Sunday, February 17, 2013
Part of the deal is that NaNo just wore me out this year. Physically, mentally, and most importantly creatively. It's taken a good long while for me to recover. Plus holidays, plus several bouts with the Mayan Flu. And, like every parent, I'm up to my ears in child-rearing.
I don't even know if that last statement actually even makes sense, but still. 'S true.
I have about three or four chapters left to finish the MS to Draegith. Plus about twelve chapters to edit. I've done almost nothing on it since winning NaNo last November. I liek to think I'm going to get back in the groove any day now, but I'm not entirely sure that's true.
The thing about writing is: there isn't any reason to do it other than that you want to do it. While it is possible to make money at it, the chances are slim. Financial considerations aside, the pleasure derived in putting words on the page is the only other motivator. And I just haven't been feeling it.
I've been here before. Last NaNo, actually. The burnout wasn't as severe that time, but it was definitely there. So I know that soon enough I will be bursting with ideas and racing home to get to typing. It'll happen.
Hopefully I won't have slipped too far into the future when it does.
Sunday, November 25, 2012
NaNoWriMo 2012 is drawing to a close. I 'won' on the 20th, but still have five chapters or so (about 7k-ish to go) before my novel (Draegith) is finished. I am going to end up at only 60k, which is actually 10k less than the final tally for last year's book (Fnerge!). Even though I was aiming for 70k, I'm not really surprised i didn't make it.
Fnerge! had a ton of characters and hopped viewpoints regularly. In many ways it was a much more complex story. Draegith is told almost entirely from the viewpoint of the MC, except for a few brief sections where she is either not conscious or information important to the plot (that she isn't privy to) needs to be passed on to the reader. the geographic area covered in Fnerge! was vast, several entire worlds worth. In Draegith, we only see one small part of one continent. Draegith does have far more emotional content in terms of exploring the MC's relation to her world, which is why it even came close in length to Fnerge!.
I've learned a ton from the process this year. As I've noted over and over again, doing more groundwork and outlining was incredibly helpful. It wasn't easy, but I managed to average 2.5k a day for most of this month. I had several days with wordcounts in the 3k range, and my highest day ever--4.5k last Tuesday. Without all the groundwork I did in October this wouldn't have happened.
However, I've also learned just how inadequate the prep I did really is. I will likely do a much more comprehensive outline for the next book, especially in terms of worldbuilding and character development. It's encouraging to see where improvements can be made, though. And I feel like I've made huge strides in my storytelling, as well as learning a ton about what I need to learn a ton about :) The first step on the road to wisdom is recognizing ignorance.
I'm not really very happy with the novel, unfortunately. This is a first draft, so I don't expect much out of the writing, but it actually reads fairly well. Still rough around the edges, but not too shabby. The story, however, just isn't as exciting as I wanted it to be. Lacks oomph, somehow. Once I'm done with it I'll set it aside for a month or two and then come back to it and see if I'm just feeling blah because I'm worn out, or if it really is lacking somehow. And, is so, try to figure out how to fix it.
Which leads into the final topic for today. I've recently become acquainted with an entire category of thingee-stuffs: plot-aids. I bought a set of Story Cubes for me and my son to play with (he's three). Really fun. They aren't a game, exactly, more of a way of playing together. The set came with nine six-sided dice, each one bearing a pictogram on each face (all different). Things like a smiley face or a bug or an airplane. So the idea is to roll however many cubes, then make up a story based on the images that come up. Plus, little kids love rolling dice, so the whole enterprise works out well.
I've found that I really enjoy working out stories based on random prompts like this. I've never lacked for ideas to write about for my own stories, so I don't need anything to break through 'writer's block" (never had it; not sure I even believe in it), but as a tool for sparking creativity, I like the idea of these sorts of things. Or just for fun :) I've ordered another set of Story Cubes with different pictures (called Story Cubes: Actions), as well as a set of cards called Tell Tale, which are the same idea, just cards instead of dice. I'm also messing around with an app called FIG (Fiction Idea Generator) and considering several other games/tools, mainly The Storymatic. I'll let you all know what comes of these explorations.
And that's it for this week.
Sunday, November 18, 2012
I am trying out blogging on the tablet again. Several reason for this: there is a new version of the Blogger app (not that I ever used the old one). I'm hoping it will work better for this than the painfully wonky write-text-w/-Jota+-&-transfer-via-browser method I tried in the past (which sucked). I dropped my tablet a while back and the (full-sized--best feature of Acer A500, IMHO) USB port stopped working, making the tablet far less usable. But an emergency surgery session last week, inspired by a dream, resulted in me using a tiny hypodermic needle to bend one of the four prongs in the USB, which wasn't making contact. This involved headlamps, flashlights held with teeth, and no small amount of swearing. It was a complicated/simple fix, if that makes any sense.
But now my USB works again. Yay! Which means I can use my favorite portable keyboard (A chiclet-style Perixx that flies).
Side note - If I could get a portable, ergonomic keyboard, I would be in heaven. I love my big MS Natural keyboard knockoff (also made by Perixx), but it couldn't be less portable. I've seen one that would almost work (Kinesis Freestyle2), except it's super-pricey. Why more manufacturers don't make split keyboards like this one, I don't know.
Anyway, I've now been working on this post for about half an hour (Amazon research soaked up some time). I won't know for sure until I try to send it, but so far the Blogger app works well. It's really sweet to be able to enter rich text instead of plain text. I can do italics, woot!
Edit - Just hit blip numero uno. The editor for the Blogger app has no undo function. Not having control-z isn't the end of the world, but It's an unexpected omission. Also, no preferences menu to do things like adjust font size, etc. Hrm...
Another interesting note - all the keyboard shortcuts I've learned for navigating on the AlphaSmart Neo (which has no other input device, no mouse or touchscreen or anything) are coming in really handy on the tablet. Which is nice, because I really hate trying to move the cursor around with my sausage-fingers.
Anyway, on to more important matters. It's the end of week 2--or the beginning of week 2 1/2, I suppose--of NaNoWriMo. I can confidently report that I'm kicking ass. No, seriously. While chewing bubble gum and taking names. It's an awesome feeling. I am currently at around 44k. I've been averaging 2.5k a day, so I should 'win' within a few more days. Ya, again!
I won't actually be finished when I win. I'm on chapter 35 of a planned 48 chapters, so I have 15-20k more to write. I originally expected to hit 70k this year, but I think I'll probably end up closer to 65k. Good enough :)
The even-better news is that I am far happier with this book than I was with last year's NaNo. Not that the last one wasn't fun, or that this one will need any less editing/rewriting later on, but I feel like I have a much better grasp of both the story I'm trying to tell and storytelling in general. The prep I did definitely helped. Although I need to do way more next time. It turns out that what I thought was a ton of outlining and prewriting was really only the bare minimum to get my story started. I've had some hair-tearing moments trying to wrap my head around the plot and characters this month, stuff I thought I already had worked out. Lesson learned.
I am, as always, still not satisfied with the work I'm doing. Definitely room for improvement. But a far more fluent effort than last time. Plus--and this is the key, the whole reason I'm so hyped on NaNo--I feel like this is a repeatable process (during non-NaNo time). The pressurized writing environment suits me, although I might take things slightly easier on the next book. I've been missing out on sleep (and most everything else) in order to keep up with my wordcount goals. But that's gotten easier, in some ways, as the month has worn on.
In other words, I think I have the trick of writing novels now. Perhaps.
All that remains is to work on writing better ones :)
Sunday, November 11, 2012
I went through an Android tablet phase a while back. One of the main things I tried to make work was a system for writing on the tablet, so I could do things like write my Sunday morning blog post in bed on Sunday morning. I also wanted to be able to write fiction on the go (at least first drafts). I installed a pretty decent text editor called Jota (none of the web browser played nicely with Blogspot, so I had to do the text of my posts in a separate application). I got a nice portable USB keyboard. I was able to do a few posts this way, but eventually gave up due to the clunky nature of the whole enterprise. Plus, I really hadn't achieved the portability I wanted.
In the spirit of fairness, I will note that battery life for tablets is generally quite impressive. Also, the keyboard, a very Apple-ish one sold by Perixx, is wonderful. I have several Perixx keyboards and they are all well made an fairly priced. Also also, in my limited experience, Jota (now available as Jota+) is the best free text editor on the Android platform.
Side note -- I've pretty much abandoned any hope that Android will become a worthwhile operating system any time soon, being basically an attempt to remove functions from Linux then charge the end user to reinstate them. And the constant, intrusive, usage, data, and identity tracking is creepy. DRMania. But that's a whole 'nother post.
I've seen AlphaSmarts, the Neo2 mainly, which from a writer's point of view is functionally identical to the older Neo, advertised on various writing websites occasionally. I always thought the device was a rip-off. At around $170 USD for a keyboard attached to a glorified calculator screen, I'm still pretty solid in that assessment. I do understand that their primary market is a niche educational one, so I don't fault them for the high price. Economics is what it is.
But I certainly wasn't interested.
However, a chance comment by a writing acquaintance (about her AlphaSmart) ignited an interest in them. I am an obsessive person, and sometimes a nudge is all it takes :) I did some research and found out that older AlphaSmart were often sold in online auctions for much cheaper than the retail price. And the more I read about how other writers used them and how well they worked as portable first-draft machines, the more interested I became.
I found one for $55, emailed the link to my wife as an X-mas present suggestion, and she ordered it immediately. IMHO, the retail should be a lot closer to that price. If It wasn't intended as a present (a splurge, if you will), and if I didn't have a narrow-focus writerly use for it, I wouldn't have asked for it at all.
We have a lot of trouble holding on to gifts in my household. Life is short. My wife gave me the Neo as soon as it arrived, a few days ago. Thanks, babe. You're the bee's knees.
I've written at least 5k on it so far. It's definitely helping me make the most of my time for NaNoWriMo. And it makes the perfect Sunday morning blog draft machine. Assuming I continue to get the same level of use out of it, it will definitely be worth every penny.
The Neo is light, easily portable, and totally self-contained. The keyboard feels great. It gets 700 hours of battery life out of three AAs. Boot-up time is about a second. It opens in the last file I was working on, exactly where I left off. It saves every keystroke. When I'm on the go, I'm basically using it for the notes and ideas I would've written out longhand and had to type up later. It's a real time-saver in that sense.
I love it.
It's not perfect. The screen is a reflective LCD, so the text is black on light green. No backlight. I installed some add-on fonts that unexpected_human made (do a search for them if you have a Neo, highly recommended), so I can do as many as 11 lines of teeny-tiny text, but ultimately there is no way to fit enough legible text onscreen to do more than light editing. Even with larger fonts and much less text visible, I get more eyestrain than I would using a PC and decent sized monitor.
The screen limitations are forcing me to think in a different way when I write, to plan ahead and hold more structure in my head. I think it will be beneficial for my writing on the whole in the the long run. I think I can learn to do drafts that don't require heavy revision, but I don't expect to ever turn out finished copy on the Neo. But for notes and first drafts, it's a welcome addition to my arsenal.
|Batman says "Boom!"|
Sunday, November 4, 2012
And why is that?
I've been busy writing and editing, busy planning for this years NaNo, and just generally feeling averse to blogging. I actually took the time to write out a post in longhand a few weeks back, on story structure (yes, again), but haven't gotten around to transcribing it. I was going to do a pencast (and will, eventually), using the new laser printer I got, which has a built in scanner. Oh, joy of joys!
Mostly, though, I've been fighting with my OS. I upgraded to Ubuntu 12.04LTS and I've been hating every minute of it. After days of fidgeting, I've finally settled on the Xfce desktop environment, w/ the file manager and text editor (Nautilus and Gedit, respectively) from Unity/Gnome.
Honestly, though, if it weren't for NaNo I'd probably be wiping my system and doing a fresh install of something like Linux Mint. I might still, provided I get enough words done. I can almost guarantee that I'll at least try running a live image (or do a dual-boot install). To put it very, very bluntly: Unity sucks rocks. Massive boulders, even.
It's probably great on new systems that have plenty of RAM and processing power. On my 1.6Gh netbook with 1Gb system memory, it is slow, laggy, unstable, and a battle to do the simplest things, tasks that Ubuntu 10.10 handled with ease.
No thanks. I came to Linux because I was fleeing the evils of microshaft, specifically bloatwear.
Anyway, now NaNo is here and I'm all BIC HOC TAM (butt in chair [actually, in my case I'm mostly standing], fingers on keyboard, typing away madly). Any of you fellow NaNoers—best of luck. I'm pushing for 2.5k a day, over 10k so far, and hoping to have a 75k-ish novel done come Dec. 1st.
And life, irritations of OSes notwithstanding, is grand.
Sunday, October 14, 2012
1. What is the title of your work in progress?
4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in the movie?
A race of tiny dragons gives a young man (Andy) the power of The Mayhem in exchange for helping them defeat an evil supercomputer on the 2worlds (a bifurcated alternate plane). Other players and powers become involved, pursuing related and opposing agendas. Also, romance happens. But not with the talking dog.
7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
8. What other books would you compare this story to in your genre?
9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I guess I already answered this one in #8, above. One addition: if it isn't clear, the title (Fnerge!) is very inspired by Fnord (phrase used to 'sign off' in Steve Jackson Game's writings about the Illuminati).
Saturday, October 13, 2012
When Martin Main slips out of his own story and into the mind of his creator, all the rules he’s ever known come undone. At first, Martin just wants to understand who he really is. Soon he has a bigger question: Who made who?
What if a player takes over the play…?
What if an inmate takes over the asylum…?
What if the asylum…is the play…is reality?
The Double Crossing is a dark-SF story that questions the nature of identity. It’s about 7,200 words.
Available on Smashwords and Amazon.
Sunday, October 7, 2012
I'm planning—just like last year—on writing at least the first 60,000 words of a new novel. New to this year's goal (now goals, I suppose) is this: My 60,000 words will be cohesive enough to publish without extensive revisions. I am actually hoping for closer to 70,000 this time around, but I'm not holding myself to that.
This new addition to my NaNo goals has some caveats. I fully expect my characters to evolve as I write. Thus, early scenes may need redrafting to reflect characterization more accurately. I'm not scared of redrafting to fix plot holes, add foreshadowing, etc. What I most emphatically don't want to have to do is redraft to fix structural problems—this being exactly what I'm going through with my first novel, Fnerge!.
(Yes, that last sentence is punctuated correctly. The title, Fnerge!, includes an exclamation point. Interesting related [-ish] point: I haven't decided yet whether the subtitle will be The Two Worlds, plain old Two Worlds, or the hopefully exotic 2Worlds [inspired by my publishing company's name, Step5 Transmedia]. We'll see.)
This looming of the NaNo has, in conjunction with one other factor, produced a significant change in my office layout. About a month ago I converted my desk to a standing desk, by the simple expedient of putting some paint cans and 2x4s under the desk's supports. I've really been liking it. Unfortunately, I messed my hip up somehow (probably jogging) last week. Standing for even an hour is painful, and the two to four hours I will need daily (minimum) are out of the question.
So I've had to lower my desk back to a sitting desk, which is somewhat discouraging, but unavoidable—if I want to succeed at this year's NaNo.
An explanation: I converted my desk to a standing desk for the same reason I've been jogging so much. I'm still pursuing the goal of losing 40 lbs this year. So far I've lost between 30 and 35, so I'm very close. But I've been on something of a plateau for the last few months. The extra calorie burn, plus general energy boost (seriously, definitely kept my metabolism burning harder) has been helping, especially the last week or so. Hopefully I will be able to make up for lost ground after turkey season.
Or, even more hopefully, my hip will get better on it's own before or during NaNo, and I can reconvert my desk. Or de-unconvert it :)
Back to the topic at hand. In order to facilitate a less revision prone draft, I'm taking a few steps. These are the same steps I've come to believe in taking for all my work, so this is not really a surprise. I am doing a reasonable amount of background writing, re: characters, geography, history, etc. I am doing an outline, a much more cohesive (if not less pithy) one than last year. I'm putting way more thought into what I'm going to write, and much further in advance of the actual writing.
Most importantly, I'm going into all this with a clearer understanding of Story elements than I had last time around. Hopefully this will help keep me from running into any major snags as well, like the confusion-of-direction that plagued much of my short story writing earlier this year. Crosses fingers …
I've got high hopes that this year's NaNo will be just the boost my writing needs to make a more permanent transition to (mostly) long-form fiction. I think it will. Wish me luck.
Tuesday, October 2, 2012
Paul Devaat is a writer with a secret, in a future world where things aren't as they seem. Devaat's success draws the wrong kind of attention, putting both the past and the future at risk. Not just his, but yours as well.
Some voices are best left unheard.
Plain Text is a psychological horror story with a weird-SF setting, featuring multiple levels of narration. It's about 5,100 words
Buy it on Smashwords.
Buy it on Amazon.
Saturday, September 29, 2012
Meaningful action is what everything that happens in a story should be. Or, more specifically, what everything the writer relates in the narrative should be. Although a character might bath, groom themselves, and spend half an hour picking out duds, none of this is meaningful action unless it's somehow directly tied into the plot (like that character is being watched while doing so, or the water is full of nanites, or the clothes are magical, or...).
A minor exception can be made for actions that must be depicted so the reader isn't confused, as well as action that reveals character (although ideally these should be Meaningful as well, serving several purposes at once). Everything else is filler and should be gotten rid off, or, better yet, not included in the first place.
Just as importantly, Meaningful Action is directly tied to a character's motivation, usually the main character(s) and usually related to a try-fail cycle. Everything that happens in a story should be directed by a character for the purpose of accomplishing a goal and/or thwarting the goal of another.
Yes, overcoming environmental hazards or being presented with them counts (a volcano erupts, the temperature suddenly drops below freezing, etc). But be aware that survival, in and of itself, is rarely interesting enough to drive a story. Survival placed at odds with an important goal (making a run on the Death Star) is much more compelling.
So... undirected, aimless action (whether 'exciting' or not) is not healthy for a story. A reader should always feel as though the viewpoint character is acting in a way that that character believes will bring them closer to a goal. The goal should always be transparent (no false mystery!) and the action should always be explicable, if not logical (in other words: 'in character').
Action must have resolution. A character must succeed or fail, and it must be clear to the reader whether that character has succeeded or failed. Ideally, failure (excepting ultimate failure as in a tragedy) should leave room for a new approach to surmounting whatever obstacle the character has failed to surmount—whether over, around, or through.
Failure must not be relieved by coincidence (Deus Ex Machina). Coincidence is difficult to swallow in any instance, but some level of it is present in all fiction. Coincidence that saves the day robs a story of relevance. Action must have unavoidable consequences in order to feel real.Characters must have agency.
A story is a situation, acted on by a character in a meaningful way, leading to results that are clearly causally connected to the action taken by that character. No more and no less.
I'm as guilty as anybody of muffing all this stuff (like writing an awesome gunfight that is actually a snooze-fest, because it isn't actually relevant). Guiltier than most, probably. But laying it out like this, in a very clear and succinct (almost harsh) form, is immensely useful for me as a cribsheet I can refer to later, or a mental map (like a transparency) I can lay on top of my stories, then say "Hmm... is this actually a compelling Story?"
Sunday, September 23, 2012
Sometimes childish things persist beyond their natural time. Sometimes evil is blurry at the edges. Sometimes a little imagination only makes things worse.
Boys will be boys
and sparks will be fire,
floral and flush
with death and desire.
Flower, Fire, Funeral Pyre is a weird-horror tale with a distinctly Southern flavor. It's about 5,900 words long.
Warning: This story has a few instances of adult language.
Buy it on Smashwords.
Buy it on Amazon.
This is dramatic structure 101 type stuff and no cosmic revelation, I know. I think the reason I didn't 'get it' for so long was because my process has been seat-of-the-pants, a start-writing-now-and-figure-it-out-later kind of thing. Which, as it turns out, is a great way to develop ideas, characters, and settings. But a lousy way to develop plots. For me, anyway.
I've only written a few stories since this magical revelation, so I don't know that I've solved all my problems. I do know that I've had absolutely no trouble finishing those stories. Compared to the last three or four, which I stalled out on, one-by-one, this is a huge blessing.
Yes, folks, it's true. I've converted. I'm an outliner now.
Keep in mind that my outlines are pretty much chicken scratch compared to a serious, hardcore planner-type. And the story often veers far away from the original plan. Even so, I'm starting out with a plan now, and it feels mighty good.
I haven't written as much lately as I would like, even with this new-found fervor. Not for lack of effort or time, but because I've been putting that time and effort into publishing. This is the second week in a row that I've formatted, made a cover, and epublished a short story. Which also feels mighty good.
When I started writing, about a year and a half ago, I did so because I heard about the boom in self-epubbing. My intentions were always to put my work out myself, but I've been mired in traditional submissions (and in learning how to write well, which turned out to be more difficult than it appeared). I finally feel confident enough in my craft to move the publishing to the front burner.
I've got close to fifty short stories finished at this point, plus another ten in various stages of completion, plus a novel that's in dire need of editing. I'm still going to keep the most recent stuff in circulation as submissions to pro-paying genre markets (since it will take me a while to get to putting it up myself anyway), but I am going to focus on getting the older stuff up on Amazon and Smashwords.
I still hope to get a decent amount of writing done while I do this, but writing new work will be going from main priority to, erm... co-priority? So expect to see as much publishing talk as writing talk in the coming months. And expect to see lots more stories by yours truly go up online.
One final note: Putting my stories up is a huge motivator to write more stuff. The fact that I can log onto my author accounts and see a list of my work available to buy is, frankly, awesome. So perhaps this new pubbing focus will result in more fiction after all :)
Sunday, September 16, 2012
Okay, maybe not compared to all the effort that would go into paper self-publishing, especially how it used to be before POD and online distributors like Amazon and Smashwords. But still.
And maybe it isn't a pain so much as it is work, and unfamiliar work at that. But, but, but...
Yep. I'm going through some growing pains. And I'm feeling a tad bit whiny.
It took me around three or four hours to edit and format my most recent story, Hunter-in-the-Dark. It took about the same so the cover, and about the same to do the actual publishing. All told, I'm about 12 hours invested now, not counting the time spent actually writing the thing.
That's not too shabby in some ways, compared to how things were for self-pubbers until the last few years. But it's about three times longer than I want to be spending on a short story. It's also about the same amount of time it took me for the last three.
So, why aren't I getting faster? I've learned a ton in the process of getting the other stories up. That should translate to increased speed, ease, and efficiency. The problem is, I'm also figuring out new things that need to be done.
So basically, my workflow has gotten 'leaner', but it's also gotten more involved. I'm currently resisting the urge to go back and fix all the stuff I had no clue about in the first three stories. Like back matter and cross-links :) I probably will, but later, after I've done a few more and figured out even more ways to improve my presentation.
The concept of which makes me want to simultaneously tear my hair out and jump for joy. It's a strange and nonobvious time we live in, ain't it?
Important addendum: My publishing company (Step5 Transmedia, of which I am the founder, owner, and PR flack) wants to make sure I let you know that Hunter-in-the-Dark is not actually self-published. Because it's published by, erm... Step5 Transmedia. Yep. I'm recursively shameless.
Hunter-in-the-Dark is now available at Smashwords and Amazon for only .99 cents.
Ferd'do is so close to being an adult that he can taste it. This is his last hunt with a troop (and under the supervision of a crusty, old pup-master). And all he has to do to be accepted as a full-fledged hunter... is survive.
Ferd'do's species (the Hunters-in-the-Dark) believe they are the apex predators of their world. But are the campfire tales true? Is there really something higher up the food chain?
And what kind of twisted creature is formidable enough to to hunt the hunters?
Hunter-in-the-Dark is a dark-fantasy short story of about 1,900 words.
Check it out!
As always, book bloggers may contact me for a free Smashwords download code.
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
My new pen name (I'll be writing as a girl): Sue Doehnim. Tee-hee-hee. I'm sure I didn't think of that all on my own, but I didn't steal it (consciously, on purpose), either.
Anyway, back to important writerly stuffs.
I figured out what's been holding my story-telling back lately. (By lately I mean always, although sometimes more so than other times.) I have been doing a great job (if I do so so myself) with characterization, descriptions, interesting ideas, all the spices that go in the stew. But I've been skimping on the meat and potatoes.
To wit: a story has to have conflict. More importantly, a protagonist, which a story has to have, has to have a clear goal that the reader understands. This is where I've been failing, without even realizing it.
Sometimes my stories have conflict, but it's not really relevant to 'the problem the MC must solve to win.' Sometimes there is no clear problem. (In other words, the story just 'happens' to the MC.) Sometimes, because everyone is lucky occasionally, I get it right.
But it wasn't until this last week that I realized how important this fundamental point is, and how often I've been skating straight past it. Story has to have an MC with a clear goal. A storyteller has to know what the MC's goal is, from the start. Or no story.
I've struggled to finish several genre stories lately, not understanding why it was so dang difficult to figure out what happens next. Now I know: I didn't know what the characters wanted to accomplish. So how could I possible know what happens next (when they try to accomplish whatever it is they are trying to accomplish)?
Answer: I can't. Result: unfinished story.
Sounds dumb, and basic as all get out. But I am so fired up about writing again, because I finally understand what my fiction needs. Not plot, not conflict, not great characters and settings. Goals. I have to let the reader in on the characters goals, ASAP.
Yay, me. Now back to writing.
Sunday, September 2, 2012
Sunday, August 26, 2012
First question: Why is time--as an effect--so damn interesting? Seriously, I can barely write a story these days without twisting the narrative backward, forward, sideways, or all three. I'm not stuck on Time Travel (the Subject) so much, but on the way our perception of events changes our emotional reaction.
Adam is at home preparing dinner. He struggles, because he only has one arm. He's lost the other one. At some point, he becomes frustrated and nearly breaks down in tears. It is clear that this is a recent loss.
If you have any humanity whatsoever, you feel at least a little sympathetic towards Adam.
Flashback to the event that cost him his arm. It turns out that he lost it saving kittens from space pirates. Now he is not only sympathetic, he's a hero. Yay!
Flashback further. He actually used to be a space pirate, and it's his fault the kittens were kidnapped. Now he's a flawed hero, who has overcome his background.
One last flashback, furthest still. He is at a meeting with a super-secret spy person, who tells him that if he can engineer the kidnapping and rescue of a certain special litter of kittens, he will not only be handsomely rewarded, he will be instrumental in enhancing the status of the spy's government during an upcoming series of trade negotiations.
Unfortunately, we also learn (during this conversation) that the spy's culture considers one-armed people to be unwholesome, marked by the dark gods, and less than dirt, socially.
So, we now know that he is not a hero, but a greedy fool who deserves his comeuppance. The End.
I've written a number of stories that jump back and forth in time for exactly this sort of effect. I've also written three that follow this template exactly, jumping backwards in discreet chunks. It seems likely that I'll write many more.
Second question: Is this sort of time-jumping 'cheating'? In other words, since this requires the withholding of character knowledge regarding the past from the reader, am I creating a false mystery? In two of the three inverted chronology stories I've used some maguffin or other to keep the MC from having any memories of their past, partly to avoid this issue. In one, I just, erm... ignored the issue.
In more normal stories, a flashback almost always feels like cheating (if it reveals crucial info, which flashbacks always should) unless there is no better, more logical place to detail the events of the flashback. Preferably before any big decisions involving the knowledge imparted in the flashback are made. Before-the-fact should happen--you guessed it--before-the-act. The writer gets a pass from the reader in this sort of situation only.
Last question: How about a sideways sort of story where stuff down the timestream is affecting stuff up the timestream (like the movie Butterfly Effect and its ilk)? How about a parallel narrative, where two simultaneous timestreams affect each other? (Nope, I don't know how that works exactly, either. Sound cool though, huh?)
Not a question, but: I'm so tempted to go back and figure out a way to write this entire post in reverse. Except that would take way to long and would likely only annoy you. So, instead, I'm going to just pretend that we are now at the beginning, instead of at the end. Do be sure to let me now how this makes you feel.
Hello, welcome to today's post, in which we talk about the twisty nature of timey-wimey and the even twistier nature of reader expectations and emotional responses.
Sunday, August 19, 2012
Moving on: I've been doing a lot more nonfiction writing lately. Much of it (life-logging, blogging) I let drop off at the beginning of the year. I've not only ramped back up, I'm doing even more than I was before. I'm also writing more idea-bank stuff, more ultra short children's stories, and doing more paper journaling. I've also been writing a decent (not amazing, but acceptable) amount of 'serious' fiction.
One of the reasons I stopped doing so much of the nonfiction stuff was because I thought the time spent on it would be better spent on writing more fiction. Seems reasonable enough, right? Wrong-o. I found that I not only didn't use the time to write more fiction, I actually wrote less. And what I wrote wasn't as inspired.
Parkinson's law - Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.
I think my results are a kind of weird variation of this. By writing, writing, always writing, I'm greasing the skids. It doesn't matter whether I'm putting down journal entries or grocery lists, as long as I'm putting down words. The effect of keeping my mind engaged with and focused on language is better, more effective fiction.
A side-note: I'm at the point with my fiction where I truly believe I have the potential to make my living as a writer. Getting from part-time to full-time is the big trick, though. Financially, I mean. Given a few months to a year of uninterrupted writing, I think I would do just fine. It's getting that time that's difficult.
So how do I do that? How do I make enough writing at the level I'm at to enable myself to get to the next level? I don't know. I wish I did. In the meantime I'll just keep plugging away, when and where I can, scrabbling for traction.
Ending on a high-note: And I'll keep reminding myself how lucky I am to have any free time at all. Plenty of folks have far less than me. I'm well-rested, well-fed, and well-loved. Nobody is shooting at me; I'm healthy and whole; I don't spend every minute figuring out how to make it to the next minute.
So yeah. It's pretty awesome to have the chance to write, and maybe one day the chance to write full-time. Thanks, Universe.
Sunday, August 12, 2012
First things first: What is a speed blog? Answer: A post done as fast as possible, start to finish. Caveat--without looking at the keyboard and/or preparation (lworking from an earlier draft or recording, or planning out the topic, etc.)
Question numero dos: Why do a speed blog? Answer: Because I want to practice touch-typing, because I like to force myself to think on my feet, and because It makes an interesting subject. Which brings us to the following point.
I'm interested in working on the mechanical aspects of writing because the long-term benefits are substantial. I think of stories and ideas far faster than I can get them on paper. Once on paper, getting them to where they are well-written and interesting is a further time-sink. And I--like everyone--am working with a finite amount of time.
My current working model assumes another twenty years of productive writing. If lucky I may get thirty or forty, but I'll stick with what I feel confident about (barring accident or illness). When I push, I produce about 500 to 1,000 words an hour. Editing/revisions double that time. So call it 500 finished words.
My goal is to spend four hours a day on new fiction (when I go full-time, at the moment I only get an hour on average). This adds up to 730,000 yearly (4 x 365 x 500). Weekends and vacations will likely take a chunk out of that total, but it's good enough for today's purposes.
It does no good if those words are all poopy, so I need to get it right the first time as much as possible. I need to edit and revise efficiently. In order to reach these goals (moving targets, really), I need to not just write, but practice as I write. I try to improve some aspect of my craft every time I sit down, by consistently and deliberately targeting a skill or technique.
And writing speed, while not particularly relevant to overall quality, is a skill. More apropos, writing fast and well is a learnable skill. The faster I get a handle on it and the better I get at it, the longer I will be able to reap the benefits. For instance:
What if I increase my writing speed by a mere ten words an hour? 4 x 365 x 510 = 744600. 14,600 extra a year, about 3 short stories worth. Over twenty years that's 292,000. Three more novels (or one doorstop). All from a 2% gain in speed.
Or how about blogging? How much time do I spend every week on my posts? If I could cut it by five or ten percent, or more, how much time would I save? (Time I could spend getting in a little more writing.)
Assuming quality stays consistent--or even better, improves--a modest gain in writing speed on the mechanical side of things will pay huge dividends down the line.
I want a career, not a story or a book or to say the one thing I want to say. I want to be at this for a long time, to leave behind a body of work that is as vast and deep as possible. That's why I'm speed-blogging.
I am a razor; I hone myself.
Final note: 31:56.5. Thirty-one minutes, fifty-six and a half seconds. Not bad, huh? (Add another eleven minutes or so for editing.) 617 words. ~800 WPH (words per hour). Wheeee!!!
Sunday, August 5, 2012
Friday, August 3, 2012
It's important to try different things, even if they may not always turn out to be improvements, just for the learning involved. New perspectives and all that.
The problem is that I'm writing this post at work, while driving. So: cue the voice recorder.
I'm doing something a bit convoluted, in the interests of exploration. I'm writing this post first on voice recorder, then I'm going to transcribe it longhand, then I'll type it on the computer. Phew.
This means three drafts, essentially. In order to keep the process transparent--and to explore putting photos up on my blog--I will include pics of the handwritten second draft.
Podcasting is a pain for me at the moment, so you won't get the audio first draft. I suspect the 2nd draft, and third for that matter, will be substantially different, so it might be interesting for comparison, but I doubt there will be much interest in listening to me drone on. (Note from further down the timestream: The drafts are all very different. Also, I say umm... a whole lot and repeat phrases like blog post way too much. You don't want to hear the audio, trust me.)
So that's the big idea. The rational is that a blog post is the smallest chunk of writing worth doing this with. A tweet would be silly and fiction, even flash, would represent to large a chunk of time. If I enjoy working this way I will try a short story next. If not, no worries, I haven't lost much writing time. (Time traveler note the second: I don't like transcribing by hand. I do like having a hard copy to work from. See final thought for the next experiment's parameters.)
On to the main topic: As mentioned last time, I wrote a complete short at 'dillocon this weekend. I wasn't sure I was up to the challenge, to be frank, and was quite proud of myself for completing it. I've now finished the second draft of 'Apeshifters', transcribing the text from legal pad to computer document. I made substantial changes as I went. I had a blast all the way through.
I still have a bit of revising to do, mostly line edits, but the story is mostly done now. It turned out to be a pulpish adventure, heavy on the weird. It has my kind of humor. I like to think of it as rollicking.
As glad as I am to have a complete story, especially given the drought I've been in lately, the biggest value here is the lessons learned. I've gotten back in touch with why I write in the first place. The one-word answer: fun.
Putting my worlds, characters, ideas, and events down on paper is a good time. Regardless of merits. It can be a terrible story, but it's mine and I love it all the same. And the thing is: completion is the first step on the path from awful to sublime.
I've been prejudging my ideas, and that's been killing my writing. The habit reared its ugly head after last year's 'dillocon, and has persisted until now. I'm glad to kick it.
The truth is, it's very rare for a story to start out good, for an idea to come to me whole cloth and be worth pursuing. By trying to only focus on good ideas, of which I get precious few, I've been neglecting all the terrible ideas that can grow into beautiful swans if I only let them.
My work evolves as I put it down. A few pages can make a world of difference to a story. I can't know how far an idea might carry me until I've finished putting it down, all of it, every last bit.
Because handwriting leaves little leeway for editing, and because I gave myself a deadline and was under the gun, I managed to bypass the critical voice entirely. I wrote a breezy, fun first draft. The second draft tightened up a ton of things, developed the ideas, and was also great fun. Absolutely marvelous to be working like this again.
I'm so stoked.
Verdict: Pad and paper + blasting through first draft = super way to get a story of to the races. I've written more this week than I have in a long while. In fact, the Armadillocon Handwritten Story Challenge was such a success that I went to my local big box and bought a twelve pack of legal pads and a twenty-four pack of jr. legal pads :)
Final thought: Having the story in front of me, in hard copy, makes editing/redrafting so much easier and more fluent. I'm going to try pushing myself through my next computer-typed story the same as this last one, then printing a hard-copy and redrafting from that. Basically mimicking the process I used on 'Apeshifters'.
I'll let you know how that goes.
As promised, pics of handwritten 2nd draft below. Which makes this officially my first pencast. As noted, the text is substantially different, although the ideas and flow are similar.