Society

I’ll be spreading my wings tomorrow. I’ll be flying out. In other words, I am going to move tomorrow, not only for the first time in my life but I’ll also be without my parents for the first time. I am not much of a poet; in fact, it felt wrong to write this passage as I generally do not enjoy how pretentious poetry can come across. The only time I allow myself to do so is when writing my character, the ten-year-old smartass who likes to impress people by coming up with synonyms.

Maybe there is not much of a point to this post, except for me rambling. What I really wanted to do was to share my favourite song, as for a change, poetry seems to describe what I am feeling right now: Eddie Vedder’s Society. I do not have much – not because I can’t, but because I do not need anything. There are not much things in my life I enjoy that much, and the ones I do enjoy, I already own. The only thing I want at the moment is a quiet space for me to write, where no one is going to disrupt me – although that never happens anyway. When I am writing, I feel safe. For those who hadn’t picked up on it by now, I am slightly depressed. At the moment, I just feel like running… and listening to some music.

The word “running” in the last sentence was actually a mistake, as I meant to say “writing”. However, I guess this describes what I’m really feeling. I’m trying to get away from society for a bit. I’m getting anxious. I’ve never done this before!

The more useful posts will be back in a week. There’s no Internet connection yet in my new home.

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Cover Drama

Covers are like a book’s trailer. Together with the back cover, they form the story’s trailer – that is, if there is no actual trailer available. Even if there is one, most, if not every, potential reader(s) will look at the layout of the printed book itself, as that is supposed to give away at least part of what is to be expected. A great cover gives away its genre and possibly part of its actual subject, created to fit the actual story inside.

However, not all covers fulfill their function. Sadly, my very first own cover was an example of this. If only I had known what it was going to turn out like, I would never have said “yes”. It all started when I decided to send my manuscript to a so-called publishing house, at the age of twelve or thirteen. I was incredibly proud of it – rightly, I’m guessing – and the publishing of my first book all went so fast. That was when I found out I hadn’t submitted it to an actual publishing house, though; it was merely printing-on-demand, and they demanded for me to send them a cover image. There was not much time left. My parents decided to go look for someone to do the job. They knew a lot of artists, mainly because we were not from a big town. Around here, everybody knew everybody. Soon enough, my parents found an artist willing to draw my cover for free. I was a kid without money. There was no way I could refuse that offer. My cover image was finished soon enough. The image itself was not bad… It clearly showed its genre, and the publishing company wrote the title on it in big, orange letters. It was beautiful… Except for what was actually depicted on the cover itself. There were characters on there, who were supposed to be my main characters – a man, a fourteen-year-old boy and a sandy coloured horse. On the cover, they had turned into a man with a young child and a black horse. It may not have been the worst thing in the history of publishing, but I was upset without doubt. It was as if my characters were gone, together with the story they belonged to. This image was going to be stuck to my own book for the upcoming five years. There was nothing I could do about it – the artist had volunteered to create this for me, so I couldn’t complain. I didn’t even know her! My manuscript was turned into a book, and yet, I never felt completely happy about it. Part of it may have had something to do with the story’s actual content, but that does not matter at this point.

All in all, I’ve definitely learned my lesson. Covers are important, both to the reader and probably also to the authors themselves. The images should depict the story in a fitting way – and in my case, I considered it a failure. That’s what you get when you try to get published in the printing-on-demand way. To be honest, I doubt I would ever pick one of those books from the shelves myself. I hate to admit it, but most of the time they just don’t seem right – or professionally made, for that matter.

The Tale of Coven’s End – A Short Explanation of my Series’ Story

This is not really a blog post in the sense of what I normally write. It is a short introduction to my series, complete with its own fairy tale.

I am always afraid to be regarded as already being published. Posting an excerpt of my first chapter seems a little dangerous to me, so I decided to write a short fairy tale about the origin of my series’ little village called Coven’s End. It probably won’t ever appear in the story, as the level is already too high for my audience. This is not how I normally write, in all honesty. Just to be clear, my series concerns a cursed village, where portals to other worlds keep popping up. The main characters have to deal with all of these strange occurrences, until they figure out what causes all of them.

“Once upon a time, wise men and women ruled over these lands. They knew about the power of nature and spirits. They used that knowledge to create a better world. However, their own people started mistrusting them. They did not understand the magic, so it frightened them. Eventually, they were so scared that they drove off the wise ones. Angered, the wise people decided to flee and come together where no one could find them, so that they could use their powers in secret. They called these groups ‘covens’. Still, no matter how hard they tried, they were found every time. They had no place to go. Their last gathering was here, in these woods, where they decided that the people of this country did not deserve them. After all, they were called ‘witches’ now. When their attackers approached them during their last ceremony, the witches cursed them, their families and this entire village. Right after, they disappeared. That was the end of the coven of Coven’s End – and the reason for every single bad thing happening in this village. The power of the witches is still all around us.”

Now, I have a question: is it really that dangerous to post a small excerpt from an actual chapter?

Writing Tips, Part V: Telling versus Showing

During my time here on WordPress (which is not that long), I’ve seen this question come by several times. I typically try to explain, but it is difficult to do so in only a few lines. I am talking about the ancient debate between showing (mimesis) and telling (diegesis). I am sorry for throwing those terms in there; for some reason I felt compelled to show the one thing I remember from my past literary theory classes. Anyway, that is not the point. The point to this blog post is that I am going to try and explain the difference between showing and telling, so that hopefully the “Show, don’t tell” rule will become clear.

Firstly, telling often refers to describing emotions and conversations in such a way that the reader will have to come up with his or her own interpretations. It is not that horrible; however, a story that is written in this mode will come across as dull and lifeless. For example, you could write:

“She looked happy and surprised. ‘Would you really do that for me?’”

That is not the most visually stimulating word choice, is it? Instead, you could also write:

“Her eyes glimmered in the moonlight and she smiled. ‘Would you really do that for me?’”

I know it is not the best example, but I hope you agree that the second instance is more interesting than the first. Another example, from a first-person point of view, is:

“I felt embarrased.”

Yes, the character feels embarrased, but there are ways to make it clearer. However, it is important to note that a character cannot see themselves. They cannot make observations involving their own bodies, unless it is what they exactly do or feel. They cannot see their cheeks getting red, but this would be fine:

“My cheeks started to glow and I looked down, trying to avoid her glare.”

I admit that this idea of showing is often overly dramatic and it may feel unnatural to some. However, from what I’ve gathered, these second instances are always preferred over their duller counterparts.

Secondly, do not give away information without any explanation to back it up. While you could say that a character is smart, it would be more interesting to have him work out a difficult mathematical problem or come up with a well thought-out plan. Do not say a character is brave if nothing in your story points in that direction – in that case, it would be completely unnecessary information. The most important part here is to let your readers draw their own conclusions about characters’ personalities. The same goes for descriptions of the environment; make your characters use the furniture, or, if you really have to, have them note one important detail. That is enough.

Thirdly, “showing” instead of “telling” is also about choosing the right words – the words that exactly fit the picture you are trying to paint in your readers’ minds. By choosing the right word, you won’t have to explain anything else. You won’t even have to use adverbs to clarify (and, as we all know, adverbs are our enemies). For example, there is the word “to walk”, which means “to move by using one’s feet”. It is one of the least descriptive verbs out there. Instead of “walking”, there are so many other words out there that could be used. “To stroll”, “to pace”, “to hurry”, “to scurry”, “to bolt”, “to dart”… None of these words describe plain walking. However, make sure not to overdo this. “To say” is generally just fine. While you could use other words to imply the way something is said, words like “to warn”, “to note” and “to comment” are not necessary. They are all literally about saying something, wrapped up in a fancy package.

All in all, “show, don’t tell” is all about bringing your story to life. Do not make random statement about characters and at the same time, stay clear from dull descriptions of situations. Show what you would see if you were actually present – unless you actually think in sentences such as “he was sad”, in which case you should not write down your natural observations.

What do you think? Is it indeed so important to “show” or is it fine to sometimes just “tell” something?

Writing Tips, Part IV: Series of Trouble

I was one of those lucky people who decided one day they wanted to write a children’s book, wrote it and then discovered that I had so many fleeting ideas left about it that I could turn it into a series perfectly fine. However, I’ve definitely toyed with the idea of writing a series before. Many times. The only other time I actually tried it, I failed horribly; I could not stand my characters nor the length of a story. These tips will not be about writing epic fantasy series, therefore, as I have no idea how to manage that myself. Instead, they will focus on writing a series of stand-alone stories.

First of all, know your characters. If you are writing a series, you will most likely be stuck with your main characters for a long time – except for when you decide to kill them off, which is not advisable in this kind of stories. There needs to be consistency as to who your characters are. Their personalities cannot suddenly change because it fits better in another story. Characters can grow, though, if you are planning on ever writing an ending. They can learn from their experiences. However, at heart they will still have to be the same people. Do not throw off your readers by turning that shy kid into a bad boy.

Secondly, there should be something in your series that connects your stories to one another – and just using the same characters over and over is not enough to call it a series. Know your main theme. It can be broad, as you can see in television shows as CSI, where every episode contains another crime to be solved. It would be strange if they suddenly stopped trying to solve crimes, right? If that is the kind of series you want to right, you need to stick to the premise. The other kind of series is the one that actually has an ending and a build-up towards it. You will still need to stick to the premise, but this kind of series needs to contain something more: a deeper layer, an impending danger on the background. The climax of the series, in that case, should be foreshadowed in the background of every book or episode. Let your readers know something is coming.

Thirdly, do not let a series drag on forever. Do not try to exploit it. If there is supposed to be an ending, get to it at a reasonable pace. Unless a publishing house has told you otherwise, your series does not need to contain a certain number of books. If you are out of material, do not try to force anything new. By that time, the story needs to be over.

All in all, it is important to keep your series concise and consistent. Of course, G.R.R. Martin’s series is not concise, but that is epic fantasy – the kind of genre I am desperately trying to avoid.

Have you ever tried to write a series? What did it turn out like?

My Beloved Clichés, Part I: Dream Sequences and Prophecies

From the perspective of originality, writing clichés is a mortal sin. Even the definition of the word already states this, as a cliché is “a phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought”. They can be proverbs or saying – true clichés -, they can be certain descriptions and they can be entire elements of stories. In this case, I’d like to talk about the clichéd dream sequences and prophecies, as everyone knows they make for terrible writing and yet I still love them. Don’t most children do so, though?

As for dream sequences, it probably is not hard to imagine why a writer would love writing them. They can be strange, they can mysterious, they can be downright terrifying… but they aren’t real. Or are they? That is the thing about dreams. No matter how horrible they are, it is never clear whether or not their content really happened. Personally, I love playing with this. Creating frightening dreams is a fun activity and it is a way of showing a character’s internal world. As Freud believed, dreams are like a language. They are our subconsciousness. Where a story is the writer’s subconscious, the dream inside the story is the character’s true experience. For instance, my main character is a slightly paranoid boy, albeit his paranoia has more than enough reasons. There is an alien in his house. What do people think of when they hear that word? Abductions, dissections, UFOs. He dreams of the alien staring at him all night, and wakes up only to find out that he was right about that. Luckily, in reality he was not abducted… Or was he? Yes, I know it is a cliché, but playing with the borders of reality definitely helps with creating an uneasy atmosphere.

As for prophecies, they may be even worse than dream sequences. I admit to knowing this and yet loving them. Yes, I love prophecies, especially the kind that comes in rhyme. I am a bit of a poet at heart, although my actual poetry is horrible. However, my story contains a crazy fortune teller who is not believed by anybody. They love her, but her crazy rhymes are nothing more but that. In fact, she loves toying with people through prophecies. At first sight, she might seem a nice lady, but her true nature is slightly more mischievous. I have to be honest here, the fortune teller appeared in the first book of my series as someone’s aunt and she will appear again, although not as obviously. She still is a driving force in the tale, if only because she annoys the main characters so much that they decide to find out the truth on their own.

Clichés are bad. However, saying that they are bad is just as much a cliché. In reality, I’m just trying to free myself from guilt. Sometimes, clichés can be fun, as long as they are used in the right way. I am sorry for sinning like this. I just hope there is a child somewhere out in this world who can appreciate my work.

The Publishers’ Nightmare

I am the publishers’ nightmare. As a shy non-native speaker of the English language who lives overseas, I probably couldn’t be a worse candidate for the English publishing houses. However, that does not mean I would forsake my dream without a fight.

Firstly, yes, I may be shy, but that is not everything I am. It does not shape me as a person, especially because I am shy when it comes down to talking about the weather and other seemingly unimportant subjects. As long as I am not interested, I am shy. Still, once I actively get involved with anything that lies close to my heart, I basically cannot stop talking about it. That’s still a quite annoying quality, but a lot easier than not knowing what to say. To the publishing house that claimed on its site that it refused to accept work from socially awkward writers: too bad, but I am not going to show you my work. I have enough self-esteem not to give it up for your socially inacceptable standards. Do not put guidelines like that up on your site.

Secondly, yes, I may be a non-native speaker of the English language, but that does not mean I am not allowed to try. To me, writing English children’s books is much more interesting than doing so in Dutch. The former is much more lively, in contrary to the stiff Dutch vocabulary. Besides, I am officially a student of the English language. I should be able to master it at a near-native level of speech and writing, and writing is not a problem for me. I consistently get great grades on my essays, so I doubt that would be a problem. However, mastering the literary language is a self-contained skill. I may have to practice some – or a lot – more, but in the end, I will reach my goals.

Thirdly, yes, I live overseas, which may be a huge problem for English publishing houses. Most of them prefer manuscripts from actual British writers, which I am not. However, the British Islands are not that far away from where I live. Nothing but a canal – and a sea, but that would make it sound like a bigger problem – divides Great Britain and the Netherlands. I know it is a presumptious idea to ever have to cross that sea, but I can still dream, right? Plane tickets are not that expensive. I could make it.

All in all, while I may be a true nightmare for British publishers, at least I would like to disprove the reasons why I could never reach my goal. It may still be far off, but publishers, beware. I will cross that ocean, one way or the other.

My Sources of Inspiration, Part V: Boredom

This might be a terrible idea, but one of my main sources of inspiration is boredom. To be honest, I do not have that much going on in my life. Yes, I will be moving out in two weeks, but for now, I am stuck in my home town where I am supposed to study for my exams. I definitely study for them, but that does not take that much time. In fact, I have way too much freedom at the moment. While it is amazing not to have to show up at university for days, it also can get quite tedious when you are all on your own. Coupled with depression, it makes for long-winded days. No parties, no hanging out – everyone is studying back in our university city (well, it is only 15 minutes away, but they are too busy). Still, this boredom works as an amazing source of inspiration for me. Looking at pictures at the Internet is not all that interesting anymore after a week. By then, I want to actually do something. Being bored is what gets my mind racing. It makes me dream of the most horrifying tales I could ever come up with. While my life seems a little empty right now, my mind itself is full of life. Maybe it’s because of my studies, but I am starting to doubt that; translation philosophers are not the most interesting people when you try to write stories on aliens, vampires and urban legends. I love urban legends, let that be clear. Today, I spent most of my time looking up shadow people and black eyed kids, just because I could. My boredom is forcing me to spend my time doing things, whether it is external or internal research. The gears are turning. I am ready for anything.

The Science of Translation

My upcoming exam will be on translation sciences, as translations make up a great part of today’s literary world. Don’t get me wrong, but when I chose a course called Translation Sciences, I was under the impression that we would be taught how to translate. Sadly, that’s apparently not the way universitary courses work. Instead, they are all theory and no practice.

Ever since I was able to read English, I have dreamt of becoming a translator. More precisely, my dream was to translate my own manuscripts into English, hoping that they would be able to spread out over the world that way. That is probably idle hope, though. If I wanted to become a translator, I should have attended a school of applied sciences instead of a regular university.

Personally, I’ve given up on the idea of translating my Dutch manuscripts into English. To me, it is absolutely impossible. The Dutch and English grammar look alike at first sight, but there are so many differences between them that even looking at Dutch texts confuses me. In English, the Dutch “ik woon hier al mijn hele leven” is translated as “I’ve been living here my entire life” (“woon”, in this case, is “have been living”). It is terribly confusing when two languages use different grammar, yet I have to use both at the same time. That is why I have to do without. It may not be a bad thing, though; not being able to really translate has forced me into writing my stories in English. Writing definitely can happen much more quickly when you do not have to use interim measures. I will become a translator someday, but not from Dutch into English. For now, I’ll just be a student, a writer and a wage slave.

The Masters of Literary Theory

No, I am not a master in anything, nor do I think I am. However, after today, I am supposed to at least be adept in the various theories of literary analysis. To be honest, I do not believe most of them – but the test was not bad.

For example, I could try to analyse my own finished manuscript. I’m most likely prejudiced about it, but here we go!

From a feminist point of view, The Face Stealer is probably deemed slightly sexist or otherwise repressed, since the main cast consists of male characters – the two brothers – and they often get into fights with the girls because they are rude and sometimes just mean.

From a postcolonial point of view, I am going to guess that The Face Stealer is viewed as a racist story. Not because it is meant to be racist, but because of the mainly white cast – honestly, what do they expect from a small English town? My main characters are redheads. To the postcolonial criticists, I am sorry that my English boys are Caucasian. Even worse, the monster they have to fight is snow-white! Maybe my professors went a bit too far, but these strange ideas apparently are everywhere.

From a Freudian/psychoanalytic point of view… Well, if you know Freud, you’ll get the point. Of course it’s not an innocent children’s story, there must be some perverse thoughts hidden in there!

To be honest, I really enjoyed this course. It was interesting to find out about all these possible interpretations of stories, although I’ve got to admit that I think most of them are a load of nonsense. I don’t think I am sexist or racist or perverted. Perhaps these theories should not be applied to children’s stories. That would make the world a much better place.