Inspirational Writing vs. Music

Oxford Online Dictionary: Inspire: fill (someone) with the urge or ability to do or feel something, especially to do something creative:[with object and infinitive]:his passion for romantic literature inspired him to begin writing


 

I absolutely love finding, sharing, and supporting creative endeavors by people.  A friend of mine recently shared this video with me, and I immediately fell in love with it.  The man who created it is Alaa Wardi.  Here’s a quote from his song description:

The lyrics in this song are gibberish, they’re in Arabic but they don’t make any sense, and the idea behind that is:

-The song didn’t feel like it needed to talk about anything, and I didn’t want to limit it to a specific idea, so I left it open for you to imagine.

This song inspires me to be creative.  And it’s not just the song, but the ideas behind it as well.  (There are more listed on the Youtube page for this song.)

I love how even the musician wants to leave the interpretation up to the imagination of the listeners.  I do wonder, though, if the gibberish lyrics were English/Western, would I feel the same about the open interpretation?  Is it my lack of familiarity with Arabic that helps me distance myself from words altogether, and just view the singing as part of the music?

Then again, perhaps that’s why music can be so powerful and important to people.  It breaks through language barriers and has the ability to evoke similar feelings out of everybody.

People perform songs to inspire, to entertain, to tell a story, or evoke emotions.  Isn’t that also why we write?  Writers want their stories to be listened to, and to serve a purpose for the reader, even if it is just to entertain them on a train.

But when was the last time you read a book that truly inspired you?  That made you want to put it down the second you finished, and start writing, or painting, or baking, or singing?

For the past year or two I focused my reading on contemporary novels.  The books I’ve read have ranged from Fantasy to Memoirs, and Thrillers to Young Adult fiction.  They’ve made me sad, happy, angry, relieved.

Yet, I struggle to remember one that really inspired me to do something.  I spent hours turning those pages, and enjoying the stories, but not one seems to have had a lasting affect on me.

And here we have a song that’s under 4 minutes and I hear it once; then suddenly I’m running around listening to it and actively finding ways to express myself and how this song makes me feel.

I haven’t felt that way about a book since middle school!

I feel like books have more of an indirect affect.  Music reaches you instantaneously, but with books you have to be patient.  Most of them, while not inspiring me to act, inspire to me think, and contemplate over things I had not yet considered. I digest the words internally, while music makes me want to create and do something physically.

So what do you guys think?  Have you ever been creatively inspired by a book? What books, words, or songs inspire you?

Stories Within Stories

I have quite the addiction to stories.  Which is probably why I love movies, books, or plays that are centered around storytelling.

The most recent of these treasures came rather unexpectedly.  I was meandering through the lines of movies on Netflix, looking for something to entertain me while I ate lunch.  A rather surrealist movie cover caught my attention.

The FallDescription via IMDB:

In a hospital on the outskirts of 1920s Los Angeles, an injured stuntman begins to tell a fellow patient, a little girl with a broken arm, a fantastical story about 5 mythical heroes. Thanks to his fractured state of mind and her vivid imagination, the line between fiction and reality starts to blur as the tale advances.

What I love about this type of plot, is the blending of fantasy and reality.  These stories especially capture my attention when in the form of film.  The visual aspects of blending realities is much easier to follow than in books.  Although I must say I haven’t read too many books like this.  Inkspell by Cornelia Funke, being the only one I can think of off the top of my head.

As far as movies go I can think of  The Fall, Big Fish, The Science of Sleep, Pan’s Labyrinth, MirrorMask, The Wizard of Oz, The Pagemaster, and Alice in Wonderland, as well as many others I’m sure I’m missing/haven’t watched.

I think what draws me in most to these stories, is that when I was little I so wished I could become a part of a story.  I wanted all the fantastical things to be true, and happen to me.  So when I see a film where the characters have become a part of a story or another fantasy world, I can’t help but enjoy it.

What kind of stories draw you in?

 

And Down Goes My Sinking Heart

As some of you may have noticed I haven’t posted much of my fiction lately, which is mostly due to me throwing myself headlong into a new novel concept. I’ve been so excited that I haven’t even talked about it to anyone!

The premise is that a daughter and her recently divorced mom move from Nebraska to Otter Rock, a small, unincorporated community on the Oregon Coast.  They buy and start to run a Bed and Breakfast there, in hopes of starting fresh.  It explores coming to terms with your past, and who you’ve become, as well as the intricacies of relationships, especially between a mother and daughter.  The oceanic setting weighs heavily within the book.  Tentatively titled “We Are The Tide”.

I was just browsing books on my kindle and came across an upcoming book that’s on pre-order called The Inn of Rose Harbor.  Here’s what the description says:

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Debbie Macomber comes a heartwarming new series based in the Pacific Northwest town of Cedar Cove, where a charming cast of characters finds love, forgiveness, and renewal behind the doors of the cozy Rose Harbor Inn.

Jo Marie Rose first arrives in Cedar Cove seeking a sense of peace and a fresh start.  Coping with the death of her husband, she purchases a local bed-and-breakfast- the newly christened Rose Harbor Inn-ready to begin her life anew.  Yet the inn holds more surprises than Jo Marie can imagine…

There is more to the description on amazon, so I know our novels start to differ quite a bit after that. So I guess it is a bit comforting knowing that only the beginnings are similar.  Still, I had this moment of woe, and if my boyfriend wasn’t sleeping I’m sure I would have cried out, “SAY IT AIN’T SO!!!”

They’re both set in a small Pacific Northwest town on the coast, and a woman buys a B&B to try to get over her former husband, and start afresh.

I realize there are plenty of similar genre-books out there, and things like this just can’t be helped.  Characters, writing style, and the mood of the books will always be different and unique to the writer.  But it’s still so disheartening to see it for the first time when you’re completely gung-ho about the new project.

But you know what? I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing.  I’m confidant in our differences, and if my gut tells me to write a story, then you can bet I’m going to damn well write that story!  I won’t even touch that other book until I finish my novel.  I would hate to see it influence me, or dissuade me from certain elements in my writing.

So tell me, have you guys ever encountered an eerily similar idea to yours?  How did you handle it, and did you end up tweaking your idea to differentiate yours?

 

Series vs. Stand Alone Novels

Hollywood isn’t the only industry about to be scrutinized for its sequels.  Let’s take a look at how books deal with the standalone vs series approach to story telling in this week’s Sunday Versus.

Whether you feel it while you’re writing or not, there is a pressure when publishing to separate a long story into a series.  Famously JRR Tolkien never intended to publish The Lord of the Rings as a trilogy.   And we were lead to believe that the Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini was to be a trilogy, but upon the announcement of the third book, it was also revealed that there would be a fourth.  (And to be honest, I only read the first book and a half of that series.)

But you know what? Fantasy isn’t the only genre taken over by series.  What about The Millennium Series (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo & sequels for those unfamiliar with the formal series title), or Dan Brown’s novels with Robert Langdon?  Well, let’s not limit ourselves to fantasy and thrillers.  I for one have not forgotten the Little House on the Prairie series or Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery.

In fact, sometimes I feel like stand alone novels can be so short in comparison, that I hardly remember what happens in them.  They’re like a small blip on my reader’s radar when larger series take up the majority of my attention.  And most of the series, I admit, are deserved to be so.

However, I think there comes a point when even we have to set the books down and ask ourselves if it’s really a good story, or if we’re just attached to the characters at some point.  I like to think of it as the Jack Sparrow effect.  I’m not entirely sure the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie would have been made if Johnny Depp hadn’t been so in love with playing Jack Sparrow.

A prime example, for me personally, is the Anne of Green Gables series.  Now, the first two-three books were some of my favorites as a school-girl.  And I was in love with Anne Shirley!  But by the time I got to the fourth, fifth, and sixth, I was about done with her shenanigans.  And from what I hear, there’s a seventh, eighth, and ninth book as well.  I think, when one has literally written and chronicled a character from the ages of 10-50 or so, it’s about time to end it, unless you plan on doing it in one novel.

One factor that can weigh in on this, is whether or not a book is character or plot driven.  I realize there’s a huge grey area between the two, but for the sake of this topic I’m willing to find a split in them.  I tend to feel that character driven novels should be singular.  Mostly because the point of the story is watching the character grow and change, and although people are never done growing, if a character isn’t wrapped up by the end of the novel, then I’m not very likely to keep reading another.  However, with plot driven novels I’m more invested in the actual story and what happens.  I’m compelled to keep reading because I want to know how things are resolved, and I surely won’t be satisfied if they’re rushed through in one small novel!

Overall I’m not opposed to series, but I do think if a writer is considering a sequel, especially a previously unplanned sequel, they should ask themselves if it’s really necessary.  Do they really need to use the same characters?  Are there loose strings to tie up, and how can they develop the characters more?  Will people still care after an already resolved story line?  Just some things to consider before venturing past a novel.  Sometimes I feel like a stand alone novel can be a bit underrated, especially the shorter ones.  If someone can tell a compelling and powerful story in a 120 page book, then more power to them! Stories don’t have to be long to be good.

Have you guys ever read a series that should have stopped after the first book? Or perhaps there’s a standalone novel that would serve as a great beginning to a killer series?  Let me know what you think!

StoryCorps: You’ll Laugh, Cry, and Want More

So last week I posted about how I enjoy stories of all kinds.  This week I’d like to share with you this wonderful organization called StoryCorps.  If you haven’t heard about it yet, well, prepare to be enthralled.  Here is what their official site has to say:

StoryCorps is an independent nonprofit whose mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share, and preserve the stories of our lives. Since 2003, StoryCorps has collected and archived more than 40,000 interviews from nearly 80,000 participants.

Along with recording all of these stories, they also put several animated versions of interviews on YouTube.

I cannot put into words how much these personal stories have touched me.   Whether they make you laugh, like the interview about a Sunday School teacher, or make you cry, like the story of a loved one lost on 9/11, these stories are worth listening to.  They’re captivating, heartbreaking, touching, uplifting, and inspirational.   Stories at their finest.

I whole-heartedly recommend that you guys check out their website and YouTube channel.  But beware:  I hardly ever cry, but half of the four minute animations make me start bawling by the end of them.

Exhibit A: The story of Danny and Annie.  This is my favorite of their animated stories, and it’s so touching, I cry every time I watch it(which is a lot).  So grab the tissues!

Story Ownership: You vs Your Readers

Obviously you are the writer, the creator, the teller of the story.  And there are various copyright laws that give you the legal rights to owning it.   However, once your story is out there for the world to read, is it still yours?

There are several posts similar to this one, sitting out around on the internet. Who Owns A Story, which I read after already typing my post, is eerily similar.  You wrote it, but you don’t own it, by Daniel Dalton, who mentions the Death of the Author theory.  (Also, I’m a huge fan of his.)

Most of them definitively informing you that after your writing leaves your hands, it belongs to the readers, not you.  The prominent argument is that readers take away different things from your writing.  Everyone interprets it in their own way, and the message/importance they receive will be unique, differing even from your intended message while writing.

In this way, the story has shifted, changed.  It is no longer the same story you wrote.  It is now the story as the readers perceive it.  Which is not your story.

Art and beauty are all subjective.  Who are we to say what the correct way to interpret something is?  We’re just the creators.

And yet…we are the creators.  Have we not a say in how our work is viewed?  When people start to take meaning where it was not given, do we point out that that’s not what we meant?  Perhaps not, because part of the beauty of reading and sharing our writing is that people can find meanings we weren’t even aware of.  If we tell the honest story, there will be themes we might not discover until afterwards.

But what happens when people take away the opposite message of what we mean?  If we write about the fall of a corrupt government, and people start saying we’re promoting anarchy, do we correct them?  Or leave it to others to start a discussion, or just leave them to their tainted views?  Perhaps there really is a wrong or right way to interpret messages in writing.

I think, overall I do agree with the idea that a story belongs to whoever reads it.  However what I would like to ask you is, where is the line drawn on the ownership as far as taking meaning from a story?  Do we, as creators and artists, have a right to guide readers through our intentions of the writing, or is that considered imposing on their rights of uniquely interpreting it?

In Our Younger, Wilder Days

I love hearing stories from people.  Not just bedtime fairy tales either.  I like to hear about where people grew up, their family stories, vacation stories, school stories.

I think this began when I was young, about 6 years old or so.  My dad was telling a story about his youth.  You see, he grew up on a farm in California, raised by his Filipino father along with 5(?) brothers. (I can never keep track.)  His family was working in the orchards picking apples.  He and his younger brother were still too small to help out, so  my grandfather took a huge apple bin and flipped it over on top of my dad and my uncle.  That was their play pen until the crew was done in a particular area.  Then, they would pick up the bin, move it to the next area, and flip it back over the two boys.

It was around that time that I realized my parents had been children at some point.  They had histories, memories, and stories that I had no idea about.  Lucky for me, my dad is a natural born story-teller and he loves talking, sharing, and being the center of attention.  Also, luckily, he along with my mom had quite wild youths, although a good part of me believes part of it has to do with their entire generation.

So when I came home from school after learning about Alcatraz Island, my dad was there to tell me about how, during the Native American Occupation of the Island, he had stayed there for two weeks.  You see, it was the early 1970’s and the Native Americans were rising up against the US Government for their rights.  My uncle (my dad’s eldest half brother, full Native American) was a dock guard for Alcatraz, and my dad, about 20 at the time, decided to visit him, and ended up staying.

I can tell you, that story has come in handy for school reports. 😉  First hand accounts of taking back Alcatraz are difficult to find these days.

Or you know, there’s my mom’s younger and wilder days.  She doesn’t speak about them much, so I have to work harder to hear her stories.  My grandfather worked for Union Oil and moved around a lot when she was young.  She spent 2 years of high school living in Singapore, and the other 2 years of high school living in South Korea.

One day she surprised me with a story about how, her senior year of high school, her and her friends took a boat to Japan to explore, only to find out that it was a national holiday and all the shops were closed.  And whenever we shop at Asian Food Markets with her, she likes to point out the Korean packages and tries to decipher the labels.  She can pronounce the characters, but has no idea what they mean.  It always reminds her of silly phrases she learned overseas.

My point is, my parents can out-story-tell me any day of the week.  They have such history, especially from their younger, wilder days.  Which made me think, what unique stories do I have to tell?

I can talk about how I disliked my high school so much, I became a full time college student at 16, effectively skipping junior and senior year of high school.  I could talk about how I was the only child in my family to live on a university campus in the dorms.  How I dyed my hair a purple color, but didn’t like it, so my friends had a hair-dying party and dyed it blue- NOT to my knowledge, they told me it was going to be black.  I promptly chopped it off into a fauxhawk, then dyed it red.

Or there’s that time, my roommate and I went to Moscow, Idaho in order to watch the Gay Pride Parade, and we unknowingly ended up marching in the parade.  And one time, my friend, my boyfriend and I were driving to across Washington State for the Seattle Emerald City Comic Con.  But three hours into the drive, my friends car broke down.  We were stranded, in the cold, in the pitch black, on a highway that none of us had ever been on before, so we had no idea where we even were.  Then, as if by fate, a car pulled up behind us. Except, they had broken down too, in the exact same spot, in the exact same situation, and with a Mazda, which is what my friend had. Luckily we managed to get a tow before it started to snow, by the nicest tow-truck driver named Henry.  But we still missed the comic con, and had to stay in a ghetto Motel 8.

I guess, if I think about it, I have more stories to tell than I thought.  Most of the funny or exciting ones happened on accident.  At the time some of them weren’t that great, but they make for entertaining stories.

So what stories do you guys love to share with people?

Also, because I promised, I have to.  This was me in MY younger and wilder days.  (Read: 3 years ago)

Cockatoo hair! Note: This was taken under my lofted bed in the dorms, inside my massive fort I built, which DID stay up all year. Best dorm room ever.

My brother messed up my short hair, so I stole his hat to cover it.

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