Tuesday, November 29, 2011
piecing it together
I should do a comparison between writing and quilting. Sometimes I am aware of several similarities; today's are less helpful.
They can both make my hand ache and they can both eat up all the time I have available for them and then some.
29 nov 11 @ 9:49 pm
It took much of a day to assemble a quilt top even though most of the squares, most of them large (12 and a half inches) were
already done. (Like writing, the quilt has a theme and certain repeated design elements, in this case snowflakes with sizes
in multiples of 3 plus a half inch) but otherwise not what you'd call a real pattern. The pieces are made (about a quarter
or third of them by me, the rest by others in my quilt group including my sister and partner in the assembly), then we try
to assemble them in an order that seems to fit; in quilting more than story writing, probably only the two of us will ever
see the reason for the sequence. The pieces form something of a picture but it's more abstract than any story, just like
my afghans. In those and most of my quilts, the color palate, the stitches, the size all more hide than expose the picture
I'm trying to create but I like to think that my having a picture in mind makes the seeming random results more pleasing to
the eye (or at least different in a meaningful way) than a truly random color scheme would be.
Come to think of it, some of my story building is a little like that last. I know I rarely convey my full vision of a given
character, built in the course of writing scenes out of sequence and sometimes for multiple stories, and I have a stack of
little pieces that I intend to help convey that image when I finally put the story together. Eventually I put that stack
somewhere in the story in a way that makes sense to me, but I suspect that many of the elements go unnoticed consciously,
and certainly why they are where they are would probably not be apparent to even another author since I couldn't really explain
a logic sequence behind it. Still, in the end I know that my having that vision of the character helps build the character
and the story into something people might like to read.
Writer's challenge: do something creative or colorful in any medium except pen.
Saturday, November 26, 2011
One of the things I know I should do more is follow what other people are writing. Ideally, that would include reading lots
of books, but it helps just to read blogs and other, brief writings when time is limited, so periodically I do another search
for blogs and sites of interest. This time, on a recommendations from the newspaper or maybe Reader's Digest, I used blekko.com
instead of Google. It did prove helpful, though more so with writing than when I did a similar search for cooking blogs.
The latter brought up all kinds of trash that had nothing to do with food or cooking. Another time I'll try it for something
more specific, like cranberry recipes, and see if it does better.
26 nov 11 @ 12:49 pm
I did find some good writing blogs, though. Here are the ones I thought looked most interesting and helpful:
http://wordplay-kmweiland.blogspot.com - don't let the videos throw you. In case you don't have the capacity for videos,
the transcription is provided.
http://writetodone.com - is currently running a contest and asking for nominations for your favorite blog on writing (last
year's list is where some of these recommendations are coming from though I didn't think much of some of the other "top
http://muffin.wow-womenonwriting.com - says it's intended for women writers but it's more that the authors are women; they
provide writing advice that is good for everyone
Writers challenge: check out these sites and suggest some of your own favorites.
Friday, November 25, 2011
It took me about half the month to figure out what people were talking about regarding a bunch of letters strung together
(NaNoWriMo or something). I'm still not sure what it stands for - Something November Write Mor more, butI gather that what
it really means is a challenge to write more all of November, maybe even a whole book, maybe some set or self-initiated goal
of a large number of words. I saw it repeatedly on Write Anything and thought it had something to do with that but it seems
to be a bigger thing than that.
25 nov 11 @ 9:29 pm
It's not a bad idea, just badly timed. If there is any time in the year that I have less time, it's November into early December,
and sometimes all through December. Now January I might challenge myself to write more, maybe a newish book more or less
all the way through (though it will be crap until I write it over again, possibly in the process of putting it into the computer).
It's useful altogether to set goals, though I myself have never figured out how to direct it toward a number of words. A
number of scenes, maybe, some specific scenes for an established book. I tried writing a book to a self-defined spec once.
It still has only two scenes and some characters I don't like.
I might try the spec story (intended as more near-contemporary science fiction with no aliens, but I think I'm going to have
to conceptualize it as something else, then translate it into that afterwards to get my writing and vision and voice to align
with what I think might sell better. And frankly I'm still not sure writing to sell will work. Even a fiction writer has
to convey a certain essential truth, and finding our own unique style has the best hope for real success anyway. Getting
an agent or publisher to recognise that it's the right unique thing... that the writer has no control over anyway.
Writer's challenge: write a holiday letter to everyone you know.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
writing other things and voice
Voice is one of those elements of writing that I can't really define, barely comprehend, and don't think you can "find"
on purpose. A lot of the time, I think its a result: of writing, of attitude, of how we imagine our characters speaking as
a whole community. Some of my teachers have assumed that I read my material aloud. I sometimes to when they start to get
to be a coherent story - I have a couple of appreciative listeners in the family, especially on long car rides. Mostly I
subvocalize. It helps develop a voice, perhaps: how we speak, especially to tell stories, is often a good way to write.
22 nov 11 @ 10:00 pm
I wonder, though, how it impacts our ability to adjust to a younger or older audience, to find not just "our voice"--consistency
is important through the course of at least one book, even if a different book or series has a different voice--but I wonder
sometimes how we can tell its the RIGHT voice. I was particularly aware of that conundrum after i got a recommendation to
an agent and I still got a generic rejection letter on my three-chapter submission. Was the story really that problematic?
(I've bought worse in the book stores). Other people seem to like those characters. What if the voice was the problem and
it just isn't what agents and publishers are looking for? It's probably the hardest thing to give feedback on. How do you
I love to write. I'll keep writing no matter if I get a proper chance to distribute the results or not, but the more I write,
the more I understand something I was told long ago- there are a lot of really good writers out there, but few of them get
published. What I didn't realize that it wasn't about being the best of the best. It was about the right people likeing
their work and seeing some potential in it for hitting the fancy of a particular audience. And it was about finding publishers
who thought our audience was the audience worth reaching for their purposes. These days, as movies become bigger but fewer,
and as publishers of fiction books seek THAT audience, getting published the old ways is only going to get harder. Power
law distribution: not more famous books and movies and all, depsite all the potential for increased publication (paid and
unpaid, online and off): just more fame for the top ones that make it.
Writer's challenge: Read the ending of a story (where most drafts have the best stuff and the most established voice; even
if you write as nonlinear as I do). Then read the beginning.
Saturday, November 19, 2011
Skeins of plot
I think two of my biggest challenges with writing stories are that my thoughts and images never quite make it into words the
first couple of times and I always struggle with effectively incorporating side plots in such a way that they add rather than
detract from the main story. Ideally, important plot elements should come out of the side, present, warned, but still in
a position to surprise the characters and the reader together.
19 nov 11 @ 3:06 pm
I've bee crocheting an afghan with something of a scene - a loose, impressionistic scene, but still kind of non symetrical
chunks of color. The best way I've found to do so is to leave the skeins tied into the afghan rather than constantly cutting
and tying, cutting and tying several times per row. it takes a bit of concentration to loop in the next color without losing
tension, but it goes quicker and smoother than shifting to a scissors repeatedly. I've got about six skeins, two of them
the same color, going right now, which is pretty close to the maximum my couch and concentration can handle. Stories probably
need three or four, can handle more, but six or seven seems inevitably to require that a single story line requires multiple
books without any sense of ending, and usually bounces so much with such long gaps between several main characters that I
will often give up on the book before I finish the first one.
Consider Lord of the Rings. Most of the time, the reader is following the central characters in no more than a couple of
places at a time. I think in the last book, four different locations are involved for awhile, and maybe five but only long
enough to bring together a different combination of players (Faramir re-engaging with Gandolf and meeting Pippen). Even that
one is three books for one continuous story, with very little concluded in any sense between volumes. Most successful series
these days solfve at least one key problem even if many threads are left hanging. Also, two many threads and the main story
can get lost. In the end, all the pieces need to feed into and support a single, if complex, story.
My own difficulty is that I will focus on the one to the exclusion of the rest and miss many opportunities to enrich the story,
surprise the reader, and develop a complex, interesting plot line. The best way I've found is to write some of the side plots
separately and then fit them into the book, but it can still be quite the tick to make them feed the main story. I figure,
if they don't change the course of events when I fit them in, they've probably failed. If the story shifts, some scene becomes
more difficult to write, then I'm at least on the right track.
Writer's challenge: can you identify a sub plot in your story? How does it impact the main plot? Will shifting the timing
allow it to get in the way of the main plot? Move it to where it interferes the most.
Thursday, November 17, 2011
A friend has joined me online!
A friend of mine is now online, however reluctantly. She's one of those people who never needed advice on writing. She did
it well from the start and even gets humor, the hardest stuff to write on purpose, RIGHT. Her main interest is historical
fiction, but her new blog has great advice for historical fiction writers too: http://historicalfictionresearch.blogspot.com/
17 nov 11 @ 2:27 pm
What she's published so far, though, is mostly contempoary fantasy. You can find her newest pieces at:
https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/105544 - a must read for anyone who has ever overpacked or overshopped on their travels
https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/105546 for anyone who has ever tried or considered trying to get published
and both for anyone who likes humor or fantasy or both.
Writing just cuz
It's my day off and for once I have some energy (the last couple long weekends, I've been fighting off colds and alergies
and lacked much energy) which is good because I have about a thousand things I'd like to be doing. I'm doing about three
now, four when the cat gets my attention. I'm making pasta for a cold salad for a potluck, drying bread (the stores don't
seem to carry plain old breadcrumbs anymore and the flavored ones have more salt than a salt lick), writing, and thinking
about five different things I'd like to also be writing if could do them all at once. Besides half listing to whatever's
on t.v. and getting up and down for the cat.
17 nov 11 @ 12:08 pm
The holidays always bring lots to do including more shopping and cooking and decorating and other preparations, and such business
seems to stimulate my desire to write while taking away the focus I sometimes have for working on a single story for awhile.
Instead of one novel, I'm revising one, typing and resequencing lots of rough scenes for another, and trying to write another.
I'm also typing up recipes and composing cooking tips as i cook, considering advice for budgeting as a I shop, and considering
a dozen options for how to fix my stories. My little notebook gets full fast and my head spins until I get a chance to write
it down (and in the case of some things, post them to this or my other blogs or to facebook pages).
One of the things I'm experimenting with is turning a fairly romantic story into a specifically Christian Science Fiction.
I don't normally write religious stuff so I don't know if it will work. I have Christian characters and write stories that
Christians should be comfortable reading (the main characters are not pagans and freewheeling sinners aren't rewarded, among
other things) but that's typically not enough for Christian Science Fiction, which calls for religious lessons as well as
themes along the way.
It's actually working better than I expected and adds another dimension to the array of characters because the process reminds
me that some characters can be more openly religious than others, express stronger awareness of values than others, through
such simple additions as a suggestion to pray before or after troubles, before a meal, or to seek calm amidst the chaos of
their adventures. Other characters on the same side might share similar values but never refer to them, never express them
openly, and might remain more causal in their language (my science fiction characters usually swear by referencing dangerous
space phenomenon or other terms and phrases rather than the words we would recognize as explicatives, but some characters
still use them more than others). The process also reminds me to consider whether characters should be married, either to
each other or to characters off stage, and how that might affect their behavior. I may not get it all the way to being a
lesson-conveying Christian Science Fiction story that publishers of that subgenre would accept, but I think it will be a better
story for the effort.
Writer's challenge: There are many facets that make up a character: temper, attitudes, religion, race, career, hobbies, habits,
wealth, family. Review your novel characters: are enough of these facets accounted for? Add a phrase or adjust a behavior
to bring them in.
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Where the audience is
According to my con notes, the opinion of several speakers was that the audience for science fiction and fantasy may be in
Europe and Asia. China with an up-and-coming interest in science has a powerful interest in science fiction to go with.
(though the young are content with things that blow up). In Europe and UK, the reason is different. They aren't as anti-genre
fiction as American readers tend to be, so also not as anti Science Fiction, in contrast to America where real science fiction
(to differentiate from horror and alternative history and a few others, and sometimes even those), are considered the realm
of extreme geeks by some, instead of pop fiction as it is treated elsewhere.
15 nov 11 @ 9:00 pm
Some of the trends reported include:
Latin America - deep, thoughtful stuff reflecting social commentary or criticism, regardlsss of genre
Europe - science and eco-world
Everywhere - dystopias are in (post apocalypse? other things?)
UK - at least tolerates humor, which American readers don't seem to for SF and fantasy
Dystopia's are especially popular among teens. Space fiction might still work with due consideration that the current trend
seems to be toward commercial uses of space, rather than government (look at the adventures of Pip and Flinx and all those
In America, the Young Adult audience may be more tolerant, caring more about the promise of entertainment value (things blowing
up, etc). However, they are constantly shown the old classic at school, not even the light exposure to science fiction that
the older generations were given at school. In the old, more flexible, school systems of the late 20th C, anti-utopians,
space fiction, distopians were as likely or more likelt to appear in the reading list than 19th C classics. Now the classics
are back and exposure to any of the genres decreased. they are being piled with classics.
Yet science fiction and fantasy still have a place in pop culture, and maybe will become more tolerated again. SF appears
in the most unlikely places, these days, including political cartoons. All the basic science fiction concepts are floating
around, including in the wiki page for orbital mechanics, and SF are some of the most popular movies produced, if never more
than one in a season.
The other potential big audiences may be in other genres. Books that cross genre's have become more popular than in the past
and some might get two covers (and two titles), sell in two different parts of the book store. Romance is a particularly
cross-genre category, with fantasy, science fiction, and especially historical fiction. Which department they land in, in
that case depends how much of the story is romance. Any story can (maybe should) have a little romance, but a true romance
should be at least 50 about the relationship between the two main characters. If much less, it should probably be on the
other genre's shelves.
I've played a little with romance and other styles, but it never lands as more than a support, a way to enrich my core genres.
A little play in themes, tropes, styles from other genres an enrich a story, but that doesn't make it the other genre.
Writer's challenge: pick up a book from another genre or read a few reviews. Might your story fit?
Friday, November 11, 2011
link to Fiction Friday
11 nov 11 @ 9:59 pm
http://enexplorations.blogspot.com/ I posted a story entry for Fiction Friday this week. It's been awhile but the prompt
was general enough this time for me to come up with something. For awhile, they were just too specific and nothing I could
think of a good story for. I like participating when I can, though. Impromptu writing is a great writing exercise. It was
new to me a few years ago, when I participated in a formal writing class. The teacher knew I had a fair amount of experience
writing and expected me to come up with something coherent during a free write but I had to tell him not. I hardiy knew what
to do except random thoughts like a diary entry about being asked to write on the spot. But a couple of those and hearing
the quicky scenes and stories that other people wrote, and then free writes with prompts at workshops, were enough to get
my mind functioning in such a way that I could write something coherent quickly, and I think my writing improved as a result.
It encourages free flowing ideas, but it also encourages capturing those ideas somewhat coherently, with some sense of writing
style along the way. My first drafts were still first drafts, but they were better and required less beginner-level editing
and eventually I got a hint of what it might be like to write something end to end and have a semi coherent draft at the end.
I still can't write a novel that way, but I can sometimes get a more coherent chapter, or a novel-like second draft.
11 nov 11 @ 9:50 pm
On some chats, I've seen writer's talk about how amny words they managed to write as part of some challenge, often an hour
or two or perhaps over the course of the week. When I first saw it I found it a funny thing to brag about, and wondered if
it meant anything at all. Bu tin retrospect I realized that they were basically writing straight through a story or novel
section, and the number of words was as close as they could capture to progress on a first draft: they managed to keep writing,
or they had to stop and think about what came next or rewrite, meaning less kept new words as a result. Not exactly a freewrite,
but first draft writing on demand.
Writer's challenge: write something for one of the current or past Fiction Friday prompts, even if it isn't Friday when you
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
I'm back from a long weekend away. I've been more or less constantly revising and polishing when I wasn't driving or doing
other stuff like hauling wood. Part of that included taking notes and ideas and observations and putting them into scenes.
In the paper version, I'm as likely as not to add a sheet to the pile in the appropriate place. When the min story's in
the computer, it's easier and harder. If I don't want to stick it in the first place I put it, cut and paste is relatively
easy. If I'm not sure where to put it or have several places (like a note on a speech style) to put it, it becomes a little
harder. I can flip through pages easier than I can scan a large computer file. Find functions help if I can recall likely
phrases and terms but it's not quick and kind of pot luck since I purposely vary terms used.
8 nov 11 @ 9:58 pm
I'll quite often find that they are scenes I've already written several times, but very time I come across an old version
of try a new one, I check it against what I currently have. I often find that I like an alternative turn of phrase and sometimes
I can use part to enhance the current version, but as often it's the wrong POV or doesn't fit other aspects of the scene that
I hadn't recalled.
Notes on dialog and speech patterns are the hardest. They typically only apply under particular circumstances or dialog topics
(a businessman phrasing values in terms of cost-benefit, profit-loss, for example), particular words or phrase structures
(contractions, lisps, nervous stutters or accents expressed through particular letters). A tendency to be repetitive is more
generally applicable, more sophisticated speech patterns may require more sophisticated topics than the story readily offers.
Occasionally a story and the characters in it can both be enriched by adding the scenes that let certain characteristics
come out more effectively but somehow it has to matter to the story or at minimum give the reader a better picture of the
characters, settings, and culture in such a way that it help's readers understanding of the ending, otherwise it's probably
not worth the addition.
Writer's challenge: take the little notes from your carry-along notebook and ask yourself, is this something that applies
to more than one story? more than one scene in a story? What speech patern would strengthen a character's character?
Thursday, November 3, 2011
conference coninued and other notes
The holiday preps have started, the end of year approaches rapidly and I feel like I'm doing everything with a sense of rush
and hurry. I can get quite a lot done in that state, more of the practical than the creative, mostly - lots of typing up
neglected story notes, less of writing, though I've done a bit of scroll work (illumination of borders for sheets that will
become personalized award scrolls) and a bit more crochet for a charity craft sale as creative endeavors.
3 nov 11 @ 8:20 pm
I keep plugging away at my stories, mostly the science fiction ones lately because I have two series of fantasies waiting
for me to get my act together regarding sending them to every publisher and agent I can find. But they make rocky progress
as much because of my concerns about a potential audience as problems with the story lines or characters. I like the stories
and characters, but it become clear to me that that's not enough by itself, not if I want to be published properly and sell
enough to make some money for the effort. I need an audience and I'm not sure if there is one for the type of science fiction
I write (space fiction and aliens).
The conference notes i have indicated speakers were upbeat; successes in any genre help the genre as a whole. however, their
examples of science fiction successes weren't science fiction at all in my view (more like horror and some clearly fantasy
with a token scientific explanation for the magic swords and such). Such successes change current day readers' view of what
the genre is, and that's fine in its way. The readers who will like it will find it and the writers who like it will succeed,
but I am left feeling not only that my own writing isn't heading in the same way, but that the next generation is missing
something that they would enjoy both because it is hidden under a label that no longer applies, but because publishers don't
see the potential for a different audience.
These days, Fringe seems to have the closest to some of the classic science fiction themes (I saw a preview for an upcoming
shape changer episode and had flash backs to Deep Space 9). Yet the setting is so different, so contemporary, that it's hard
to tell sometimes that it's science fiction or spies. I can't watch it for more than a few minutes, myself, since it seems
to be one of those where if you miss an episode, it becomes impossible to figure out what's going on without watching a bunch
more episodes. Not my thing for tv. I want to be done with a story line in an episode or two--without being done with the
characters. We write what we like, or at least try to write what we like, and hope that we aren't so far outside the norm
when we succeed that we still can't sell.
Writer's challenge: Read something outside your usual genre. What was emphaisized? What did you find most interesting?
Are there elements of it that might enrich one of your own stories?