A Quick Assessment and Other Themes

So, taking a step back, and looking at where I am in my novel… at last count, my main character was about to confess that she may not have… exactly… uhm… killed the person everyone assumes she killed. Actually, he might be alive and well, and fidgeting around in her basement, reading sports magazines, and eating Cracker Jack. (Or whatever the interplanetary, non-sports oriented version of that is.)

The character she is talking to keeps bouncing back and forth between being about eight (shut up, it’s fiction) and sixteen (with stops at every station in between). I’m fairly sure there’s probably a minimum acceptable age at which to have the you know that guy I was supposed to kill? Didn’t. Conversation. So, I’m thinking he’ll probably wind up closer to sixteen, although maybe a little younger.

Definitely a re-write it couple of chapters.

I’m also stumbling into questions of theme, and what the hell is this story really about?

Aliens from outer space.

Some of them are blue.

Some of them look like you.

I always hated theme in high school. It was the part where you took a perfectly good story about aliens from outer space, and then announced, but it’s actually about world peace and puberty. Rorschach for English majors.

Hey, but you’re the one showing me all the dirty pictures.

I spent a lot of time looking for themes, and the ones I found were never the “right” ones.

Then again, if I’m writing the book, how could I possibly be wrong about the themes? Well, don’t worry. Someone’s bound to find a way sooner or later.

IWSG: Pet Peeves in Reading, Writing, and Editing

 

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

The awesome co-hosts for the August 2 posting of the IWSG are Christine Rains, Dolarah @ Book Lover, Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor, Yvonne Ventresca, and LG Keltner!

A couple days ago, I was talking about formal language. No, not written language. The spoken variety. The kind where there’s a correct and an incorrect pronunciation for everything, and mostly… you have to learn it in a butt-in-chair, take notes while the blow-hard speaks kind of way. Not the reading after a long day at work way. There’s a street not far from here, with one of those thoroughly anglicized names that a 19th century planner picked because it fits his system.
And wouldn’t you know… a friend of mine dared to pronounce it the way it’s been pronounced ever since the railroad scratched a line on the map–the way 100 out of 100 dentists in my neck of the woods would pronounce it–and some pretentious ex-local chose to correct her. It’s saw-teee-o, dah-ling.
Now, I happen to know the ex-local in question pretty well. And her Spanish sucks. Like in the sense of mine is abysmal (never took a class in my life), and I’m still horrified by hers.
It’s saw-teee-o, dah-ling.
Oh, yes, you know I’m thinking about voice, now. I’m pretty sure every writer I know is hung up on voice. Maybe every person I know, although a lot of them wouldn’t phrase it that way.  Do I sound too… (what? everybody has one. You know. rural. urban. ethnic. bland.) Do I sound smart enough? Educated enough? Pretty enough? Do I sound like a human being, or like an aging recording of a dusty academic?
Should I go back to day one and re-learn the pronunciation of every word I’ve ever read, but not heard?
There’s a lot of philosophy in language. A lot of philosophy in voice.
Do you translate the dirty parts with glee? Or do you assume the people who are smart enough to understand already know? Do you feel the need to protect the common man from the gutter-world of “sucked off?”
And once you know your own world view–mine happens to be that “smart” is for everybody, regardless of whether they happened to be born in Cambridge and educated at great expense–how do you express that in your writing?
August 2 Question: What are your pet peeves when reading/writing/editing?
The pronoun I’m a big stickler for is “who.” Not who vs. whom. I’m pretty much good with whom being archaic, but the thing where people use “that” instead of “who”  to refer to human beings, animals, and sentient garden rakes? The (living, thinking character) that whatever…. Ugh. I mean, the accusative case is tricky (Okay, yeah. I’m just saying that to annoy the Latinists among us.) but just about anyone should be able to tell whether they’re talking about a human being or a cinder block.

Comparing Yourself To Others (A Beginners’ Guide)

I get a whole lot of advice that says not to compare myself to others.

In general, the advice also includes some kind of admonition that the only person you should compare yourself to is you. And something that’s meant to be consoling, but which could almost certainly be said for anything from an infant’s first crayon scratches to Shakespeare. You are where you are.

I don’t believe a word of it.

What I do believe is that if you are going to compare yourself to others, it should be in a very specific way. I don’t, for instance think “I want to write like Shakespeare” is a healthy goal. It’s too big, too general… it’s something that eliminates your own style in the process. Wanting to be someone else isn’t achievable. But if you break it into specific elements you admire, some of it might be. “I should use the word thou more.” well, that’s achievable. (I’m not sure it’s advisable, but you can achieve it, if you want.)

I’m not being humble, here: It’s not where I am that tells me the heights that are out there. Or what’ necessary to succeed. Or where I could improve. Or how far I have to go. It’s looking at others.

And then, you sort out the things that are pure, dumb luck–the lightning strikes–from the things that are hard work. The things you’re willing to work for from the things you’re not. What can you have? What do you want badly enough?

I used to go out and shoot a few baskets, now and then. Now, let’s be honest. I was not good. And–I’m five foot zero and a half–so I’m never gonna be good. Not in any global comparison, anyway. If I’m comparing to Michael Jordan, that’s an impossible, lightning strike goal. He’s taller than me, prettier than me, and has better legs than me. But if I compare to Mike Miller down the street–you know, the guy who spends time with his kids, and gets some exercise, and has fun–well, I could do that. I’d be happier doing that.

And I dance. I can rattle off lists of the greats in this that and the other form, and shiver with awe for all of them. But on a personal level, I connect more with Ray Bolger than with Baryshnikov, and long-term… I want the social connections and longevity and fun of Frankie Manning more than then the elegance of Maria Tallchief.

I lucked out a lot more, when it comes to writing. More of the stroke of luck talent than I have for other pursuits. I’m probably capable of walking out on a professional court at some point. Some of that is lightning strike stuff, and some of it is hard work. I am where I am… but this is where I want to go. Not just one professional writer, but the collective, group of them. Professional-level writing all the way. The get up at three in the morning on a weekend and write crowd. The going places crowd.

What catches my eye when I read this book or that book, and am I willing to do the work to get there?

The Things That Matter

So, Doctor Who is regenerating, again, and this time, he’s regenerating into a woman. (She’s regenerating from a man? Something.) For those of us who were paying attention, it isn’t a surprise. (I’ve only seen the replacement playing the mother of a murdered child, and damn, I hope it doesn’t get that gloomy.)(Also, I was kinda rooting for Tilda Swinton. Ignore me.)

A lot of strong feelings about who plays a mostly asexual, 900 year old time-traveling alien in a children’s show. And, honestly, I’m not sure how much of it comes from people who actually watch the show, and how much is from outsiders. The Doctor could pretty much be played by a sentient mitten without changing the show.

So, the question is: Which parts of a particular character cannot be changed without changing the central core of the story?

It’s a tough question, because the answer changes from character to character, and most of the time, nobody cares enough to ask.

You couldn’t, for instance, change the character of Elizabeth Bennett into a man because the whole book is about women not having security because they were not able to own property. If she’s a man, she just inherits the farm. Problem solved. You also couldn’t turn her into a 20th century typist. Because, once again, she inherits the farm, and problem solved.

Why does Bridget Jones come across as being so much more vapid than the original? Because she doesn’t have any problems that couldn’t be solved by her pulling her own damn shit together. **cough** Twentieth Century Typist **cough**

You probably could turn Elizabeth Bennett into a Lesbian, though. Lack of legal standing=lack of stability=lack of ability to wind up with the person she really loves. Oh, yeah. There’s a problem.

And my own characters…

It’s a little on the patchy side. You could change this gender, maybe. But not that one. Careers are more solid, in general. She has to be a monarch. A fishmonger just wouldn’t be the same story. He has to be a former soldier, although it’s anybody’s guess what he’s been doing after the war. They have to be from opposite sides of the war, and they have to come from completely different cultures.

It’s probably going to help to separate out the MUSTS from the “just felt like its.”

So, what traits do your characters absolutely need? Which could be changed?

Backward Word Sprints

I started running backward word sprints a while ago. I’m not sure what else to call it. I set a timer, and focus, and then, when my attention wanders, I hit the timer, and write down how long I’ve been at it. The timer goes up instead of down, and the goal is minutes of focus instead of words. (I’m revising, so words would be a little tough.)

I wound up with 32 minutes and 52 seconds over my lunch hour, which is as coherent a chunk of time as I’ve ever managed to come up with.

It also leaves me with the feeling that I’m getting something done.

Trackable, concrete progress.

Something to write down in my notebook to prove I’m not just sitting around breathing air.

A lot of the time, I do feel like I’m just lollygagging around. I write–but is there progress? Am I any closer to where I want to be than I was, when I sat down?

When I’m writing, I have words to log. Yes, moving toward a finished draft. But revising? I’ve never really gotten the hang of that. I have a process, of course. It’s a good process. (I bought it off a stranger on the internet, and it’s turned out to be one of the best purchases I ever made.) But that new-words feeling? Well, that’s just for new words.

One of my characters did something really out there, today. I don’t know what corner of my subconscious that came from, but he wound up punching another character. One I had considered sacrosanct. Guess not.

And I’ve reached the point that I’m rejoicing over words cut. Hey, that means I have space for my characters to punch each other in. (Yes, I’m down to the dangerous end of too many words.)

 

Your New Terrifying Thought of the Day

I found a new and improved querying phobia, the other day, and since I can’t get the thought out of my mind, I figured the rest of you should suffer, too. Maybe I’m dense, but I hadn’t even thought of this one, before.

This one’s from Janet Reid’s blog–she’s a literary agent, and she blogs, and you should read her blog, even if you’re only slightly considering traditional publishing–and here’s the dark and terrifying quote:

“You should also remember that if I love your work, and sign you as a client, all my OTHER clients will be skulking around your blog to learn about you.”–Janet Reid.

Oh, good. That’s not terrifying at all, because I am perfectly normal. All my friends are perfectly normal. And we certainly did not throw a party for our imaginary friends a couple years back. Also… pay no attention to any posts about standing in the rain with a camera trying to photograph lightning; rampant insecurities; desired marriages based on “some men can cook”; vacuum cleaners or other electronics with names; or skulls or other human remains.

I don’t know how that got there.

So… there’s the idea. You know that writer? The one that made me query this person in the first place? The one where I explain the agent by saying ___________’s agent? (As in, They’ll probably laugh until they pass out, but they’re ________’s agent, so I at least want to try?) That client?

Yup.

That seems to say they’re inviting themselves over for dinner.

Don’t forget they’re vegetarian, and they have some food allergies. (I’ll send you a list.)

Not just my place. They’re going over to visit you, too.

I’ll be hiding as a puddle of melted Karen over in the corner. You get your own disguise.

 

Unsagging My Middle

No, not my middle. My Story’s middle. I have a character who needs to get from point A to point B in a hurry, but the middle third of my book is starting to look more like the Lord of the Rings than something thoroughly modern, and written by someone who **ahem** doesn’t particularly care for dual person verbs.

There are a few things that need to happen on this trip, but not a lot. It’s not an epic journey, and it’s certainly not the whole point of the story. Just enough that I can’t skip over it and just say “And when he arrived, he took a bath.”

And the whole thing has to be very, very sleek, because I’m running out of spare word count.

As if it didn’t have to be sleek, anyway.

There was a lot of sag to the book, when I started my revision. I’m not sure if I’m talking about words and plot lines that I never should have written in the first place, or if they were… necessary explorations that have now served their purpose. They don’t fit in with the plot, and most of them can’t fit in with the plot.

I’ll save some of them for the next book, and throw out the rest.

I keep coming up with things that could–and maybe should–go in the book, though. A plot card here, a paragraph there.

I have plot cards in an envelope. Counted out and color coded according to available word count. If I run out of cards before I run out of plot, I’m in trouble.

So, how about it? Any plot de-sagging tips I should hear?

Early Morning Word Sprints (Caveman Style)

I got up this morning and did a nice, long word sprint, instead of my usual blog post. I got a lot done, and wound up with enough of a scene that I didn’t feel particularly guilty about going out to play. It gave me something nice to put in my “progress charting journal” and really does… uhm… compliment the on-going “took a vitamin D capsule in the pretense that it’s actually morning when I get up”. It worked well, and there’s a fairly good chance I’ll do the same thing again, at some point.

Maybe I’ll be a little more organized about it and figure out I’ll put up that day at some time in the evening.

Word sprints are working out fairly well for me… well, when I remember to do them. I got two of them in, today. They were both an hour long, and that amounts to about six pages, all with teeny-tiny writing. (Don’t ask the size of the pages.) I’m doing the writing longhand, at the moment, which seems to keep me in a much more linear space, and it also puts the computer (and Twitter and the News and and my e-mail and my several writing forums) out of reach.

Linear is very, very good.

I’m reminded of that every time I pick up a section to revise.

Eventually, I’ll wind up with a stack of little yellow papers, and type them all into the computer (because nobody’s willing to accept a shoe box full of little yellow papers) and that will be like a first going over editing. As long as I can keep all of my little yellow papers together long enough to get them into the computer, this process could really work out well for me.

I did some word sprints socially during NaNoWriMo last fall, and then, a presentation by Jenny Marts (Writing Sprints Journal) at the Pikes Peak Writers’ Conference kicked me back into it. I haven’t gotten as far as chasing down sprinting buddies, because I’m not exactly sure what I’d have to report back to them, besides a number of handwritten pages. I’m also–not always, but frequently–going a lot longer with my sprints than we did for Nano.

In a weird way, writing sprints seem to be a thing I’ve always done. Not, perhaps, the organized, pre-emptive, I’m going to sit down and do this thing, but the last minute, NO, REALLY, YOU HAVE AN HOUR AND A HALF, NOW COME UP WITH SOMETHING COHERENT! thing.

So, there you have it. If you’re going to wait until the last minute to get anything done (and well, yeah. I am.), you should probably figure out a way to get yourself as many last minutes as possible.

Does anybody have any tips on how to make sprinting work for revisions? How to measure revision progress in general?

StoryTime Blog Hop: Your Invitation

We’re a little less than a month out from the next StoryTime Blog Hop, and I’m actually getting the invitation out in time that everyone has an actual opportunity to write a short story. The deadline for links is July 20, this time around, and the Fabulous Juneta Key will be hosting (again. Because she’s amazing.)

StoryTime is a Speculative Fiction blog hop, so bring your Science Fiction, Fantasy, and anything else that has speculative elements, and join us.

The hop features speculative short stories, usually under 1000 words with a G or PG rating (No graphic sex or violence, and try to avoid the dirty filthy language you hear around here.) It is not specifically oriented toward children, although children’s stories are welcome and encouraged.

If you want examples of stories from previous hops, I have a (dismally out of date) list of links.

I hope you’ll join us as a writer, but if not, be sure to come back and read the stories on the 26th of July.

So, NOW What Do My Characters Have In Common?

I finally found that scene. You know…. THE scene. The one that has been missing, and in hiding, and presumed dead, or possibly never to have existed in the first place. I found that scene.

I’m still writing it, but I think that it’s what the novel needs, maybe more than any of the other scenes. I thought it was probably going to be a love scene in the end, and I can’t say I was all that thrilled about it. I’m pretty blustery when I’m in a slump. I’m always going to give up writing good stuff and go write Sasquatch porn on Amazon, or, you know… Zombies or Spiders could be sexy…. but in the end, the problem with my erotica-writing get rich quick schemes is that what I write never turns out to be erotic. Oh, look, a duck! So, in terms of actual love scenes, in actual post-slump writing… Uhm…

This is not a love scene…

Not really.

But the two characters do have a lot in common by then. They actually… might have more in common than any other two living people in the book. (There are a lot of dead people. I won’t do commonalities with the dead.)

I forgot to ask that “what about now?”  question. You’d think I’d remember that.

So, now I have the first end of the scene, and some choppy bits, and I think that’s probably my last “safe” plot card. We’ll see if I can get to the end of the book without getting into my “tread carefully” plot cards or my “do it and you’re dead” plot cards.