Personal Narratives+Phase Autobiographies

After a few weeks of having a busted DSL and motivation to blog, I mustered up the will to blog once again. Since I had been neglecting the “Daily Life” part of this blog, and more writing-related situations entered my life, plus I have a new Internet that can actually load 360p videos fast, I can continue to write. Expect longer posts.

On to the topic: “phase autobiographies”.

To elaborate, in my Advanced Commination Arts class, our “essay” for the quarter is a phase autography. In the classroom, the definition used is “an account of a period of time that affected you”, which is basically a long-term personal narrative. (This contradicts with a few other definitions from Google, which is “is a personal story that recounts different times during your life”, but that isn’t important). Reluctance crept in at this assignment, because I don’t like writing personal narratives.

For our purposes, a “personal narrative” is one incident out of the writer’s life that has a conflict present, since this is the definition that been used at school. Time for another list, for weaker reasons to the strongest:

  • I prefer to write what I like to read, and I usually don’t read personal narratives. I read Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul but it doesn't appeal to me as much as young adult fiction.
  • I have to write about myself. I don’t want to write about myself, because it’s uncomfortable. Writing about other things is more interesting.
  • I forget details. Memories aren't perfect. Therefore, there is less to work with description-wise, so the narrative feels barer. Fabricating details is a possibility, since no one will know or mind, but it feels dishonest and wrong.
  • Nothing much happened in my life, conflict-wise. This may get fixed as I progress through life, and experience more stuff, but at this moment, there are very few incidents and events I would want to put down onto paper. First, there are the trivial incidents. Second, there is the personal stuff, some that I don’t want to share. Third, there is my Internet life, but I don’t want to explore that, and then there are the internal and long-term conflicts that can’t be put down in a personal narrative. That wipes out ninety-nine percent of everything I can write about my own life.
  • Let me repeat this again: Nothing much happened in my life, conflict-wise. I’m a happy person. For example, when my parents divorced, one of my parents took me to a new school district and a new neighborhood. I one-hundred percent didn't mind this. Not at all. Nada. I hadn’t suffered any major injuries, and the most life-threatening thing that happened to my family happened when I was four. There is my time with dealing with bullying, but no lingering hatred lasted. There is also my peril with PE, but that’s a long-term (and current) thing. Did I mention I’m a happy person? Stress and anger slide off me like butter climbing down a pole on a rainy day. Fifteen minutes after quietly steaming about something, it all goes through the kitchen strainer. So when I see other people on the forums saying their daily conflicts, I feel guilty that my life is pretty pleasant.
  • Personal narratives are probably the most limiting type of prose (see above four points), because of the limiting source material. I’d rather labor over a “55 word” story, which at least has very few limitations story-wise. And even if there are limitations (like “include a clock, a dog, and a humbug), there is still plenty to work with.

Summaries: Personal narratives are too personal and limiting. And nothing worth writing about happened to me personally.

In the past, some personal narratives either had a fabricated conflict (my first stage experience in The Nutcracker) a trivial conflict (one half of soccer—in 2nd grade), or no conflict (The Rainforest CafĂ©, really?).

So, how do I deal with my phase autography? 

Solution: Write about my first short story in elementary school.

In this case, it’s more of a retrospectively realized conflict. Back then, I was a small kid with large pipe dreams. Now I’m an average-sized teen with a large aspiration, but I’m wiser than I was back then. I tried writing a novel, and crashed and burn doing so. That story, which resides on my shelf stacked under all my old school folders and other old writing stuff, is embarrassing. Let’s say that my inexperience and my small pool of inspiration muddled it up.

I may post it one day, but not now. Right now, I’m reassuring myself that at least my story is more…refined than some of my classmates. Peer editing can be hard without flipping on critique mode.

Summary: My writing life is more interesting than most of my other life.

Hmm...what to write when talking about my short story in my “Room of Requirements” class…?

Projects As of: September 2011

I been wanting to make a blog post sooner, but my DSL fried, so I'm having to use someone else's wi-fi. My hopes is that it doesn't drop.

Now, I have several projects of varying degree currently. I'll let the list do the explaining:

Manifestation Files

Manifestation Files is my current novel attempt, the one I'm planning to have published by the age of eighteen. As described before, it's a Young Adult Urban Fantasy about a cynic teenager that meets a psychic exchange student that fights Manifestations, spirits spawned from human emotions. I'm a fifth way through the 2nd draft, and I'm thinking of posting parts of it once I do a lot of revising. Quality is important if I don't want Manifestation Files going the way of Eragon.

NaNoWriMo Project

My plans are to finish the 2nd draft of MFiles by November, so I can create a rough draft for a second novel. This is just in case MFiles backfires dramatically, or if I want to release a 2nd novel in a short period of time. Plus, the experience is worth it.

Originally, I was going to go with an idea called Anthropomorph, a superhero novel about a childish teenager that gains the power to absorb and anthropomorphize superpowers. However, I'm thinking about going with a similar untitled project that I conceived at least a year ago. The premise of that is that a blind girl is given the power to see the death of anyone she touches. I'll have to make an outline before deciding to go with that, however.

School Project

This isn't important than the above two, but it's upcoming, so it's worth noting. In my "Room of Requirements" course, I'm taking part of a writer's workshop group. Basically, we write our stories, and then look over them.

But they're yet to see the critique beast inside me...mwahahahaha...

TV Tropes Writing Contest

Take a look at this. I judged last time, and I may do that again if I don't have a story ready by October, but I'm thinking about using the writer's workshop as an excuse to set aside working on MFiles (I have a large typing buffer) and write about two of the themes. I can't really say anything, or I'll lose anonymity, but 5000 words shouldn't be too hard to write.

The Alliance for Young Artists and Writers

Now take a look at this. I put this in last because I'm not sure if I can make the deadline for the Short Story category (it's 2-3 weeks from September 15th, based on region) but what intrigued me was the Novel category.

Basically, it has an extended deadline for February.  All I have to do is to create a two-page outline and submit either fifty pages or five chapters, and there is plenty of time to work on both. The award for 1st place is a publishing deal and help from a published author to finish the book. There are also two Silver categories, that don't have prizes, but would look good on query letters.

And if I don't win, no big lost. I'll just take the longer route.

Paper Table Cloth

Now on a personal note:

I recently been to a party that my Dad dragged me to. He made me leave all my stuff in the car and put me within a room with a few other kids. However, all of them were younger than me, and the most socialable of them had very little in common with me. I didn't have my writing folder with me.

Fortunately, I kept my pencils in my pockets. And the table cloth was paper.

I ripped off a corner, wrote really small, and filled both sides with part of my opening. I fit 730 words on that piece and typed it up the following more. That what I call using your resources.

Now to consider using that Moleskin...

Thoughts On: Eight Grade Bites (Dialogue Tags)

I been laying this off, but it time to review a favorite of mine: Eight Grade Bites by Heather Brewer.

Reading it for the second time was actually better than reading it the first. I guess my tastes shifted, or it appealed to my writer's eye. Or it must just be my personal biases.

Now, the thing that popped out in the narrative the most was the lack of dialogue tags. And that's good.

You see, I have a peeve against showy dialogue tags, when authors use "said bookisms" and "Tom Swifties" too many times. For example, she mused, he proclaimed coldly, he murmured, he gasped loudly...Showy words.

It's quite prominent in some books. For example, it kind of hampered my enjoyment of the Nicolas Flamel series. The reason it bothers me is because I notice it, and it interrupts the flow. A few "said
 replacements are okay, but said should be cherish for its low key status and the fact that it blends in.

Instead of using dialogue tags to indicate the speaker, the author pairs her dialogue up with character actions and expressions in a way that it isn't confusing, and that it blends into the narrative.  For example (this is for review and educational purposes):

[...]Henry resorted to nudging him and pointing. "How's the new teacher anyway?"
 Vlad shrugged. "He's okay."
See? No need of said or asked. It show how in lots of cases, the dialogue tags don't need to convey any information. The narrative can show it. What's best about it is that it didn't bog down the narrative much.

For the couple of days after finishing the book, I noticed that I started dropping tags. She influenced my style. It seems to revert, but the impact is still there. Dialogue tags are still useful, to break things up and increase the pace (even Brewer used some once in awhile) but now the whole repetition element of the words "said" and "asked" won't be a problem.

I'm thinking of doing this as a little series. I'll cover conflict in the future, along with Otis Otis.

I'll promise more about me soon!

EDIT: On another note, I edited this a few times to revise. I should really look it over and put more content before posting.

Thoughts On: The Shifter

Last month, I finished the book The Shifter by Janice Hardy. A few classmates read it for CA class last year and it was on the booklist, so I read it out of curiosity. Now, I wish that I read it earlier.

The plot of The Shifter is this: The fifteen-year old protagonist, Nya, lives in a fantasy world where Takers can cure wounds by taking pain out of people and transferring it into pynvium. However, Nya has the ability to shift pain into other people. Naturally, she hides it, since The Duke of the Three Territories searches for special Takers like her. But when Healer apprentices start to disappear from the League, Nya is pulled into a conflict where she has to sacrifice her morals for the greater good.

Beside the nice word choice, varied sentence structure, and the deep and unique setting (what was the last book you read where healing is the prime element of the world?), the defining trait of the book is Nya's inner conflict.

She is an anti-hero, but not in a typical way. Instead of doing less than moral decisions due to her alignment, she feels conflicted, and only does what she does for the greater good. Shifting pain into other people is a power a completely pure person can't use. Nya uses her abilities lot, and feels bad about it. Also, she hides it from most of her allies during the first part of the book, and further digs herself into a hole as she keeps this secret.

The external plot is also intriguing. The antagonists are shady, with whom doing what being unclear until the end. For example, when Nya finds where the apprentices are going, she thinks of her fellow race (racism is a recurring theme) that are working in the League as traitors until she finds out that they think it's only a disease, instead that the apprentices are being forced to keep their pain, since pynvium ran out. The characters also aren’t certain about who is the head of the conspiracy until the final sequence.

Also, as Nya explores the extent of her powers, she is tangled into a web of intrigue. With an ordinary YA character, these constant discoveries of powers would characterize her as a Mary Sue. However, she has to make choices where she is reluctant in using them, and therefore makes her powers more excusable and believable. But I hope that in the next book, these powers are explained. Although Nya's past (which is also interesting, since her parents worked for the League) is often shown, there's still some mystery.

In the end, the book’s depth, descriptive narrative, and suspense make it a great read. If you like your fantasy anchored onto one character, as opposed to reading a Doorstopper epic, The Shifter provides entertainment for both teens and adults. I can’t wait to read the next book.

Expect the next book to be Eight Grade Bites by Heather Brewer.

Thoughts On: Moon Over Manifest and Bull Rider

It's (un)official: When I do reviews (or general thoughts) on books, I'll use the phrase "Thoughts On" in the title.

So, recently, I read two YA books for my book list: Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool, and Bull Rider by Suzanne Morgan Williams. The former is historical, while the later is realistic fiction. Both of them have an overlying arc with slice-of-life elements, with a 1st person narrator and no central antagonist. Oh, and both are in a small town. Yet, their tone comes off as slightly different.

Moon Over Manifest:

This is an interesting book that plays a little bit with devices. It's set in The Great Depression, when the protagonist, Abilene Tucker, is send to the town of Manifest for the summer. Although it's a small town, it has many secrets. Abilene unravels these through the book through a series of incidents, along with flashbacks delivered by the local diviner, and newspaper articles.

The language in this book is good, and the past of Manifest is full of many interesting events that becomes clearer and clearer as Abilene connects the dot in the present. Also, the use of the newspaper and the diviner's stories, along with a string of letters later on, are shown in a way that comes together as a puzzle. At one point, showing what happens after a flashback through a second-hand account from the eyes of an oblivious writer comes off as amusing. Let's say the president was involved.

The characters are also quite colorful, especially in the past, and the overlying arc is clear. But once the tale comes to and end, and the truths are revealed, a certain sadness hangs over the text.

Bull Rider:

This is a slighter different book in terms of tone. Set in Nevada, it details the life of Cam O'Mara, who lives at a ranch and comes from a family of bull riders. His passion is set on skateboarding--until his brother Ben comes back from Iraq with a brain injury. The overlying arc involves Ben's journey through a slow recovery, with the effects on his family taking center stage.

The "no central antagonist" part is more prominent in this book, since there were more clear antagonists in Moon Over Manifest. First, there's Man vs. Himself. Cam feels both jealousy and guilt throughout the book. His brother Ben takes the attention of the family, and Cam struggles with helping. The other large arc involves Cam discovering his love of bull riding. When his Mom finds this out, he forbids him from doing it, because she doesn't want her other son to suffer as much as Ben.

This makes a compelling conflict : Cam's mom is not evil, nor her intentions are ill. Her motive is justified, but yet Cam's love for bull riding is too. In a way, Ben is also an antagonist, just by acting as a force that has to be fixed. As Cam juggles every aspect of his life, things get harder and harder for him. By the end of the book, Ben goes towards great lengths to give Ben the will to live again, along with bull riding.

Also, a few of the bull riding sequencing were exciting, and a lot of them shown their work. Who knows eight seconds on one could be so exhilarating?

Check out these books, even if you're above eighteen. You'll enjoy these.