Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The IMAX mind of a writer

Every time we write our stories we travel to another realm, we see the world from our characters' perspectives. We become like actors/actresses that play our characters' roles. We are going through the scenes as if we were watching a movie in an IMAX theater. 
This past weekend I went to an IMAX theater to watch The Mysteries of Egypt. It was a magic experience. While I was watching this fascinating movie I felt that I was traveling to Egypt. I had the chance to fly  over lakes and all kinds of different landscapes, to sail the rivers with the local people, to feel that I was right there. The vivid huge scenes made me  breathe in the dry air and feel the sun burning my skin and I could imagine myself touching the pyramids with my hands. I even felt the dizziness of going too fast in the air.
   While I watched this colorful movie, I came to the realization that the best stories I write are the ones into which I dive with my own body and mind. I sense everything, see, smell, hear and touch. Not because I bog down the story with descriptions, but because the scenes become so real in my mind that I become a different person embedded in the setting of my story.
   Don't you think it is fascinating?

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Do strong opinions matter?

 A few weeks ago I stumbled upon a literary agent's blog who said that writers should not express strong opinions on their blogs because publishers don't like this. There were other recommendations but this one is the one that surprised me. There are readers out there who  disagreed with this agent's recommendation claiming that writers who do not express their opinions are not interesting and can be boring.

   I tend to write posts on which my personal views and opinions are made evident to the public. If I think that a subject is controversial I may take some time to process my ideas and thoughts before I dare write about it. In some cases I avoid writing about some topics altogether fearing that it may not be the right time in my career to do so.
  As writers we already take risks when we craft our own stories. Do we also take risks when we blog?
  Do you tend to gravitate towards blogs that are not opinionated? Or do you prefer blogs that express strong opinions? Do you prefer to sound neutral when you write a blog entry?
 What is your personal approach?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Farm Girl

  This story by Karen Jones Gowen hooked me from the beginning when I learned that Hans Walstad migrated to Northern Nebraska from Norway because the girl he had loved back in Norway, Sofie, had married another man. Hans was one of the first settlers in Western Nebraska around the 1860s.
  Life had unexpected twists and Hans reunited with Sofie around 1877 and they finally got married. (The details of how this happened is not something I will tell you here). One of their two daughters was Julia Marker, Karen's grandmother. A self-taught artist, Julia was not a very social person. She expressed herself mainly through writing and art. She produced around 2,000 paintings in the basement of her house and according to The World Herald "she painted her way out of the Depression". The depression means the economic crisis of the 1930s.
  Even though she lived on an isolated farm in Nebraska Julia was  able to sell some of her paintings through a store in Minnesota. She also exchanged her artwork for food and other goods that were much  needed by her family. Reading about Julia was an inspiration. She was a woman filled with enthusiasm and courage, who always had the energy to learn new things.
    The story is told with an honest straightforward voice, mainly by Julia's daughter, Lucille, and we learn a lot about the challenges that they had to endure in the 1920s when she grew up on her parents' farm: droughts, invasion of grasshoppers, encounters with rattlesnakes.
    This memoir carries us back to a time in Nebraska when there were no electrical refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, televisions, radios. Most homes did not even have toilets that could be flushed. The wind was a powerful source of energy that provided them with water from the wells.  I was also enthralled to learn about their connections with Willa Cather and other characters from My Antonia.
   Lucille's memoir is a unique precious tribute to her family and also to all the readers who dive into the past to experience  these exciting stories about our ancestors.
Farm Girl by Karen Jones Gowen

Friday, January 20, 2012

Avoiding sentimentality

  When I recently revisited a couple of short stories I had written eight months ago I was shocked to find that they were spoiled by  bits and pieces of sentimentality. I had worked hard during the editing phases, as I normally do, but I was so emotionally connected to them that I was blind to these flaws.
     I want to make sure that this does not happen again after polishing my stories, so I did some research.    How do we avoid sentimentality?
  A sentiment is an emotion. As writers we wish to evoke emotions, to shake our readers. However, sentimentality is something forced on the reader, an exaggerated emotion. When there is sentimentality the readers are told how they should feel.
  -When we read other writers' stories we can pay attention  to the ways they are able to evoke emotions in us. Each story we read can be a learning experience if we pay close attention to this matter.
  -By showing specific actions, situations and characters we can avoid falling into sentimentality. We let the reader see the story unfold.
  -The readers will be moved by what is happening to the characters in certain situations, not by the writer telling them about the emotion with great details. It is wise to show how the character is feeling rather than tell all the details.
-Avoid cliches. Write realistic dialogues.
-Let your story rest for a while and come back to it with fresh eyes. You may make new discoveries.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Saying less is saying more

  I've had a fabulous learning experience this week. I had to submit a short story of around 700 words, so I decided to convert a specific story of 2000 words into a piece of flash fiction (700 words). Does it sound crazy? I had a precious opportunity that I did not want to waste, and I considered this was the right story to do that. (I am not going into details over this because it is not the purpose of this blog entry).
   I wasn't sure it would work out. It did. Tightening this short story was an enlightening experience. I was able to enhance the emotional intensity of the piece. I made it more powerful. In the ruthless process of trimming, I was able to see how by cutting down sentences and details I made relevant pieces of information stand out. I also came to the realization that there was some clutter that did not need to be there. I spotted pieces where I had been  over-telling.
  I read it aloud many times because I care about the musicality of what I craft. (Reading aloud is always part of my editing process).
 Have you ever tried converting a short story into a piece of flash fiction? If you haven't, try so. Just for the fun of it. You will learn a lot about the power of saying less and expressing more.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

My Antonia

Set in Nebraska, "My Antonia", by Willa Cather, is a poignant love story that brims with realistic interesting characters. I wrote a review of this classic and it was published by the online magazine GringoLandiaSantiago

Here is the link to my review:
Now I am ready to move onto "Farm Girl", by Karen J Gowen, which I will be starting next week...

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Art and life

A week ago, on New Year's day, I went with my family to the Milwaukee Art Museum to enjoy the impressionist exhibition. It was the perfect way to begin 2012. Art brings new ideas, thoughts and perspectives to our minds. I welcome and cherish this flexibility  to create new positive solutions to the problems that trouble me. One of my New Year's resolutions is to avoid getting worried about things. When we channel the energy  to deal creatively with the challenges that life has for us, we have no extra energy to get concerned. I wish you this healthy attitude in your own life. Have a great week.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Tips on how to prevent writer's block

 I've learned these tips from other seasoned writers and from my own experience:
1) Read, read, read. Read what inspires you and what interests you. Life is too short to waste it reading what you find boring.
2) Write on a regular basis.
3) Before beginning a story, create an outline and a number of characters. Make your characters come to life by thinking about their own interests, motivations, conflicts, emotions, situations, relationships, dreams.
4) If you ever encounter writer's block take a break and come back later. Do something else, like going for a walk, reading or anything you like.
5) Allow yourself to write   without censoring your thoughts. Let everything flow out without correcting anything, but keep in mind your outline and goals. They will help you  get somewhere. Editing will be done later.
6) Learn new words on a regular basis. Doing this will sharpen your mind and enrich your own writing. (In my case, it also fuels my imagination. Don't ask me why. It just happens).
7) Be patient.
8) Eat a  balanced diet. Exercise. Sleep the number of hours that you need to stay rested and alert.
9) Observe the people, events, conflicts around you. Everything and everyone can be a source of inspiration. Keep your imagination at work.
10) Be persistent with your goals.
11) Read, read, read. Pay attention to what you like about other writers' work. We are constantly learning something about the craft.
 12) Changing sceneries can help the brain to come up with new ideas.
  Feel free to share more tips if you have something else in mind.
 Here is a link that I found interesting:
   Happy writing!