Our Write to Live

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Before I begin, I want to extend my massive thanks to everyone who has read my first two posts in this series; My Write to Live and Your Write to Live, which detail the importance of writing in my life, as well as the importance of storytelling in the world at large.

That first one was incredibly difficult for me to write because of how vulnerable I had to be about some painful parts of my life, all the while summing up decades worth of stories as to not get derailed from the main point I wanted to make, which was how important writing has been in my life.

Wrapping up this series, I want to take the time to write and send this love letter to past and future coaching clients alike. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for sharing your stories with me. Whether it was your autobiography or the workings of your imagination, thank you for opening up and revealing to me who you are and what you value solely through the ideas we explored/will explore together.

Being a writing coach has been a dream of mine the past couple of years ever since I became aware of how naturally curious I am about the story ideas invented by my friends and family. And if my Askaholic Mode moments weren’t about stories they were creating, they were about the stories they’ve enjoyed in books, shows, or movies, endlessly wanting to know why certain stories resonated with them, and why the ones they create are the ones they create.

I think a quick glance at anybody’s book or DVD shelf can reveal what kinds of things they value, whether it’s romance, sci-fi, or spirituality, our personal preferences say a lot about who we are. Love, truth, justice, and other human concepts that we make real through our belief and experience–all of these concepts and ideas are repeatedly validated through the various mediums of storytelling.

From the word of mouth to the major motion picture, once again stories connect us. And for those who want to hone in on a specific concept and craft an elaborate story that explores these ideas,  let me just say congratulations first of all, for having a mission and a message to share with the world.

Second of all, I want to be your ally in the fight for truth and justice. Whether you’re self-disciplined and can pump out 2000 words a day, or you struggle to write because you don’t know where to start or struggle with motivation, I am your ally. Whether we agree on the same values or not, I am your ally. Because as a fellow writer, even if we don’t agree on the same things, the number one thing stories have taught me is to consider alternate points of view.

Where there is disagreement, there is the opportunity for the deeper understanding of another. Stories have shown us time and time again what the consequences are to holding contrary opinions and refusing to understand the other.

All I’m saying here is that as a writing coach, I am in love with understanding others through their stories.

Now I may not be published and haven’t done any speaking events yet (they’re in the works), I will openly admit that those two facts make me feel like I may not have sufficient credibility to help anybody with their work. After escaping the conventional workforce and deciding to become a writing coach full time, I’ve become full of equal parts fear and excitement for the future.

But then I reflect on the past year I’ve spent finishing the 3rd draft of It Starts at Home. I may not have a fancy degree in teaching or writing, but what I do have is determination and openness to take in life and all it’s curve balls.

For months, I’ve struggled with my own sense of motivation and purpose, even doubted that I could ever finish this draft. Constantly thinking that maybe it’s too risky to take this whole writing business full time, I’ve come close to deciding to just go back to my day job where I’m safe and secure.

In the end, though, I was able to finish my 3rd draft and am now on the process of editing it as much as I can before sending it to a professional editor for an outsider’s opinion.  This whole time I’ve been fearing if I could ever be good a writing coach to anyone, and somehow I managed to coach the most stubborn and resistant person I know; myself.

What would make me a good coach to anyone is the fact that I’m just your everday average joe who has rose in the ranks of his own personal development. Where I once resisted the difficulty of writing, I’ve embraced the challenge whole heartedly and came out on top. Where I once saw it as a chore to finish what I started, I reminded myself of the higher purpose and reasoning as to why I write in the first place.

Fuck all that self doubt and self denial. This book is bigger than me and my petty feelings of inadequacy. If you’ve ever felt the same way I have, then I want to extend my hand and say you’re not alone.

As your writing coach, we can overcome writer’s block together and smash with the bulldozer of our convictions.

With no published book, no track record of speaking events, and especially no pieces of paper to certify me as some literary genius, all I have is my conviction. My conviction to understand my clients and inspire them to reach their full potential, to convince them how equally important their stories are to the ones that already exist in the world and the ones that are simultaneously being crafted on paper while theirs remind locked in their psyches.

It is, and would be, my honour and pleasure to join you on your journey to wholeness and self expression.

It’s Our Write to Live.

My Write to Live

blood on paperWhen I was a teenager I had suicidal thoughts, and on some unfortunate occasions, suicdal tendencies. I was bullied by the other kids and wanted to turn to the school staff for help, but most of the teachers I had were authoritatian tyrants or simply uncaring of my well-being. A vice principal I once had talked at me with throwaway advice without taking any time to understand how I truly felt. That same vice principal would later in the year fail to prevent a fist fight I got into, even though I had provided him a ton of evidence it was going to happen. Needless to say, I didn’t have the school staff’s trust because whenever I would defend myself from bullies, I would be the one who would get in trouble and shamed for my behaviour, for my emotions. With nowhere to go and no one to turn to, not even my own family, I felt completely and utterly alone.

Or so I thought.

One of the few things I would find solace in was the music of Korn,along with other angsty nu-metal bands, but Korn was my all time favourite since I was a kid. I related to the raw frustration Jonathan Davis’ lyrics were written with and they inspired me to write some of my own in the same vain. Whether the lyrics were about the bullies I wanted to take down, the girls who rejected me, or the general feeling of emptiness by the end of the school day, I wrote lyrics to release these feelings somewhere safe where I wouldn’t get in trouble or be shamed for my behaviour, or my emotions.

Fast forward to my adult years, there was a time where my life was falling apart far worse than I had experienced in my teen years. To name very few issues I had out of a myriad of others, I was getting into intense fights with my family, had to leave a writing critique group due to fundamental philosophical differences, and worst of all found out that an ex-girlfriend of mine had committed suicide.

It was August 2014, I was unemployed and directionless. I had very little money left from a caregiving job I was severely underpaid for and felt empty. Now having grown up and survived my adolesence, I no longer contemplated suicide, especially considering the tragedy of my ex-girlfriend. I no longer cut myself and no longer imagined myself beating my chest until my heart gave out, but I still felt like my life was meaningless and that I didn’t have much reason to live.

Not until I journaled about everything that has been going on for me at the time. Not until I remembered that I had a half finished 2nd draft of a novel just sitting on my computer left untouched for many months. That novel of course was It Starts at Home, the very same anti-child-abuse themed novel that I had fundamental philosophical differences about with my writing group, likewise with my family, both of which, of course, are stories for another time.

For many months after leaving my writing group, I felt discouraged from ever writing again. But when I got back into it and got on my way to completing the second half of the 2nd draft, those feelings of inadequacy and meaninglessness disappeared. Those feelings of regret over my existence were all gone as well, for I rediscovered the joy and meaning I found in writing this story. Sure I picked myself up, applied for work, and got two jobs I put a ton of passion into, but they could never compare to my true calling. My true calling that I drowned out with the noisy distraction called “work.”

Of course! The answer to the question “what am I gonna do with my life?” has been right in front of me all this time, right under my nose, hiding in plain sight: I need to write.

And I stress the word need because writing is a necessity to my life just as much as blood is. To me there is no difference between the blood that drips through my veins, and the ink I bleed on to the page.

I was born a writer. Even when I was as little as seven years old I would skip school to write stories and draw comic books. I’m in love with stories. Whether they’re acted out in a TV show or film, printed in a book or set of lyrics, stories are what makes my life worth living. Not to mention the stories of our lives as I also find a great interest in the real life stories of those around me. All of our lives on this planet are a bunch of stories complete with their own twists and turns, character development arcs, and crossover narratives.

Stories, in any form, help me feel like I’m not alone. To know that others feel the same way I do about life and the human condition, that makes my habitual confusion and anxiety managable. From the lyrics and books I’ve read, movies and TV shows I’ve watched, all my favourite stories have resonated with me on an emotional level. They put the storm in my head into words and action, sequenced in honely crafted narrative that express the growth of character and the universal human desire to overcome life’s many obstacles.

As a writer, this is what I want to achieve. I want to strike a chord in those who read my lyrics, comfort those who will read my books, and let them know that all these confusing and conflicting emotions are all part of simply being human, and although there is no cure to them, they can be managed and understood.

As a writing coach, this is what I want to inspire in other writers. I want to help other writers, as I’ve painstakingly helped myself, to realize the power they have in putting their innermost vulnerable thoughts into the written word. The power to make readers, like myself, feel a lot less alone when life gets them down and when meaning seems all but lost.

The written word is My Write to Live.

It’s Your Write to Live.

 

The Four Pillars of Fiction Part 4: Dialogue

So you got your plot, your characters, and the setting?

All that’s left to do is make these people talk, and following in the principle provided in this blog series, what they think and say needs to serve a purpose.

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Why Don’t You Say it to My Face?

When characters speak in fiction, it is meant to resemble a more concise version of human interaction. It subtracts the filler pleasantries and zooms in on the most important aspects of a conversation, and so any small talk topics like the weather and sports should be exempt from dialogue.

Unless, of course, weather and sports are important aspects of the story…

Otherwise we love experiencing fiction because we get to eavesdrop on people’s most vulnerable conversations.

Sound creepy? It kinda does, but these characters aren’t real!

Or are they?

Well, they are only as real as you can portray them in terms of their emotional reactions to their interactions with each other and the world you created for them.

Dialogue should reveal four things:

  • Plot
  • Setting
  • Character
  • Relationship

To reveal plot, characters need to talk about the central theme and objective in a way that lets you in on the most crucial concern in their world. Perhaps it’s poverty in a post-apocalyptic world, and so the characters will talk a lot about how there’s a shortage of food and shelter after some devastating event that destroyed their world.

Everything they talk about should be about survival and rebuilding their society. In doing so, they also get to reveal the setting since it serves as a backdrop for the plot.

Along with exposition and narrative, talking about the place they live in is another way to help describe the setting. As a viewer, we will see their world in a certain way, but it’s interesting to see when a character’s views contradicts ours.

Perhaps the post-apocalytpic world might seem bleak and hopeless to us, but the inhabitants and the way they speak can reveal how much hope they have in their own survival. Furthermore, it can reveal what kinds of bonds are created in such hardship.

As Long as We’ve Got Each Other

conversationSo on top revealing plot and setting, dialogue must also reveal character. When people talk, they are always revealing what they think and how they feel, whether they intend to or not. It’s inescapable. Each person is equipped with their own unique way of expressing themselves in terms of what they value and what they want.

Now it’s tricky because you don’t want your characters blatantly saying “we live in an apocalytpic world and starve every day.” You have to find a way that makes it sound natural, much like every day conversation, but of course remembering to always keep it concise and in relevance to the plot.

Life would be much easier if people were more direct and honest about how they feel and why they have those feelings, but we usually end up expressing all that in different ways that can be interpreted in different ways since we all have our own subjective experiences and opinions.

Because we all have such differing preferences and opinions, we often end up in arguments revealing what we all expect of each other and the world, thus revealing how we relate to each other. Where we differ and where we have commonalities is the bridge between two people, and there’s a push and pull dynamic that occurs in fiction and in real life.

We often want people to like the same stuff as us, but without the difference of opinion we would not have the privilege of being challenged to re-evaluate our values, feelings, and beliefs.

And that is the very point of fiction; to allow us to safely and passively experience a manifestation of our inner clash of values played out to us in another real with its own metaphysical and epistemological laws. With characters who represent different sides of ourselves and we get the chance to pick and choose, based on the consequences of their actions and interactions, what values and beliefs we must keep or discard–all done in a way that entertains us while informing us.

Semi-Final Words

Thus concludes The Four Pillars of Fiction series, thank you for your time. Let me know if these posts have been helpful and if you have any feedback or criticisms on how to possibly improve future and current writing tips, let me know! I’m always more than happy to hear your thoughts whether they’re simple kudos, questions, or criticisms.

Stay tuned for The Four Pillars of Fiction BONUS Post, where I will be using my own novels as examples for each aspect of fiction covered in this series…

 

The Four Pillars of Fiction Part 3: Setting

Characters can’t just exist as talking heads in an empty vacuum, they need a setting in which to act out their drama.

And it can’t just be any place chosen at random, it needs to be a specific place that your types of characters would logically exist in.

Maybe you can have cowboys in space, or advanced aliens in the Sahara Desert, if you can make it work and make sense. But typically, you want your characters to match their setting.

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The CN Tower? Where Am I?!

My favourite setting in fiction is contemporary; stuff that takes place in the modern world with our current level of technology and realism. I can maybe do with a few fantastical or sci-fi elements, like time travel therapy in Being Erica, or spy tech in Nikita. But usually no magic, or fancy gizmos for me, and more focus on straight up day to day people whose lives I can relate to.

If I wanted to write a story about what it’s like to move from a small town and into the city, I’d perhaps use Toronto as my setting for my character to experience getting used to the hustle and bustle of a busy downtown area.

Or if you wanted to write a story about magic and wizards you can use Toronto as a landscape for an urban fantasy, or create a world that takes place in something that resembles medieval times.

Either way, if you’ve got a solid plot and a properly fleshed out cast of characters, any setting could work for your story so long as it serves a purpose.

The more elaborate your setting is, the more important it is to have a solid plot and cast so that whatever imaginitive concepts you come up with, they do not detract from the story’s philosophy, rather compliment it instead.

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Setting as Story

Let’s take the film Inception for instance. It’s technically contemporary, but they have technology that allows a group of corporate spies to enter the dreams of their targets to extract information from–and plant new ideas into–their subconscious.

They extract information through their dreams!  How cool is that?! Allow me to geek out about that for a second…

Alright! Anyways.

So the trippy elaborate concept of going into people’s dreams and the dream worlds themselves aren’t just an aside mentioned as a concept in this world. They’re the primary setting and concept that the whole story itself revolves around.

This idea alone, although interesting, would fall flat if there was nothing for us as movie goers to relate to, and so what makes this story so interesting is Leonardo DiCaprio’s character Cobb. He’s the leader of this extraction group, and despite his expertise at his job, he is often haunted by projections of his deceased wife Mal who shows up in other people’s dreams from time to time.

The theme of loss, grievance, and regret is just a few of the many themes in Inception. On the surface, Inception is about this covert group of dream spies trying to help their client take over a competitor’s business.

At its core though, it’s really more about the power of the subconscious and how much it can disrupt our lives if we do not resolve our personal trauma. It messes with us emotionally and interferes with our work and personal lives the way it does to Cobb throughout the film.

The setting is the dream world, and the objective of past pain is manifested in the form of Mal’s projections showing up when Cobb is trying to work in the dreams of people who have no idea who Mal even is. Apparently, working as an extractor, you need to be free of your own mind so that your own mental anguish does not seep into your target’s subsconscious.

Unfortunately that’s what causes Cobb to have some difficulty at his job!

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In a Nutshell

If you’re going to come up with elaborate rules for how the metaphysics of your setting work, make sure that they’re not too convoluted and that they actually serve a purpose in your story beyond making a dude say “whoa that’s trippy!”

The setting and concepts need to compliment the characters’ behaviour and the plot’s objective.

If you have characters who can use magic like the cast of Harry Potter, then the whole magic school setting and the importance of magic should both take focus of the story, as well as mean something to the characters.

If you have characters who know how to use advanced technology, then ideally the world the story takes place in should be advanced enough for it to make sense for such technology to exist. Think Star Trek and Star Wars and how their gear just wouldn’t work in say…Indiana Jones, unless you really grasp at straws for it to work!

Stay tuned for The Four Pillars of Fiction Part 4: Dialogue…

The Four Pillars of Fiction Part 2: Characters

Your story’s objective is only as powerful as the characters that convey it.

Each member of the cast must represent opposing sides of the main argument, thus providing several different angles to perceive your story’s philosophy.

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I’ve already written a couple of other posts about characters, both of which you can check out here for more:

Crafting a Character Series

Goal, Motivation, and Conflict

–but for today, let’s focus on why characters  should be as extensively explored as I have in previous posts.

Me, Myself, and Who Am I?

Fundamentally, every story’s main character is on a quest to achieve self-knowledge. This goes for both putty characters and pebble characters. Think of throwing a pebble at a wall, the physical structure of the pebble remains the same, whereas throwing a blob of putty will cause it to reform.

That’s what characters experience; being thrown against a wall, so to speak, and they either change or don’t change throughout the course of your story. Either way, their purpose remains the same; to argue for one or several sides of the objective.

I know that there’s a plethora of stories where morality is ambiguous (and that they’re usually much more interesting), but for the sake of simplicity, let’s take the basic concept of Good vs Evil to illustrate how characters argue for each side. And by argue, that could mean verbal or physical combat, or in just the way that they conduct themselves.

Generic Good Guy is a law abiding citizen, doing some good for his friends, family, and community. Everything he does in the story is for the benefit of others or for himself without hurting anybody except possibly…

The Typical Bad Guy whose sole purpose is to watch the world burn. He causes destruction everywhere he goes, expressing his preference to be evil and not care about hurting others because it’s what he intends anyway. Generic Good Guy may hurt other people unintentionally, but he usually owns up to it, while Typical Bad Guy has no remorse for the pain he causes.

In this basic story dynamic of Good vs Evil, the argument is (usually) that good triumphs over evil, all the time.

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Who Would You Be Without Adversity?

To convey this, Typical Bad Guy will have to test Generic Good Guy on the grounds of his ethics, philosophy, strength, and integrity by throwing obstacles in his way. Perhaps Generic Good Guy’s objective is to a safe and adjusted life, but TBG is getting in the way of that by hurting GGG’s social circle and disrupting his day to day life.

It is through adversity where Generic Good Guy will discover or grow into a force for good. If he’s a putty character, maybe he’s a weak underdog type who has to train in order to defeat the almight Typical Bad Guy. Or perhaps he’s a pebble character that has strength and prowess, but hasn’t had the chance to exercise any of it because he hasn’t been challenged yet.

In either case, the end result is the same. The character has developed some level of self-knowledge by fighting for what he believed in, whether he won or lost against his opposition. He now knows what strength he’s capable of, or made himself capable of it through hard work and determination.

Pouring Some Sugar in Generic Brand Oatmeal

Now, that was a very very basic example I had to keep simple in order to elaborate on a more complex concept. Stories these days have many more layers in their examination of the objective, and even more layers in their characterization.

Ultimately, characters are meant to represent several sides of an objective, and they do that by trying to express their personal preferences, only to have them attacked or dismissed by the other characters.

The key ingredient to conveying Objective is having characters disagree with each other and fight over who gets to assert their preference, or if any common ground can be met between them in less black and white type of stories.It is through disagreements between characters that we are given the opportunity to passively experience different sides of an argument–and decide for ourselves which characters we agree with, if any at all.

Stay tuned for The Four Pillars of Fiction Part 3: Setting…