1,2,3,Go! The Keys to Writing a Good Story Beginning

Beginning Title

Starting a new story is one of the best feelings you can have. It’s that wonderful moment before your insecurities and paranoia kick in and tear your creativity apart from within.

It’s also exciting not knowing where your characters are headed – at least, not finally. You may have some idea. But it’s not set in stone.

The scene is being set, the characters introduce themselves, and the world you have crafted launches into the imaginations of the reader on it’s maiden voyage. You cast them off into the abyss of your mind, the rough seas of your passions and noticings, and the wonderment you’ve constructed out of your skills with craft and narrative.

However, a poorly written introduction can quickly alienate a reader. It’s much easier to quit a book on page 1 than it is on page 100. As Kurt Vonnegut famously said:

“Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.“

No siree. This is very important. Reading is a commitment. It could take a few hours to read, or a few months. Either way, it’s going to be valuable time to someone. Cherish it, and respect it.

So, below are some tips to help craft a strong story introduction.

Of course, these should be taken as a guide, as you can’t use all of them at once. There is no definitive way to craft a perfect introduction, as you can’t please everyone. But, with a bit of thought and a lot for practice, utilising some of these will help push your story to the next level.

"Go on..."

“Go on…”

Get Straight To It

“As my cab pulled off FDR Drive, somewhere in the early Hundreds, a low-slung Tomahawk full of black guys came sharking out of lane and sloped in fast right across our bows.”

Money by Martin Amis

Get stuck in. Right away. Don’t worry about building up to something. If anything, get to the thing then build backwards. The mystery of being thrust into the action is much more compelling than “so he woke up and stretched. ‘Yawn’ he said, then made his way to the bathroom to blah, and blah, and blaaaahhh”.

Much better: “The gun went off. That sound of metal exploding, cracking the air like lightning, shook him. He’d never imagined he’d be shot.”

The longer you linger, the more of your precious words are wasted away and lost forever. Trust your reader, and reward them for taking the time to check you out. Jump in two footed, and go from there…

Chop them in the face if you have to

Chop them in the face if you have to

That Said, Don’t Rush Ahead

Obviously you don’t want to chuck them into a situation that will need certain aspects established. If you start off with something too confusing, it will be a struggle for the reader to invest in the story. If it’s too confusing, you may lose your reader.

That’s not to say you can’t leave breadcrumbs in your opening that will make more sense upon reading further, but a good opening will contain both elements for now, and elements for later.

"So that's why the dinosaur had the painting. He's Da Vinci's grandad. Of course!"

“So that’s why the famous dinosaur had the painting hidden on his spaceship. Now I get it!”

Draw the Reader In

“If you’re reading this on a screen, f**k off. I’ll only talk if I’m gripped with both hands.” Joshua Cohen, Book of Numbers.

Yeah, so you don’t have to be as aggressive as the above example, but the point I’m trying to get across is that you want your reader to stand up and pay attention. One way of doing that is to engage with them directly, so long as it fits with the theme of your story.

For example, if you choose the above style of introduction, don’t then segue into a world of daisies and polka dots. It will feel forced and inappropriate, and the reader will likely feel alienated and confused. But if your character, or the tone of your story warrants it, there is no problem at all with using a little bit of fire and fury.

Of course, you don’t have to be rude. you could relate to the reader, or buddy up to them, or even flirt with them. Let the narrator’s voice gudie you.

"This narrator would like some tuna. Lot's of tuna."

“This narrator would like some tuna. Lot’s of tuna.”

 

Introduce Your Hero

“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.” — J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

The above intro is a great example of a hero introducing themselves, and giving you plenty of evidence of their character. We all know that Holden Caulfield is a sour lad. We know this because from the very first sentence he utters, he sets himself up as thus.

Your audience want to know who to root for, and know why. If you introduce a character who isn’t very compelling, or don’t give them someone to cheer for, chances are you’ll lose the interest of a reader.

"Oh yeah, they loved your story"

“Oh yeah, they loved your story”

Create a Mini-Mystery

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” George Orwell, 1984.

Unless you live under a rock (and apologies if you do), you should be well aware of the dystopian bleakness portrayed in George Orwell’s (arguably) most famous work, 1984. This opening line establishes right from the get go just how surreal this alternative future is, and the mystery of something we know so well being changed in this way creates all kinds of questions: Why not o’clock? Thirteen, like, bad luck thirteen? What time is thirteen? Is the day still the same length? How would this work with the Gregorian calendar? Does it? Why is there an extra hour in the day?

And it is these kinds of questions, often raised by a sense of unease, that can keep us reading on.

"What does it all mean!?"

“What does it all mean!?”

Set the Scene

“There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.” — Raymond Chandler, Red Wind

This is one of my favourite opening paragraphs in all of literature. Raymond Chandler has a very distinct style, and was well regarded for his gritty tomes set in a crime-riddled LA. This establishes that world perfectly, giving you not only the place but the mood, the people, the atmosphere, and even the opinion of the narrator about all of these things.

See, a setting can be just as important as a character. Some would even argue that the setting is a kind of glorified character in its own right.

 

"Yeah, don't forget about me!"

“Yeah, don’t forget about me!”

Murder Mundanity

All this happened, more or less.” Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five.

In the above quote from Mr Vonnegut, we are confronted with the fact the upcoming narrative is probably going to be unreliable. Those that have read the story will know that as the story progresses, this unreliability is what lends so much charm to the overall tale, and this in itself represents Vonnegut’s own ideas about the ridiculous and unreliable nature of wars, and the men who fight in them.

Many authors would be tempted to write an account of what they saw in a war with a solemn and powerfully intense manner. By not starting his story in this way, we already know we are in for something different, and this intrigue alone makes us want to read on.

By subverting convention, Vonnegut captivates the reader from the very first sentence.

If you haven’t read this classic, I absolutely recommend it. It was one of the first ‘adult books’ I read as a young boy, and it is still one of my favourites.

"It's great!"

“It’s great!”

 

Consider Forking

Call me Ishmael.” Herman Melville, Moby Dick.

There are a lot of different options above, so using this technique will help you figure out which work and which don’t work with your story.

There is more than one way to cross the ocean, and forking is the process of writing out several different ideas that all lead to the same point. So, you may choose to write three different story beginnings which all lead to the same ending, then show these to people who have opinions you trust, and ask them to choose their favourite.

This way, you can know that what you’ve written is something that has appeal, and that captured another person’s imagination (and didn’t just reflect your own). Obviously, make sure you choose people who will give you constructive and useful feedback. Not just flat criticism.

"I don't like any of your s**t"

“I don’t like any of your s**t”

A Word to the Wise

Of course, it’s not always as easy as what you should do. Sometimes, it’s as much about what to avoid. So, here are some quotes from industry insiders about things they don’t like to see in story beginnings:

I dislike opening scenes that you think are real, then the protagonist wakes up. It makes me feel cheated.”
Laurie McLean, Foreword Literary

Characters that are moving around doing little things, but essentially nothing. Washing dishes & thinking, staring out the window & thinking, tying shoes, thinking.”
Dan Lazar, Writers House

I hate reading purple prose – describing something so beautifully that has nothing to do with the actual story.”
Cherry Weiner, Cherry Weiner Literary

A cheesy hook drives me nuts. They say ‘Open with a hook!’ to grab the reader. That’s true, but there’s a fine line between an intriguing hook and one that’s just silly. An example of a silly hook would be opening with a line of overtly sexual dialogue.”
Daniel Lazar, Writers House

Many writers express the character’s backstory before they get to the plot. Good writers will go back and cut that stuff out and get right to the plot. The character’s backstory stays with them — it’s in their DNA.”
Adam Chromy, Movable Type Management

One of the biggest problems is the ‘information dump’ in the first few pages, where the author is trying to tell us everything we supposedly need to know to understand the story. Getting to know characters in a story is like getting to know people in real life. You find out their personality and details of their life over time.”
Rachelle Gardner, Books & Such Literary

 

All above quotes were taken from the article The Worst Ways to Begin Your Novel: Advice From Literary Agents on thewriterslife.com

 

Of course, there are many different opinions on this argument, and (once again) as Kurt Vonnegut said:

“Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.”

Learn how to use these tools to your advantage, but don’t let yourself be restricted by them.
Be different. Be brave. Be you.

 

ID-10092796

 

So what’s your favourite opening line in a story? Get the conversation going in the comments below.

 

Special thanks to Ambro, Carlos Porto, imagerymajestic, kanate, patrisyu, Photokanok, photostock and stockimages @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2016

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Napping is our Nature; Reasons Why You Should Take Time to Nap

Celebrating a year of Itchy Quill! Here’s one of our favourites from 2015! Please enjoy!

Itchy Quill

napping logo copy

Do you remember your first job? I worked in a fish and chip shop in Southern England. I was 14 years old, and my responsibilities consisted of peeling potatoes, chipping them and then blanching them ready to be deep fried by the owner Mr Fukiyama later. He was a Japanese immigrant who had lived in the UK and owned his fish and chip shop for nearly twenty years. I have never tasted fish and chips as good as he made them since.

I worked six days a week, 1.5 hours Monday to Friday, then 2 hours on Saturday morning; they were the cruellest. I would be so tired, dragging myself out of bed at the crack of dawn to make sure there was someone there with the owner to collect the fish delivery that would be shipped fresh in a freezer van from the South Coast.

There was one particular…

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What’s Your Writing Fuel? Part II; It’s All in the Mind!

Title Banner

We already went into a great amount of detail about the lifestyle choices you can make about what you put in, or do to your body, and how this can fuel your writing in Part 1.

But they aren’t the only ways to fuel yourself.

What’s that I hear you cry? ‘What about how I choose to live my life? What can I do to help fuel my mind?’

The brain is a muscle, and like any other muscle it gets better the more you use it, and it needs to be properly fed and watered to grow.

Practice makes perfect. The early bird catches the worm. And every little helps.

This will of course have an affect on how the writing comes out the other side. So, what can we do to help here?

Let’s have a looksie, shall we?

 

"Ooh, a piece of candy"

“Ooh, a piece of candy”

 

ANGER!

Don’t worry, this won’t end up being a concise list of the seven deadly sins, brought to you by writers helping writers. Au contraire, this may be the most passionate of all human emotions (feel free to argue, this is by no means a claim to be fact). As the saying goes, get that rage on the page! Muster your gusto! Channel your mammal! Write your fight!

Yeah! (Woo).

Ahem. It’s about using that fury to propel you into creativity. You know, from destruction comes creation. Death breeds life. The cycle of emotive response, from ugly comes beauty and so on.

Go ahead, think about it. What gets you mad? Now time yourself. Take ten minutes to write non-stop and see what happens. It doesn’t matter if it’s bad, illegible or nonsense. It’s fuel. It got the words flowing.

 

"Fuuuuuuuuuuudge!"

“Fuuuuuuuuuuudge!”

 

Pain: Therapy for the Soul

Of course with anger, there could be pain. The crushing vertigo of the soul, ripped and damaged by the experiences of life. So sad.

Yet meet your new therapist! The pen (or quill, or keyboard. Whatever).

Scream out what’s getting to you from the rooftops of your novel. Create a city and fill it with people feeling your pain. Use the page as a sounding board to express yourself, and try to connect the dots on what is often the unfair nature of life to cast pain upon us from time to time.

It’s like talking through it with someone, but not having to worry about being judged or categorised. It’s only you listening (unless you want to share it). Some of us express ourselves better in written form too. Embrace that.

Or just write stories about smashy smashy stuff avenging hurty hurty moments. Grr.

Go for it.

 

"Hurty hurty, smashy smashy"

“Hurty hurty, smashy smashy”

 

The ‘Four Energies’ – Blissed, Blessed, Dissed, and Pissed

I read about this on Writers Digest in their article The Four Energies of Writing; What’s Your Fuel?

As they say in the article: “It’s a bad idea to write a book just to write it.” And I completely agree.

Your motivation for writing needs to come from somewhere. A lot of us feel we have a novel inside of us, waiting to be birthed. So what’s yours? We’re not talking about emotive fuels here, but fuels of character and motivation for writing in the first place.

They are split into two positive and two negative energies:

Blissed: The first of the two ‘positive’ emotions, this covers things like “excited, passionate love or fascination for some activity or subject.” You write because you love what you’re writing about.

Blessed: This is literally “the energy released when someone encourages you in your writing life or believes in your promise.” Call it luck, call it right place right time, but it’s opportunity knocking for your writing at just the right moment.

Dissed: This negative fuel covers things such as “the experiences of being wounded emotionally, cursed or put down by others, or disrespected or rejected.”

Pissed: Finally, this other negative energy is similar to dissed, but “it manifests more as anger and righteous indignation than hurt.”

Which corner are you coming from? Do you agree with the writer’s assessment?

 

"You don't like it? No? OK well you're not my target demographic so you wouldn't get it anyway" *folds arms*

“You don’t like it? No? OK well you’re not my target demographic so you wouldn’t get it anyway” *folds arms*

 

Awe and Wonder

The world can be truly fascinating, can’t it? But it’s a lot to make sense of in one lifetime. Many try, and some specialise. But it’s an uphill struggle. From the day you’re born to the day you die, there’s so much to learn. So much to explore.

Write about it.

Write the things that captivate you, and the things that repel and disgust you. Come to terms with them. Analyse them. Play with them and manipulate them. Re-imagine them.

Mess around with perception. With time and space. With social labels, and human constructs.

Ponder it all.

It might not be a best seller, but it will be quite a unique read. And it’ll give you the chance to see what matters to you, and where your thoughts and beliefs come from.

 

"Life. Not always fair"

“Life. Not always fair”

 

Facing Fears

Spiders? Heights? Barbara Streisand? We all have fears. Some of us have more than one. I’ve got plenty. But facing them enriches your life, trust me.

Not ready to take the leap just yet? That’s cool. Start with writing about it.

Scared of dogs? No problemo. Write a story about a dog pound, and how the guy working there used to be scared of dogs but now he works there killing them when they can’t be homed. He loves it. He does this for years, until one day there is one puppy who changes his life, and makes him realise these creatures aren’t dangerous. They are just like me and you! Cue lights, and Disney music and the happy ending as he rides the puppy off into the sunset. And, scene!

Go ahead. Think of your biggest fear now, then think up a story about someone dealing with that fear, or a scenario that having that fear would be very unhelpful. Now imagine how your hero will get through it. Easy, right!

Now you try…

 

"My story is called Meerkat mafia, and it brings together two of my biggest fears..."

“My story is called Meerkat mafia, and it brings together two of my biggest fears…”

 

Gobbledegook

If all else fails, write garbage. Seriously. Scribble down the first words that come into your head. Better yet, just put pen to paper and write for five minutes non-stop, just writing whatever comes into your head. Don’t think about it, just let the words flow.

Now, chances are what you’ll write will be nonsense. Don’t kid yourself, you’re no James Joyce. But, it got you writing, and the surrealist aspect of this form of writing could then spawn into a novella, or a great little abstract short story.

 

"You can do anything if you go for it"

“You can do anything if you go for it”

 

There’s fuel, and there’s fuel. I’d love to hear what gets you fired up and writing. Maybe it’s injustice, or religion? I know some people who write purely protest works, attacking anything they feel deserves to be in their cross hairs.

I know others who only write about hobbies and interests; woodwork, sailing, rare African drums, magic. There are many.

So what’s yours?

 

Don’t forget to check out Part I of this post Juice on the Loose! What’s Your Writing Fuel?

 

Special thanks to AKARAKINGDOMS, criminalatt, imagerymajestic, patrisyu, Prawny, stockimages and Toa55 @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2016

 

 

Juice on the Loose! What’s Your Writing Fuel?

Writing Fuel Title

You wouldn’t know it to look  at me, but there was a time when I was one of the fastest runners in my school. Not over distance, no no no. I could barely sustain myself for longer than about 110 metres. BUT, during that 100m I was almost unbeatable.

I can still sprint these days, but nowhere near the level I achieved back then. The reason for my current dallying?

Fuel.

See back then I had something that made me faster. No, I’m not just talking about a longer leg to back ratio than now. That’s Science. I’m talking about desire.

For me, running was one of the few ways I could be a winner. It was one forum where I was able to outclass the sporty kids.

That passion, that energy, is what kept me ahead.

Well, until I discovered girls and cigarettes. Then it was more about staying cool. And cool kids don’t run, they saunter and jive.

But it got me thinking; what fuels my writing? Sleepless nights fighting fantasy battles in my head I need to get onto the page? A constant re-arranging of the 26 letters of the English alphabet to try and crack a code in life? Dementia?

Writing, like anything, needs some ammunition to get going. From the physical to the existential, it all starts somewhere.

So let’s kick off by looking at what we put in, or do to, our bodies, and see the creative fuel for some of history’s most famous authors.

supakitmod

What’s in your refinery?

 

Coffee

Mud. Joe. The ol’ brown mistress. Whatever you might call it, coffee is pretty much synonymous with writing. I’m sure many of us put a pot or ten on and just see how far we can get before we slip into psychosis and begin to babble and rant into the computer screen until we are repeatedly hitting the space bar and saying ‘come on, come on’.

Breath.

Coffee has all the right properties for a budding writer; energy, reputation, ease of use and wide availability. Plus, without it, where else would you turn up with your laptop and announce to the world you’re a cool, alternative writer than in a coffee shop?

Twist: Some may prefer tea. I know there are times when tea is better, such as when you’re scribbling at 11pm and don’t fancy dropping into the caffeine valley when you need to be up at 7am. However, despite popular belief, tea often contains more caffeine. Be warned!

Personal favourite: Double espresso with one brown sugar lump. For the tea drinker, an iced green tea to refresh yourself.

stockimages

“I have no idea what I’m doing. I just wrote ‘I’m a writer’ twenty times. Is that OK?”

 

Alcohol

Hemingway loved a drink to such an extent they named one after him. The Hemingway Daquiri is delicious, though I’m not sure how much writing you’ll get done after a couple.

He wasn’t the only one though. Raymond Chandler had a pretty well documented alcohol abuse problem, and Jack Kerouac’s death was a result of cirrhosis of the liver caused by a lifetime of drinking.

Let’s not get down though. Many writers drank. Faulkner, Poe, Thompson, Capote, Thomas, Parker, Bukowski… to name but a few.

I can’t say whether the booze is the root of the creativity, or a symptom of it. But I do know that alcohol, like anything, is best enjoyed in moderation. Then again, I’m no literary hero…

Chaiwat

“I’m so hungover from all this writing”

 

Drugs

As with any creative area, or any form of artistic expression, writing has a tendency to be linked with drugs from time to time. This isn’t a recent phenomenon either. Baudelaire often wrote under the influence of hash.

But he wasn’t alone. It’s widely known that Stephen King spent the best part of the eighties churning out record rates of fiction while popping uppers and booger sugar (spot the cocaine inspired characters in his most famous stories – you will).

There’s also the aforementioned Hunter S. Thompson, getting Fear and Loathing in a number of exciting situations. Or Philip K. Dick using his substance abuse issues to inspire a vast back catalogue of sci-fi romps that range in quality from Saturday Writing Club to mesmerising.

Let’s not forget Ken Kesey and his acid, Robert Louis Stevenson bashing out Jekyl and Hyde in about six coke-fuelled days, or Huxley and his mescaline inspired Doors of Perception.

Check out: A Scanner Darkly by  Phillip K. Dick or The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe

imagerymajestic

Lance Armstrong sold a lot of books…

 

Sex

Sex sells. It’s one of the most basic of human desires, and one of the most basic human impulses. Some writers (I’m looking at you Bukowski) saw sex as the call to arms to try and make relations with every member of the opposite sex. I’m sure it’s also no coincidence that a lot of the previously mentioned alcoholics and drug abusers also happen to be serial womanisers too.

Sex also happens to be the only thing on this list older than the written word.

Norman Mailer didn’t always write about his sexual activity, but it was certainly running in the background behind his writing. And it should come as no surprise that Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond, was a notorious womaniser.

I digress.

There were some men for whom sex became the ultimate inspiration, not just objectified, but idolised and celebrated. Henry Miller broke down some stigma around sex in literature with his novel Tropic of Cancer.

But it wasn’t all men. Anaïs Nin is one of the most famous erotic writers of the last hundred years, and her work will live on as the foundation for the erotic writing movement.

farconville

… so you can thank her for stuff like this

 

Exercise

Baudelaire is credited with coining the term flâneur. Essentially, it’s someone who enjoys wandering a city or other place purely for the pleasure of walking and taking in the sights and smells around you. Will Self is a modern proponent of it, and he often writes about it too.

For some, exercise was a more a part of the fabric of their writing routine. In a letter to his wife from 1965, Kurt Vonnegut said “I do pushups and sit-ups all the time, and feel as though I am getting lean and sinewy, but maybe not” (seen here at Brainpickings.org). The idea being that between bouts of writing, it was important to keep yourself fresh, but also challenged, so as to keep the mind focused.

stockimages 2

“Writing is tiring stuff!”

 

So, what’s yours? Maybe it’s on the list, maybe it’s not. I’d love to hear what gets your writing going.

Part two explores the more mental side of writing fuel.

 

Useful Links for further reading:

www.toptenz.net article Top 10 Substance Addled Writers

listverse.com article Top 15 Great Alcoholic Writers

Huffington Post article Women Are Honestly writing About Sex: It’s About time

 

Special thanks to Chaiwat, farconville, imagerymajestic, stockimages and supakitmod @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2016

New Year, No Fear!

logo taxi

Happy New Year! 新年快樂! Feliz año nuevo!

Let’s all just take some time to reflect on 2015. It had its share of drama. Good things came and went. Terror and division became all too common in the headlines. Hopefully, yours was one to cherish, but if it was a bad year, at least it is over now. These barriers in our mind invisible yet so important, of the moving from one calendar to the next, can be an important psychological step. Move from the old into the new. Close the door on 2015, and try to take the lessons it offered with you on your journey into fresh moments.

Now we turn the page and begin a new chapter. What wonders does this coming term hold in store? Perhaps you are lucky to already have things to look forward to; a wedding, a holiday, a graduation, or a baby. Perhaps what’s coming up for you doesn’t fill such generic milestones, but slots into an alternative bucket list; first marathon, first solo skydive, getting your PADI, or climbing Everest.

Hell, it might just be you’ve decided to start eating crinkle cut instead of regular crisps with your Netflix sessions! It all counts!

A new year is a great opportunity to turn your gaze to new horizons. I know it’s a cliché, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. With so many others basking in the positivity of a new beginning, the energy is all around you. Tap into it and exploit it for yourself. This is your time!

So for those of you still without an idea of what you might want to do over the coming year, here are some goals you may want to use. Or adapt. Or ignore. This is your year. Go out there and own it!

imagerymajestic

“Come here!”

Learn about a new topic

The internet is bloody marvellous. Not only does it offer 24/7 access to news, games, and other people, but it also connects you with the wealth of human knowledge, and the shared library of wisdom that humanity has assembled in the last 8,000 years.

Thanks to websites like coursera and Khan Academy, you can now sign up online for free learning!

Ok, I’ll let my inner nerd quieten down for a bit. But truly, this is something wonderful that should be celebrated and enjoyed.

You can find sites for everything, from guitar lessons to 6th grade maths, traditional Chinese to coding. Go ahead, Google it.

See this article from Observer Innovation for links to a variety of different courses to get you started.

For those of you interested in learning a new language, check out the Itchy Quill guide to the best sites and apps for language learning here.

 

nenetus

“Boom. Knowledge”

Learn a new skill

But life is not all about sitting in front of a computer now, is it? Some of us are handsy people, veritable artisans who respond much better to the kinaesthetic pleasure of holding and handling, not merely studying.

For those, there are plenty of things to try your hand at. Jewellery making, woodcraft, pottery, baking, fencing, knitting, painting, driving… the list goes on.

Most colleges run night schools that offer affordable courses in a whole range of vocational activities. There are also websites like meetup.com which offer you a chance to find similar minded people and talk about/establish events about your chosen area.

What’s stopping you?

 

David Castillo Dominici

You know, apart from the obvious stuff like commitments and generally being an adult

Start a new hobby

Or maybe you just want a new way to relax? You could look into a new sport, or another way of channelling your competitive streak.

How about another income stream? I’ve got good friends who make a healthy income from eBay. They trawl the charity shops and boot sales looking for gems. With the power of a smart phone in your hands, you’re seconds away from a valuation, and an idea of whether you can make money from something.

Of course, there are the classic hobbies such as stamp collecting and fishing out there to be tried too.

For more ideas, check out this list on the Art of Manliness.com – though these don’t have to be hobbies for men. They’re not gender specific, after all…

 

Bill Longshaw

… unlike some things

Pay it forward

Do something for someone else, like help out a friend or neighbour. Maybe someone is moving house, or they need a hand with their kid? It doesn’t have to be a massive task, but it’s always nice to help out someone without expecting something in return. You could make their day!

If that doesn’t tickle your fancy, what about volunteering? Here in Taipei, it’s common for foreigners who cannot get pets in their own apartments to help out at local dog shelters by walking dogs after work. There are a lot of refugees kicking around in Europe at the moment, and I’m sure you can imagine that local authorities are swamped. Why not see if you can help out? Or start collecting old clothes together to be sent to displaced peoples.

Or, you know, just help old ladies across the road or up the stairs with their shopping…

 

graur razvan ionut

“Do I look like I need your help young man?”

Catch up with old friends or distant family

Sometimes it’s easy to lose track of time. I’ve been out in SE Asia now for over two years, and I’m not the best person at keeping in contact. Out of sight, out of mind.

But I know that for some, it really means a lot if you reach out to them. It lets them know you haven’t forgotten about them, and that you are thinking of them.

So call up grandma, or send an email to Judith and the kids, or just write a letter to your mate Shaggy Dave.

Who knows, you might be just the person they need right now…

 

Stuart Miles

“Come on dad, it shouldn’t take 15 years to get a pack of cigarettes”

Visit a new country

Bit of a no brainer this, but with the summer still a healthy half a year away, it can feel a little dull sat there in a cold apartment watching the mould climb up your walls. What better potion for your ills than warmer thoughts of a sunnier summer, and the chance to hop abroad?

Kamchatka? the ‘Stans? Timbuktu? Tuvalu?

Throw a dart at a map, and book your ticket now before the summer rush. Then you’ll know you’ve got a solid six months of saving time to scrape together some cash, some research, and all the bravery you’ll need to take the plunge into a new adventure.

Hell, I’m doing it myself right now…

 

Ambro

“See?”

Set yourself goals, and challenge yourself

I managed to read 33 books last year. For me, that was decent. I’m no Good Will Hunting, I need a bit of time to get through a book (though I love reading). This year, I wanted to read more. So, I set a target for 35 books. Nice enough, I thought. “Where’s the challenge in that?” said a friend. “If you really want to challenge yourself, put 40.”

So I did.

Lord knows how I’ll find the time. 33 was a struggle. But having that target, that goal, gives me something to drive for. If I fall short, I’ll still have probably done better. But if I achieve it, well, I’ll have done something awesome.

And this mentality applies to anything. Pick a local marathon, sign up, then train your nuts off to be ready for it. Even if you end up crawling over the finish line, the positive effects of trying to prepare and then actually doing it will be myriad.

What challenge will you set?

 

stockimages

“Fightin’. This year, I’ll do gooder at fightin’… and stares”

Cut out the negativity

Some people suck the life out of us, and similarly so do some situations and environments. Make this year the year you finally put some distance between yourself and those things that drag you down.

Have you got a negative habit perhaps, such as smoking, eating unhealthily or drinking more booze than a ship of sailors? Make this the year you take steps to make your life that little bit better.

I quit smoking at the end of 2014, and I’ve now gone a full year; no patches, no slips, no consequences. I’m just a year healthier than I was as a smoker.

Believe in yourself, and start thinking about what you can do.

satit_srihin

Make this the year you follow your dreams

You may have had something you’ve been putting off for ages. I did. Mine was a novel (and now it’s nearly done!)

No more excuses, let this be the year. You’ll make time for it if you really want it! And you want it, don’t you? Of course you do!

Go out and get it!

see god

Special thanks to Ambro, Bill Longshaw, David Castillo Dominici, graur razvan ionut, imagerymajestic, nenetus, satit_srihin, stockimages & Stuart Miles @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2016

Orphan; The Great Hero Archetype

Orphans Title.jpg

I’ve always loved my heroes. Batman. Luke Skywalker. Conan. James Bond. These guys were my idols, my role models. I looked up to them like they were my big brothers, and tried desperately as a child to emulate them.

They seemed attainable, as if somehow my circumstances were part of a grand design that would lead me towards their fate. The reason for my thoughts? They were orphans, just like me. Only orphans were special enough to be heroes. And I was an orphan. Vis a vie, I’d be a hero. Well… not quite…

So, orphans. Yeah, those guys. Well, I should say us guys I guess. We all know the definition; someone who has lost their parents. I don’t mean lost like “Sheila, I’ve lost my car keys.” I mean, well, you get the point. For one reason or another, an orphan has no mother or father.

And it’s a really common part of storytelling. In fact, it’s such a common part of storytelling that it should be considered an archetype; a regular part of the story telling realm since the time of the ancients. Throughout the history of stories, from spoken to written, orphans raise their sad little faces and lead a story from beginning to end.

From the foundlings of Tom Jones and A Winter’s Tale to the old wives tales of children stolen away by fairies and goblins, orphans are woven deep into the fabric of storytelling.

But why so?

Well, I’m glad you asked. Let’s take an IQ stroll into the world of the orphan as a hero archetype…

 

photostock

“Here we go!”

 

They’re Convenient

Now now, I am not for a second saying that writers are so callous that they drop the emotional and complex elements of an orphan character into the story just because it is convenient but… wait, what was my point again?

Writing the complicated dynamics of family can be long winded and boring, but missing it out can leave plot holes that gape like a Sarlacc at the dentist.

However, a hero with little or no family removes this concern completely! Compare the two scenes:

John, enraged by his mothers tenacious demands for cleanliness, was desperate to abandon the stale and suffocating existence of 16 Albert Road. He pushed past his father and brother, and ran up to his room. Tears were streaming. Life was hard.

or

John knew it was him against the world. If he didn’t tidy his room, nobody would. This thought made him sad, but he pushed the sadness deep inside himself and puffed out his chest. He was alone in this world, but he could do whatever he wanted. “Screw tidying,” he thought (probably).

Ok, so these are hardly the best examples, but they make a point. If your hero has a family, that potentially creates extra characters you’ll need to consider writing in to your story, and this can complicate things when you try to justify things like motive, history, character, personality and desire.

Look at Frodo Baggins from Lord of the Rings. Do you think if he had had parents they would have let him wander off on a deadly journey into the land of Mordor to destroy a ring pent on obliterating his way of life? It would have meant Tolkien having to write in emotional goodbyes, worries, drama and tears that could have taken away from the story. It was just easier, in hindsight, to have his character be an orphan (not that Tolkien ever cared about keeping things snappy; 20 page elf song anyone?)

Are orphan characters just less complicated?

 

Serge Bertasius Photography

“That’s easy for you to say”

 

They’re Underdogs

Indeed, we are  drawn to help those we feel are at a disadvantage. I am reluctant to call this human nature (as I definitely know a healthy crop of humans who care very little about their fellow earthlings), but I think it is a common enough trait through people that if you can harness this emotional response, you can make your character much more likeable. Readers, I believe, will warm to them much quicker.

As we saw in the above examples, the first one made the character seem a little spoilt, but the second one made the character seem much more in need of our sympathy and help. This of course is as much about the way a writer chooses to write a character, but I also think that ‘the orphan’ has potential to frame things much more sympathetically in their favour when utilised correctly.

Think about Annie. We are all familiar with this orphan’s story leading from a hard knock life into the much safer and better world of tomorrow. Why do we side with her? Well, she’s a young girl, like anybody else. She dreams of having a better life, and of escaping the ‘small town’ (orphanage) where she lives as a young lady. Yet, though she has all these and other similar desires as your average eleven year old, she is also an orphan. Life will be even harder for her than it is for other girls her age.

You see a part of yourself in this character, but you also see that they (potentially) don’t have the same advantages you might have, and this makes you side with them and want them to succeed against the odds, like a puppy in an avalanche…

 

Ambro

or a grandpa in a …boxing match?

 

And As a Result, They Can Bend the Rules to Get Things Done

Yeah, so sometimes a hero needs to be a little naughty, and maybe do things that fall outside of ‘accepted practice’. You cannot expect your classic ‘pure’ heroes to do this, as to behave in any way that falls outside of the realms of fair or just would be to betray their righteousness, and undermine their authority and authenticity as ‘pure’ characters.

In times like this, send in the orphan.

Tom Sawyer, like most boys his age, likes to get into a bit of trouble. He’s mischievous, loves a tall tale, and prides himself on his confidence and boisterous behaviour. We like him, and we let him get away with a lot of behaviour that is unsavoury. Maybe this is because we know, somewhere in our minds, that an orphan doesn’t have anyone there to guide them emotionally, or behaviourally. He must find his way in the world alone. He impresses us because even without a parent to lend him moral guidance, he is still able to keep his heart in the right place, and ultimately act as a leader amongst his school friends.

The same goes for Harry Potter. He sometimes breaks rules and does things that are naughty or wrong, but ultimately he is a good boy who is just trying to find out who he is, and avenge the death of his parents (specifically his mother, the ultimate Oedipal vendetta). The writer is able to have him get into trouble and win dirty fights, because the reader will justify his behaviour by allowing him a little more of a learning curve.

 

artur84

“Leave him alone mate, he’s an orphan”

 

It’s a Ready Made Story

Yes, it is. Really. If you find yourself struggling for inspiration, you could do a lot worse than writing an orphan story.

The plot is kind of already there; the search for parents/the truth/identity. That third part, the ‘who am I?’ element of being an orphan, is something writers have played with a lot.

As changingminds.org pus it so perfectly:

“The Orphan, fearing exploitation, seeks to regain the comfort of the womb and neonatal safety in the arms of loving parents. To fulfil their quest they must go through the agonies of the developmental stages they have missed.”

Take Batman from the recent relaunch of the franchise starring Christian Bale, as an example.

He must learn to ‘grow up’ out of his immature playboy ways and become an adult. This leads him into the pitfalls of wanting to protect everyone, but he also faces some tough decisions that force him to become a ‘parent’ of the people of Gotham.

Ultimately, his story stemmed from a desire to right the wrongs of his parents’ death. He nearly fell into the trappings of ‘playing the victim ‘but was able to pull himself out using his own personal strength, and realised the right thing to do (the ultimate sign of maturity being the difficult decision done for the greater good).

We’ve also got Daenerys Targaryen from the Game of Thrones TV show and SOIaF books. When we first meet her at the start of the stories she is but a young lady who follows the guidance of her male ‘protectors’ (her brother Viserys, and the elegant Illyrio), but eventually out grows them and makes her way to firstly discovering her sexuality (her puberty) with Khal Drogo initially but then others, before moving into her own teenage years of rebellion and ideas of change (battles and freeing slaves – all with a taste for bloodshed) before reaching maturity and becoming the guardian of her own people.

She is trying to realise her destiny as a Queen, because she knows from stories she hears as she grows that she comes from royal blood, and somehow by reclaiming that throne in the name of her family, she will somehow reconnect with the parents and by extension the identity, she has lost.

 

vectorolie

Unfortunately we don’t have the budget for HBO photos. So, instead of the Queen of Dragons, we give you… the Prince of Cow nosed Tadpole Lizards (with wings)!

 

They’re Mysterious

What’s more mysterious than hiding the history of a character? Without knowing the origin of someone, we are without a key tool in trying to figure out that person’s motivations. It also creates an element of intrigue, which drives our reading as we want to find out answers to the many questions we may have.

Take Superman for example. His origins were not really touched on in his early comics until #53. Even then, the full extent of his initial story is not made clear until #146 (scifi.atackexchange.com). The reason? It’s just easier to explain a character’s story later on and deal with the s**t kicking first. Superman being an orphan removes a whole myriad of complications from his story, but the mystery of his past, at least initially, creates more hype, and leaves us asking more questions. We find out information in dribs and drabs, and piecing together this enigma becomes a garnish to the meat of the plot.

 

stockimages

“Yummy”

 

Life Imitates Art (And Vice Versa)

What do J. R. R. Tolkien, Joseph Conrad, Louis Armstrong, Malcolm X and Babe Ruth all have in common? That’s right, they’re all orphans.

In fact, google ‘famous orphans’ and you’ll be surprised how many orphans there have been in the world who’ve made it into the big time.

So already we can see, well established in the real world, is this idea of rags to riches, or of orphans being able to achieve great success even while being at the seeming disadvantage of having no parents.

There is no shortage of writers in this realm. Andy McNab was found on the steps of a hospital as a baby. Wordsworth was orphaned aged 12, Tolstoy aged 9 and Edgar Allen Poe aged 2.

So, potentially we may see writers using orphans just because it’s all they know.

Hell, I do this too. As I don’t really know what a ‘normal’ family would look like, I just write what I do know; the life of an orphan. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve not grown up in some horrible orphanage, but I can harness the inner ‘orphan complex’ that drives a lot of previously mentioned orphan characters. As stated on charactertherapist.blogspot.tw they often desire:

  • to feel accepted
  • to feel safe (and make others feel safe)
  • to connect with others

These could reflect the desires of the writer too, and how that drive manifests in the characters and stories they choose to create. Afterall, we write what we know.

 

stockimages 3

“So I’ve got this idea right. It’s a story about a… a… doctor. And he likes… red. Yeah, red things. And he’s really handsome and cool and stuff, and everybody loves him”

 

Religion (Which Came First?)

Finally, we have our oldest examples; religious figures. There is no shortage of great prophets or leaders being abandoned at an early age. Take Moses for example, and how he washed up on a reed bed after being floated down a river.

The chances of such a thing actually happening are high enough that it’s plausible, and yet it somehow leads to this wonderful enigma. Like somehow, by being washed up in such a manner, we can see that person as more than just a being, like they are somehow extra special. By having no parents, they can give themselves wholly to god as a surrogate father or mother.

Muhammad, of the faith of Islam, would be another example. He was orphaned aged six.

Even St Nicholas, and by extension Santa Claus, was an orphan. His desire to give and to spread joy acting as a foil to his own memories of isolation, sadness, and not feeling familial warmth.

 

stockimages 2

“Ho Ho… Huh?”

 

In closing, there are many, many examples of orphans in literature and stories. From Mowgli to Tarzan, Wolverine to Princess Leia (or most of the characters from Star Wars, including Darth Vader and Han Solo for that matter), they are part of an archetype so entrenched that I don’t see it going anywhere any time soon.

I leave it for you to think about. Let me know about your theories, or if you think I’m missing the point completely. Maybe you agree with some of what I’ve said, or think I’m just talking an absolute bucket of rubbish. I’d be interested to hear your ideas in the comments section below!

I’ll leave you with the biggest lesson I learned from all those orphan stories:

holohololand

 

Disclaimer: I am not here to judge, condone, nor side with any of the above representations of orphans, or of tragedy. I am merely commenting on representations of these things in certain stories, and trying to decode why they exist, and how they are used, in a way that shouldn’t be taken too seriously. As I have said, I myself am an orphan, and I don’t look to be offended by the archetypes and stereotypes associated with orphandom. I have only ever seen them as positive, and as one of many tools in writing.

Special thanks to Ambro, artur84, holoholoholand, photostock, Serge Bertasius Photography, stockimages & vectorolie @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015

NaNoWriMo Now; Tips for Success in November’s Novel Writing Month

quill for logo black700 copy

Ok guys, I know. It’s been too long.

Where have we been?

It’s been one of those months.

But, look around the corner. NaNoWriMo is nearly upon us!

“Hey there”

NaNoWri… What?!

Some of you know it, some of you don’t. For those unfamiliar with this wonderful portmanteau, it stands for

NAtional NOvel WRIting MOnth.

It started out in the July of 1999 in the San Francisco Bay Area; a friendly challenge amongst 21 pals. By the following year, it had grown to be a (partially) international event, with its own website! It was during this second year that most of the current rules were formed, based largely on the editing experience of the founder, Chris Baty.

By the third year, those running the event had assumed it was going to draw a healthy 150 participants, when in reality around 5,000 showed up! You can read the account of events by one journalist, Kara Platoni of the East Bay Express, here.

After a bumpy year adjusting to increased site traffic and a new found popularity, the fourth year brought harmonious relief in the shape of a more automated and therefore swifter system ready to accommodate the ever increasing number of participants. Of course, that wouldn’t last for long…

Since then it has grown year on year into the mighty beast it is today; represented in nearly every part of the world, from Estonia to Australia, and Seattle to Beijing. It’s had its fair share of challenges, trials and tribulations, but the result is a wonderful annual event for the professional and amateur writer.

The journey from its humble beginnings is one worth a read if you have the time, and demonstrates the power of one man’s dream. See the story in the words of the founder here.

“Dreamy”

OK, but how does that help me?

Whether you’ve heard of it or not, it cannot be denied that an event such as this will:

  • help you focus your writing by forcing you to regularly sit down and knock out some wordthings
  • enable you to see from within what the writing process involves, both the euphoric and disastrous
  • give you a sense of achievement if you actually finish the damned thing

So what’s stopping you?

“You know, besides the obvious”

But I don’t have the time

Which is kind of the point. A lot of people say they’ve got a great novel inside them, but they just don’t have the time to knock one out. NaNoWriMo forces you to engage with your inner word beast, and wrestle the behemoth onto the page. Knowing you only have to keep it going for 30 days means you are much more likely to give it your all; if you really don’t like it, you can count down the days until it’s over. In the meantime, you’ll be writing and writing, and barely have a chance to think about anything else.

Consider how many stories were written in the early hours before work, or late at night after the kids had gone to sleep. So many authors have to juggle full time work, marriage, children and other commitments with their writing. NaNoWriMo is a chance to try out re-adjusting your scheduling, and also a chance to see what you’re capable of if you put your mind to it.

On that note, it doesn’t just have to be for writers. The challenge itself could be for anyone.

“Anyone, you say?”

Sounds great! How do I get started?

Let’s imagine the fundamental elements of a story:

  • An outline = A beginning, a middle, and an end, including the key event that sets up the journey, and the final destination the story is building towards (the climax)
  • Some characters = A hero and a villain (in the classic set up)
  • Setting = The Nile river? London? Palau? Basque Country? The Moon? Once you decide the what and who, start to think about the where
  • The other bits = These can come organically, or prepared, but what will really grab people’s interest into your story is the how (things are going to happen) and the why (should the reader care).
i.e. Make sure it doesn't suck

i.e. Make sure it doesn’t suck

Let’s do it

Grab a pen, sketch out some ideas, and run with it. The goal here isn’t to write the best story of all time, or even of your generation. It’s about finishing something and being able to say “I did it!”

Those who hit the target word count of around 50,000 words are known as ‘winners’, and there’s all kind of memorabilia you can get to symbolize your wonderful achievement, from t-shirts to mugs!

That aside, it’s the personal feeling of completion that rocks hardest. How cool would it be to say ‘I wrote a novel’!?

Visit the NaNoWriMo website today and take a look around. You can set up an account in minutes, find your local writing community, and make a go of it. And the best part is it’s all completely FREE OF CHARGE!!

“Wahoo!”

Tips for Success

  • Don’t put too much pressure on yourself.
  • Think about it in terms of daily goals of around 1666 words, not as one big daunting mountain of 50,000 words, to keep from becoming demotivated.
  • Write first thing when your will power is at it’s highest and your brain hasn’t been depleted by a day of work and life.
  • Don’t lost sight of where you want to end up. The story can take a million twists and turns, so long as it ends up at an ending that satisfies the questions that were raised on the way.
  • Try and have fun!

 

We at IQ will be taking part, and we’ll be updating our progress on this blog. If you are also taking part, let us know in the comments. Come along and join us on the journey!

Useful Links

The NaNoWriMo website

Writer’s-World writing tips

Writer’s Digest tips for writing a book in 30 days

The Storyist NaNoWriMo preparation help

Special thanks to Ambro, David Castillo Dominici, marin, stockimages and Stuart Miles,  @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015