Last Year’s Resolution

Last year January I decided to make more time for my writing. This year when I look back I can say that, although I wasn’t able to achieve all my goals, 2011 turned out to be probably my best year for really getting the meaning of structure in storytelling.

Over the years, writing had basically been done for fun, as something of a hobby. Ideas had generally been thought up, plots divined and then splashed on the page hoping they’d somehow all come together in the end. But when I decided to take my writing seriously, I realised I couldn’t go about it like I did and expect to be published. That writing a novel requires as much planning and engineering as buiding a skyscraper.

I found out how really important the structure of story is from Larry Brooks website Storyfix.com… This is a site I stumbled upon, and since then not a day goes by without my visiting it to see what next I can learn to improve my writing. And I must say it’s never been a vain effort.

Realising the need for planning and structure has helped me better define my plots in a way that keeps my story streamlined and conforming to norms that agents understand.

I had previously not known how important story structure was until I chanced upon Larry Brook’s site. Now I have an insight into how to go about with my novel to get it polished.

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Valentine’s Day Bliss

4380527-heart--symbol-of-love-and-romantic-feelings Typically on this day of love you walk around town and find your eyes saturated with a sea of red and if you’re at all aware of the times you’d know t’was  the season of love sprung up in all it’s sunshine glory. Usually for young people like myself it is the time and occasion, not to mention opportunity, ripe to show the secret love of our lives the depth our admiration, with our little powwows around street corners sweating with a hint of the nerve, even if slightly allayed by the ever reliable red rose gently held in palm. All in an attempt to win fair lady’s heart. Well, at least for the uninitiated in love.

It’s funny how we find it easy, even appropriate, to exploit this very conspicuous day with its attendant opportunity for the giving of gifts of cards wishing love and wellness to friends, family and loved ones, to profess our thoughts and feelings to our secretly admired from a safe distance. One would have thought the fear of rejection on such a day would be all the more an incentive to postpone said action to a more inconspicuous day. For the memory of such rejection if come to bear, one would have thought, would be a thing of much discomfort come every fourteenth day of February. Then again as said before, it seems a good opportunity for the expression of love from a safe distance.

Valentine’s day is the day for the professing of love, genuine and adulterated…or so it was meant to be. The good old saint, whose day we celebrate, back in the long gone days, had a love for a young girl, the kind of love of such that streamed purely from the heart and expressed with the most honest of thoughts. The kind of love uninhibited by circumstance or anything superficial. That is why it is still remembered by an age long removed from his. For the beauty of love is its nature to last beyond the reaches of time.

Could I say same of our celebration of love today? Perhaps yes and perhaps not. What expressions of love and the level of its genuineness between two people lies solely in their own heads. But isn’t it a thing of worry for anyone, especially young people, that the statistics for the sale of condoms on Valentine’s day is one of high sales to the point of shortage in supply? If indeed love’s day is reduced only to the activity of love-making and the breaking of virginities as the thread seems to follow, and the consequent rise in teen pregnancies afterwards, then we’re better off just eating chocolate and calling it a day.

Not to ruin anybody’s Valentine’s day celebration, but in immersing ourselves in this bliss it is expedient that the days afterwards conjures great nostalgic memories rather than regrettable ones. Happy Valentine’s day everybody.       

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New Year’s Resolutions Anyone?

So in a matter of hours the first decade of the 21st century comes to an end. Lots of us will be saying goodbye to 2010 and planning ahead for the new year. Resolutions aplenty. You know, habits to give up, friends to ditch, what ideas to set in motion – whatever other resolves we strive for come the beginning of every year. Whether these resolutions are honoured come the end of the year seems to matter little. Making resolutions is just part of being human. To tell you the truth, I’ve never been one to set resolutions for a new year. Always felt like taking it one day at a time, make good the time I have and hope for the best. Maybe that’s a resolution in itself, who knows. Who cares. However, as a beginning writer and aspiring novelist, perhaps it’s about time I resolved to do some things more than I did others.

Over the past couple years I’ve been working on improving my novel-writing skills, building my blog, and mastering the technique of article writing. If I look back from where I was two years ago to where I am now, it would be okay to say that I’ve made remarkable progress. I mean by any standards. But I ask myself, “Is remarkable progress enough a place for me to be right now?” Because I know I could have learned more, written more and published one, if I hadn’t spent more time doing other things. And I tend to do that a lot. Whether those other things be of genuine importance or not, it’s still time I could have spent practicing my trade. Any published author(which is what I want to be most), the ones I’ve read and talked to anyway, will tell you the best advice that should be given to any aspiring writer, is simply to keep writing. Just write. Anything.

So come next year, straying from my position of not making new year resolutions, I resolve to make more time for my writing, shun any activity that negates this resolve, and finally finish my novel. Hopefully, come the end of 2011, I would be able to look back with a smile on my face and a paperback of my newly published novel sitting pretty in my hand. That’s about all the resolution there is to make for me. What about you?

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Good To Be Back!

These past couple of months have been tough for me, to say the least. Struck down with bouts of different sicknesses – malaria, food poisoning, pneumonia – all in one go, it’s fair to say that I’ve been on the brink of you-know-what and back. A visit to the doctor’s office and the consequent bushel of drugs that I’ve had to gulp down morning, day and night all goes to further remind me why I hate getting sick. Lord knows I hate medicine! Any kind! But worse than any of these is the fact that I’ve had to stay away from my computer, what with me stuck in bed 24/7 like a sleeping beauty. No writing, no reading, and heck! no blogging.

But thank God I survived the scare, thank God for another opportunity to enjoy the life He has given me; cos’ He knows I love it. All the things that I have to do, all the things I have to say, all the ideas in my head that needs to be wrote down and shared, couldn’t imagine myself not fulfilling any.

So, uh, if you can see this page, Lord(and I believe you can), big, big thanks!

In truth, one always gets a new perspective on life following a life threatening episode. You take a second look at your life and whatever direction it is headed, and you ask yourself: “Is this the path I should be taking?” And you begin to wonder about what’s more important in your life. Well I did. And even though at the back of my mind I’ve known this all along, I realised even more strongly how important family is. They can be annoying, in your space, and all up in your business, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s better they’re there than not. Thank God for families! And what’s also more important to me is my writing. Writing brings me joy, reminds me of my purpose here, and thankfully channels away the frustrations I’d otherwise vent on the family. And my readers, fellow bloggers of the sphere, you’re all so very important to me. All I can say is, healthy living to you all.

All in all, I’m just mighty glad to back!  

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What’s This Block!

This past week I’ve been trying to make time for my writing, ha! (with the whole family on the lose in the house, good luck with that), to concentrate on my debut novel for which I’m sad to say is getting as much attention as a bill-collectors mail. Typing away on fictitious characters and places and cranking up plot is not happening often enough. Having some bad times up in here, trust me. But there’s good news. My little twelve year old brother just shipped off to Youth Camp for a whole week, the little always-talking pain in the you-know-where. Oh, there’s nothing like a good old church activity to save a brother some space. I mean, it’s hard enough trying to stay focused with all the distractions on my hand, to be added to by a curious twelve year old. Anyone with a little brother knows what I’m talking about.

So I thought, with all the uninterrupted time I have on my hand, I should make good progress. And so last night I picked up my laptop and set my fingers ready to type away, made me a nice cup of coffee and sat in front of the screen for half an hour with nothing to show for it. I rubbed my chin, run a hand through my hair, rubbed the nape of neck, did some arm exercises, and still had the same word count from three days ago. The story was as it was then, stuck in the middle of chapter four. The plot wasn’t moving along, the characters weren’t saying anything, and I had no idea how to move it. It was as if I had hit a wall and there was no roundabout way. I thought perhaps I should take a break, you know, clear my mind for a minute or two. I set the laptop aside and turned on the TV, watched a couple of uninteresting programs.

I realised I had hit writer’s block. OMG!

I’ve never been able to understand what this block is. I mean, I write a lot of essays and articles, and when I set up shop for any of these activities I don’t close till am done. I just sit and write and write and write. True, essays and articles are hardly 80,000 words long, and its more to do with facts and the writers observations and analysis of a topic social or personal, but it’s still writing, isn’t it? I’m yet to read of a journalists tale of writer’s block, you?

But writing fiction is different. It’s fictitious (yeah, genius). You’re trying to bring into existence something that is not. Characters, sometimes places, unheard of ideologies, made up religions, new planets with blue people and what not. And the hard part is, even when you’re using your imagination to create a story, often you have to take care that you don’t become the story, or the story doesn’t become you, whichever way you want to look at it. Cause the truth is that’s been threatening to happen to me a lot. And I hear it happens to first-time writers a lot. You’re up to here in sweat writing about a psychotic serial killer lose in the countryside and before you know it’s turning into an autobiography. Yet you’re creating characters with the kind of personality traits you hate, you write dialogue for a Chinese character trying to speak English, get into places you’d never get into in a million years. Sometimes you just get stuck.

And that’s what happened to me. Somehow I didn’t know what my lead character should do or where to turn. And then I thought, “You’re the god of this story. Make something happen.” And that’s what I did. I just wrote whatever came to mind. I shipped him off to Youth Camp like my little brother, and made him talk trash about it. Three pages of pure genius. I felt good, and thought to myself, “Next time a better idea comes to mind, I’d just change it.”

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Finding Sources For Storylines

Mr. Goodsmacker is a respected mid-thirties man who keeps his opinions to himself and tries as much as he can to stay out of other people’s business. For which he expects the same from others. He’s married to Mrs. Goodsmacker, a beautiful down to earth woman in her early-thirties. Mr. Goodsmacker, like many other hard-working, responsible married men, goes to work early in the morning and comes back late in the evening. He’s an aesthete man who loves his clothes well-ironed and starched, so that every time he steps out of the house to go to work, people acknowledge him for the gentleman he is.

Mrs. Goodsmacker is a pleasant stay-at-home wife with no professional or creative skills. She trusts her husband. She’s contented to take care of the house and live off the money he brings home, which is more than enough for the childless couple; so much so that she finds no use for left-overs and gives them away. Life is pretty good, by any standards, for Mrs. Goodsmacker and her husband.    

However, Mr. Goodsmacker has a secret he’s been hiding from his wife both before and after they get married. His wife believes he works at an airport whenever he goes out to work, and has believed so for all the time she’s known him. Until the police show up at their door in the middle of the night with a warrant for the arrest of Mr. Goodsmacker…

Any day this is a good plot on which to base a story. It has all or most of the things a story needs; conflict, tension, betrayal, twists and turns, climax and anticlimax etc. And a good theme too. Which is all about the secret lives of the people we love and trust. It will probably look good on the back of a novel. But far from being an original, imagined storyline, this is (besides the names, of course) an actual story, a true one, of a couple in my previous neighbourhood some time back. One of many strange things we see and come across in our every day lives.

Since I seriously started writing fiction, which is about two years ago, one thing I’ve realised is that simple everyday happenings in and around our lives can be the basis for good fiction writing. Be it the setting of a place, or the weirdness of a certain person we know, writers have a myriad of sources from which they can draw inspiration for their stories. Add a little imagination here, a little embellishment there, and you have yourself a publishable novel.

Good writing!     

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Smoking Away The Dream

smoking

There’s an area off my neighbourhood, a couple of streets away and actually a neighbourhood on its own, where the air is, from dusk to dawn, marked with a very distinctive smell. This neighbourhood, situated on the route to the local market, is a less developed and less civil one; there the poverty is visible and the norms of society are not so normal, if you get my meaning. There’s filth on the streets, the buildings are wooden and uncompleted and scattered in all directions(taking the wrong turn could land you in the middle of someone’s open-house bathroom), and the people are illiterate or with very little education.

But worse than any of these above-mentioned cankers, is the ever-present and growing situation of drug abuse(weed-smoking and the like), among the young people of the neighbourhood; a situation represented by this constant, distinctive smell in the air. Walk through the neighbourhood any day and you’re bound to twist your nose and sight a bunch of young men, and in some cases women, huddled together in any of the many bushes in the area revelling in an orgy of weed-smoking. Young, vibrant people both educated and uneducated, and unemployed to boot, wasting away their energy and time on stuff that ultimately ends them half-naked, bushy-haired and exhibiting crazy in the street, or locked up and confined in a psych-ward if they’re at all lucky, or behind bars if their not so lucky. And yet they don’t even seem to realise what they’re doing to themselves.

I have a personal attachment to this blog post, a little backstory unfortunately, serving as motivation. The consequences of having a family member hooked on drugs of any kind is not lost to me. I have a brother who has been addicted to marijuana for many years now. He began when he was in Junior High School, just like many others who get addicted. Peer pressure, you know how it is. A little cigarette here and there, passed around during afternoon break. Teenagers trying to be cool, ironically. Then from cigarettes to marijuana to heroine etc. Well, he got hooked; and as much we’ve tried to wean him off the addiction, it seems he’s knee-deep in it. And that’s the case for many young people today. My father, who is a pastor, came back from an excursion to the psychiatric hospital in Accra a little while ago with harrowing, heartbreaking stories of young men and women dotting every space of the hospital ground, bereft of their senses. Young people mostly Senior High School leavers, with or without a choice to further their education, decided on a moral downturn somewhere along the way, seems to be the tale of the tape.

And as pervasive and dangerous as the situation already is, it seems only to be growing. The recent spate of drug trafficking especially in the corridors of this part of Africa, raises serious concerns that needs to be addressed sooner than later. Our young people are already suffering from the calamities of addictions to drugs like marijuana, the last thing we need is an overdose of cocaine inflow in the country to add salt to wound. The government and the security services must take measures to ensure this development is halted before we become an African Mexico.

And to young people, here’s a piece of advice: nothing good comes out of trying to impress your peers who push you try out a sniff. Once you get addicted to get any kind of drug, God help you if think you can get off it easily.     

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