Thursday, December 31, 2015

How I Will Make Myself Feel Like a Better Person without Being One: 2016 Resolutions.

Lots of people complaining about resolutions this year, which I think answers any questions about how 2015 went.

As I looked back to last year’s declarations, I am absolutely stunned to see that not one of them got solved. It’s like I’m the only one who even cared.

Actually, considering that most of them are ongoing lifestyle changes like being more sociable and writing every day, I’m not surprised many are the same this year. It’s to be expected even. Or, at least, that’s what I’m saying.

I still have high respect for resolutions despite that most of us know we’re not going to succeed at them. I don’t think they’re just about being accomplished—though that would be great—but sitting down and actually determining concretely what we consider the worst aspects of our lives to be. It enables us to figure out our goals, organize our complaints, and on some occasions, as we look back over the years and realize how we have not changed, become aware of how much it really doesn’t matter, how much it really doesn’t make us unhappy. Not every year is bad and those “flaws” remained true through the good times. As I study my resolutions, it amazes me what I did try out and find not to be my problem, and what I cared about so much one year prior is not so important anymore.

In any case, there is something empowering about the idea that it could be different, even if we know it’s damn well not going to be. New Year resolutions can make you feel good without having to do any work.

But my resolve to make my 26th year one of my best ones has proven to be great so far. I am exploring a foreign country with my loving boyfriend, (Yes, I am under the opinion you want to hear it.) I have been writing every day (or making up for it when I haven’t), I have been pretty successful with my deadlines, and I have been working very hard to fix my health, which has not yet been fantastic, but I do feel like I’m understanding more about my headaches, appetite, and chronic dehydration.

So, in honor of my 26th, here’s what I plan for 2016:

1. Write every day, even if it’s just one word. Even if that word is “Fuck.”

2. Agent hunting. The legal kind.

3. Meet comic deadlines (every Friday).

4. Meet blog deadlines (Check back Fridays and Mondays).

5. Post a new Story of the Wyrd the first of every month.

6. Read all of Stephen King’s works in order of publication. Salem’s Lot will not get the better of you.

7. Stop chewing my nails and lips.

8. Get muscle mass in my back.

9. Be true to any promises, make none that you can’t keep.

10. Make my writing notes to myself sound less like a drunken celebrity and actually legible.

Let’s see how that goes. 

Monday, December 28, 2015

Why I Struggle at the End of Novels

It’s not like when you know your girlfriend is going to break up with you so you avoid answering her calls. No, if my manuscript had the balls to end it itself it’d be a much different story. But we both know the end is very well at hand, and yet it just sits there pretending to be oblivious.

As you can imagine, after two years, I’ve begun to hate its smug face.

For starters, two years is a long time for us to be together. For comparison, my last novel took five months, and it was twice the size it should be. Three months is my average.

Why did it take so long? Cause she’s a bitch.

Now I know what you’re thinking. Are all of my manuscripts women? I don’t know, you’d have to ask them. Considering their mood swings, I’m going to say yes.

I wrote most of this novel in a reasonable timeframe. Then, about 70,000 words in, I just stopped. There’s many reasons for this. Most of them I don’t know. But it’s not that uncommon for me to abandon a project mid-swing.

I stopped writing for a while, several months, I think. Then, in attempts to force myself to get back on the horse, find the other fish in the sea, count my chickens before they hatched, I played around with working on several projects, none of which being this book. I wrote a 100 page outline, two 50,000 word partial manuscripts for National Novel Writing Month, the complete draft of my monstrous manuscript, and about seven works anywhere from 20,000-60,000 words long. In this time, I very much lost track of what I was trying to do with this one work—though I had my notes. I tried to get back into the rhythm, but I kept telling myself I needed to read it. Because I procrastinated on reading it, I procrastinated on writing it.

Then I decided to keep going without. I managed to get some distance, but I still wasn’t working like I once had been, unable to get the motivation to do anything with my career.

It wasn’t until back in September in which a fit of helplessness lead me to empowerment. I finally downloaded a PDF onto my phone and sat at my sandwich shop job reading. I got through it with great encouragement, finally forced myself to rewrite a section I’d written and lost. By my 26th birthday, I told myself I was going to make this year be what I wanted it to be and would write every day.

Traveling to Australia and National Novel Writing Month got in the way, but when December rolled around, I managed to get back into the swing of things.

I am this close to finishing it. My boyfriend keeps coming in and saying, “Why aren’t you done yet?” I’ve been writing an excess of blogs and short stories, I’ve been staring at my computer, I’ve been sewing, planning for Christmas, and letting myself go to bed at nine. I refuse to finish.

This is nothing new.

The manuscript that originally inspired Stories of the Wyrd was approximately 10,000-5,000 words from being finished before I’d abandoned it. I may have never picked it up again except when I realized it was perfect for the online serial I wanted to do.

I remember that at the end of most of my works I find myself in this funk, procrastinating and attempting to avoid working on it.

“Why are you having such a hard time coming up with an ending?” the boyfriend asks.

I’m not actually. I know exactly what’s going to happen.

I’m usually not an outliner, though I have in the past, and to good results. I spend a lot of time as I write considering the ending, and often by that point I have a pretty solid one in mind. In fact, I would say that most of my editing is about the beginning whereas the ending tends to need little work. The problem is, there’s less freedom in it, less room to write, to grow, to find out what’s going to happen next. I know exactly what will happen moment to moment, and unless something slips out of my character’s mouth—which granted does often enough—there is little that is unexpected to me.

And that is hard.

It becomes all about pacing, all about building tension and ambiance. In this case, it’s several fight scenes of varying sizes. I can’t let the flow get me there, I can’t say, “Well if it comes up, it comes up.” Certain things have to be discussed now. There’s no other time for it. I may be able to go back and add it in earlier, but there’s a reason it hasn’t been resolved before this moment.

And I’m impatient. The book is done in my mind. I’m already on to considering other things—which story do I work on next? How can I make a spaceship that seems organic? How can I combine plan A with plan B? How should I experiment with outlining?

Because the story is finished, I’m already done. Now it’s just the boring work of putting the words right.

Yet, it must be done.

I love this story, as much as I hate it, and I have high expectations for it. The ending is great, unless I speed through it, so I just need to sit down and get it over with. Now that Christmas is over and the New Year is coming, now that I want to get caught up on the days I missed avoiding her, I’m going to knock it out. Let’s try for tomorrow. The next day at the max. I will turn into myself of yore and just force myself to do it.

Endings suck, so let’s get this over with. 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Don’t Try to Stop Smoking if You Don’t Smoke

The boyfriend is quitting. He has been carrying around a disappointingly full packet of mints, in which, when I suggested he take one instead of pulling out a cigarette, he said, “Have you tasted one? No, seriously. Taste one.”

Now, I suppose this was stupid on my part. I mean, I know it was. But my thought process was that cigarettes don’t really do much. People described a “buzz,” but reflecting on the half of one I’ve smoked in my lifetime, I guess I didn’t really understand how strong nicotine actually was.

I looked at the mint and it appeared more like a pill. I popped it in and, upon realizing how terrible it tasted, I chewed. Big mistake.

I’m the sort of girl who doesn’t put a lot of crap in her body. Including food, at times. That day I had had yogurt, Grapenuts, milk, and cranberry juice. (Not all at once.) If you’ve been following me (more for the people who haven’t), I have always had an abrasion to food, and in the last year it’s gotten far worse, and I don’t know if this affected things, but I hadn’t eaten for hours either. I had even stopped drinking caffeine for the most part.

Immediately I wanted to puke, and my heart spluttered like it was about to be dragged to the executioner’s block. An intense desire to cry overwhelmed me as I walked to buy movie tickets, but I managed to keep the weird buzz at bay.

I found myself confused at the Australian kind of-American-but-just-different-enough method of purchasing, my mind almost spinning, and I’m pretty sure the cashier now thinks Americans don’t have credit cards.

When I reach my seat, everything started to calm. My heartrate slowed, my thoughts settled, and the modest dizziness subsided. I went to the bathroom. On the way there, I still felt sick and unhappy.

Then, inside, I found the most decidedly Australian toilet I had seen yet, complete with not only two different water levels for flushing, but three, a toilet paper dispenser that released in individual tissues, and a bizarre hand blower that I had to smack in a couple of different places where it shot out at me from an unexpected orifice.

I burst out laughing.

I hadn’t laughed at something stupid like that in a long time. I mean, I rarely laugh anymore anyway, and to hear myself genuinely amused by how weird that damn dryer was was delightfully releasing.

When I returned to movie, I felt warm, not like my usual freezing self. The lingering buzzing of anxiety that I don’t even notice anymore was gone. The untargeted anger and frustration dispersed, and what was even more shocking, I paid attention to the movie.

I have never liked movies, especially in theatres. Even T.V. shows are better as background noise and not something you just do. I remember watching boyfriends growing completely immersed in a film, eyes glossed over, and thinking, “What is wrong with you?”

I always got bored in theatres, especially action sequences. I have never experienced the ability to just watch it, not think about anything else, and grow completely immersed in the story. Now, it could have been because it was the new Star Wars film, which most people are saying are epic anyway, but I’ve watched good movies before and I didn’t have my eyes trained relentlessly to the screen like that.

I know I had been relatively numb for a while, but I attributed that to my refusal to have bad feelings as well. By avoiding any chance at unpleasant experiences, I knew that I was stripping myself of the ability to not only have funny stories to look back on, but get that catharsis that comes from successfully getting out of a bad situation or even the contrast of joy against misery.

Yet living with anxiety is difficult because even when you know you’re not really afraid of anything, it is still fear, and a fear that doesn’t go away after you make the proverbial leap, but stays with you as long as you commit to the action, usually causes you to embarrass yourself with stilted and forced conversation, and keeps pain with you long after it’s done with. Telling someone with anxiety to just get over it is like telling someone to stop being tired. You can sort of force yourself out of it, maybe even get a sudden wind free of it, but it is fleeting, and the motivation of not wanting to feel that way is held back by the lack of motivation caused by feeling that way.

I understand why nicotine is so addicting, and why so many people use it to self-medicate. It calmed my emotions, narrowed and focused my thoughts, and made me stop caring about things that I honestly don’t want to care about (or think I should.)

I didn’t like the idea of ADD, especially when it refers to kids. Using medication to alter our personalities just to help us get along in society terrifies me for the reasons you’d think. I never thought I personally had it, especially because I have the ability to focus on one project for many hours at a time. But only if I cared about it. I don’t tend to act up in situations and have a lot of self-control when it comes to social settings. Too much, in fact, in which I completely restrict and censor myself when surrounded by people I don’t know very well. But one of the reasons I struggle to talk to strangers is the flow of my thought process in speech tends to be weird to someone who doesn’t know me well. I jump subjects and make connections others don’t follow. It’s hard for me to express my opinions when no one can figure out where I’m coming from.

I have heard that nicotine is a stimulant and stimulants are most commonly used to help ADD, and because it made me able to concentrate on the movie before me, quieted my mind, and stilled my body, I am beginning to think that ADD might be my problem. I never considered it prior because I didn’t think my mind was all that loud, I didn’t realize how it could feel to actually focus throughout a whole film. I didn’t see how disruptive my thought process can be.

I’m not going to immediately do anything about. For one thing, I’m in another country. For another, due to past experiences with doctors, I am struggling to put myself in a position to be belittled and written off by someone who doesn’t have time to even consider their wording when they tell me to go to someone else. I know better than to come in with a self-analysis I’m not positive about, and yet I’m not going to waste my time and money to be told to “wait it out” and come back because they don’t know what to tell me. Plus, I’ve read all about that hypochondria thing and I have all of the symptoms for that too, so we can’t be sure.

And do I really want to go on medication? Maybe therapy, but that would require me trusting a professional which, for various reasons, is going to take a lot more than a diploma on their wall.

But, at the very least, it gives me hope. After being told off by a cutesy urologist who couldn’t even bother to look at the test she charged me for, every time I felt queasy, like not eating, got a headache, or spent an entire day going back and forth to the bathroom (which is pretty much every day), I felt helpless, like I was always going to feel that way. I don’t think that ADD can be singularly blamed for my chronic pain (which is what I told to the smirking woman as she tapped her head and insisted after knowing me for five minutes it was all in my head), but it can be exacerbating the issue (as I also told her). Under the stimulate, I felt better. I didn’t focus on every discomfort in my body. My headache went away, I didn’t notice my dry mouth, and I could even hold my bladder much longer, not so disturbed by the usually intense discomfort. It reduced my stress about things outside of my control and helped me live in the moment. At the very least, it gave me a reminder of how life could be, how I could feel, and that maybe there is a solution not dependent on me throwing myself at another professional who may or may not push me off onto someone else.

So while I don’t recommend popping a mint compact with nicotine, I am actually somewhat glad I did.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

I Think It's Okay to Like Harry Potter Now

Sure, I liked Harry Potter when I was young. I was at the right age group in which many of my friends were able to wait up until midnight on their eleventh birthday and hope that they would have their owl come. The books were read to me, I enjoyed them as they came, but a part of me, a small but loud part, braced against it.

I hate to admit that I am the sort of person who, upon finding out other people like something, have a hard time ever getting too enthusiastic about it. I like my tastes to be my thing, taking possession over whatever I love and feeling territorial when it comes to other people liking at as well. Whenever I find out about something after it’s become household name, I’m not likely to go out and buy all its crap.

Also, from my limited fifth-grader perspective, fantasy and magic was only for us outsiders until Potter ruined it. While I do believe that prior to the popularity of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Harry Potter, and Twilight the supernatural was genuinely a “nerd’s” thing, and that I did “like it before it was cool,” I also recognize that I had five kids in my elementary school grade and my belief that magic was my unique interest might have been to do with the little sampling pool I had. But, to my eye, the sudden popularity of the Harry Potter series not only brought the magical world to the mainstream, it also made everyone tie all things fantasy back to it. Right when everyone started talking about it, I happened to go as a wizard for Halloween.

“Like Harry Potter?” they all said.

No. Not all wizards are from Hogwarts. Philistines.

It was, somewhat, like they had taken my love from me. I could no longer like what I liked without fear of acting like a trend follower.

But I never hated the Potterverse. I actually enjoyed it pretty well. I just never loved it.

Before leaving America, the boyfriend and I went to Universal Studios. I had been there before when I had lived in L.A., and most of it was the same. Yet, they were building something new, something not yet available to the public. We were taunted by a large wall that said, “Harry Potter, opening soon!” Over the tops you could see the little village roofs, a magical world just beyond our grasps. Of course they were selling Harry crap already, and we went through the bustling gift shop that featured beautiful wands and cloaks and books. I felt like crying. It was exciting, beautiful, and dismaying in a way. I was overcome with a shocking emotion.

I realized how much I longed to have something like that. Not a ridiculously vast franchise (primarily), but this real, tangible and beautiful world filled with whimsy and darkness, one that excited me, seemed so real, so wondrous.

J.K. Rowling is a master of setting. I have not read her other books and can’t necessarily say the same for anything outside of Harry Potter, but the world of Hogwarts, the visual of the characters, the fashion, the government, the candy is seeping with a complex depth and tangibility unlike I’ve seen in any other book. Not even Tolkien, who crafted the foundation for the genre for eighty some years, made a world that I found so vivid and striking as Hogwarts.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Tolkien. And part of the problem has obviously to do with the aftermath of his creation—the over exposure of elves and dwarves now make them more mundane and less foreign. But even still, while he likes to go on about his meals, they tend to be about bread and honey, not Fizzing Whizzbees and chocolate frogs. And even though the fashion of both worlds are based on historical British garments, Rowling tweaks the robes and hats, adds personal meaning to colors and symbols. If you walked into a room of people dressed in Potter fashion, you would know it without even a word.

It’s not that Rowling is incredibly original, but that’s part of why she’s so appealing. She doesn’t constantly break and change the rules, not ruining what we know and love about the mythology, yet adding to it. Yes, in some cases there are creatures that are very different than what we’d learned (Dobby the house elf’s appearance, as an example), but because, not despite, you can see the origins clearly there, it isn’t so abrasive. He’s a smaller person, though not as humanoid as I would expect. Elves aren’t subjected to slavery—they fixed the shoes out of kindness. But they do do work for people, and brownies (another form of small humanoid) were known for having to disappear if you gave them anything you owned. For someone who wants to read about the lore that I already know and love, but still want some novel, new input, this was the right approach.

But, back to me.

The interesting thing about authors is how ambiance and setting tend to be opposite ends of a writer’s skillset. Beginners who have a natural ability for setting tend to struggle with atmosphere and vice-versa, despite you would think they’d be one in the same. Being able to write a moment with tension, beauty, horror, awe, sorrow, or any sort of feeling is different than being able to create a great wide world with epic structures and histories. The reason, I think, is obvious; one involved details and one is about the big picture.

People who are good with setting tend to be (emphasis on tend) better with plot and poorer with characters. When you read a lot of unpolished fiction, you note that those with epic storylines, worlds, and ideas are more likely to have flat characters and struggle with grounding the universe, making people feel it. They summarize and do info dumps. They sound like text books. You are less likely to see yourself walking around, but rather just understand the depth of that setting.

On the other hand, people who are good with atmosphere and characters will often struggle with having any plot at all. They have real people with real emotions doing nothing. Their setting tends to be vague, based flimsily on how they see the actual world around them.

As a fantasy writer, I’ve never been one to go off into detail about the long history of the world. I only went into description about the broader scope of their reality when necessary, and even then it was often like pulling teeth to convince me/myself that I did need to discuss where people got their milk from on this other planet. There are obvious benefits to this, such as better pacing, a more exploratory feel, and not being party to that common criticism of fantasy writers’ tendency to editorialize. It also had its downside. Some of my beta-readers would, in the beginning, feel overwhelmed, confused, and not immersed, at times believing (sometimes accurately) that I was avoiding answering some fundamental functions of the reality.

A part of this tendency comes from a natural understanding and vision of the world I’m writing about. I see it before me and it makes sense. But, as I stated, writing a scene is very different than writing the universe, and sometimes you get a gray void outside of your sight, similar to when a video game glitches and you jam your head through the wall to see that nothing has been designed outside of that room. Writers want readers to feel the world is going on outside of just what is being shown.

Besides, creating a visual banks on my subconscious to make decisions. I’ve mentioned before how the subconscious wants everything to be “normal” and tends to draw from stock characters and assumed connections to enable us to write quickly and organically. This isn’t all a bad thing. Not only do you not need to be completely original all the time, you don’t want to be. Writing about things you like, being relatable, exposing how you see normal, being true to your thoughts, and even using “normal” and expected for contrast are important parts of a good story.

But, it makes for more choices that seem everyday to you, always expected. I have never felt the same way about my worlds as I do about Harry Potter’s. Despite all the qualities that come from my ambiance, my worlds have lacked something, something J.K. Rowling could give me that I’ve never been able to give myself. The reason I wanted to cry in that store came from my desire to feel that same way about my work. What was missing? I had been asking myself that for a while. I had been creating for so long, I’d hit a wall, and I didn’t know what to do about it. How could I breach that gap?

As I stood in the Harry Potter store, looking at all of the beautiful objects, being transported into another reality, I started to understand what I had desired, what my work was missing for me. I needed a real world, more than just the scene, but an entire universe that elicited the same excitement that I felt that day.

But how do I do it?

Some time back I had an idea for a mythology story, a beginning of a world, a novel that would start the history of others. I wrote probably 20,000 words into it and then hit a fork in the road, other ideas happened, and you know the rest.

In it, a supernatural figure kidnapped great artists from “our” world to implant them into a barren wasteland. There they found the ability to shape and change it, create a new reality, and eventually, learned how to even make life. They would become the first gods of the world, never to return home, but to remain in power over that new existence.

The project itself would be a long one. I’m not going to try and force my already written manuscripts into this world, and while I have a few works in progress not fleshed out, it would still mean that I would have several books to go before I really got to the point that I wanted. And even then, I’m not positive the natural evolution will help me. I believe I have to sit down and really push myself to think outside of the box for my mind to be surprised.

I kind of want to start from scratch and do more outlining, preplanning, sketch actual designs, and so on.

But, I don’t really want to rewrite Harry Potter. I don’t want necessarily a wizarding world, a magical world, but just something unique, detailed, grounded and vast. The only thing I really want similar to the Potterverse is Rowling’s bright and fun reality with the dark and terrifying undertone. So, as I’m trying to think of where to start, I am avoiding the magical world I love, avoiding the folklore, and attempting to disengage myself from the Potter mentality so I can craft something entirely different without fixating on that difference.

I’ve been fiddling around with this other manuscript on the side, trashing it and starting it over and over and over (which is unlike me). It is a science-fiction novel, and part of my issue with it is that I don’t typically like science-fiction cultures. There is that stereotype of what I call lawful science-fiction which originates from Star Trek. You see clean cut government officials walking around in white rooms before using superior technology to interact with other species.

There are exceptions, of course. Firefly and the anime Outlaw Star are some of my favorite televisions shows, and they feature spaceships traveling to different planets. So does Lilo and Stitch, one of my most loved movies of all time. I find Treasure Planet completely underrated. I am enamored with Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Enders’ Game, and Ringworld.

But many of these, you’ll note, are what I would call chaotic science-fiction, sci-fi that features people on the run, working against the law, or in desolate parts of space. Star Wars is, in many ways, a chaotic sci-fi, too, and you can see its influence in many sci-fi books today. However, most of these examples still have that lawful feel in certain areas, at certain moments or locations, some residual sense of “captain on the bridge,” even if they are about pirates, outlaws, and people dealing with the dirty, dusty unknown.

And, while I like some of these settings, I love the stories because of the characters. It’s not the places or images that really pull me in; they’re just a nice bonus. I find it hard to understand what it is about Harry Potter that is uniquely alluring that no science-fiction book has yet to achieve for me. (Though it should be noted that I read a far wider variety of fantasy novels than I do science-fiction, so simple exposure might have something to do with it.)

As a writer, I try to combine ideas as much as I can, mostly because my thought graveyard, or thought orphanage in many cases, is too large otherwise. It also fleshes them out more. Before I get knee-deep into a manuscript, it is usually just a vague notion of characters and events I’d like to happen. As I said, the scenes are usually vivid, or, if they’re not, by answering questions about that scene to make it more real, the story unfurls itself. Writing from the gut creates a genuine world, but it is limited.

So using this science-fiction story, especially as I believe there is something missing from the sci-fi that I read, is a good idea. Or, at least, even if it’s not this one, I do want to take a story that I’ve already started and hope to make it more than just about those characters. I want to create a world that is, just like Harry Potter, both whimsical and dark, that has interesting and beautiful fashion, architecture, food, sports, and an entire lifestyle, a story that is not just about the people, but that is truly exploratory of a new and rich culture.

I just don’t know where to start. I don’t want my inspiration to be obvious. While it can follow lore or expectation in places, I don’t want the evolution of my candies to be easily traceable. I want them to seem real on their own accord, not obviously based on Pop Rocks or something. I definitely don’t want to go off on details no one cares about, though I doubt that will be too much of a problem for me. I’ve never had the compulsion to say something just because I know it—I’m much more likely to gloss over it and leave people confused.

I realize that one of the things Harry Potter does is limit its scenes. Rather than trekking across an entire country or world, you stay in the same place, the same building even. The locations seem so familiar because the characters stay and visit only a few areas. You spend a lot of time in Hogwarts, and then return to Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade on some occasions. They become as familiar as your own school and grocery store. Just a much better one.

It should be also noted that the series is decidedly British. Many elements that are normal for Rowling are foreign for me. I can’t say exactly what, being that I haven’t lived in Britain, but as I walk around Australia (which is told to have many British influences), it too has a lot of “Hogs” in the name of things here. It seems Hogwarts and Hogsmeade are about as natural as Hogs Breath and hogweed. And, I believe, the entire concept of boarding school is much more common in England while in America it’s only for the really rich or really horrible. So it’s possible that the reason why her world can seem so new and yet organic is because she is reflecting aspects of her own culture that are new and exciting to me, where as I obviously can’t do that to myself.

Problematically, I’m not sure I want to do a series, or, rather, a story that is contingent on being a series. I have a lot of standalone ideas that I am working on, as well as my online serial, and I see this as being a large project that I will be planning on the side. It will take longer than most, and if I were to write it as a trilogy, it might be far too daunting for me to take on. So, I realize it becomes even more important that I stay within a very tight area within the storyline of one book.

It would be new for me, I’ve just realized, to have characters live out a plot in one building, which might be exactly what I need.

In either case, I am going to reread the series. Ever since the last book and a certain death (no spoilers), I have had no desire to pick it back up again, I was so devastated. But now, I’ve come to terms with it, and I’m beginning to forget the details. I need to refresh myself and remember exactly what it was she does.

In the meantime, I’m going to start playing around, and I think the first step is to examine my own life and start noticing all the little things I’ve never thought to pay attention to.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

My Main Character Should Probably Be Cut

As an update on my new serial, “I’m Writing the Worst Book Ever,” I’m coming to terms with the fact that my main character has very little to do with the actual plot.

I’ve stated how this book was much different for me than the others; the world’s rules weren’t inherent and obvious to me, I wrote it on a whim, and due to it being made for National Novel Writing Month, I didn’t have the time to really consider what I was doing, just trying to find answers as I went.

While not outlining has worked well for me for many manuscripts, the results of this one have been every single ramification for not planning ahead. I’ve outlined novels several times before, usually to good results, and find that for most, a mixture of writing down ideas, plotting ahead of yourself, as well as writing on the fly and going with the flow has been the best policy for me personally. But this manuscript, the worst manuscript in the world, has come up with every single flaw that could possibly happen when you just write by the seat of your pants.

One of these things is the disjointed plot and subplot, and the fact that I’m seriously considering if the protagonist actually belongs in the story.

The fun about writing the worst book ever is the potential and freedom in it. As I write, I examine what I can do to improve it, how I’m going to rewrite it, what parts have any merit to them at all. Luckily, the manuscript has actually started to get better as I go along, finding more answers and understanding the reality better. Yet, in all of this, the main character of Ronny has started to prove strikingly irrelevant, her side story not the most interesting aspect. It is weird to feel like your protagonist functions more as some side character tacked in because of the author’s weird attachment to her, not like it’s her story. Because, really it isn’t.

I mean, that was kind of what I was going for, it should be noted. She was a Watson-like character, a writer, watching the events as they occurred to other people. Her story was about her leading a normal life, getting a family, and then trying to become a writer, bemoaning all of her old choices. She, a literary snob, would be questioning what if she had made more exciting and daring risks to be then thrust into the main plot of a supernatural world evolving around her.

Not only could I not get this subplot of having abandoned her family to fit in with the new plot I was developing, I was also running out of things to say about it. The scenes that flashed back to her husband’s life were stagnant, unchanging, not all that interesting. I knew in the rewrite I would have to come up with a better storyline for him. Her writing has taken a backseat and she never discusses it. I don’t know how to tie it back in, and it’s not as though I want her to decide to write about her experience of this magical world—though it would be an interesting parallel considering that this is the first book I’ve ever written directly about my own experience.

I will say that it’s an odd coincidence if I decide that the one character I identify with becomes completely unimportant to her own story. Something Freudian in that, I suppose.

In trying to tell the comparatively short history of the world’s magical development (the past thirty years), most of it comes in flashbacks, following the supernatural forefather’s and their experiences. My only other choice is for it to be conveyed in dialogue, or to change the storyline so all of it is happening now. However, I feel like having the main character be a pivotal player in the origin of “our” world’s introduction of magic has been played out and is somewhat cliché. I much rather find a more interesting way to tell the story I want than to change it just because it would be easier to convey history in action.

Because of this, it has brought me out of my box into uncharted territory. I rarely write about a lot of characters. In the original manuscript that inspired Stories of the Wyrd, the two protagonists were the only ones who were ever named. Out of all my beta-readers, only one noticed (re: said anything), and it was only about one character. That’s how closely my books usually follow an individual and how little they follow anyone outside of him.

I like the idea of telling their history by how it happened to different individuals. For one thing, it makes it feel more realistic, not having your chosen one do everything. I approach this somewhat tepidly because I’m not the biggest fan of ensemble pieces, and it’s hard to keep getting invested in new characters, especially those who are only talked about once, I fear I might be falling into the area of “You have too many.”

But once they started to tie in with each other, once their histories were more developed for me, I became excited. It was the first time I believed the story was coming together.

While all the others started to make their connections, they were still separate from the protagonist. As I reinvent the story, I knew I have to introduce these new concepts earlier on, a space that is taken up by the ramblings of Ronny’s writerly life.

The story is starting to take a turn, tying her in more, but I’m realizing that most of the first half of the book is becoming moot. I don’t believe that I’m going to cut her from the story, but the fact that I could (and possibly should) is off putting.

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Thursday, December 3, 2015

So I’m Writing This Novel: I Don’t Think Amazon Will Last

In college, my professor asked us why Shakespeare’s plays can be put into any time period and location and still work. I said, “Because we already know the story and that it’s been performed as intended a thousand times?”

No, he insisted. “It’s because Shakespeare’s plays have no set.”

Which is true. The actors never interact with objects outside of a few swords and braziers. But what they lack in worldly interaction they make up for in stating loudly things like, “Here we are in the forest of Athens,” and having very timely topics like archaic pressures of marrying off a thirteen-year-old before she’s an old maid.

While changing Shakespeare’s set pieces for more unique visuals is commonplace (A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Texas. Twelfth Night in the 1920’s. Macbeth in space), it’s because of the audience’s willing disbelief, accepting the artsyness that happens when a show has been done way too many times. It’s also that the important aspect of Shakespeare’s writing isn’t timely, that despite the character’s concerns and conflicts are outdated and no longer make sense in our time, the characters themselves still resemble people we know and we can relate to hard decisions we can care about, making the stories still effective even when there is a random jester running about modern-day New York.

Drastically changing the time and place of other scripts don’t work as well, however, partially because there is less of a convention, but also the more contemporary a play is, the more likely it is to deal with everyday objects, having a specific and non-changeable time and date due to the types of technology referenced and used as major plot points.

Rarely do we see things like Death of a Salesman or The Odd Couple going out of their way to try and modernize the production (until they make the movie). Many times the costumes fit the date the play was made, even in cases the characters don’t specifically mention dateable concepts. Shakespeare is so long in the past, plus contains poetry and a stylistic, formal prose that was standard at the time of writing, that all of it is noticeably different than how we talk today and is not inhibited by “fad” and therefore dateable vernacular simply because we can’t tell the difference. In many plays, especially the ones after 1900’s, there are tones, attitudes, references, and plots that don’t fit in 2015. And it gets worse the closer we get to today. A play from 2006, the time is more obvious than one from the 1950’s.

A lot of times, books and plays refrain from mentioning anything that specifies when and where it is. Back in the fifties this wasn’t so hard because the main daily technologies were cars and phones—both of which we have today. Sure, there are certain colloquialisms and social rules that can make a work seem dated, but when it comes to actual objects, up until the eighties it was relatively easy to leave out specifics without question.

But now not only is technology moving fast, it’s infiltrating our daily lives more thoroughly. It’s not that we have more options, but we have more daily necessities, and the specifics of those necessities are timely. Computers will probably be in our lives for the next few generations, but will they look the same? When will they stop being called “computers” and just become microchips? The iPad is certainly taking precedent more so today versus five years ago. Sure, cellphones will exist, and considering the flop of the glasses and watch, it’ll will probably be an object you carry around, but there might be a huge design change, like the one from the flip to the touch screen.

For many writers, it takes years to make a book. I’ve been editing a manuscript for three, and if I submitted to an agent immediately and it got picked up now, it would still probably be another few years until it actually hit bookstores. In the case of most of my works, it’s science-fiction or fantasy and another world, so they tend to be less dateable and it’s not as relevant.

But now, I’m working on a piece that I started for National Novel Writing Month, and it is very different than anything I’ve done before. It is the first time I’ve ever really taken from my own life and wrote so indiscreetly about the sorts of things I’m going through. I’m writing about modern day America, places I know, and while I haven’t outlined many times in the past, I usually have at least a mental structure going on. In this case, I don’t. Mostly, I’m talking about writing a lot and just spewing words on paper. It’s been illuminating, mostly how much the writing industry is changing… and how much I expect it to keep changing.

Amazon reviews seem to be most writers’ big concern. Understandably so. When I go to purchase a book, if it doesn’t have a lot of reviews, I’m skeptical that it’s not just another one that someone just slapped up on the internet. It doesn’t deter me from buying it, necessarily, but it can often be the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Problem is, while Amazon reviews are the topic of conversation now, I don’t see them having a long duration. They aren’t trustworthy, they tend to cause more controversy than use, and the rating system is completely inflated and flawed. Most books have a four-star rating, and the only ones that have less than a three average tend to have issues outside of quality; they were plagiarized, they were written by an unsavory celebrity, they seem to promote a dangerous mentality, etc.

The reviews tend to be petty and personal. I see more comments about swear words and how fat the author is than actual discussion of what happens in the book. They also will go into long diatribes giving “constructive criticism” over actually reviewing, telling the author how to write instead of other readers if they should buy the book. They are whiny and pedantic at times. (“Anyways is not a word!”)

And even when the reviews are well written and thought out, I still don’t usually agree with them. Out of all the bad reviews I’ve read, only two books ended up being for me exactly how they were described in the one-stars—and it should be noted both of them were popular hits among other people, the fives far outweighing those negatives.

Amazon is a huge business that is causing long term problems for the market. They are the reason that monopolies are illegal. Though they aren’t the only option for the buyer, they are the only option the buyers are choosing, making them have a great deal of power over the suppliers.

Combining that with the ineffectiveness of their reviews, the bullying (perceived and actual) that people have to face, and the inevitable same backlash that other sites like Yelp have to contend with, I see Amazon and Goodreads being a flash in the pan that will at least evolve if not disappear in the next five years.

But they’re so important now, and there’s always the fact that my prediction could be wrong. How can I possibly write about a character attempting to sell her book and get her name out there without referencing online reviews?

Then there’s other aspects like Facebook and Twitter. It’s possible that mentioning them by name will, in two years, sound the same as if you were to talk about posting on MySpace in a book published in 2015. Or reading a book that was published in 2003 in 2015 and being jarred out of the story to think, “MySpace? When was this written?”

And submitting to traditional publishers has completely changed over the last decade. When I last actively tried to publish a book in 2009, no one wanted e-submissions. Now that’s all they’re asking for. I predict a huge shift in the way you submit to the Big Five in the next few years. My opinion is that you will have to self-publish first, sell a lot of books, and then get picked up.

But who knows?

As I’m writing this book, I’m attempting to avoid using specifics of technology—it’s not really what the story is about anyway. Instead of saying “Social Media,” or even “Blogging,” I say she posts on her website. I’m dealing with her trying to peddle a self-published book across America, and I don’t feel like most of that will change. Predominantly, I am able to be somewhat vague about what I’m saying and still maintain my point. If this book is anything like the others, it won’t see the light of day for a while. Plus, it’s just a fun side-project that will be on the back burner for my other works.

So what do I do about reviews?

I have no idea where they’re going to go, how they’re going to be replaced, or how long Amazon is going to last for. Asking for reviews is a common part of pitching for today’s author. How can I realistically avoid talking about something simply because I think the specifics will become moot in the next few years? When something is so imperative to your sales now, it can’t just be glossed over because it might not be in the future.

What happened to the good old days where the biggest worry a writer had was not having a faddy hairstyle?

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