Month: November 2012

Song of the Week 11/30: Go Radio–Go To Hell

Welcome my friends, to another song of the week. I know, some of you may see the title of the song and think you don’t want to hear that. Let me explain. This song is a tongue in cheek break-up song, and really quite harmless. Don’t let the title scare you away or you’ll miss out on a great song. You’ll be singing along before you know it.

Go Radio’s new album is a pop/punk smorgasbord of emotion, melody, and awesomeness. I feel comfortable saying I believe this to be their best yet. You can find Go Radio by following this link.

Here is the official video.

I like the lyric video more. You really can’t go wrong with either version.


Song of the Week 11/23: Jessie J–Price Tag

I’ve got a short and sweet post for everyone today. In the States, we’re knee deep in Black Friday deals. You know the pushing and frantic scramble to get a deal on merchandise before X-mas hits. In honor of Black Friday, I’m sharing the always passionate Jessie J and her song Price Tag.  Sometimes we need to remember it’s not about the money. Forget about the price tag. Remember to live.

Song of the Week 11/14: Somebody That I Used To Know, by Mayday Parade

I know what you’re probably thinking: Somebody else re-made that bleeping song? Yes, yes they did.

Every so often Fearless Records puts out a Punk Goes Pop album where various artists cover popular songs. You know, the kind you normally find on mainstream radio. This new record is bursting with them. And what better way to showcase bands on your label than with a song people may already know done differently by a band the many not? Brilliant strategy.

On this fifth installment, you’ll find covers of artists like Michael Jackson, all the way to Carly Rae Jepsen. The best cover songs take something familiar and give it a fresh twist, a different emotion, or re-imagine it altogether. This album is full of covers that do just that. And most of the bands have fun with songs you already know. What’s not to love?

Gotye had a massive hit by covering Somebody That I Used To Know, and now Mayday Parade are covering the cover. But it’s not what you think. This version features a light and poppy guitar track that at times crunches and builds to a full blown rock fest during the chorus. This song definitly takes on a whole new dimension with Mayday Parade’s bold choices. But don’t take my word for it. The song has been up for only a month on YouTube and it already has 1,373,831 views. Not too shabby, eh? Check it out and decide for yourself.

You can find out more about Punk Goes Pop 5 here. You can find Mayday Parade here.

Song of the Week 11/9: Misery, by Soul Asylum

November is churning along and many aspiring novelists are deep in the NaNoWriMo trenches. They say misery loves company. Here’s a song that says just that. Enjoy Soul Asylum and their song Misery as you crank out the words, you crazy NaNo-ers. I had forgotten how much I enjoy this song. I think I’ll go edit something now. Happy writing!

Strive For Excellence

“Excellence is not a skill. It is an attitude.”Ralph Marsten

No matter what you do, people judge you based on how well you do, or don’t do, something. It’s just a fact of life. Waitress? People judge how good you are by your knowledge of the specials, how courteous you are, and how quickly the food arrives. It’s logical to assume the better you do your job, the more people will notice. The better the tips will be too.

I can hear many of you asking, “What’s this have to do with me and my writing?” I’m glad you asked.

A few weeks ago, a writer asked if they should go back and fix their first manuscript or start something new. A bit of back story may help. This writer had been reading books on the craft of writing and saw how they could improve a work they had “finished” but they wanted to move on to something new. I could relate. I’ve been “finished” with Eden more times than I’d like to admit. Each time I feel like I can’t improve anymore, I do. I push through my own limits. It sounded like this writer was ready to do the same and I was happy for them.

The responses were 99% for moving on. The other 1% urged this writer to take what they’ve learned and improve that “finished” manuscript. I was surprised by how many others encouraged this writer to knowingly leave their manuscript flawed in order to start another project. Why wouldn’t those 99% want to be the best writer they could be and encourage others to do the same? It didn’t make sense.

I’ve been reading Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass and he couldn’t stress striving for excellence in our writing more. My parents used to tell me if I was going to do something, make sure I do it right. The problem is sometimes we don’t know we’re doing something wrong. But if we discover ways to improve, don’t we owe it to our story, readers, and ourselves to do those things? Why leave our manuscript flawed?

When writers breakout and become a best-seller, is it magic? Mr. Maass says no. He says it is aiming high. It is learning and developing the methods to tell a breakout level story and not settling for anything less. I was so relieved to read that statement and I couldn’t agree more. I wanted to shout it out to the world. Aim high people. Don’t settle for good enough.

I was beginning to think I was crazy for holding my writing, and myself, to such high standards. I constantly push myself to get better, to learn something new, and to evolve as a writer/person. There isn’t a person out there who is tougher on their writing than I am with mine. I know where I want to be, and even though my writing is light years beyond yesterday, I’m not there yet. So I keep reaching for the bar above, which I set so high.

Get to the point, Brian. Sorry. The point is surround yourself with people who strive for the best and will accept nothing less of you. Sometimes we have to go above and beyond what we believe we’re capable of in order to grow. I recently told a friend of mine, “Don’t feel bad about wanting the best in your writing, in my writing, or in anyone else’s writing for that matter. It’s the only way you’ll become the best yourself.”

If all you want is to be good enough, then that’s all you’ll ever be. But if you want to seriously improve and become the best storyteller you can be, then you must reach higher. Anyone who has ever, and will ever, work with me will get my best. I will push them, expecting the very best they have to offer. I expect them to do the same for me. If we can surround ourselves with excellence, it will become commonplace. Excellence will be our standard.

So go ahead and push me, question my characters, and challenge that sub-plot. You aren’t hurting my feelings, you’re helping me push past my limits. Character month wouldn’t have happened without my critique partners challenging my characters. My story has grown as a result.

Don’t be good, be excellent. And please don’t settle for anything less than the best in your writing. Someday your readers, and fans, will thank you for it.

“If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters. Excellence is not an exception, it is a prevailing attitude.”–Colin Powell

Reviewing Character Month

Character month is over. If any of you are starting NaNoWriMo, character month got over just in time for you to take any knowledge and apply it to your frenzied November in the trenches. Hopefully we’ve all learned a little something. We had other writers talk about their process of creating characters, dissected characters from movies, and even had a few literary professionals over to share what we should avoid. All-in-all, I’d say it was a good month.

What we learned.

Movies taught us the value of  quickly establishing who our main character is. Our audience needs to connect with them as quickly as possible in order to cheer them on. Movies also taught us how inner conflict can add a new dimension to our characters. Great characters have many layers.

Other writers showed us many of their favorite characters are flawed, like most people. They may not have all the answers, but their journey to overcome the odds changes them. Through their struggles we connect with, and relate, to them.

Literary professionals helped us see what they’re looking for from a strong character. Strong characters don’t have to be physically strong, or even perfect, but are flawed like many of us. They should have many different layers, again like many of us. We also learned that our characters should have clear motivation for doing what they do. If we can get readers to care, or connect, with our characters, they will keep turning the page.

And lastly, we learned “flat” characters are deal breakers. Period. If our characters don’t appear multi-layered and aren’t relatable, the quality of our plot–or anything else for that matter–won’t matter. Our characters need to pop off the page and be as lifelike as possible.

Moving forward.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how I’ll approach writing characters in the future. I decided to try to find a photo of what I believe my main character looks like to help me visualize who they are. It helps me think of them as a real person. I’m also going to be more aware of letting my characters be too passive. When I started Eden I wanted to take a normal woman and show how events change her. I realize now that was a mistake. I gave too much importance to the story, almost making it a character. The characters should drive the story, not the other way around. I can still achieve my character goals by showing how certain events change my characters. How can we show this? Through actions, reactions, dialogue, or any other way possible. Every scene involving characters is another opportunity to show who they are. Characters are like onions and the best have many layers with clear motivation. Our characters should be the same.

A picture is worth a thousand words.

Japanese Actress, Masami Nagasawa

I’d like to encourage all of you to try to find a picture which best represents your main character. It could be a family photo, actor, actress, even a painting, or piece of art. It doesn’t matter. You may be surprised by what you find. I know the photo I found wasn’t exactly how I envisioned Mitsuko in my mind. But when I saw the photo, I stopped and said, “That’s the one.” I don’t know how I knew. It just seemed right. Whenever I write about her I have that picture in my head and it helps. I’m not suggesting you make your main character look like George Clooney, but maybe seeing a picture of someone, or something, which represents your character will help. Our characters should be unique and three-dimensional, like us. They should be their own person. If a picture can help you flesh out all those layers, then find one. There are hundreds of photos of Japanese actress, Masami Nagasawa–different hairstyles, different expressions, different poses–but this one in particular stopped me. I think it’s the expression on her face. There’s something about her eyes that captivate me. I see strength and sorrow. That’s what I want for Mitsuko.

Only the beginning.

Character month has helped me share some of the things I’ve learned about characters with all of you. My goal all along was to help and inspire other writers, all the while learning how to create the best possible characters. I hope we can all take something from this series of posts and apply it to our writing moving forward. If any one of us is better today than we were before character month, we’ve accomplished something. We’ve learned some great lessons already, but we should be savvy enough to know there’s more knowledge out there waiting to be discovered. Keep learning, keep sharing, and keep writing. Challenge yourself to become a better writer. Don’t ever give up.

“I don’t believe you have to be better than everyone else. I believe you have to be better than you ever thought you could be.”Ken Venturi

What have you learned from character month? Know any good tips for creating characters we missed? Please, share your thoughts in the comments below. You know you want to.