Monthly Archives: July 2012

Not a Rewriter

If you ever need evidence that Kelly and I have very different brains, just read her post on rewriting from last week. I could copy it word for word and title it “Exactly the Opposite of How I Feel”.

Writing first drafts is awesome for me. I have an idea where I’m heading because I’ve started dong outlines, but even before then, the discovery was the fun part. (Doing outlines has made my first drafts less fun, but has made the books a thousand times better. And it’s the fun of discovery without the work of writing!) My words might be dreck, but the story is brilliant. My characters are fun people. And setting–that’s for draft two.

But I finish it. Then it’s time for the slog of revision.

My plot has holes that, as my high school marching band director used to say, I could drive a Mack truck through. Characters are real in my head but absolutely flat and bewildering on the page. The setting still needs to be worked out, because even if I developed it during draft 1, it will have major problems. And the style and prose and voice? Oddly, they didn’t magically fix themselves when I wasn’t looking. My novel will be broken, and I don’t know how to fix it.

I think what’s going on here is that my revision skills are several levels below where my writing skills are. And–along with patient critiquers–I can think of only one way to fix that. Well, two. This is why I started outlining: it helps me fix problems before they start. But the best solution? More practice.
Yippee.

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Gen Con 2012

Yep, one of my favorite times of the year is right around the corner.  Gen Con 2012 is going on August 16-19th in Indianapolis, IN.  It’s the event where gamers like me and thousands of our closest friends get together and take over a city for a weekend of all-night games, exhibit hall shopping sprees, tournaments, seminars, parties, cosplaying, and many many other fun things.

My schedule for the convention (subject to change) will be:

Thursday

7:00 – 8:00 p.m.   The Future of Dungeons and Dragons  – I’ve heard through the grapevine that there will be information here of particular interest to Realms fans, so I have to check it out.

8:00 – 10:00 p.m.  Candlekeep Presents: 25 Years of the Forgotten Realms  – Might be a bit late to this one because of the above, but I’ve heard that the room will be available after the event ends, so I’ll probably stick around as late as folks want to be there.  Stop by and chat about all things Realms-related.

Saturday

2:30 – 3:30 p.m.    Signing at the Foreshadows Booth #1749 – Music, art and writing come together in a dark science fiction/cyberpunk anthology!  Come see what all the excitement is about.

5:00 – 6:00 p.m.    Reading: Kelly Swails and Brad Beaulieu
– Strictly a spectator here, but I’ve got it on good authority that this Kelly Swails person does a helluva good reading.  You should really check it out and bring friends.  🙂

Sunday

12:00 – 1:00 p.m. Signing at the Foreshadows Booth #1749 – If you’re just rolling out of bed around noon the last day of the convention (like me), visit me at the Foreshadows booth for a chat and a convention recap.

I’ll be doing a few other things here and there at the convention but mostly just hanging out with friends.  My partners in crime on this blog are going to be there, and people I generally only get to see once a year, plus, the brother, the brother-in-law, and the Todd are coming over for all or part of the weekend, so needless to say, I am very excited to see everyone from near and far.  Game on!

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Hugo Packet

This Labor Day weekend, I’ll be heading up to Chicago for Chicon 7, aka WorldCon 70, aka lots of drunken spec-fic writers in a Hyatt 563.

Having plunked down my membership money, I can vote in the Hugo awards. Which means I get a Hugo packet–all the various short stories, novelettes, novellas and books that are up for a rocket trophy this year. I’ve spent a lot of time this week finishing off the stories that I hadn’t already read. Unsurprisingly, there’s some really good stuff there.

For a list of the nominees, go here.

Unfortunately, I won’t be going to the ceremony itself. I have friends that are getting married in Chicago right at that time, so I’m going to run over for that, then rush back for the post award parties. Which are a lot of fun, and usually involve terrible acts being portrayed with the aforementioned rocket trophies.

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Rewriters ‘R’ Us

I’ve had a saying for a long time: I don’t write, I rewrite. I’m not sure where I picked it up, but it stuck because it’s so damn appropriate.

Writing first drafts are like pulling teeth for me. While I’m excited to get back to the story and pick up where I left off the day before, half the time I don’t know where I’m heading. (The only thing I like doing less than first drafts is outlining, so you know … there’s that.) I feel like my words are dreck. I’m not 100% certain about the characters or their arcs, let alone their motivations. And setting–sure, I have one, but it’s a big nebulous thing that I don’t know enough about.

But I get through it. I scrap and crawl and write and delete and ignore my internal editor and write some more. I moan about how I’m not good enough to anyone who will listen and procrastinate and get back in the chair and write until I have a completed first draft. Then I get critiques on that first draft.

Then, as they say, it’s time to party.

Plot? Now that I have the entire work in front of me–and I’ve been shown where the holes are–I can make it better. Characters? Not only do they have motivations, my subconscious has shown me what their arcs should be–I just need to change a few bits in chapter four and another in sixteen to bring it together. Yes, the setting might be vague, but a sentence or two here and a cool bit of worldbuilding there and presto! That’s shaped up. Oh, and hey, look at that. the style and prose and voice isn’t bad either. Just needs a bit of tweaking. I have a whole list of issues that need attention, and it feels massive, but when I take three steps back it’s completely reasonable and not at all intimidating. My novel might be broken, but I can fix it.

For me it’s an odd mix of artistic angst and work ethic. When I’m getting the first draft down my perception is skewed–I’m not good enough, this is too ambitious, I’m not doing the story justice. Then once I have a workable draft, I can see that yes, it’s a bit rough in places, but it’s not awful. Far from it. It’s just a matter of putting in the work to make it the best I can make it right now.

I said all that to say this: the draft of my novel needs to be posted to my workshop next Tuesday. This week is all about rolling up my sleeves and tinkering with the engine. If you need me you’ll find me in my happy place.

 

 

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Tweaking Style

When I started writing my current project a few months ago, to have chapters to send to the workshop, I noticed that the prose felt too modern. Part of that was the setting–I hadn’t done a lot of research yet, so some things were too modern in places (and I still haven’t done the research, so they’re still wrong).

Research is a relatively easy thing to fix, but it’s only a small part of the problem. The more difficult part is the style. I’ve been reading too much science fiction and urban fantasy and it’s affecting the way I write. Also, most of what I’ve written recently has been science fiction, and that tone has stuck with me.

I just reread Le Guin’s essay “From Elfland to Poughkeepsie,” in which she discusses the importance of style in fantasy and attacks what she calls journalistic prose. A fantasy world, she says, is constructed entirely from the writer’s vision, so the only voice that has ever spoken there is the writer’s. (This essay makes me wonder what she thinks of urban fantasy.)

I don’t have any desire to be a master stylist–I prefer transparent prose–but secondary-world fantasy shouldn’t sound just like urban fantasy or science fiction. The bits I’ve written over the past few days have been much better in that respect because I’ve been conscious of the problem. The next step, aside from doing the research that I need to do, is to sink into some 18th century writing until it rubs off. And then keep writing in the right voice for this story until it becomes unconscious again.

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The Ocular Proof

Over the weekend, husband and I headed to Bloomington for the Illinois Shakespeare Festival production of Othello.  Thankfully, there was a wonderful break in the heat that night, so we were able to enjoy ourselves.  Seriously, I don’t know how the actors managed it this summer in the heat, but I’m so glad they do what they do because these performances are one of the highlights of my summer.

Othello is a play I had never seen, but I’ve heard it quoted time and time again, and I already knew the plot and the ending going in–this is a good opportunity to say that there are spoilers ahead and read at your own risk–so while I knew what to expect, I was most interested in how Shakespeare was going to get there.

At the beginning of the play, Shakespeare makes clear that Othello and Desdemona are smitten with each other.  After those initial joyous scenes, I found myself thinking that the bard has an uphill battle ahead of him to convince me that by the end of the play, Othello was going to kill his beloved wife.  Did I mention the spoilers?  When you’re writing a character, there is the expectation on the part of the audience that that character is going to act and react in a manner consistent with his or her personality and experience, and that when a character changes and breaks from this mold, it is a true and believable progression that brings him to it.  Othello is an honorable, loving person.  He should not become a jealous madman overnight.

He doesn’t.  And Shakespeare pulls it off beautifully.

It starts with a deception that I didn’t even realize would figure into the rest of the plot.  Desdemona and Othello have eloped, meaning that Desdemona’s father had no idea of their marriage until afterward.  Even though Othello was also guilty of the deception, it’s something Iago can use to point out to Othello that his wife is at least capable of deception, and if she is willing to deceive her father, why not him?  Also, there’s the issue of trust.  Othello trusts Iago completely, and so do most of the other characters in the play.  You could make a drinking game out of all the times the other characters call him “honest Iago.”  And Iago presents his accusations about Desdemona’s affair with Cassio with such seeming anguish–words dropped here and there, all very calculated, yet it still seems that Othello has to drag the words from him at sword point.  And though Othello demands “the ocular proof” from Iago, the seed of Othello’s downfall has already been planted.

Once that seed gets in Othello’s head, it works on him like the worst poison.  All credit to the actors portraying Othello and Iago in the scenes where Othello is physically overcome by the imagined horror of his wife’s unfaithfulness.  At this point, no words of Iago’s are as effective as Othello’s thoughts.  And the truly scary part is, haven’t we all been there at one time or another?  I’m not talking specifically about infidelity; I’m speaking in a broader sense of that little seed of doubt and fear that exists in all of our minds, that weakness or sore spot we all have that can be exacerbated when we least expect it, whether as a result of rumor, gossip, an insult real or perceived, a setback, a mistake–some event that causes us to doubt ourselves despite everything we know to the contrary.

We’ve all been in that place and recognize its worst extreme in Othello, so that by the time he gets his “proof” of Desdemona’s guilt, I’m just waiting for him to pick the time and place of her death.  It’s tragic and disturbing and at the same time I’m sitting in the audience thinking, damn, Shakespeare pulled it off again.  He made me believe.  If, as a writer, you can get people to believe in that kind of character transformation, you have my respect.

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And one other thing…

Ah, Friday. Time to kick back, sip a margarita, maybe listen to some music or read a book–

Wait. It’s Friday! I missed my turn to blog? Oh, crap.  Well, I’m totally cheating and adding my thoughts to Gary’s post.

“Writing time” is an all-encompassing term. Butt-in-chair time is extremely important, obviously–no one ever wrote a novel without it–but the butt-away-from-chair time is important too. I do a lot of what I call “back brain” thinking where I’m not necessarily consciously thinking about characters or plot or world-building or anything. The idea is sort of sitting there, simmering, mixing with whatever else is floating around my brain. Even when I think I haven’t thought of anything, when it’s time to write, something usually materializes. It’s like magic.

I perform this trick during all stages of my processes. When I get the initial idea for a story, I think about it as I’m mowing the lawn. When I’m drafting a novel, I write a few evenings in a row, then take a few days off to mull over what I’ve done and where I’m going. If I get stuck during a writing session, I pull out the knitting needles and work on a scarf. The shower is a notorious idea incubator, as is the running trail. Occupying part of your brain with a mundane task allows your writer brain to work.

Writers are always writers. Even when we’re washing the car.

 

 

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