Put down that book

Put down that book

Wotcher!

So it’s been a while, hasn’t it? How have you been? Recently settled back into my little Canadian dwelling after a long, wonderful and exhausting trip to Europe, it seems to me that this rainy day is perfect for a new blog post.

Shall we talk a bit about writing? I’d like that.

Now, I love a good book. One of my favourite activities is to wander around Waterstones and pluck random novels from the shelves. Every reader has their own little ritual for picking a book. Some will look at the blurb on the back. Some go for prize-winning works. Some get recommendations from friends. Maybe some of you like to judge them by their covers, shame on you.

Here’s my personal method, feel free to test it.

First I look at the blurb. Is it snappy? Is the plot appealing to me? Good. Then I open it at page one and read the first two or three paragraphs. If I find myself reading the whole page and then some, that book is mine!

Finally I open it somewhere in the middle and once again, read a few paragraphs. This is because the opening of a novel is not always reflective of the entirety of the writing. Is the dialogue any good? How does the style hold throughout? This is important because there are quite a few, shall we say, grammatical choices that will make me put down a book and never ever ever ever pick it up again.

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Let us review some of those, because why the hell not?

Bland narration

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There is a stereotype in the writing world that first person is for young adults. There are first person young adult novels, absolutely, of course, sure. But there is also Irvine Welsh. Present tense storytelling suffers from the same stereotype. But once again, give Irvine Welsh a try. His are some pretty fucking brilliant first person, present tense novels.

But.

More often than not you open a first person novel and it feels like the usual third person narrator is for some reason speaking in first person. You cannot, repeat, cannot approach a first person narrative in the same way you would a third person narrative. They are completely different and require two very different states of mind from the author. When you are writing in first person, your narrator isn’t some mystical entity (unless it is). It’s a person. A living, breathing human being (unless it’s not).

You need to be an actor. You are the character. You’re a fifty-year-old working-class lorry driver with a kind heart and simple style. Would you describe your partner like a painter would describe a sunset? Doubtful. You are brushing your teeth after a long day at work. Would you stop and describe your wavy dark hair and piercing green eyes in front of the bathroom mirror? No, you would not.

Besides, it is so much fun to just be a character, act like them, talk like them. Go ahead and enjoy it. If you do, there’s a good chance your readers will too.

 

Over-the-top punctuation

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Ellipsis followed by exclamation mark does not… create surprise! It is not… punchy! Mainly, it’s just… aggravating!

That is not how you create suspense in a scene. Don’t you see how it doesn’t make any sense? Suspense should build through content and emotions. This is a gimmick. Get rid of it.

Please also get rid of this!! And how about leaving this in the trash?! In fact, even a single exclamation point, used by a third person narrator, is cringe-worthy. “Then he discovered that, standing next to her, was his father!” Why are you attracting attention to yourself? You are not a character, you are not part of this story, make yourself scarce, for God’s sakes!!

Here’s a confession. I put down The Catcher in the Rye and never took it up again. Want to know why? Because it kept telling me how to pronounce every single sentence. Italics are acceptable if, and I would argue only if, the sentence could mean two different things, depending on the inflection. Otherwise, keep your italics for titles and foreign language words.

Yes, style is important. Yes, experimenting is fine. But please do make sure it actually improves the immersion. Stories are meant to be captivating, to draw you in. Aggressive punctuation pulls you out. Just do the math.

 

Forced feelings

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Okay so I’m just going to come out and say it. Twilight. The Twilight series is a great example of that, but it is not the only one.

You’ve seen this happen. The main girl and the main guy are madly in love and you can’t for the life of you figure out why. “But Gwen, love just happens, there is no why!” Shut it, stop, don’t. People who don’t have fun together, don’t laugh together, don’t share deep thoughts, don’t allow themselves to be silly in front of each other, people who don’t like each other are not in a strong forever relationship. If they hadn’t tragically and stupidly died, I would have given Romeo and Juliet about a month together. Love at first sight? Please. I think what you mean is lust at first sight. And you can’t write a good romance on lust alone. When I read about a romance, I want to be reading about a friendship.

This also goes for other feelings. Hate. Jealousy. Guilt. Shame. Don’t force your characters to feel things because you want them to. Create the believable circumstances in which they will organically come to feel the feels. They will thank you for it. Or they won’t. Don’t pressure them.

 

So here you have a nice little top three of what will make me put down a book. What are your personal pet peeves? How about sharing with the rest of the group?

Laters!

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15 things

15 things

Hullo, there, lovely people!

This is day two of WordPress University and today’s assignment is about lists. I love reading blogs in list-form. They’re usually clear, easy to read, informative yet personal… everything I like about blogs. When they’re well-written, obviously.

Making lists helps me feel in control of my life. I mean, obviously, you can’t be entirely in control, because what’s the fun in that? But for someone who stresses out about every single thing out there, a list is reassuring. So I started listing things for this post, randomly. Whatever came into my mind. And soon enough I realised that I was compiling a list of things that make up my calm self. The me that feels in control.

So without further ado, here is a reassuring list of other reassuring things and self-affirming things in my life, in no particular order. Hopefully some of them can help you too.


 

1 – My partner

I thought I’d start with the most obviously important. Having love in your life, in any shape or form (not necessarily romantic love, mind), is vital. To me specifically, my partner is a very important anchor in my life. I’ve often heard that committing to a relationship is like giving up on your freedom. But here is the deal, okay? There is nothing wrong with planning your life around another person. In fact, the degree of commitment I share with my partner is liberating. We can count on each other and that makes me feel more free than I’ve ever felt before.

2 – ASMR

ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. Have you ever used one of those head massager things that look like metal spider legs? That almost unbearable tingly feeling along your scalp and down your spine? ASMR is when you get this feeling without any actual physical touch. This reflexive response can result from different auditory triggers, such as the light tapping of nails against a glass jar, the swooshing sound of a paintbrush against a microphone, or a soft whispering voice. Some lovely YouTubers create experimental videos of triggers, often mixed in with some relaxing roleplaying. This is all about imagining yourself in calming situations, concentrating on something to forget your everyday worries.

3 – Writing

Okay, this one barely requires explanation. Writing is good for you, let’s leave it at that. Try it. Nobody needs to read the result if you don’t want to. You can write for yourself. How about a dream journal? Or a diary? Or, hey, a blog!

4 – Yoga

It’s very widely-known that yoga has all sorts of benefits. A few years of yoga have made me a lot calmer and a lot less prone to stress over little things. It’s a process. Doesn’t happen overnight, but you do start feeling the results quite quickly. And then you get to a point where every single session leaves you walking home with a skip in your step and wandering eyes, happily checking out the architecture of the city you weren’t even noticing anymore. I practice Hatha yoga, the slow, traditional kind, based on balance and strength, and holding postures for five to seven breaths. It’s harder than it looks and it’s wonderful, even if you don’t buy into all that chakra esoterism. I know I don’t.

5 – Picking out clothes

I can’t quite believe I’m saying this, because clothes used to be the last thing on my mind, but it is true that picking out your outfit to match your current mood can make your day brighter and just easier to go through. This is especially the case for people who tend to feel body dysphoria. I’m genderqueer. Androgynous. Genderfluid. Ambivalent. One of those, or all of them. I’m still working on the label (more on that later). Some days, I change my clothes three times, looking to find my sense of “self”, my comfort zone. This isn’t because I’m vain. It’s because I’m trying to be myself and clothes contribute to that a lot. Don’t let anyone make you feel bad for taking that time to put on your “me” clothes.

6 – Bath items and skin care

Another obvious one, I guess, but it’s true. For one thing, picking out your scent is an important thing. Smell is one of our most primal senses. For another, the time you set aside to do a clay mask or paint your toenails or even just put on an extra layer of conditioner in the shower, is your moment. It’s just for yourself, it’s not something you’re doing for work. When I’m brushing my hair after the shower, with my bamboo brush, I make sure to not just go through the motions. Really feel it. Feel that you’re taking good care of yourself and that anyone who loves you would want you to take good care of yourself. Even if it means not answering the phone or glancing at the agenda at the same time.

7 – Decorating

Ever since I met my partner – even a bit before, actually – I’ve had this strong nesting instinct. I’ve wanted a place that could be my home, that I’d make mine by picking out furniture, decorations, drapes and cushions. For an introvert, having a comfy place that feels like it’s yours, your den, can save you from a mental breakdown. My personal favourites are soft things. Blankets, plushies, cushions… Hell, now I want to build a fort in the living-room!

8 – Music

Especially singing. In my last post I mentioned the fact that I could actually live without writing if I had to. I’m not sure I could live without ever singing. It’s like a reflex. I sing in the shower, I sing when I’m doing the dishes, I sing along to the tunes in TV shows. Singing is a beautiful thing that many animals do. It expresses feelings, and it’s very relaxing because it forces the air to come out of your lungs slowly and rhythmically. It even soothes my stomachaches. You guys, it’s magic!

9 – Plushies and Disney

Don’t laugh. Okay, laugh if you want. There are about fifteen plushies in my one-bedroom flat right now and some of them were even bought when I was a kid. Soft toys are the allergic kid’s pets and the shy kid’s friends. They are cuddling and cute and they make me smile. Sue me. In the same I’m-a-four-year-old-in-the-body-of-an-adult vein, I also watch Disney movies. And I love most of them, still. A story doesn’t become less important or less valid, just because it is aimed at young people. Neither does a plushie.

10 – Coloring

I can’t draw to save my life, and it has a lot to do with the fact that I’m a ginormous clutz. But it also has to do with my inability to make decisions. What should I draw? What should I do? Where should I start? A coloring book is much better and more relaxing for me because the decisions are already pretty much made for you. It’s a tree. It’s there. All you have to do is pick out a color you like and concentrate on the tiny leaves. Again, it’s all a matter of concentrating on something very specific in order to keep your brain from going all over the place and back again.

11 – Countryside

Nature makes me happy. I think I’m not the only one. The city can be a stressful place, even the most friendly one. I live in Quebec City, a rather friendly city where people aren’t constantly walking on your toes or pushing you around. Still, sometimes, seeing a large expanse of trees, fields and sky, entirely devoid of buildings, can be a literal breath of fresh air. I want to be able to take the train at the weekend and spend time in the countryside. It’s usually doable. No countryside is too far away to be reached, if you really want to reach it.

12 – Reading

Writers read. It’s quite natural. Let me tell you a secret, though. It’s been a long time since I’ve had the time and mind space required to read a decent-sized novel. And that’s okay, it happens. A long read is a commitment and you have to be in the right mind frame. If, like me, you’re having trouble reading long books, for any reason, here’s my tip: Snoopy. I’ve been reading the Peanuts series for a while and not only is it fast-paced and easy to read, it’s incredibly philosophical and well written.

13 – Essential oil diffuser

I’d wanted one for a long time and I finally bought one from Amazon.ca. It’s a simple enough little device, with a wooden finish to make it look natural. You just put in water and a few drops of your favorite scent, and voilà. It lights up if you want it to, in a lot of different colors. It emits a constant little buzzing sound that I was worried about at first, but it turns out it’s quite soothing. I turn it on every night and would highly recommend it.

14 – Tea

Anyone who spent ten minutes in my house would know I love tea. All sorts of tea. Green, black, white, herbal… Tea warms you up and makes you want to sit at the computer and write. I know some people find that tea is a bit bland, and maybe it’s true of some teas. What I would say is that half the enjoyment of tea actually comes from the smell. If you like the scent of a tea, then why not just hold the smoking mug under your nose and get a nice big whiff. Take your time, really breathe in and out and in again. The next sip will be that much more tasty.

15 – Introspection

Introspection is a fancy word for “obsessing about yourself narcissistically while staring at the ceiling”. Because it seems that, for some reason, obsessing about yourself narcissistically while staring at the ceiling isn’t a very productive thing to do. Sometimes that’s true. Sometimes it’s not productive. Sometimes you’re just thinking of how much you suck and how you hate yourself. But thinking about your identity, about who you are and what you want from life can be very productive and very self-affirming. It’s helpful to occasionally take a step back and glance at the big picture of your life, goals and dreams.


 

So there you have it, folks. These are things that help me sort of keep my life from boiling over and melting my brain. Do you have any of those little things to help you relax or put things in perspective? Share in the comments, if you’d like.