Tag Archives: writing

NaNo Update and PoV

I actually stayed up late last night and wrote! I didn’t quite hit my 2,000 word goal, but I got close (1818). I fleshed out my outline while waiting for trick-or-treaters on Monday night and I’m feeling pretty good about the overall structure of my novel.

While opndering my outline, I was reading through some articles that Jim Butcher (The Dresden Files, The Codex Aleria) put on his LiveJournal a few years ago and it got me thinking. I love the Dreseden Files (urban fantasy) with a consuming passion, but I was way less enthusiastic about the Codex Aleria (fantasy). I think part of the difference in my reaction is about genre – I’m out of the fantasy mood the last few years, even though for the bulk of my life it’s been my preferred genre. But as I ponder these books with a writing eye, I realzed that it’s more about HOW the two series are written.

Each series shows Butcher’s characteristic complex plotting – multiple story lines, insurmountable odds, everything coming together at the last possible minute when the hero grasps victory. But the Dresden Files is first person and the Codex Aleria is third… And I think that’s my issue.

The character if Harry Dresden is engrossing. He’s witty, irreverent, sarcastic, and kind of a jerk. But he’s still a hero. And he makes heroic choices at great personal cost. And that’s just so attractive! And from a first person perspective, I feel like I really get to know him through the books and so I’ve really invested. But in the Codex Aleria, there are multiple points of view and I don’t think I ever really commit to any of them. By the second book there’s a clear “main” character, and I like him and his story, but Butcher switches back and forth between him and his story line and a handful of other characters and I just don’t care about them enough to sustain my interest. So I found myself skimming through those sections and that’s never good.

So, I started thinking about my other favorite books and I realized that many of them are first person – or at least, third person limited. And I write in first person (I started my current project in third, but every time I went back to re-read I discovered that I’d slipped back into first person. So I gave up). So clearly I’ve got an ingrained preference. But I think it’s a good observation about reader investment and splitting that investment between too many characters. I feel like my interest is totally focused in the Dresden Files – I like the other characters but they aren’t fighting over my affections. In the Codex, my affections are split too many ways and so I never love any of them enough to really commit. So, I guess I’m a literary monogamist.

That being said, I still bought all the Codex Aleria books. I guess my love of Jim Butcher is focused enough to sustain me through books I’m lukewarm about. Another lesson on reader loyalty? Good for you, Jim Butcher.

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Filed under NaNoWriMo, Reflection, Writing Craft

A Testimonial – How Scrivener Changed My Life

So, I was reading TL Conway’s blog today and she was describing the kind of organized disorder of her inspiration notebook. It sounded to me like she kind of thinks/plans like I do – in no particular order. She’s got a method for keeping herself organized and finding ideas later, but I have really struggled to do the same thing. I just can’t stick to a system and I’ve got these random notes all over the place and I just couldn’t stand it anymore! My natural disorganization was making my writing life untenable, especially since my current project required a lot of research on a lot of topics.

So, I tried Scrivener. And I fell in love. By the way, you can download a 30 day free trial so there’s no risk.

I should mention at this point that I haven’t actually gone through the tutorials for this program yet. I might have glanced at the set-up instructions when I started, but after that I just started clicking on stuff. I found it really intuitive and the way the sections work just makes sense for how I work – your milage may vary.

There are four main sections in the left-hand navigation bar: manuscript, characters, places, research. There’s also a template and trash section, but those aren’t really “working” areas for me. You can add both folders and individual documents into each of these sections using either the drop-down menus or handy buttons at the bottom. If you click on the main tab for each section, you get a “cork board” that shows a little card for each folder/document. You can move these around, color code them, put stamps on them (I just learned about this part) and probably other stuff, too. Here’s a screen shot of the Manuscript section of my current project:

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As you can see, the cards correspond to the Binder window. Each card defaults to the first sentence of the linked document, but that can be changed easily. Then you can add a synopsis of each document for quick reference. You can see the “First Draft” stamp that I randomly added to my “slush” card for effect. My “Other Materials” card has other written stuff that isn’t part of the manuscript. I’ve used a card for each chapter, but you could do it scene by scene, too. And I saw a suggestion a few days ago to make a stamp for “action”, “exposition”, etc and label each card to help check for pacing. I love that these cards can be moved around, I can make notes about revisions or which chapters are done or whatever and I can see that easily when I check the cork board. I’m a visual kind of person and the labeling options appeal to my disorganization and tendency to forget things.

Then there’s the “Characters” and “Places” sections of the binder, which are set up the same as the “Manuscript” section. There is a basic character template in the program and I used it to make sketches for each character. It includes name, appearance, occupation, role in story, etc and the template can be adjusted and customized however you want. I think there is also a “places” template, but I didn’t use it.

       

I particularly like that I can add pictures to the “Places” folders – I really struggled to write places effectively in my first novel and I’m having far less trouble now. You an actually have more than one thing open at once so I can have the picture open while I write the scene with the place!

But my favotite part, the part that’s saving my sanity, it the “Research” section. Again, you can fill it with either documents or folders, so I can organize to my heart’s content. And you can import pictures or full websites! And you can have any of these open at the same time as the manuscript:

Ah… So good. So exactly how I think and work. Now, there’s lots of other cool stuff like formatting the manuscript for various e-pub platforms, but I haven’t gotten that far yet. I have also used it for non-fiction projects and find it just as wonderful. One big caveat, though – it’s only available in beta version for Windows. Whoops. There are some other great screen shots on the Literature and Latte website, and you can see more info on Scrivener’s features and download the free trial. I hope that was helpful and good luck!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Research, Writing Tools

A Tantalizing Opening

You know how you meet someone and then you can’t remember their name later? And you keep meaning to ask, but eventually it’s too late and you’re too embarrassed to admit that you can’t remember? That’s how I feel about this blog. I got distracted and stopped posting and when I finally remembered that I HAD a blog, I realized that to start posting again meant admitting that I’d stopped in the first place. So I’m sucking it up and admitting it. Here goes:

Sorry, I got really distracted… But it was for good reasons, I promise. Reasons like a new novel. And a 4th birthday (I got carried away with the fairy theme). And my daughter’s daycare getting shut down unexpectedly. Lame. I feel especially bad about my timing as I had joined a blogfest thing and completely chumped out on it.

I went to this great conference, I got all these ideas, I decided to scrap my (mostly) completed manuscript (that I got critiqued and actually pitched and everything), and I spent a ton of time researching and fleshing out this idea for an urban fantasy that I am so, so, SO pleased with. The planets have totally aligned with this idea and I just can’t stop thinking about it. Unfortunately, with my eldest daughter NOT in school two days a week and some major teething going on with the baby, I haven’t had as much time to write as I’d like. On either my project OR the blog (obviously).

So here’s a random topic that is marginally related to both my new project and to the RMFW conference. Sara Megibow from Nelson Literary Agency said that she wants to see the genre within the first few paragraphs of a novel. And I though, dang. That’s tough, especially for an urban fantasy where I want to introduce the creepy stuff slowly. I’m working on it, though – I’m trying some intimations of creepy in preparation for the actual creepy. But as I was thinking about this problem, I finally got to have a date with my husband.

You see, I have these two little kids and no baby sitters. But my mom came to visit for the aforementioned birthday party and my husband and I took the opportunity to go see a movie. Now, I know many writers are rabidly opposed to using movies as models for novels, but I feel like structure is structure. I think there’s something to be learned from any artistic genre – movies, tv, music, art, whatever. They’re all trying to communicate a story, right?

So anyway, we finally got to see “Cowboys and Aliens”, which I found delightful. And that opening scene was so perfectly aligned with Megibow’s discussion of the first pages of a novel, which I’d been thinking about anyway – a perfect storm of circumstances. I’m pretty sure the opening was in the trailer, so hopefully I’m not spoiling anything here:

The camera pans across a western landscape, complete with dusty scrub and towering orange mesas (sets location). A man sits up suddenly, dressed in grubby 19th century western clothes – complete with bloody patches (inciting incident – sets time period, characterization, and intimates the circumstances). He looks around, confused, noticing a big, weird looking metal cuff on his wrist (sets sci-fi genre – obviously there’s something more than a western going on here). Then he sees a photo of a woman in the dirt next to him and you can tell that he doesn’t know who she is. Then he kicks the butt of three mounted, armed ruffians (intriguing action). This is, what? The first minute of the movie? Amazing.

Now, I understand that you can’t convey information this quickly in a novel. It takes a lot longer to create this kind of setting in writing than in a visual medium. But still, dang. I was so impressed at how quickly the movie established everything you could want in the opening of a story – everything Sara Megibow wanted, in fact. Genre, inciting incident, setting, time frame, character, mystery, action… Again, amazing.

So the take away is about details. The judicious allocation of pertinent details can immediately submerge your reader in your world – details can establish your character, your motivations, your setting, etc. Not too many or there’s overload and tedium and slow pacing. Not too few or your reader has no connection or investment. But just enough and just the right details can set everything up while still leaving the mystery intact. Tantalizing. That’s what you want, right? Tantalizing while still building expectations for your reader.

I like the word tantalizing. It’s underutilized. And doubly appropriate when talking about Daniel Craig.

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Filed under Bloging, Conferences, Genre, Manuscript, Reflection, Writing Craft

RIP WIP

Whew! I’ve been so busy working since I got back from the conference that I totally forgot to update here – I also missed the first writing challenge for the Platform Builder’s Campaign so I hope any visitors from that will forgive me.

So the RMFW conference was totally awesome. As with all such conferences, some sessions were better than others but I got a ton of inspiration/ideas/confirmations/exposure and I’m feeling re-invigorated and ready to work. But there was one unexpected ramification: I have decided to scrap my current project.

I’ve been working on this project for three years or so. I took two years off in the middle and when I came back to it, I just didn’t love it any more. I still think it’s a cool story and, with some of the plot revisions I’ve been working on over the last several months, I think it could still be a viable project. But I have to admit that my characters are just a touch boring. It’s not that they aren’t three-dimensional… they just aren’t that cool. You know those characters that are vibrant and sexy and you just can’t wait to read more about them? My characters aren’t like that. I really liked them when I first wrote the book but they just haven’t stayed with me like I wanted. So I am going to shelve it and start on the urban fantasy that has been nagging at me for the last month. It’s based on Russian folk lore and I found some serendipitous history that turned my cool idea into a bad-ass world-concept that I just can’t get over. I love it so very, very much. But I have so much research to do…

When I wrote my first book it was based on science and politics that I already had in my head. I went back after the fact and fixed/added in details, of course, but it didn’t stop my writing. My research was primarily after-market. But this project is different. I just don’t know that much about Russia. Or russian-american settlement. Or US Geography. Or Russian geography. Or… I studied russian for four years in college so I know enough to get started with research but I need so much background information before I can start. And it’s a testament to how excited I am that I’ve spend four days doing fairly boring statistical research without getting discouraged or loosing steam. I’ve got a really neat historical context for my family, I’ve got basic character sketches done for everyone, I’ve got a basic premise for my antagonist (she is going to be SO cool!), I’ve got an outline for a modified medieval marriage ceremony, and I just decided on a location for my family estate (dang, that took forever). So I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot, but I have so much more to do!

I promise I’ll write up some reflections on the better sessions I took at the conference (an agent session on the first 30 pages; designing deliberate secondary plots, characters, and villains; publishing research for profit; building a brand/website; and writing a pitch). It’ll help me crystalize my impressions, anyway, but I need to loose my new-idea-high first.

I will say that I had a group critique session that went really well – I got a lot out of critiquing the other five projects and listening to the editor who was running the session, but I got very few criticisms. There was only one small suggestion from the editor and, while two people in the group had criticisms, everyone else disagreed with them. So that was nice! Even though I’ve decided to shelve that project, it’s reassuring to have such positive feedback. It means that my writing, itself, is on the right track. I also had a pitch with a New York agent (who was the most adorable person) and, while she did agree to look at my first two chapters, she seemed far more excited about my russian project. I just need to get a move on with writing it! She actually told me I was a tease for telling her such a great idea without having a book for her to read! So, a good weekend for my ego. And I feel so good to have finally admitted that I don’t want to finish the thriller. I’ve been fighting with myself for months – thinking that I just didn’t want to do the re-write because it was hard or it wasn’t as exciting as a shiny new project… but I feel really good about switching projects. It’s better for me and, conveniently, it’s better for the market right now. And much as I love the process of writing, I also want to sell a book. Shocking, right?.

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Filed under Conferences, Manuscript, Reflection, Research, Workshops, Writing Craft

I don’t want to write because of books. Weird, right?

So there was a blogfest going around about what book sparked your desire to write. I wanted to participate but I couldn’t think of a single book. Not one. And I thought that was weird. Then today I was watching the morning TBS syndicated showing of “Supernatural” (which I totally love, by the way) and the title sequence song was “Carry On My Wayward Son” by Kansas. And it struck me that Kansas was why I wanted to be a writer.

If you aren’t familiar with Kansas, they were really big in the ate 70s (I think?). I was born in the late seventies, so my exposure to them was due to my father. He was a guitarist, you see, and he listened to music all the time (just like me – so is it nature or nurture, do you think?). Anyway, he loved Kansas. And the Beatles and Dan Fogelburg and lots and lots of classical music. It didn’t occur to me until I reached middle school that I could listen to anything else.

But I digress. The thing about Kansas is that, like many similar bands in that decade, they wrote story music. It was poetic and LONG and had lots of electric organ solos (which I hate). But I remember being on a girl scout trip when I was maybe 10 years old? And I was listening to a Kansas mix tape on my walkman. I was bored so I was really listening to the words instead of the tune, which was more normal for me. It was “Closet Chronicles” and it’s about a king who disappears. I can’t even summarize it or pull out a few salient lines because the whole song is the story. And as I listened to it and stared out the car window at the high desert landscape, a whole story unfolded in my head and I though “this is it”. And then I listened to “Nobody’s Home” and “The Wall” and they just evoked such vibrant images in my mind as we drove – images that interwove with the landscape and even now when I hear “Coset Chronicles”  I see the dusty colors of the mesas and scrub – I think we were driving near Lake Havasu. And when that story plays out in my mind, it’s set in a castle that looks like a towering rock formation.

So I don’t want to write because of books. I want to write because of music. I think that’s weird, but what can you do? I guess it’s all about living in an imaginary world, whether of words or images or harmonies. They’re all linked together for me, anyway. And Kansas has a lesson on story structure, too, but maybe that’ll be my next post.

So let me leave you with a few lines from “Carry On…” that still give me chills:

“You will always remember, that will equal the splendor. Now your life’s no longer empty. Surely Heaven waits for you.”

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Filed under Music, Reflection

When Words Fail Me

So, I have really cinematic dreams. Some of them are cohesive and I jot them down to use as stories later. But some of them are just scenes that, once awake, never resolve into something useful. Like last night. In this dream there were four people (I was in the perspective of one person but it was third person omniscent, like most of my dreams) exploring some magical cave. As the narrator, I understood that this system was a series of connected caves, all of which were diffrent. It was magical or something – I’m not sure. And the idea was that no one had made it past the first few caves and returned to tell the tale.

The part of the dream that is pertinent to my thoughts today is as follows. The POV character wakes up (the four had gone to sleep in an abandoned farm yard – in a cave. Remeber how I said it didn’t make sense?) and the other three are gone. She walks down a short passage and sees the next cave through a hole in the rock wall. Through the hole is a huge cave full of steaming water with a massive rock formation in the middle. In reminded me of “Kubla Khan”, which is a column in Kartchner Caverns in southern Arizona (If you’ve never heard of this cave, you should totally go look at some pictures. It is unreal). Anyway, the other characters are diving off the rock formation into the water and the POV character just stands in the opening watching them.

So, this sounds kind of dry but what it got me thinking about is how can I possibly describe this scene? It was hours ago and I can still see it in my mind. It was so vivid – I could feel the heat from the water and the damp steam. I could smell the wet rocks and hear the splashing water. And the colors were these vibrant browns and reds in the rocks and the water was this neat steely blue and the lighting was really moody. I can see it, but I know I’m not describing it right and it’s frustrating. So maybe I need to start trying harder to capture the imagery that pops up in my dreams as an exercise. It’s just so hard to put those sense memories into words – it’s like trying to describe music or dance. It seems so clinical and didactic when compared to the images in my head.

So, to taunt you, below is the opening scence form White Nights, a lovely movie from the 80’s starring Mikhail Baryshnikov. Describe this scene. I dare you. I guess that’s why music and dance and art exist – to describe images and feelings that transcend language.

 

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Dr. Horrible Demonstrates How to Crush Your Audience

I was re-watching Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog last night with some friends and I was reminded of it’s masterful construction. If you haven’t seen it, it is a three episode web musical written by Joss Whedon (Buffy, Angel, Firefly) and stars Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Fillian, and Felicia Day. It is totally brilliant. Totally. The premise is ridiculous, the music is delightful and well written, and for all it’s frivolous-ness, it is actually quite poignant and stirring. I know you can watch it on streaming Netflix and you can find it piece-meal on YouTube (see the above link) and you can buy it from iTunes. I really, really recommend it.

Warning: Spoilers…

The main character, Dr. Horrible, is a bumbling, slightly incompetent, and inappropriately lovable villain who has a video blog to document his evil plans. He is trying to get into the “Evil League of Evil” (let by the arch villain Bad Horse, the Thoroughbred of Sin) but is constantly foiled by his nemesis, Captain Hammer. He is also secretly in love with a woman from the laundromat, Penny, who works with the homeless. This doesn’t sound serious to you, does it? Nope. Dr. Horible even has a sidekick named Moist  whose henchman skill is making things soggy (“At my most bad ass I make people want to take a shower”). I suspect you can guess the tone of the piece.

So the first thing that I find so engaging about this show is that the villain is the protagonist. I mean, he keeps saying he’s evil and he wants to join the evil gang, but Dr. Horrible is really not that effective as a bad guy. His alter ego, Billy, is just neurotic and anti-social and his fumbling attempts to talk to Penny while doing laundry is endearing. And he doesn’t want to have a showdown in a park because there might be children around. But he wants so badly to be evil… It just isn’t working out for him and you kind of feel bad for him. And the “good guy” is a total prick. Captain Hammer is rude, chauvanistic, shallow, and egomaniacal. And he steals Penny just to mess with poor, lovable Billy. So as an audience, you are set up to like the villain and hate the hero. And because of that inconsistency, I think you spend the whole story waiting, expecting Billy to turn it around and embrace the good that Penny brings out in him. You just know that she’s going to trigger his epiphany and he’ll turn to the light side. Penny is like his conscience – Billy can’t ever really commit to being Dr. Horrible because he knows that Penny (good, sweet, pure Penny) would never love someone who was truly evil.

And then she dies. And it’s Billy’s fault.

You see, Billy is trying to kill Captain Hammer. He has to do it to get into the Evil League of Evil and if he doesn’t then Bad Horse will have Billy whacked. But Billy just can’t do it. He can’t pull the trigger because in the final moment, he really is a good guy – and that good guy urge is triggered by Penny. He doesn’t want Penny to see him commit a real act of evil and so his love for her makes him hesitate. You can feel the change coming as he lowers the gun… and then there’s some havoc and the gun explodes, and Captain Hammer runs away. Billy realizes that he’s won without any bloodshed and he’s stunned by his unexpected victory. As he looks around unbelieveing at his triumph he sees Penny, who has been fatally injured by the explosion.

And this is the moment that makes the whole piece sing for me (no pun intended). You see, up to this point the show has been so comical – they sing about laundry and there’s frozen yogurt and sporks and it’s just so random and silly. But then suddenly, in that climactic moment, the whole piece becomes this beautiful morality tale and it’s so unexpected. Penny’s death and Billy’s lyrical response is disarming and as an audience, you are so unprepared for it – and that makes it a million times more effective.

And I think that is the lesson here. Dramatic moments in a story are more effective when they blindside you. They can’t be totally disconnected form the story – they have to be believable. But if a moment of loss can be hidden from the reader then it will hurt them more. And that emotional surge will connect them more viscerally to the story. I’ve seen Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along-Blog dozens of times and I still cry everytime I hear the song he sings after Penny dies. Part of it is that the song, itself, is beautifully crafted to elict that response, but part of it is that I can see Billy die in that moment, too. I was so looking forward to seeing him choose Penny over evil and all my hopes for that happye ending are crushed. So I mourn that symbolic death of good.

Damn, Joss Whedon is good. Seriously, so brilliant. And it’s hidden in such frivolous camouflage. Masterful.

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