Category Archives: Writing Prompt

Points of Light Christmas Edition: A Christmas Carol

a-christmas-carol

Welcome to the first post of December. As the Christmas season comes down again, I decided that since the first holiday month on the blog went well, that it was time to do it again, this time with a series of Christmas themed entries. Now have no fear, I have no intention of talking commercialized specials like Frosty and Rudolph. Instead, my desire is to examine genuine pieces of Christmas stories, be they literature, film, or another medium. Therefore, let’s begin with perhaps the greatest piece of literature in history- Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol.

The Plot

As this is a story that has had multiple adoptions and retelling in the century plus time since it’s writing, I will be brief here. This is the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, a cold, money-obsessed man who care only for money and for none of the joy of Christmas. But a visit from his deceased partner, who is doomed to wander the earth for his greedy ways in life, precedes a trio of ghosts who show Scrooge the past, present, and future should he continue in his ways. This leads Scrooge to embrace change and become a fair and generous man to all those around him.

What Writers Can Learn: Morality, Symbolism, Social Commentary

There is nary a person that has not grown up hearing some version of A Christmas Carol. Its impact on the holiday cannot be understated- indeed, the book is created for returning Christmas to a more joyous time on both sides of the Atlantic, and giving the weight and meaning it has now. However, Dickens’ tale has deeper roots. Dickens felt for the hard life of poor children and workers in England, and wrote several pamphlets on the cruelty of life those workers had to endure. He himself had lived several months in a workhouse as a child, and had observed the men and women who slaved away there. However, Dickens realized he could accomplish more with his writing then he could with political fare, and created a Christmas narrative to send his concerns out to the masses. Scrooge therefore, and figures like Jacob Marely stand as a criticism on capitalism, and Scrooge’s transformation and the happiness of the poor Cratchits is Dickens’ hope for the redemption of mankind.

Indeed, Dickens fills the novel with symbols not only on mankind’s nature, but also on life itself. Scrooge and Marely clearly represents greed and its destructive ways, and the chance for redemption, while Bob Cratchit is obviously the working man Dickens saw in life and Tiny Tim the poor children he also saw. However, the three Sprits also contain deeper symbolism. The Ghost of Christmas Past is portrayed as bright and shining, often imbibed with the power of ‘truth’. The past itself is often seen through nostalgia, making it seem a far better and simpler time. Yet, it also carries the weight of our choices, and how we must accept what they have led us to.

The Ghost of Christmas Present is joyful and happy, showing not only the emotions we should hold at Christmas, but also how the present seems full of possibilities. However, as the Spirit proves, the present also forces us to look at things as they are now, and the things we must see and judge ourselves by in the world. Indeed, a forceful scene, often cut out of current adaptations, is where the Spirit shows how Ignorance and Want, shown as poor, malnourished children of Mankind, cling to him, and how if they are ignored, will spell they end of humanity. Finally, the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come is the least subtle- a dark, foreboding figure in the mold of the Grim Reaper. Because after all, the future is always shrouded in mystery, save that it contains one thing- Death, which every person fears, and the question of how a person’s life will stack up when they are gone. Therefore this Sprit’s part of the novel is the darkest, and the one just prior to Scrooge’s redemption. It also carries the most weight, perhaps best shown in, ironically, Mickey’s Christmas Carol, where the Spirit tosses Scrooge into his grave (which opens into Hell), laughing and calling out, “The richest man in the cemetery!”

Final Thoughts

The many adaptations of A Christmas Carol have worn out many of the messages, but that does not make it any less of a tool for writers. It takes the hardships of the poor, the evil of greed, and the hope of redemption, and wraps into a Christmas ghost story (a hard enough thing to write as it is). Writers wishing to convey any sort of social message, or a moral, should examine it and see how well these heavy issues can be wrapped in a holly wreath and hung in the minds of men.

As for the adaptations, people with genuine interest should view either the George C. Scott or Patrick Stewart versions, which are closest to the original novel. However, children would be well served by the afore-mentioned Mickey’s Christmas Carol or The Muppets’ Christmas Carol, and excellent comedic versions exist in Scrooged! or Blackadder’s Christmas Carol, which reverses Scrooge into the nicest (and most taken advantage of) man in England, who learns to be greedy and mean. And of course, there is one rather recent version which I will discuss next week. Be warned though- this version carries with it a rather Halloween-flavored hunger…

Also, I will be appearing a the Cranford NJ Public Library this Thursday night for a signing and discussion on Lightrider, so any in the area, feel free to attend. And a congratulations to Emile Wilson, winner of the Lightrider Holiday Giveaway!

Advertisements

Genre Top 5: Songwriters

promo-singersongwriter

Today Genre Top 5 is one that’s not usually associated with writing, but can lead to a great deal of inspiration- music. Now, I don’t plan to turn this into a list of my favorite bands, but rather songwriters (and their subsequent groups) that have inspired the formation of characters for me. As I’ve said in my music inspiration post, all music has its own type of character, and listening to it can allow a writer to form a person in their mind, just from the subject matter of the song. So today is a list of five extremely personal songwriters who have inspired me, and will hopefully lead you to dig through your music in hopes of creating great characters.

#5 Doug Hopkins (Gin Blossoms)
220px-Doughopkins

I put this writer early on the list because of his relatively short career, but the music he created and is still maintained by the Gin Blossoms today, shows a dark, intelligent, and surprisingly tuneful mind. Hopkins is famous as the original Gin Blossoms guitarist, writing many of their early hits like “Hey Jealousy” and “Found Out About You.” Unfortunately, he suffered from depression and alcoholism, and was eventually forced out of the band by their record label and committed suicide some time later. Ironically, his hook-filled, jangle pop songs often reflect this; beneath its sparkle, “Hey Jealousy” is a man begging an ex to just let him spend the night and try to recapture the days he threw away. Other songs like “Found Out About You” also bury darkness under a strong hook (listen to the song for a tale of a man bemoaning time wasted on an undeserving girl, but then taking a turn into possible revenge), and “Lost Horizons” is a clear reference to Hopkins’ alcoholism (‘drink enough to make this world seem new again’). The Blossoms were never able to recapture Hopkins’ ability after his dismissal, but have kept his themes, touching on regret and isolation in many songs (“Not Only Numb” “My Car”). Still, listening to the Hopkins material is a fascinating look at darkness and pain hidden behind jangling guitars and singalong hooks, and can form the basis for a character hiding their own pain in any number of ways.

#4 Bon Scott- AC/DC

BonScott

As a member of AC/DC, Bon Scott was not chosen for his lyrical depth. However, he did make for the immense character he put into his songs and roguish persona he made with them. His main appeal was his lyrical cleverness, being able to piece together phrases to great effect (“she had the body of Venus, with arms!). And while his voice brought a great deal of character to his songs, his lyrics and titles, (“Big Balls,” “Live Wire,” “Ride On,” “The Jack,” ”Highway to Hell,” “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap,”) cemented him as a perfect pirate rogue, and a essential listening piece for anyone looking to make that kind of character come alive.

#3 Mike Ness (Social Distortion)

83732127-mike-ness

One of the great underrated songwriters, Mike Ness’s catalogue is a perfect example of anger, growth, shame, love, and defiance. Listening to each album in sequence is literally watching a man grow before your eyes. Early SD songs focused on punk defiance and hatred of the privileged (“Mommy’s Little Monster” “The Creeps,”) but as Ness entered rehab for his crippling heroin addiction, his lyrics touched on regret and perhaps bettering himself (“Prison Bound,” “Ball and Chain,” “Cold Feelings”). He later branched out into the passage of time (“Story of My Life”), acceptance of faults, (“I Was Wrong,”), the difficulties of love (“Footprints on My Ceiling,” “Angel’s Wings,” “Writing On the Wall,”), while still maintaining a healthy level of defiance (“Still Alive,”). Like the best kind of music, it has grown with the audience and paints the picture of a person growing up, and learning how to hold onto what matters, like the best of characters can do.

#2 Bruce Springsteen

bruce-springsteen-002

As a Jersey guy, it was a given I’d have to include the Boss on this list. However, his inclusion is far from a location-based bias. Springsteen’s strength as a songwriter is his ability to craft real-life, in-depth characters in his songs. He can compose epic story songs about the boy finally making good (“Rosalita”) the loss of youth and its promises (“The River”), the hopes of the young against hard times (“Badlands,” “The Promised Land,” “Wrecking Ball,”) and how much home is something to escape from and something to find again (“Born to Run,” “My Hometown,”). Every time he writes a song, the listeners finds a touch of a person or an experience they know firsthand, and they feel themselves drawn into the realism. To quote Jon Stewart, “When you listen to Springsteen, you aren’t a loser. You are a character in an epic poem… about losers.” That common thread of realism make Springsteen’s characters people you see everyday, and as such, they are people that you relate to.

#1 Shane McGowan (The Pogues, The Popes)

shane-macgowan-1

My all time favorite and most complicated songwriter. Shane McGowan, leader and songwriter of the first Celtic-punk band, the Pogues, is as much a character as the people in his songs. McGowan’s songs speak of alternating joy and misery. His songs generally have jig ready Irish music, but the lyrics are wrapped in death and rebellion (“Sally MacLennan,” “If I Should Fall From Grace With God,” “The Sunny Side of the Street”). Yet when he writes a ballad or slower song, he can access the mind of an old solider and a young kid (“Pair of Brown Eyes”), his own misery growing up (“The Old Main Drag,” “Boys From the County Hell,” “Dark Streets of London,”) and the most tender, lovelorn lyrics ever committed to music (“Rainy Night in Soho,”). Perhaps nowhere is this dichotomy better realized then his greatest composition, “Fairytale of New York.” In this Christmas song, McGowan captures the realism of an old, worn out couple at Christmas time, regretting their lost years and blaming each other for their failures, yet with a small spark of love still apparent at the end. It’s a rich, memorable, realistic, and gripping tale, filled with two characters that like Springsteen, we can see everyday. But unlike Springsteen, McGowan dives into the darker underbelly, which makes his characters echo and resonate even more.

The Publishing Process: Marketing Part 3: Speaking

aa-get-published

As I mentioned in my previous post on marketing, being able to speak on your work is essential. And while a book signing is certainly an opportunity to talk about the book, there is another aspect of speaking that is important to touch upon- being able to talk about writing itself. Just as you would expect an actor or musician to talk about the art of their craft in detail, you should be able to talk about writing in the same way. So today, I would like to discuss a few points I would suggest writers to go over in their speech.
What to talk about.

#1 Your process

When you write, you will have to find a process that is unique to you and you alone. As such, your audience would be interested to hear exactly what it is you do. If your style is to write listening to music, or to work at a certain time, or just to write for a few hours, explain why this works for you. What makes it effective, what makes it the best way for you to get your work flowing? Remember, other authors are looking for their own methods, and this is a great way to help them.

#2 Inspiration/Confidence

Getting started is hard, and sometimes people may feel their ideas simply aren’t good enough. As someone with a finished piece of work, you should give these people the path and ability to get to their finished story. When I speak, I always tell how my book started from watching an anti-drug special that first made me interested in a group of heroes. And each time. I explain how that basic concept stayed with me for many years, being changed and developed, until it became a book. And I always finish by saying how the best stories can come from anywhere, and that with enough confidence, a writer can take anything and shape it into something.

#3 What You Love About Writing

This should be obvious, but every writer should be able to talk about why they love to write. It’s simply too basic not to talk about.

#4 Your Failures

For all the work you’ve accomplished, you will have certainly stumbled along the way. This is also important to share. Writing is a difficult career, and there’s never a promise of success. The act itself is long and difficult and you may find yourself making bad decisions constantly. But that is a part of the process, and as a finished writer, you need to make aspiring writers aware of that. Talk about ideas that didn’t work, rejections you faced, harsh criticism. It will help your audience understand the how hard writing is for everyone, and how people can rise above it, as you hopefully have.

#5 Your future

Writing is hard, and it take a lot of work, planning, and luck to make a career out of it. Some people will ask how you plan to survive with it. If you aren’t planning to write full time, explain to your audience how they can use writing in building a life. You may not be able to give them a path to fame and success, but you can tell them how to be writers and have a profitable, happy life. And with an uncertain career like writing, that may be the most valuable thing to talk about.

Another Write on Edge Challenge!

Since I enjoyed my little Suess story last week, I decided to do another writing prompt for Write On Edge.  This time the prompt was the image of a crystal sphere and a lakeside castle, so I turned out a little unhappy fairy tale.  Enjoy!

**************************

“Woman!” Jeffery yelled from inside his chambers.  “Where is my dinner?  I demand food!”

But the king received no answer.  Angrily, he stomped out of bed and flung open the doors to the hallway, continuing to yell.  Normally, this would have brought servants running from every level of the castle to attend to him.  But all Jeffery heard in response was in his own echoes.

“Where in heaven’s name have those fools gone?” Jeffery muttered, his royal robes fluttering about him as he walked around the halls.  He continued to call for some to attend him, but as he walked through more and more of his grand palace, he began to think something was wrong.  No matter where he went, he found nothing but empty rooms.

“How dare they abandon me!  I shall have their heads!” Jeffery yelled, his fear buried in the sound of his angry voice.  He stalked his way to the kitchen and flung the door open.  But inside, he found foodstuffs still waiting to be prepared, and cooking fires roaring over spitted food that had long ago burned. Puzzled, with his fear growing by the moment, Jeffrey moved to the spit and removed it, only to drop the hot metal in anguish a second later.

“What… what madness is this?” he said aloud, as he cradled his burned hand.  Frantically, he began to call for help, this time straining his mind to remember the name of at least one servant.

“Vanessa!  Girl, please!  I am hurt!  I need your help!”

But still he heard nothing but silence.  In panic, Jeffrey ran for the great doors and pushed them open.  Standing in front of his lake castle, he screamed, “WHERE IS EVERYONE!”

**************************

“Hey c’mon Vanessa!  Let me see!  I wanna see!”

“Not yet,” Vanessa said, as she pushed her rbother away.  “There is still much I need to do here.  Go help the others load the wagons.”

Her brother sulked, but walked away to do as he was told.  Smiling, Vanessa held up the glass orb and gazed inside, to the little castle sitting on a glass lake, and the little figure in front of it.
“You should have learned to hold your tongue, my Lord,” Vanessa whispered.

“Especially in MY presence,” the little witch added.

The King On His Throne – Write on Edge Challenge

Hey everyone, decided to try the Write on Edge challenge today. For those of you who are unfamiliar, Write on Edge posts weekly writing prompts that anyone can participate in – you simply link up your post on the website. This week we were prompted to compose up to 500 words on the following Dr. Seuss quote and image:

“I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees. I speak for the trees for the trees have no tongues.” – Dr. Seuss, from The Lorax

Dr. Seuss puzzles

Read the rest of this entry