3 way through edits and the characters are driving it. I stopped thinking and directing so much and just let them take the wheel. It does mean that Book 2 is going to change a little from the original map but that is the beauty of a side-road: Change. When you edit a draft, you need to tear it apart, change it up, stretch it thin and then do it again. You have to get brutal with your plot and you have to get brutal with your ego. You have to buckle up and just keep going, hold on through the rocky patches and speed wobbles but stay in the driver’s seat.
As for my new and shiny WIP, this one is going to be a road-trip completely off the map and off the highway. My creative synapses are sparking off major electric sparks of excitement. The story is gritty, the characters are raw and I am ready for this road trip. I am also ready for a new adventure. I do love the final draft WIP but I know what happens on that road trip, I have seen the destination in the distance. This new WIP is a trip into the unknown but so far the landscape is stripped down to that raw and natural beauty you find in a vast desert where the horizon seems endless. It is just the beginning of this story’s road trip and I have already thrown the map away. I am ready for the adventures these characters are going to take me on. My adrenaline is buzzing.
So what about you?
Do you love road trips?
Are you one of those people who has to have a map and navigator?
Are you ready to lose the map and get lost?
Have you ever found you had to change up the whole plot of your story, you had to get muddled to get found?
Vincent Cassel and Natalie Portman, Black Swan 2010
Thomas Leroy: Really? In 4 years every time you dance I see you obsessed getting each and every move perfectly right but I never see you lose yourself. Ever! All that discipline for what?
Nina: [whispers] I just want to be perfect.
Thomas Leroy: What?
Nina: I want to be perfect.
Thomas Leroy: [scoffs] Perfection is not just about control. It’s also about letting go. Surprise yourself so you can surprise the audience. Transcendence! Very few have it in them.
Nina: I think I do have it in me.
Today I watched Black Swan. It had me transfixed. Within minutes of the movie I was lost in this world of hallucination and ballet. But for me the whole crux of this movie’s message is contained in the above conversation between Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) and Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman). Nina (a ballerina auditioning for the principal part in Swan Lake) wants to be perfect. For her,perfection is all about keeping tight control of herself and being technically flawless in her dance. Thomas instead tells her that perfection in art is the opposite. It is all about losing control, letting go, losing yourself and letting the character in the dance transcend the dancer.
This is a movie and a script that polarized movie audiences. People come away from this film, either loving it or hating it. Yes there is no denying there are many disturbing scenes in this film. But are any of them unnecessary. No, in my opinion every single scene was necessary.
But today I want to use this film as a symbolism for writing. When we write fiction, we are creating something that is not true. It comes from our imagination. The characters are the writers’ creations unless they are based on someone in real life. In just the same way Ballet is a form of artistic creation in dance. The audience is expected to be transported to a fantastical world where art transcends reality. In the movie, the Ballet of Swan Lake is the subject. The dancers are supposed to be swans. They do not wear swan costumes but through the movements of the dancers the audience sees swans on the stage. As writers we use our words and our skills to create an image of a character. Sometimes the character is literally described in their physical appearance. But a lot of times we allow the image of the character to come about through sensory language and dialogue. If the writer is skilled the reader (our audience) believes it.
Writers are creatures of imagination one would say. But most writers I know are also creatures of control. We like creating a world that we can mold and control. We like knowing the direction our story is going in. None of this is wrong. In fact at the editing stage this characteristic of controlled perfection can come in very handy. But can a writer be too controlled? Can a writer be too focused in technique and skill? Do we want the reader (audience) to see us (the writer) or do we want them to see the characters?
I think that if I want a reader to be lost in my created world of fiction and to believe the characters I have created are real and make them feel emotions then I need to lose myself. I need to let go. I need to lose control. It is only then when I start truly living,thinking and feeling the character that I find the character. That is when I can breathe life into an ink and paper character and flesh them out into someone living, feeling, breathing and real. I must allow the story to take over. I must let the character speak through my writing. My words and my tone should not be in their mouth. If my character is a forty-year old gypsy man, he needs to talk, move and think like a forty-year old gypsy man. I have to make him real in order for a reader to believe they are listening to a forty-year old gypsy man.
The best art transcends the artist. Story is a writer’s art. In Black Swan, Natalie Portman’s character only starts embracing the role she wants when she starts letting go of herself and she loses all her control. You watch as she battles to tell the real from the make-believe. So the question I have been asking myself with my current WIP is: Have I lost control yet? Have I let my characters transcend me on the page? Some stories are easy to write especially if they are close to your own reality. But what happens when you are writing a story that is completely removed from your reality? This weekend I had an epiphany about my story. I realised I was over-thinking it and over-analyzing it. I was rewriting scenes over and over, striving for some elusive form of perfection. That is when I realised I needed to step away from the story to allow the story to breathe. I have been so focused on editing this final draft that I was losing the story. I was holding too tightly onto my control. I kept on thinking what would my cps or betas think about me when they were reading this story. But it is not about that. Or it should not be. I need to think about what they will think of my character’s story.
So I have decided to take a few days break away from this story. Although it is frustrating that I know that I could finish the final draft in a day, I also know that in the state my mind is in I would have butchered my story and killed my characters. I know that in a few days time when I go back to this final draft it will have been worth the enforced vacation. I love my story and I love my characters. Sometimes when you love something you have to walk away. I know that is a terribly over used cliché but as clichés go it works in this case. I want a reader to get lost in my story. I, as a writer, don’t want to enter their thoughts. Perfection is over-rated and unachievable. As a perfectionist it is incredibly difficult to write that sentence let alone say it out aloud. That is why I have a little troll with bright pink hair who holds a sign saying : Nobody’s Perfect. This little troll sits on my desk within constant sight to remind me that to get to the heart of my story I need to stop striving to be the perfect writer and instead let go and let my characters be “perfectly” believable. What is a story without characters? It is like an office building at night with all the workers sleeping. It loses its purpose. It stops becoming a story.
As a writer, have you ever let your ego get in the way of your characters? What did you do to stop yourself?
As a reader, have you ever read a story and although you know it is technically brilliant, it just feels dead? Would you rather read a story that is technically perfect but has flat and unbelievable characters or would you want to read a story that may not follow all the technical rules but the characters are so alive you believe you know them as real people?
I know which one I would choose.
“Confidence, like art, never comes from having all the answers; it comes from being open to all the questions.” ~ unknown
If you have not watched Black Swan, do yourself a favour and watch it. If you have watched it, watch it again. Watch how Natalie Portman in her role as Nina becomes the role of the Swan Queen. I dare you to watch a movie like Black Swan and walk away unmoved. Love it or hate it, it will make you feel something. If ever I have a book that polarizes readers I will feel I have succeeded. I don’t want readers to think, I want them to feel. I am not writing a thesis. I am not a professor. I am just a story-teller. That’s when I know that as a writer I will have done my job sufficiently. Until then I will keep stepping back and taking stock if ego starts getting in the way. If that means my drafts take a little longer than I want, then so be it. In the end it is only the characters and their story that counts.
Are you ready to lose yourself to find the characters?
- “Glittering of Imagination: The Visionary World Of Surreal And Fantasy” (search.japantimes.co.jp)
- City of Ruin: Mark Charon Newton on His Legends of the Red Sun (omnivoracious.com)
- 5 Simple Steps to Summoning the Writer’s Muse (sharonholly.wordpress.com)
- Puzzled by Plotting? | #1 (kimkoning.wordpress.com)
- I’m not a writer (theradula.blogspot.com)
- Black Swan – The Purest of All (mastershots.wordpress.com)
Today I interview a lady who brings a triple threat of creativity: writer, artist and illustrator. It never fails to amaze me at the endless talent and creativity of the warriors that I interview on this blog every week. Tina Hoggatt is another of these super-talented ladies. She has not allowed bias or criticism to encroach on her dreams, instead she forges on ahead. Having had a successful career in Art she has recently gotten back to her original creative dream: writing. She has also managed to meld together these two creative pursuits in the guise of an illustrator. She has kindly allowed me to include a few illustrations here in this interview for your enjoyment. Without giving too much away, I will allow Tina to do the talking for herself. So pull up a chair and make yourself comfortable as Tina and I sit down for a one-on-one chat.
Welcome Tina Hoggatt….
girl with a quill: Ernest Hemingway famously wrote a six-word story. Tell us a bit about yourself in 6 words. Who is Tina Hoggatt?
Tina: Seriously fun, loves words and pictures.
girl with a quill: When did you decide that you wanted to be a Writer?
Tina: Early on – I didn’t make novels as a child but I did write stories and was fairly clear about it as an identity by the time I was eleven or so.
girl with a quill:How long have you been writing for?
Tina: I was committed as a writer in middle school and had a writing group with a few girlfriends but was discouraged by a mentor at thirteen. This had sexist overtones (‘there are no truly famous women writers; only men are serious writers’ etc ) which I knew were both wrong and incorrect but at the time I lived in between two happily married women painters so I thought I’d pursue art. Who needed the grief? I wrote in my twenties and then committed to an art career, which actually worked, but I have come back to writing in the last five years or so and have been very focused for the past few years.
girl with a quill: Besides writing, what are your other passions / hobbies?
Tina: I make paintings and prints and have been working in porcelain enamel on steel recently, which I adore. I have a letterpress shop in my studio and don’t use it enough.
girl with a quill: Who or what is the greatest influence on you as a writer? and Why?
Tina: The greatest influence on me as a writer were my parents being who read to their children twice a day for the whole of my youth. From this I learned that there needed to be music in the language and that story was king.
girl with a quill: If your life story were a novel, what genre would it be and what would be the story-arc up to this point?
Tina: Contemporary fiction. Late bloomer finds husband and confidence, experiences setbacks and family turmoil, emerges in midlife with clarity and urgency to kick some serious ass.
girl with a quill: Tell us about the place that you write? What do you fill that space with?
Tina: I have two office spaces and a studio and mostly sit at the kitchen table when I write so I can watch the birds at the feeders and see the garden. I also write every day on the bus during my commute.
girl with a quill: Tell us about your writing process from that magical moment when the story’s idea / character voice interrupts your thoughts…what happens next?
Tina: I often see a scene, a character in a place with some very simple action. I may write a page or so that becomes the nut of a story. I’ll write a huge hunk of it, then finesse the plot.
girl with a quill: Are you a plotter, a pantster or a little of both?
Tina: I come from an honest pantser background and have been dragged into plotting, at which I frankly suck. But I’m working on it. Plotting is a time saver and time is what I don’t have enough of.
girl with a quill: What genre do you write in and why?
Tina: I write YA and MG and have created illustrated books. In adolescence crossroads are reached that force a choice about both action and character – defining moments. These happen with much more frequency than in adulthood, at a time when emotions run high. I’m interested in exploring those points and in speaking to them for the reader.
girl with a quill: We all have little habits and quirks that make us individual.
What are your bad habits in writing? What are your strengths in writing?
girl with a quill: If you could try your pen at another genre, which genre would you choose?
girl with a quill: Can you tell us a bit about the book/s you have written?
Tina: I have contributed essays to two books edited and published by fine letterpress printer Jules Remedios Faye, The Ladies Printing Bee and Fallen Angels. What is the Panda to You? an artists’ book in a tiny edition was a collaboration with artist Jeffry Mitchell. I wrote the text, printed the book and collaborated on illustration. I’ve made several other similar editions as well.
I’ve illustrated several books for mainstream publishers, My Jim by Nancy Rawles and Home Field, a collection of essays on baseball edited by John Marshall. I also have some manuscripts moldering in virtual space.
girl with a quill: What is your best sentence you have written?
Tina: Gray and quick and flipper slick, here and gone – yoohoo!
Is it the best? Maybe not, but fun.
girl with a quill: Are you working on any WIP now? Can you tell us a bit about it?
Tina: I’m working on Clickstream, a YA book I’m calling contemporary para-scifi. Boy recovering from the death of his brother is visited by the ghost of his dead dog and a shimmering particle stream of a naked girl from the future, discovering that his brother’s essence has been preserved in an experimental chip developed by his dad, who is working to retrieve him. Complications ensue. It’s about bringing back the dead, bicycles, friendship, comic books and love. Also it’s funny.
girl with a quill: First drafts are for the writers themselves. Who reads your work after you?
Tina: I work on my first drafts with two writing groups in real life and one online group. These are my beta readers for finished work. Also, my mom is an invaluable reader.
girl with a quill: Why do you write?
Tina: At this point it’s a practice, and without a creative practice I turn into a real creep.
girl with a quill: Do you have a common theme or Omni-Premise that threads its way through all your writing? If so, what is it?
Tina: Despite life’s emotional hardships there is friendship, unexpected wonder and joy to be had in this life.
girl with a quill: Do you believe in Muses? If you do, who/what is your Muse?
Tina: My muse is a donkey whose tail I hold as it leads me through a darkened room. Sometimes I bump into the furniture. Sometimes I get a glimpse into another room.
girl with a quill: If you found a golden lamp with a genie and he told you he could either make one of your stories come true or that you could become a character for a short time in another author’s book, which option would you choose and why?
Tina: It has to be a character in another author’s book, to spend time with people I have come to know and love, and see their places.
girl with a quill: What is more important to you: Story or Character? Why?
Tina: My writing is character driven, but without story there is no sustained engagement. I’ve proven this, actually, to my chagrin.
girl with a quill: Who is your favourite character that you have created and why?
Tina: Right now I’m very fond of the ghost of a dog named Gus who is taking time out from a pleasant afterlife to help out a messed up boy here on earth.
girl with a quill: Who is your favourite character in the literary world and why?
Tina: Mary Russell, from the genius mind of Laurie R. King. Scholar, sleuth and wife to Sherlock Holmes – who is no slouch himself.
girl with a quill: If you could throw a dinner party and invite 5 famous creative people, who would they be and why?
Tina: It’s a dinner party, right? There has to be synergy. Mark Twain for sure – he was funny, told fabulous stories and always wore a white suit – at least in his later years. So right there you have a keystone. He’s going to have to smoke outside though. I’ve been in love with Myrna Loy my whole life and Twain would love her brains and sass, as well as her legs – so Myrna’s next to Twain. I’d invite Dorothy Parker but she was a mean drunk and you know there will be drinking. Julia Child’s in the kitchen. She makes great conversation and she’ll sit at that end of the table so she can check the miracle sauce at regular intervals. This dinner will need a poet and a fabulist. Pablo Neruda may feel a little shy at first but he’ll warm to the northerners, and he can recite for us in Spanish. And I think Joan Baez would round out the table nicely. She’ll put everyone at ease and tell surprisingly funny anecdotes, imitate Bob Dylan and lead the singing after dessert.
girl with a quill: If you could throw a dinner party and invite 5 of your favourite fictional characters, who would they be and why?
Tina: All sleuth dinner: Mary Russell, Sherlock Holmes, Nancy Drew (I wanted to be her), Yashim the eunuch and Maisie Dobbs.
girl with a quill: If you could give yourself one piece of advice at the beginning of your writing career, what would it be?
Tina: Don’t quit, it’s a waste of time and talent.
girl with a quill: What is the one piece of writing advice you could give your future self, 10 years from now?
Tina: Don’t quit, it’s a waste of time and talent.
girl with a quill: What do you want your lasting legacy, as a writer, to be?
Tina: The first book you reach for on the bookshelf of a summer cabin.
girl with a quill: Where can we find your book/s for sale?
Tina: You’ll have to wait for a year or two.
girl with a quill: Finally where can we find on the web?
Tina: My blog: http://tinahoggatt.wordpress.com/
My website: http://tinahoggatt.com/
Yesterday I sat in on a tweetchat on twitter. The link to the chat transcript is above. The subject was: The Premise.
So what is “The Premise” of your story?
Bill Johnson defines it as “the Foundation of Storytelling”. He breaks this down even further with:
“A story premise sets out a story’s core dramatic issue, the movement of that issue toward resolution, and the fulfillment that resolution sets up for the story’s audience.”
So to break that definition into even simpler terms:The Premise needs to have the Dramatic Issue of your story, the movement and the fulfilled resolution.
The chat started off discussing individual Premise’ for each story but then evolved into whether as writers we have an omni-Premise for our writing. I have been reflecting quite a bit on this chat and on this subject and came up with what The Premise means to me, my individual stories and my combined writing.
Do you always have a Premise figured out before you start writing a new story?
Sometimes I do but sometimes the Premise grows from something floating above my head to something solid. It grows as I talk to my characters and find out what their story is. The Premise then becomes their answer as to why I am telling their story.
Does this mean “The Premise” is unique to my story or my characters?
No. Many writers and many stories could have the same premise but this does not make them the same story. For instance if you took Romeo and Juliet’s Premise – ‘Great love defies even death’ – I can pull up at least one other great love story that has the same Premise: Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. Now beyond the fact that we know over 200 years separated Mr Shakespeare and Miss Bronte, we also know that these two stories are completely different from one another.
Do all stories have a Premise? and Does a story have just one Premise?
Yes. All stories have a Premise. The Premise is the core and the foundation of your story.
One Premise? This is a catch-22. You could argue that a story could have many different Premise’ but ultimately I believe there is one core Premise that is the foundation. Just like a building of brick, concrete or wood has only one foundation. A story is also a building, it is built from words and imagination.
Do I have an Omni-Premise that is the foundation of all my stories?
Your stories may all be very different whether that be in terms of genre, category or voice. But if you look at them even closer do you perhaps see a thread of thought, call it moral for argument’s sake, that twines its way through all your stories?
I realised that for myself there is an Omni-Premise that is at the heart of all my stories. Indeed I even find that same thread winding its way through my poetry as well.
My Omni-Premise is:
Trials and Tribulations are the diamond dust that polish a noble and pure soul into a shining gem that can survive the heat of any soul-fire and through that polishing it grows into the person it is meant to be.
I realised my stories are about those characters that are viewed as externally vulnerable but have an inner core of independence, refusing to be called “victim”, are always being tested by trials and tribulations. My stories are about survival and my main characters finding the courage to survive against all odds. Indeed it is only through their suffering that my characters find their true path as survivors. I am always drawn to the darker subjects because life is not a bed of roses but a life lived without trials ensures a soul that has not been tested for its true strength. I find my reading habits all have this Premise to them. Of course I read many types of stories being the bookworm that I am but the ones that I re-read and the ones that resonate deep within me all have this surviving in the heart of trouble/darkness/conflict. I guess you could say that though I am drawn to darker subjects…I look for the rainbow after every storm. Without storms there can be no rainbow.
So what is your Premise for the story you are working on? Do you have an Omni-Premise that threads its way through all of your writings? Are you drawn to certain types of stories? Why? What sort of stories do you want to tell?
© All Rights Reserved Kim Koning
Have you ever had reticent characters? Many readers and some writers believe that once you have written a book and created characters it gives you an omniscient presence in your character‘s world. For some this may be true. In my experience though, the opposite is true: instead of being creator and puppet master, I – the writer – am the servant and puppet. For me, my characters lead me down the twists and turns of their story. You see they have already walked it and lived it or are right in the thick of it, if anything I am an observer or a recorder of what they want me to tell the reader.
In my interviews on Warrior Wednesdays I always ask the question: What is most important or what comes first in your writing? The Story or the Character. You may wonder why I ask this. I ask this because in my own writing whether I think I get a story idea first or whether a certain character pops into my thoughts and hearing, ultimately it/they come from somewhere. I could say that I am brilliant and have a million and one stories within me but that would be false. I believe that as a writer we are a medium and a vehicle for our characters to tell their stories when, where, how and why they want to.
OK, I hear you say: so are you hearing voices from the deep dark and beyond. This is getting a little loopy! While if your right brain – creativity – rules you then count yourself loopy. Now don’t worry or look all shocked. I mean that yes you are loopy by the definition of a society where left brainers are the majority. I mean you imagine worlds, people, events, places in your head. By left brain definition you are deluded or hallucinatory or in a simple term loopy.
So back to the question: Do I hear voices from the deep, dark and beyond? To be honest, yes sometimes I have and do hear a voice. It pops into my thoughts and starts speaking. I know it is not me because it does not sound like anything I would say. Sometimes the voice is loud and sometimes it is quiet. For me though, I tend to stop and listen. I have tried the ignore button, even tried the mute button but then I end up with sleepless nights and eventually I just learn to respond. All that is usually needed is for me to listen and then a picture forms in my thoughts of who is speaking. Sometimes this is done by showing me a place first and sometimes it is like staring at my reflection in a mirror and slowly see a figure emerge from behind the door that is closed behind me. Then the who of them becomes a basis of their story. They live and breathe so they must have a story. That is when I put the pen to paper or finger to keyboard, whichever is in the closest vicinity, and write. Voila` a story is born and a character is on the page.
But some stories are different. Some characters like to keep secrets. They may even keep their identity a secret. You may be able to picture them but they do not tell you who they are. This may be because they enjoy the game or the control they have over you and your curiosity at this point. It may even be a method they are using to firstly get your interest in a story and then to keep it by leaving you with mysterious threads. For me this is very frustrating. I am a type A personality and like to be the one in control (blame my german roots) and I do not like surprises. If I am being honest here I also struggle with patience. So this character is like a double-dare and a red flag all at once for me.
In my new WIP, new in that I am at the start but not brand new story in that this story and these characters have haunted me for a while now. I knew I had to get this story written no matter how difficult the telling may be but somehow was coming up against a block. Then last weekend I had the epiphany to switch tracks from the German Professor Perfect to the train conducted by the 6-year-old curious and emotional Kimmi. Voila` the flood gates of inspiration started opening. But I still had a major problem. I did not know the identity of the antagonist. I kept on bumping up against this character. I could see the character but could not get a feel for this one like I did for the other characters. So I set it aside for a while and concentrated on talking to my characters in my NaNoWriMo novel and having a lot of fun with them on Facebook.
In the meantime I had also begun work last night on two writing workshops hosted by Savvy Authors. In one of the lessons, I had to write a full-page synopsis/outline via question and answer mode. So I decided to do the synopsis on my difficult WIP. It was late last night when the email had come through with the first lesson. So I looked at it and thought I would sleep on it and write it up first thing this morning. Well, the sleep idea soon turned out to be turned on its head. The synopsis kept on playing over and over in my head like a stuck gramophone. It got to the point that with 2 hours of broken sleep, I decided enough was enough. I would have to get this synopsis out my head and onto the screen. (The Macbook is never far away.) As I started answering the questions and the synopsis started fleshing out, I felt what could only be termed as a CLICK like something had locked into place or been opened. Suddenly as large as standing right in front of me, I met my antagonist. Just by finally knowing who this character was, a myriad of loose ends that had me stumped were tied up and the whole plot revealed itself to me. You see I could not see past the middle to the climax or the end because this story’s antagonist had hidden their identity from me. Suddenly I also knew why the identity had been hidden. This identity is the secret key to the whole story and demystifies both the protagonists as well.
Now I am not saying that I enjoyed meeting this antagonist as the character is the most sadistic and cruel character that I have yet met in my own thoughts. Just by this I know that I have not created this character. I have never actually known someone this… lets call it shadowed or darkened. But as much as this character scared me to the depths of my soul, I suddenly had the key.
So yes characters keep secrets. Sometimes you find out through clues. But sometimes all of a sudden the secret is unlocked in an instant and it becomes a Pandora’s box. You will not be able to put the secrets back in the box once it is opened. Instead, try to rein in the secrets into one place: Your Characters’ Story. They know who you are. Now it is up to you to find out who they are.
So I ask you now, in light of my character unveiling, what comes first character or story?
Are you – the writer – the creator and puppet master or are you a mere medium and servant?
Ask yourself do you really think you just imagined some of those characters in your head and in your stories? Or are they the Storytellers and you are just a pen and paper?
I had been anticipating my first writer’s conference for about 2 months. I researched all the best online advice I could find on the net. I was ready to network,to observe,to question and to learn. However, nothing could have prepared me for the tremendous dose of inspiration and knowledge on offer at the RWNZ 2010.
From a VP of a top publishing house, to an Editor of another publishing house to an Agent to the many authors, scriptwriters and experts that gave workshops: It was this writer’s jolt of creative electricity. The questioning and learning was definitely achieved. The observing and networking was constant throughout the weekend. The conference venue was tangible in the creative energy that was enclosed in its hallways, ballrooms and boardrooms for 3 incredible days.
Personally, I had registered for this conference with the aim to garner knowledge from experts in the publishing industry. What I have gained from this weekend is immeasurably superior to what I had hoped to gain.
One of the highlights of my weekend was finding critique partners that I can connect with. As much as I enjoy and appreciate the feedback from online critiques, it has been a task set for myself to find critique partners within my home city. This task I can now tick off my to-do list.
Being a writer though, I do not plan to selfishly keep all these creative pearls of wisdom to myself. I am a writer after all and I am a blogger. This means that my writing process is meant to be shared to the benefit of one and all.
Over the next few days I will break down all the workshops I attended into gourmet food for thought. For this blog post though I will give a bite size synopsis of all the tools and tips I learned this weekend.
In the history of all cultures throughout the ages and throughout the world Story-telling has been and is crucial to human health. Every good story has at least one of the crucial elements at the heart of every culture: Love and Romance; Justice and Crime; Trials and Triumph of Good over Evil, Myth and Spiritual. Every story-teller is there to pass on the stories that record the history of nations, that inspire the actions of the present day and that influence the future of tomorrow.
So how do we define good story-telling?
There is a simple test that is a universal standard:
A) Does the story achieve what it sought to achieve?
B) Does the story communicate the story-teller’s intentions to the audience?
There are three critical aspects to ensure the correct outcome of a story:
In the first aspect, the audience simply seeks entertainment. This entertainment needs to satisfy them. The cardinal rule to any story, whether it be audio, visual or written is to never disappoint the audience. In the story they must be supplied with sympathetic protagonists that are believable. These protagonists need to grow through overcoming a conflict. Your antagonist is the instigation or the culmination of this conflict. These characters are the vehicle to carry the emotions of both the storyteller and the audience. The audience will mimic the emotions and actions of the characters that they are invested in emotionally. Though we are rational beings the audience needs its emotions engaged to invest their belief and their hopes in the story.
In the second aspect: Your inspiration needs to be at the heart of your story and needs to be communicated through any means necessary to your audience.
Memory is the mother of Inspiration. For both emotions and rational thought to be in balance, the storyteller needs to be AMUSED in the truest sense of the word. The story-teller needs to be in the presence of the Muses.
The third aspect of a storytellers’ toolkit is Language. You can alter the part that the audience plays in your story by the subtle mastering of some language tools. Painters use different colours of paint to portray a visual image. Musicians and composers use musical instruments and voice to entrance audiences. As story-tellers we need to use our greatest and simplest tools: we need to use our words to paint a picture and to create a world that the audience enters into through the doorway of our language. In a story we are the composer, the painter and the director through the subtle mastery of words.The way we utilise them can bring the reader into the mind of a character or we can put them in the room observing our character.
Our words become our voice. Our sentences become our compositions of sound. Every storyteller needs to learn the art of language and words like a mime uses body language. The language needs to match the scene of the tale. If the scene is full of action, then the language needs to be staccato and terse in character. If the scene is full of conflict the language needs to be restrained and held back. If the scene is emotional, your words need to state the emotion. In any scene your characters need to be infused with depth and emotion. Your characters need to have strengths and weaknesses. Ultimately your audience needs to either recognise a reflection of themselves in your characters or a reflection of people in their lives.
Through all three of these crucial aspects we have the unique power of communicating a world we imagine to the audience’s imagination and touching both their hearts and their minds. For a magical moment in time whilst the reader is engaged in the tale: they begin to believe this world we have created through our words and they begin to be a part of the story themselves. The STORY-PLACE has now become a favourite destination for both the reader and the storyteller. The pen is a powerful weapon that has the power to change thoughts; mold views; create worlds; give power to the weak by giving them knowledge; lastly it has the ability to take us, storyteller and reader, into a world where anything is possible...
This is just a bite size appetiser of this weekend’s conference. Watch this blog for further illuminations on: The Story-Place ~ Crafting the Art if being a Storyteller.
I leave you with this thought:
“In unsettled times like these, when world cultures, countries and religions are facing off in violent confrontations, we could benefit from the reminder that storytelling is common to all civilizations. Whether in the form of a sprawling epic or a pointed ballad, the story is our most ancient method of making sense out of experience and of preserving the past.” – William Collins quote
© All rights reserved Kim Koning.