Tag: inspiration

Author’s note: This post was first published November 3rd, 2010.  It looks like Sarah is on blog hiatus.  Still, feel free to comment.  As I am busy climbing a mountain now, I’ll respond to all comments when I return.  Thanks!

Sarah over at The Wit and Wisdom of Another Sarah (you should go check out her place if you haven’t already!) had a great post last week about Alfred Hitchcock–and his various projects and cameos.

We as writers are no strangers to the advice: “Do something different!”  We hear it everywhere from writing how-to books to forums to blog posts to writing conferences.  Originality is a pretty key element of good fiction, and arguably–although in film rather than fiction–Hitchcock was the master at finding original approaches to familiar story elements.

Here are a few examples:

**In Psycho, he kills off the main character halfway through the film, something never done before.  The genius is, of course, that this is the last thing the audience suspects, so the rest of the film feels untethered and eerie–the very effect Hitchcock was no doubt going for.

**North By Northwest upped the stakes when Hitchcock turns what could have been a run-of-the-mill chase scene into something truly memorable by substituting a biplane for a car.  Those scenes where Cary Grant runs across the flat Illinois scree being buzzed by a crazed pilot in a Stearman biplane are downright iconic–and tremendously dramatic too.  The chase scene across Mount Rushmore at the end of the movie is equally memorable.  Reinventing the usual movie chase scene by changing one element to something unexpected, he raised the tension and drama to the next level.

**Lastly, The Birds set the standard for transmogrifying an ordinary element in the everyday world into a truly terrifying phenomenon–long before Stephen King and his ilk picked up that baton.  Who’da thunk it, that someone could take the most ordinary everyday creature and turn them into a terrifying plague?  Hitchcock, that’s who.

Yeah, Hitchcock had the mojo when it came to flipping assumptions on their heads, and there’s a lesson for us all.  The next time you’re working on a scene and it feels unoriginal or flat–a problem that comes up often as I plug away at my NaNo project–ask yourself: “What Would Alfred Hitchcock Do?”  You may be surprised with the results.

What about you?  Do you have any similar tools that help you keep your fiction fresh and interesting?

Author’s note: This post was first published October 27th, 2010.  Please feel free to comment.  As I am busy climbing a mountain now, I’ll respond to all comments when I return.  Thanks!

When we paid a visit to Rome in July, I snapped this picture of an outdoor stone staircase near the Colloseum.

The wear and tear on those steps, the way the curves seemed to speak of a several hundred years-long process of people walking up and down them and wearing them down, really fascinated me.  If my travel companions hadn’t been tugging gently on my sleeve–“Come on,” they urged.  “We have a ton to see!”–then I probably would have spent the morning taking a million and one snapshots of this set of stairs.

Many images and objects I come across in daily life make me think of writing, and the writing process.  My environment gets me thinking, or, rather, I puzzle at the writing process utilizing an objet du jour–a set of stairs, for example!–as a sort of lense through which I filter my thoughts.

In this case, the steps made me wonder about the stages involved in writing, in the step-by-step process of taking the barest seed of an idea, developing it, first-drafting, marching right through Revision Hell (sometimes more than once!), getting beta and second-reader eyes on it, querying, and if everything goes really well, maybe even finding an agent and getting the durn thing published.  What we all hope for, right?

The staircase becomes a metaphor.  What could be simpler.  But looking at that staircase, another set of thoughts hit me.  As the steps led from the most ancient part of the city to the Colloseum, no doubt they were heavily travelled.  Over the years, countless travellers on their way to Gladiator Games or Chariot Races must have climbed or descended them with nary a thought as to their construction, or with any true understanding of their utility. 

Yet there must have been a certain class of citizen–perhaps the Colloseum workers or the Senatorial runners (whose job it was to run messages back and forth all over the city–the ancient equivalent of e-mail)–who knew those steps better than anyone, who knew every crease in the stones, the measure of every riser, the missing knots and blemishes worn slick by sandal and shoe, who knew the spots to avoid, the safe passage.

After all, they’d been up and down those steps a whole lot more than the average bear, fallen a few times, picked themselves up, dusted themselves off.  They’d successfully traversed those stairs in darkness, sometimes when the rains blew in, or in the newday light of morning when the stones were slick with dew.  Those few had skipped the tricks of the trade and learned the trade instead, a process which granted them a wisdom not shared by their peers. 

Their continued success was built on that wisdom.

As writers, I think we share the same challenge.  The best way up the hill may not be the fastest, or the safest, or the easiest, but it’s up to us to discover what works, to uncover our own set of rules.  As I thought about this, and tarried to marvel at those majestic stone steps, I realized when it comes to writing, my stairway looks a lot like this:

Clearly, I have plenty of work to do.  😀  But I am committed.  I want to keep building, learning, discovering.  Someday, I want my writing process to feel as weatherworn and understood and real as those beautiful Roman steps.

_ _ _ _ _ _

But wait!  The story’s not over yet!  Hours later, over a beer and in a goofier state-of-mind, I wondered what the stairs for different types of fiction would look like.  I mean, would Horror look different from Science Fiction?

After some snooping and hunting around on the intertubes, here’s what I came up with.  Enjoy!

Short Fiction:
Experimental Fiction:

Mystery/Thriller Fiction (DL, I’m looking at you :D):

Epic Fiction:
Horror:
Historical Fiction:
Fantasy:
Science Fiction:
Romance:
Combat Fiction:
Pantser Fiction:
Plotter Fiction:
Writer’s Block Fiction:
Unfinished Fiction:
Here’s hoping my upcoming NaNoWriMo project–and yours too if you’re doing one–doesn’t end up looking like the last two!  What about you guys?  What would your fiction look like as a set of stairs?  Or any other architectural device for that matter?
Hope you’re having a great hump day, and don’t forget to stay groovy!

NaNo, Day 5!

I’m feeling a little retrospective today.  I guess it’s sortof a weekend thing.  Less going on–at least as far as the work routine goes.  And it’s also nice to spend some much needed time with the family.

I hope this post finds you well and moving up that thin gray line on the Nano Stats tab.  If you’re like me, then the initial energy of getting started, of being excited about the idea is starting to fade, even if the shift is barely perceptible.  In another few days we’ll get into the territory where the act of scribing all these words on the page will stop feeling like a sprint and start feeling like a marathon.  It’s not that the idea and the characters aren’t speaking to us any longer; rather the day in, day out of the grind will begin to take its toll.  Fatigue will begin to set in.

And that is when we need to revisit some of why we’re doing this, to keep the batteries recharged.  And to remember why this story inspired us, and to continue to fuel the fire of imagination that is the engine that keeps us moving forward.

So enjoy this great video–an amalgam of my personal favorites: Gene Wilder singing “Pure Imagination” from the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, paired with amazing footage from one of the most imaginative companies making films today: Pixar.

Stay with it.  And have a great weekend!  😀

“I don’t care if it hurts,
I wanna have control,
I wanna perfect body,
I wanna perfect soul…”

–Radiohead, “Creep” (video at the end)

SO HERE’S WHAT HAPPENED: I stepped away from my computer for a second–seriously like for the space of time between when an eye starts to blink and the blink ends, and–BOOM!!  Like six months blew by!  No really.  I swear that’s how it happened.  Like some modern-day Rip Van Winkle, just waking from his nap.  I even had more wrinkles under my eyes and couldn’t remember a thing.  When I looked in the mirror, I looked like this guy:

Froot Loops, action figures and all.  Yeah, it’s a bit strange, isn’t it?  Maybe I was hungover.  Or ruffied….

*sheepish grin*

Doesn’t work for you?  Hmmm…OK….

WAIT!  So, OK, like six months ago I was going skateboarding in an abandoned mall parking lot in the middle of the night and this silver De Lorean–completely encrusted in electronic gewgaws and wires and all manner of piping–comes screaming out of nowhere and–WHISH!  The door opens and out pops this dude in a white lab coat talking all kinds of nonsense, something about going back in time and “1.21 jiggawatts” and stuff…and…and…

You’re not buying that either, huh?  Something tells me you’ve heard this story somewhere before.

Well.

Hmm.

Maybe I can’t ‘excuse’ my way out of this one.  But the trouble is the truth isn’t near as exciting.  Nope.  Not even close.

 
OK.  Fine.  I suppose it’s worth a try.  Here goes nothing!

HERE’S WHAT REALLY HAPPENED: I wanted to be a good blogger.  Yep.  That’s it.  No.  Strike that.  I wanted to be a great blogger, a d**n fine blogger–the best blogger on the block, on the continent, on the planet even!!  I wanted to be the Michelangelo of Blogging, to have people marvel at my jokes, go on about my stories, share my witticisms the same way they might share gossip at a cocktail party.

I wanted a perfect blog.

There’s only one problem with that idea, as this chart shows succinctly:

When you get right down to it, I’m a pretty competitive fella, see.  So you probably know where this story is going.

Every time I saw something cool that someone else was doing, I wanted to do it too.  I wanted more mentions and more followers and more accolades and more cool ideas and more pageviews and more comments than anybody else.  And that takes time and work and effort and most of all: more time.

So I kept writing posts and putting them up, writing posts and putting them up, wondering as I was going along Why in Fonzi’s Name I couldn’t find time to write, and somehow it never hit me.

And yeah–you know where this is going!–it got ugly.  Really.  Ugly.

Pretty soon I was swaggering around the house in a bathrobe, over-sized Lightning McQueen slippers–the ones with the flashy little lightning bolts on them!–wearing a beekeepers hat and two gallons of “Twilight: Breaking Dawn” Commemorative Cologne, packing an Old Milwaukee in one hand and swinging a riding crop in the other, screaming Alfred Lord Tennyson quotes at the top of my lungs like the lead singer of that now defunct Eighties band, Cinderella.

Wow!  I, uh, I, I really liked those guys!

Well, maybe I’m overstating this a little, but the bottom line is I lost track of things.  And with trying to top everyone else and myself, I got plain old BURNT OUT.  I didn’t understand what was happening to me at the time, and it’s even kinda hard for me to admit it now, but that’s the truth.  And for my REAL writing life, a similar fate.

We have a term for this problem in the military: mission creep.  You start out thinking your mission is to do one thing, but slowly other tasks get added on, creep in, and then a few more and a few more, until what you’ve signed yourself up for is basically impossible.

If we run real fast, I think we could get airborne, EVEN with a full bomb load.

And like they say, difficult we do tomorrow.  Impossible may take a while.

But yeah, I’m back.  For now.  Not quite sure yet in what capacity.  I’m still getting my wits about me.  And it is quite clear I need to revisit my reason(s) for maintaining this blog, and how it serves my greater writing and creative needs, as well as what I owe to all of you.

So, I’m putting on my thinking cap.  Thinking.  Thinking.  Thinking.  Thinking…

In the meantime, enjoy this oh so awesome video from one of my favorite bands, Radiohead.  Oh yeah: stay groovy too!!  We’ll be seeing you soon.

I have to admit my reading habits are extremely idiosyncratic–as I’m guessing everyone else’s are (does that mean idiosyncratic is the wrong word choice?  Hmmm….).  In my own literary world, I tend to bounce back and forth between reading the newest, hottest thing out there, and returning to old classics, sometimes repeatedly.  I’ve floated–with great pleasure–through Golding’s Lord of the Flies perhaps a half-dozen times since my first introduction to the work in high school, for example.
For me, reading definitely isn’t about bragging rights or ego or keeping up with the Joneses.  I find, rather, that picking up a certain book feels more like choosing the right brand of coffee for that week’s brews or picking a particular ale to go along with my steak dinner, of an evening.

Still, I think it’s a useful exercise to re-examine where I’ve been once in awhile.  I’ve seen this list of the BBC Top 100 Books floating around and was curious how many of them I’d read–especially in the last year.  Here’s the breakdown, with the ones I’ve read bolded:

1 Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series – JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee (this year)
6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
11 Little Women – Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare (benefit of a BA in English)
15 Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong – Sebastian Faulk
18 Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch – George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House – Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis
34 Emma – Jane Austen
35 Persuasion – Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe
37 The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh – AA Milne
41 Animal Farm – George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving
45 The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy.
48 The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies – William Golding (this year)
50 Atonement – Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi – Yann Martel
52 Dune – Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth.
56 The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
62 Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History – Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road – Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick – Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
72 Dracula – Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses – James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal – Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession – AS Byatt.
81 A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell (on my nightstand presently)
83 The Color Purple – Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web – EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
94 Watership Down – Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet – William Shakespeare 
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

If history is any guide, this little exercise will generate a trip to the used book section of Amazon–although I should hold myself in abeyance at least until Christmas passes.  :)

What about you?  How many of the Top 100 have you read?  What authors do you think are missing from this list?