Category Archives: Writing

Dreams Half-Remembered

Dreaming and writing are strangely connected for me. I write  best in the mornings when I’ve woken up from a vivid dream, even if I’m not trying to capture the essence of the dream. I rarely try to capture the essence of a dream, actually. The emotion is so intense and surreal and personal that my efforts inevitably fail, but that moment when you mourn the realization that you don’t live in the dream world is very much what I hope to invoke in my readers.

I didn’t so much dream memorably last night as I do sometimes, but I went to sleep having just finished a fairly excellent post-apocalyptic sci fi. It left my mind dancing  with ideas and handed me a puzzle piece that I needed for my own post-apocalyptic novel…that piece that starts your mind singing and drives the writing forward. Until I find that piece, I always feel like I’m working uphill to build a mountain of dung. It’s the soul of the thing. No matter how carefully crafted a plot or how well-developed the characters, a story without soul isn’t worth reading…and I figured out what that missing soul piece was as I was drifting off contemplating the book I had just finished.

I woke up this morning, charged to get writing, which feels amazing after two or three weeks of feeling dead about the whole writing  thing because my brain has been utterly stressed out by the lack of a definitive answer about whether or not the bank is going to give us the mortgage on this house. (Reason number umpteen to avoid working for giant, asshat corporations: their salary verification processes for lenders suck.) We STILL don’t have an absolute, 100% “yes,” even though our loan officer is still saying we’re probably fine to close on Tuesday, so the stress is still there, but it’s like a breath of fresh air to find this soul-piece of a story to take  my mind elsewhere.

Anyway, I sat down at my computer to get to work and in the process of looking for the files for this story, which I haven’t touched in a while, I ended up going through a few old pieces I’ve either finished or started on. I came across one that took my breath away to leave me incredibly sad, not because it’s a staggering work of genius by any means, but because I got to the end and really wanted to know more. And I realized that I’m the only one who knows what’s supposed to happen next and I DON’T REMEMBER IT AT ALL. I don’t remember writing the beginning, and I don’t remember the general concept for the tale, so I’m left with this fairly intriguing beginning and no clear idea of what to do with it.

This is exactly what happens when you don’t keep on writing when you’ve got the soul of a project in your hand, so I’m going to chase after that story sprite and attempt to capture it before my mind wakes up all the way. And in the meantime, maybe I told someone about this story and maybe that someone reads my blog and remembers what the heck I was thinking about when I wrote this, so here’s the snippet that left  me wishing I remembered how it goes on…

A Shellhead’s Pearls (a working title I threw on there after reading it  this morning, so don’t think there are necessarily any clues in the title)

 

Don’t Write Like a Child, For Mercy’s Sake

I have a bone to pick with all you writers who are out there giving advice about writing like a child. Have any of you ever actually met any children? Do you have kids? Have you studied the way their minds work? Because the trite, surface-level advice that keeps popping up in the blogs I read is making me twitch.

Cultivate your inner innocence. Wonder at the world. Think about things with fresh eyes. Be honest. Stop editing yourself. Listen to the way kids talk. Sure, do all that…if you want your kids to sound like every other kid produced by working the problem from the wrong end.

If you want to grow up and write realistic kids, read about developmental psychology. Choose a mental age for your character (doesn’t have to match their physical age–conflict for kids can often stem from being either too precocious or a bit slow for their age), study up on what kids’ brains are doing at that age, and try to adopt those specific mental frameworks as you think about how your kids will address the challenges you’ve laid out for them.

Kids are wondrous strange creatures, it’s true, but it’s not because they’re magical. It’s because they don’t know anything yet and often don’t have the resources to learn things efficiently on their own. When you’re pre-literate, you can’t pop on the internet to google “how to tie shoelaces,” for example. You have to rely on other people, but even posing questions is a challenge because you don’t have the vocabulary to be specific or standard in your inquiries. If you want to immerse yourself in what it’s like to be a kid, find someone to teach you something completely new, preferably something with a highly technical use of vocabulary that you don’t know.

And as for the “kids are honest,” piece…that’s true. But it’s not a kind or morally-sainted honesty. Kids have an “I have underdeveloped social filters” honesty and it’s as often cruel as it is unintentionally sage or touching. If you want to get it right, try to image how you would respond to the situation, person, environment, etc. if you were the most socially inept person on earth and then tone it down as befits the mental age of your kid.

In general, I’m convinced that thinking about taking a child’s POV from a “writing like a kid” angle is not going to get you very far. I’m not saying you shouldn’t take a kid’s POV. But kids are people. They’re people with specific ranges of mental and physical challenges that many adults don’t deal with on a daily basis, but they’re still people. If you lose sight of that fact, your writing will show it, and probably not for the better.