Thursday, June 28, 2007

Best Chapter Ever

I'm reading Cory Doctorow's Eastern Standard Tribe. As the romantic relationship between two characters is just about to hit its consumating moment, there's a chapter break. So I dutifully turn the page and see the following:

Chapter 15

Vigorous sex ensued.

And then it's on to Chapter 16. I laughed so hard I nearly cried. Clever, perfect for the story, etc., though a small part of me felt cheated, and a slightly larger part than that felt that Doctorow cheated. Still, most of me really really appreciated that single chapter.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Process Examination #3: Rarin' to Go

OK, so I've got all the information I generated via Notebooking and Research (Phase 1; research never really stops over the course of the novel) organized into the sweet new version of Liquid Story Binder. Included in that information is an outline of sorts. Well, it's more of a Four Act Structure with a few snippets of song, dialog, emotion, action, and scene scattered here and there as Muse deigned to share them with me. I've got the first three scenes starting to form more concretely in my mind. I must be ready to write, right?


I've tried to write the opening scene a couple of times over the past month, and I could tell almost from the first paragraph that I wasn't ready to write it. Still, I kept chugging away each time, usually starting with a brand new draft and getting a couple of pages into things before the effects of Not Ready Yet became too great to ignore or before I ran out of writing time for the night (and then the next view of the material would bring the "Not Ready Yet" effect into painful relief). Before I had everything all sorted and such into the LSB, I figured that to be the reason behind Not Ready Yet, but Sunday afternoon I got everything organized so that I could finally start writing Sunday night. Again, I soldiered bravely on, trying to ignore the Vast Quantities of Suck in my writing, telling myself it just seemed bad because it's been six months since I've actually written novel draft or that my silly internal editor was hoping the scene would be perfect the first time or that maybe--please, God, let it be this simple!--I was unused to composing draft in any other program than MS Word and the new layout and quirks were making things seem bad.

While all of that may be true, I finally took a moment to reflect (via notebooking--how in the world did I ever write seriously for five years without realizing how important this is for me?) on why the various versions of the opening scene kept feeling off. Every view of every version came back to the same thing: my POV character wasn't engaged with the story. She was either a passive observer, a boring observer, or a wooden puppet.

How could this happen? I have her history! I have a picture of her! I know her motivation! I know her internal tensions! I know that she enjoys listening to bad Update Movement Rock (imagine "YMCA" covered in such a way that it refers to things folks a hundred years from now living in space might dig) and low-g acrobatics! Why isn't she living for me?

Helps if I give her even a fighting chance to establish her voice. I'm not sure it's possible to do that by shoving her right into the opening scene (which has to accomplish a lot of other things to get the story going). So I need to do some non-book writing, get to know how this character interacts with her world and figure out how to convey that. I also want to do this for several of my other characters.

I think I've fallen on my face in previous drafts, expecting that all of the facts and figures I came up with for characters and backstory would miraculously gel into character-specific voice and action and cause informed prose to just spill from my fingertips when I sat down to write the story. I suspect this may be the big issue when writers complain that the story they're writing isn't anywhere close to the story in their heads. Or that's the case with me. The story in my head is informed by all the worldbuilding, all the backstory. This is mainly because all of that information exists in my mind in pictures and mini-movies, complete with vivid colors, background noise, smells, and even feelings. I can't just directly translate that and expect it to live and breathe for the reader because a direct translation of the images in my head is going to be very passive, very stilted, nothing more than "then this happens and this and this" and so on until I reach "The End."

So I've got to tap into the characters and set aside the desire for a literal translation. I've got to figure out how to see things as the characters see them, to live the book from each POV and be only as informed about the past and the present and the possible future as each POV character can be and see how that colors the movie. There is no Fourth Wall in third-person limited POV. No one is simply watching the moive unfold. They are living it. As a writer, I have to jump into the frame and each character and live the movie with them. I'll still have to translate that experience, but hopefully a conscious effort to get into my characters' heads will decrease the tendancy toward passive observation and puppetry.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Kisses from Drewbie

The grandparents have noticed that Andrew is more shy and reserved when it comes to expressing affection. He doesn't dish out hugs and kisses the way some toddlers will. In fact, he's very particular about who holds him and when. I get most of my Drew snuggle time when he's just woken up in the morning or after a nap. He'll interact with you and wave to you and talk to you (usually he'll say "Bye" or "Uh-oh" as appropriate) and sometimes he'll reach up so you can pick him up (usually when he wants to see what's going on at Adult Level), but he doesn't just come up and hug or kiss you.

In fact, he's done that to me only once. Out of the blue one day, we were chillin' in the living room, and the Drew Monster just got up from where he was, walked across the room, planted a wet one on my lips, and then went right back to where he had been. I wouldn't be surprised if that was both the first and last time for that.

Nowadays, though, we can ask Drewbie for kisses and sometimes he'll be kind enough to give one. We usually have to be holding him anyway. We ask, "Got kisses for Momma?" And he'll either shake his head no (to which I respond, "Well, Momma's got kisses for you anyway!" and do those gobble-type kisses on his cheek and neck and arms that make him giggle and squirm) or he'll lean in and plant a wet one. Sometimes, just because he knows his power, when Daddy asks for kisses, Andrew will lean away from Daddy and toward me and give me a kiss. Daddy doesn't appreciate this.

I don't mind the kiss-shortage, though. The full-body melt of his morning and post-nap snuggles serves very well as a replacement.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

My First Blackout

The Drew Monster and I survived our first power outage in the desert. Thankfully, it started at 8:30AM and lasted only until 10:15AM. I shudder to think what it would've been like in the afternoon here. As it was, the house was getting toward uncomfortable when the AC kicked back on, and cold water is really only cold this time of year when it's got ice in it or when it's filtered through your fridge. Most of my showers are hot enough with the faucet pointed almost to the coldest part of the faucet's range.

Andrew handled the strange stillness in our house like a pro, not really missing a beat from dumping Cheerios from one tupperware container to another (a game he created himself just this morning). I was a little freaked out about the prospect of being stranded in a home with no AC for the rest of the day and was very very relieved when everything came back on.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Process Examination #2: Research

Writing research can be a tricky thing. As I mentioned in a different post, writers really need to absorb and understand as much information about this world as their brains can possibly retain. We may tell lies for a living, but we get paid and remembered on how believable those lies are. The more you know about how things work, the more real your constructed lie will be.

So writers tend to do a lot of research for any project. My background in science has primed me well for this aspect of writing. I'm used to reading material that may often be thick and dry to glean a few pieces of information necessary for the task at hand. The good thing with research for writing is that you can usually wander far and wide into any topic and get interesting facts to tuck away for later use. This is also the downside of research for writing as well as you can lost in researching something and end up using none of it for the current project and thus feel like you've wasted hours.

My current problem with research is that I have two main topics to read up on: economics (and business culture in general) and space colonization. The former isn't all that scintillating, but it's very very very important for the world I'm building. The latter is absolutely riveting to me, and therefore capable of distracting me from the task at hand.

Then there's the perils of the research medium that's easiest to use: the Internet. You can very quickly scan through information, pick up some facts, refine a search further and dig deeper into a topic. You can also link-hop all over the place, looking for that elusive tidbit or that alternate presentation that's going to make everything click for you. This is where I fall down on the lessons learned from science research past. I haven't trained myself to document my research logic leaps in any searchable (to me, even) way. So I often have to repeat my research to make sense of a note I scratched down or to figure out just what I was thinking when I created a certain worldbuilding element. This has got to stop.

But documenting what I'm researching on-line is going to slow me down. Plus, I'm reluctant to commit something to paper when another link will give me better information on the same topic (or more reliable information). I think what I need to start doing is summarizing my research trips on the 'net better. Just document the overall sense of what I figured out and the major places where I found the info.

The problem isn't systemic, though. If my research leads directly to worldbuilding elements such as a calendar or a backstory timeline or some other concrete idea that has direct application to my current picture of the novel, then I scratch it down as I go (though I don't usually cite my source). It's the stuff that I've done reading on that didn't lead directly to an applicable thought that's got me worried. I think, though, that if I go through my notebook and make an effort to organize the information there into an electronic format of some sort that a lot more of my research booty will shake loose. But that leads into my next process examination: Rarin' to Go.

Monday, June 18, 2007


Drew's been working on his vocabulary of late. He's mastered "Uh-oh" much quicker than he got out "Ma." And I'm still not convinced that he's discerning in his use of "Ma." It seems to be a sound that can mean anything from, "Mom? Are you listening?" to "Anyone who may be around, come here and look at me!" But it does sound different than the "Mar" sound he uses sometimes to call Daddy. (He has only used a "Da" sound a handful of times to actually refer to Daddy.) I guess that means I better start calling Mark "Daddy" around the Drew Monster.

After "uh-oh," Drew's next most often-used word is "More" (which comes out in the following way: "moe, moe, moe" and is heard during snack and meal times). We're trying to get him to say "Please" after his "moe, moe, moe," but mostly he laughs at our efforts and just repeats his demand of more.

After "more," we have a similarly repeated "Ball" that comes out more as "baho, baho, baho" and is shouted at anything remotely round that looks like it can be rolled, thrown, or kicked.

But the latest addition to Drew's vocabulary is "bye" and this is shouted very loudly and with much enthusiasm while waving anytime someone leaves the room or if he leaves someone behind in a room. He perfected this word while I was in Colorado for the DDJ.

Hopefully he'll keep adding to his oratorial repertoire at a fast pace. Two-year-olds are supposed to have a vocabulary of fifty words, if I remember all the books correctly. Otherwise they're gonna start looking for reasons why he's not gabbing away as much as is developmentally appropriate. The first thing to investigate will be his frenulum, the tendon that attaches the tongue to the floor of the mouth. If they think that's retarding his speech, then it's snippy-snippy time, and I'd rather he not experience surgery at the moment.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Excellent SF Worldbuilding Considerations

One of the reasons I both love and hate writing: you have to not only know but understand so much. This means you should be perpetually in student mode (also sponge mode, as I am fond of calling it). You need to be always up on the current research in just about any field you think will impact your writing. And if you are writing SF and Fantasy, this better be everything from economics to physics to anthropology and back again. And it's not a bad idea to understand how we as a race of sentient beings interacting with this particular macroenvironment called Earth have gotten from "Ugh" to "I totally have to IM this Paris Hilton prison meltdown YouTube video to my entire flist." And so on.

As part of that continual learning, being on the lookout for folks shooting down the past romantic views of your genre tropes should be friggin' required learning for writers as well. One of the best such essays I've seen on the topic of space colonization is by SF author Charles Stross, and if you're considering writing a space opera or some other story in which humans conquer the Final Frontier, you best be reading this. It's an excellent summary of the obstacles keeping us firmly entrenched on Earth for the forseeable future with the exception of small exploratory forays. If your fictional space opera universe doesn't somehow explain away these concerns (and there are ways to do so, ranging from the scientifically valid to the plausible to the "now you're writing a fantasy" variety), then you might want to get back into worldbuilding. Just sayin'.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Stunning Eleventh Hour Saves

The book I ranted about earlier managed to finish reasonably well even though the Big Reveal was exactly what I thought it would be content-wise, but not as dramatic genre-wise as I had assumed it would be. Meaning it was not as important to know the plot arc as it was to know the character arc and the latter third of the book made that clear and the ending was thus satisfying. Still made for an aggravating read through to that point, but not horribly so. Had I been editing the book, I probably would've asked for some sort of better intimation of that fact earlier on. It was somewhat there in that the characters privvy to the Big Secret kept getting irked with the main character when it was quite clear he had no earthly clue what was going on despite the truth being painfully obvious. But that just annoyed me more because there was no other story question for the reader to be asking that entire time. I'll have to re-read this book again at some point, see if maybe I'm just missing the story question since I obviously found it toward the end of the book.

Just in time for the end of the third season and as many staunch SG1 fans are trying to figure out if SGA will be worth their time next season, "Stargate: Atlantis" finally manages to acheive Viable Story Arc, and one that includes the wraith, even. Imagine that. Now my criticisms of the show will trend toward bemoaning the lack of subtlety and showing rather than telling in that story arc, but that's just me wanting to see the show Be All That It Can Be.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Another Birthday Bites the Dust

Today I turned 29. The day didn't start out so hot as the Drew Monster decided to wake up at 4:30 and Mark was feeling sick so I got Early Morning Boy Duty. Then Drew spent much of the day fussy because his schedule has been all bent out of shape with my travel this week. Then there was the DDJ work I had to do even though it was supposed to be my day off (and I have more work to do tomorrow, and more on Sunday...sigh).

But then I got an email from my high school buddy, Matt. His latest project be here. I've just scratched the surface of the site (it's in beta, so loading and such may be wonky--give it time, it's worth it), but my favorite so far is the "Slept Funny" video. Probably because I just got back from a stint at the DDJ. I also managed to call this illustrious and hilarious fellow for a bit today, and it's always fun catching up with him.

Also, I had managed to forget it was 'Gate Night, so I get fun first-run TV to enjoy after El Boyo Diablo is sleeping. And Mark and I exchanged birthday, half-iversary (we've been together six and a half years today), and Father's Day presents today, so we also have the "Men in Tights" DVD to watch.

And, as if the universe hadn't done enough to turn the day around, my mother stopped by with a couple of beautiful bracelets she made for me mostly out of turquoise. One of them has all these neat fetishes on it. Very cool.

So the day is winding down, and it looks to end vastly better than it began. Thus I start the first day of my last year as a twentysomething.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Annoyed Reader

I'm reading a highly acclaimed first novel by a writer who has gone on to be quite successful and keeps on getting critical acclaim. I've even read a later work by this person and enjoyed it. And while the story of this book isn't bad and is entertaining enough, I'm frustrated by how stooopid the main character is, or, by an alternate interpretation, just how stoooopid the author thinks the readers are.

Maybe the back cover copy set up the "mystery" thread of the story more than the author intended for it to be, so my reading was prejudiced to be looking for something that the author didn't want me to be hunting for at first. Or maybe I've read too many novels with this type of twist and can spot the signs damn quickly. Or maybe I'm up on my Stupid Writer Tricks and know when an author is Up To Something and can hunt around to figure out what. Or maybe I'm just on the same wavelength as this author and my reading can spot all of her foreshadowing elements and clues and knows exactly why they're there.

But the more I read, the more I keep thinking that there's gotta be something I'm missing, that while I know the "whodunnit," the real twist is in the "howdunnit" or the "whydunnit" or the "whythefrackdoesn'tsomeoneundunit." Because if I get to the end of the book and the big reveal is nothing more than the knowledge that was painfully obvious to me two chapters into the book, then I'm going to be damn pissed and wonder what the hell all those critics were smoking.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Yet Another Quick Announcement

I have finally met someone who has bigger right-left directional problems than I do.

Unfortunatley, this person was my airport shuttle driver this morning.

In the category of mixed blessings, said person was also an interstate speed racer.

Thus, I did not miss my flight despite getting on the road forty-five minutes late.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Quick Announcement

Just wanted to let you all know before I head out to Colorado for the DDJ early tomorrow morning:


That is all.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Because I Haven't Talked about Pop Culture-y Things in a While...

First, I wanted to link to two awesome and FREE short stories on the net. These stories are clearly written without being superficial and don't play tricks with narrative until the end, which allows them to be all thinky without pissing you off or keeping you from easily following the thread of the story. The second story's trick ending (and I mean "trick" more in the sense of "non-traditional" and/or "unconventional") is a bit aggravating, but it wasn't quite enough to ruin my overall enjoyment of the story. Anyway, I just wanted to share with the world that I found two enjoyable, understandable stories that I can actually grasp beyond the superficial structure and get all ponderous about without wanting to beat my head against to wall to follow the narrative thread or without reaching for a dictionary every other word.

So please go read and enjoy (for FREE!!!) "The Oracle Spoke" by Holly Phillips, published by Clarkesworld and "Far Side of the Moon" by Ruth Nestvold, published by Ideomancer. I'm not quite up on award eligibility, but seeing as how I'm definitely going to WorldCon 2008 in Denver (Denvention3), and seeing as how the "penis-heavy" Hugo ballot for this year did piss me off and make me want to Do Something, I'm starting an award nomination list with these two stories and will be on the lookout for more.

Second, I've been long irked with the "Stargate: Atlantis" folks for dodging really juicy conflict for their heroes because it involves some moral ambiguity and for forgetting their own character supertalents. Last night they finally revisited Teyla's Wraith-sensing abilities, though I think they could've done better things with it to make both Teyla, the Wraith Queen, and the story richer by getting, once again, deeper into the conflict of what was going on. Still, it was nice to have them finally get back to that after a few times that they ignored it to create a story that wouldn't have worked had they acknowledged it.

And the promo for next week indicates that, thank all that is Good and Holy, they are revisiting the Michael character. They really need to keep him around as a focus for their fight against the Wraith as he represents something that the heroes did that wasn't too kosher and the Atlantis team should not be allowed to dodge that conflict any longer.

One thing I've realized during this season of SGA, though, is that this show does very well with standalones. That seems to be where the characters and writing shine. I have yet to see a story arc well done on this show. I'm hoping Michael will rectify this.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Process Examination #1: Notebooking

I've been working on THUMB and analyzing my writing process for only ten days and already I've realized so much about how I write. It's really been an amazing experience.

First of all, I have trusted my brain far too much to retain information, especially in the pre-writing stage. I do a lot of mental brainstorming on plots and characters and theme and, if I wrote anything down in the past, I only recorded the end results. I never recorded my thought processes or the crazy alternatives I considered and discarded in my brainstorming sessions. It's amazing how much more grounded in my work in progress I feel by documenting all the gonzo twists and turns of my thoughts in these initial stages of writing. Also, I can review where I've been so much easier and get back into the flow of the project that much faster.

Secondly, there are a few key things that I can do first thing in pre-writing any project. (Well, first thing after I freewrite the initial idea for a scene or two and let it stew for a bit.) These are basically ripped from He Wrote, She Wrote and manipulated into my own sense of order.

  • Jot down my idea in one sentence (One Sentence Idea)

  • Identify clearly my protagonsit and antagonist (or at least identify their roles)

  • Sketch out the central conflict, refine until the conflict is the protag and antag pushing directly against each other (Conflict Box; I find that I do a lot of backstory and worldbuilding in this step as I extrapolate motivations and goals from my one sentence idea and the roles of my protag and antag)

  • Attempt a four act structure plot outline (following the KISS method and just trying to see how conflict and action can arc form where the protag and antag are at the beginning; usually I have some sense of the overall outcome of the conflict box from my freewriting and idea percolation)

  • Find where four act structure doesn't quite jive and start asking questions: does the outline fall flat because there's no undercurrent of theme to hang it on? does the outline fall flat because I'm trying to force events rather than have them grow organically from the story?

  • Thirdly, all of this has to be done in a notebook, it seems. Every time in the past ten days that I've sat down with software to try and organize or record the results of this above process, my brain goes blank. But every time I sat down with my notebook for THUMB, the ideas just flew. I could also make connections better, see where they were coming from and where they could go. Also, I've been able to write down anything that comes into my brain in the notebook, not caring if it wasn't going to take me anywhere or not. With software, apparently I use the ease of editing to try and create something beyond first draft brain purge as I'm first typing. It leads to reverting again to keeping my thoughts all tied up in my mind and only writing down the end result and feeling less connected with the world I'm building. (However, I have already learned that I need to eventually organize the final decisions into some sort of easily accessible and readable software. Flipping through a notebook to find that one plot point or character note is not conducive to productivity.)

    Finally, in being aware of the hows and whys of my writing process, I've been able to get to the point faster. I'm more in tune with my muse and the logic behind her ways. I was able to home in on a major logic problem in my broadly defined plot almost immediately. Then I was able to get to the crux of ways to sidestep the problem. After that, I knew exactly what strengths and weaknesses to look for in those methods and could chart out better how the solution would fit into the meshwork of the novel.

    This will lead into my next process examination post: research.