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Hitting the Sweet Spot 1

Writing, much to my dismay, is an ongoing process of figuring out what works, doing that for a while until everything breaks and then figuring it out all over again. I am always poking around writing advice blogs to read about other peoples’ processes, and whenever my current battle plan goes sideways I’ll try out some of what works for others. Recently I’ve been ruminating a lot on the idea of daily word counts. Having a daily word count is one of the methods that works more or less often for me, especially when I have a longer project, but I’m starting to realize that my approach to daily word counts is a little bit, shall we say, unconventional.

Most of the advice I’ve found makes your daily word count into a goal. You have a daily goal, that’s what you hit come hell or high water, and forcing yourself to meet your goal is the only reason the words come out some days.

Hilariously, this does not work as intended for me, because setting even a reasonable goal has the unfortunate side effect of making my brain fluctuate between three states: the ‘I have not hit the goal today, I have failed, I am a failure’ state, the ‘I’m going to not hit the goal out of spite, because I don’t take orders from arbitrary self-expectations’ state, and the ‘I will hit this goal if it kills me and it might’ state.

I do not do well with high daily word goals.

When I use a daily word count, it’s actually a minimum word count.  As far as I can tell, the reason for a daily word goal is really motivation. It functions as the butt-in-chair mechanism, and it will keep you at your work until you’ve hit your goal. That’s not a problem I have – once I start writing I’ll usually continue until I can’t, regardless of goal.

To that end, my minimum daily word count is actually only 100 words. It’s just high enough to sink me into writing mode after I’ve sat down, but it’s low enough that my brain decides that we are very certainly not done with writing. Something that low also lowers the inertia I need to overcome to start writing. It’s only a hundred words. I can do that in ten minutes. Ten minutes is easy and I have no reason not to.

Once I’m writing, however, and I’ve breezed past my hundred words, how do I ever get anything done? I’m glad you asked, my friend, because the ‘goal’ part of my daily writing is an abstract goal. The thing that motivates me the most is having an event or task or endpoint within my writing piece. Sometimes I’ll simply shoot for the end of the piece, for one thing, but I also use the end of the chapter, or the end of the scene, or – if none of those are within how much I can reasonably write in a day, then my goal is to get to the next natural break-point in the narrative.

To be perfectly honest, I consider a daily world goal to be unsatisfyingly arbitrary and a little too vague. I’ve done Nation Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo) for the last six or eight years and while I can do the 1667 words a day for a month, it’s hard to sustain that pace when the larger, more abstract goal of ‘finish the 50k in one month’ is removed. If I don’t have an abstract goal like’ finish the book before August’, or ‘post the story before May’, then I don’t have the sense of investment and urgency that leads me to get stubborn about reaching my goal. Even if the abstract goal is very short term, such as ‘finish this scene before Monday’, I find that a far more effective motivator than ‘write 2k on Saturday and 2k on Sunday’, even if they are functionally identical.

An important thing to reiterate, however, is that the combined ‘daily minimum word count and abstract goal’ package is all about motivation, so when I talk about how many words I write a day, it’s actually based on the metrics I’ve kept for the last two years and anecdata from the last ten or so. How many words I write in a day really doesn’t have anything to do with any daily goal I’ve set myself, it’s merely a description of my past performance with respect to writing.

Until 2014, my metrics mostly consisted of a handful of disparate sources: My Nanowrimo tracker, the Ares Accord that I and a couple my writer friends set up to help do consistent word wars, a few other scattered challenges and projects, and a general sense of how many words I can accomplish on a lunch break. I liked to try and keep metrics of when I’d write and how much, and the tracking got more complicated and more comprehensive over time.

At the beginning of last year, however, I joined ‘Get Your Words Out‘ in an attempt to find a community of like-interested writers to help keep me connected. Billed as a writing decathlon, GWYO allows you to set a yearlong goal and then calculates out how much you need to write per day to reach it. I didn’t reach my goal last year (and I’m not sure I will this year), but that really doesn’t matter. The most useful thing about the challenge for me was their very slick spreadsheet a level above what I have previously been able to produce for myself. Barring any other benefit, I ended up with a year’s worth of cold hard data and that is more than worth participating.

In 2014, I wrote 561 words per day, averaged across the entire year, including days I didn’t write. Counting only days I did write, my average is 1102, which I suppose implies that I wrote only about half of the days last year. I write between 700 words a day and 1400 words a day normally, and it varies wildly between those two points. My ‘very good days’ are about 2000 words, and those usually happen when I near the end of projects. My ‘bare minimum’ days are 300 words, and that’s when I’m squeezing writing in between ridiculous amounts of busy.

As for my writing pace, I am surprisingly consistent. I write about 300-400 words in half an hour, and 600-800 words in an hour. If I’m loose and limber and have enough momentum, I can bump up to 1000 words in an hour, but that’s about as fast as my brain goes to produce something that isn’t going to be rewritten in full. I’ve written this fast for as long as I can remember, since my very first ‘win’ at Nanowrimo when I was in college, to the five years at my first job, to every single word war I’ve done for Nanowrimo or any other challenge.

I have yet to reach a solid daily upper limit. Previously, my upper limits have been nearing 4000 words in a day before my brain fizzled, but I blew past that this last November and managed a couple of 6000 word days. Those days were awful and caused immediate burnout, however, so clearly large word count days are not sustainable for in the long term for me.

That’s the important part, actually. Writing a book is a marathon, even if you’re trying to go as fast as you can, and a sustainable word count is vastly more important than slamming out ten thousand word days if you’re utterly useless for the next week.

This brings me back around to daily word goals. A post over on Jennifer Ellis’s blog, entitled Minimum Daily Word Counts, gives a short rundown of the various word counts of famous authors. It’s full of excellent advice on how to increase your word counts and reach new heights of productivity. However, the post is very much rooted in the idea of pushing yourself to find your upper limit and – perhaps – lingering there.

If you don’t know what your limits are yet, then hell yes go get some great ideas on how to push yourself higher and faster.

However – riding along your upper limit is an awful idea, because one misstep and you fling yourself into either burnout or unsustainable territory. If you’re going to use a daily word goal (instead of a ludicrously low minimum and an abstract goal like me), then in my humble, humble opinion the optimal word count lies in a ‘sweet spot’. It’s a word count that you can blow past if you feel inspired while still being doable if your life throws shit at you, because your daily target goal is just that. Daily. It happens if you’ve got to mow the lawn and do chores and go grocery shopping. It happens if your day job was a royal pain in the ass and you just want a nightcap and an early bedtime. It happens if the sun is shining and the snow is gone and spring is dragging you out to the park for ultimate Frisbee. It happens around feeding and transporting children, taking the cat to the vet, and lunches with friends. Barring emergencies, this is a daily word goal that somehow fits into your life.

If I were to set an actual word count goal, in comparison to some of these famous writers over here, mine would be 800 words a day. That’s what I can hit consistently even when life happens, barring the depressive doldrums. (Last year was a bit awful in that for me.) It’s on the bottom edge of what I know I write on an average day plus a bit more, and it will only take me a couple of hours if I’m writing fiction. It’s doable, but it is an actual goal that requires me to stretch myself on off days and it’s not so high I can’t look at it as just the start to my writing for the day on the good ones.

The secret is that the goal you set for yourself should not be so intimidating as to scare you away with the threat of failure. You want the barrier to putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard or butt in chair to be vanishingly low. The idea is that you’ll get there when you get there, and the point is to set a pace manageable for the long term so that when you do inevitably (and I do mean inevitably) miss days, you don’t lose your momentum. Even if you do have a deadline, the only way to ‘make up’ words on missed days is to take a page from Nanowrimo’s notebook and redistribute your needed words across all your remaining days, otherwise your target word count will snowball to something you can’t hit without burning out and starting will be that much harder.

I’m not sure I’ve read this very often in writing advice blogs (and I’d love links that do, if you have them!), but sitting your ass down and starting needs to be made as easy as humanly possible for you. Nothing else about writing is easy and if your brain is anything like mine, it will take any excuse not to do something that’s hard no matter how rewarding it may be.

So make sitting down easy. Trick your brain. Figure out what motivates you and how and why. Become a scientist and experiment with yourself, changing variables like location and medium until you find something that makes the act of sitting down something you can do without thinking too hard about it. Don’t let your writing become something that needs a superstitious ritual to start, where you’re afraid to change elements for fear you’ll never write again.

Find your preferences. Find your inspirations. Find your limits. Figure out your highest word count and your lowest and your average, and when you’re done figuring all of that out? Find your sweet spot.


Sketching Science

This morning, I stumbled across this post on io9: Yes, It Matters If The Science In Your Science Fiction Story Is Accurate.

It’s an interesting read, if a bit abbreviated on the subject, and it links to another article internally that it quotes. You can read that one here at the Berkeley Science Review, or find the link in the io9 article if you’re so inclined.

The general theme of both of them is that making sure the science is as accurate as possible is actually more about how far you can stretch the suspension of disbelief before it snaps. It’s about plausibility, rather than accuracy. It’s part of the idea of verisimilitude, of faking it just enough to get across the point and the purpose without wading in and showing off how very little you actually understand.

The idea of verisimilitude is actually something trained into me through my years in theatre, because it is very much understood that you’re not going to make an exact replica of… pretty much literally everything. It’s all suggestions. I’m going to suggest a doorway by putting a frame downstage and letting you assume that the house has four walls. It’s putting a boat on wheels and attaching it to a rope and giving your actor an oar to play with while you drag them from left to right. It’s not accurate, it’s the suggestion of accuracy. There’s an artistry to providing just enough detail, in just the right ways that makes the audience buy in.

And part of why that works, especially in science fiction is a part of a quote from the end of the Berkeley article that says:

Science fiction merely takes the variables that we know to be important, changes the values a little, and sees what stories and relationships are important to that believable, but mutated, world. – David Litt

It’s an over-broad generalization, unfortunately, but it does say why science fiction works: when done right, it’s the suggestion and support of various aspects of the story that make them real enough to be plausible. Yes, it’s about tweaking details, but more it’s about following the science to its furthest logical conclusions.

And – to elaborate somewhat in a different direction, this actually reminds me about how similar Science Fiction and Fantasy are as genres. At their hearts, they’re both about presenting the (currently) impossible or (currently) improbable, grabbing firmly ahold, and running with it as far as you can, all in service to the type of story you want to tell. Sometimes that story is about how the scientific or fantastical element facilitates or complicates the story you’re trying to tell, and sometimes it’s simply about the impact that element has on humanity (or the society upon which you’ve inflicted your story).

The thing is – and I think this is absolutely missing from both of the linked articles above – you can’t just slap odd or unique or bleeding-edge and experimental science into your story and expect the whole thing to hang together. Part of the underlying reason why verisimilitude and plausible suggestion even works is because you commit to building the foundation for it within your story, just as you commit to exploring the idea to its full limits.

(Side note: there is actually a difference between novel-length scifi and short-story scifi in this. Novel length absolutely needs foundation and that’s where most of the length comes from. In scifi shorts, there’s only really time to run with one idea, so the commitment to the idea becomes the story center.)

Here’s the thing, though, even a very ‘scientifically accurate’ story can fall flat on its face if the narrative, the characters, the world-building and all the rest aren’t committed to support of the science. If there’s no foundation, if there’s no story-support for the fact that this thing is happening and it’s real for the purposes of the world inhabitants, then everything falls apart. It’s a lesson learned when writing the fantasy genre, where world-coherency and whatever fantastic element you’re trying to sell lives or dies by how well you set it up.

Just because a thing is ‘real’ in a scientifically objective sense doesn’t mean you can be any less lazy with the set up. For example, Interstellar’s ending comes to mind. I won’t spoil it for those that haven’t seen it, but the ending and the events of it are simply not supported by the narrative at all. Things happen, and even if they’re based (possibly vaguely) off of prevailing scientific theory, there’s no hint in the narrative that the science parts are anything but made up whole-cloth. If it were billed as a fantasy story, all of those hard-core into the genre would be vocal about how poorly the setup was executed. As it was, even though the end veered off into the fantastical, there was still talk about how accurate the movie was with respect to the science portrayed.

To be a proper science fiction writer, you don’t need to be an expert in the field, but you do need to be able to fake it for an audience so that even someone relatively well versed in scientific theory would nod along and buy in. (And possibly launch into an in-depth analysis of the science with way more expertise than I could ever muster, which is honestly one of the best things about being a writer. I could listen to people enthuse over their passions all day.) The point is that you’re mocking up a house with painted flats, and you’re using eyebrows to give otherwise blank-faced robots emotion. You have to understand what you’re suggesting enough to convey it, but in the end it’s all about handing your audience their bag of twos and waiting for them to combine them into fours. The twos, however, need to be solid enough–plausible enough–that not only do they support your climactic idea or central conceit, but also that it’s clear to the audience what they’re even for.


Time Travails

So I’m sort of shin-deep in meta for Station, and besides the ending (it’s… incorrect and I need a new one), I’ve also been wrestling with the time travel aspect. Time travel is very tricky in novels, because it’s very easy to do it wrong. Not wrong in that the theory is wrong (though it often is), but that it’s used wrong. Often, there will be a fatal flaw or a plot hole regarding it, a reason why it the time travel element didn’t work. I think it ends up that often, any piece of media that grapples with time travel starts to come with not just the suspension of disbelief that the method of time travel actually works, but also that the theory of the time travel is also solid.

And, friends, there are a lot of theories. Just take a look at the Time Travel page on TVTropes, for starters.

Side note: I’m linking TVTropes for the simple reason that, while scifi is rooted in scientific advances, time travel is one of the topics where writing fiction about it is more about perception of time and interrogating the meta-narratives and tropes permeate our media than, uh, science. A lot of writing about time travel deals with the concept of an immutable history, or how cause-and-effect can be unpredictable (ala the butterfly effect), etc. It talks about what would happen if we had time travel and handwaves the how.

I’m, personally, very interested in the conceptual underpinnings of how to represent time travel. Not necessarily delving into strictly how, because prevalent scientific theory involves a lot of quantum theory and is very hard to actually explain to people reading your adventure scifi novel, but into how time is viewed by the characters. Again, the ‘how it’s viewed’ throws back to fate, and just how static is time, really, and how do we as people finally learning to manipulate the 4th dimension even deal with that ability.

What struck me as interesting, is that very many time travel stories treat time as a static series of cause and effect. If you’ll look at the tropes, you’ve got ‘Stable Time Loop’ and ‘Can’t Change The Past’ as two very prominent ones. That, and there is also this idea posited in the more scientific areas of time travel study that if you change time, then it will have always been that way and all memories will be modified to match.

Fun sidenote: this memory modification is a little like the whole Berenstein Bears vs. Berenstain Bears thing. I distinctly remember BerenstEin bears growing up, but it’s always been BerenstAin. It’s a neat little phenomena that happens more than in just this sort of thing, but it’s a useful idea to steal if you want to play with this idea of ‘change one thing, change all things’ of time. I am certain I simply read it wrong when I was kid (I did that a lot, like I have a hard time spelling binary and partition because I very much read them wrong.), but the possible beliefs of how and why this phenomena occurs is absolutely something you can play with as a writer. Why do some of us remember these sorts of things objectively wrong? You can play the what-if game all day with that kind of question. What if it’s a simple memory fallacy, but it’s indicative of a broader human stubbornness against being wrong and to what lengths can that be taken? What if some of us are some of us more immune to timeline changes than others? What if the ones who remember it ‘wrong’ were part of a different AU that was spliced with ours somehow? What if this Mandela Effect is part of the Many Interacting Worlds (MIW) theory? The possibilities are endless.

Right! Ahem! Back on track. We were at static time and the idea that any ‘change’ to spacetime will propagate, and that those living within the spacetime frame will have no idea there was a change. I would like to further explore the idea that spacetime is a static ‘object’, which means research. A lot of prior media treats history and future as static. See TV Tropes above.

But most (not all, but most) media stops there.

To that end, I’ve been investigating the mapping of four-dimensional objects upon three-dimensional space, like I’ve found here. I’ve also taken a peek at the book Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, which is remembered (thanks to Einstein) more for describing how 3d objects look to those living within 2d space than for it’s social satire, but both sources describe how a more-dimensional object can be viewed in a less-dimensioned space by utilizing time.

I’m only at the start of my investigations, but the idea is that to static 2d space, time is the 3rd dimension, and to static 3d space, time is the fourth dimension. Which leads me to ask: if 4d space is ‘static’ and time is the 5th dimension, what does that look like and how can I use it? And if I decide that static 4d space is actually spacetime like I mentioned above (in a way that uses an entirely different set of assumptions) then what does that look like and how can I use it?

In ‘how do I use it’, I am basically exploring how I represent a narrative sense of “five dimensions” (very much quote-unquote here, this is an adventure novel at heart) while only have the words to project four of them to the reader. I don’t even get pictures to help.

And – as a crucial follow-up question: can I get away with using ‘time’ twice?


Sharing with the Class 2

I’m in a pretty brilliant writer’s group, I must say. I might be in a different state than most of the group, but they skype me in and it seems to work alright. 🙂 We’ve known each other for years and have sort of gotten better at that mixture of critique and encouragement that actually keeps us moving forward.

I have discovered one thing, though, that makes it so that I very often having nothing to share with everyone: getting critique mid-writing absolutely doesn’t work for me.

When I first started with the group, I was ridiculously shy about actually sharing the crap I was writing. It wasn’t going to be good enough, it wasn’t going to be enjoyable, it wasn’t going to be… I don’t actually know what it wasn’t going to be. Mostly it was fear, even though all of the people in the writing group were my friends. That’s how we found each other, actually, we were all already friends and trying to meet regularly to encourage each other in our artistic endeavors.

Regardless of our friendship, though, sharing anything I’d written was like exposing my carefully cultivated fungus to the open air: a horrifying prospect.

I started with short stories of varying quality and when the world didn’t end, I graduated up to my longer works in progress. It’s been years since the group started, and at least a year or two since I finally gave up on being shy around them. I shared a novella I’d finished and got the feedback that: ‘wow, you need to rewrite this ending entirely’ and I figure that if I can survive that without any true negative reactions on my part, I can survive showing them just about anything.

Part of becoming more comfortable in sharing my work has been realizing that I’m really, seriously, immensely hard on my own work. Anything they can say, I’ve probably said worse. I need to rewrite the ending? I’ve probably considered redrafting the whole thing twice-over. So I’ve sort of tricked my brain into seeing critique that’s not as drastic as my own as, well, pretty much a relief. It’s very nice to share with my writing group because they’re not going to be nearly as mean to my writing as I’ve already been.

So, now, it’s not a matter of if I can share my writing with my crit group, it’s if I should I share my writing with my crit group.

A lot of my ‘most productive’ spates of writing depend a great deal on momentum. I need to somehow shove myself into the world of the story and let it build, cumulatively, until I’m done. The few times I’ve shared my in-progress stuff with my crit group, those stories have become less ‘in progress’ and more ‘hopelessly mired in edits’. The more my momentum bleeds away, the less likely it is that whatever story I’m working on will ever be finished.

And, just like I’ve come to realize I have nothing to say about in-progress stories besides: ‘great job! I want to read it when you’re done!’, I don’t find middle-of-the-story critique to be particularly helpful. Sharing something mid-work is fun, but that’s not when I really need feedback. I like being able to look at the big picture – in my work or in someone else’s – because that’s when you can really tell whether or not there are plot threads that go nowhere, or whether or not your foreshadowing or firearm-and-mantlepiece moments actually function as intended. You get developed themes all the way to their conclusion, and you can figure out if that oddly dangling big of description or world-building from the beginning actually matters by the time you get to the end or if you can sacrifice it on the alter of pacing.

What I end up sharing with my crit group are little thousand-word (or less) stories that I’ve whomped out in the week before group, if I actually get something done for it. I don’t feel too badly when I don’t get a nibble of writing out, though, because the group is actually rather large, and in a week I’ll usually have chunks of at least three novels/serials/screenplays to catch up on.

Even though my feedback is increasingly: I love it! Please finish it! (My crit group is very talented. :))

Everyone’s process is different, and some of the others in my group are the sort who want the encouragement that comes with someone reading, appreciating, and wanting more as they’re writing. I haven’t quite sorted out if it’s a function of being a ‘love having written’ type of writer, or just because positive feedback is very inspiring, but I do know that it’s very different from how I prefer to operate.

So – from the looks of it, I won’t have anything to share with my group (barring short stories) for at least another month. If not more. Work on Station is continuing apace, though at the moment I’m struggling with a sticky bit right near the end and I’m a little uncertain about whether I like the solution I’ve come up with or not. The modifications are looking quite good, though, and I’m pleased overall.

Next writer’s group is in less than a month! I hope to have something for everyone to read this time, even if only something short.


Just add cheese…

I’ve been watching the Librarians, though I’m a couple episodes behind at the moment, and I can’t deny that it is one of those deeply silly shows where enjoying it is not so much a suspension of disbelief but an acceptance that you are watching something deliberately over-the-top, into the realm of farce. It’s intensely cheesy, and it’s only redemption is that – for all it’s faults – it has a great deal of heart.

The cheese, though, the over-the-topness and silliness, is one step shy of epic. Or one step beyond epic. In my own writing, attempting scifi and fantasy (especially) has been for me an exercise in learning to hear cheese. How far can you go before it’s just too ridiculous. Where is the line between awesome + funny and that blank stare where the reader/audience/whatever is trying to decide if this was serious or they’re supposed to laugh. And then – as if that wasn’t precise enough – where to take our humor so that they’re laughing with you and not at you.

I often err on the side of safety, so my forays into epic are few and far between and it becomes all the more important that I be able to hear the cheese. A lot of my old writing is a little cheesier than that I really like now, and going back to read it is a little bit like going back and looking at pictures of me as a kid. I didn’t even know how silly I was being, and it’s a little bit charming now, but also something I’m glad to have left behind.

Cheesy dialogue is the worst offender, but then dialogue is always a rough one to deal with.

But, yes – I’m still not sure where exactly the line is, at least not for me. How much can I attempt intensity, attempt ‘epic’ before it all falls apart as ‘trying too hard’?


Decisions Decisions 1

There is something to be said for pulling as far back from your project as you can and taking a good, hard look at the metanarratives and themes incorporated into the most stripped down version of the story.

The original version of the story that I’m deconstructing was written in 2012, and despite the fact it was only now just barely 3 years ago, the change in my writing style and baseline assumptions is marked. Some of the decisions I made subconsciously I have needed to re-examine, to tease apart and consider their guts. I’ve discarded some major elements already and my conceptualization of just who the main character actually is has radically shifted.

However, some stuff that I’ve examined I’ve decided to keep, and I think the why is just as interesting as how it’s going to be used in my novel. For example, here are a couple of the questions that my examination of Station has brought to light:

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Q: What commentary does it have that chose a very Cold War version of an negative future, of a blasted and razed planet, rather than the modern negative futures which are predominantly dystopian?

A: My central idea is that this is a society frozen in time, literally and figuratively.

Important because:

The type of apocalypse chosen for a work of science fiction is influenced by all sorts of things, and mine is by far an away affected by the 80s. lot of the written scifi I cut my teeth on was 70s and 80s stuff, plus scifi television operating on vanishingly small budgets. Other planets, even ones with life on them, look like dusty, soundstages full of foam rocks, or like quarries in Wales, or like the uncomplicated interiors of spaceships where the walls are all sheet metal or painted flats. My mental image of the future is theatrical, and where it’s not, I am predisposed to view far off planets as devoid of life, looking far more like the images sent back by Curiosity from Mars. So, from the outset, this other planet I’m creating began life as a barren, radioactive world.

So that’s where I started, mostly subconsciously, in building a world where the last remnants of the population have been forced underground to scrabble for vanishing resources.

I’m choosing to keep this construction, though, because it IS a Cold War fear.

In contrast: There’s a trend right now in apocalyptic science fiction that it’s going to be a massive natural disaster that kills us, or we will be deliberately murdered by our creations spun wildly out of our control by our own abuses (okay, that one’s not new). It’s indicative of how much more we’re connected and how much faster we can communicate globally, that fears that our failures will cause widespread destruction in the form of the inexorable power of the elements. It’s the sea levels rising, and cities sinking. It’s about earthquakes and pandemics and the inability to out-science crop blight or nuclear winter or just straight-up meteors falling from the heavens. The predominant theme to a lot of the more modern apocalyptic scenarios is ‘this is us, we screwed up, it’s our fault and now things are irreparable and wildly beyond our control and it might have actually snuck up on us while we weren’t paying close enough attention.’

For the sense of Cold War destruction, on the other hand, in this idea of an irradiated planet wracked by war, it’s tied up into fear of the other guy, of annihilation at the push of the button the moment that the factions become unbalanced and the whole game board tilts and everyone’s dumped off. It’s helpless fear that somewhere, someone might nudge something out of place and all you’ll be able to do is put on your sunglasses and sit on the porch to watch the fireworks as your planet flares into ashes one metropolis at a time. It’s the idea that action (stepping forward OR stepping back) is the doom of the human race, and that we’re two minutes to midnight.

While this concept of aggressive tension is, absolutely, relevant to today (the doomsday clock is at 5 minutes to midnight, updated 2014 if you believe wikipedia), the global narrative has changed. Stories attempting to avert apocalypse or even (on a smaller scale) citywide disaster, are not about stealing the codes for nuclear missiles so that Enemy Nation can bomb Some Capitol, but about averting terrorist plots of mass murder. And the plots are not about winning any sort of war, it’s about destroying people because ideological reasons, or about much more personal greed or power. Even nuclear threats and international power dynamics are couched in terms of terrorism rather than superpowers at odds.

Of course there are exceptions, there are always exceptions, and what I’m describing is very much Western-centric. The narrative has had to change, especially for the US, for various reasons. What I’m driving at, however, is that I want to use the idea that mutually assured destruction is deeply reactionary. It arguably freezes escalation and – at the same time – it also freezes deescalation.

So, in my choice to use this type of apocalypse, I become most interested in one primary question: what happens when deescalation (the usual better choice) also assures destruction?

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And moving on…

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Q: What sort of idea am I exploring by placing emphasis on toxic responsibility?

A: Even if someone is doing what they feel is right, is honorable, or is the responsible thing, they can become a worse version of themselves if the environment (or any other factor) is toxic.

Important because:

Even though you’re the person who should have the resources, the skills, and the experience to accomplish something, you could still be exactly the wrong person for the job. Responsibility, depending on what it is, hits different people in many different ways, and not just responsibility. Toxic factors – relationships, environments, expectations – can also warp the efforts and emotions of someone who is trying the best they can.

The choice of what to do with those efforts and emotions, in a toxic environment, is very much indicative of what sort of person the character is. It’s an offshoot of a trope, actually, the one where pain or fear will reveal the true nature of a person. A toxic environment, however, isn’t quite pain – at least not physical. It’s also not quite fear – at least not in a direct sense.

Taking someone out of a toxic environment (or leaving them in because of circumstance) can have a profound effect, and not even the nature vs. nurture sort of way. I’m talking about how adults, with all of their unique scars, can respond to these environments when introduced to them late in life.

This is a fascinating subject to me and to be honest I don’t have a lot of answers yet. This is a newer question and I’m still exploring it. (That’s also why this elaboration is much shorter.)

**

Moving on once more, what I’m saying is that there a lot of things I added to the original version of the book that have further-reaching implications that I’d previously understood. I’m rather glad that I’m doing this now as opposed to after I’d finished this draft.


So I’m Writing a Synopsis 2

I mentioned previously that I’m writing a loose synopsis for Station. This is, in part, because Genevieve has been writing a great many for her drive to become a writer for visual media (ie Comic Books). I have been helping her edit and stream line them for submission, and there is a lot of really good stuff that happens when you do a synopsis.

Because of the nature of writer-blogging, I’m going to cite my sources and over-explain everything, so buckle in.

The definition for synopsis I’m using is this:

An often beat-by-beat description of the plot of a novel or other creative work, describing the major arcs, themes, and events in a way where the short version is both enough to give you the gist of the whole story (including the ending) as well as make you want to hear the long version, properly told.

Which is sort of where my investigations into the whole synopsis thing have taken me, a bit rephrased. To that, I’m going to add that a synopsis follows the primary arcs and themes tailored to a specific genre. So, for example, a romance synopsis will follow the character arcs of the two leads and how they interact. Their motivations drive the events of the plot, and so their motivations are one of the most important things to put into a synopsis of ‘type: romance’.

By contrast, the story that I’m writing (Station), is part of the science fiction adventure genre. Its roots are very firmly in the soft sci-fi of the 80s and the pulp science fiction from before the 1950s. It’s is distinct from epics, space operas, and hard sci-fi in that it’s a much more contained, and deliberately episodic, story. Plus, my inclusion of time travel pops it up into more of the science-fantasy realm, which means I have to set up the world-consistence myself without depending on outside scientific knowledge. My story in particular is also very character driven (rather than political, disaster, or concept-driven), and has horror influences that will crop up whatever I do.

So, to sum up, my synopsis needs to emphasize the adventure elements as well as the character bits. The horror elements need to be mentioned, but should not take over the synopsis. If I can leave them as ‘Fridge Horror, all the better.

Great, good. Okay.

In practice, I’m finding out several things a synopsis is good for.

Thing 1: Plotholes! I’m finding them! I can spackle them over before I get there.

Thing 2: Structure! I can figure out where bits feel too slow and where they feel too fast, and can apportion more and less time to things based on importance. And, and this is sort of extra and doesn’t really apply to my synopsis in particular,  a synopsis will sort of give you an inkling what media your story would fit best in. Like, say, you have an idea for a sort of episodic/series book, or you have a trilogy, or you have a standalone, or you really have a story that need more pictures than words.

Thing 3: Themes! I really like to explore particular themes, and often I don’t know what those ARE until I’m several chapters in. This synopsis is helping me figure out what I need to explore specifically before I get there, which is always helpful.

Thing 4: Characterization! Knowing what my characters will and will not do will help prevent me from having to rewrite big chunks of the beginning once my characterization has solidified later in the book. (Since I write chronologically by choice.)

Thing 5: Actually, a lot of these things are about continuity, so the last one for today is Continuity! I always have to do a continuity pass or two, aligning everything with my concept of what’s actually happening once I reach the end of the book. It’s sort of like how a tv pilot always has weird things happen when looked at in context of the rest of the episodes, because the characterization isn’t set and the themes are still in fledgling form, and the starting point is still a little bit nebulous. A synopsis is helping me eliminate a lot of the heavy-lifting of my continuity pass before I get too much further, which is all to the good, imho.

and other Things, but those are the most important at the moment.

The bottom line is that I’m really glad I’ve been doing this, though it means a full rewrite for the whole thing, including a pretty dramatic restructure. Needs must, I suppose, but I recommend writing at least one synopsis to see if it might be useful for your writing style. If you’re traditionally publishing, you might have to learn how to write one anyways. 🙂


Not a New Year’s Resolution 1

In a not-quite New Year’s Resolution, I and Elly (Eidolonkami) have agreed to encourage each other to blog. This is my attempt.

It is very interesting to me that, for most of my life, I have been blogging in a pseudo-anonymous fashion. I had a blog in high school, back on livejournal. While it was transparently obvious that I was the author, there was a level of remove about it. Same with my other blogs down through the years. I was blogging under a different name, and while that name was connected to other spheres, it was never something that, oh, that people I grew up with or people who know my mom could find without a bit of digging. (Hi, mom and mom’s friends!) This blog, however, is under my professional name. I’m blogging – but professionally.

Or, well, more or less. It’s still a blog.

The lack of even the veneer of anonymity is a little hard to wrap my head around, however. What do I say? How professional do I need to be? Is it better to ramble on as my awkward self as part of forming a rapport with possible readers, or clam up and attempt not to show my ass in public? These are concerns.

I think I’ve settled on being slightly awkward, because it was going to happen eventually, as well as a little bit earnest.

In other news, today I’ve discovered that the Trader Joe’s Vanilla and Cinnamon Black Tea with the Christmas Lemur on it has one of the best blends I’ve had in a while. A++, definitely recommend. I’m also attempting to write a synopsis for my current story project. I know I mentioned the project, but I’m not sure if I mentioned the synopsis. I don’t usually write synopses so much as very amorphous outlines, so it’ll be interesting to see how this project changes if I tighten down on it a little.

I hope everyone is having a lovely day!


Happy 2014! 3

Ah, how things change. Seeing as how I posted last in September of a whole other year, I suppose it’s time for an update.

Currently working on a novel with the working title of ‘Station’. It is – and this is, for all intents, my elevator pitch – a story along the vein of the old west gunslinger novels, where our lone hero rolls into town and challenges the status quo. Except in space. My heroine is a cyborg left to stand sentinel over the time stream, and she visits times and places where something (or, more accurately) someone is changing the future. As per her programming, she is supposed to be the agent of fate, to stop whatever sea change that will take the future in a radically different direction. However, she is always left with choice, and sometimes she chooses to stand by – or even help, those she was sent to nullify.

So that’s the story, more or less. I would feel regret about dumping my vampire romance, but I have been beating my head against it for the last year and it was time to let the darned thing go. I’m optimistic, however, because I love adventure scifi to the tips of my toes, which is exactly what this new story is designed to be. It’s more in my wheelhouse, and to be honest, I think that was a big issue with Broken Bond; vampire romances aren’t really my thing and I was flailing a little in the dark with it. I might come back to it eventually (especially since my writer’s group and anyone who I’ve showed a sample chapter to loves my male lead), but for now, it’s best I let it lie.

Anyhow, in other news, I have a novella that I am in rewrites for (the ending needs a bit of a tweak), and several short stories that I need to get off my duff in post to Amazon. It was a surprisingly good year despite moving across country (oh, I’m in LA now as of March!) and sort of struggling through my New City Blues. My writing has picked back up thanks to the all-or-nothing ridiculousness of Nanowrimo, and I’ve got my roadmap for 2014 all sorted out.

Hilariously, and as sort of a footnote, I’m considering adding my skills as a developmental editor to my website. When I couldn’t write this year, I honed my editing skills, and have gotten good feedback on my developmental and structural editing. Namely, Genevieve (whose link I have plastered into my sidebar over there), has been trying to convince me to hang out my shingle in a more official sense. So, perhaps I shall share the love and open up my inbox to taking on a few more projects.

We shall see.

2014 is dead, long live 2015! 🙂

 


So far so… well, I’ve been really busy!

Interesting fact: When you no longer have a 9-5 job, your days become really full of all the stuff you used your 9-5 job to avoid. Like… dishes. And grocery shopping. And helping people move. And going to conventions. And editing. And spending time with people

Actually, I’ve started back in on my vampire romance novel that I began last November for Nanowrimo. Despite having it’s roots in a ‘write all the words’ sort of challenge, I’m pleasantly surprised at how coherent it has been during my edits. I’ve improved since I started it (oh my god, have I improved), but there are moments that I’m actually really proud of. It’s the piece that has my clearest authorial voice thus far, mostly because it’s both set in a contemporary Denver and I’m not worrying a lot about building some ridiculous world or conforming to a particular era.

I’m also damn pleased that it’s a vampire romance novel. The genre is one that I think needs having a few tropes turned on their heads. I am… apparently not terrible at doing that, according to my very kind writing cheerleaders.  Granted, that’s like saying your mum likes your fingerpaintings, but whether I’m fingerpainting or fiddling with tropes, I have a great deal of fun. That’s all that counts right? Right? I mean, if I’m having fun, hopefully my readers will be too. That’s the idea, at least.