Fwd: Spotlight on Ava Marsh — Bibliophile Book Club

A short read about researching some taboo topics that makes you think about your own research methods as a writer. Hop over and give it a read.

Ava Marsh's book cover for Untouchable.
Ava Marsh’s book Untouchable.

Today, I am thrilled to have the lovely Ava Marsh joining me on the blog with a brilliant guest post! About Ava: Ava Marsh grew up in Margate, Kent. A former broadsheet journalist, she now works as…

Source: Spotlight on Ava Marsh


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On Writing (Part 5): Have more than one Good Idea per Story

(originally shared on Ello)

When I was younger, I used to think one solid or good idea was enough to carry a story. With time, I learned that to be very, very false. Having one good idea is not enough to carry a story. For example, Hitchcock’s film Saboteur ends with a climactic action scene atop the Statue of Liberty. Now, imagine if everything leading up to that was a series of lame ideas leading into that one good idea. Now, you see the point. Continue reading “On Writing (Part 5): Have more than one Good Idea per Story”

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On Writing (Part 4): Oh so Stylish

I can recall back in high school and college that style was discussed as if it was some strange magic. Only those with the certain mixture of blood could actually achieve true style. And to do that, you had to write so many words, every day, for years and years, before you could unlock the magic inside your veins.

I would like to speak briefly about style, and also dispel the notion that style is magic.

What is Style?

I could cheat and steal someone else’s definition, but I’ve always found it’s better to learn about something through experience and then write your own definition. The definitions others give you should serve as starter points, but should not be the end of your learning.

Style is a collection of habits. Habits can be changed. Some habits are bad, some good. Some good can be abused.

A writer’s style is really just the sum of their experience, collected into various habits they developed through their writing experiences. The good habits are the things you hold onto in your writing, that always seem to help and keep you going further in your writing. The bad habits are the things you frown on after you’ve done them, and you shrug them off (I hope). But even the good habits can become abused to the point that your writing becomes repetitive or formulaic. When that happens, people may begin to tire of your works, because they know what to expect every time you write something new. Sure it’s new, but you never stray from your habits. And those habits are making up your style.

If you’re smart, like all things, you’ll continue to grow and mature your style. Don’t think of it as something you achieve, and then coast. No, instead always be looking for ways to create new good habits, ditch bad habits, and try not to fall into a rut with your habits. Habitual behavior can be… well, habitual.

Style is not Magic

So many things in life seem like magic to us until we pull back the magic layer. When we decide something is magical, we call it talent and claim we don’t have it, and then we decide we cannot do it.

Because. Magic.

But style is not magic. No more than music is magic. No more than acting is magic. No more than writing is magic. And yet, I’ve been told style is not obtainable by everyone. I’ve been told I was too young to have style (that was a long time ago). I’ve been told it takes years and years of writing EVERY DAY, and even then there’s no guarantee you will obtain it. It’s like obtaining style was on par with that wretched ring in Lord of the Rings.

No, style is not magic. It’s like acting, and almost everything else, it just requires hard work. Sure it takes time, sure it takes practice. That doesn’t mean only certain “snowflakes” can obtain it. I would have appreciated it more in school, if English teachers and professors would have focused on encouraging us to just work hard and develop good habits. Instead, style was magical. I had a woman ask me after a show once how I had done all of the various voices I had done through the course of a three and a half minute song, and I thought about the long version. The long version of the story was that I spent months practicing sentences, half sentences, and words in different voices and inflections. It took a long time, and it was very repetitive, but I eventually was able to perform a three and a half minute song with like 20+ different voices. It wasn’t magic, it was hard work, but there she was staring at me with a beaming smile and gleam in her eye. And I knew she was one of those who believed it was all magic, and I opted on the short version. I told her, “Well, I decided early on to commit to crazy.” Her smile faded and she looked confused, and I walked on. It’s not magic people, it’s not talent, it’s work. Hard work. With hours of practice.

I always cringe when someone tells me they’re writing a book, and I ask them how much they have done, and they tell me they’ve been outlining it for ten years. Ten years of outlining without doing any writing is like preparing for a performance by spending ten years writing the sheet music, but never putting a band together and practicing said music.

You’ve got to exercise the demons and grow. Your writing will never mature, never get better, if you don’t work your butt off.

If you came here looking for Magic, maybe this will satisfy that need.

What do you think? Do you have style? What’s your view on style? Has your writing matured with age? It should. Read something from ten years ago, bet it sucks in comparison to what you can do now. At least, I hope so.

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Self-torture is not an act of attention

I suppose it’s been said a thousand times, but some folks feel like self-torture or self-mutilation (such as cutting) is an act of attention. But as someone who is bipolar and knows several folks who are also bipolar, let me take a few minutes to talk about self-torture.

If you’re wondering how a post like this would have anything to do with writing (since this is my blog for my writing), think about this: we write characters. And characters, if you play your cards right, should be like real people. Fictional, but realistic. Well, for the most part, sometimes we’re just writing comedy or pulpy stuff and being real doesn’t necessarily have to count for the popcorn style of stories.

Self-torture starts within and can stay there, too

In the image for the post, I gave the Oxford definition of self-torture, because from my perspective I think it really gets to the heart of the matter of self-torture. It states that self-torture is “the act of inflicting pain, especially mental pain, on oneself.” In my experience, and from what I know of others’ experiences, all self-torture (even cutting) starts internally, mentally.

Whether you’re tearing yourself down, feeling worthless or a burden on others, and that manifests itself into cutting or attempted suicide. It’s starting within. It starts inside the head and works its way out, or not. In my case, it typically stays in. I self-torture myself internally, and at most sometimes that affects my health. I can have stomach cramps, or possibly even a panic attack, if I keep torturing myself internally over something. I’ve never taken to cutting, thank goodness, and suicidal ideation has only happened once (and once is enough, so I’m hoping that never happens again).

Badgering, the constant nagging

But you see the thing of self-torture isn’t that people want to try to draw attention to themselves, it is typically a result of badgering themselves for one reason or another. Sometimes they are badgering themselves because they feel guilty about something or like a failure, or they could be badgering themselves for things that haven’t happened or did happen but they keep replaying in their minds.

And again, when I say self-torture, I’m not just talking about physical cutting or torture. It can be a simple badgering of the mind. A constant nagging inside, beating yourself up, dunking yourself through the water-boarding of your mind.

Really, self-torture is not an act of attention, but rather an act of aggression against one’s self.

How self-torture, bipolar, and being aware has affected my writing

As a general rule, I think everything in life affects my writing. All the phases of life, all the characters I meet. All the things learned or unlearned. And being diagnosed bipolar, becoming aware, and having that writer and actor’s gift to analyze I began really examining myself. Kind of the old “write what you know” saying.

I can definitely see where in some of my more recent stories, I’ve become more understanding and better at writing introverts. I am actually an extrovert myself, but being bipolar means I have my moments where I have no desire to be around people and can become very antisocial. Is that the same as being introverted? No. But as I’ve analyzed my behavior more, I’ve become more understanding of introverts.

I’ve also started weaving in bits and pieces of myself into characters. I have a short story I’ve been crafting about an introverted UFO hunter, who has a lot of anxiety. This was a story I had started to work on before my diagnosis, but post-diagnosis I was able to start over and make him a much more believable character. And focusing in on his anxieties, which is something I have, it gives me a platform to talk about those things through him.

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On Writing (Part 3): Narrative Should be Confident

A common thing to do with narrative is to have doubt, lack confidence. I catch myself doing this sometimes. I think it’s OK for characters to have doubt internally and express that through narrative, or dialogue. But sometimes that doubt bleeds through into narrative. The narrator’s voice should be confident, and harbor no doubt.

Typically this is notable when a statement is made, and then immediately taken back.

Example 1: John was a good looking man, at least to most, who knew how to get what he wanted.

Example 2: Stacy walked down the black corridor, which was more of a dark gray.

Statements like these have a tendency to: a) cause confusion, and b) add very little to the narrative. Is John good looking or not? Is the corridor black or gray? Just tell us, Ms. Narrator.

Instead of spending time going back and forth on one detail, pick one and describe it. Decide John is good looking and describe the features that make him such. Decide the corridor is black and describe what that means.

Side note: I’m talking about non-first-person narrative. First-person narrative is character driven narrative, so doubt in the narrative would be totally subjective to the character you are writing.

Narrative that struggles with the details is really an indication of the author’s internal struggle

I really believe that when the narrative struggles with the details, it’s an indication that the author is struggling to decide herself. Narrative that can be confident, to-the-point, and not beat around the bush has the potential to create the vision the author wants.

You, Author, are telling the story. So tell it. Don’t be that guy trying to tell someone about something that happened once who struggles over what day of the week it was when something happened…

"So, it was Wednesday... wait, no, it might have been Thursday. Yeah, it was Thursday, because we had our product management meeting that day. Yeah, so, I was sitting here, and she was sitting there. No wait, I was sitting here, and that was the week we postponed the product management meeting because of Stacy's baby shower. That means it was Friday, and I do reporting on Friday, so I was probably in my office. Well, anyway, it doesn't really matter when or where it happened. But I'm telling you, it was hilarious."

And it wouldn’t be appropriate discussing confidence without Julie Andrews.


What do you think? Should narrative be confident? Have you noticed this in your writing? Have you never thought of it before? Sound off in the comments.

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On Writing (Part 2): Man in the Mirror

Let’s talk about the strange image I’m using for these posts, the mirror with no reflection.

When I was 15 years old, I landed a role in a play that was only my second play I’d ever done and first lead I’d ever played. The show was performed at Ozark Actors Theatre in Rolla, Missouri, and the image is taken at that theatre. This mirror is in their green room, which is to the left of the actual stage.

The theatre itself is an old church dating way back to the 1800s, and has lots of history. If I had to pick between performing in old theatres and state of the art, I’d choose old. Way more character, way more engrossing as an actor.

But what’s up with the mirror?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stood in front of this mirror and made a last minute adjustment to a costume piece, hat, hair, whatever. I performed at the theatre so many times, that it became natural to not feel comfortable and ready as the character until I had verified the character in the old and enormous mirror in the green room.

It became a part of checking that the character was ready for public consumption.

What are your checks and balances for your characters?

As writers, we are responsible to all the characters in the story, whereas an actor is typically only responsible to one. But there is still that responsibility to check the mirror. Make sure what the audience (your readers) are about to see of the character is actually the character. The character you intended them to see. Who is the man or woman in the mirror? Does the reflection make you respond, “That’s it!” Or do you groan and mumble, “That’s not right.”

As an actor I always wait and hope for that a-ha! moment with my character. When I’m in costume, makeup, hair, and look in the mirror and say, “Now, that’s him!” As a writer, I want those moments, too. I want to know that I’ve hit the mark and that the character is now ready for public consumption.

If you send a character out on stage (or paper) before they are properly prepared, your audience (or readers) will know. They’ll say, “I didn’t believe it. I wasn’t convinced the character would have done that.”

Ask, “Would she really do this?”

As a writer, you’re not going to be able to look into a mirror as all of your characters, but once you’ve had that a-ha! moment with your character use that as your reflection. And if changes befall the character, add that to their reflection. And pit future reactions of the character against that reflection. Basically, based on what you know about her, ask, “Would she really do this?”

On characterization, from William Powell

Let me give you a few quotes from the great actor William Powell. He had a couple of quotes on characterization that I happen to agree with. They seem to fit in this post. But let me add, that I view characterization very highly, so there will be more posts in the series on characterization.

I do not hold that because the author did a bad job of writing the player need trump it with the same kind of acting. When I go into a picture I have only one character to look after. If the author didn’t do him justice, I try to add whatever the creator of the part overlooked.”

-William Powell

“I have never gone into a picture without first studying my characterization from all angles. I make a study of the fellow’s life and try to learn everything about him, including the conditions under which he came into this world, his parentage, his environment, his social status, and the things in which he is interested. Then I attempt to get his mental attitude as much as possible.”

-William  Powell

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On Writing (Part 1)

A lot of writers blog about the process of writing, but I’ve just never spent a lot of time writing about it myself. I love writing, I really do. I’m a storyteller at heart, there are always stories and characters building in my head and fighting to make their way out. And I do have some degree of process, or have learned from experiences and others’ experiences some degrees of process. And yet, I just never write much about it. Continue reading “On Writing (Part 1)”