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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

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So, I was going over my saucy speakeasy tale…..

……and discovered that it was quite decent. Even the sexy scenes, which I had never written about before, leapt off the page in vibrant, delicious feelings.

To be perfectly frank, I couldn’t believe that I’d actually written a scene – several scenes – that were so sensuous and sexual. I felt removed from the text, as if someone else had written the words, even though I remembered putting them to paper.

And I liked this story. I liked the characters and their own personal conflicts and how the two leads banter with each other. I liked how the leading characters were getting to know each other, to establish boundaries that are respected. I liked how they teased each other and how they find joy in each other’s presence.

There are so many things about this story that I liked, that I can’t name them all. I had put it on the side burner a couple of months ago, because something felt off and the story ground to an unexpected halt. Where it went wrong, I can’t put my finger on, but I’ll work it out by re-writing the previous few pages before moving forward.

That’s my habit – to re-write the previous few pages on a work in progress. It’s my way of getting back into the story and the minds of the characters, to re-familiarize myself with that world of magic and feeling.

I’m not quite ready to get back to my saucy speakeasy, but it will be waiting for when I am.

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So, when I write in a genre I’m not familiar with……

…….I make a point of reading as much related material as I can get my hands on. As a way to understand the genre I’m tackling, there’s  no better way to get familiar with it than reading as many books and authors as possible. Whether it’s a thriller or erotica or a mystery, each and every genre has its own set of rules to go by. And the more you read and write and follow those rules, the better you get at understanding how to turn them on their head and create something else altogether.

When I was working on my thriller screenplay, I read a lot of true crime and criminology books, as well as thrillers that were similar in nature to what I wanted to write. Thrillers, by and large, are essentially mysteries, but with bigger settings and higher stakes. In some ways, I think I succeeded, and in others, I failed. Because of the vision I’d had originally, I over-complicated certain aspects of setting and character and ended up stretching the credibility of the reality I was trying to establish. With the passage of time, I’ve been able to work out how to correct some errors and strengthen what’s already there.

With my erotic speakeasy story, I’ve read a number of short stories and novels, paying close attention to and breaking down in analytical terms particular scenes. While the nature of these stories is to be playful and sexy and arousing, my interest in reading them was to analyze how these scenes inspired (or didn’t inspire) arousal. It’s word choice, certainly, and how those words are used matters. The right words not only conjure up setting and time, they also have the added duty of creating an emotional connection between you and the characters. If you don’t feel the desire that the characters are feeling, then words were either poorly chosen or poorly placed.

My rule of thumb in knowing if I’ve created the desired effect is how I feel when I’m writing any particular scene. If the scene requires arousal and flirtatious behavior, I’ll know if I’m on the right track by how I respond to it. If the scene requires uneasiness or fear, my heart rate will be affected in a far different manner. And the only way to truly know if I’ve been successful in creating the mood I wanted is how someone else reacts to it.

So far, so good.

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So, I wrote a thriller screenplay…..

……while working towards my Bachelor’s degree, lo these many years ago. It was in response to the many films that featured violence against women. It’s a tiresome trope, in my opinion, even when the woman fights back and comes out on top. I mean, really, is that actual agency for a female character in a story? Or for women in real life? Can’t women just be pivotal in a film or story without having it be in response to violence acted against them?

These questions were at the forefront of my mind as I wrote it over a three month period. I did a lot of research in terms of criminology and came up with some interesting ideas, which I then incorporated into the main story. Clues and plot points and red herrings were extremely important to keep track of, as I didn’t want to give away the reveal too early, while setting it up in a subtle and sensible way.

Several male characters were victimized in the same way women had been, both in film and in real life. The female characters had agency and their purpose was not tied to experiences personal to them. One character I knew early on to be the perpetrator of the crimes that take place in the script, but a reader had indicated that it was too obvious. So, I went back in and made a secondary character already in the story not only the perpetrator of the crimes, but also the accomplice of the first character. Now I suspect that there is yet a third character tied to the first two, and I’m curious to explore that.

The funny thing about being a writer is that you never stop working on a project, no matter how done with it you think you are. I’ve never been entirely satisfied with the screenplay, but I attribute that to my own lack of knowledge in forensics and police work (hint: more research to be done here. Yay!). Also, It needed some strategic re-working in several places, which I hadn’t done due to several moves and a return to school for an MFA.

Then it occurred to me, not too long ago, that it needs to be re-written in novel form, a challenge that is exciting for me. Why? Because, despite the incredibly dark themes explored within the context of the story, I had a lot of fun writing it.

Being creative through the arts is about exploring and analyzing and expressing all facets of our experiences, from the light and beautiful to the dark and sinister. It is a safe way to express feelings and thoughts that don’t ordinarily get a voice. Music, painting, writing, poetry, dance – whatever the art form, what feels silenced can be heard.

I haven’t begun working on adapting the thriller screenplay into novel form, yet, but it’s definitely on my work plate. The twist at the end had grown to a double twist and now I suspect that there’s a third twist yet to come.

That’s exciting to me. Do you have a project that’s been teasing you, mocking you, daring you to come back and re-work what you’ve started?

If you do, go forth and re-make that creative project into the art it demands to be.

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So, Octavia Butler, an influential science fiction writer, once said……

……..about writing, “Here I was, into astronomy, and here into anthropology and there I go into geography. It was much more fun to be able to research and write about whatever I wanted to.”

This falls in line with my own thinking about writing and theater. It’s role-play of the best kind, where you get to try on as many different professions as possible without spending years in a classroom or in the field. There is a kind of freedom in trying on different hats, seeing how they fit and how to utilize them.

This doesn’t mean you don’t need to do the research – what some might see as a downside and an inhibitor of creativity is the hard work that goes into making your characters (both on the page and on the stage) layered, believable and, more importantly, real. This will keep your audience engaged until the end, trying to outguess where the character’s ultimate destination will wind up.

What’s also fun is that you discover new things about all kinds of subjects, especially ones you think you know. Whether it’s history, physics, law or how to make an Irish stew, the research you invest in your writing (or any other creative endeavor) will not only enrich the project you’re working on, but will add to your knowledge. Maybe you’ll even add a new skill or discover an interest in something you’d never thought about before. Where it leads is up to you, but the possibilities are endless.

Editor’s Note – This blog post is also published concurrently on Citizens Journal VC.

Recommended Links/Reading:

Link to Octavia Butler

Kindred by Octavia Butler

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So, I grew up on the mystery genre……

…….and while it’s not the only genre I have a definite passion for, it’s one I tend to return to more than fantasy or science fiction or even horror.

As a reader, I cut my teeth on Dorothy Sayers, Agatha Christie, Erle Stanley Gardner and many more. Like many others before me, I got caught up in solving the puzzles put before me alongside the likes of Lord Peter Wimsey, Harriet Vane, Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot, Perry Mason.

The requisite exclamations of “How did I not see that?” and variations thereof would often follow the reveal at the end of each case. So, of course I had to go back and re-read these books, to see what I had missed. This taught me, as I did this, to pay closer attention at how the set-up was constructed to get to that ‘surprise’ reveal.

My first fictional detective wasn’t introduced to me through his novels. The meet-cute was through a black and white movie on Channel Five, occasionally broken up by static. Basil Rathbone, in his deerstalker cap and Meerschaum pipe, brought to life Sherlock Holmes in a manner that few have matched since. Yes, Jeremy Brett, Robert Downey, Jr. and Benedict Cumberbatch (to name a few) have brought their distinctive talents into recreating and interpreting this iconic detective from the 19th century and I enjoy their works immensely.

But it was Mr. Rathbone’s portrayal that led me to the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle before the age of ten. I didn’t just read them, I devoured them. The Hound of the Baskervilles was my first tale and I’ve re-read that book at least once a year. I met Irene Adler and Professor Moriarty, Mycroft, Mrs. Hudson and more through Doctor Watson’s descriptions of Holmes’ exploits.

Now, after years of reading about other fictional detectives (some with licenses, some who had left the police force, some who would always retain the status of amateur), I find that I have come full circle back to my first fictional detective. I’ve read maybe a handful of interpretations of Holmes by other authors and, while they handled the character with obvious care and love, it wasn’t the Holmes I knew. I craved Doctor Watson’s words about his intelligent, arrogant, exasperating friend as written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

This isn’t to say that I haven’t written my own adventures involving Sherlock Holmes. I have done so, many years ago, but they aren’t meant for anyone’s eyes other than my own. As I re-read his exploits or re-watch the many film adaptations of Holmes and Watson, I find myself feeling challenged (as a writer, as a reader, as an intelligent, reasoning being) to be more observant, to work things out through deduction and logic.

And then I go and do my best to practice it.

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So, I’ve been working on a project……

……….that is so far outside my comfort zone that it makes the Andromeda Galaxy look like it’s just a stone’s throw away from Earth and easily reached via space shuttle.

Ironically, it’s become by far the most fun to write and, rather than write it strictly on my computer, I’ve gone back to old school methods and am writing in long-hand. Although I’ve only written about four or five pages (most of it exposition as I work my way into it), the catalyst action for the lead character has been re-written to suit her last name (Falls) and her subsequent journey of self-discovery has begun.

There is a kind of magic to writing in long-hand.  – the feel of the pen in my hand, the way it traces out words on paper, the way letters emerge and link together to form words, how the paper makes a crinkling sound with the weight of those hand-written words.

Of course, the downside is that when you write by hand, cramps in fingers and palm will ensue. I suggest ice wrapped in a towel to relieve the pain.

So there is an interesting dichotomy here – the magic and comfort of writing in long-hand and the act of tackling a genre that is outside my comfort zone. Rather than the removed medium of a pixelated Word document on a computer, using pen and paper creates a more immediate experience with the story (and lots of scribbled notes and corrections in purple ink in the margins as I go along).  I suspect that there is a subconscious point to this particular choice of writing method and the story itself, but I’m content to allow it to reveal itself on its own.

And, given the need to create heightened sensations in this project, it’s more than appropriate to revel in the sensuality of ink revealing itself on paper.

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