Tag Archives | American Idol

What does it mean to stay true to yourself?

What does it mean to stay true to yourself?

 A few weeks ago Chris Daughtry performed in the reveal night of American Idol. And he gave great advice to the contestants. Stay true to yourself.

 Um, yeah, that’s great Chris, I mean Daughtry, but what does that mean for me as a writer? I’ve been asking myself the hard questions.

 The top ten on Idol are all good singers. But there are some that are definitely artists. They stick out. They are branded by their looks, their song choice, and their style of singing.

 I think it’s true with writers too. There are many excellent writers that do not get published. There are many excellent writers that do.

 So, what does that mean for me? How do I stay true to myself and what I like to write – while pursuing a career in writing?

 For me, it means:

 I can explore other genres or styles of writing. It’s okay.

 I shouldn’t chase market trends. Because we’ve all heard it’s like chasing the pot at the end of the rainbow.

 I should be writing the kind of book I love to read.

 What does it mean for you? How do you stay true to yourself? If you love the idea of flying polka dotted ninja pigs but the market is flooded – should you still try to write about them?

What are the tough questions I should be asking myself? Help me out.

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Finding the right story idea.

Breaking news: American Idol was upstaged last night for the first time since 2004 – by the Olympics. And even though I love American Idol, I thought that was pretty cool stuff. I mean, you can’t get more real than the Olympics.

Last night, I was introduced to a new sport.

The sport is called curling. And I guess it can get pretty intense. This was the best video I could find that showed a full shot. The goal is to get your “puck” in the middle of the target by the last shot.

Then I learned another fact today. It draws huge crowds! Who would’ve guessed?

I realize that paranormal, dystopian, and fantasy are hot items right now. My impression is that writers are pumping out these kind of stories like crazy. But more and more, I see on agent blogs and in interviews, that they wouldn’t mind seeing something else in their inbox. 

I admit, there is something appealing about angels and ghosts – a mystery surrounds these topics in real life that makes them interesting to write and read about. I’m sure there will be more of these published. (I love a fun or scary ghost story as long as I connect to the character.)

But what about unique story ideas that could still draw readers…kind of like Curling in the Olympics. I’m still amazed that there is such a sport. There must be good tension while watching the sport for it to draw such crowds.

What story ideas do you see as having untapped potential? Or does it really matter – as long as the writing skill is there, the reader connects to the character, and there is tension?

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Choosing your story format.

American Idol was heartbreaking. But I’ve learned to expect that from Hollywood week. On the first round, they get one chance to sing a song, with or without an instrument. In the second round, they choose their own groups and have 12 hours to learn and choreograph the song – together. Talk about stressful.

First Round

Some talented singers chose the totally wrong song. They didn’t put in the prep work and forgot their lines – or they lost confidence and blanked. And they were out, just like that. Unfair? Maybe.

But maybe, even though they have talent, they weren’t ready. Maybe they didn’t know what genre of music was best for their voice. Maybe they didn’t know what kind of song would show off their skills in the twenty seconds they had to impress the agents   judges.

Second Round

My first reaction to the second round was to scream “unfair!” and shut the television off or mutter not-nice words about Simon. But the pressure of working with other singers drew out some good qualities and not-so-good qualities. Clearly, some would be easier to work with, than others.

Okay, so let’s be real. Pull up a chair. Do you think twice about your story format before you write the first draft. I never used to, but I do now.

What is story format?

To me, story format includes all the different methods used to tell a story. I would include on the list words like point of view, tone, and mood. And voice.

Point of view sticks out the most. If you want a personal intimate story than first person works well. If you want a storyteller feel to it, then 3rd person limited or ominscient might work.

And you have to look at your story, your character. Only you can decide how the story will best be told. The style that will accentuate your skills and make your characters come alive.

And the more you grow as a writer, the more you realize this before sitting down to a first draft. Even though it might change on a rewriting. And the more you read and write, the more your writer’s ear develops.

What do you think about before choosing a format for your story?

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Heart-on-your-sleeve writing.

“People look to be moved.” – Kara D.

“I love that you wear your heart on your sleeve.”  Kara D.

I love how Danelle is honest. Yet, she’s not trying to manipulate the judges. You can see how bad she wants this and the hard road it took her to get to this spot.

The judges saw it too. She was real. And she had the singing talent to back it up.

Behind your writing, whether it’s your blog or your story, you need to be real. Honest. The readers will connect to that. A writer could have all the skills in the world but without real emotion in their story and in their words, the book will probably fall flat.

Um, yeah. So how do I do that? Here’s a list that helps me. I’m sure there are more ways.

1. Know your character. Know her goals, her motivation. Know her backstory. You need to know the core emotions and why she feels them. And then show this in your story without telling.

2. Use word choice to set the tone and mood. (I think an excellent example of this is Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson, but also, on the humorous side, the Chet Gecko series by Bruce Hale.)

3. Use well-placed internal thoughts that reveal history, inner conflict, or sides to your character that no other character knows. Don’t just use thoughts to tell and summarize.

4. Use dialogue. Sentence length. Word choice (again).

5. Use body language.

6. Use description. How your character reacts to and views her setting (and other people) should reflect her emotional state.

7. Use well-placed backstory.

How do you build honest emotion in your writing without it coming across as contrived? Really. I want to know.

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“Reality check.”

“Reality check.”  The words of Simon Cowell.

I felt really bad for this guy. It just made me appreciate my critique groups and partners.

“Just because the love is there does not mean it’s your destiny.”

“Passion does not always equal talent.”

Okay. Let’s get real. It’s not impossible for a writer to judge where they are on the road to publication. It might seem it, but the clues are there if you look for them.

1. Read published novels in your genre.

2. What are the rejection letters telling you? Are you getting form rejections? Are you getting requests for partials or fulls? It could be just a matter of revising your query, if there were no sample pages.

3. Get feedback from other writers. Find a critique partner, who is a better writer, who you can trust to read your work and give honest feedback. Honest doesn’t mean harsh. There is a gentle way to tell the truth. And we do want honesty, right? Because it’s the only way to grow. No matter how hard or discouraging it is to hear. 

I don’t want to get into the whole talent versus hardwork issue in this post. Maybe another day because I know there are some heated opinions on this subject. But I once heard an uplifting encouraging statement. (This is paraphrased.)

“There are the people who are truly gifted. They have high IQs. But that doesn’t mean they are always the most successful. A person who lands in the middle of the talent scale, can work really hard and find more success than the person born with the talent.”

So, don’t try to figure out how much talent you have in writing, or anything for that matter. It could be cross-stitching, baking stickie buns, or building structures out of popsicle sticks. Just keep working hard. Every day.

And even though it ain’t easy to see your work torn to shreds, find a critique group. With the right group, it can be the best thing you can do for your writing. It was and continues to be for me.

How has your critique group helped you? And if you don’t have one, why not?

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