The Pace of Writing VS. The Pace of Reading

Sometimes I’ll be writing a specific scene, and it is like the words can’t come out fast enough.

It is this super tense, oh-my-goodness-wow!, action packed, this is super full on, moment and meanwhile I am at my keyboard going… tap.

tap.

tap. tap.

tap.

And inside I am thinking, ‘AH! This needs to be faster! More intense! I’m writing it soooooo slowly!’

This was basically me this morning. I was scripting this climax piece of a storyline and inside I was jumping up and down but I just couldn’t seem to get the words out fast enough.

And when I did, they had so much ground to cover I didn’t feel like I was able to convey the dynamics of the moment in conjunction to the intensity of the moment.

Then I had this really, really profound thought.

The pace in which I write this book will not be the pace in which it is read.

Literally, while writing takes longer and inside you’re jumping up and down with excitement, and you’re having to describe (often briefly) the goings on that are going on, when a reader gets to it they will plough through that moment like a speed demon.

Basically what I am saying is yes, you feel like it is taking ages writing it, but when someone reads the piece, it will be unlikely they feel it is dragging.

When we write, we have the ability to suspend our characters in reality, take time to describe pieces of information that add to the tension of the piece, that add to the vividness of the writing, painting a clear and wonderful drama in the minds of readers.

We are the masters of our reality, it doesn’t need to be real time, otherwise I swear books would be like…

BANG BANG! CRASH. I am running. He is running. BANG BANG! Smoke, lots of smoke, running.

Get what I’m saying?

So don’t stress if you feel you’re writing is slow or that you are taking too much time painting the scene. Finish the piece, come back, re-read.

Reading will be the true test of the pace.

 

 

Book Review: The Forbidden Wish

I have three different kinds of books.

The first kind I read, love, treasure for all eternity.

Books like this are… The Adventure Series, by Enid Blyton, or The Selection by Keira Cass or even I Am Number Four by Pitticus Lore.

The second kind I read – and possibly don’t finish reading – hate and donate to a charity store.

Books like this have been… Gone by Michael Grant (those books are weird!) ALL of Twilight (I am sorry, I tried!) and honestly? Countless others that I won’t even list here.

The third kind are an interesting type. They’re the ones I read, enjoy – albeit mildly – and then a few months later don’t remember the plot/main characters of.

The Forbidden Wish, by Jessica Khoury was one of those kinds of books.

Don’t get me wrong, the concept is excellent – a retelling of Aladdin? Yes please!

And yes, she has an excellent first name – Jessica is the supreme name after all.

But the reality is that yes, I enjoyed the Forbidden Wish, but I probably won’t be able to remember it in a few weeks time.

I’ll set the scene. Zhara, our protagonist, is a Jin, a Genie of the Lamp, bound inside and buried in a destroyed Empire only to be discovered by thief Aladdin.

Aladdin has a bit of a problem with Darius, who is the nephew of the current King, and Darius’ dad because Darius’ dad murdered Aladdin’s parents. Oh by the way, Aladdin’s dad was this rebel leader in their Empire called the Taylor.

So having stolen a special ring off of Darius, Aladdin finds himself led to this buried empire, where he finds Zhara and sets her free from her lamp, making him her master.

Let me be clear, Zhara is NOT the Genie we remember from the Disney Aladdin, she is young, pretty and very obviously going to fall in love with Aladdin, so you’re going to have to scrub those Robin William’s voiced Genie images from your mind in order to process this book.

In short, Aladdin wants to overthrow Darius and his uncle – who are basically in charge of the Empire, while the actual King is basically incapacitated. Aladdin’s methods are to pretend to be a prince and have the actual Crown Princess, Caspida want to marry him superseding Darius, who is actually meant to marry the princess.

Zhara however is promised her freedom by the Most Powerful of the Jin – and the one who bound her to the lamp – if she rescues the Jin Leader’s son which unfortunately is going to mean betraying Aladdin.

Dun

Dun

DUUUUUUUN

That in itself is the plot. Zhara falls in love with Aladdin, but she doesn’t want to because Jin and Humans can’t mix, and Aladdin is falling in love with Zhara but needs to avenge his parents etc.

There are highlights of this book:

  • Strong female lead characters. Zhara is pretty interesting as a personality, as Caspida is my absolute favourite. They manage to be strong and purposeful, without falling into traps of being overly sterile or violent – like how I find Katniss to be in the Hunger Games for example.
  • Amazing writing technique. Jessica nails the world she is writing about. The descriptive pieces where she is explaining this world her characters are found in are just amazing. You basically want to be there.
  • I like time travel plot twists, and this book has one. I won’t reveal what it is though

There are also lowlights…

  • What the heck Aladdin? You don’t actually have a personality… because he doesn’t. He’s a bit lame and I kind of wish we had more of a twist with his character
  • What the even was going on with that whole rebel, phoenix thing? You won’t understand this without reading the book, but I felt like there were some very big ideas that weren’t linked well together or in some cases, concluded
  • It was a bit wishy washy. Initially the book was hard to get into, until after chapter four or something. All the way through though I found it quite blasé.

In conclusion, I read this book, but will likely forget huge parts one day.

In saying that, I will at some stage in the next few years stop and think to myself ‘Oh yes, I want to read the Forbidden Wish’ and then I will have to go and find it or hope I didn’t donate it to a charity store.

If you’re looking for something really descriptive and entertaining, then by all means get your hands on this, I’d give it a three out of five?

Right now, though, I am pretty content with my childhood version of Aladdin thank you very much!

aladdin.jpg

 

 

 

My Picture Book Treasure Hunt

Recently, I have been a treasure hunter.

Essentially, this roughly translates to trawling through Trademe and second hand stores to find picture books that I loved when I was little.

I had pretty extensive collection as Little-Jessica, which I would read, and re-read on a regular basis.

Sometimes it was something about the story I adored, other times it was the pictures. My mum and dad would buy me loads of books, but the local library I went to in Browns Bay when I was small would often sell off some of their second hand books out the front for like 50 cents.

Thus far, I’ve scored an enormous amount of Sesame Street books, because who didn’t have those? Sure they’re tattered, and crinkled, and not exactly in their prime, but they have that loveliness that old nostalgic books do.

The soft feel of their hand cover, the matte pages within that are admittedly a little bent, but somehow sturdier than lots of the picture books today.

My favorite of the Sesame Street books – excluding Christmas ones, because obviously I love them ten million times more – is Bert and the Broken Teapot. Basically the story of Bert (from Bert and Ernie fame) when he gets a job at a local store and breaks the manager’s favourite teapot.

bert

Then there were the Mouse books.

Oh my goodness the Mouse books, that have the little pop ups and flaps to discover more adorable cuteness! I don’t own many of these books because they are a mission to find, but I have written a review previously about my favourite one, which is ‘Mouse Wedding’.

Check out the cuteness.

These are by Michelle Cartlidge by the way.

Another very special collection of books for me were the Little Critter books, my very favourite of which was ‘I Just Forgot!’ – which I don’t own, so if you want to buy it for me, you’re totally welcome!

I love ‘I Just Forgot!’ because I 100% understand the situation of the main character.

I am awful at remembering things, so the little critter constantly forgetting odds and ends was absolutely the story of my life.

I just forgot

These are by Mercer Mayer and they’re the best.

Then of course there’s Richard Scarry who we will recognize from some Golden Books, but also from various other collections of equally brilliantly illustrated stories.

I am still very much trying to get a hold of these too, so again… if you want to gift me books, this is a good starting point!

There are squillions of other books I have no doubt forgotten to mention, because seriously, my collection was pretty tremendous.

The problem was that my Mum is a primary school teacher, and she has progressively gifted all of my picture books away to her school… so this is why I am a treasure hunter now.

I’d love to hear about any books you read as a kid, and whether it was the stories or the illustrations that you loved – Oh my gosh! The Giant Jam Sandwich, that’s another one… I’ll talk about that later.

Comment below!

X

 

 

 

 

What I Am Reading Now: I Hated This to Begin With.

You know when you start reading a book and then for whatever reason find it like studying the complexities of a piece of card board?

I had that happen to me the other day.

I ordered this book – it is called The Forbidden Wish, by Jessica Khoury (great first name by the way!)

Most of the reason why is because I am very much on the band wagon of ‘revamped Disney stories’ and this book promised to be a re-telling of Aladdin, which is one of my favourite Disney movies of all time.

Here’s the premise.

The story is narrated by a Genie called Zhara, (in these books, Jinni, or Jinn) who was hidden away in a lamp in a buried Kingdom. Zhara is discovered by a street smart thief named Aladdin, and obviously he becomes her Master.

Turns out Aladdin has his own agenda getting revenge for the murder of his parents, and he is also associated with this kind of peasant vs. reigning class uprising. Zhara however is approached by a messenger of a super powerful Jinn with the promise of her freedom if she can help this super powerful Jinn retrieve his son who has totally disappeared.

The more that the story unfolds, Zhara realizes that there’s a connection between her intentions and Aladdin’s, and that while it looks as though she is going to have to completely sell Aladdin out in the end, this may end up being quite difficult to do because Zhara is totally falling in love with him and the last time she had an emotional connection to a human it didn’t turn out very well.

I will not lie to you, it took me like… a few chapters to get into this book. At one stage I actually tucked it away under the couch which is my universal sign for ‘I-Am-Going-To-Stop-Reading-Now-And-I-Am-Going-To-Take-This-Down-To-The-Second-Hand-Store.’

Regardless, I ended up pushing through and suddenly, I was half way through the book, pretty eager to see what happened. I still haven’t finished it yet, but when I do I’ll totally review, I promise.

There are a number of reasons why this book is awesome.

Firstly, the writing is amazing. Just so lush, and descriptive, but not in that dragging, too many adjectives way.

Secondly, the characters are super interesting, especially the female leads. I have wrestled with books in the past when it came to authors creating bland female characters, well in this book every single one of them is a brilliant star in the narrative.

I can’t wait to finish it and let you know what I thought, but I figured I’d share this story with you because often you start something and it can seem super lame, but in the end it isn’t.

We just have to persevere.

 

When I Studied Youth and Salvation

A few years ago now, I undertook a research paper looking at the communication of Salvation within the context of Pentecostal Youth Ministry.

I am passionate about young people, and what upset me was that I saw a lot of young people who would make a decision for Jesus and change their whole lives and it would be awesome.

Then, maybe months, maybe years later, they would change their mind.

So I was left thinking, if Jesus dying for us is the greatest life changing truth, then surely it would have more stickability than making one decision, then changing your mind later on.

It has to be this all consuming, transformative reality that changes us from the inside out.

This was my starting point for my research paper.

Recently, I was looking through my old copy and it was actually really, really interesting, so I thought I’d share it with you.

Narrative theology is my all time favorite thing to talk about, followed closely by atonement theory so I find all of this super interesting, and hopefully some of you will too.

Basically my conclusion was that instead of post-it noting Christian messages on top of existing metanarratives (big stories) that young people receive at school/in music/on line/everywhere, we need to actually speak about salvation in a way that changes the baseline metanarrative itself to Jesus, Yeshua, Greek for God Saves.

This idea that we are caught up in this grand storyline, where Goodness will overcome darkness and all of us now, later on and back in the times of the bible are all characters.

Anyway, here’s the link to the bit where I get down to business, hope you enjoy

God is very real, and Jesus can transform the lives of every person. I believe the starting point for that is understanding this Big Story.

The Need to be Critical AND Creative.

The other day I was watching this documentary about Michael Jackson with my now Husband, Josh. It was that super cool one about his transition from Mo-Town to the Off The Wall Album.

I am not an enormous Michael Jackson fan – in the sense that his music isn’t completely my jam – but I am a huge fan of how he tackled his work.

Michael Jackson was an incredibly, incredibly creative person.

There was this one piece of writing that they quoted, that Michael Jackson scripted himself on how he needed to develop as a creative person, and how the way that he had been wasn’t how he could always be. That he needed to be better, and move forward, dig deeper.

‘MJ will be my new name. No more Michael Jackson. I want a whole new character, a new look, I should be a totally different person … I should be a new incredible actor, singer, dancer that will shock the world. I will do no interviews. I will be magic. I will be a perfectionist.  A researcher. A trainer. A master. I will be better than every great actor rolled in one. I must have the most incredible training system to dig and dig and dig until I find. I will study and look back on the whole world of entertainment and perfect it. Look back on the world of entertainment and take it from where the greats left off.’

I found this hugely challenging.

A lot of the time as a creative person there can be an emphasis on allowing things to unfold naturally. That you can’t force something as it may break the magic.

It may make it sterile, less amazing, less creative, that somehow if you hold onto something, or are too specific about improving it, that it becomes less of what it should be.

That as a creative, you cannot afford to be a perfectionist, so you give yourself permission to ‘go with the flow’ or ‘see how it goes.’

Michael Jackson never did that, at least not from what I could see. Even the more fluid things he did (like pronouncing a phrase more casual than how the record company wanted him to) he looked at in stark reality. Was it working? Was it not working? What was the final product going to be like and most importantly, was it good enough?

A lot of the time as a creative, we may feel tempted to give ourselves more grace than we ought to. We start a project, and allow it to be messy or sloppy, rather than bringing it out into the full light of day and approaching it with a straight tactfulness that people don’t often associate with creative work.

Like Michael noted in this quote above, he saw the need to study, inspect, look at what has been done, and proactively improve it. Challenging himself to be better, to be greater, to be a Master of his trade.

I feel encouraged by this today, because as Michael Jackson said in another quote and as I have heard a number of times before, success comes through persistence. The people who get what they want, live the dream, or become what they want to become aren’t those with luck or raw skill.

They are those who get up every day and do the same thing again and again.

No one really ever became great by accident, because it takes hard work and commitment to do anything genuinely worth while.

As a result of that, I challenge you today, as writers, or whatever you are to be this focused, this tactical, this concentrated on your craft.

When I edit my books I have this thing that I do – I was telling some students about it this week and their eyes nearly fell out of their heads.

Going through my books in the editing process I will often cross out HUGE pieces of writing, or sentences and in the margins write the letters ‘W.B’ This stands for Write Better.

Years ago now, I read this article where an author said the best piece of advice they ever received was that you must always challenge yourself to write better. So now when I edit, if I don’t like it and I don’t feel like it perfectly explains what I wanted it to say, I cross it out and write W.B.

The kids were like ‘WHAT!?’ Because I don’t think they quite understood how I could be so ruthless. That it was either ‘this is amazing’ or ‘this isn’t good enough.’ No in-between.

As creatives we shouldn’t use this as an excuse to be lax or indifferent, or allow ourselves too much freedom to ‘see how it goes.’

We must focus, and try and always W.B.

What I Am Excited About: The Crown

thecrownKiera Cass is one of my favorite authors of all time.

The reason why is because at the end of the day the point of her writing is to script entertaining, non-over-complicated, PG-appropriate stories.

It isn’t enormously profound.

It isn’t meant to challenge me.

It is just good writing, that you want to read, that actually (I believe) positively encourages young women, providing good role models.

Her ‘Selection’ Series basically rocks my world for all of the above reasons. When I need a good read over a holiday that feels like a comfy pair of PJs, this is where I look on my bookshelf.

If you have somehow missed this bandwagon at all, ‘The Selection’ Series is like dystopian Bachelor – although I have read that it is based on the biblical story of Esther?

The first half(ish) of the series follows America, who is a girl randomly selected to compete for the heart of the Prince of this dystopian society (amongst a bunch of other girls, as per their cultural custom. This is where it’s like the Bachelor)

The people in those society are from different social classes – America is kind of bottom middle – and things aren’t good. They become better over the course of the books, when we come to Eadlyn.

I won’t ruin the series for you, but the second half of ‘the Selection’ series follows the new story of the Crown Princess Eadlyn, who is will inherit the crown from her father (in the earlier series)

Eadlyn is all kinds of sass, and such a interesting female lead. The story is told from her perspective as she enters her own Selection process (the first one ever which is made up of a bunch of boys trying to win the heart of the Princess)

Thus far only one book has been released about Eadlyn, and personally it is my favorite, mostly because it seems the most original and the characters the most real.

I am pretty pumped because the second book – and final in the whole series – is due out this year in April/June. If you are not on board with this series yet, you absolutely need to get on board right now and be excited with me.

It is an interesting series, and a good ‘go to’ for rainy days/long weekends. I highly recommend it, and it goes without saying that I have The Crown – the final book – on pre-order.

 

The Importance of Context

Isn’t it funny how context can change everything?

How when you look at something external to the circumstances of it and it can seem completely different?

How you can turn around the perception of an event/person/setting simply by expanding on the context of it?

How if you lose sight of the context of an event/person/setting it can make the whole outcome completely skewed?

As a writer, you can never, ever lose context.

That is the moment your writing is going to completely suck.

Harsh but true.

The thing is, you don’t lose context within the passion. You don’t lose context when you’re in the heat of the moment, when you’re absolutely obsessed with your storyline, and you keep writing and writing because you cannot stop yourself.

No. Because you can barely take your eyes off the narrative, let alone stop thinking about it.

Where losing context becomes especially difficult when the relationship between you and your story shifts from the realm of passion to commitment.

Don’t get me wrong! You can fall back in love with your story, and you probably will as you keep chipping on at the narrative, but there will come a point (when editing, or working on a larger project) when you lose the fiery passion and instead your writing is motivated more by ‘Have-To-Finish-This-Damn-Thing’.

When you’re coming in and out of stories, it becomes really easy to get ‘the wobbles’.

The Wobbles is what I call it when you’re unsettled writing, you don’t script huge pieces at a time, so it becomes really easy to lose the full context of a story in the little bit you’re working on in that little bit of time you have left.

So what do you do when you lose context?

How do you hold it back together?

I have a few ideas, because this happens quite frequently to me.

The first thing I do is…

Identify Key Points

Your narrative is going to have key points or features. ‘Such and such is angry that their cat ran away.’ or ‘When they go into the cave what’s his name has a turning point of character.’

Usually when I am trying to keep context of a story, I will list out specific points I need to remember, either in a brain storm, a bullet pointed list or a flow diagram.

It needs to be straight forward and clear regarding what you need to keep constantly in mind for the sake of the story.

No fiddly bits, only vitally necessary information.

Write A Storyline and Keep To It No Matter What

Often I will get disillusioned when I am struggling to write. I’ll think ‘oh this is boring, this isn’t working, blah blah blah,’ and then I will make (most of the time) minor adjustments to the story which eventually lead me completely off course.

No matter what, make sure you write a storyline.

No matter what, stick to it.

Any alterations – if they are boring – can be made later when you’ve finished the story, in the editing process.

Read Back – ALL THE TIME.

Often I will be sitting with my iPad and people will say ‘whatcha reading…?’

I will look at them, somewhat embarrassed and say ‘Oh my own book…’

They then give me that ‘oh-my-gosh-how-conceited-are-you?’ stare, but I merrily keep reading.

Look, generally there are two reasons I read over my own stories almost obsessively

  1. I wrote them, so I really, really enjoy them because they are 100% what I am looking for in a story
  2. reading back helps me keep perspective.

I highly encourage you to read back through your work again and again, especially if the book is long.

Context is so hugely important, and without it nothing makes sense.

 

These are a few of my tips to help stay on top of the game.

 

Jessica’s Third Law of Motivation

Law of motivation.jpgBack in year twelve, I took physics.

I wasn’t any good at it, and I didn’t necessarily enjoy it, but I felt like I needed to take a science and chemistry and biology were not at all my kind of subjects.

Anyway, one thing that has always stuck with me from this period of time doing Physics, were Newton’s Laws of motions.

Mostly because natural laws are natural laws, and I appreciated how genuinely true these statements were to now just our physical world, but the whole world.

The became all the more true for me when I was thinking just the other day about the continual motion of a narrative.

The way it constantly moves, around and around and around, and we swing from action to consequence, cause to effect. One character does this, so this happens, then that, and it keeps going and going.

Fundamentally narratives are about relationship.

The way things work with other things.

Characters with Settings and situations and other characters, it is all in all about relationships.

Which is why similarly to Newton’s Third Law of Motion – every action has an equal and opposite reaction – narratives have a law of motivation.

A law of what drives characters to do what they do, where the force of action is equal to what happens in return.

I call it my third law of motivation and it goes a little something like this:

‘Every intention worked out in an action has an equal and opposite repercussion.’

Basically, everything a character feels – when it is worked out in an action – will have a repercussion.

This may sound super obvious, but it is important that we weigh up what our characters do in stories, and what actually happens to them because of doing that thing. Those repercussions can be negative, or positive, but at the end of the day, no action can go unreturned.

The reason I was thinking about this recently, was I was reading a book (I won’t name which, because the author is actually awesome and the book was an early project) and it seems that the majority of the things that the character did sort of faded off into a nothingness with no realistic outcome. There were no consequences! And as a result, it made the story a little… fake.

As authors when we undertake our planning we need to keep in mind that our character cannot do anything without having some kind of outcome spring from it. These outcomes need to be realistic, and allow readers to feel there has been a conclusion, or a natural resolution to that component of the narrative.

More often than not, these consequences can become blind-spots in our editing process, a problem we can overlook that genuinely needs to be fixed in order to make your narrative more believable.

No character – or person for that matter – can have intentions, outworked in actions, without repercussions.

 

 

Being Uncertain Is Worse.

I’ve learnt something recently.

That being uncertain is often worse than being unwaveringly sure of what you want.

The thing is I like to be a nice person – we all do – so when we want something, even if something doesn’t go our way, we smile and say ‘Oh it is totally fine, don’t worry about it.’

I half realized this when I saw planning my wedding… I was trying to be the easy breezy chilled out bride, but actually, most of the time it was trying to be that easy breezy chilled out bride that 100% got up people’s noses.

This was because people would ask me a question, and I’d try and be really, really relaxed so I didn’t come across as demanding.

Problem is this annoyed people because they just wanted to know yes, or no, and for me to make up my mind!!!!

This is all the more true for writing.

Being uncertain is worse than being sure and ultimately wrong.

When you’re uncertain, you wobble, and weave and in the end what you’re left with is a big, big mess.

When we are writing stories, there will always be ‘grey zones’. By this I mean the zones where we aren’t entirely sure what we want to do with yet. So often, when this happened, instead of making up our mind and committing to an idea, we muddle on, vague, and not pinning down the key points to construct a sold argument.

I’m a MASSIVE bandit at this, because sometimes I am not 100% sure how I want things to work out in the long term, so I waffle a bit, fudging things until I am sure.

The problem is that if YOU don’t have a direction, then your READERS won’t have direction. Worse yet, the writing becomes dull and ineffective at engaging the audience.

It is better to write with conviction in a direction (even if you’re not sure about it) and then go back and edit it, if you change your mind.

I did this with a book I wrote called Dare. I wasn’t entirely sure how I wanted things to be resolved between the main character and the bad guy.

The story was about a sidekick turned super hero, in a city where a super villain had recently manifested. The super villain had an interest in an abandoned mine called Kissinger Quarry. Issue was that in the over all plot, the Kissinger Quarry business was a bit of a red herring to keep people unaware of what was ACTUALLY unfolding, so the interest the villain had with it was insubstantial (my fault…)

I wasn’t sure WHAT the bad guy wanted with the Quarry.

So I muddled. I wriggled and wrote vague things until I finished the story and when I came back at it through the editing process, it was like a slap in the face with a wet teabag.

As a result, I sat down and asked myself ‘what is really going on here?’

I’d had an inclination of what I’d probably want to do at the start, and I ended up using that idea.

Problem was that correcting this was a MISSION and took a million years to turn it around to how I ended up scripting the story.

In reality, what would have been better is if I had gone with my gut initially, because then whatever corrections I had to make would be strong, and easy to reedit, rather than soft and laced through the script.

In the second book of this series, the sidekick turned super hero was getting his formal qualifications at super-hero-school. I wrote with conviction, despite being uncertain of how I wanted things to work out with the main character and the discovery of just who was leaking super hero identities out of the super hero school.

When I finished the book I wasn’t 100% happy with how I’d implemented this part of the story, and had a better idea of how it should eventuate.

This time because I’d been so plain, the ideas that needed to be adjusted to make room for the new plot were easy, because rather than hiding and being vague because I didn’t know what I wanted to do and didn’t want to draw reader’s attentions to it, I had chunks that I could say ‘yes, this needs to change’

I hope this is making sense, but it is way better to write with conviction, than to be vague and uncertain. It is FAR easier to change your mind – if you need to that is!

Anyway, happy New Year, readers, I’ll post again soon!

X Jessica