I’m crossing my fingers and knocking on wood (ow) in the hope that the worst of 2013 is behind me, and that the new year will not open with bad news. Cold Streets is still getting tested, and I’ve got a decent idea of what to shore up, what to cut, and what to expand. I’ll wait until everybody’s chipped in, though, before I get started on that.
In the meantime, I’ve been getting more ideas about Godslayer. Specifically, how it should begin. My recent foray back into TV-watching has had me taking in some cracking good pilots, and they all have a few things in common. They hit the ground running with their stories, they get the audience invested in their characters and worlds pretty quickly, and they don’t over-complicate the opening of a long narrative. I think a lot of genre novels can have trouble doing this, and I would rather not be counted among them. Especially if I want to gear Godslayer towards a younger audience.
Let’s see, what else? Got some local projects cooking. Keeping up with Flash Fiction. Still not sure if Fantasy Flight would be interested in a novel set in the Twilight Imperium universe.
Was something else happening today?
Couldn’t be that important.
This week was a good news/bad news week in terms of writing. The good news was that I banged out some work for a project I’m not quite comfortable discussing yet. I need more details before I do that! The bad news is, I’ve been working the dayjob too hard to do much else. Hopefully, the next few weeks will calm down, and I can return to a more reasonable schedule of things.
You can’t see it, but I’m knocking pretty furiously on some wood.
I was going to write something about writing when you can’t write (which I may still do), but due to time constraints I couldn’t quite get it together. Here’s a similar bit of advice from earlier in the year. Today I’ll do a better job of carving out writing time than I did yesterday.
Writing, as a creative endeavor, has a lot of advantages. You don’t need special equipment to write – at the bare minimum you just need something to write with, and something to write on. You can write about literally anything you want – fiction or non-fiction, on any subject or in any style, you can even write about writing itself! And you can write just about any time you like.
This is, however, the biggest potential problem writers might encounter. Delayed writing is writing that suffers. It’s better to write right now.
Chuck recommends writing in the morning. In fact, he recommends a lot of things that writers should pay attention to. But one point he hammers home like ten-penny nails your skull didn’t know it needs is Writers must be writing. And the sooner you write, the better.
Unless you completely shun human contact and seal yourself into some kind of bubble, things are going to come to your attention that interrupt your writing time. Spouse. Children. Chores. Tumblr. Any number of items that you are compelled to contend with vie for your attention, and you will not always be able or willing to resist their call. And you know what? That’s okay.
What matters is, you learn what works and what doesn’t, and you refine what works until you’re pounding out the words as immediately and completely as possible.
If you need to get up earlier in the morning, do that. Gotta rearrange your schedule? Do that too. Discuss new divisions of chores with the other humans you live with (if you live with any). Stock up on things that motivate and energize you – coffee, Clif bars, Oreos, booze, whatever. Make yourself a plan to write more, and do everything you can to stick to it.
Because, let’s face it – we’re at war.
Time wages a ceaseless battle against us. Every day you’re vertical is an act of defiance in the face of inevitability, even moreso if you write. Which means, to me, that every day you don’t write is losing ground to the enemy. You can fight to get that ground back, but it feels like running uphill. It’s more trouble than it should be. You do much better if you simply write right now.
So stop reading blogs on the Internet, and go do that.
To paraphrase a line from Terminator 2, the future is like driving down a long highway in the middle of the night.
Even if you know your destination, the road right in front of you is shrouded, dark, and uncertain. When there’s enthusiasm and hope, the darkness doesn’t matter as much as the destination, and it’s easier to do things like sing along with the radio or look for interesting landmarks that appear out of nowhere – generally, having a better time. But when the driver’s tired, the car rattles, animals wander out onto the road, and the Check Engine light comes on, there’s little a driver can do but keep their eyes on the shadowy road just in front of their headlights.
I say this because I have no idea what’s going to happen next. I’m doing my best to handle things day to day, and stay on top of everything that’s happening. Cold Streets has been getting pretty good feedback so far, and I have other projects I am embarking upon, all while giving the dayjob as much attention as I can so details are not missed and communication is clear. One way or another, I will be relieved when this holiday season is behind me. Q4 is always a rough time at the office, and this one in particular has taken a toll.
But I’m not going to give up, nor am I going to pull over. Too much is at stake and too many people are putting faith in me for me to turn back now. I honestly believe that I used to be a lot better at quitting things. In the past, if something didn’t work, I’d give up a lot sooner and then wonder why I felt like such a shitheel. I’ve come to realize that successful people aren’t necessarily more talented or more devious or even luckier than I am; they’re simply determined and stubborn. And, of late, I’m doing my utmost to be determined and stubborn, as well.
For me, there’s no other way to see this journey through to the end. And as dark as the road may become, daybreak is coming. It’s inevitable. No matter what happens in my little life or how dark I feel things have gotten, the sun will always rise again. If I can at least face the dawn knowing that I’ve done everything I can, I can face it without shame. And, at the end of everything, that’s all one can really ask for.
I realized last night, putting a few things together, that it’s been over six years since I started blogging. Granted, it began in a very different form. I’m sure that there are some of you out there that remember a little blogging site called LiveJournal. That’s where this – *gestures vaguely at the current blog* – all got started.
Back then, blogging was more about catharsis and reflection. I mostly wrote about day-to-day activities as I would in a pen-and-paper journal. Some of the stuff was pretty deeply personal, and other times was incredibly, eye-rollingly inane. People do change over time, thankfully, and I eventually wised up about what I should spend my time writing to share and what should stay either in my head or on paper for my eyes only.
Still, it can be difficult to self-edit. One can’t always read over the words that have just spilled out and know for a fact that some sentences don’t work and some others just need a little tweaking to really shine. That’s why I’ve asked for test readers for my works to be published; that’s why I trust the editors with whom I’ve worked and to whom I’ve spoken; that’s why I never take the first draft of anything significant I write straight to a venue for publication. That’s knowledge that’s only come with time and experience. You can teach a lot of things, but you can’t always teach someone that their shit does, in fact, stink.
I’ve been thinking a great deal about failure lately. How I’ve failed, why I’ve failed, what I’m failing in now and when I’ll fail next. Failure is inevitable; I’m not always going to get everything right the first time. But, in my mind, it’s pretty difficult to fail at blogging. I think that involves having nothing to say but making tons of noise anyway (see: filibustering), terrible grammar or formatting, and an obnoxious site or personality. I still have posts that could arguably be called inane, and possibly fall into the “nothing to say” category, but I do try to at least make what I’m writing interesting to the anonymous reader.
Taking all of that into consideration, I consider the blog to be relatively successful. It doesn’t always get a ton of hits, and I struggle at times with maintaining the schedule, but it’s still going. People do still come and read it. And all of it – from comments to contributions, from failed experiments with ads to the eventual end of IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! – has been and continues to be good experience.
Thank you for being a part of this so far. I sincerely hope you’ll stick around to see what happens next.
Once again behind the 8-ball and in need of finding my groove, let me take you back a year to a post that you may find helpful.
Courtesy Floating Robes
“Apropos of nothing,” asks one person, “what’s the name of the mental disorder/condition where a person thinks his or her art/work is never good enough?”
The immediate response from the other is, “…being an artist?”
It pretty much is a mental disorder, as it fucks with your brain almost constantly. It can interfere with your concentration and focus, rob you of confidence, and point out all of the flaws in your work while offering no means to correct or improve it. It behaves like a mental disorder, but it really isn’t. It just means that you, the artist, know your work can be better, and you want it to be better so it blows people away.
But since it behaves like a disorder, let’s treat it like one; instead of ignoring it or just throwing drugs at it (though they can help, and in this case, we’re talking about stuff like booze for the most part), let’s shine a light on it. Mental disorders are like obstacles in a darkened room: If you don’t turn on the lights, they’re going to trip you up and cause varying degrees of discomfort.
Hank Green pointed out recently that creation is terrifying. We are taking something out of the safety and security and privacy of our own imaginations and thrusting it bodily into the world. It has to stand on its own feet, and while you can cheer for it and support it from the wings, the work is the thing doing the singing and dancing. Some people will love it; some will hate it. Is this a reflection on you? No, not really. It’s a reflection on your work. There’s a difference, no matter what your head might be telling you.
But since our work is a part of us, born out of our imaginations and given life by our blood, sweat, and tears, that difference can seem negligible, maybe even non-existent. Instead of merely taking flight thanks to us, we can see ourselves as bound to the work, trying to fly along with it. We add our own expectations, hopes, fears, and doubts to it even as we tell it to take to the skies. In doing this, we bring both ourselves and the work down.
This is why I feel it’s important to keep in mind that we are not our works. Inasmuch as we are not our jobs, our furniture, our hobbies, or our khakis, we are not our works. While these things do contribute to our identities, they only truly define us if we allow them to. Just as our work has to stand on its own separate from us, we have to stand on our own separate from our work. You may paint breathtaking landscapes or reduce people to tears with your prose, but will that really be worth it if you’re insufferable to be around?
If you can accept that you are not your work, and that your work is separate from you and should be viewed differently from you, the fact that your work is ‘never good enough’ should become less crippling.
Here’s the other big thing that will pants this notion like crazy: your work is good enough.
Now, I don’t mean that first drafts and initial sketches are necessarily good enough for public consumption. I know for a fact most of my first drafts are shit. What I mean is, your work is good enough that you want to make it in the first place.
If you can get past the initial idea stage to the point that you’re creating a work of art, it’s good enough in that regard. It’s good enough if you keep working on it no matter how hectic the dayjob gets, how much you hate your boss, how many errands you have to run, and how many of your kids or pets get sick on the carpet. It’s good enough if you want to improve it. It’s good enough if you’re eager to show it off to other people even as you’re biting your nails in abject terror over their reactions.
Paradoxical, isn’t it? Your work is good enough if it’s never good enough.
If we can be mindful of the facts that our work is not a reflection of ourselves, and that it’s good enough for us to keep working on and futzing over, we can overcome the doubt that undercuts and cripples us. I say “we” because I suffer from this, too. Mindfulness of this nature is, in essence, a lot like writing and other forms of art: it takes dedication, practice, and work. And we’re not always going to get it right. Ever stub your toe on something in a brightly-lit room? It’s kind of like that. But at least the light is on and you can see what happened; you can avoid doing the same in the future if you’re aware of it.
It doesn’t really matter if you mess up; what matters is, keep trying until you don’t.
A bit about my schedule: most of the time I do my best to write these things well in advance, and set them up to publish in the morning, because that’s the best way to get some decent traffic during the day. There are times when that isn’t possible. Yesterday was particularly bad to the point that I was so put out, I didn’t write a single word.
I hate writing these posts. But it’s important for those loyal and treasured few of you who actually read my words to know why there are deviations in the schedule I attempt to adhere to. Yesterday’s was a result of a busy weekend. Today’s is the result of what one might call ‘crisis mode thinking’.
I know it may seem like the most insignificant of first world problems that, on top of everything else, I complain and express concern over a blog schedule. But whenever I fail in an obligation, to anybody, I feel pretty terrible. I feel like I’m breaking my word. And that is no way for an adult to behave.
Anyway, provided I can get back on top of things, and keep this rattling and cacophonous train on its tracks, we should be back to a normal posting schedule soon. I want to maintain Blue Ink Alchemy as a platform for my fiction, a place to review and discuss all sorts of geeky entertainment, and a forum for facilitating writing and thought processes among my readers. That’s you guys.
I wouldn’t feel this obligation if it weren’t for you, I’m always happy to post new fiction and new reviews for you to read, I’m glad I can provide you with free entertainment, and I know that your time and attention are precious things. I want you all to know how deeply I appreciate you, as readers and visitors, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
This is my lease favorite kind of post to write – the long-winded apology – but if you’ve stuck with it long enough to read these words, you are seventeen different kinds of awesome, and you should know it.
We had our first snowfall here this past week. Temperatures have dropped and winds have picked up. Clearly, winter is on a little bit of a warpath this year. I’ve been trying to muster up similar motivation and dive further into Godslayer.
It’s something of an experiment, I realized, as I looked over my outline and carved out some character points this week. A lot of fantasy novels out there are perfectly happy to maintain the status quo of the genre and stay well within previously defined boundaries. I look back at old movies I grew up with, like Krull and David Lynch’s Dune, and I see those lines smearing, if not disappearing. Why don’t more modern tales do that?
It’s been said that writers should write the stories they want to read. And I want to read more stories where it becomes hard to tell if it’s one genre or another. I’m not talking about radical shifts in tone, or anything; mostly, I want to emphasize character and theme more than ticking off the boxes folks have been ticking off since Tolkien’s days.
In other news, Cold Streets has test readers who are providing me with excellent feedback. I think I can do everything I need to do in one more pass of rewriting/editing, and then it’s on to getting the cover art and other particulars nailed down. Sure, I may be a bit behind in my original schedule, but I feel like the end result will be worth the wait. That’s the vibe I get from my test readers, as well.
I hope you all have an excellent weekend. Try to stay warm, won’t you?
How’s NaNoWriMo going? Are you frustrated? Angry? Maybe feeling some despair? Read on. This might help.
Nobody feels fantastic all the time, at least not without heavy drinking or severe medication. Creative people are, by and large, emotional and thus emotional blindsides getting hit can knock you right off of the rails you’d been riding towards the completion of a project. How do you deal with this sort of thing, other than reaching for the nearest bottle of hard liquor or happy pills?
You use it.
Instead of wallowing in the negative feeling, take it and run with it headlong into your project. If you’re unable to focus on the project, write something on the side that uses the feeling. Here are some examples.
I know I’ve covered using your anger previously, but invoking a Star Wars reference never gets old. Still, if something is making you furious, with fists and teeth clenched regardless of how other people are telling you how to react (doesn’t the words “Oh, you’re over-reacting” make you want to punch someone in the face?) you need to expend that energy, and preferably without damage to property or invoking personal injury lawsuits. If you’re a writer, what do you do?
Write a fight scene.
Get into the headspace of a person involved in a barroom brawl. Hell, write about someone starting said brawl. Did someone say something to a significant other you didn’t like? Is someone chatting up a friend of yours without permission? Not enough booze in your drink? Write about how it makes you feel, how the fury wells up inside you and how the sensation of wheeling around and letting someone have it right in the face touches off the kind of chair-breaking bottle-throwing grand melee unseen since the days of John Wayne.
You’ll probably feel a bit better, and nobody will be suing you.
Let’s face it. We’re all afraid of something. It could be bugs, rejection, alienation of friends, cars, bacteria, being laughed at, loneliness… I could go on. The bottom line is, sooner or later your fear is going to grab hold of you. Grab hold of it right back and go dancing.
Try a ghost story.
Something goes bump in the night. You catch an unfamiliar or unexpected motion in the corner of your eyes. The lights go out, and the shadows seem to grow to fill the empty space. Do you start sweating? Does your hand start to shake? How fast is your heart pounding? What voices do you hear? What do you imagine is lurking there in the darkness? It could just be the cat. It might be your spouse in the next room unaware that you’ve hit the light switch. Or it could be a phantasmal fiend from beyond the grave. Write it out and see where your fear takes you.
More than likely, it’s not a place as frightening as you thought it might be.
Despair, anxiety, paranoia… they’re all cut from the same cloth. “Should I have said that?” quickly becomes “I shouldn’t have said that,” which leads to “I’m an idiot for having said that.” Sure, sometimes you make a legitimate mistake and need to clean the egg from your face. Other times, something with good intentions turns out getting tossed under a steamroller paving the road to Hell. Whatever the cause, you’re left with this cloying feeling of inner doubt and depression, and you need to do something about it, otherwise it’s going to consume you.
Time to write a walk through the rain.
Rain is an evocative weather condition. The sky’s the color of gunmetal, the sun or stars hidden from view, the rain cold and relentless on the weary traveler and the wind makes sure that every surface of the body is wet. Yet people walk through it, alone with their thoughts. “What if I’m wrong? What could I have done to keep this from happening? How much have I lost, and can any of it be rescued? And what the hell am I going to do now?” Write through the thought process. Describe the rain drops, the thunder, the looks of people cozy in their warm homes or places of business, the way others are ignorant of your inner conflict. Work with the emotions. Coax them out of the shadows and into your hands where you can change them from a disability to an advantage.
No matter what you decide to do with your negative emotions, be it one of the above or simply focusing on a project at hand, the sooner you do it the better off you’ll be. This is experience talking here, folks – if you’re unable to shake off the darkness, if you let this sort of thing fester and grow unexpressed in your heart, it’ll creep into every aspect of your life. You’ll lose the motivation to create, you’ll lash out at friends and family and the depths to which your emotions can sink are more frightening than anything ever put on paper by Poe, King or Lovecraft. If nothing else, talk about it. Get things off of your chest.
Negative emotions are a lot like a badly-prepared meal you’ve just eaten: better out than in. Sure, things might stink for a bit, and you may feel inclined to flush afterwards so nobody else has to deal with your vomit, be it physical or creative. But once it’s out, chances are it won’t come back. I’ll leave you with a bit of Emerson’s advice, since he’s far more experienced and eloquent than I.
Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.
I’ll keep this short and somewhat to the point – the draft of Cold Streets is ready for test readers!
As I work on Godslayer, outlining and possibly doing a world/character bible, I’ll be interested to hear what people have to say about my next novella. I want to hit as broad an audience as possible. I have a few people interested already, but if you would like to read the manuscript over and have a hand in changing it before I go into the production cycle, please let me know.
That’s pretty much it. Happy Friday!
This is a rough time of year for me. Doubly so this year. In lieu of the usual writerly advice, here’s a tidbit plucked from a NaNoWriMo of yesteryear. Please to enjoy.
Staring the month with a little advice.
So NaNoWriMo is beginning and a lot of you out there are taking freshly-sharpened pencils to blank pages. This next month is going to be full of inspiration, frustration, erasures, crossed-out words, broken tips and lots of caffeinated beverages.
I wish you the best of luck.
Related to last week’s post on showing instead of telling, I wanted to touch on something that came up in a recent edit. This will not apply to everything, mostly genre works or those rooted in history. And as with any writing advice, you may find it useful or you might not. But here it is.
You’ll want to show your audience the details in your work, without showing off how much you know.
If you’ve done a lot of world-building behind the scenes, chances are you’re practically busting at the seams to invite people into that new world. And in doing so, you want to show off all the neat stuff you have going on, from the retrograde rotation of the planet to the native people who are a cross between the Na’vi, red pandas and baby seals. That’s fine, but if you front-load your story with long passages on the world’s ecosystem and fauna, you’re committed the aforementioned cardinal sin: you are telling, not showing.
It’s similar with historical works. If you want to do it right, you’ve done a lot of research. You want to make sure that history buffs don’t tear your work to ribbons and ignore the thrust of your narrative because you made the sash worn by the second-in-command to the regional commandant the wrong color. If your audience might obsess over the details, it’s to your benefit to do the same, but not necessarily to the detriment of showing over telling.
Here, as with other expository writing, action and dialog will once again come to your rescue. It may take a little narrative positioning, but you can adjust your characters and their conversations in such a way as to convey the facts without taking away from the story. Don’t just describe the historically accurate landscape, do so through the eyes of character seeing it for the first time, or perhaps who has seen it one time too many. It’s one thing to put down the inner workings of your semi-magical difference engine on paper, it’s another to have a scruffy engineer explain things to a wet-behind-the-ears physics wizard while banging on the thing with a wrench. So on and so forth.
I hope other writers will find this sort of thing useful as NaNoWriMo begins. For them, and perhaps for you, this is the beginning of a grand adventure that may open the doors to a brand new way of conveying ideas and fleshing out dreams, and that’s wonderful.
For me, it’s Tuesday.
Don’t get me wrong. I know a lot of people out there are getting right into NaNoWriMo as I write this. I support the endeavor 100%, and I think it’s a great idea. 1000 words a day for 30 days is a daunting prospect, but it can be done. Arguably, it should be done, because words unwritten for a story in one’s head never really go anywhere.
I just can’t do it this year.
I’m continuing to struggle with things like energy and focus. While this past week was a touch more forgiving, it still saw me spending a lot of time and energy during a compressed eight hour period rather than conserving anything for the evening or the following morning. There was progress on Cold Streets, but nowhere near as much as I’d like. I’m still not sure if I’m putting too much pressure on myself or if my struggles are in vain. I’m not really getting the sort of feedback that helps in that regard. I know the situation is temporary, and one way or another will not last forever, but right in the middle of it, it kind of sucks really hard.
I’ll keep trying to find ways to mitigate things, to make them better, to carve out more time and conserve more energy to make the headway I need to make. I know that I can’t change anything if I don’t make the effort, and I definitely seek that change. Things can and will be better for me.
Slasher movies and torture porn will always have their place at Halloween and in the hearts and minds of horror fans. For me, effective and lasting horror does not necessarily have anything to do with buckets of blood or how stomach-turning the visuals are. Sometimes, the most penetrating stories of terror have less to do with what we see, and more to do with what we don’t; less about the delivery of lines, more about what’s left unsaid.
In terms of visuals, one of the most effective and haunting horror games I’ve ever played is Amnesia: The Dark Descent. A little indie gem from a few years back, Amnesia remains a game I have yet to finish. Some horror games like to throw their monsters directly at you in as loud and visceral a way possible, but Amnesia plays things with more subtlety. With no means to defend yourself, a limited amount of lighting in a game defined by darkness and shadows, and the addition of a sanity meter that makes things even more difficult if we’re alone in the dark for too long, when monsters appear (or don’t, but you know they’re there) it’s best to just run and hide. It’s frighteningly easy to lose track of where you’re going and what your goal for the moment is when you hear a moan or a scraping sound and you pretty much crap yourself in terror. The sensations created just through sound design and good use of the environment are, in a word, creepy.
Endermen in MineCraft also qualify. Dark-skinned creatures that appear in dark areas, Endermen are unique in that they won’t attack you right away. They’ll blink around with their teleportation powers, move blocks here and there, and stare at you. If you stare back, though… that’s when they become hostile. They scream. And they teleport directly behind you to attack you. Quite creepy.
Sometimes, though, the visuals and triggering mechanisms aren’t what stick in our minds as something that creeps us out. Sometimes, a person or object can appear completely normal, yet project that aura of vague discomfort that’s impossible to shake. This happens a lot when a character appears normal, but talks and acts in a way that hints that they’re not quite human, and perhaps only learned about humanity from reading a pamphlet or taking a correspondence course. The Observers in Fringe apply, especially September in the first season. The G-Man from Half-Life also springs to mind – courteous, polite, well-articulated, but… there’s definitely something wrong with him.
Stanley Kubrick is one of the best film directors to convey this sense of unease. Many of his shots in The Shining and A Clockwork Orange are off-putting in their framing, length, and presentation, even if the conversations within could be considered entirely mundane. But for me, one of the creepiest things he’s ever brought to life is the HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Faceless antagonists range from Doctor Who’s Daleks with their stilted, loud voices and monstrous appearances concealed by armored throwbacks to low-budget sci-fi, to Michael Meyers and his silent, towering, knife-wielding menace. But HAL is unique. He’s not overtly malevolent, nor is he outwardly psychopathic. He is a computer. He is a construct of logic and reason. His actions, given his programming, make sense, when you think about it. And he never raises his voice, never swears, never even speaks ill of those he wrongs. This calm, even manner of speaking coupled with the unblinking gaze of his multiple cameras and the amount of control he exerts over the crew of the spacecraft Discovery make him one of the creepiest characters ever created.
What’s creepy for you? Who’s your favorite creepy antagonist?
“Supernatural” has some great exchanges.
There are many people who come to mind that prefer dialog in prose to description. Even peers of mine find it much easier to write dialog than long narrative passages. The difficulty in writing dialog well is twofold: Making conversations clear, and making them feel natural. Both of these challenges, however, are entirely surmountable, and it might not be as hard as you think.
Clear conversation can be a problem because once you get on a roll, you may lose track of who’s saying what yourself. In rough drafts especially, our old friend “said” can help with that. Yes, I remember old English lessons trying to tell me that “said is dead.” Catchy as the mnemonic might be, it’s not necessarily true. Said can hold up the structure of a conversation long enough to get yourself through it, and when you’re drafting or rewriting and a deadline is looming and you have to write something but nothing is coming to mind… “said” can help. You can always take it back out later.
You don’t have to replace every instance, mind you. But descriptors of emotion definitely help keep the story interesting and inform the reader of the state the characters are in. Action immediately before or after a line of dialog helps, as well. There’s no hard line between speaking and motion in real life; why should there be one in your writing? Imagine one of your characters having a conversation with another one while making breakfast. The cooking doesn’t just stop when they talk. The character at the stove is frying bacon, flipping eggs, putting toast in, and so on. Is the character at the table taking notes? Drinking coffee? Loading a gun? Use these actions to both keep the conversation clear and flesh out these two folks for your reader.
The other challenge of dialog is keeping it natural. Some characters may have reasons for not being natural, but I’ll go into more detail about that on Thursday. In the example above, if you’re setting up a future scene at breakfast, the temptation might be to fill out the conversation with pure exposition. People, however, rarely just pass expository facts back and forth in conversation. They ask questions, they interject thoughts, they go off on tangents. Banter is something that’s tempting to emulate, but first and foremost is doing your best to make your characters talk like real people.
I would recommend spending some time on public transit.
Seriously, moreso than television or films or theater, sitting on a bus or train listening to people talk can really help you nail down some ways and means to keep your dialog lively and organic. Too much exposition or straightforward emoting (“I am feeling sad because of X”) can make dialog feel stiff and clunky, even if it’s clear. The more dialog you hear outside of constructed fiction, the better your own dialog will be. That said, you can always go out and engage in a little conversation yourself! Listen to how people talk, and note your own reactions and speech.
I wouldn’t recommend taking notes right in front of someone, though. That strikes me as kind of creepy.
It is my sincerest hope that this week was an aberration, and not the template for what’s to come between now and January (or even February depending on how busy things become). Weekend work combined with long days requiring intense focus have left me somewhat drained. I also hope I’m not sounding too much like a broken record, making posts like this.
It is cruelly true that in my position, I must prioritize doing what pays the bills over doing what I want, what I enjoy, or what interests me. The editing and rewriting of Cold Streets doesn’t pay bills. Writing articles about games and storytelling don’t, either. And the last week or two have been demanding enough that I have not been able to nail down a change in schedule that will allow me to pursue those things to put me in a better position for a greater change in my life.
So we’ll try again next week, and hope that the hours and days aren’t quite as long.
Dayjob demands have put me way behind in several ways. As I struggle to recover & catch up, here’s an entry from last year that I feel is still relevant.
One of these soldiers is likely to die.
There’s just something about a game, or story, that doesn’t pull its punches.
I get a feeling for that something when I play FTL or the new XCOM. A ship exploding under my intrepid crew or a favorite soldier getting their face melted off by plasma fire carries a bit of an emotional wallop. I’m tempted to keep the autosave feature of XCOM turned off to heighten that feeling and maintain the game’s edge. And that edge comes from choices having consequences, and those consequences sticking.
When games present their players with choice, the experience is improved when those choices mean something later on. One of the strengths of the Mass Effect series was that who you spared and who you left to rot does come back in one way or another, even if it doesn’t play too much into the overall story. While the consequences of those choices only really mattered in a minor sense, it felt like they mattered, at least to me.
In the aforementioned games, the choices really do matter, and a wrong choice means death. It’s not telegraphed or presented in story terms, either; they’re the little incidental gaming choices we make, like having a soldier cover a civilian’s retreat, or picking one class of weapon over another, or choosing the destination for your vessel. It is nearly impossible to predict which choices will lead to total victory and which will lead to bloody doom. That is what makes these games challenging and fun to play.
Similarly, some of the best stories out there have characters who make choices that lead to either their deaths or the deaths of others. It happens to men and women in command all the time, sure, but others are simply doing what they feel is right or trying to protect someone or something they love. George RR Martin, Jim Butcher, and Chuck Wendig have all done this – a character we like makes a decision, does all they can to back that decision up, and it explodes in their face. Someone close to them gets hurt or killed, and their own life may come close to ending before the story’s done. It’s tragic, it’s harrowing, and it’s great storytelling.
Make your character’s choices matter. Make those deaths mean something.
This is… a bit more complex than I thought it’d be.
I’m working over Cold Streets the way Jack Bauer works over someone who knows where the bomb is on Air Force One. Two of the opening scenes have been entirely swapped, and I’m rewriting a major section and introduction of a new character to make more sense and be more interesting. The more I work it over, the more I realize there’s more to do. Other things to add and change. Lines of logic I need to keep untangled. That sort of thing.
And then you have realizations along the lines of “Wait. If I change X, then why wouldn’t Y happen?” So I’m working to incorporate those new ideas, as well. Suffice it to say, the rewrite’s going to take a bit longer than I initially estimated.
I guess I have my work cut out for me.
Kerrigan demands better motivations. She’s a strong, independent woman who don’t need no man.
I don’t know how many writers would be willing to admit this. Good ones, I’d imagine. But here’s a shocking fact that may take you by surprise: no writer is an island. Even great writers who sell millions of copies don’t really work alone. They need people to read their work. They need publishing houses and agents to get physical copies on store shelves. And above all else, writers need editors.
For some, these can be test readers that point out plot holes and typos. For others, these are professional gate-keepers, savvy and mature folks who know when to say “No” to something and also when to slap a writer’s wrist for trying to pull a fast one. This is especially true if you have multiple writers working on the same project. Without someone in an editorial position overseeing the work, said work is going to end up as a confused mess with conflicting visions and nonsensical passages. In short, it’s like trying to run a kitchen where one person is undercooking the steak while another is using the wrong spice for the potatoes. You can have the freshest, highest-quality ingredients, but if someone does something to those ingredients that don’t work for the dish, the entire meal is ruined.
Case in point: I finished the campaign for StarCraft 2‘s “Heart of the Swarm” expansion and… my feelings are very, very mixed.
I would feel a lot better about it if so much of it didn’t feel like a retread of earlier Blizzard works. There are direct parallels to be drawn between this and Warcraft 3‘s “Reign of Chaos”, specifically the Orc campaign. It was difficult for me to discern anything I’d call a meaningful arc for any of its characters, even Kerrigan. Some of the conversations feel less like actual discussions and more like one-liners traded between characters put into a scene the way you put two ships into a harbor to pass in the night.
However, I never found myself completely disgusted by any of this the way I was by how romance overrode what could have been character development for Kerrigan. Her quest for revenge becoming a consolidation of Zerg power under her rule that gave way to a greater understanding of the Swarm would have been a lot more interesting and involving if we weren’t constantly reminded of the romance. I don’t see why Kerrigan ever needed to be ‘saved’. I would have enjoyed the campaign a lot more if she’d made her own choices and stood her own ground more.
So what was good about the campaign? The expansion on the history of the Zerg was interesting, some aspects stretching back past the original writing of the Zerg background. Several of the characters, from the new Ancient Zerg to those returning in new forms, are interesting conceptually and have unique points of view, moreso than similar characters in the previous campaign, “Wings of Liberty.” While some of the dialog was eye-rolling in its delivery, it wasn’t all terrible and there were moments where I was taken aback or found myself having a good-natured chuckle in response. And as egregious as I found the romance in which Kerrigan found herself entangled, when she was on her own I saw glimpses of a character who was thinking, growing, and moving forward for her own reasons.
There’s so much more than could have been done with this story. There’s potential in its concepts and history that went unrealized or underdeveloped. Why? Too many writers, not enough editors tied into a singular, clear vision. Kerrigan could have been much stronger if she hadn’t been yanked around between learning about the Zerg and being lovelorn over her dude. The story would have felt a great deal more smooth if plot points from “Wings of Liberty” had been remembered more clearly. The concepts and characters could have been given more time to breathe and develop if the story wasn’t so busy cribbing notes from earlier games. What we got wasn’t the worst game story I’ve ever played, and it’s left more of an impression and a desire to play than the first campaign did – but it could have been much, much better.
This week has been relatively rough. Some projects at the dayjob simply refuse to die. I’ve had some difficulty sticking to my exercise routine. It’s possible I’m still knackered by the changing of the seasons, especially now that colder weather and even less sunshine is the order of the day.
So I’m not as far along in my edit & initial rewrite of Cold Streets as I’d like to be. There is, however, good news in that I have quite a few ideas and notes written out. By hand. I’m hoping to apply my ideas over the weekend, and possibly make some larger strides towards finishing the rewrite. I’d solicit test readers right now, but I already know how rough this draft is, and I won’t subject any of you fine folks to it without at least a little bit of polish and sanding.
I’ve also been writing letters to friends to keep that art alive, but that’s neither here nor there.
Hopefully, next week will be better. I’ll do my best to make it so.
I’ve heard it said several times that brick and mortar bookstores are going the way of the dodo. And for a similar reason, as well: we’re killing them.
Now, I don’t think that every single Barnes & Noble is going to lock its doors and shutter its windows tomorrow. I think brick and mortar stores have a lot of life left in them. As much as people like the convenience and lower prices of e-books, there’s still something about the tangible feel of a hardcover in one’s hands. Your Kindle doesn’t have that new book smell. And a lot of these stores now feature coffee shops, board games, movies, stationary, and all sorts of stuff that make them worth visiting in person. In my humble opinion, at least.
Walking around a brick and mortar store is a good exercise for a writer, as well. When I was there the other day, I found myself looking at the shelves and their titles (“Ugh, why are the Magic novels so bad? Why am I not writing for Wizards? Holy shit, it’s Double Dead by Chuck Wendig, I know that guy! Oooh, they do sell Attack on Titan in manga form here, but NO SPOILERS! Can I really drop $80 on Mage Knight even if it is a masterfully designed and gorgeous board game?”), and in between all of the other internal ramblings, it occurred to me that regular visits to such places could yield valuable information and inspiration. The next time you find yourself in one, be it to buy books or to sign them, it may be worth your while to ask one, some, or all of the following questions:
What am I not seeing?
There are gaps in the store shelves that have nothing to do with how the shelves are stocked. Steampunk might still be a thing, but where is the series of novels about a sky pirate and his colorful crew? Children’s books cast cats, dogs, pigs, even monsters as their heroes, but where’s the kid’s book telling the story of a brave and lonely kakapo? Teen romances are a dime a dozen, but when did you last read one that was legitimately funny, featured authentic characters and had a neat premise like aliens and government conspiracies? These are just a few of the ideas that I had walking around a bookstore looking at the shelves. I’m sure yours would be entirely different (and probably even better).
What do I see that strikes a chord?
It could be an emotional chord, like seeing the cover of The Fault In Our Stars or the name of an author you admire who’s passed away. It could be a resonating chord, struck by a new release in a franchise you enjoy. Whatever it is, it grabs your attention away from everything else for a moment. Ask yourself: Why did it do that? What is it about this book or author that made me stop and think? I won’t say to try and do likewise, as you should be worried about doing your own thing and not somebody else’s, but as a thought exercise it can get the creative juices flowing.
What do I see that makes me MAD?
For a lot of people, it’s Twilight or its fanfiction (you know, 50 Shades of Gray). For others, it anything with Bill O’Reilly’s name on it. For me, it’s those and the novels from Magic: the Gathering as well as a lot of Warhammer stuff. There’s a lot of shlock out there. People are getting some truly awful books published. That part of the game is really all about making the right sorts of connections – the right agent, the right publishing house, etc. Instead of just getting mad, I say, do what they do after you write your masterpiece. Find agents. Follow up with them. Be patient in getting responses. Get yourself out there. The more you hammer the market, the more likely someone’s going to hammer back. That’s what those folks did. No reason you can’t, too.
I honestly hope brick & mortar stores are around for a while. Libraries are good for this, too, but as much as I love libraries, very few of them contain a Starbucks from which I can get a chocolate breve chai while I’m browsing books and agonizing over the cost of my hobbies.
Much like some malevolent giant peering over the wall of a nearly defenseless settlement, the dreaded Q4 is upon me at the dayjob. Expectations are high. Work is sure to come fast and furious (and without the benefits of Michelle Rodriguez or Jordana Brewster). I’m going to have to take extra steps to stay on top of things. Bills need to be paid, which means I need this employment, which means I can’t lose it.
This means I need to rearrange my schedule.
The last couple weeks I’ve been catching my breath. Picking at Cold Streets instead of tearing into it. Thinking about Godslayer more than I write about it. Blogging when I feel like it instead of on a schedule. I’ve taken a leisurely pace to things, in an attempt to get my head and heart together. It’s time to put that aside and focus on getting through the next few months intact.
I’ve been losing weight, and I plan to keep doing that. A focus on my physical imperfections and progress will help me focus, in turn, on the imperfections and progress in front of me. That’s the idea, at least. I’ll have to make sacrifices, be it less time for games, or relaxation, or friends. I’ll still make time for those things, and watching things like Agents of SHIELD or Attack on Titan, but these are rewards, not goals in and of themselves. I hope I don’t offend anybody if I disappear for hours at a time from people’s radar. While I do still need the support of friends and family – there’s no way I could have made it this far without them – there’s a large portion of what’s in front of me that I have to face alone.
Surviving to see 2014 in a prosperous and meaningful way means living up to my potential, owning my mistakes (which I am bound to make), writing the stories only I can write, doing everything I can for those around me, and never ever giving up, even if the odds seem stacked in favor of the house.
I know there’s help, and I’m grateful for it. I know there’s ground that’s been tread before, and I’m willing to learn from it. But in the end, when the reports and the edits and the demands come in, it’s all on me.
No pressure, or anything.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a great deal to report from the past week. I’m not sure why it’s been difficult to get myself out of bed this past week. Either it’s the change of the seasons, or a side effect of the medication I’m on. Which is more complex than whiskey, before that gets mentioned.
I have taken a bit of time to work over some of the concepts for Godslayer, but I can’t really call that ‘progress’. Some of that might happen next week. Same for editing Cold Streets. Hopefully that won’t take longer than a week or two, and then I can get my very patient test readers-to-be a manuscript to look over.
This weekend I’m going to rest up. Hopefully more progress will be made in the future, because that’s what I’m looking towards.
Courtesy Floating Robes
Cold Streets is done.
Well, the first draft is done, anyway. The sequel to Cold Iron (which, as a friendly reminder, you can buy here or here) was born out of a desire to lay a foundation for future, full-length projects. Once I take up the editing hat and really get down to business, it’s my hope to have a workable draft that’s ready for prime time near the end of the year. Then it’s a matter of lining up another breathtaking photo and some fantastic design work for a cover, and maybe, just maybe, it’ll be on the virtual shelves in time for a lovely holiday gift.
That’s kind of a tight deadline, and I need to line up the backing capital for the cover & design work, but we’ll see what happens. I won’t make petty demands of talented people. I know how that goes when I’m on the receiving end of it.
Once I get test readers tearing Cold Streets apart, it’ll be time to try something new. Godslayer has been rather neglected recently because of the demands of my schedule and everything else going on, and it’s past time I put together an outline for that, and perhaps a character/world-building bible. I’ve thought about picking up Scrivener to make organizing and reorganizing things easier, but we’ll have to see if the budget can accommodate that. And then there’s the matter of Morgan and Seth. I’m not done with them and their near-future slightly-screwy Philadelphia just yet. I have one more novella planned, Cold Light, to round out what I’ll be calling the Lighthouse Foundation trilogy. And as I said, from there it’s on to longer, more substantial works in that world.
Writing, like any skill, needs to be practiced in order to maintain a certain level of competence. The nibs of pens and points of pencils must be sharpened. For me, writing flash fiction every week is how I got about doing that. Having to come up with a thousand words with a simple prompt keeps me on the edge. But after a rather hectic weekend, I find myself needing one more day to put everything together. Which is why I don’t do it competitively.
I know there are some weekly flash fiction contests out there that yield bragging rights if nothing else. But I don’t think I’m at a point where I can confidently step into that kind of wordy Thunderdome. I have other projects to finish, dayjob work can keep me late, and there’s the chores and the running around and the things I do to remain sane. As much as fractured artists make for great stories in and of themselves, I’d like to keep as much of me intact as I can going forward. That’s why I keep using the prompts at Terribleminds – no pressure. No prizes to win or punishments to endure. The only writer I’m really trying to best is myself.
So this week, Flash Fiction is getting bumped to tomorrow. And based on the prompt, I’m hopeful it’ll be a good one.
(If you’re curious, my d20 ring rolled a 12.)