Monday Thoughts on Creativity: Ditching Clichés

Aaaaand we’re back from the weekend. Happy Monday!

creativity-think

I think this quote is true of success in general, but creativity in particular blooms from original thoughts about the same old thing. In particular, think about descriptions.

There are so many clichés out there, so many overused phrases that we accept in every single book. It’s really special when I read a description of someone frowning, or a gesture, or even a color in a way I’ve never read before.

As a writer, sometimes I think, “Well, how else am I supposed to describe a frown?” Really there is an uncountable number of ways, but we tend to automatically feel cornered into clichés like “brows knitted together” or “eyebrows drawn into a V” because they’re what we’re used to – pre-approved and always understood. Creativity is looking at simple things like that and turning them into something that works off the ambiance of the scene, the situation, or the personality of the character: “She didn’t frown – it was too harsh an expression for her, too base and unattractive. Instead, her face remained an unreadable stone, even blank where natural creases should have been.” Here we learn something about the character’s personality (self-righteous and cold), what she thinks of others who frown (vulgar), what she thinks of herself for not frowning (attractive and well bred), and her looks (wrinkle-free skin).

Creativity is thinking outside the box – way outside the box – so that everything comes alive in 3D ways you can practically reach out and touch.

 

NaNoWriMo 2015 Begins TODAY!

So begins the season of hurried writing! During this year’s NaNoWriMo, I’m writing the second book in the Dark Victoriana Collection, Locke and Keye. I won’t be doing a vlog per day this time, but I will be vlogging when possible as well as trying some new cafes that I’ll take pictures of and tell you about. There are a few I’ve been meaning to try for quite some time, and now’s the perfect opportunity to give them a shot!

Locke and Keye is a novelette, which means it will be between 7,500 and 17,500 words. My goal is to write the whole thing in November, or at least most of it, so that December and January can be dedicated to editing and proofreading. I’m going to publish this book in early 2016 and I have to say – I’m REALLY excited about it! It’s going to be quite different from anything I’ve read, similar to a journal, but with a twist. You’ll see!

I came up with a working draft of the book cover, although I’ll have a designer create the final cover, and it will look pretty different from this.

Locke and Keye Temp Book Cover Torn Page

 

Although Locke and Keye will be a standalone novelette, you will appreciate it a lot more if you’ve already read my debut novel Anatomy of a Darkened Heart. Grab a copy on Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Createspace, or even better, directly from me!

If you’re a fellow NaNo writer, friend me here and let’s support each other. If you’re a reader, I can’t wait to update you on my progress and spill some clues about my new work.

In the meantime, here’s my first video of the NaNo season. Enjoy!

Character Study: Psychopaths Are(n’t) Always the Same

I love studying the way different authors, filmmakers, and artists represent various kinds of characters, so why not share my conclusions with you? Sharing makes these things much more fun.

Let’s start with psychopaths. There are so many to choose from, but I have two particular ones in mind, and they’re not from books. My two favorite but opposite psychopaths are from films: Richard Widmark in Kiss of Death (1947) and Johnny Depp in Black Mass (2015). You’d never normally relate these two characters, but while they have major differences in their superficial characteristics, they are extremely similar in the core of what makes them psychopaths.

How they’re different:

  • Widmark often laughs his insane, maniacal laugh, even during and after his despicable acts, while Depp is very serious and rarely laughs
  • Widmark never carries a gun so the cops can’t pin anything on him, while Depp is unafraid of being caught with a gun
  • Widmark takes his sweet time getting around to eliminating snitches, while Depp moves quickly to get rid of them

How they’re similar:

  • Neither has any mercy or compassion
  • Both know how to avoid being caught for their many crimes, yet both have spent time in prison
  • Both are masters of vetting potential members of their gangs
  • Both have trusted men on their side but turn immediately on those who show a crack in their loyalty
  • Both enjoy violence and not only don’t shy away from it, but they take great pleasure in threatening and hurting others themselves
  • Neither have respect for women and are just as violent towards them as men

But the most fascinating thing of all is how these actors portray their psychopathic characters. Because the characters’ cores are the same, they are drawing from the same place within themselves to outwardly exhibit their mental state. Just look at these pictures and how similar they are, even with the characters’ superficial differences listed above.

Psychopaths Widmark vs. Depp

What does this say? That psychopaths can have their own individual ways of handling things outwardly, but their inner cores are duplications of each other. You can creatively toy with their methods and the cause of their madness, but there’s only so much deviation you can believably make to their psychology. This may sound limiting, but it’s actually really great because it allows for unique characters at the same time that you already know what they’re made of inside. So their baseline creates certain expectations that are always fulfilled. As you can see from the time periods of these movies (and real psychopaths throughout history), the basic psychology has always been the same, something dependable, although that’s a strange word to use to describe it!

Who are your favorite psychopath characters, whether from fiction or fact? Film or book?

 

Symbol Sample: Harriet Craig

I am a HUGE fan of symbolism in every artistic medium. I always look for it in literature and movies specifically, and I always include it in my writing, no matter how short the piece is.  Symbolism is an essential part of my work, and the great thing about it is that a reader can choose to look for it and find it, or they can ignore it and still enjoy the piece.

I’ve had lots of people ask me how to layer stories with symbolism, some obvious symbols while others may not be so obvious. It might be best to answer this question through examples in both literature and film that I can show you through a series of blog posts. I’m going to start with an easy one: Harriet Craig.

The movie Harriet Craig (1950) with Joan Crawford and Wendell Corey is a prime example of good symbolism that doesn’t have to be noticed but adds to the enjoyment of the film. Quick synopsis: Harriet Craig is a cold, manipulative control freak wife who will lie to her husband, Walter, about anything in order to keep him all to herself and following her rules. She has no boundaries as to how far she’ll go to make sure her marriage stays in tact – and she covers her tracks well. Her husband is a trusting, loving man who doesn’t catch on to her scheming ways, though his friends and others see her for what she is.

That being said, Harriet has a lot of rules about her house and how it should be kept: make sure the blinds are closed by 11 a.m. every day so the sun doesn’t fade the furniture, keep the expensive vase away from the edge of the mantle, don’t sit on the arm of the chair, never throw anything (like a newspaper) down but instead place it neatly. She treats her husband more like a son and constantly chastises him. A couple of people mention that the house is cold and lifeless “like a thing that died and has been laid out”.

There’s a particular chair in the house that looks ornamental although it’s meant for sitting, but even more importantly it’s stiff and hard. If you watch
harrietcraigchaircarefully, you’ll see that Walter can’t get comfortable on that chair, even with a pillow. Harriet, however, feels perfectly comfortable on it. This is representative of their differences in personality. Walter is a warm person and can’t stand sitting in the stiff chair, but Harriet is a cold person and feels right at home on it. The only time Walter is able to sit on the chair is towards the end of the movie when he rearranges the pillows and lies down on it once he has decided to take back control of his house. He takes control of his comfort in the chair just as he is about to take control of Harriet.

Little things like this are easy to put into your story as light but still important symbolism. Think about what your characters have in common or their differences. Now think about their environments, even their work. How can you implement this same tactic to insert a layer of depth in your story? The good thing about this type of symbolism is that it can be stated relatively outright and still not seem out of place. You don’t have to worry too much about presenting it artistically if you don’t want to; the point of it is to be more towards the surface of the story instead of buried deep inside.

NEW Writer’s Takeaway Series on YouTube

Exciting news: I’m starting a new series on my YouTube channel called Writer’s Takeaway, and the first video is already up! In each episode, I’ll talk about what writers can learn from reading any particular book, fiction or nonfiction, that I have recently finished. The takeaway can be anything from writing style tips to dialogue technique to plot tightening, any number of “how to” subjects, etc. I’d love for you to join me and share what you’ve learned from these books!

Check out the first episode:

Complete NaNoWriMo with These Tips!

We are down to the last weekend of NaNoWriMo! What can you do to help secure your word count goal? Take a look for tips on keeping your focus and spending your time wisely.

Writing Plan for NaNoWriMo!

Now we’re down to the last 9 days of NaNoWriMo! HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?! Anyway, I came up with a helpful 10 day plan that will keep you on track so you can WIN! Check it out, and if you read this when we have 5 days left or 3 etc., just skip to that part in the video!