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

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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…

36b1d2ff2cd00f70958ecda72d0f7c56
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