A. L. Buehrer What I Write and Why

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Why Write Poetry?

If you normally write fiction, poetry may or may not be something you think much about. Maybe you’re so absorbed in mapping out your story-world, developing your characters, and fine-tuning your plot that you feel like writing poetry would be a distraction. After all, novel-writing is hard work, and takes focus. Why should you divert your creative energy into trying poetry?

I’ll admit now that I’ve written poetry for longer than I’ve written fiction. I don’t get absorbed in poetry-writing like I do with my novels. In fact, though I do consider myself a poet, I really don’t write poetry as often as I would like. The inspiration comes randomly and typically out of nowhere. But every time I find myself writing a poem, I can feel that I’m doing something constructive—not only for my growth as a poet, but for my fiction-writing as well.

Writing and reading poetry changes how you handle writing prose. I’m confident about that. Poetry stretches your descriptive power, and makes you search for a way to put a twist on everyday thoughts. When I write poetry my awareness of clich├ęs and tired metaphors skyrockets.  Practicing these skills definitely crosses over into my prose-writing.

Goals for poetry are going to vary according to the poet—and according to the poem. A lot of the time, the poems I write are simply capturing a mood. I’m fairly abstract, and I don’t often write about specific situations or issues. A lot of the time I can’t really explain what a given poem is about, because it’s more about creating an emotional atmosphere than anything else. If I use what I’ve learned from writing poetry and apply it to my prose, I can create a vivid atmosphere for scenes in my novels.

You might have a more literal style. Supposing you write in plainer speech about definite subjects. You’re still improving artistically if you put thought into your work. You’re still playing creatively with words, learning to see things from unexpected perspectives and through new metaphors. This will force you to see situations in your fiction from new angles—which can do nothing but good for your prose and overall creativity.

So, even if you think you don’t have a talent for poetry and that your creative writing skill is limited to fiction, I would encourage you to try your hand at poetry even if it’s just as an exercise. And you might find you like it enough to continue composing poems for their own sake.

On a quick final note, I have an announcement to make. I really haven’t hyped this much, but I’ve just released a small book of my own poetry on Amazon. If you read poetry at all, check it out. I’m excited to finally share it with my readership.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

20 Prying Questions for Your Characters

If you’ve done a lot of character questionnaires before, you probably know where your main character was born, the names and ages of their siblings, their favorite food, their favorite color…those things you timidly ask your new pen-pal in the first letter. But here’s the thing: there’s absolutely no reason to be shy with your characters. All those highly personal questions you would never ask a real person in an interview—those are the things you really need to know.

You could think up a lot of these prying questions, and I would advise you to think of some that would be particularly relevant to your character in their particular story. But to start you off, here’s a list of twenty deep questions to flesh out your characters.

1. How is your relationship with God?

2. Have you ever been in love?

3. Did you have a good childhood?

4. How is your relationship with your parents?

5. What makes you angry?

6. Are you comfortable with emotions?

7. What about you do you feel the world won’t accept?

8. What is your worst fear?

9. What’s something you feel completely incapable of?

10. Who would you die for?

11. What do you dream about?

12. What always makes you laugh?

13. What do you look for in a friend?

14. What are you most ashamed of?

15. What is your earliest memory?

16. What do you miss the most about your past?

17. Who do you owe the most to?

18. What would you change about yourself?

19. Have you ever come close to dying?

20. What do you hope for the most?

For best results, I would suggest writing the answers first-person in your character’s voice. You can use as many or as few of these questions as you want, and feel free to think up your own. I think you’ll find it gives you a lot of inspiration for character-arcs and even plot twists for your story.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

5 Elements of a Fandom-Enabled Story


We all want to be the author of a story that triggers the explosion of a new fandom. We want our readers to be as excited to read our story as we are to write it. We want to inspire fan-artists to bring our scenes to life in their art. We want to inspire fan-fiction writers to use our characters and settings to sharpen their own skills. There’s nothing quite like seeing a truly satisfied fan-base spring up around a great story.
But what makes that happen? Okay, I’m not going to pretend I understand the magic and mystery of fandoms. I have no idea why fangirls and fanboys do what they do-- OTP’s and headcanons and AU’s and all that—but when I look at the stories that spark these great fandoms, there are elements they all have.
I’ve isolated five for the sake of this post. I’m sure there are other things, but let’s look at these five for now:
1. Vivid Characters
Often really vivid. In fact, I would almost recommend pushing it a little. Lean into your characters’ unique qualities. If you find that magnifying your characters makes them feel flat or fake, deepen them rather than mellowing them out.
Your readers want characters that are so clear in their minds that they can survive outside the context of the book. This is the concept behind the alternative universe thing. If a character is self-contained enough, we can imagine what kind of a high-school student they would be. Think about your characters now. What would be constant if you changed up their situation. That’s what you need to emphasize to make them real. Put them in a completely different role. What doesn’t change? That’s who they actually are. Play it up.
2. Humor
I just wrote a whole post about how essential this is. The ability to amuse people with your writing is a super-power. Don’t overlook it. People remember the humorous parts of stories. They’re going to re-read the funny scenes in your book. Your characters’ quips and clever lines might even enter your readers’ repertoire of in-jokes.
Though fiction can accomplish a great deal more than simple entertainment, readers greatly appreciate being entertained. If a story makes me laugh, that’s a solid sign that the author is succeeding in entertaining me in the way many of us crave the most.
3. A “Wow” Element
I couldn’t think of anything more technical to call this. The “Wow” element is something that sparks a reader’s imagination. It can manifest itself in countless ways—a fascinating culture or event in historical fiction, an amazing species of dragon or a magical object in fantasy—a unique alien race or impressive use of technology in sci-fi. Readers want to be captivated by something interesting. I doubt that I’m the only one who is often attracted to stories initially by something about them that is simply cool.
4. Emotions
All of them. If there’s one thing that’s obvious about fandoms it’s that they want “all the feels.” But don’t get hung up on one emotion. Tragedy is great, we love sobbing. But nobody really wants to cry for the entire book—in fact, I doubt that it would be physically possible. We want to feel rage, jealousy, delight, terror, embarrassment, wonder, curiosity, satisfaction…on and on it goes. If we don’t get the whole ride, we feel kind of cheated.
I’m not that great with this one sometimes, I’ll admit. I get pretty caught up in the intricate workings of my plot and sometimes forget that, though a complex sound plot is a good thing, nothing can beat a story that makes you feel things. All these emotional ups and downs connect a reader with a character and make them care about what happens next.
5. Originality
Originality is so sought-after and so elusive. It’s hard to measure and define—and probably impossible to teach. I suppose there’s really nothing original under the sun, and yet everyone knows a rip-off when they see one. Some new authors obsess so much over originality that they paralyze themselves for fear of doing something that’s been done before. Still others seem to make no attempt and cut and paste nearly to the point of plagiarism.
I think the key to originality is a well-exercised imagination. Don’t be afraid to play with an idea in your head. Keep your possibilities open. Try putting that spin or this twist on what you’ve got. Mix, match and crossbreed those wild ideas in your head. After all, isn’t that the fun part?