Monday, February 28, 2011

People that Inspire : Anna Chapman

Side note : I decided to begin with a “that Inspire” series per se. Every week I'll make a post about something – a person, place, event – that can act as inspiration for a fiction writer. While this will normally be something that could or did inspire me, I'll try to keep it interesting.

Anna Chapman is a Russian spy that was in the news sometime back. She was born as Anna Vasil'yevna Kushchyenko in Russia in 1982. Around 2000, she moved to London and met Alex Chapman there, and married him soon after – thus gaining dual Russian-British citizenship.
Then about six years later, she moved to New York and created a business in Manhattan. In 2009, it became a successful business, even after some bad years prior.
Later, Chapman was arrested after an undercover FBI agent set a trap for her. She eventually confessed to being part of a Russian spy ring and she and 9 others were arrested for acting as agents for a foreign government without notifying the US Attorney General.
On 8 July, 2010, she was deported in a prisoner swap between USA and Russia.
Ever since her capture, she had become quite a celebrity. After her release, she cooperated with Zeda Inc to release an application for the iPhone called “Poker with Anna Chapman”. She also appeared on the cover of the Russian version of Maxim.
On 1 October, Chapman was hired by FundserviceBank (a Moscow bank that handles state and private sector payments) as advisor to the President of the bank.

Anna Chapman has a story with so many interesting tales that can be used to create fiction. From her work in the spy ring (it was never revealed to the public what she actually did) to her life after her deportation. Obviously I'm not talking about biographies, but rather taking a piece from her life and expanding it into another story.
If your looking for an idea for a spy novel – even if it's just a few scenes you want to add – look no further than Anna Chapman.

That's it for today. Let me know what you think.

(Most of my information plus the picture comes from Wikipedia. I can give you a link if you really need it.)

Monday, February 21, 2011


 I read somewhere that one of the rules of writing vividly is to be specific. At the time, I never really got it. I thought I had, and I had tried to write more vividly, but never really veered off from my habit of writing non-vividly. It was only recently that I read a descriptive passage that Lee Lofland wrote in Police Procedure and Investigation (very awesome reference book if you use any policemen in your story) and compared it to mine, and found that my passage couldn't even complete the marathon that was vivid writing, never mind being first.
In response to the loss of that race, I went in search of the reason for it. After a few posts on the topic, I came upon another (can't remember exactly which) site that said something like this:
To create a vivid scene, don't use general descriptions.
And somewhere in the dark recesses of my mind, a little light bulb flickered to life.
It linked with the “be specific” advice I had read and formed a new idea. The importance of describing objects of interest in high detail. At first I had thought that this would lead to sloppy writing that would get old as quick as knock-knock jokes, but I was wrong.
Obviously, one does not add detail to every object that your character can see in his or her lifetime. You have to make choices; decide which objects can characterise, provide clues or create atmosphere. Those objects should be looked at and studied to create the vivid writing that keeps people reading.
There is another piece of advice that stopped me from advancing to more vivid writing. Use as little as possible adverbs and adjectives. But in fact, the advice was most probably given to prevent one from using general terms to describe things.
Compare these two sentences.
-The brown-coloured apartment looked pretty shabby.
-The peeling walls were painted a dark brown – just a few shades less than ebony – and filled with a variety of worn couches and tables in different shades of beige.
In case you didn't get it, the second sentence was supposed to be the better one. By being specific, you can not only pump that word count, but also create writing that is much more of a pleasure to read and gives a much better idea of the environment your character finds himself in.
In a previous post, I sort of discussed this topic, but it was not completely on the mark, though it hit the target with using the senses. Using all the senses that you can manage to put in will further increase the vividness of the whole scene.
General descriptions are to writers as monopolies are to humans (Yes, that's right, I differentiated between humans and writers). The prior will not kill the latter, but life is much more interesting without them.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Jaded Writing

One of the things that I cannot stand is repetition. Doing the same thing over and over to achieve some sort of goal. Also known as grinding in gamer terms.
When it comes to writing, there can come a point where you grow tired of writing and you struggle to continue writing. The only situation where this has happened to me is when the scene I'm writing (or even the whole story) is boring. Coma inducing.
It is very important for you to realise this. It's sort of like writer's block which works on the same principle.
Orson Scott Card (I know I quote him a lot, but he's a great writer, so he gets to be quoted a lot) said “Writer's block is a gift from God.”
When things become slow or even come to a complete standstill, it is not your interest that is fading, but rather your story calling for help.
When the writing is coming slow, it is probably because the part you're writing is boring. This can simply be a scene you should cut, or it can mean that you need to plan less and/or improvise more.
When writing comes to a complete standstill, it probably means something in your plot isn't working out. You just have to pinpoint it.
Like the say about chores, you have to make it fun. (Not that writing is a chore, eh?) If the scene is boring for you, it will be boring for the reader. Either find a way to spice things up or cut out the scene completely.
Boring writing leads to a bored writer. So to make your writing more interesting, keep the following in mind:
If the scene does nothing to progress the plot or develop a character, it does not belong in your story.
If the scene does not contain conflict, it will not keep the reader interested.
If the characters in a scene does not achieve something (be it something as small as getting a person's name or something as big as defeating an enemy), and do not want something (be it as small as a glass of water), the scene will not achieve a purpose.
Then again, there can be cases of burnout or something similar. Everyone needs a break sometimes. But that is a discussion for another time.
The important part is to check your writing next time you are not in the mood to write. Do you find it boring?
Here is some good advice that should keep you writing at every opportunity : Write the book you would want to read.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

When You Put Them Under

 A few days ago, I went for a minor operation. When I was finally pushed into the theatre, the people worked there for a while. I can't even remember exactly what happened, but I got the feeling that they were starting the operation, and the thought 'Aren't I supposed to be asleep before they start?' crossed my mind, and then I became aware that I was back in the ward and I was done.
Now that got me thinking, how would one write an experience that the character does not quite comprehend or remember? A dream, events under sedation or drunkenness?
The easy answer is, you don't. You just leave the event from the text and refer to it later.
However, how can we learn if we always pick the easy path? Let's see how we should go about it.
First off, remember that this is an incomprehensible event. It does not follow the normal order of things. We see this error mostly in dream sequences (I've done it myself many times). Most dreams are actually for the most part crazy. The dreamer doesn't really know what's going on, he just thinks he does. Mostly in dreams, things don't make sense. So make sure it doesn't. Flashes to different events and people doing things they cannot do. Dreamers think it as normal, but the reader shouldn't. It might also be a good idea, in the event of muddling of mind, to show your character's confusion.
Next, the problem is that the reader should be able to figure out what's going on., to some extent, at least. This is sort of a counter for the first point, but one has to find the middle ground. If you make it too confusing, the reader will just get lost and glean nothing from it, if he or she even read it to the end. A good idea is to show certain points that can lead the reader to a conclusion, but make it obvious that the character has no idea what is happening (unless of course, he does).
Lastly, don't make it too long. Also, don't put it in if it serves no purpose. What good is a dream about a man walking alone in a hospital if it has nothing to do with your plot and do nothing to alter your characters? Nothing, that's what.
As a final note, I just want to add that dreams are often a way to pad your text. Only resort to dreams when it is necessary, not when you need a higher wordcount.