There’s a story in every moment

You can sit on a plane or at a (boring) meeting and there may be a story lying in wait. All you have to do is turn, smile and talk to those around you. Every one has a story, has a phrase that sticks, has a tale to tell and places they’ve been. All you need to do is turn, smile and start talking. Do not be afraid to strike up a conversation with the ones near you. And above all, after asking, listen to what they have to tell and take note. You never know when that phrase would seem appropriate when you are writing conversation or laying down a plot.

There’s a story in every moment.

Too many times we try too hard to fomulate a great story. We labour over ideas that HAVE to be spectacular, mind blowing and out of this world. We fashion large words and create outlandish worlds to plant our single dimensional characters.

But stop and talk to those you meet on the bus or a plane or sitting at a coffee shop and you’ll gain a wealth of stories. Real stories with real people, living real lives with real problems and moving in real time. You then take on the role of scribe and thus, chronicle the lives of everyday people. It doesn’t have to be outlandish or spectacular, just honest and true.

Try it. talk to someone and listen to the story, yet untold.

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How to choose the RIGHT language to write a novel.

Let’s keep things simple. You want to write and you want to be published. So what language will you write in? It sounds like a dumb question and I can see some of you rolling your eyes and fidgeting in your seat; ready to flame my blog. But hear me out.

Language choice is a BIG decision, primarily because it can determine whether you would actually finish your novel/short story/article or love letter. Anyone can write, thats why we go to school. We learn to spell words and articulate our minds onto a medium called paper.

Yet, language will determine the feel of the story, the life of the story lies not in the writing itself (per say) but rather in the language used. Language determines the way the words are spoken by that invisible story teller, who sits in reading room of our mind and language moves us to think, to dream and to imagine.

Write in the language you think in.
If you think in Chinese, try writing in Chinese and so on so forth. Writing in the language you think creates flair in your stories. It just means, you have mastery over the language. By being a master of the language you can play with words and sentences and allow yourself to speak your mind. Remember, creative writing is about painting your mind onto a printed medium for people to read. Paint using the colors that you are sure of. Write in the language that you think in.

Now, there will come a time when you choose to write in a language you learnt..

Write in a foreign language if you want to reinvent yourself.
When I write in Bahasa Malaysia, my style changes. It becomes dead formal. My sentencing becomes rigid and it takes on an air of formality. Yet, when I do attempt to write in Bahasa Malaysia, I am not govern by the rules of the language because I don’t know them. My writing takes on a flair akin to a mad-man ranting away nonsenses. So, if I ever want to write in Bahasa Malaysia, it’ll probably be poetry or a compilation of short stories by inmates of the local asylum.

Write in the language you read in.
Writers are in part hugely influenced by what they read. We pick up a writer we love and in time our style matches them to a certain degree. We take on some of the way they sentence their words or speak their minds. My own style is (ironically) greatly influenced by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the writer of the Sherlock Holmes series, and lately by Stephen King, Neil Gaiman and Nicholas Sparks. These are the writers I read and they all write in English.

Write in the language you vocalize your stories in.
Writers need to be good story tellers. For example, imagine sitting in a coffee shop with your friends and it’s your turn to tell them your story. You need to grab their attention, keep them hooked, allow them to follow the story, allow them to experience the characters. This imagery is the one I keep in my mind when I write my short stories. I imagine I’m telling the story to a friend. This is what I deem the Voice of the Writer. Every writer has their own unique voice. It’s their fingerprint in the literacy world. We recognize each other by the way we speak on paper. So make it a point to try to translate how you vocalize your stories to people onto paper. Try to mimic the phrasing and sentencing onto paper and you’ll find that your writing has taken on a new dimension.

So why are you still reading this? Go write something.

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The Reclusive Writer

I am quick to admit that I am a very reclusive person. By nature I am painfully private about things in my life. There was a period in my life where I sought to fit in but that was as successful as trying to drown fish in water. I have since come back home to being the recluse that I am. Yet in being reclusive, intoxicated in my own reality, I find the well-spring of creativity. I imagine the lives of other people. Living and breathing the air of the characters that populate the world of my mind. It is a world undisturbed by the harsh reality of this world.

There is nothing bad about being shy about yourself. In looking myself, I realized that I have a lot of acquittances yet only a handful of close friends. People with whom I can be vulnerable with and comfortable to share my thoughts and ideas.

Yet it is in my own quiet retreat, I am able to write and spin the tales that flash within my head. I put on my beenie, wake up my iBook and type away. Some stories go unfinished, some take flight yet others remain empty pages waiting for another visit.

I sometimes shun writer gatherings for the very reason, I prefer to write alone. I am not saying writer groups are bad. No. By all means join one if you feel it would help your craft. All I am saying is, it may not work for me. I enjoy writing alone. In the comfort of my own thoughts and the quietness of my own space. Do what is best to express your craft. Don’t compromise on what makes you a writer.

If you are a reclusive writer like me, don’t worry. You are in good company.

Depression and this Writer

I never thought I would fall into this state of mind but it happened. I was depressed and this was the reason I had turned cold towards my writing. I did not know it was depression and instead blamed other factors such as work, commitments and people as the reason to why I couldn’t sit down long enough to write a sentence. Yes, within the period of depressive foggy-ness, I did managed to churn out several short stories (most appearing on this blog) but my main project merely sat on the sideline.

Depression hits for no reason and your mind just fogs over and your motivation to do the things you love just evaporates, leaving you with this perpetual sense of emptiness. In the end, you feel as if you are merely a shell and life has ebbed it’s way to the twilight zone. Nothing seems right, you become sensitive and needy. Needy for attention or someone to understand but you full well know no-one can fully understand the state of mind of a depressive person. My mind and heart were locked in a bind of negativity. Nothing seemed positive and optimism became a curse word.

There were evenings I spent walking in my backyard, devoid of thoughts and merely walking. I viewed things with an emptiness, a detachment from what was real or fantasy. In this state, plants looked alive and the world just seemed a shade of gray. It was bad.

Yet, I knew all this and I am glad I had friends I could just talk to. People I could open up to and vent. And I also had my writing. I realized the most passionate of my writings were done when I was in this state of clawing myself out of my emotional black-hole. The stories were real and the emotions raw. Sometimes our very weakness is the source of our greatest strength. Our insanity is the root of our creativity, the source of the logic for which we write about and our readers get transported to.

In my depression, I wrote about the need for love, the strength of hope and the desperation of one who has reached their end. Maybe it’s good for me to walk in that dark alley called depression, if only to gain the stories but not to dwell in it.

Am I out of my depression? I don’t know because its a part of me, yet I know I can keep it in check and continue to write with passion due to it.

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Stick to what you know best – 3 Tips for writers.

I am of the opinion that it is always best for one-self to understand their strengths and play to them to the fullest. In writing this translate to the fact, authors need to write within the sphere of their understanding. Meaning, choose your genre, choose your market and understand your own reading taste.

Choose Your Genre
There are a hundred and one different genres to choose from and I bet you will find one that suit your writing style. Each genre has a style of it own, reading Nicholas Evans and Nicholas Sparks tell me that both have a way of tugging at your heart strings and both write in the same genre. Take Stephen King and you see he writes in his genre and his style is suited to it. I cannot imagine Stephen King writing in the same genre as Nicholas Sparks but I reckon it is possible but really weird. Stephen King would be too crude and too direct in showing the movement of emotions and feelings. I would bet most of his characters would be deemed angry people with little feelings of affection towards one another. So look at your style and choose your genre. Not everyone can write a novel, so maybe your genre falls in the motivational writing section rather than romance. Give it a thought.

Choose Your Market
If you’re writing for money then aim for the market that sells. Self-help books, children’s book, educational books, billboard advertising, etc…whichever would draw in the money. But if you’re writing for writing sake than you can pick out the one’s with least competition but with potential to be your own private niche. My friends asked me why write in English when the market is so small (almost non-existent) in Malaysia. Why not write in the national language, Bahasa Malaysia? Firstly, I only think in English and though I can write in Bahasa Malaysia, it will probably turn out to be so formal and with enough emotion as a dry prune. I rather write in english and be among the select few who publish in english in Malaysia and the key thing is…I may be the only one publishing in my genre. Yes, I am in direct competition with imported titles but somewhere along the line, national pride will kick in and people would support their local writers.

Understand Your Reading Taste
We write what we like to read. Repeat that with me, “I write what I like to read.” Yes, we mimic those that have gone before us and we do it well. Let’s be honest, somewhere along the road; you told yourself, “I can write like this.” So, you pulled up your sleeves and bit your lips and pounded away a story about a fly that irritated this girl so much, she burnt down the fire-station much in the same way Carrie did in Stephen King’s – Carrie, when she burnt down the school and wreck half the town. We write what we read. So read as much as you want but know that your writing WILL BE influence by what you like best. Even if that means reading billboards for a living.

So stick to what you know best. If you know how to sharpen pencils to the max than write about sharpening pencils or sharping chopsticks into weapons of mass destruction ala a Ian Fleming – James Bond thriller. I’m floating this idea of red and black fingernails in my head, you never know it could turn out into the next best seller (in my wildest dreams).

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The One skill writers must have besides writing itself

I am often asked how I come about knowing so much. I never confess to having photographic memory (though I wish I did) neither do I see myself as a genius (I love my hair too much) but what I do have is a wild imagination that seemingly latches on to whatever new information pumped into my cerebral.

Besides writing itself, the other important skill, if not the only important skill is The Mastery of One’s Imagination.

Sherlock Holmes said, “You see but do not observe“. Aptly spoken and it is a phrase that writers should constantly hum as mantra. As writers, the blank page is our canvas and words our paint. We draw imagery, which takes life in the minds of the readers. Such imagery needs to live first and foremost within our writer’s minds. We need to see before it can be seen.

Yes, we all can imagine. As children we played with our imagination, we had dinosaurs running in our backyard, aliens living under our beds, the boogie-man in our closet and suspicious looking people as out imaginary friends. But somewhere along the line we lose this natural tendency to imagine our world. Replaced instead with in the face common-sense or logic thinking. Only a few have learnt to harness and tap the power of imagination. These are the Jedi master’s of their imagination and they are our icons of fantasy and lore example Stephen Spielberg, Stephen King, Johnny Depp; to name a few.

For a writer to excel, he too needs to be a Jedi of his own imagination. He must allow his characters to run free in his minds, he must observe their interactions and listen to what they are saying. The writer is the loyal scribe to the happenings of a reality that lives in his mind, which only he can see and chronicle. Eventually, the happenings of this world would be reported to the world populated by readers; curious to know the whats and the ifs.

For my second book set in pre-war Malaya, I have to rely heavily on my imagination and from watching period movies. There is just not enough research material for the period before Malaysia received her independence. The little that I have come across, does not paint a big enough picture for me to describe. So much of that world, I had to build in my mind and I had to rely a lot on flashbacks by my main characters in order to tell their story. Initial readings by friends tell me that they are comfortable with the flashbacks and the fact I am telling two stories in one. The events of the pre-war story affects the present story. So there is a link between events in the lives of my pre-war characters on the lives of those in the present day. Interesting to read but a horror to write. So I have taken large liberties to fill in the blanks with Constructive Imagination.

Constructive Imagination is not wild imagination but rather inferring and constructing reality based on the little information you have. You may have a shred of information but through a process of deduction you can safely build a picture. Criminal Profilers do a lot of inference work based on evidence at the crime scene. They build a good enough picture for everyone to see, which leads to the capture of the suspect. The same can be said in writing. Build a good enough picture and your reader can see.

Be the master of your imagination and study it well and you will realize that it opens up your writing. Plots seemingly fall out of the sky and your characters take on lives of their own. Link your imagination to information you gleamed from reading and see your stories take on a credible tone.

Before I forget, reading is the fuel for imagination. So read a LOT. It doesn’t have to be a novel, it could be the ingredients from your box of cereals, read, read, read. As you pump your imagination with information, create links between them and watch the stories come alive.

So there you have it; the other skill writers must have, besides writing, is a mastery of one’s own imagination.

Cheers!

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