The World According to Renee

Views, Reviews, Short Stories and More…

What’s in a name?

Name cards

Image credit: chuttersnap on Unsplash

In my latest story published on medium.com, the narrator’s name is important. The opening sentence declares, “You can call me Chloe. No one named Chloe is a bad person”.

I won’t give spoilers, however the sentiment is echoed in the closing sentence: no one bad is named Chloe.

Names are important. A couple of days ago, my 4 tear old daughter asked me why we have names. I replied that if I yelled out, “hey, child!” I’d have twenty kids turning around. But if I call her name, she knows I’m calling for just her.

With regards to stories, names are important because they give an indication about the character. (Or do they?) Names in stories are more than that: a nickname can give the reader an insight into the character. How did your protagonist end up with the nickname Tiny? Are they actually little or is it an ironic name because they’re 7 foot tall? Did the guy named Clock work as a clockmaker or is he always on time?

Every writer will tell you that choosing the right name is important, and can be changed several times before the story is released into the world. Many a cashier has raised their eyebrows at young writers buying a baby name book. Names are changed to distinguish from others, or because they just don’t feel right. Some experts argue that no one in your story should even have the same initial as another, lest it confuses the reader.

You’ll also find names in books tend to be a traditional spelling. It’s not often you’ll find Konnah or Sofeeah. The character may change their name for some plot point, but generally speaking, characters tend to have traditional names (or punny names) and traditional spelling.

You’ll also find in my Chloe story that her date is never named. Again, I won’t give spoilers, but when you get to the end, think about why I may have left him unnamed. Does he matter? Is he just another notch on her bedpost? Does she prefer that he remain impersonal, does she not want to get attached?

Next time you find yourself reading a story, pay attention to the names the author has chosen. Do those names fit the character? Before you know anything else about the character, what do you get from their name, and why?

Happy reading 🙂

Advertisements

May 13, 2019 Posted by | Thoughts & Reflections, Writing Journey | , , , , | Leave a comment

Home Grown

Lennox Park, Blaxland NSW

Happy Easter!

I am on holidays with my family in NSW (we live in Queensland). I deliberately chose a place to stay which was close to where I grew up, but also central to everywhere else I wanted to go on this trip.

Today, our destination was a park in the Blue Mountains where I spent many happy childhood days. Of course, back in those days, we had a bum-burning metal slide, a tooth-chipping merry go round and a slingshot-if-the-person-opposite-you-got-off-suddenly seesaw. All that has gone, replaced with child-friendly heavy duty plastic equipment that won’t send children to the hospital.

(As it happens, when I was six, I broke my arm on the road outside that park. A friend lived directly opposite and we were playing ball. The ball went onto the road, I went to pick it up, slipped, and broke my arm.)

After lunch (at Maccas, because it’s the only thing open on Easter Sunday), my partner of 11 years, J, asked to go to Bowral. I lived in Bowral for a while, and do not hold happy memories of that area at all. However, J asked to go because “it’s pretty” and I agreed. So off we drove.

Stephens Park, Bowral NSW

Despite not remembering any of the street names (and not using Google Maps), I remembered my old house without any difficulty. It was like muscle memory: cobwebs blew off that compartment of my brain and directed me straight to my old house. Naturally, it has changed somewhat (and I really hope they’ve repainted that sunshine yellow kitchen!).

It was weird being back in that park, next door to where I used to live. I thought I’d never return to Bowral, let alone with a new partner. My life in Bowral was ~18 years ago, and linked to my ex. I moved there to be with him, his parents lived there, everything I did there was because of him. I had no friends of my own and not even a job that was ‘mine’.

The strangest part of being back in Bowral was that J and my daughter do not belong there. They aren’t part of that time or place. They’re invaders of that compartment in my brain which has filed away Bowral + ex. They’re intruders in that part of my life.

As I walked back to the car, I turned around. I couldn’t see J or my daughter. I stood there, feeling the chilly wind blowing around me, wondering if I was dreaming.When they reappeared I wondered what the heck I was doing there. I no longer belonged there either.

Today was like travelling through my previous life. Living in Queensland is the antithesis of my life in Bowral. I hate everything about Bowral; I was never happy there (and it was a toxic relationship with the ex, so there’s that too). Living my present life where I am happy, have a healthy relationship, have a kid, and have things that belong to me, plus it was my decision to move to Qld, it all seems a lifetime ago. I guess in a way, it was another life.

April 21, 2019 Posted by | Thoughts & Reflections | , , , , | Leave a comment

Writing From the Heart

Woman holding mirror to self

Image credit: Mathieu Stern, Unsplash

Last week in writers’ group, we were tasked with writing a letter to our younger self. What sort of advice would we give ourselves? They say hindsight is always 20/20… what would we do differently?

I thought about my letter for a long time before I started writing. I addressed the letter to my 15 year old self: I was an emo teen before it was cool. My parents were ending their marriage, I was with a narcissistic jealous boyfriend, and I was fast approaching the point where I would finish school with no idea of what to do afterwards.

Writing the letter was somewhat cathartic. When I read it out in its entirety to the group, I felt my heart open. I was vulnerable. But safe- I trust the group.

Some of the themes within the letter come out in my regular writing: my strong feminist views, my intolerance of bullshit, my anger towards my father. My stories feature women who often don’t know their own strength until a moment where they snap. They take back their power. They rise above the bullshit.

I wrote in my last post that most of my stories result in death. The death of a character, usually male, is symbolic of all the guys I’ve risen above in my life. There’s that first boyfriend, whom I dumped when I finally realised he cared more about himself than he did me. There’s my first serious boyfriend and my first broken heart, who taught me so many things about toxicity in relationships and why I need to hold my own power. There’s my father, whose mistakes in life taught me to take responsibility for my actions, especially when they hurt other people. And there’s my current boyfriend, who loves and supports all my crazy ideas because he ultimately wants me to succeed.

As writers and as people, we are constantly learning and changing. Some of what we write will be pure gold, other things won’t. Some stories will just connect with people, others won’t. And that’s all okay.

Writing is the soundtrack to my life. I write from the heart because that’s what I know. I may get inspiration from seemingly random things around me, but ultimately, what you read is me purging some aspect of my hidden self.

April 8, 2019 Posted by | Thoughts & Reflections, Writing Journey | , , | 1 Comment

Why don’t you write about puppies and rainbows?

Puppy looking at laptop computer

Image credit: Kyle Hanson, Unsplash

Spoiler alert: People die in my stories.

My sister once told me, my stories are too dark. Why don’t I write about puppies and rainbows?

The answer to that is simple. But because I am a storyteller, there’s a story before we get to the point. Bear with me. Grab a coffee, put your feet up. Here we go…

Once upon a time…

A couple of religious people knocked on my door. We started talking about their topic of the day, and one lady asked me whether I would want to live for eternity.

“No,” I replied. The two religious people looked shocked.

“Why not? You could do whatever you wanted! What do you like to do?”

I said I liked reading and watching movies. There were too many to ever see in my lifetime.

“Well then,” said the younger lady, “You will have eternity to watch them all!”

“Hmm… Correct me if I’m wrong,” I began. “But I’m of the understanding that once Jesus returns, all the things from now and our history is wiped. The slate is clean, we start again. Is that right?”

“Yes,” agreed the two ladies.

“So… all the books and movies I would want to consume would no longer exist. Am I still on the right track?”

“…Yes,” they agreed.

“Let me ask you something. Besides the Bible, what’s your favourite book?”

The older lady told me about a book, which I have not heard of let alone read. She told me why she liked the book. I asked her about the themes of the book, guessing that it involved someone overcoming hardship in their life.

“Oh yes!” the older lady agreed.

“Okay, so after the Second Coming, there will be no hardship. The most interesting films and books are about people overcoming adversity… And if there’s no adversity… See where I’m going with this? Nobody wants to read about rainbows and walking on the beach. It’s just not interesting. People love reading about other people who aren’t them.”

The two ladies were silent for a moment.

“Uh, yes, I see what you mean,” said the older lady. “I’m going to have to think about that.”

I haven’t seen them since. I didn’t argue for the sake of arguing, I was genuinely interested in how people would spend eternity without books and films.

My stories are somewhat predictable in that yes, there’s usually someone who dies. It’s a twist; the reader is not sure who will die nor how. However, I do understand the point of my sister’s question: My writing is quite dark.

There’s an unfinished novel sitting on my laptop which is particularly dark. It is about a suicidal woman who decides to end her life by jumping in front of a car. It’s called Triptych because it is told from the viewpoint of three people: The man whose car hit her, her husband, and the woman herself. It is very dark. Heartbreakingly dark. It was written during a dark time of my own life (although I was never suicidal).

Can I write something lighter? Sure. Well, I think so. Perhaps it is a goal for this year: write lighter. Puppies and rainbows? Hmm, maybe.

March 28, 2019 Posted by | Thoughts & Reflections, Writing Journey | , , , | 1 Comment

You: A Conversation

The cover of You, a novel by Caroline Kepnes

This post contains major spoilers for the novel and the Netflix series.

I came to know You by way of the popular Netflix* series of the same name. I’m always looking for something interesting to binge watch, and this was being talked about on all my favourite social media platforms. And I was looking for something to do whilst procrastinating.

You is narrated by bookshop manager Joe Goldberg. The novel is especially interesting because it is written in the second person i.e. it is literally written to you. In this case, the “you” is Guinevere Beck, known simply as Beck. In the TV series, it is narrated in much the same way, however several of the scenes are told from Beck’s POV rather than Joe’s. In the series, it works. In the novel, it would be impossible.

The other major difference between the novel and series are the characters. In the novel, Beck has three friends: Lynn, Chana, and Peach Salinger, while in the series, Beck’s friends are Annika, Lynn and Peach. Just why Chana became Annika, I do not know. (I also happened to think Annika was interesting and would like to see her in a spin-off.) Lynn and Chana/Annika’s appearances were drawn out through the series whereas they kinda disappeared in the novel after Peach is killed.

In the novel, Joe’s store has two assistants: Curtis and Ethan. In the series, only Ethan is present. Makes sense; Curtis is really a background character although he does (allegedly) assault Joe after Joe fires him. This incident is never fully explained nor concluded and, to me, it makes sense to leave it out of the series.

Interestingly, the series also adds three characters: Paco, his mother Claudia, and her boyfriend Ron. Paco is a lonely boy who lives in Joe’s building. He is often seen reading in the hall when Joe arrives home. It is clear Joe holds affection for the boy, bringing him food and books from the bookshop to read. In my opinion, this changes the dynamic of Joe’s character.

The novel presents Joe, as narrator, deluded yet loving and caring guy who does literally everything to bring the object of his affection into his life. Enter Paco in the series, and Joe’s character becomes an enigma: he is clearly affectionate and fatherly towards young Paco, and as with Beck, will do everything in his power to protect him. It is this interaction which further exemplifies Joe’s protective behaviour. What if Beck and Joe had a baby?

This scenario never comes to fruition, as Beck eventually discovers Joe’s Box of Beck which contains all sorts of stalker memorabilia. Beck’s bra and toothbrush are just two of the items contained within the box. Joe casually mentions he’s killed all the people who have gotten between Beck and himself. Naturally, Beck is freaked out and in retaliation, Joe locks her in the book cage underneath the store.

Both the series and novel end with Beck’s murder by Joe, who then frames her therapist Not-Doctor Nicky, whom Beck was having sex with while she was also seeing Joe.

Now that we’ve dissected (ha!) Joe, let’s talk about Beck.

Guinevere Beck is a poor student and aspiring writer who catches Joe’s eye when she wanders into the bookstore. Beck isn’t the perfect woman Joe believes her to be: she’s deeply flawed (read: interesting). Beck has lied about her father’s death, seems oblivious to Peach’s true intentions (poor Beck just wants to be needed), and fools around with her therapist even though Joe is right there to give her whatever she wants or needs.

In the end, Beck does what every woman would do if they found out their boyfriend had stolen personal items: she freaks out. But she also has sexual with Joe when she’s locked up in the cage. Distraction? Maybe. Joe says while he’s spent by the encounter, she could very well leave and he wouldn’t have the strength to stop her. Yet she doesn’t. Does she still feel a connection to Joe? Sympathy perhaps? Break up sex is a common thing…

In terms of narrative, Beck needed to die by Joe’s hand. It’s a satisfying conclusion to the story. However, what if Beck lived? She escapes, and Joe spends the rest of his life both looking over his shoulder for his love, and what she might tell the cops. It could make for an interesting postscript/sequel.

Speaking of sequels, I was unaware that there was a sequel. I started reading it last night. I can’t offhand recall. If Amy Adam made an appearance in the first season of the series…? Anyway, it doesn’t matter. Netflix has picked up the rights to the sequel and will base the second season on it. I am looking forward to it!

*Although the series originally aired on the Lifetime channel in the US, it was released on Netflix worldwide in late December, 2018. Since I live in Australia, this is how I know of the show.

March 18, 2019 Posted by | Thoughts & Reflections | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Vulnerability

Vulnerability: silhouetted person looking up at a starry sky

Image courtesy of Unsplash

Hi followers. How’s things today? You feeling OK? Awesome.

I’ve done something bold. It may seem like not-a-big-deal to you, but it is to me. You see, I’ve put myself out in the big world. I’m putting my name out there. Not only that, but I’m putting my writing out there. Hello world!

A few months ago (or maybe a year?) I read an article about a guy who makes an absurd amount of money writing stories for a subscription service. People pay US$5/month (AUD$7.49) to read an unlimited number of creative writing and articles, and the writers of those musings are paid from the subscription fees.

Just why it’s taken me so long… well, that’s a story in itself. At the crux is the thought that no one would want to read my writing. (Which is quite silly, of course. People read all sorts of stuff!) I want to write, and I deserve my writings to be read. Some people aren’t going to like what I write, and that’s fine. Not everyone likes the same stuff, which is the very thing that makes us all unique. The point is, I like writing, I have a voice, and I owe it to myself to be heard.

I’ve even thought of a pen name, yet I am hesitant to use it. On one hand, I wrote the stories, I should “own”them. Own my story. On the other hand, I’ve always thought my name is a bit blah, uninteresting. A pen name is also easier for me to publicise and put out there. I’m afraid of people googling my real name and laughing at me that I think I’m now a writer. Again, quite silly.

At the moment, everything is under my real name. As I said in the beginning, it’s a bold step for me. And I did not think I would have so much trouble with self-doubt and fear creeping through me.

Wish me luck.

March 7, 2019 Posted by | Thoughts & Reflections, Writing Journey | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

What Happens When Your Audience Misses Intent?

Writers tools iPhone typewriter pen notepad

In writers’ group last week, we were given a writing exercise in which we had to write from pure emotion. For those playing at home, it’s called The Cup by Julia Cameron in her book, The Right to Write. You tap into something that was emotionally charged for you and write from that emotion.

The tale I told stemmed from an incident about 15 years ago, involving the father of my then-boyfriend. I chose this particular incident because a few days prior to writers’ group, I heard about the father’s death. Despite not having any contact with him for years and not even thinking about him, I began processing all the shitty things he’d done during the time I was with his son.

This particular incident took place at my birthday dinner at Pizza Hut. Since my family lived a hike away, my boyfriend’s family took me to this dinner. My boyfriend’s father, John (not his real name) spent the whole dinner telling me about the time my boyfriend Tim (not his real name) was kicked out of horse riding camp after being caught literally having a roll in the hay with a girl. I already knew about the story and was generally okay with it. However, this was MY birthday dinner, and I did not appreciate the story being rehashed repeatedly.

So, this writing exercise was me dealing with my unresolved anger over this incident. When the allotted writing time was over, we paired up and read our stories. My writing partner Paul (not his real name) laughed at everything John had said.

Wait, what? This was not a funny story! This was a story full of anger, despicable behaviour, and plain rudeness. There was nothing about this story that was funny! Clearly, Paul had completely missed the point of my story.

Or had he? At the time, I was quite annoyed that Paul had missed the intent of my writing. As I drove home, I pondered both my story and Paul’s reaction. Removing myself from the incident, I tried to see if John’s behaviour was actually funny.

Nope.

What does this say about my audience, in this case, Paul? What happens when your audience misses the point?

Regular readers will know I have a degree in Communications. One of the units I studied was semiotics, where we learned about assigned meanings and how/why we assign meaning based on hegemony and our own backgrounds blah blah blah. It’s actually quite interesting once you wrap your head around the concepts. Being the giant nerd I am, I dissected Paul’s reaction. Paul is of an older generation than I, similar in age to John. Would Paul regale a similar story to his son’s girlfriend at her own birthday dinner? I’d like to think not, but I’m not so sure. Obviously there is a generational and gender difference in my anger and Paul’s laughter.

So, what does this mean if you write something emotionally charged for you and your audience just doesn’t get it?

Perhaps in some cases, it warrants a rewrite to elicit the emotion you’re looking for. For creative writing, there is always going to be a section of the audience who do not react the way you hope they will. They may not like your writing (and that’s perfectly fine). They may not have had experiences in their own life which gives them empathy to feel your intent. Or, the story may just be hilarious and you have missed the point. When writing a novel, for example, your audience comes from a wide background. It may be that the only thing which they have in common is that they have read your novel. (When writing for a specific audience, eg advertising, you know exactly what your audience profile is.)

Ultimately, if your audience misses your intent, it’s not the end of the writing world. It’s what makes book clubs interesting. It engages people to debate, whether in person or social media or blogs. It elicits a response from your readers, and that is the whole point of writing in the first place.

February 25, 2019 Posted by | Thoughts & Reflections, Writing Journey | , , , , | 1 Comment

The Building Blocks of Writing

Scrabble tiles

Can you be a writer if you aren’t a good speller?

One upon a time, I would have said no. You can’t be a builder if you don’t know how to use a hammer and nails. Words are the building blocks of writing, so if you don’t know how to spell words, you can’t be a writer.

In my previous job, I worked in retail. When the store was quiet, we were allowed to talk to other stores (as long as our own stores were clean etc). I became good friends with the manager of another store, and we would email during our shifts. He was the worst speller I have come across; he spelled phonetically so I would have to say the word aloud in order to understand what he was writing.

As a self-proclaimed spelling Nazi, other people not knowing how to spell really irks me. I consider spelling a simple thing to learn… and here’s where hypocrisy creeps in. I am terrible at numbers. It’s a struggle for me to do simple addition or subtraction in my head. I am one of those cashiers whom you’ve glared at when you’ve given them coins and a note and they stare blankly at it, trying to work out how much change to give. In the course of my job, I became quite good at my 12 times tables, because I was constantly counting in dozens. I knew what change to give out of habit. Whenever we had a price change, it stumped me until I learned the change thanks to what the register was telling me.

It has taken me a lot of years to realise that some people can’t process spelling in their head the way I can’t process addition. And while I can’t see the difficulty in knowing which there/their/they’re to use, a lot of people do. My inability to mentally process numbers happens to others when it comes to words.

However, a writer isn’t just someone who writes. A writer needs to be a storyteller. This is true for all forms of writing: obviously creative writing but also academic writing, technical writing, copywriting. All the “technical” writing forms have to lead the reader to a conclusion, just the same as creative writing.

The uni degree I undertook was Bachelor of Communications. It now encompasses majors like PR and Business Communications, however it is best known for being a degree for journalists. In the very beginning of the Comms degree, budding journos are quickly disillusioned when they realise there’s more essay writing than news writing. Essays are difficult to wrap one’s head around: there is a certain style which needs to be adhered to. With creative writing, you can be, well, creative with style, however academic writing is quite a different beast.

But back to words. A storyteller is the soul of a writer. We desire to tell a story, and tell it well. A writer uses words to express meaning, convey a message, elicit a response from their reader. A writer will search synonyms of words, looking for just the right one to engage their reader into feeling something deep in their own soul.

But it does not matter how you spell that word. As long as you’re a storyteller, you can be a writer. There are people you can pay to fix the technical stuff for you. There are options available for people who want their stories available to the masses, other than traditional publishers. Yes, a writer needs words, but they do not need to know how to spell those words.

February 11, 2019 Posted by | Thoughts & Reflections, Writing Journey | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

When There Are No Words

Mist over the mountains

As a writer, I expect to always have the perfect word to describe anything. I choose words carefully to convey a feeling, an emotion, a sentiment. But sometimes, there are no words.

I woke this morning to news that a friend passed away over the weekend. He was a diabetic with a place on a transplant waiting lost for new kidneys. Although suffering chronic illness, he was not “ill” and his death was sudden. On Friday, he was talking about his plans for the weekend. It’s difficult to believe he did not see the end of the weekend.

In times of grief, there are no words to adequately describe anything you are feeling, nor any words of comfort to a grieving loved one. Some people don’t say anything. Some unintentionally say things which are inappropriate. Some people are at a loss for words altogether. The majority though, will settle on a simple “I’m sorry for your loss”.

There’s been an idea floating around my head for some time now, to write a book called When There Are No Words, about what to say to someone in the very worst time of their lives. In my research, I discovered that there truly are no words to convey everything one wants to say nor what one needs to hear. It would be a very short book. But, you should definitely say something to someone who is grieving. They just need to know you are there for them.

Brett, you were a good friend. Always in good spirits even when you felt like shit and looked like you’d been hit by one of those racing utes you loved to watch. I am deeply saddened and shocked at your sudden death. You’ll be sadly missed by all of us on the forum. Goodbye, buddy.

October 30, 2018 Posted by | Thoughts & Reflections | , , , , | Leave a comment

How to beat Writer’s Block

Writing pad with pen

You’re sitting in front of your notepad or screen, and the words just won’t come. You’ve hit a roadblock. Your characters are waiting to be told what they’re doing, but you just can’t find the inspiration. What now?

Here are my top tips for beating writer’s block and get those creative juices flowing again.

1. Write

Pick up your pen or keyboard, and write. Wait… isn’t that what you’re doing when you realised you’re not getting anywhere? Stay tuned for tip #2.

2. Look to your left

Or look to your right. Pick the first object you see and write the story about that cushion. For example, I have a red cushion to my left. I can write the story of this red cushion. My story will be, it was made by a young woman in China who was paid 3 cents an hour but her family will beat her if she does not work. The cushion was sold to a major department store, where it sat being held by thirty seven people before I paid $43 for it. Tomorrow I shall donate this cushion to an op shop, where it will be bought by a psychologist and fifty people a week will sit on, cuddle or cry into that cushion. Each of those fifty has their own stories to tell.

(I did not actually pay $43 for a cushion, and the tag says it was made in Australia.)

3. Writing prompts

Writing prompts are little sentences you can use to kickstart your writing. They are designed to introduce something happening within your story. At the very least, they serve as a distraction and at the most, they will kickstart a new subplot or character into your story.

Try these for starters.

* The phone rang.

* There was a knock at the door.

* They heard a loud noise outside.

* Water rushed from the kitchen.

* They heard music coming from outside.

These tips will initiate your brain to write. It doesn’t matter if you end up using what you’ve written, the exercise has just served to unlock something in your writing brain in order to write.

Here are some more examples.

* She suddenly saw a hole in her hem. (Did someone else wear her dress? Did she catch the hem while skirting out a window? Was it torn during a sexual assault? Is the dress hers?)

*Their attention was caught by someone’s shadow falling across them.

* A beautiful daydream came to life before their eyes.

* “Did you see/hear that?”

* a wayward puppy ran across their path.

* An invitation arrives in the mail.

I recommend writing a list of your own prompts, at least 10-20. When you’re feeling stuck, randomly pick one prompt and start writing. It doesn’t have to make sense, it doesn’t have to add to the story, it will just get your mind and fingers into the rhythm of writing. The beauty of this is, you’re free to change, edit or delete as you see fit.

4. Take a break

I know, I know… I did say “write” as my top tip. However, if you’ve been writing for a while and you’re just feeling stuck, take a break and go outside for five minutes. Make a coffee, eat a biscuit, hang up some washing. Do something else so that your mind relaxes and you’ll find ideas will pop up. If you’re feeling sluggish, eat a piece of fruit or a couple of lollies (lollies contain glucose, which is a vital sugar your brain needs to function. Seriously).

So there you have it, folks. My top tips for breaking that writer’s block.

October 4, 2018 Posted by | Thoughts & Reflections, Writing Journey | , , , , | 1 Comment