The Circumstances

The eleventh chapter of my novel-in-the-works is titled, “The Circumstances.” In the chapter, Clarence Cash awakes after a brush with death to find himself scatterbrained and days behind in his pursuit of a smuggler. Before he mounts his horse to continue his hunt, he evaluates his situation. He evaluates his circumstances. Much the same, I’m assessing my own.

I have not been a present blogger. Worse, I have not been a productive writer. About two months ago, I was both. I was highly interactive with all of you. I was up to date with my Reader. I was cranking out substantial posts two times a week. On the writing side, I was writing every day. I was moving with forward momentum nearly every day.

But the circumstances are different today. My course load this semester has proven far more intense than that of the first. Where I didn’t work a job during my first semester in the interest of advancing my writing (and I did!), I’ve since returned to work. Thus, my time for writing and blogging has been reduced. Not reduced to nothing, but reduced enough to make this post.

Many take breaks from WordPress because they’ve become tired or overworked or uninspired. The case is the opposite for me. I am bursting with energy and posts. I want to rock 120%. The trouble is, academics take precedent, and it’s crucial that I stay diligent for another month and a half.

I’m not putting a hold on blogging. Rather, I’m putting a hold on the promise of a post a week. I won’t have a posting schedule for two months, maximum. I hate to do things this way, but this is how I can best balance college with blogging/writing at this time. I will be around to catch some of your posts, but I can’t say I’m going to check my Reader every day, because I won’t. I hope y’all understand. It’s worth noting that there are a host of bloggers who have stopped by with blogs I want to read and follow and explore, and I intend to do so as soon as possible! After this period, I can assure you that I’ll devise a system so I can be more consistent when life moves faster. I’ll leave you with the final line from Chapter 11: The Circumstances.

“I hope you’re ready for an adventure, because I see adventure on the horizon.”

~J.J. Azar

Oh, Sunny Day! I Received the Sunshine Blogger Award!

*cue medieval fanfare horns*

Long ago, WordPress legend Vinnieh nominated me for the Sunshine Blogger Award. Me, being the fool I am, floundered as I attempted to eat my mutton, my mashed potatoes, and my assorted greens all at once. Typically, I’m able to have a full meal in one sitting, but this month has been like a kick from a wild mule. It’s about time that I officially accept this high honor. Alas, here we are. I’m back on track. What better way is there to return to the presses than by recognizing this merit? Let’s celebrate!sunshine-blogger-award.png

The rules logged by the scribe are as follows:

  • Post the award on your blog.
  • Thank the person who nominated you.
  • Answer the 11 questions they set you.
  • Pick another 11 bloggers.
  • Give them 11 questions

THANK YOU, Vinnieh, for your nomination and your support. Your sincere, thoughtful comments mean a whole lot to me. For those who don’t follow Vinnieh, you ought to check him out. He reviews movies with more depth and professionalism than any other critic I’ve read around these parts, which says a lot, because there are some STELLAR critics on WordPress.

Without further ado, here are the questions put forth by the Movie Man himself, along with my answers to them.

1. How often would you say you spend on your blog?

I makes my rounds about the WordPress kingdom on a daily basis. I typically take Sundays to recline with a lukewarm, medieval beverage in hand, but otherwise, I’m on top of my game (with this week being a sad exception).

2. What has blogging taught you?

Blogging has taught me about writing. Yes, a clinical answer, but ’tis the truth. I’ve grown as a writer since declaring my lordship over this plot of WordPress thanks to writers published and rising alike. Free council? What else can I ask for?

3. Amy Adams or Natalie Portman?

Amy Adams hands down. I feel like Natalie Portman is always sneering at me. I understand it (have you seen me?), but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. Lois Lane all the way!

4. Walks along the beach or romantic meal inside?

Start with the meal, end with the walk. A one-stop date is no date at all.

5. Have you ever written in the nude?

Now I have.

6. What film had the biggest emotional impact on you?

Piglet’s Big Movie. Cried in the theater and all. I was 5.

7. What is your fondest memory from childhood?

My childhood was fantastic, so I couldn’t possibly decide on a fondest memory, but I do recall steering my tricycle into my garage door. I still have a scar on my knee from the pathetic incident.

8. Is there any scene you would love to recreate from a movie?

All of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off seems about right to me.

9. Where do you see yourself in five years time?

I can’t even tell you what I’m having for dinner.

10. What film have you been meaning to watch for a long time, but just haven’t got the chance to?

The Godfather. Shame, shame, I know. I’ll get to it.

11. And in the style of Stuff and That, do you think I have a nice bum?

It’s all about personality *muffled laughter.* No, in all seriousness, personality is king. I don’t know anything about any WordPresser’s bum, though! If it’s Vinnieh’s, I’d assume yes.

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Thank you for these fine questions, Vinnieh! This Q and A process reminded me of my first Q and A some time back. Rumor has it, if I reach 200 followers (I’m climbing! :D) I’ll be doing ANOTHER video-style Q and A. Alright, now it’s time for me to pass this award on to some other, more deserving bloggers.

I nominate:

A.S. Akkalon

Books, Vertigo, and Tea

K.A. Botello

I wouldn’t be surprised if each of these bloggers has already received this award, because they certainly manage to brighten up my day with their content, whether it be for their humor, their sincerity, or their valuable insights! I implore you to check them out. The 11 questions I hereby pass onto them are as follows:

1. What is one food you could not live without? (water doesn’t count, ye sly one, ye).

2. Candy or chocolate?

3. Fruits or vegetables?

4. What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?

5. What movie scene never fails to make you laugh?

6. What is the best, lesser-know television show you would recommend?

7. How do you like your steak cooked?

8. What is the greatest live performance (concert or otherwise) you have witnessed in person?

9. What is your favorite song from your least-favorite genre?

10. What is your favorite movie that most people probably have never heard of?

11. Would you consider yourself to be an optimist or a pessimist?

Thanks to all for reading, thanks to Vinnieh for the nomination, and congrats to the nominees!

As always, stay classy

~J.J. Azar

I Received the Blogger Recognition Award!

Hello, lovely ladies and classy gents!

I recently received a message via pigeon informing me that I had won the Blogger Recognition Award. I promptly returned the messenger pigeon with a note expressing my regrets, as the sender of said pigeon was obviously mistaken. Me? An award? Somebody clearly made a clerical error.

So days go by and the same pigeon descends upon my window. I attempted to shoo it away with a broom, but the bird was a persistent little bugger. To stop the incessant pecking on my window, I finally read the message tied to the winged-creature’s back. As it turns out, the award actually was intended for me. And I know the sender! Oops!

I am humbled to announce that author and blogger Eva Blaskovic chose to award me the Blogger Recognition Award. To my knowledge, she did not do so under duress. Coming from her, this is a high honor. Eva is one of the few bloggers I know who writes posts about a wide range of topics without sacrificing quality. Eva focuses on writing-related topics first and foremost, yet she has recently discussed education and cooking. She is a gem of a blogger that I cannot recommend enough to those who don’t follow her already. I extend my sincerest thanks for her consideration of my blog for this award!

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The note attached to the pigeon included specific instructions as to what I must do to accept this award. The instructions are as follows:

  • Thank the blogger who nominated you and provide a link to their blog.
  • Write a post to show your award.
  • Give a brief story of how your blog started.
  • Give two pieces of advice to new bloggers.
  • Select 15 other bloggers for this award.
  • Comment on each blog to let them know you nominated them and link to the post you created.blogger-recognition-award-1

In short, this award requires me to share my origin story and dish out some wisdom I am unqualified to give.

The origin story of jjazar.wordpress.com is a simple one, nothing like Spiderman’s! I created this blog because I wanted to supplement my novel-writing with something secondary. I wanted to have a place where I could write about writing and reach out to others interested in doing the same. Little did I know I would connect with so many ambitious, fascinating people from across the globe. So I came to WordPress for the writing, but I stayed for the community.

As for two pieces of advice for new bloggers…

  1. Interact. Interact interact interact. As soon as your blog is presentable and devoid of dead tabs and preset messages, find bloggers who write about your areas of interest using your Reader. If you like what you read, like some of their posts. If you have something to say, leave some comments. And if you really like what a blogger has going, follow them! The more people you interact with, the richer your blogging experience will be. Oh, and it won’t hurt your view/like/comment/follow count. Interaction is how you grow!
  2. Treat the “Publish” button as sacred. Post regularly, but don’t post half-assed material. If you didn’t put thought into a post, keep it off your blog. Keep your standards high. Respect your readers, respect yourself, and respect your corner of the internet. It is absolutely possible to post quality material on a consistent basis (take the Comic Vault as an example), but if you can’t sustain the pace, slow it down. It’s okay 🙂

tumblr_mnqubziKKl1sqat0wo1_500.gifI hate to sound like a drill sergeant, but that second point is particularly important. A blog is a representation of yourself, so you ought to make it the best you can make it!

Inspired by Eva’s generosity in this award, I’ve nominated the following classy bloggers for the same honor:

M.L.S. Weech

Angela at Pooled Ink

Steff at Little Booky Nook

I could frankly nominate my entire list of followers, but these bloggers are of a special trio who I’ve been enjoying lately.

Thank you once again to Eva!

As always, stay classy.

~J.J. Azar

Writing the Five Senses: Hearing

Hello, lovely ladies and classy gents!

I’m excited to share the second part of my newest post series in which I explore how writers can use the five senses to engage the reader. Last week, I focused on the sense of sight. The post was received quite well, so be sure to check it out if you’d like to be caught up to speed!

Today, we’ll be focusing on hearing. I’ve selected excerpts from the works of fellow bloggers (with their permission) to show examples of each sense used effectively, as well as excerpts from my novel-in-the-works (with my permission) to show examples of my attempts to use each sense effectively. Buckle up for some sensory stimulation, grab a cold glass of Ginger Ale (the champagne of sodas), and enjoy!

(credit to my cousin Jordan for deeming Ginger Ale the champagne of sodas. He is a man of brilliance).

Hearing:

When delivering a speech to a crowd, you can use all of the hand gestures you want, but if your voice is stuck in a monotonous “Bueller”-like drone, you can be sure your audience will check out. Adjusting one’s voice throughout a speech helps to engage the audience because the inflection gives life to the words you’re delivering. Much the same, one can write the most beautiful imagery, but if one neglects to incorporate auditory description with the visual description, the writer has missed an opportunity to add depth to the story. Without auditory description, a passage risks coming across as lacking, or empty. Allow me to describe the scene of a park on a summer day.

“Mark sauntered through the park, in awe at the deep green of trees bursting with vivacious foliage. The simmering sun splashed its golden warmth upon joggers trotting steadily along hard-packed dirt trails. Joyful children swung and leaped along the pastel-pigmented playground.” This is a fine, functional description. The images are pleasant. Even still, if one were to include auditory description among the visuals, the picture could prove to be far more stimulating for a reader. Perhaps the trees are swaying easily in the wind. Perhaps the joggers are panting, or their shoes are pounding against the pavement. What if the children are laughing? Are the swings squeaking? Are any birds chirping? Let’s take a look at some ways a writer can tickle readers’ ears.

Stimulating hearing through precision

I find that the most impressive auditory descriptions present sound precisely. If I were to write, “Gordon beckoned his chefs to stop cooking when he heard a chirp,” the reader would be left with only a vague idea of what Gordon heard. The word “chirp”signifies a bird, but what kind of a chirp was it? Was it an alarming chirp, implying a bird loose in the kitchen? Or was it a muffled chirp, implying a bird stuck in one of the cupboards? A far more illustrative description would be, “Gordon beckoned his chefs to stop cooking when he heard a faint chirp in the distance.“Faint chirp in the distance” is a simple addition, yes, but small details often have the capacity to change the entire dynamic of a sentence or passage. The few extra words give a far better idea of the volume and location of the sound. It’s not flashy, it’s not glamorous, but it clarifies the scene a great deal.

Variably, a writer can enhance his/her expression of sound without adding a single word to embellish the sound indicator. Instead, a writer can swap an imprecise word for a precise one! Compare, “the heavy wind blew against his back” to “the heavy wind roared against his back.” “Roared” carries a far more sonorous sound than does “blew.” The wind’s intensity is cranked up a few notches by “roared” alone. Imagine what you could do by tacking on a beefy metaphor. Suddenly, your wind is alive.

So when it comes to writing sound with the intent of offering the reader a more involved soundscape, keep away from generalizations. For the sake of pace, a writer may not want to embellish a sudden sound, such as a shout, but at the very least, consider making that “shout” a “shriek.” There’s a liveliness to auditory description that shouldn’t be stifled by uninspired vocabulary.

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Stimulating hearing through dialogue

Dialogue is my favorite thing to write. Placing characters at odds in a battle of clashing quotation marks is a whole lot of fun. I enjoy the challenge of giving each and every one of them an individual voice. In crafting a character’s voice, diction plays a massive role, massive enough to warrant its own post. But there is another element of voice-crafting that can stimulate a reader’s ears: that is, giving life to a character’s vocal quality. Telling the reader how a character sounds helps to engage the auditory sense even when scenic description is on hold and dialogue is at the forefront. Take this passage from my novel-in-the-works as an example (long-time readers will likely recognize it. Forgive me for my repetition)!

“Hold on just a moment.”

At the sound of that voice, a voice harsh as whiskey’s burn, a voice cold as winter’s frost, a voice powerful as hammer’s charge, every man and woman pulled their attention from the circle of six and put it to the man standing behind Joshua. Joshua moved with the crowd, turning with apprehension to witness the man looming over him.

With an introduction like that, the reader isn’t likely to hear silence when their eyes pass over this character’s next line of dialogue. And that’s what we’re going for, right?

Sound as pacing

Using sound to dictate the pace of a passage is one of my favorite techniques to read. When done properly, the effect can be remarkably immersive. Take this passage from the first chapter of fellow blogger Eva Blaskovic’s short story, Ironclad, as an example.

I bring the shovel and hit the dirt, removing bite after bite of ground, pushing downward with my sneakered foot. In the mulchy soil, even the force of my light weight is enough to hasten the process.

I’d planned this for a month, yet now that the time draws near, apprehension seeps into my limbs as surely as this darn mist dampens my clothes.

“Dig, Emilio,” mi tío, my uncle, would say. “The hours till dawn grow short.”

I dig, heave the dirt, breathe, and dig some more, until I find my rhythm. Dig—heave—breathe. Eva BlaskovicIronclad, Chapter 1 (Mi Tio)

The pacing technique encapsulated in “dig—heave—breathe” section conveys Emilio’s digging without fastening it with redundant description. The rhythm works well in part due to the initial, more thorough description of Emilio’s digging. Eva’s use of the word “bite” to describe the sound of digging paired with the details of “mulchy soil” contributes an extra layer of sound to the passage, not to mention a vivid image. To harken back to an earlier point, using the word “bite” to describe the sound of dirt being heaved from the ground is precise and original. Eva’s decision to have Emilio recall his uncle’s words likewise helps to fill the soundscape on the page.

Final Point: One can stimulate the reader’s sense of hearing by using precise sound indicators, by attributing vocal quality to characters’ voices, and by pacing a passage using auditory details. A fair mix of these techniques can do wonders to fill the soundscape on your page!

What do you think? Did any of these methods/examples strike you as effective? Fellow writers, how do you go about stimulating a reader’s sense of hearing? I value your feedback like I value my Ginger Ale!

As always, stay classy.

~J.J. Azar

Writing the Five Senses: Sight

Hello, lovely ladies and classy gents!

I’m excited to share the first part of what is sure to be my richest series of posts to date. I’ll be taking a look at how writers can use the five senses to engage the reader. Today, we begin with sight. I’ve selected excerpts from the works of fellow bloggers (with their permission) to show examples of each sense used effectively, as well as excerpts from my novel-in-the-works (with my permission) to show examples of my attempts to use each sense effectively. Buckle up for some sensory stimulation, grab a cold bottle of Coca-Cola, and enjoy!

Sight:

Storytelling is a visual art. If I tell you, “Upon hearing Kylie’s absurd Starbucks order, the angsty barista rolled his eyes and began preparing the meticulous drink,” you’re not likely to smell the coffee smell characteristic of Starbucks. You’re not likely to hear the indie-acoustic music characteristic of Starbucks. You’re not likely the taste the poorly prepared coffee characteristic of Starbucks. Instead, you’re likely imagining the situation as it is presented to you: visually. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Sight is the foremost human sense, after all. Telling what we see is the default means of storytelling. If we were bats, we would put more weight in auditory description, but we aren’t (well, not all of us. I, for one, am the Batman). Because we tell stories this way (visually), it’s crucial that writers spice up their visual description. One can go about merely describing what a setting looks like, and at times, a functional description is all that is needed, but “functional” isn’t what I’m looking to ponder today. Stimulating is! I want to investigate how a writer can flood a reader’s mind with vivid images that vibrate pleasantly.

Stimulating sight through nuance:

To start, let’s take a look at an excerpt that Gordon Ramsay might call, “RAW!” Raw in a good way, that is. In the following passage from fellow blogger A.Z. Anthony’s short story, Kiss of the White Mistress Part 1, Anthony evokes a handful of powerful images by writing with nuance.giphy (2).gif

The stew settled into a calm heat, steam rising in thick curtains as Jao took a steadying breath and stared down into it. A shadowy silhouette stared back up at him. His face, he realized, but different. A ghastly mockery of what it once had been. This was not the face of the man his father had raised. Not the face of the man his little brother had grown up knowing. But it was his face now, like it or not. His confinement here had changed him, bent and hammered him into a fouler and crueler man. Soon, his captors would learn just how foul, and just how cruel. It was almost a blessing, Jao thought, that his companions were not here to see it. A.Z. AnthonyKiss of the White Mistress Part 1

Stunning, right? Stunning, but not flashy! This passage resonated with me the first time I read it because Anthony’s words conveyed the situation at hand so clearly. My mind produced a full image of what was occurring (Of course, the image was bolstered by the preceding and following paragraphs not included here). A deeper look reveals why this passage painted such a clear picture. Did you catch how Anthony relaxes his prose prior to Jao’s reflection? He uses the phrases, “stew settled,” “calm heat,” and “steadying breath” to lower the passage’s heart rate, so to speak. Then, he darkens the passage’s tone and introduces the reader to backstory regarding Jao’s haunting past. Jao witnesses his “shadowy silhouette” and begins to reflect. We see the words, “confinement,” “bent,” “hammered,” “fouler,” and “crueler,” all of which stand in stark contrast to the initial, relaxed details.

Anthony only described a man looming over a pot of stew, yet the muscles he added to the scene made the scenario engaging. It made it appealing to “look at.”

Stimulating sight through scale:

Likewise, a reader’s sense of sight can also be stimulated by vivid, sweeping images. Take this passage from my novel-in-the-works as an example.

From bow to stern, port to starboard, the Ping Dong was surrounded by boundless blue water. She was a moving island of red sails and black softwood cutting into the sea with an arrow’s intent. Her spread sails were shaped like dragon’s wings, or perhaps carp’s fins. In any case, her sails bore an unmistakable Chinese aesthetic. Even the Ping Dong’s hull was cut much like a sleek fish, curving like a bowl and paneled with red squares which seemed scales when laid atop the black planks that comprised the ship’s hulking hull. Creaking and groaning as she bobbed up and down swelling waves, the Ping Dong flew eastward in a forward manner, never slowing in the face of wind or tide.

Hopefully, this passage communicates a living image which you can visualize in great detail. This sort of method is fitting when one intends to introduce the reader to a new setting or a transition to a new time. One wouldn’t be wise to apply description this heavy to every page, but precise application can provide for grand results!

Stimulating sight through acute attention to one particular detail:

Have you ever read a story where the narrator attributes a name to a character who is unknown to him/her based upon a glaring physical attribute (ex: Katniss Everdeen naming an opposing tribute, “Foxface”)? This technique serves a writer well in that it helps him/her to identify a character shorthand, yet it also expedites the reader’s ability to form an image in his/her mind of said character. Think about it. If my character is about to fight five men, I could certainly take it upon myself to describe each opponent, but the description is likely to dissolve soon as the action starts. Furthermore, asking the reader to remember what is in all likelihood frivolous information simply isn’t cool. Labeling a character by a distinct feature clarifies what he/she is like. To me, “Foxface” characterizes far more than the tribute’s face. I perceive the character as being nimble and red-headed. The name sums up her demeanor as much as it does her face.

Final Point: One can stimulate the reader’s sense of sight by weaving subtle description, by painting broad illustrations, and by applying acute attention to small details. A healthy mix of these techniques can yield exciting results. Note, there are a plethora of other ways to play with sight. This post highlights only a few fine techniques.

What do you think? Did any of these methods/examples strike you as effective? Fellow writers, how do you go about stimulating a reader’s sense of sight? I love hearing from you!

As always, stay classy.

~J.J. Azar

January Writing Update and My New Deadline

Hello, lovely ladies and classy gents!

At the end of December, I laid out a game plan after I failed to meet my self-imposed first-draft deadline. Since then, I’ve done my best to make the changes pinpointed in the post. Let’s see how I fared.

A Writing Environment. Done. Despite not raising enough money to build a writing barn, I’ve located two ideal writing spots in my home. Both are comfortable. Both have outlets within range. All is well. (Thank you to the anonymous donor who contributed 18 cents to my writing barn. Maybe next year).

A Set Writing Time. Done. I’ve determined that it would serve me best to write at night, after the day’s obligations have been fulfilled. Thus, I no longer open my writing document when I know I won’t be able to write anything. It sounds like common sense, but I was previously in a rut of clicking the doc, scrolling, and abandoning it because I didn’t have a window of time during which I could work on it. This makes the time when I do open the document more precious.

Exercise. Done. I’ve been going to the gym Monday through Thursday and working out at home over the weekends. I’m committed. It’s good stuff.

Focus on Demand. NOT done. Won’t be done. Impossible. Sounds too close to drugs. I don’t do drugs.

YouTube. Kind of done. I’ve chilled out with the YouTube. With everybody losing their minds over the state of politics here in the US, I’ve withdrawn for my own sanity, cutting down on YouTube significantly. So that’s good.

BioShock. Done. I haven’t touched the thing. I can’t wait to return to it though!

Snapchat. Highly controlled. It isn’t consuming as much of my time as it once was. Trust me, I’m good 🙂

Blogging (while writing)Highly controlled. Something’s clicked in my head and I’ve applied more focus into the novel-in-the-works when it comes time to write.

Not bad, eh? Now, about the writing…

The month of January thrust an array of new things into my lap virtually all at once: a challenging semester, a triumphant return to work, a classy lady, etc. With that, I’ve adopted a disciplined mindset to adjust to all of these things. It’s the writing I’m still trying to figure out. As it stands, I’m at a crucial moment in my novel. I’m about to introduce Carmengrove, a town which serves as a major setting in this story and will serve as a major setting in stories to come. I want to ensure that I understand the town’s workings and populace before I put a word to paper. I need Carmengrove to live and breathe. And so, every time I open up the document, I find myself taking notes and building up the setting. This preparation may be stalling the writing progress as it’s measured by page count, but it’s a necessary part of the process, so I’m entirely fine with it. That’s the deal with my writing. I’m sliding back into it, and I’m more excited than ever!

Finally, I’ve locked down the new deadline for the first draft of my novel-in-the-works. The date is…

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Drum roll please!

JUNE 15, 2017.

It’s nowhere near as dynamic as the previous deadline of January 1st, 2017, but it’s my deadline! Why June 15th? Frankly, June 15th is one month after I finish my Spring semester of college. I don’t want to cram the deadline into the school year (because it worked so well last time 😉 ). I figure this date gives me plenty of time to finish up this first draft! I am being patient with myself, and I hope you’ll be patient with me.

That’s the January Writing Update for ya, folks! I hope the first month of the year treated you well.

Thank you for reading.

As always, stay classy.

~J.J. Azar

Officially Lovely: I Received the One Lovely Blog Award

I shed a tear upon seeing that I have been nominated for my very first WordPress award by the wickedly popular WordPress newcomer, Jamie at The Comic Vault. It was a manly, salty tear which fell like a rock, but it was a tear nonetheless. If you like comics, you have to check out Jamie’s blog. Despite being on WordPress for only a short time, he has made his position in the community clear: his blog is the place for comic musings and analyses. He hasn’t made that claim so boldly, but I’ll say it for him! Thank you, Jamie!

This whole thing is wild because if you take a gander at my posts you’ll see that I often begin by saying hello to you “lovely ladies and classy gents.” This is the One Lovely Blog Award! Coincidence? I think not! So, what does this award entail? Allow me to don my monocle and investigate the fine print. My instructions are as follows.

  • Thank the person who nominated you and link their blog
  • Add the One Lovely Blog Award to your post
  • Share 7 things about yourself
  • Pass this on to as many people as you like (max 15)
  • Include this set of rules
  • Inform your nominees

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It seems I’ve been tasked with sharing 7 things about myself. If that’s what it takes for this blog to be certified lovely, I won’t spare a moment!

Numbah One!

I firmly believe that there is one steak to rule them all: Ribeye is king. Yes, yes, Filet Mignon is perfect and well and fine, and I will certainly crown it king in my older age when I can no longer indulge in fat, but for now, Ribeye is my go-to. The steak’s thickness and trim of fat gives it potential which surpasses other cuts.

Numbah Two!

I am a college student with a double major. I am currently studying Political Science and Philosophy, gearing up for Law School. I can’t say I won’t change anything (I probably will), but this is the plan for now.

Numbah Three!

I’ve made three major moves. I was born and raised in New Jersey. I moved to California at the age of 12. I moved back to Jersey at the age of 16. The four year stint provided me with a world entirely different from Jersey. Three things you should know about California:

  1. Californians take it slow. It’s like they all take some kind of organic vegan environmentally friendly Jack Johnson pill every morning. They stand in stark contrast to New Jersians, who run exclusively on coffee and road rage.
  2. The traffic is brutal. You want to go somewhere? California laughs at your foolishness. Plan on sitting in your car for far longer than is reasonable by any standard.
  3. There is so much to do. I lived there for four years and did a ton of cool things, but the state is so vast I haven’t seen a fraction of it. If you can stand the unholy traffic, you can see a whole lot!

Numbah Four!

I rank the four seasons as follows:

4. Autumn. Autumn is the season that kind of just has to be there. Given that I’ve been a student all of my life, it has always signified a return to school, a place which pales in comparison to the beach and the pool. Leaves fall and pile up on the sides of the roads which further complicates my life. No thank you, autumn. Get outta here.

3. Spring. Here in Jersey, it gets humid during the spring. By humid, I mean you step outside and you immediately feel as if you’ve just emerged from the shower. But spring offers warm weather after the chilling cold that is winter, so I welcome it like Idina Menzel welcomes mispronunciations of her name.

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2. Winter. It’s all about Christmas time. Christmas time is my jam. The music, the food, the family, the time off, the vibes, the celebration of Christ’s birth and the New Year all come together to make one heck of an exciting time-of-year. I like Christmas so much, in fact, that I intend to write a book set in my western world that takes places during Christmas.

1. Summer. Summer provides me the opportunity to do my favorite things: swim, hang outside, go to the beach, hit amusement parks, run amok…Who doesn’t like summer? Please, identify yourself in the comments so we can fix you.

Numbah Five!

I am a member of a squad of five strapping lads. We are formally known as the Five Strapping Lads. Meet my cousins:

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From left to right we have Robby, yours truly, Justin, Jordan, and George.

How’s that for a team?

Numbah Six!

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My favorite book is Book Six of the Wheel of Time series, Lord of Chaos. It is a refreshing book of astronomical scale that is written expertly. Furthermore, it is full of moments which prompted me to leap out of my seat and run laps around my house.

Numbah Seven!

I am a fan of the Magnificent Seven, both the original and the remake. I have yet to see the original original, Seven Samurai, but I intend to. This tidbit is relevant because my writing takes place in the western genre, however different my take on the American West may be.

So that’s a bit about me! If there’s anything that stood out to you, feel free to drop your thoughts in the comments.

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I would like to pass the Lovely Blog Award along to the following blogs which are highly deserving of it. If this happens to be a repeat nomination for any of those named, my apologies. I nominate:

A.Z. Anthony

Eva Blaskovic

PencilNeckGeek

Aimee Davis

Thank you all for reading.

As always, stay classy.

~J.J. Azar

Writers, Trust Your Readers

Hello, lovely ladies and classy gents!

Today, I want to dive into an issue which has been irking me for quite some time. The idea of trusting the audience is something that I once thought to be simple. As a young lad, my father and I went to the movies nearly every weekend. What I wanted was simple: I wanted for the director of whatever movie I was seeing to trust the audience. I did not want to be spoon fed, I wanted to figure things out for myself. I wanted to think. This is one of the reasons why Inception struck me so profoundly that I deemed it my favorite movie upon leaving the theater. It remains my favorite to this day even after over 20 viewings across the years (If you think DiCaprio was awake at the end, you are sorely mistaken and we can talk about that in the comments. Don’t worry, I’m a professional. It’ll be okay).

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Things have changed a bit for me. Now I’m in the creator’s position, except in my case, I’m writing a novel. The rules are different. When one commandeers a film, visual detail is obligatory. Shots must be framed and filled to portray moods and focus attentions. Yet when one wields a pen and tackles a blank page, the circumstances differ. Detail is no longer obligatory. The author must provide some detail, of course, enough to paint a living picture and a fluid understanding in the reader’s mind, but how much is too much? How little is not enough? This is what I’m wrestling with through the lens of trusting the reader. The issue is one of space: How much space should the author leave open for the reader to

1) create images?

2) unravel plots?

Let’s address the first point: When it comes to creating an image of a setting populated by characters, how much space should the author leave open for the reader to fill in himself/herself?

I have found that my writing is laden with an abundance of visual and sensory detail. (If you would like read a brief excerpt from my novel-in-the-works, you are welcome to do so here). Like any writer, I have a strong idea of what is populating my page at any given moment, and so I feel that, in order to convey the world to the reader, I have to write descriptively. Other writers prefer to write more concisely, offering key descriptions and leaving it at that. In many cases when I read, regardless of what the author describes a character as looking like, I tend to imagine whatever I want. So are my heavy descriptions futile? Perhaps for some readers. Nonetheless, I’m still seeking balance.

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In some cases, I will set a scene using extensive detail. In other cases, perhaps when the dialogue is meant to be quick or there is sudden action taking place, I’ll forego the details and cut to the chase. I figure this provides a cushion to the reader to piece together what is happening for himself/herself while it also serves as a pacing technique. I think Robert Jordan showcases the technique of forgoing detail expertly. Typically, Jordan describes everything in his world with hyperfocused detail. The exception? Swordfighting. Instead of describing movements of those engaged in combat, he attributes names to the moves exercised by blade-wielders, names like ‘Swan Rises Over the Lake’ and ‘Horse Trots Through the Field.’ Descriptions in that vein brilliantly entrust the writing to readers’ imaginations.

Ultimately, I want to approach trusting the reader with filling in visual blanks as follows: The first time I introduce a setting or character, I won’t restrain myself from describing what I feel needs to be described. Over time, the necessity of such description about the same characters/settings will become unnecessary. I will trust the readers, at the point, to understand the desert as it is portrayed in my story, as it is a frequent setting. I will trust the readers to understand the intonation of my characters’ speech and their novel expressions after a time. I will still describe the settings and expressions, but I will describe them for the sake of indicating them rather than re-explaining them.

Trust applies perhaps more readily to the story element of plot (point 2). My younger self demands that I not spoon-feed the plot to my readers-to-be, and I certainly don’t want to let the kid down. Linear, predictable plots are no fun, but writing Inception is no easy task. How can an author trust the reader to bear not knowing something? How can an author handle withholding information from the reader and trust that he or she won’t shut the book and stop reading? I think the answer is simple: give your reader bread crumbs with some peppered olive oil! So long as your reader is given morsels of delicious bread at every turn, they will stick around for the main course and leave full and happy. But if you throw a steak at your reader soon as they sit down and rush them out the door soon as they finish, they won’t be charmed, they’ll be annoyed and frankly unimpressed.

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Much the same, the bread will help you to make your dramatic reveals all the more impactful. “Oh, that was hinted at in Chapter 2! And in Chapter 5!” I learned this lesson after failing to leave bread for the reader.

Many months ago, I sent a very early draft of my novel-in-the-works’ first chapter to my cousin Alex Azar, author of Nightmare Noir. He gave me the following criticism about the passage below:

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“This carpet, where did you get it?” the stranger demanded. His silver-green eyes frantically tore across every inch of the carpet’s ornate design. The question wasn’t particularly directed to either of the couple, and so both hesitated, unable to comprehend why the man could possibly be interested in a soiled rug.

Lynn-Holly shook her head profusely as if to rid herself of her confusion. “A client gave it to me. It was a gift.”

What does she do that she has a client? If this does take place in the 1800’s she wouldn’t really have a job unless she’s a hooker and her client is a john. – Alex Azar

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I got a good laugh out of his criticism, but after I laughed, I searched for the earlier bit where I explained that Lynn-Holly was a seamstress to show him that he must have skipped over that part. Alas, I couldn’t find the part because I hadn’t written it! I know that Lynn-Holly is a seamstress, it’s no secret, but I forgot to tell the audience! Thus, this passage made no sense. This instance provided me an important lesson that if I want something to be so within the pages of my novel, there must be breadcrumbs. There must be context. If you give your reader bread, and the bread is good, and you refill the bread basket frequently, you can rest easy knowing that they will probably enjoy their steak when it comes.

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So that’s all. What do you think? How do you go about trusting the reader? How do you balance detail with imagination? Mystery with reveal? Let’s talk!

Thank you for reading. As always, stay classy.

~J.J. Azar

J.J. Azar is Back with a Vengeance

LOVELY ladies, CLASSY gents, HELLO!

As some have noticed, I’ve been gone for a while.

“Why did you leave us, J.J?”

Fear not, disembodied voice! I will tell you. There have been some new developments in the unusual and often moist thing that is my life. For starters, I’ve begun a new semester of college. My new class schedule paired with my newfound workout plan have launched me into an exploratory phase where I’ve been figuring out how I can best fall back into the writing process (I’ve been going to the gym, as I said I would in my Missed Deadline post. So sore, so worth it).

To lighten my workload, I spent the weekend getting ahead in a couple of classes with the sole purpose of freeing up writing time. I return to the novel-in-the-works tonight! Additionally, I’m back in the working world! I’m enjoying the time I’m spending helping out the family business and earning some $$. I’m also seeing a lovely lady who is classy enough to satisfy even the highest of standards we hold over here. All-in-all, all is well! I’ve just taken a week to prepare myself for writing, is all. I’ve made a fair effort to keep up with my WordPress Reader, but if you think I’ve missed a post of yours that you think I’d enjoy, please do share a link in the comments!

With that, I will be making a change to the blog. In the interest of focusing on my novel-in-the-works, I will be posting a minimum of once a week as opposed to twice. I may accumulate views and followers more slowly by posting once a week, but a) I’m here to interact with y’all, not track statistics! b) the novel takes priority until I complete its first draft, as I’m sure you understand. As promised, I will provide you with my new first-draft deadline by the end of the month.

What’s nice about this is I can put more effort into each post and spend more time reading your posts. Some posts to look out for in the coming weeks include:

  • On Trusting the Reader
  • Writers, What’s Your Style?
  • Writing the Five Senses
  • You Want to Write? Write!
  • One Lovely Blog Award Reception

Thank you for your continued support. I don’t intend to take another leave of absence this long (12 days!) without informing you first.

As always, stay classy.

~J.J. Azar

Why I Value Character Over Plot

I saw a movie a while back about a bunch of hit-men trapped in a warehouse after a botched robbery. The hit-men are trying to figure out who ratted them out. The whole movie takes place in a warehouse! The whole thing! We don’t even see the robbery, we only see a guy running from the robbery. There is one random scene at the beginning which took place at a restaurant, and another in a car, I think, but for the most part, the movie has one setting. By the end of it, we know who the rat is, but over all…nothing happens!

That movie is called Reservoir Dogs. It’s one of my favorites of all time. *cue Kanye*

“JJ, what is this sorcery? You just switched like a light switch.”

Allow me to explain, disembodied voice.

Reservoir Dogs is a story of such small scale, of such little consequence, yet it’s stellar. How? How can a story that largely takes place in one ugly-looking room be stellar? Lovely ladies and classy gents, the answer is character.

Character, for me, is the most important aspect of every story.

I understand why others disagree. I understand why others value plot over characters. Some want to read for what happens while others want to read for who it happens to. I fall into the latter category. Note, I understand that many may tilt their heads and ask, “Why would I have to decide? I like both.” I like both too, but there has been a long debate between the two, and so I’m weighing in on it.

Imagine this: a Mexican musician living in Detroit releases a couple of records in the early 1970s. His sales are pitiful. Then, in 1997, he wakes up to find that he’s actually sold more records than Elvis Presley…in South Africa. Little does he know that his politically charged, poetic lyrics have become rallying cries against apartheid. He doesn’t know about his explosion of fame because he isn’t receiving royalties. Word of mouth doesn’t reach him because people assume he had killed himself on stage while performing. Well, this man is known as Sixto Rodriguez, and he’s a real dude. A real, living dude. With a style often compared to that of Bob Dylan and a particularly remarkable first album (Cold Fact), he’s a man worth knowing. Rodriguez’ story is shared in the documentary Searching for Sugar Man.

Check out the first lyrics to his song, “Rich Folks Hoax.”

The moon is hanging in the purple sky
The baby’s sleeping while its mother sighs
Talking ’bout the rich folks
Rich folks have the same jokes
And they park in basic places.

The priest is preaching from a shallow grave
He counts his money, then he paints you saved
Talking to the young folks
Young folks share the same jokes
But they meet in older places.

So don’t tell me about your success
Nor your recipes for my happiness
Smoke in bed
I never could digest
Those illusions you claim to have going.

~Sixto Rodriguez, “Rich Folks Hoax”

Rodriguez’ story is undoubtedly a fascinating one. I mean, does anyone find his story to be underwhelming? I wouldn’t think so. This man’s life’s plot has merits of its own, but I wouldn’t be sharing it with you if Rodriguez wasn’t who he was. Even after touring South Africa and Australia and the US and a host of other places where he eventually gained fame and fortune, he still, to this day, lives in his little apartment in Detroit. He’s soft spoken. He’s humble. He hardly seems fazed by his own staggering, unlikely story. It’s because of Rodriguez, the man, the character, that I chose to share his story. If the guy was an egotistical dufus, I wouldn’t give him the time of day.

If the most remarkable story ever told is written about the least remarkable of people, I simply won’t care. Think about it this way: if somebody you do not care for shares a crazy story about how he scaled Mount Everest in seven minutes or had a conversation with a gorilla, you might be mildly intrigued. Mildly. On the other hand, if your closest friend shares a remarkable story, you will be far more invested and interested in what your friend experienced. Why? Because your care about your friend! I would much rather a story be character-driven than plot-driven.

Reservoir Dogs is founded upon the strength of its characters and the dialogue between them, not its plot. Sure, the movie has a sound plot, but the movie’s heart lies with Mr. Orange, Mr. Yellow, Mr. Pink, and all the rest of ’em.

I figure I’ve made my point. I want to hear from you. Which do you prefer? Character-driven stories or plot-driven stories? Let’s talk in the comments below.

As always, stay classy.

~J.J. Azar