Reading Like a Scientist

This morning, I came across an excellent article by K.M. Weiland 7 Steps to Creating a Flexible Outline for Any Story . While I was studying it, I kept catching myself on switching to my “scientist reading mode”, which has developed through years of my academic career and seems so natural to me that I read nearly everything – even fiction – this way now. I must mention to K.M.Weiland’s favor that her writing is always very logical, well-structured and brilliantly worded.

scientist

“In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual.”― Galileo Galilei

Having spent decades of my life doing academic research, supervising post-graduate students and writing university coursebooks, I always tend to look for structure in every piece of text that comes into the range of my vision. First of all, I mark out the keywords  in the title, then my eyes stubbornly try to find these keywodrds throughout the whole text. I admire well-structured texts, and always, no matter what I am reading, I make lots of notes while reading.

The article about creating an outline of a story seemed not only well-structured, but also very informative to me as a beginner in fiction writing (a rare pleasure to come across in the world of creative bloggers and fiction writers), so I could not help but making lots of notes as I read it through. This is what I got in the end, and these colored notes – no doubt – will now help me a lot to learn K.Weilland’s method in detail. I have pasted the article with the notes below, to demonstrate how its brilliant structure becomes a roadmap for every working author to use when creating outlines of their stories. If you only pick out the colored notes, you will get the full skeleton of K.M.Weiland’s methodology. If you pick out both, the colored notes and the underlined phrases throughout the text, you will get a great set of tips to keep in mind when writing your own story outline. Enjoy!

Once again, many thanks to the author for her elaborate work and very useful advice!

scientist2

“Everything must be taken into account. If the fact will not fit the theory—let the theory go.” 
― Agatha Christie

7 Steps to Creating a Flexible Outline for Any Story, by K.M.Weiland

(Keywords: outline / story outline (story outlines are the object of research) ; creating / steps to creating)

(Science name for the article would be: Creating a Story Outline)

“Mention the word outline in a room full of writers, and you’re sure to ignite a firestorm of passionate debate. Writers either love outlines, or they hate them. We either find them liberating, or we can’t stand how confining they are. (Problem identified)

My experience has been that more often than not, those who swear they dislike outlines are thinking of them in the wrong ways. (Common practice that brings up the problem)

Outlines are not meant to trap you into preset ideas or sap your creativity before you start the first draft. Outlines are also definitely not meant to be lifeless Roman-numeral lists. (main qualities of outlines discussed)

To imbue your writing with the full power of outlining, (the task of the research is set) you need to approach the process from a mindset of flexibility and discovery.(method outlined) When you do this, you’ll end up with a road map to storytelling success. (anticipated result identified)

Road maps are there to show you the fastest and surest way to reach your destination, but they certainly don’t prevent you from finding exciting off-road adventures and scenic drives along the way. (relevance explained)

At their best, outlines can help you (a) flesh out your most promising story ideas, (b) avoid dead-end plot twists and (c) pursue proper structure. And the greatest part? They (d) save you time and (e) prevent frustration. (the object of research and its main characteristics outlined)

Sketching out your plot and characters in your first draft can take months of trial and error. Figuring out those same elements in an outline requires a fraction of the time—and then allows you to let loose and have fun in your first draft. (difference between drafting a plot and writing an outline is shown)

Let’s take a look at how to get the most out of the outlining process, beginning with the shaping of your premise and working all the way through to a complete list of scenes. (the goal of the article is set) (Note: Although this outlining method is one I use myself and highly recommend, keep in mind that there is no right or wrong way to outline a story. The only requirement is that you find the groove that works for you. If you start outlining and begin to feel the technique isn’t working for you, rather than denouncing outlines entirely, consider how you might adjust the process to better suit your personality and creative style.) (special conditions outlined)

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“If you’ve got the truth you can demonstrate it. Talking doesn’t prove it.” 
― Robert A. Heinlein

(The steps of research are outlined below)

1. Craft your premise. (write a one paragraph summary of the work)

Your premise is the basic idea for your story. But it’s not enough to just have an idea. “Guy saves girl in an intergalactic setting” is a premise, but it’s also far too vague to offer much solid story guidance.

This is why your outline needs to begin with a tightly crafted premise sentence that can answer the following questions:

• Who is the protagonist? (identify protagonist)

• What is the situation? What is the hero’s personal condition at the beginning? How will that condition be changed, for better or worse, by the hero himself or by the antagonistic force? (outline situation)

• What is the protagonist’s objective? At the beginning, what does the hero want? What moral (or immoral) choices will she have to make in her attempt to gain that objective? (set the objective).

• Who is the opponent? Who or what stands in the way of the hero achieving his objective? (describe antagonist)

• What will be the disaster? What misfortune will befall the hero as the result of her attempts to achieve her objective? (outline the problem and goal)

• What’s the conflict? What conflict will result from the hero’s reaction to the disaster? And what is the logical flow of cause and effect that will allow this conflict to continue throughout the story? (conflict/contradiction)

Once you’ve answered these questions, combine them into one or two sentences: (another step of research suggested)

Restless farm boy (situation) Luke Skywalker (protagonist) wants nothing more than to leave home and become a starfighter pilot, so he can live up to his mysterious father (objective). But when his aunt and uncle are murdered (disaster) after purchasing renegade droids, Luke must free the droids’ beautiful owner and discover a way to stop (conflict) the evil Empire (opponent) and its apocalyptic Death Star.

2. Roughly sketch scene ideas. (drafting the big picture)

Armed with a solid premise, you can now begin sketching your ideas for this story. Write a list of everything you already know about your story. You’ll probably come to this step with a handful of scenes already in mind. Even if you have no idea how these scenes will play out in the story, go ahead and add them to the list. At this point, your primary goal is to remember and record every idea you’ve had in relation to this story.

Once you’ve finished, take a moment to review your list. Whenever you encounter an idea that raises questions, highlight it. If you don’t know why your character is fighting a duel in one scene, highlight it. If you don’t know how two scenes will connect, highlight them. If you can’t picture the setting for one of the scenes, highlight that, too. By pausing to identify possible plot holes now, you’ll be able to save yourself a ton of rewriting later on.

Your next step is to address each of the highlighted portions, one by one. Write out your ideas and let your thoughts flow without censoring yourself. Because this is the most unstructured step of your outline, this will be your best opportunity to unleash your creativity and plumb the depths of your story’s potential. Ask yourself questions on the page. Talk to yourself without worrying about punctuation or spelling.

Every time you think you’ve come up with a good idea, take a moment to ask yourself, “Will the reader expect this?” If the answer is yes, write a list of alternatives your readers won’t expect. (a sequence of steps suggested in order to achieve the goal)

3. Interview your characters. (take only the main characters now)

In order to craft a cast of characters that can help your plot reach its utmost potential, you’ll need to discover crucial details about them, not necessarily at the beginning of their lives but at the beginning of the story. (do interview the characters!)

To do this for your protagonist, work backward from the moment in which he will become engaged in your plot (the “disaster” in your premise sentence). What events in your protagonist’s life have led him to this moment? Did something in his past cause the disaster? What events have shaped him to make him respond to the disaster in the way he does? What unresolved issues from his past can further complicate the plot’s spiral of events? (work backward method – try it!)

(useful tips here)

Once you have a basic idea of how your character will be invested in the main story, you can start unearthing the nitty-gritty details of his life with a character interview. You may choose to follow a preset list of questions (you can find a list of more than 100 such questions in my book Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success), or you may have better luck with a “freehand interview” in which you ask your protagonist a series of questions and allow him to answer in his own words. (try to do both and see what works better)

4. Explore your settings. (list the main settings)

Whether your setting is your childhood neighborhood or the seventh moon of Barsoom, you’ll want to enter your first draft with a firm idea of where your prominent scenes will be taking place. (think over locations of scenes)

Don’t choose a setting just because it sounds cool or because you’re familiar with it. Look for settings that will be inherent to your plot. Can you change your story’s primary locale without any significant alterations to the plot? If so, dig a little deeper to find a setting better suited to your plot, theme and characters.

Based on the scenes you’re already aware of, list the settings you think you’ll need. Can you reduce this list by combining or eliminating settings? Nothing wrong with a sprawling story locale, but extraneous settings should be eliminated just as assiduously as unnecessary characters.
5. Write your complete outline. (write an extended outline)

You’re finally ready to outline your story in full. This is where you will begin plotting in earnest. In Step 2, you solidified the big picture of your story by identifying the scenes you were already aware of and figuring out how they might fit together. Now, you will work through your story linearly, scene by scene, numbering each one as you go. Unlike the “sketches” in Step 2, in which your primary focus was on brainstorming and exploring possibilities, you will now be concentrating on molding your existing ideas into a solid structure. (outlining the first rough draft)

How comprehensive you want to be is up to you. You may choose to write a single sentence for each scene (“Dana meets Joe at the café to discuss their impending nuptials”), or you may choose to flesh out more details (“Joe is sitting by himself in a booth when Dana arrives; Dana orders coffee and a muffin; they fight about the invitation list”). (sub-methods listed)

Either way, focus on identifying and strengthening the key components of each scene’s structure. Who will be your narrating character? What is his goal? What obstacle will arise to obstruct that goal and create conflict? What will be the outcome, and how will your character react to the resulting dilemma? What decision will he reach that will fuel the next scene’s goal? (outline the key components of scenes in connection with the goal)

Work to create a linear, well-structured plot with no gaps in the story (see the checklist on the opposite page). If you can get this foundation right in your outline, you’ll later be free to apply all your focus and imagination to the first draft and bring your story to life.

As you mentally work through each scene, watch for possible lapses of logic or blank areas in how one event builds to another. Take the time to think through these potential problems so they won’t trip you up later. If you get stuck, try jumping ahead to the next scene (good sub-method) you know, and then working backward. For instance, if you know where you want your characters to end up, but not how they’ll get there, start at the ending point and then see if you can figure out what has to happen in the preceding events to make it plausible.

6. Condense your outline. (write an abbreviated version)

Once you’ve finished your extended outline, you may want to condense the most pertinent points into an abbreviated version. Doing so allows you to weed out extraneous thoughts and summarize the entire outline into a scannable list for easier reference. Because your full outline may contain a fair amount of rambling and thinking out loud on the page, you’re likely to end up with a lot of notes to review (I often have nearly three notebooks of material). Rather than having to wade through the bulk of your notes every time you sit down to work on your first draft, you can save yourself time in the long run by doing a little organizing now.

You may choose to create your abbreviated outline in a Word document, write out your scenes on index cards, or use a software program such as the free Scrivener alternative yWriter.

7. Put your outline into action. (useful tips here)

By now, you’ll be feeling prepared and eager to get going on your first draft. Each time you sit down to work on your manuscript, begin by reviewing your outline. Read the notes for your current scene and the scene to follow. Before you start writing, work through any remaining potential problems in your head or on paper. If the time comes (and it will come) when you’re struck with a better idea than what you had planned in your outline, don’t hesitate to go off-road. These ventures into unknown territory can result in some of the most surprising and intriguing parts of your story.

An outline will offer you invaluable structure and guidance as you write your first draft, but never be afraid to explore new ideas as they occur. Remember, your outline is a map showing you the route to your destination, but that doesn’t mean it is the only route. (outline is a kind of a road map for the story)

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“Science, my boy, is made up of mistakes, but they are mistakes which it is useful to make, because they lead little by little to the truth.” 
― Jules Verne

Spoiled by Dostoevsky, Healed by Humor

“The soul is healed by being with children.” F. Dostoevsky

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Every man is born innocent. Having been born, a child knows neither evil nor good. It is us, the grown-ups, who turn every child into what they finally become. Dostoevsky was right when he said that a sinful soul of a grown-up is ‘healed by being with children’, but he never paid attention to the other side of this two-way process: being with a grown-up (Dostoevsky included!) spoils the innocent soul of a child. Therefore, whoever thinks that by being with kids they are cleansing themselves against moral degradation, they only lay a time bomb of sin… in the souls of the next generation.

Children tend to copy the adults’ behavior. The little ones don’t realize whether they are copying good or evil. Only later, when they acquire some social experiences, they will begin to differentiate between the two, but at that point, they will already be infected with sin.

child_Adam-and-Eve-Apple

The struggle of opposites underlies our existence: without knowing evil, we can not see the good. I have been thinking about it all my life – as a person, as a mother, as a teacher and now, as an author who is supposed to share with others, and I have finally come up with a solution… at least for myself. To break this vicious circle, we need to turn to… no, not the church, we need to turn to HUMOR.

Yes, exactly. We need to turn to humor. We need to develop the sense of humor in our children, because humor helps everyone to bring sin to nothing.

  • Humor teaches us to think;
  • Humor encourages creativity;
  • Humor has a huge impact on our health, it boosts our immune system;
  • Humor helps us overcome fears;
  • Humor develops divergent thinking (it gives us a chance to see things from a new perspective);
  • Humor comforts and relaxes a person, it reduces stress and cultivates optimism;
  • Humor boosts our curiosity and playfullness; and finally
  • Humor encourages creative problem-solving. Why commit a sin, when you can reach your goal by a different – quite innocent method?

So, let me paraphrase the great Russian writer (with all due respect to his genius) and say that

the soul is healed by living with humor.

If we learn to laugh instead of starting a fight or a quarrel, we can solve millions of problems and avoid conflict. If we learn to smile and teach our children to do the same instead of demonstrating an ugly emotion which we tend to call ‘power’, we can solve the dilemma of all times: conquer evil without a fight. If everyone, including children (and Dostoevsky, by the way), acquired a humorous mindset, the need in confrontation between people would reduce. Then, the real healing could begin.

I am very interested to hear what you think about this. Please, share your opinions. Thank you!

child

Feeling Time

“The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.” Leo Tolstoy

eggLike in many other cases, one can begin to understand these words only after having a massive experience of conscious expectation for something significant to happen, and then living through the event as it happens. Only having waited for years to meet the one you really love, you can say that you know the science of being patient and the burden of “feeling” time.

Feeling time is a burden, because it is a torrent that flows through and beyond us; it carries us forward – always in the same direction – and we can do absolutely nothing about it. Time has its powerful plan for every one us, but no one of us has the power to alter anything in the plan.

Doesn’t this make Time the greatest antagonist of all? Mmm, I really need to think about it…

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Writer’s Self-Promotion: Short or Wordy?

self-promotion

This morning I came across a letter from a writers’ magazine to which I am subscribed. It suggested to take a look at ‘a special offer for readers’ from their trusted partner. As I have a habit to read every email I receive, I read it through. The announcement started with a massive energy injection in a form of a greeting:

“Fellow Writer,
What if I told you-”

The greeting was followed by a 1300-word-long biographical description of the author’s way to financial happiness, suggesting me to do the same and promising to tell me how to do it, for this price if I subscribe here, or for that price if I sign up there. In my case, the ‘energy injection’ stopped working after the first passage, so by the middle of the second passage I was beginning to regret loosing my precious morning time on reading something that I probably don’t need.

Still, my female curiosity took over, so I switched to speed-reading and finally, on the last passages of the email, I realized that the announcement was about membership in a writers club! Finally, the P.S. part of the email, which was two passages long itself, contained more practical information on the cost and free bonuses that the club membership offers.

All in all, I spent nearly quarter of an hour reading through and digesting the information; then I caught myself on thinking that, according to the length of the message, the membership might be so overwhelming that I would have no time left for doing my writer’s job in the end!

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Again, I remembered the main requirement dictated to us by present time: brevity. Probably, I am giving it too much attention, but I really believe that today, brevity is a crucial requirement, even for such a specific business as self-promotion. If I were to write that announcement, I would cut it down to two hundred words, or even less. It is so easy today to simply provide links to pages with more detailed descriptions of any ideas or events!

In the end, self-promotion is all about attracting your audience by a few keywords. When you want to attract visitors to a pub, you only need to write a short sign: “BEER HERE”; it is the same with the virtual world we work in. Create a short slogan, give it a short description on your website, and discuss it in your blog, then, don’t forget to link all those pieces of information to each other! Doesn’t this look easier than writing miles of text trying to convince your audience? Not to mention that time is the most precious thing we have, so we should not steal each other’s time by writing lengthy announcements.

Please, tell me if you think this is not right. I will gladly discuss every opinion. In the end, we are all in the same boat: we need to know how to self-promote. Thank you!

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Overcoming Writer’s Block

Writer’s block is a condition, primarily associated with writing, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work, or experiences a creative slowdown. The condition ranges in difficulty from coming up with original ideas to being unable to produce a work for years. (Wikipedia)

beautiful journalist looks typewriter

It was a surprise for me to discover how much has been written about writer’s block in English. In my culture (Russian), the same thing is called творческий кризис (‘creative crisis’) or творческий затык (‘creative block’), and quite often, authors are shy to discuss this intimate state of mind, because it is associated, in the first place, with weakness of character. Russian authors usually suggest three steps of overcoming the block:

  1. Push away your fear by allowing yourself to write bad. If you ignore others’ remarks about your bad writing and simply go forward, your writing will improve.
  2. Your lack of ideas comes from the lack of knowledge. Learn more about the subject of your writing (the time which you are trying describe, the psychology of people, the place where you build your scenes, etc.) and creative ideas will pour into your head.
  3. No procrastination! Do not allow yourself to think about doing it tomorrow. Sit down and write. Do it now.

These three simple rules really help. Why don’t you try them if you have a writer’s block?

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.” — Mark Twain

As a bonus, here is a link to a wonderful collection of quotes by worldly-known writers about overcoming writer’s block from Ken Miyamoto’s blog

“I don’t believe in writer’s block or waiting for inspiration. If you’re a writer, you sit down and write.” — Elmore Leonard

 

The Principle of Brevity in Writing

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Today, in our fast-paced world, time has become the greatest of all values. We, people, still have not fully realized this fact, but it already dictates us the necessity to introduce some changes into our lives – first of all, in the field of time management

The dwellers of large cities (New York, London, Tokyo, etc.) were the first to sense the change: they had to reduce the time spent on walking, cooking, cleaning, driving, socializing, learning, and so on and so forth, including the time spent on reading. Today, smaller cities confidently follow megacities, while the pace of life continues to accelerate, forcing us to revise our professional habits, too.

Have you noticed that more and more people tend to skip reading long texts, even if they are beautifully written and contain brilliant ideas? We seem to give preference to visual, well-organized, simplistically laid-out, or even bullet-structured information. When we revise a book of fiction, we tend to say (more and more often these days), “It’s a good book, but a little too long. It would be better if it was one third thinner…”

The reality makes every author to face an inevitable phenomenon: we don’t only have to write quickly, we also have to adhere to the new principle: the principle of brevity in writing. The rule is simple: the shorter is your post (article, story, novel, etc.) the better, because brevity in writing shows the author’s respect for their readers’ time.

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This fact may upset those authors who love writing long pieces of speculative prose. Certainly, there will always remain people who will love reading very long novels, but the number of such readers will continue to reduce. Well, this is the trend of the new Millennium! I am afraid, we have nothing else to do, but adjust.

I will try to be short here, too, and wrap up this one here. As a postscriptim, to please your eyes, I will finish this post with beautiful words by Aldous Huxley, written in 1958, which have become even more timely today:

However elegant and memorable, brevity can never, in the nature of things, do justice to all the facts of a complex situation… On such a theme one can be brief only by omission and simplification… In practice we are generally forced to choose between an unduly brief exposition and no exposition at all. Abbreviation is a necessary evil and the abbreviator’s business is to make the best of a job which, though intrinsically bad, is still better than nothing. He must learn to simplify, but not to the point of falsification. He must learn to concentrate upon the essentials of a situation, but without ignoring too many of reality’s qualifying side issues. In this way he may be able to tell, not indeed the whole truth (for the whole truth about almost any important subject is incompatible with brevity), but considerably more than the dangerous quarter-truths and half-truths which have always been the current coin of thought.” A.Huxley, Brave New World Revisited.


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A Few Thoughts About Ethics in Writing

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Interestingly, while ethics are huge in technical and academic writing, it is not given the same attention in the world of fiction writing. As an author who belongs to both groups, I have been watching the difference and wondering why? Could it be because scientists have to be more accurate about every word they write? Or maybe, the fiction writers are in any way more (or less) ethical than technical writers, so they don’t need to set up any rules of fiction writing ethics? 😉 I want to believe that both groups equally care about their readers and this difference is nothing more than a tradition, so nobody ever asks the question.

Ethics codes are present at the workplace: even if they aren’t always enforced, they still exist and we obey them… often mechanically, without thinking. Summing up a dozen of articles which I studied in search for an answer to my question, there are a few basic points to adhere to whenever you are writing a professional document:

  • don’t mislead;
  • don’t manipulate;
  • don’t stereotype; and
  • always check the facts.

Well, I did a thing which I may regret doing: I tried to apply these rules to fiction writing this morning… and found the reason of my writer’s block! I realized that everything fiction writers do is exactly the opposite of the four rules!

Unlike academic writing, which is all about sharing facts to feed the work of mind, fiction writing works with reader’s imagination and emotions; it’s principal idea is to mislead, manipulate, hide (or distort) facts of real life with the only purpose of creating stereotype universes in the readers’ minds and enticing them into reading! 

Does this mean that fiction writers are unethical, immoral, dishonest, improper, corrupt, unrighteous, unjust and… (could not think of more antonyms to the word “ethical”, sorry)?  Uh-huh, I kind of regret I took up the topic already!

To calm myself down, I decided to accept the following explanation: fiction writers have to break those rules of ethics. Like mathematicians, who sometimes look for a proof by contradiction, fiction writers need to show their readers a ‘different’ world, where rules are broken and norms are corrupted; we only have one rule to follow: we must expose the fake in the end. If writers did not do this, the world would never get to know “Alice in Wonderland”, “Winnie-the-Pooh” or Harry Potter books! These books mislead, manipulate, create unusual stereoptypes, and distort our reality, but they do this so awesomely well that no one can resist reading them again and again!

So, what is the answer? Is it ethical for fiction writers to ignore the ethics of academic writing? 😉 The question is still up!

Please, share your thoughts, I am very curious to know your opinions on this.

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Stepping into the Same River

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This time, visiting my home city felt like stepping into the same river. Sevastopol, the notorious Black Sea port at the southern tip of Crimea, where I grew up, has finally and completely turned into an imprint of the Soviet era. As I walked along its streets, I could not resist a funny feeling that I’d been thrown there from the future: all surrounding objects, people, little street conversations, sounds, smells – everything was amazingly familiar, but had undeniable touch of the past- of the time about 30 years ago, when I was a teenager.

After the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014, local residents of Sevastopol (more than the other dwellers of Crimea) were re-captured by their own old misconception of being the main southern forpost of Russian military glory that had protected mother Russia in a number of wars, thinking that they would now regain the attention of the Russian government and receive abundant accolades from all Russia’s population. This did not happen, though. After a short emotional moment (also provoked by the Kremlin propaganda) the population of Russia realized that Crimea is no more than another needy region that requires support, and its vaunted seaside resorts are uncomfortable and inaccessible for many Russians. Litle by little, Sevastopol – the Crimea’s dead end – was completely left to fend for itself. The only part of its nearly half-million population that feels more or less protected are the miliary and naval personnel, paid by the Russian government.

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The sanctions, which affected Crimea more than any other region of Russia, have reached their goal: my childhood city looks abandoned, humiliated and deceived; people are troubled and moody, no one smiles back at you if you make eye contact – just like it was in the Soviet time. Their interests are scarce, everybody is busy surviving, and again, like it was in the Soviet time, they tend to be happy with very simple things: a lucky purchase of some fresh food in a store or a drinking party with friends in the kitchen.

Every moment I was there this time, I could not help thinking that in only three years (since the annexation) both conflicting countries – Russia and Ukraine – have estranged from each other to a huge distance, moving exactly in opposite directions: Ukraine to the west, Russia to the east, which means (unfortunately for the city of my childhood) that it has been moving backwards, into the past, and this movement will soon bring it to complete disappointment and depression.

My own mind has changed a lot, too: when I visit Sevastopol now, I see it with the curious eyes of a westerner who has purchased a time-travel tour; the only difference is that my mind still keeps clear memories of the childhood spent in that time.

Interestingly, I just caught myself on thinking that I am not even sad about this fact. All people deserve to have the life they want to have. The population of Sevastopol, at least its older (and prevailing) generation, looks quite satisfied with the movement back in time. Well, if they like it, let them have it. I will simply wave my hand to them and go my way.

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My Protagonist of the Opposite Gender…

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One of the hardest things to do as a writer is to write someone who is not yourself.” – George R.R. Martin

Writing a whole book from the name of a particular person is always a challenging task, but choosing a protagonist of an opposite gender is a real test for every author. I am doing this for the first time now, so I have been trying to adjust to the funny sensation of having a whole new personality – a male one – living inside me. 

The first confirmations of his presence started coming when I was thinking over the plot, and since then my protagonist has been growing through me like a plant that breaks through layers of soil to see the sunlight. Wow, what an interesting sensation! My first thought was that I was going crazy, but then I found similar feedback in the blogs of many authors. I completely agree with this comment by Cristina Hartmann: “I string words together and hope for the best. All characters, regardless of gender, have a part of me in them. No matter how seemingly different a character may be from me, they all have something in common with me. I put a little of myself in every character I write. In that sense, gender is irrelevant.”

When I write a character, I cannot go only with his/her general gender characteristics: I must imagine and draw a whole colorful picture of the character’s personality traits. Besides this, I may give a character an atypical quality: a male character may love planting roses, while a female may entertain herself by solving math problems in evenings. These unusual qualities may look like pesky imperfections at first, but they often lead my character toward some significant and exciting events, and eventually, the character is supposed to win the readers’ sympathy.

It is important to pick out some easily recognizable, but still quite unique character traits, because this helps the reader find connection between their mental image of my character and someone who they already know from real life: such character can keep the reader excited and interested to read the story to the very end. Secondly, the character’s imperfection should be charming; it is always a good idea to turn it into the character’s power at some point in the story (a stutter that suddenly helps them meet their love, or disarming shyness, or clumsy forgetfulness – anything).

It seems to me that the most difficult thing is to do this with a novel protagonist, especially if this is a person of an opposite gender, and even more – if he/she is the narrator of the story.

Kristen Houghton in her article “Writing As Your Opposite Gender Can Be Successful” wrote: “There are some things to remember when writing in your opposite gender voice. Understand that your character is unique and not a metaphor for the entire gender. The same is true when writing about ethnicity, race, religion, or social classes. You’re not generalizing about entire segments of society, you’re being specific about one character. As far as characters go, it pays to remember that not all women think and behave alike, and neither do all men… If my goal as a writer is to help my readers expand their life experiences through my writing, then my success will depend mainly upon my talent and technique, not on my character’s gender.”

My biggest goal in writing is to draw my characters so realistically that every reader would recognize someone they know in them. I believe that the only right way to do this is to write my characters completely from my own experiences.

I found a similar opinion in an article by Avory Faucette: “…the difficulty comes when describing an experience I haven’t had, which is more about others’ perception of me than about my own gender… I feel comfortable writing characters with similar hopes and aspirations and experiences to my own, and that makes it difficult to write someone who is not college educated, who is much younger or older, who is an immigrant, who is a person of color, etc.”

Sheri Fresonke Harper: “I think people in general have a blend of both feminine and masculine traits and interests… Often we pick up voice, mannerisms, and other characteristics of character from our experience with the world so that when we write from the perspective of another sex, we’ve seen the world through the eyes of people of that gender that have said the same thing, thought the same thing, acted the same way.”

This is true. Men and women aren’t that different, but they face quite different social roles and as so, their behavior is not the same.” Even the very fact of choosing to write the protagonist of the opposite gender shows that the author has made a commitment to explore a new social role and is willing to share that new knowledge with others.

It was a surprise to see that some authors find the task quite entertaining. I loved this comment by Eli Havoc: “It’s really easy. I was told once, by a female friend “we think just like you do, except we’re constantly worrying about how we look.” And that piece of advice had worked very well for me. I wrote a book written in first-person, once, with a female main character, and have gotten several comments from readers that go something like “Jenna’s character is so real! How did you write a high-school girl so believably?”

With all this being said, everything still seems to boil down to the author’s talent and brilliance in writing technique. In fact, the protagonists’s gender becomes nothing more than a tool which the writer decides to use in order to deliver the main idea of the book. Well, let us proceed to writing then! In the end, if I am a good writer, I should feel comfortable writing characters of either gender. Do you agree with me?

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About English Verbs

Об английских глаголах (статья для изучающих английский язык)

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Каждому, кто изучал английский в школе и в институте, знакомы понятия о правильных и неправильных глаголах (к первым относятся те, которые в прошедших временах заканчиваются на -ed – to like – liked, to want – wanted, to jump – jumped, а у неправильных есть свои собственные формы прошедшего времени: to break – broke – broken, to cut – cut – cut, to see – saw – seen). Помимо этого, школьные учителя рассказывали нам, что существуют глаголы смысловые, и какие-то вспомогательные, и некие модальные глаголы и даже глаголы-связки, но уж этих понятий почти никто в большую жизнь из школы не вынес. В этой статье мы коротко напомним вам о них.

Смысловые глаголы в английском не награждены особыми приметами, этим термином обозначаются все глаголы уже только за то, что они обозначают действие, а следовательно, используются в предложении для описания разнообразных действий.

Jack writes books. Джек пишет книги.

My friend studies biology. Мой друг изучает биологию.

Please, call me at five o’clock. Пожалуйста, позвони мне в пять часов.

А вот вспомогательные глаголы имеют свою специфику. Их всего пять, это глаголы to be, to have, to do, а также слова shall (should), will (would), которые тоже принято считать глаголами, хотя на самом деле никому вообще непонятно что это за чудо-юдо. Вспомогательные глаголы совершенно несамостоятельны: их можно использовать в предложении только в сочетании со смысловыми, то есть всеми остальными, нормальными глаголами, помогая образовывать любые времена или, например, делать из положительного предложения отрицательное или вопросительное.

Теперь скажем пару слов о каждом из них.

Глагол to be уникален на фоне остальных английских глаголов, потому что у него с древних времён сохранилось несколько форм:

– в настоящем времени он приобретает формы am (для первого лица), are (для множественного числа) или is (3-го лица, единственного числа):

I am driving to work. Сейчас я еду на работу.
He is writing a letter. Он пишет письмо.
They are waiting for you. Они ждут вас.

– в прошедшем времени у него две формы: was (для единственного числа), were (для множественного числа)

He was writing a letter when I called. Он писал письмо когда я позвонил..
They were waiting for you at 12:30 yesterday. Они ждали вас вчера в 12:30.
– в будущем времени он приобретает форму will be :

They will be waiting for you tomorrow at five. Они будут ждать тебя завтра в пять.

Вспомогательный глагол to do используют для построения вопросов или отрицаний, причём в настоящем времени имеет форму do или does (для третьего лица в единственном числе), а в прошедшем времени – did.

Do you know her? Ты ее знаешь?
She doesn’t live in this house. Она не живет в этом доме.
Did he go to school last Friday? Ходил ли он в школу в прошлую пятницу?

* Вам вероятно приходилось встречать и такие фразы:

Do you do this exercise daily? – Делаешь ли ты это упражнение ежедневно? – здесь “do” появляется два раза: первый из них – это как раз вспомогательный глагол, который служит для построения вопроса, а второй в данном примере выступает как обычный смысловой глагол “делать” (to do) в настоящем времени.

Глагол to have тоже используют для построения разных временных конструкций, включая вопросительные и отрицательные предложения. В настоящем времени он имеет формы have или has (для 3го лица в ед.ч.), в прошедшем времени – had, в будущем времени will have.

My mother has been to Spain. Моя мама бывала в Испании.
He had seen this movie before we saw it. Он видел этот фильм до того, как мы посмотрели его.

will служит для образования форм будущего времени.

Will you go with me? – Ты пойдёшь со мной?

Shall теперь используется совсем редко: только, когда мы сомневаемся и хотим задать вопрос, следует ли (стоит ли) нам что-то делать –

Shall I write it down for you? – Не записать ли всё это для тебя?

Shall I help you? – Не помочь ли тебе?

А формы should или would помогают обеспечить согласование между разными временами в сложных предложениях:

My husband said that he would be in office. Мой муж сказал, что будет в офисе.

She thinks she should go there by herself. Она считает, что ей следует идти туда одной.

Есть ещё в английском несколько модальных глаголов, которые дают возможность говорящему выразить свое отношение к происходящему или различную степень уверенности (неуверенности) в действии. Это глаголы can (could), may (might), must (had to), need, ought to, should, have to, to be to. Многие из них обладают способностью самостоятельно строить вопрос:

May I help you? (Do I may help you?) Могу ли я вам помочь?

Can you call him now? (Do you can call him now?) Можешь ли ты позвонить ему сейчас?

У модальных глаголов есть свои секреты и о них стоит написать отдельную статью; мы это сделаем в ближайшее время.

А так называемые глаголы-связки – или фразовые глаголы – привязывают к себе другие слова, чтобы получить составное сказуемое:
be, become, keep и некоторые другие:

to become clever – становиться умным,

to keep well – держаться молодцом.

Некоторые глаголы могут одновременно относиться к разным группам глаголов (например, be, do, have), потому что способны выполнять в языке самые разнообразные функции. Более подробно о каждой из групп глаголов мы поговорим в отдельных статьях. Оставайтесь с нами!

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