Obstacle #16: Missing bridges

Let’s jump right into today’s topic: missing bridges; or having points A, E and K but not knowing how to get there. I’m still not sure that’s appropriately titled, so if you have a better word or description, let me know. I’d say this topic is closely related to Writer’s Block, so much so I do believe they’re siblings!

This happens to me all the time, mostly because whenever I have a new idea for a story, it’s usually E or K, and when I finally manage to get an A, well– I can’t get to B, or I do get B but I’m stuck at A.5. Yikes.

Sometimes I unblock myself before I’m sitting down and staring at the blinking bar on my screen. Sometimes I decide to screw the A.5 and go straight to B, I’ll figure it out later. Sometimes I just start writing crap and lo and behold, something magical happens… I get a better idea, or I’m more awake when editing.

There’s no time limit in which the bridges build themselves (because, well, they never do), although it might be related with stress levels in your life, I don’t know. Maybe it’s an inverse correlation? Or maybe, and I think this every time I try to write, it’s not related to anything. I mean, it’s the same as forgetting a word (which happens a lot, especially when you’re abroad and losing your Engrish) and then being reminded by someone else talking about a pineapple. The brain works in strange ways… Or our minds just love the random jumps?

Perhaps that’s just how we function. Besides, I don’t think missing bridges is a bad thing though, I mean if you had everything planned out I’d probably be supremely impressed, and probably a little put off and cough something sounding like  “control freak,” but at the same time I know just how painful and annoying these gaps in the road feel.

But maybe we’re thinking about it all wrong, and the missing bridges aren’t actually missing – in fact they’re not bridges at all. We’ve just been paving our road through any land and ended up destroying forests, mountains, deserts or marshes perhaps without looking. But these gaps aren’t gaps; they’re us running out of cement, pausing and actually looking around and figure out where we are. That’s when new ideas happen, and the road you were building suddenly turns to dirt but U-turns and then zigzags off into the horizon. Follow that road, and there’s your story.

Suddenly, Missing Bridges and its evil twin, Writer’s Block,  erupt in maniacal laughter in your face and skip away together into the eternal sunset. The end.

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Monthly Blurb #1

As promised, my first Weekly Blurb! I was busier than anticipated this past week so it’s kind of a last minute write, with very little editing. (How the hell did it end up this long anyway!?)

Any comment and/or constructive criticism is always welcome. 🙂

You may feel free to share, reblog, or comment, but please do not steal my words or take credit for them. Thank you. © Alison Juste

Prompt: A spy is discovered and must flee the country. 3rd person POV. Min. 300 words, max. 1,000 words.

One quick glance in her room and Maki knew she was Kimie again; the gig was up. With no time to lose, she hurried to the electric heater, untouched among her possessions now strewn across the tatami floor, took out the back and withdrew a small and slim backpack reserved for emergencies.

Time kept on ticking, she had maybe five minutes to make a clean getaway. Rather than taking the normal route out – taking the stairs and down hallways – and risking an unpleasant encounter, she opted for the window. Using the laundry lines as rope, she inched away from the wall and dropped to grab the next line, which predictably broke but lessened her fall nonetheless.

She moved quietly in the twilight, heading for a bustling neon lit street. It didn’t take long before she distinguished sets of footsteps following her. She maintained her current speed and direction, highly aware of people all the while calculating possibilities and going through train times.

They wouldn’t try anything on this street; it was a buffer zone and too populated for their taste. She knew, she’d spent the last two and a half years undercover after all. Still, she had to lose her tail if she was to make it safely onto the train. Dodging drunk businessmen, she rounded the next corner and dashed a few meters, thankful for her tennis shoes rather than the usual heels. The footsteps echoed behind her, soon followed by voices. “Maki-chaaan!”

“Where do you think you’re going Maki-chan?”

“The boss wants to have a looong talk with you.”

She realized as she approached the next intersection she’d been herded into this side street, no doubt to keep onlookers to a minimum. Three guys blocked the exit in front of her, and she knew there were even more behind her. Great… So much for a clean getaway, but if she took too long she’d miss the train. She broke into a run, focused on the slight opening between one guy and the wall.

The guys stepped forward, arms ready to snatch and restrain her, but she threw them in disarray when she feigned jumping over them and instead gave herself enough speed to slide below. A few passersby stared at her and her scraped leg as she got up and ran away full speed before the guys could catch her. Obviously, they took off after her, but she was smaller and using the crowd to her advantage.

Finally, she made it to the train station and was about to rush through the gates when she collided with someone. “I’m so sorry, I–!”

“Maki-chan?”

Oh, crap. “Haruna-san, it’s been a while.”

Haruna got up, patting her clothes clean. “I know, you quit the club so suddenly only after two months! It’s great to see you.”

Maki smiled politely, shooting nervous glances around and straining her ears. “Why don’t you come to the club with me tonight? You might even make a bit of cash.”

“Ah, I’d love to Haruna-san, but I can’t. I’m going home to check on my father, he’s not doing too well these days.”

The sudden hush that swept through the station was hint enough for Kimie that she was surrounded. Ditching the polite custom, she hurriedly said goodbye and pushed past Haruna to get through the gates, ran all the way up the escalator and held her breath as she ran through the loud buzz signaling the doors closing.

Although she was squished between sweaty people and the door, concealing herself was easier in a crowd. Made it… But she wasn’t out yet… No doubt they had called up all their associates and gotten in all their cars to greet her at the airport.

By the time the train reached Tokyo station, she had mere minutes to hop on the Narita Airport bound train. She forwent the usual patience and pushed through the crowd until the doors closed safely behind her. The train departed and she locked herself in the bathroom for her makeover, although her scratched leg would give her away.

Once at the airport, Kimie fell behind a lone man on the phone, pretending to be with him but just lagging behind. She noticed her pursuers rather easily, no matter how much they tried to blend in, they stood out in her eyes. Either they didn’t anticipate her chameleon attributes or they were trying to lull her into a false sense of security and catch her at the last minute.

She followed the man as much as she could, until it became clear that he was heading for the restroom. She let him get ahead a few steps, then said “Ok, I’ll get the tickets then,” before making her way to the airline counter and proceeding to surreptitiously buy a ticket for an international flight, hiding her credit card in her passport.

Getting to and through security was another story, but she had to go undetected until then. Stopping at a ridiculously overpriced shop, she bought a new outfit and a new, larger bag to hold everything. She changed in the bathroom, making sure her wig hadn’t budged, and headed for security.

Everything would work out, they shouldn’t be able to do anything too drastic around such security. But she was wrong. She was standing in line, ticket and passport in hand, her things ready to be scanned when she heard someone yelling her ‘name.’ She didn’t turn around, despite her instincts telling her to. She was Kimie and knew no one here. But when someone forcibly grabbed her shoulder and turned her around, her fighting instincts took over.

Before her ‘boyfriend’ of two years could make a move, he was knocked out and shoved aside. Unfortunately, she realized she was outnumbered both by the Yakuza and the airport security officers, neither of which would just let her walk away.

Word count: 980

I have issues with this, but I won’t get into them because– for one, I just finished writing this, and for another, I don’t want to. Practice is practice, so hah. 😛 An outsider’s perspective, however, is always welcome, just remember I didn’t spend more than a day and a half developing this. (よろしくお願いします!)

All work published is the intellectual property of © Alison Juste. Please do not republish anything from this site without express written permission. Sharing links or reblogging is welcome.

New category: Weekly Blurb!

Once upon a time, a friend and I discussed writing.

Friend: “Alas, I enjoy writing but prefer thinking of things to write!”
Me: “Alas, I relish writing but cannot get myself to write!”
Friend: “… Hold, friend, for I just had a brilliant thought.”
Me: “Pray tell, what is this moment of brilliance!”
Friend: “I shall henceforth send you an idea, and you shall pen it down.”
Me: “A great thought indeed!”

And thus it shall be.*

Hence, the new category was born. I give you, the Weekly Blurb!

Every Monday I’ll post the prompt followed by my tidbit of writing for your enjoyment. Feel free to post your own blurbs if inspiration strikes. 😉

* This conversation might or might not be slightly paraphrased.

Obstacle #15: Dialogue

It’s Friday! You know what that means… The weekend has come! Along with my blog post.

Today’s topic: dialogue, and possible-pointers-with-no-guarantees.

Voice 1: Soo…
Voice 2: … Yeah?
Voice 1: Nothing, I was just… you know.
Voice 2: Uuh… nope, I don’t.

Isn’t that boring? Granted, there’s no context or back story, but pointless dialogue is pointless (unless you have Up’s Doug, then everything has a point, ha ha–). Of course, most dialogues in writing actually look like this:

“Soo…” said Voice 1.
“… Yeah?” replied Voice 2.
“Nothing, I was just… you know.” said Voice 1, fidgeting.
“Uuh… nope, I don’t.” awkwardly answered Voice 2.

Not much better huh? When I took my Creative Writing 101 class, the instructor mentioned to get rid of all those tags, or anything after the dialogue, when unnecessary. And frankly, you don’t need them once it’s established who’s speaking. Maybe it’ll look a bit more like this:

“Soo…”
“… Yeah?”
“Nothing, I was just… you know.”
“Uuh… nope, I don’t.”

See? No tags, and you still knew who was talking. Hopefully not just from reading the same thing over and over, but because each speaker (supposedly) has their own, unique voice. It’s a little more difficult with more than two people, but if your characters are established and one is known to be snarky, one lazy and one preppy, well– no problems conveying who’s who to your readers.

Even better without the tags, actually, because your readers can imagine each character’s action as they go: if they’re uncomfortable, dominating the room, or anything.

Of course you’ll need a few tags sometimes, but apparently it’s easier to stick with “said X” than anything because readers kind of gleam over that. If your dialogue is good enough, I can see how it’ll work. It’s probably just a lot of trial and error, and even more feedback from readers.

Okay so: get rid of unnecessary tags. But that’s only one aspect of dialogue. Aren’t there writers out there who feel like dialogue is a good buffer, to air out the dense paragraphs or alleviate the text? Personally, I don’t think that’s a good way to look at it, although I’m not sure I can explain it clearly.

Dialogue is… how your characters take over your book. Just teasing, but it’s a way to move the story forward probably quicker than through narration. It keeps your characters interesting when they react to events or other people and it’s really where their personalities can shine. In some situations, dialogue can describe/illustrate something a thousand times better than narration, because it paints a picture.

So does narration, okay fine, but somehow dialogue’s different. They’re all just words we pick and place next to each other after hours of agonizing over which word to use, but dialogue doesn’t have to. Dialogue is human and easier to convey because wow, we have many dialogues X times a day!

Of course, that’s not to say dialogue is easy to write. On the contrary, it might be (is?) even harder to write. You don’t want pointless “Uh huh”s or “I see”s peppered throughout your story that the readers will just skip, so it needs to be clever, maybe concise and be full of character. Humor’s always good, as long as it’s not forced.

Basically, while you might use dialogue as a buffer on your first draft, by the last draft the dialogue should be a crucial part of the story, which also makes it come alive. As always, if you have any tips or comments, feel free to share them. 🙂

Obstacle #14: Comfort zone(s)

Hellosankyuugoodbye. Nah, I’m kidding, although that is what some students say to me in the hallways, go figure. Happy Friday? I feel like my stress levels have only epically increased all week…

Okay so today’s topic: comfort zone(s), and how stepping out of them feels like climbing Mt Fuji. (Actually, I won’t know how that feels until August, so I might have to revise this later. :P) I’ve been meaning to write this for a while, but I kept forgetting every week. I’d write something else and remember on the weekend “wasn’t there another topic–?”

So hah, I finally remembered and wrote it down! Step 1 accomplished. Onto step 2, the explaining?

Everyone has comfort zones, whether we acknowledge them or not. I feel like mine include avoiding writing characters who differ from  me, as in, (way) older or younger and possibly any male character, not to mention someone with different origins than me. I can write them, but if you’ve seen the size of my library– well, you know how small it is right now…

I don’t mean to say I never write those characters (although I’m pretty sure I haven’t really tried very hard yet, except for fanfictions when I wrote my characters as Japanese), I mean to say I feel like what I would write wouldn’t be ‘authentic’ (whatever that means). I don’t really remember what it feels like to be a kid, but being around them all day is a good reminder. I certainly don’t know what it feels like to be old (and wise?), or to have kids and be a parent, or to be part of a minority, or or or…

So as a writer, what’s my job? To read a lot about anything and everything? How much research do I need? How much is left up to imagination? I should blend both, right?

Up to now it’s mostly been basing my characters off personal experiences, people I know or have talked to and experiences I’ve read about. But I feel like that’s not enough, and wondering how others do it. Please tell me!

Other comfort zones I haven’t crossed yet: writing other genres, although that’s kind of ironic because 75% of the time I don’t exactly know what genre I write… Pretty sure I don’t write nonfiction, anything historical, or romance.

If I have more comfort zones (let’s face it, I probably do), I don’t think I’m aware of them yet. So tell me what you have trouble with and maybe I’ll find myself nodding along. If you have any experiences, tips or comments feel free to share. :3

Obstacle #13: Tense(s)

I would copy a friend and spell out TGIF in Japanese, but– I don’t think anyone would get it. Instead, hooray Friday!

Thank goodness it’s the weekend, and at the same time… AAH! Yesterday was my junior high school’s sports day (体育祭), and it had been my first whole day out in the sun in a while (long winters are long). Of course I burned a little… oops.

Anyway, I was completely taken ‘by surprise’ for this week’s post because Friday kind of did creep up on me, so I asked a friend for inspiration, and– I got it! So here you have today’s topic: tenses.

How many times as writers (and students) do we get told “here you’re using the present, so why is this in past tense?” Probably a lot. Definitely too often. We’re probably just writing the way we speak – I don’t know how we speak, but it is all over the place, isn’t it? Sometimes a sentence just sounds good in one specific tense and if you have to change it– well, it doesn’t sound as good anymore. I know for a fact that’s not just me, my friend said the same thing. (Gasp, we’re really all humans!?)

Point is, you can’t just go making a mixed salad of tenses, unfortunately. Maybe one day we’ll recognize all tenses have a right to interact as they damn well please, but until then, we’re stuck with some rules. Or are rules here to be bended at will? I’m just rambling, don’t mind me.

So, my fellow writers, how do we fix this?

  • Pick one tense, and only one! I know it’s hard, and believe me I hate it as much as you (if not more), but for continuity’s sake… it’s needed. Are there ways to get around it? Probably. The first one that comes to mind would be to assign it as “making a statement” for style, or something. If I ever get there, I’ll let you know if/how it pans out.
  • Edit, revise and edit again.
  • Spam your (consenting) friends! Send out one draft, or more if you want their input on a certain tense before you decide, or let them confuse you all over again and agonize for days on end.
  • Read it. Oh you did? Again!

These are by no means meant for any order, you can spam your friends before picking a tense, and read and edit as you will. It’s your story, if you want to live on the edge, no one can stop you (except maybe that annoying inner voice).

Things don’t always turn out perfect, so don’t expect to fish the moon out of a lake and you’ll be just fine. Just know that tenses do that to writers, and be on the lookout. A warned writer is a… warned… writer? No pun here, move along~

P.S: I’m not sure what happened to this post, it kind of just flew out of my fingers or typed itself, but I like it!

Rediscovering creativity

Perhaps that title is too grand for what I’m feeling, but then again… maybe not.

These days, the more I want to write my story, the more I find myself having to create something else. By all means, it’s related and prompted by my story (like the cipher), but today’s attempt at designing a bracelet has led me to believe I need to actually make it – whether it’ll turn out like the one in my mind or not is another story.

I can come up with three reasons for this:

  1. Due to lack of satisfactory google images, I have no choice but to make my own (probably better in the long term, right?),
  2. I finally have something to rekindle whatever I’d phased out of my life (making bracelets is definitely one),
  3. I just really really can’t wait to leave Japan. (That sounds bad, and you lack context, so know that I love Japan but imagine that feeling during high school when you just reallyreallyreally want to leave/go to college? Yeah, it’s like that.)

If I could draw better maybe I wouldn’t feel the need to actually make a bracelet, but that thought since this morning has actually given me the idea that I should make bracelets with the kids – clarification: not my kids, my Japanese students. That might be living on the edge…

All that to say, writing is definitely an adventure, and definitely not just about writing. I’m sure some people manage to create things just inside their head, but if I have the ability and the free time, I might as well make whatever I can. Hooray for getting more in touch with my creative side! =)