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Posts Tagged ‘novel’

Prison Break

Or: How I learned to stop worrying and love disaster.

Last week I got to a point one day where I was just done writing.  Nothing seemed to be working and I was ready to go on vacation again.  So I quit for the day and booted up the xbox and ended up browsing Netflix.  Where I saw that all the seasons of Prison Break were on instant play.  Now, when it was on, I’d never watched this show.  I like some of the actors in it, however, and had heard good things about the first season at least, so I figured I’d just watch an episode or two.  Then I figured the premise would run dry, so I’d just watch the first season.  But I wanted to find out what happened ultimately, so I went to the fourth season and watched the last few episodes of that, too.

Then I got to the end of season 1 and really wanted to see what happened next, even though I know that in the end they are just going to kill off my favorite character.  I know what happens. But I’m still watching.  Each episode I try to tell myself that will be the last one.  But it is like crack. Just one more hit. Then I need one more. And one more.  I sit in front of the show looking for a place to stop watching, a reason to quit.

How is this relevant to writing? Because I’m learning a ton about pacing watching this show.  I want to write books people can’t put down (who doesn’t?).  This show, which I’m not even sure I like that much, won’t let me put it down.  Each episode there are clear goals followed by disaster after disaster.  Nothing goes exactly right, even when the characters are getting what they want.  That’s good.  I mean, I know the end, I know that as a viewer I hate the choices they make at the very end, and I STILL get sucked in by the episode by episode issues.  Scene by scene they won’t let me stop watching.  Partially because the characters are pretty awesomely done, partially because the pacing never lets up.  There just isn’t a good quitting place.

It’s been a good learning experience.  I’m currently working on what I hope is a thriller, and pacing is a big issue for me.  I have issues with putting the torch to the characters at every turn, because writing characters into disaster after disaster just seems mean and it can be really hard to figure out a way to get them out of one situation while keeping the pressure on.  But watching Prison Break, I’m learning how to do that.  I think I understand the try/fail cycle now better than I ever have before, because it is so baldly laid out with no coating in that show.  The very structure of that show is try/fail.  And it works.

So I have a new trick to try in my fiction.  I’ve already started practicing it in the current story I was stuck on.  Instead of having her leave the cabin and nearly get away from the bad guy, she’s going to get stuck in the one place she really shouldn’t be, so that when he returns she’s already cornered.  So far that scene is now working way way better than I had originally envisioned it.  I’m enjoying the process again.  So thanks, Prison Break.  And damn that show. I will stop watching. Soon. Really.  Just one more episode. Or not.

Chwedl Status: DONE

I intend to write up a nice long and thoughtful post about the process of writing this novel.

Since I just finished it in one marathon session, I think that post can wait.


Done.  Too short, probably a hideous mess that no one will ever want to read, but done.  Done.

Hey, there’s a reason they call it a rough draft, and that editing was invented.

But hey. Done.

Another Tiny Update

Rejection number 10 (form letter) came in yesterday.  Time to send that story out somewhere else.

On the “dancing, not quite from rooftops” level of awesome, I queried about another story that had been in the ether fora  couple months and found that they’re holding it for consideration/second opinions.  I’m going to interpret this is a win, even if they don’t take the story.  It means I’m getting past the first glance, which is a mark of improvement.  Go me.

I have an edit of that story also, so I responded thanking them for letting me know where I stood and offered up the edit if they’d like to see it.  I like both versions (one is cleaner since more eyes went over it) but who knows what they’ll want? Anyway, I’m psyched that I’m at least being considered.

Meanwhile, I’m working on the novella which will never sell.  Seriously, who buys fantasy novellas?  I’m going to try to keep it under 17k words so I can at least enter it in the ‘Writers of the Future’ contest.  I just finished Ken Rand’s (may he RIP) “Ten Percent Solution” and intend to put his ideas into practice to reduce the draft of the novella to as short as I can get it without hurting the story.

Then I need to type up Sparks and finish it.  I know where the story is going now, and the logistics of the fort.  All that I need to do is add some kick ass fighting and I’ll have story.  I really like the concept, but I’m not too sure I can write good fights.  I think I’ll enlist my husband to help me keep things realistic while still awesome.  There’s always a balance in fight scenes between cinematic kick-ass and “he did what with that sword?”

After Sparks and A Prince Called Courage are finished, I swear I’m going back to Chwedl.  I haven’t added a single new word to the novel in months (though I did do a bit of editing of the first 60k words).  Time to finish that baby so I can move on to finishing my Albetross (ie Casimir Hypogean).

All right.  Back to work on Novella that Won’t Sell.

First Term and Future Plans

Heh, wordpress looks strange again. Grr.

Anyway, I survived first term of graduate school.  It was underwhelming.  Hopefully next term will go better.

I’ve decided to attend a couple of cons (specifically geared towards spec fic/writing/etc…).  The deadline for the workshops for the first con I’m going to is the 14th of this month, so I’d better get my ass in gear.  I think I’ll send them Bladebearer because it’s a complex little story and has some weird problems I could use perspective on.  You can send two pieces, so I’m tempted to send in the first 3 chapters of Casimir Hypogean.  I still hate that novel, but maybe feedback on it would somehow make the path clearer.  Or at least give me a few better ideas of what is going so wrong with the whole thing.  I’d have to write up a synopsis, however, which could prove problematic since I’ve never written one.  It’d be a learning experience.  Well, we’ll see how far I get this week.  Otherwise I’ll send Monsters as my second piece.

The second con is World Con, which is in Montreal this year.  I’ve always wanted to go to Montreal, and I think Chwedl will be in at least polished draft form by then and (cross fingers?) ready for agent hunting, so it’ll give me something to really peddle around at the con.  Plus the panels should be informative and I’ll get to vote for the Hugo winners.  Which means my summer will be full of reading the nominated books, never a bad thing.

I’m also, this month, polishing Space Bones and Delilah for my application to Clarion West.  I’m terrified I won’t get in and I’m terrified I will.  It’s like a perfect lose lose situation.  But really, I want to go.  I think it would be fantastic and horrifying and awesome all at once.  Besides, then I could stalk EBear in person (note, this is a joke, unless you consider reading someone’s lj stalking…).  I’m just jealous that she has a cat. Seriously.  Stupid renting with no pets rule.    Moving on…  I think that the two aforementioned stories have the best shot of showing how I write.  They’re  also now the most polished of my spec lit pieces and Delilah is still one of my favorite things I’ve written ever.  It might be a risk considering the very Christian overtones and the linear inevitability of the plot, but I hope that the characters and stylistic tones will override that and punish the reader with its awesomeness.  Seriously, I like that story.  And Space Bones has grown on me.  I wrote it mostly for the title at first, but after about four drafts I finally feel a connection to what is going on in the story and to the characters.  Hopefully this will all translate into the Clarion peeps thinking I’m whatever they’re looking for.

By the end of December I hope to have the draft of Chwedl complete.  Then comes the editing and pain, but I already see things I can do to help it along.  This novel, to repeat myself, is nothing like Casimir Hypogean.  It’s such a breeze to write and the language flows nicely instead of feeling forced and choppy as all hell.  I wonder if I haven’t written the world of Casimir Hypogean too bleak, its characters too unsympathetic.  After all, why should a reader care about chars who hardly care about themselves?  It’s a strange dilemna.  More reason probably for why I should edit up those first 3 chapters of the rewrite and send them off for critique.  Maybe the novel is dead and I’m still pining for a ghost of a thing that shouldn’t be.  It’s hard to tell such from my close perspective.

NaNo Update Week 1

I’ve written just over 19,000 words and have six chapters done.

This novel, for whatever reason, is proving hella easy to write.  The characters are talking to me, the setting is coming together, the plot is all there.

I think this is due in part because compared to the setting and many-layered plot of Casimir Hypogean, Chwedl is a simple creature when it comes down to it.  Instead of having to bring together a city-wide conspiracy and a hodgepodge group of misfits and criminals in a quasi-scientific setting that also has some magic with very subtle rules, I only have three main protagonists and bringing them together and figuring out the motivations is blissfully simple.  There is no villain to build up and motivate, no betrayals to figure out how to realistically manufacture, no complex setting built from whole cloth.

Chwedl starts at point A and goes to point B.  The villain, such as she is, isn’t really evil or much of a villain.  She’s selfish, sure, and just kind of cruel in a way that is Other.  The struggles are mostly between personalities.  No gunfights, no highrise escapes, no twisted sex or weird drug addiction.  Just good old Welsh-esque fairytale fun.  (Okay, it is one of my stories, so there is of course blood, death, and some very implied sex).  I don’t think anyone gets murdered in this story, however.  That’s probably a first for me.

I’ve already added to and moved away from my original outline.  I see outlines as being much like the Pirate Code.  They’re more like guidelines really, not set in stone “this is how the story will unfold no matter what damnit” sort of things.  I add and destroy and fix as needed, though I try to keep some version of an outline current so that if I have the rare brilliant idea about where the later story bits are going I can refer to it later.

Stay tuned for week 2 in which I’ll probably ramble about the challenges of the great swampy middle and writing a plausible romantic thread into a story.

On National Novel Writing Month

I’m taking a 1credit course that involves just doing NaNo.  Yes, I’m getting a graduate credit towards my MA degree for this.  Ah, motivation.

There are many conflicting opinions about Nanowrimo.  Some feel it is the only way they will ever get a novel done.  Some think that it encourages bad writing and misleads people into thinking they’ve got something publishable at the end of the 30 days.  Some feel even more strongly negative than that.  Most, however, that I’ve run into feel it is a fun challenge.  A way to turn off the inner editor and get to work.

I’m not sure what camp I’m in exactly.  Would I do NaNo if it wasn’t on a dare (how I ended up doing it the first time) or for course credit?  Maybe, but probably not.  From my last experience, you get the first part of a very very rough draft, at best, out of the whole thing.  This NaNo I’m trying to make it at least a full first draft by doubling the word requirements from 50k to 100k.  50k is just a really long novella to me.

I’ve got the first chapter.  About 2200 words and counting now.  I want 5k by the end of the weekend and then hopefully I can make Mon/Wed/Fri 8-10k word days because T/Th I have class.

Will I have a novel at the end? Sort of.  I hope to have something I can work with as a rough draft.  Will it be a pleasant read? Likely not, though I don’t engage in any of the random filler dares that people play with during NaNo a great deal it seems.  I hope to have a few interesting characters and a somewhat coherent plot.

Anyway, I’ll update here as progress happens.  And good luck to anyone else engaging in the insanity.  Remember, it is supposed to be silly and fun.

In Our Darkest Hour

I’m stuck on Casimir Hypogean.  Not like before, either.  Truly and fubar sort of stuck.   I’m not enjoying the slog, I don’t like what I do manage to get done, and the whole project is sinking my mood.

I find that the most effective of epiphanies are usually the things that seem stupidly obvious in retrospect.  Those head-slapping moments of “why the hell didn’t I think of that weeks ago?”

I didn’t think of it weeks ago.  In fact, I’m not sure I thought of it at all.  The solution stumbled upon me more or less by accident.

I don’t have a deadline with this novel.  Just because it was the first novel rough draft I’ve ever written doesn’t mean it needs to be the first final product.  There is nothing, as long as I don’t give up on it forever, preventing me from moving on and working on something I’ll enjoy.  Clearly Casimir Hypogean needs to get back burnered.  The ideas aren’t flowing like they could, the images just aren’t there.  I don’t see any need to keep forcing myself.

I have other projects.  It was one of these projects that cast the light on this path.  I was sitting here at the keyboard, grinding out another couple hundred words that I would most likely just erase tomorrow, when images came to me in my despair.  Out of the negative self-talk I love so much started to emerge a character I’d thought of over a year ago.  Someone who also is full of negative feelings about himself, someone who leaves his life up to others because he just can’t trust his own decisions.

I quit out of the novel and opened a fresh page. A couple hours and 3444 words later, and I have two chapters of whatever this story is.  I don’t think it will be novel length.  I’m guessing it will be novella at best.  I’m hoping for about 30k words, I think that will be enough to tell the story.

In some ways I’m in the infancy of my writing life.  The writing I did in grade school and high school, it was the baby steps.  I was fitting shapes into other shapes.  Now I’m a toddler, learning to walk. Learning that there is a whole huge world outside myself and figuring out how to relate to it.

I get to be a child again.  I don’t have to decide right now what works and what doesn’t.  I’m a freshman in this world.  I’m still in that stage where I can be anything.  I’m reborn, remade.

In the desperate race to get something done so I can start the submission/publishing phase of life, I’ve been ignoring the gift that is this time of being an infant, of being unknown, unvetted.  I don’t have to do one thing or the other.

I just have to write.

Seems stupidly obvious now, doesn’t it?

The First Cuts

There’s an anecdotal story about Michelangelo’s David which goes something like the artist spent 15 months just staring at the marble before he ever cut into it.

I feel that way about this novel. An awful lot of staring is going on and not so much is happening with the cutting (writing). It’s the damn plot. I’ve constructed it in a way that for the next 4-5 chapters the whole rest of the book is set up. This is the climb towards the crest of the rollercoaster. And if I go off the track now, the whole thing will fail. I want to get this right. Which means I’ve been stabbing at the same couple paragraphs for the last week and a half.

To continue the stream of unrelated and piss-poor metaphors: this is probably the writing equivalent to opening the oven door every two minutes to check on the cookies. I know I need to stop obsessing and apply word to page. Let the whole thing sort itself out later. If I break it, I break it. That’s what editing is for, right?

The only problem is that once again I’m faced with the paralyzing fear that I’ll break this draft as badly as the first one and have to rewrite the novel in its entirety again. And again. I deeply respect and admire authors who are able to run through five or six or more completely different drafts of the same novel. I really do. I’m just not sure I have the fortitude to be one of them. We all have our own styles, our own ways of writing and working. I don’t think I’m a gazillion draft writer. Or maybe I am and I haven’t accepted my fate. Who knows?

I think I’m going to just try to press on. If the novel ends up broken in a way that small scene rewrites and repairs won’t solve I think I’ll be done with this book for a while. I’ll stick it in the proverbial drawer and move on to the next novel. Lessons learned. I can’t take another rewrite, this one is hard enough. Hopefully my future first drafts won’t be quite as broken as this one was. I have a feeling writing the thing on a bet in 19 days pretty much doomed me there.

I also think my next project will be fantasy. Probably the Welsh fairytale novel. It will require minimal research and have nothing to do with science. Making the world believable and constructing the pseudo-science is one of the things slowing my current novel project down a great deal. The next novel that requires research will definitely get better research done before I write it.

Of course, the next novel that will take lots of research will likely be my thesis project. I’m hoping I can do the War Witches idea as my thesis. That novel is slowly percolating and building in my mind and would be perfect for a MA thesis. Lots of research, lots of history, lots of texture, and plenty of Important Themes to explore.

All right. Back to hacking up the stone. Which really feels a lot like trying to gnaw the David out of titanium. With my teeth.


Ego Boost

While not specifically related to writing (at least not my novel project anyway), this last weekend I attended the Penny Arcade Expo. Which is nerd-fest central. Mostly I go to nerd out with friends and learn all about the shit that is going to take all my money and consume all my writing time in the next year. (Fallout 3 being one star example).

This year, as usual, I went to the “Pitch Your Game” panel. Last year I went and laughed along with everyone else at the people brave enough to try to pitch a game to a panel of experts. In 45 seconds. Good luck.

This year was different. About 30 seconds before they started the thing, I decided to take a shot at it. I had a simple but cool game idea kicking around in my head. So I found myself standing in a long line (over 100 people pitched in the first round), my heart trying to kick its way out of my chest, thinking of how to explain my game idea in only a few seconds. This is where everything I’d been reading over the years about how to pitch a novel to an agent or editor in only a couple sentences finally paid off.

I thought to myself that if this was a novel or story instead of a game, what would I do? One sentence. It’s all I needed. A good hook that explained everything. For a novel, I’d want genre, subject, basic concept. Why would a game pitch be that different, right? So I did. Instead of genre, I’d need what platform I was going to use. Instead of subject, I’d need the idea of the game, and for concept I’d want a rough idea of game play.

“My game idea is a text-based hard-boiled noir adventure game for the Nintendo DS.”

It worked. I was through to the second round in which 30 or so of us got to answer questions about our concept. I spent the time I had in that line drafting up answers to all kinds of potential questions. They quizzed me on font (typewriter, of course), on the potential market (me?), and other things. I brought up my experience with running games of that type (I helped write/run a cyberpunk MUSH years ago that was pretty well populated). All in all, it felt somewhat like what pitching a novel to an agent in person might feel like.

And guess what? I placed third. Which is cool, hell, I’d want to play the games that beat me. (You have just one tank and you have to conquer medieval Europe, for example). I got some cool prizes (giant Cthulhu statue for example) but mostly what I got was a feeling of “holy shit, I did it.”

Not that this means all my ideas are gold and I’ll turn around tomorrow and sell a novel on spec, but hey, I survived a pitch session and stood out among the masses. I managed to take my concept and put it into a good one liner that won me some swag. I’ll cling to this tiny triumph, thank you. And come January when I have to type up that terrifying query letter and start shopping for a home for Casimir Hypogean, I can take out my shiney little nugget of ‘been there, done that’ and use what I’ve learned.

Oh, and I got to meet Wil Wheaton, again. He was exhausted and had broken ribs. I’m really impressed that he was so tolerant, all things considered. I must admit I bought his little chapbook out of support for his awesomeness more than excitement about what might be in it. However, having now read it, damn. I’m really glad he’s writing. His blog is great, but his work is even better. I can’t wait for the compilation of Star Trek TNG stuff to come out in book form.

Whew. Enough fan-girling. (He said my hair was awesome… *grin*). Back to writing.

I’ve got a month until my pseudo-deadline is up. And I’ve got 3 chapters. That only leaves about 25 chapters left to write. So, a chapter a day? Really? I have a feeling this novel isn’t getting rewritten in the next month. I’ll get as far as I can, however. Come January 1st, I’m done with it. It will be sent out. I will start the next one.

Little by Little

I’m well into chapter 3 now. The set up is going slowly. I can’t wait for this part to be over. Another three or four chapters and the plot will have taken shape. From there it will be just writing my characters running headlong into peril after peril. That part I’m looking forward to. The setup? Not as much. I’m working hard on the characterizations and descriptions. Which means I’ll likely have to cull a great deal from this in the later edits, but for now I’d rather include the kitchen sink (and its five paragraph description) than wonder what I’m missing later.

In the last week I’ve had no less than three people ask me what I’m doing for a living now. It feels awkward to say “writing” because I’m not exactly making money at it yet. If you count my editing and freelance writing work from the past, I’ve technically made money doing it, however, so it sort of counts, right? And I am writing now with the goal of publication and monies in the future. I’ve no other paid work at the moment. So I nervously answered “writing” to all of them. No one questioned it. Which probably means I should stop questioning it too.

However, my trying to write full time led to a fight with a sibling. She was in town and so I took a day off to see her. She then wanted me to take another day and drive her some places (which would have taken the whole day). I refused. Driving for hours at a time eats a lot of energy. I knew that if I did this, it would mean no writing got done that day. I’ve been working hard to make sure I spend at least a few hours everyday working on the novel. This is my job now. If I’m going to have a draft done by the time classes start, I can’t really put off writing too much. There are already many things scheduled (like PAX 2008 this weekend) that will take away writing days.

I tried to explain this to my sister. I carefully explained that I had to work. She didn’t get it. She figured I could just take whatever time I wanted since I’m unemployed. Eventually I gave up trying to explain how I wasn’t really unemployed, just self-employed (which is how I see it, despite the no incoming money yet thing). It didn’t end so well.

I have a feeling this is only the first in a line of battles to guard my time and have my writing life taken seriously to the people around me. Once I’m published, perhaps, they’ll truly understand. But I’m not sure they can, being non-writers, understand the sheer volume of work that is writing a good novel. It’s hard. It’s really fucking hard. Maybe it isn’t for everyone, but it is for me. Writing takes a great deal of mental energy and lots of time. I can spend ten hours working on something and end up with only a couple hundred usable words. And unlike most jobs where you have bosses and coworkers and such, if I don’t do the work, it doesn’t get done. No one is going to write my novel for me. The more time I spend not writing, the longer it will be until I can expect any kind of compensation. This is how it works, for me.

Little by little. I have to guard my time. Writing is my job, and as such, I have to make sure I take it seriously. I don’t want to dabble. This isn’t a hobby. I want to write for a living and the only way I know how to do it is to actually write.