EnE: Elemental Novel Experiences
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Welcome to my blog!


This blog was my online wordsmith workshop, where you'll find notes on my writing experiences, excerpts from my fantasy and science fiction novels, and essays of a more homeworld flavor.  Some of the advice therein may still be of interest to new writers so I have left it here but due to technical difficulties, I no longer post here regularly.  You can look me up on Dreamwidth, although I do not post frequently. 

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

wandering thoughts
This trip, unlike the last (to another region of snow), I did vary which story I was working on a bit. I always let my mind free associate when I'm writing (as opposed to editing and revising), especially with pen in hand, and if one story carries me close to a scene in another one, I let my writing cross over. If I've developed my characters well--at least in my mind, if not yet on paper--theyíll react differently to the same or similar circumstances, and if Iíve developed the cultures well, the similarities in the end product will be more in mood and direction than scene, set up, or character reactions and actions, so I'm usually not worried about an undo sameness to the story lines. If the characters or setting are too interchangeable, I know I have to work on their characteristics more!

In this case I found myself writing a scene from my E-ships story (ongoing on my other blog) that I didn't realize was missing until I thought of it. An issue I have probably mentioned previously was the difficulty in identifying what's missing when I write science fiction. In quest fantasy, it is often easy: the characters have to get from here to there. At minimum, some bit of narrative has to convey that voyage. If the terrain isn't offering a challenge, the personality issues, enemies, and other story elements can fill the gap. If the timing isn't right, a jump to the next interesting place combined with some narrative will get the reader there along with the characters, but somehow the gap has to be crossed and the scenes are at least framed by the journey.

In my space fiction, the same places crop up repeatedly: certain ships, certain parts of ships, and going back and forth is common, the journey is often irrelevant (though it can be used to convey the local culture, set up for action later, etc... thinking of which, a couple of exciting scenes in one of my recently completed stories would probably be helped by presenting a little more of the ship's structure earlier. Mid battle is a bad idea and at least partly avoidable-- note to self...) (that's how it goes when I story write, in case you are wondering, though I usually don't write "note to self" as the entire draft is one big note to self). Anyway, scenes going from one place in a ship to another: no biggy, and no indicator of what might be missing based on location. Therefore, the sequencing of scenes and the absence of them needs to be looked at very differently. Fewer scenes "define themselves" because the story-journey is less physical and hence harder to define in general. Conflicts have to happen, complexities have to appear and interfere with efforts of the characters to accomplish things, and eventually progress toward the ending must be made. That progress, though, is not necessarily toward the character's goals (which can change and often do, though some underlying goal will probably remain as one of the character's defining elements, even book-to-book). That leaves the sequencing more wishy-washy than the physical progress of a journey.

I suppose a timeline would be another way. the time line at least needs to be accounted for (or its absence explained through time travels or some such), but at least in my science fiction, the timeline, like the physical location, is likely to matter more (and be vastly longer) in a fantasy than my space fiction. Quest fantasy is often also epic fantasy, especially in my case. Most of my science fiction takes place over a matter of days. In the main one I'm working on just now, months and months are covered but that time is portrayed in one-to-three day blocks every month or two, with the travel being largely a science-fiction instantaneous transfer--i.e., I needed to get to different planets and the travel between just didn't matter much beyond the ability to do it. (In E-ships, it's not instantaneous, and more thoroughly explained because more happens in space and less on planets, but its essentially intended as the same phenomenon, so I suppose E-ships should come first for the reader...)

Writer's challenge: take two mostly unrelated scenes, not immediately one after the other, and try to swap them in the story.
26 jan 11 @ 6:40 pm

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

More variations
Continuing the variations, and considering how to incorporate them into the novel, I realized that some of the variations and their results were untenable with my original characters and my intended novel ending (not that I actually have one, just a flavor). Other elements helped me get toward the ending as I built more of the universe along the way. Still, the bulk of it will get used, and some modified for a better fit.

One reason I end up doing so much revision in the end, even when the scenes are what I want, is that I explain my intent as I go, add references to things that happened earlier story-wise, that I havenít yet incorporated as scenes, and otherwise help myself keep track of ideas, right in the story. Some of these comments I can leave, especially if I decide to jump ahead and then backfill what happened, either in backflashes or through hints. Usually I end up making proper scenes in sequence and deleting many of the explanations, but I notice that well established and other published writers donít always, so despite that backflashes can sometimes slow the story down, publishers donít seem to mind and nor do readers if they are done well. In this particular case, it may be a matter of incorporating that missing partial past in clips, fragmented memories, and dream sequences, as I have my character being pretty much crazy for awhile and not remembering all of what happened, shell-shock style. I played with her in POV while she was crazy, to give myself some sense of what she might have done and why, but in sequence, full scenes... I donít think so.

I also decided that she was going to be crazy, wrote a scene with her coming out of being crazy (easier when you have characters that can go in and out of each otherís minds) before I decided why she had flipped out. I wrote several versions of what might have happened before I decided what worked and also what was acceptable, recoverable (the one Iím working on isnít a tragedy and may be young adult so a hopeful ending is appropriate and dark was never the intent). It's possible to write your way out of pretty deep pits, but some things done to characters cannot be undone without time travel, making it a dream, or other tricks that go rather beyond the telepathy-empathy-space SF I've already got going. I like some meaty SF being a key element of the tale, but too many SF things... stretched the willing suspension of disbelief necessary by ven the most imaginative reader.

Writer's challenge: do bad things to your main character. Try the same bad things against a different character: what changes?
25 jan 11 @ 7:40 pm

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

new looks and story variation
I spent the last week and plus doing the hand writing thing, always a creative experience. Impressively for me, all the on the same book. I started thinking to make a "filler" scene for a gap in the story, found myself taking a different direction entirely, then decided I was earlier than I started and kept going on this new line of thought. I think it will be a whole new section of the story, and a valuable one. Partly due to the constraints of ship life and military life (my SF usually has elements of both in a dominant role), I tend to have a pattern of activity (isn't military life built on patterns and rules?), and just try to make it more intense as it goes, more troublesome, more... of the same. Doesn't work by itself. Complexity comes in when the circumstances change, the characters change the rules, the pattern breaks, and finally in this last writing week I found a way to break at least one of the major patterns, and took a much needed backwards step in "progress" (the characters need set backs or the story is as flat as the repetitive pattern). I have a lot to sort out in the section, internal "fixes" to break in order to add more complexities and work toward a climax (still missing except in a local, episodic sort of way), but still, an important step forward in the novel building that I didn't expect.

Writers Challenge: look at how you usually write and break the pattern, do something different or do something in a very different way, and see where it takes you.
19 jan 11 @ 6:24 pm

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Not quite random site visit

I went to this site mostly because I was curious how Tyler, mentioned in an article about creating your own job in the absence of hiring, made money at a blog (still not sure but Iím guessing it's through adds on the e-mails that you can sign up for). The concept--the blog is loosely focused on the idea of risk-taking as a way of life improvement--seems to be interesting, though not really for me. Iíve had plenty of what I call adventure and Iím sure itís not what he would call serious risks. Still, and one of the blog post topics was interesting (see link) so I read that one. In the end it more aggravated than convinced me to read more, both for content (or lack thereof) and for writing style.

For starters, it took too long to get to his point. It reminds me of a series of excerpts on work place leadership and work styles that I've been getting at work: it blathers on and on about why I should care, when I either decided I cared or didn't based on the title and topic blurb, before getting to the meat of the advice. This wasn't as bad as that but it was still slow enough to be annoying, partly because it was both gung ho and repetitive, partly because he seemed to have to work to get to his point. Then, when I finally got to the advice pat of the post, it was again repetitive, sometimes didn't align content with summary, and ultimately gave incomplete surface advice that misses the practicality of implementation. I don't mind that sort of thing in a blog that is about what the person himself did--we don't always do things in a practical or careful way--but straight advice should be a little more substantive.

Ultimately, the advice reminded me too much of some recent demonstrations, where people were out there to ďhave a sayĒ and didnít even know what they were demonstrating for or against. For example, he advised get up early and stay up late. Avoiding the sitcoms somehow seemed to be part of the stay up late but really, isnít that two distinct things? I suspect it is and that he was just playing with the short form of the advise to make it seem like opposites, to make it more entertaining, but it only made it less clear and less believable, to me. More importantly, itís great to have a stand, and to make it a positive message (not against something, but for a solution: he got that right), but lets not be too simplistic. Too many people already take a stand and get in the way of progress because they are so clueless about the topic they are shouting about. ďLeave your house a mess and get outside! Breath the fresh airĒ is a positive action, and one Iíd like to encourage a few people to do (he advocates converting one person at a time, which also makes some sense as far as it goes) but really, just because I do that, should I really encourage others to do so? The overzealous house cleaner who does nothing else is not the same as the collector who keep everything, including rotting food in the house. He advocates taking a stand on something every day, but I would far rather that people took a little time to find out about their platform, maybe a little every day if that's what it takes. Find out the pros and cons, implications and known (if unintended) consequences. Then advocate and persuade through shouts or whispers or whatever it takes. Instead of not cleaning in favor of outdoor time, might it be better to advocate for a clean house for healthier air? Or just advocate for cleaner air so that we arenít choking on the smog drifting in from environmentally unfriendly factories when we step outside? (We finally got better at it here and are shutting plants down in favor of shipping jobs overseas to where they have no environmental controls).

Taking a stand is a good thing, but the first step in the advice should be to research it, at last a little, and make sure you know what you are advocating. Then youíll really have something to say and have a better chance of persuading the one.
2 jan 11 @ 1:16 pm

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