Monday, August 24, 2015

Documenting the writing life

At the time this gets published I'm making my way back from Worldcon in Spokane. I'll be tired and cranky and most likely half asleep from the past week's exertions. I'm writing this during the week before Worldcon so I don't know for certain. What I do know right now that I don't have the time or the brain capacity for another thoughtful Mad Max post, though at least one more of those is going to get made sometime soon. So instead I'm going to talk about documenting my writing life.

Query Tracker 

While querying, it's important to know who you've queried and when. Something that's also nice is being able to see the actual query letter. Query Tracker does all this for me as well as providing the option to search for possible agents using various criteria. Query Tracker provides some statistics based on people's reports but from where I'm sitting they don't seem very robust at the moment. None the less Query Tracker even as it is now is an invaluable part of my writing process.

Duotrope


I write short fiction as well as novels. To be perfectly frank, I've written many more short stories than novels. Possibly even more words in short stories than in novels. Duotrope is very similar to Query Tracker, only focused on short stories. Duotrope has wonderful statistics on all the short story markets I've come across so far. It also provides a calendar with upcoming themed and unthemed deadlines of magazine submissions.

Sink or Submit! 

Finally, with regard to submissions, we come to the gamification of submissions. Sink or Submit! is a super simple game created by another Mary Robinette Kowal alumn, Hilary Bisenieks Brenum and it was inspired by yet another MRK alumn, Sunil Patel. Basically, you get a point for every submission and rejection you get. For every acceptance your point count goes to zero. The point of the game is to reward for behavior that should, in the end lead to something positive but where the road to those positive results is sometimes very unpleasant. A sale is a reward all on its own.

The Magic Spreadsheet

The Magic spreadsheet is a way to gamify the amount of words you write every single day. You get more points for every day that you write at least the magic minimum (250 words). You get one point for 250 words (two points for 500 words, 3 for 1000 words and four for 2000 words) plus one point for every day in your chain. I'm currently on my 44th day of my latest chain which means that I'm getting 45 points for today's 300 words. As you accumulate points, you go up a level at intervals that last about a month if you write every day. As you go up a level, your level specific quota goes up by 50 words. Which is to say, on the second level you need to write 300 words every day to maintain your points. You can still maintain your chain even if you don't write to your level quota but that also drops your chain points back to the level highest level quota of those words. So, if today I wrote only 250 words, I would get only 31 points instead of 45. If tomorrow I wrote my 300 words, I would get only 32 points.

The spreadsheet also sports a leaderboard in which you can compete with people around the world on the number of words you've written total, this month and so on.

Trello

At all times I have at least three projects ongoing; one short story, one novel either in plotting or revision and one novel being written. On top of that I run two of my own blogs and regularly contribute to three others. If I didn't have some type of project management tool, my head would explode. Literally. Or maybe not. Mind meltdown doesn't seem like it would produce that much heat or expansion. Anyway, I'm digressing.  I use Trello to plan my time in advance because it allows me to see most of the moving parts in advance as well as giving me deadlines for upcoming things that I need to get done.

How do you document your writing life? Do you

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The dangers of wishing

I have a lot of wishing going on tonight. I spent all day with my cat at the vet. Tonight he's staying at the vet, so they can give him fluids and monitor his condition. He should be fine, but I'm a naturally stressed human, and in this case it's near impossible not to stress.

Sometimes I think wishing can be dangerous, particularly when it becomes a substitute for actual effort. When we become so afraid of trying that it's easier to just sit back and wish for good things to come to us.

But in other cases, wishing can be precious. It can be a light in the dark when we have no control over our fate, when we've done everything we can, and all that's left is the wait.

Sometimes, wishing and hope and faith are all we have.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

WIP


   
                                                                 

Friday, August 14, 2015

Don't miss your Excite

Even the best story ideas can become dull or lifeless at times. Sadly my insurance doesn't cover sick or dying story ideas. If you want a laugh, give your insurance company a call and ask about it. And by 'want a laugh', I mean if you want them to laugh at you.

One thing that I wish or dream about is reviving an older novel I've written called "Going to the Beginning". Last week I spent several hours rewriting the beginning paragraph from scratch. When I was done I had nothing visible to show for it because I had deleted every single attempt.

I could give up. The story is rough and messy. If it was an animal most people wouldn't let it in their house. In fact they'd probably call animal control. Thankfully I'm not most people. I'll happily take in the bedraggled and unloveable. That's probably part of the reason my house is always so cluttered.*

All I can say is "I love clipart", ok well that and what's with the bunny? He looks way too normal.



What I needed was to bring back the excitement it my story. That idea that churns around in my head. It blankets itself over my other thoughts until I expel the words through my fingers and onto the page. 

It was time to go back to the beginning. I'm not editing my old novel. There are too many unnecessary plot and character points to fix. Each time I try it bogs me down and I feel lost. It's hard to clear up something when you can't remember what you want it to look like. 

Since then I have rewritten my core idea and premise for the story. These are the reasons I first wanted to tell this story. The important stuff that I lost track of while I was busy plugging in my daily words.

The core of my novel is about what a sister will endure out of love and a need to protect her sister. It is also about the misconception that having a mental illness means you are broken or less than other people. 

This is what I wrote down for the premise. "After missing for a few days, nine year old Jane is found in a coma. Her sister Julianne is the only one who knows the secret of how her sister disappeared in the first place. She is determined to follow in her sister's footsteps and find a way to save her sister." Dun Dun Dun.**

After writing down my core idea and premise I started to believe in this project again. The premise even ended up being vastly different from my original one. It's going to take more than a few little edits here and there to the story. This doesn't upset me though. I am an intrepid explorer about to uncover the lives and plot of characters I've already come to love. 
I always think I'd write better with a quill pen and perhaps a regency inspired dress
Have you ever gutted a story or revamped it drastically? Did the daunting task give you a new spark of creativity? I'd love to hear from you.




* Although I prefer the term future artifact dig
** I have a hard time writing anything even remotely suspenseful without adding Dun Dun Dun or something similar. I'm very mature that way. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

Books I Wish I Wrote

August is all about wishing here on The Prosers. I have a theory that every writer has at least one book they wish they'd written, something that's taken hold of their soul so profoundly that it's almost like someone had crawled up inside their brain and found the pieces there.

Indexing by Seanan McGuire

A government agency filled with living fairy-tales solving crime? I am there for that. I grew up watching cop shows and murder mysteries. My mother was, and probably still is, addicted to them so I have a permanent soft spot. Granted, my favorites more along the lines of NCIS, Bones and Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries rather than Hercules Poirot, Inspector Morse and Der Alte but the affinity is still there.

One of the first things that I wrote that I actually remember what happened was a Finnish language assignment of my sister's (she wrote the one she actually turned in but I was so inspired by the assignment that I wrote one just for me); change a key aspect of some fairy-tale and write the story. I've been hooked on subversive fairy-tales ever since.

This book is something that combines both of those elements with dry, dark humor and an episodic story-telling style so reminiscent of all those cop shows I know and love. Every time I read this (I've lost count) I am both in awe of McGuire's work and kicking myself that she got there first.

Night Watch by Terry Pratchett

Cop just trying to arrest a mass murderer accidentally goes back to his own past and ends up leading a revolution because that's the job that's in front of him.

Sam Vimes in Night Watch is basically a noir hero who's trying to do good. He's Casablanca's Rick Blaine after Elsa gets on that plane (sorry for the spoilers but it's over 70 years old and spoiler warnings have an age limit). He is mainly interested in keeping the piece and protecting a few people.

What he gets is a whole mess of trouble. The Unmentionables, Ankh-Morpork's then patrician's private police, do not like the man who refuses to hand over curfew breakers to them for torturing. The book is filled with social commentary as well as ruminations on the nature of right and wrong.

Pratchett is one of the first authors I started reading who showed me just how subversive humor can be. Because it's "just humorous fantasy", Pratchett can do and say things that "serious" writers would have to work a lot harder for. Night Watch is very much "message fiction" but because it's also laugh-out-loud funny I've never heard it accused of being that. The book sticks with me and I keep coming back to it at least once every year.

Kuka lohduttaisi Nyytiä? By Tove Jansson

Translated to English as Who Will Comfort Toffle? this one is ostensibly a children's picture book. It's all about Toffle, a little troll who's afraid of the dark, of his neighbors, basically everything around him. He's more or less an introverted, depressive agoraphobic who leaves his home to find a safer space, scared to leave but even more scared to stay. Outside he sees many wondrous things that make him feel even more alone because he's too afraid to approach anyone. He finds a lonely seashore that's calm and makes him not afraid and he makes a home there. Then he gets a letter in a bottle from a girl troll who says she's also scared and needs help. The rest is about him overcoming his own fear because there's someone who needs him. They end up comforting each other and, of course, living happily ever after.

I loved this book as a teenager, heck I still love it, because it assured me that however I was feeling at the time, there were people out there who got me and would love me for me. I know it sounds trite but as a writer I would love to have that kind of impact on another person's life. It is, after all, a part of why I write.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Character Sympathy - Lessons from Mad Max Part 2

As promised a few posts ago, I'm going to get back to talking one of my new favorite movies: Mad Max: Fury Road. This time, particularly I want to talk about building character sympathy. As promised, this time we'll start to think about how to do these things in your own manuscript.

Max Rockatansky

Max is probably the most straightforward of the characters as for sympathy. He's the title character, after all. Even if you haven't seen the previous movies, the monologue in the beginning establishes him as the loner who's just been attempting to survive for a while now. After his two failed escape attempts it's not hard to see why he wouldn't trust anyone. So even though he acts like a rabid animal for the first half of the film, you keep wanting to follow along if just to see how he gets out of his troubles.

Imperator Furiosa

Furiosa is established as a bad ass from the second she struts her way onto the screen. She commands her own war rig and the missing arm seems to be a testament of just how hard won it was. The trouble is, she's supposedly one of the tools of the villain of the story. But it's obvious from the very beginning that she isn't a true believer like the war boys she's hauling. She doesn't react to Immortan Joe's with the religious fervor of pretty much everyone else and seems more anxious to just have it over with. Later when the war rig is attacked for the first time, she proves that it's not an accident that she's in charge. And finally, she's caring for someone other than herself. Her manner may be gruff and fitting the horrors she's been through but she is taking care of someone who's weaker than her. Several someones.

War boy Nux

Nux, even more than Furiosa, is supposed to be a villain, or at the very least a minion of evil. From the beginning he's presented as someone who is deeply into the Immortan Joe religion. He's anxious to give his life in service of Immortan Joe's world domination. In other words he's the very epitome of a cultish suicide bomber. And yet... when he is presented as probably dying in the sandstorm, you kind of feel bad for him. You feel even worse when he's lying unconscious and Max attempts to free himself by blowing Nux's arm away. This is mostly because Nux is presented as an underdog from the very beginning. Before Furiosa leaves for her - shall we say - unsanctioned outing, Nux is more or less dead which is why he needs Max as a blood bag. "High octane crazy blood". Despite being nearly dead, he successfully fights off Slit to make sure he is the only one who drives his car on the Fury Road. Throughout the first chase scene he's almost like a puppy; so anxious and excited to please his master.

How to do it

  1. Make them an underdog
    This is a really popular one, mostly because it tends to work pretty easily. If they're good at what they do, have them face an overwhelming force, such as in Max's first flight. He gets swarmed by war boys who seem to have an unlimited supply of guzzoline, overwhelming numbers and explosive weaponry. No matter how good he is at what he does, there is absolutely no way he's getting out of that situation. That doesn't stop him from trying. It's the Indy rule all over again. In the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark Indiana Jones faces numerous obstacles to get the object of his desire which he loses in the end because he gets surrounded by overwhelming numbers.
     
  2. Make them really, really good at what they do
    Think about Furiosa hanging out of her cab to shoot the pursuing scavengers. She barely has time to sight them before she needs to be back in her cab to drive the rig and still she manages to blow the pursuing buggy out of the road. She keeps her cool even when her second in command is trying to strangle her and manages to get out of the situation. Make your character competent. Make her face hardship and get through to the other side. Loss and injury are okay but they need to come out of it victorious.
     
  3. Make them a rebel
    In the Western societies we seem to have a natural tendency to root for the people who fight the power, so to speak. Furiosa's eye roll at Immortan Joe's speech marks her as a rebel even before she takes the detour. It's the whole Cool Hand Luke thing. Here's this stranger who comes to town and starts stirring trouble and yet we like him instantly for it. It makes no logical sense since human societies thrive on stability and rebels make stability harder but there you are. Maybe it's our inner teenager reminding us what it was like to be young and stupid.
     
  4. Give them someone/something to care for
    This is another of those easy ones. You give a character a kid or a dog, something or someone weaker than him to care for and to protect, instant sympathy. See for example Tom Cruise in War of the World. The guy's a douchy loser but even though we don't really care about him per se, we want him to get to his target in tact because of the kids he's trying to get to their mother. The Wives are considered grown-ups but they've led such a sheltered, captive life that despite being, at least technically, adults they're in a much weaker position than pretty much anyone else out in the desert. Therefore everyone and anyone who protects them is automatically more sympathetic than everyone else around.
     

Homework time!

So, homework! You knew this was coming, didn't you? Write a page or less (maximum 300 words) introducing a character for each of the sympathy-inducing writer tricks.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Fuel for Stories - redux

Welp, two weeks ago, I was busy moving house - so busy, apparently, that I completely spaced on posting. Sorry about that. And now I don't even have an original post for you, because even though I'm finally (more or less) unpacked, I'm about to go camping. Tomorrow. Sooo here instead is a post from a few years back about inspiration. Enjoy!

*****

I’m well-practiced at driving long distances. I’ve gone back and forth across country (alone) several times, and I’ve made the drive between Northern and Southern California a dozen times or more, driving and as a passenger. I cope through methods like coffee drinking, good music, podcasts, and creative corn nut consumption, to name a few.

But on the most recent drive, I found that I was missing the most important coping skill of all. You see, my imagination was malfunctioning.

It was very perplexing. When I tried to consider the stories I had in progress, my mind seemed only able to move within the bounds of existing scenes and plotlines. I couldn't even garner interest in my silly sci-fi/fantasy stories that I never intend to write down. It was hours and hours of pure torture. How do non-writers survive such long periods of boredom? 

Near the end of the drive, steel-gray clouds drifting over butter-yellow hills caught my fancy and re-fired my imagination. But that wasn't until hour seven of eight. My imagination seems to be back to normal now, but I do not want to tolerate this condition again on the eight hours back to San Diego.

And so, in this time of stuffing our bodies full of food, I decided to look up and share ways that we might feed our imagination. Not literally - that imagining food diet sounds kind of silly to me.

What works for inspiration for me? Beautiful images, unusual places, and nature walks. I listed some of my favorite triggers for stories in this post. Susan just blogged about the power of the what-if

To further fuel your imagination, here are some lovely images from Wikimedia Commons' Picture of the Year for 2011.




This is my favorite, because it makes me think of a world frozen over:

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Snowy_%C3%85reskutan_Ski_lift.jpg

And here are some quotes about enhancing your imagination:

From Seven Sentences:
One simple way of increasing your creativity is to use the law of opposites . When you come up with an idea of what to write, of how to play a character, or of what to paint on that canvas… STOP……ask yourself what is the opposite of that idea; now create something about that.  
 From W. I. B. Beveridge, quoted at Brainpickings.org
Many people will not tolerate a state of doubt, either because they will not endure the mental discomfort of it or because they regard it as evidence of inferiority.
To be genuinely thoughtful, we must be willing to sustain and protract that state of doubt which is the stimulus to thorough enquiry, so as not to accept an idea or make a positive assertion of a belief, until justifying reasons have been found.
And from Suzanna Stinnet:
Notice in Categories: Start by deciding what it is you want to notice today. Once I did this exercise by actively looking at noses. People's noses, dog's noses, noses on billboards and beaks on birds. Crowdwatching while only noticing noses is absolutely hysterical. You bring your focus to one thing and it compounds. You begin to notice many aspects, and suddenly you can't see anything but noses, noses, noses!! The laughter this induced is another great component to brain health, inducing circulation and releasing many natural chemicals related to brain stimulation. Now, while you are noticing and observing these noses, tell yourself about them. Engage the storytelling part of your brain by actively using descriptors. See the details. Make up new words to tell yourself about the noses everywhere in your environment.


And here are some of my favorite pictures from Wikimedia Commons' 2014 Picture of the Year contest!


https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:View_from_a_ridge_between_Segla_and_Hesten,_Senja,_Norway,_2014_August.jpg

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Watch_tower_of_the_dam,_Embalse_de_los_Bermejales,_Andalusia,_Spain.jpg



https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/68/Barnard_33.jpg