Thoughtful Links for Writers and Artists

Muse at 11

I’ve been accumulating some nice artsy links, so I thought I’d share them with ya.

First, a nice lady at Pixar posted some story “rules” that will get you thinkin’! (I really don’t like to think of proffered writing advice as RULES…because every piece requires something different, but that’s what the post’s titled.)

Second, if you’re not reading FILM CRIT HULK, you probably should be!  He not only offers some practical writing tips, but also analyses of various movies and such that are all focused around “Does the narrative work?” (Note: some cursing at times.)

Third: ever have those days where your work is just NOT GOOD ENOUGH?  There’s an encouraging post for that!  (This is one I’ll have to re-read myself from time to time.)

And finally, just for fun…PROMETHEUS in 15 Minutes. Wonderful send-up, you needn’t’ve even seen the film before (I hadn’t!).

Do you have any helpful artsy links you’ve run into recently?  Post ’em below!

Consider a Rival

Muse at 11, Writing

I think it’s very easy to get into binary mode when you’re thinking about stories (or writing them).  You know–Luke is good, Vader is bad.  Protagonist-antagonist, that’s how it usually goes, right?

But I think there’s something to be said for tossing a rival in the hero’s way, in addition to the main baddie.  You kind of get it with Rowling’s Potter vs Malfoy rivalry (though I don’t think it’s pushed to the extent that it could be).  Malfoy’s not the Big Bad (that’s Voldy’s job) but he serves to hamper Potter on a day-to-day basis. Or to use another example, Indiana Jones kept bumping up against his rival Belloq, even though the main baddies were (of course) Nazis.

In your story, maybe that’s just what your hero needs.  Someone to compete against, someone to make life difficult, maybe even someone to hate–but most importantly– someone he also has to live with.  

Humble protagonist killing off powerful evil antagonist is the stuff epics are made of.  But living alongside that one annoying dude day after day?  That’s something we can all relate to.

I embrace my rival, but only to strangle him.
Jean Racine

Come Late, Leave Early — the Margaret Mitchell way

Muse at 11, Writing

Recently I finished reading the most engrossing doorstop you’ll ever pick up: Gone with the Wind.  I was on a Civil War kick and felt obliged to read it, but despite my misgivings, I found it riveting.  (Grab it from your local library and dive in–you won’t be sorry!)

While I was enjoying the chronicles of Scarlett O’Hara, I also noticed that Mitchell was doing something with the “Come Late, Leave Early” technique that I’d never seen done before.

Come Late, Leave Early, just means start a scene when it is interesting (because oftentimes leadup can be reduced to just a lot of quacking), and end at an interesting point (because sometimes drama fizzles if you keep going on and on after the point…)

Mitchell actually did scenes where a conflict about a scene would be discussed (like, say, whether or not a funeral would happen), and then the actual followup scene (the funeral) would be left off.  I thought it would be jarring, but it actually made the story flow beautifully.  At no point did I ever think to myself, “Is this scene over?  I really want to know what’s going on with so-and-so!”

In short–read Gone with the Wind and see how writing is REALLY done.

I try to leave out the parts that people skip. — Elmore Leonard

Giving up is different than pausing.


It’s OK to take a break for a while while you think through (or not think through) a tricky spot.  Just remember to come back!

I’ve learned that I get blocked when my subconscious mind is telling me that I’ve taken the work in a wrong direction, and that once I start listening to what my subconscious is trying to tell me, I can work out the problem and get moving again. –Walter Jon Williams

Peaks and Valleys

Muse at 11, Writing

This week I watched the creepy and fantastic Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (which is a German version of Dracula). The first 5 minutes of the film got me to thinking about how contrast works in art.

This version of Nosferatu opens with long, lingering shots on desiccated corpses.  After some minutes, my stomach started to churn.  Just when I couldn’t take it anymore, the scene switched: first to surreal video of a bat in flight, then to Mrs. Harker waking up from a bad dream…then to a pair of kittens playing together!

The kittens were a great relief–but also emphasized the lifeless, dead, and creepy aspect of the opening shots.  (Another blogger has noted the contrast and posted an illustrative photo!)

Another movie that’s excellent at displaying scene contrast is Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. It’s constantly juxtaposing scenes with different emotional polarities.

For example, the rousing song Gaston is set in the warm tavern packed with characters.  But by the time the song ends, the camera is outside of the tavern, pulling away as we watch Belle’s father Maurice thrown out in the cold winter storm.

Here’s another example of contrast from Beauty and the Beast.  Contrast the soaring music with the abrupt horse scream (and just after this clip, a smash cut to the dark castle of the Beast).

Putting happy next to sad intensifies both emotions for the audience; having a space devoid of movement in your painting will heighten movement seen in different areas.  Notice what’s going on overall in your structure–and when you see opportunities to contrast, bring them out!

As a means of contrast with the sublime, the grotesque is, in our view, the richest source that nature can offer.   — Victor Hugo

By the way…

Muse at 11, Writing

If you get something out of my little articles, great!  If you don’t, don’t worry about it.  My way won’t be 100% your way.

There’s no right/wrong way to do this.  (“This” being art or writing or whatever creative gig you’re playin’ with.)

“My advice is worth exactly what you pay for it.” — Robert Marshall

PS –Today is the birthdate of one of my lead characters.  It gives me a good excuse to stop and think about where this character’s been, where she’s going, and how much fun I have writing her. 

Your Inner Critic and You (Part 3): The Transformation

Muse at 11, Writing

Here’s some things your Inner Critic might yell at you when you’re starting out:

  • “That’s not the right word!”
  • “This sounds dumb.”
  • “This story will never work.  What a stupid idea.”
  • “Why am I wasting my time with this?  I’ll never finish it.”

But as you begin to jot down (and then ignore) the things the Inner Critic says, I think you’ll find that it starts saying different things, like:

  • “Describe this better.”
  • “Does this work logically?”
  • “Are you sure you spelled that right?”
  • “Did that character talk like this when you first introduced them?”

Once your Inner Critic figures out there’s nothing it can do to stop you from writing, it’ll turn into a Constructive Critic!  –Less “This is stupid!” and more “Hey, didn’t you say X happened like a hundred pages ago?  What about that?”

And while you don’t necessarily need to tackle those points during drafting, you have to admit–these kinds of comments are useful!

“The best way to destroy your enemy is to make him your friend.”  – Abraham Lincoln

Your Inner Critic and You (Part 2): How to Listen to Your Inner Critic

Muse at 11, Writing

Your Inner Critic mostly wants to be heard.  The trick is to let him speak–but not to listen too closely (especially when you’re drafting!)

In my own drafts–both digital and handwritten, I use the following technique:  If I’m writing along and suddenly my inner critic points out something, I simply insert a square bracket, write its comment, close the bracket, and proceed with the story.

If I’m doing this on the computer, I turn the comment red so it stands out during editing. That way I can review the comments later (some of them may be on to something, after all) when I’m not in the flow of writing.  I get to write, the Critic gets heard, and everybody wins.

It was when I found out I could make mistakes that I knew I was on to something.  ~Ornette Coleman