Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Emotional Heart

No, it's not a really redundant title for a romance novel... it's yet another blog entry wherein I try to figure out what I'm doing wrong.

I've been getting back into listening to Writing Excuses now that I'm no longer on break.  (I'm still not done with 2016 and may never catch up.)  The last episode I listened to was a deep dive for one of the hosts' books, Mary Robinette Kowal's Ghost Talkers (which is very good and you should read it), and one of the points that the hosts brought up got me thinking.  They talked about the two main characters and their relationship being the emotional heart of the story, and about how important it was to have that heart, especially in a story that takes place during World War I.

This made me stop and wonder how many of my stories have been completely without this emotional heart.

To put it simply, I like writing adventure stories.  I like writing characters who do awesome things, I like getting them into all kinds of trouble, and I like it all taking place in interesting and bizarre locales.  But after hearing that episode, I started to think back on my more recent works, and it hit me that a lot of them just plain don't have that emotional center.

Then again, now that I think on this some more, it might be better to define what the emotional center is supposed to be.  The podcast gave a relationship as an example, but not every book has one of those or needs to.  It could be more about the feelings that grow and change along with the plot, or perhaps the feelings that don't change no matter what happens.  I would think that it has to be something that happens between the characters, but it could also be made of one or more characters' dedication to what drives them.  It could even be the situation itself, whatever happens that's pulled the characters together and keeps them going.

Maybe I was looking at this too narrowly.  Trying to consider how to do something in writing with only one example is probably not the best idea.  >_<

I guess I could call the relationship between Kris and Sarai the emotional heart of STARWIND, since the scenes with the two of them together are about the only times the story deals with that sort of thing.  Or I could expand that and say the relations among the entire crew make up that heart, since there's a lot of friendship and trust there.  And we do get to see the crew's genuine reactions to everything that happens to them over the course of the story, a lot of which isn't good - running the gamut from romantic interruptions to having one's gender identity denied to a fatal betrayal.  So it's possible I'm not giving myself enough credit, as per usual.

Perhaps this is something I don't need to stress about.  Characters and plot spring from and build upon each other, and the emotional heart of the story comes from all of that.  And it's not like I could write something that had no emotional depth at all.

In conclusion: I might be doing okay, but I still have no idea what I'm doing.  Nothing has changed.  Carry on.  :P

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Three-Trope Tales.

So as I threatened mentioned in last week's entry, I'm going to try doing some short fiction here in the blog.  Some of it will be with a theme or intent or what-have-you, some won't.  I'd say something about some of it being worth reading and some of it not, but it's probably better if I not play at being the judge of that.

Anyway.  These will naturally be longer than my usual blog entries, so I'll probably only do one or two a month.  It all depends on what I feel like doing, but at least it means one entry a month where I'm not complaining, so that's good.

To start things off, I'm doing a Three-Trope Tale - going to TV Tropes and picking three tropes and writing something based on those.  Some of these will be chosen at random, others will not, and I might never tell which is which.  :P  Let's see how this goes. . . .

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

IWSG: Finding My Way Back.

I wasn't sure if I'd be able to write this entry.  There were times when I thought about what I'd do if I couldn't; I'd make a brief post saying that the hiatus was extended indefinitely, and use the strikeout tag on my blog's main title as a visual to show the place was closed.  Also, I'd strike out the word 'writing' from the sub-title, because I knew that if I had to go on that sort of hiatus, it meant I didn't feel like a writer anymore.

I'm glad things didn't turn out that way.

The past month has been rough, though.  I've been in the habit of sitting down and working on something, or at least trying to, for so long that it feels very strange to not write.  There were many days where I went to bed early, feeling useless and telling myself that I shouldn't, because I'd made the deal with myself that I would only work on writing stuff if I felt like it.  And when I did feel like it, sometimes it went well.  Other times... less so.  Sometimes very, very less so.

I've been through the hardships of this whole process over and over again over the past five years.  It's not like I need to recount them - hell, we all have our stories of dealing with this shit.  There's a reason they call a gathering of authors at a convention a "barload".  (Fun fact: I have no idea where I heard that term, because when I Google it, the second result is a post I made referencing it, and the first result is a page referencing that page.)  What matters is how I got through it.

As much as I'd love to make this into a mini-epic, the biggest part of it is that I was focused too much on publishing, and unable to keep myself from thinking about it even at the earliest stages of a work.  Depression makes it really, really easy to think "this will never sell" and go no further when all I've got is two and a half sentences in my idea file.  I also was trying way too hard to figure out the full stories for my various projects without spending enough time developing the characters and world.  This combined with my depression led me to think it didn't matter what I figured out because no one would ever want to read it, so... yeah.

Lather and repeat that often enough, and you have one seriously tangled-up author.  I needed to rinse.

My therapist suggested two things, one of which I'll do.  I need to do some writing that's just for the sake of writing - it might be fanfic, it might be brief character pieces, it might be what happens when I to go TV Tropes, click the "random trope" button three times, and write something based on the results.  The point is to get me to loosen up and just enjoy the craft again, without all the baggage.

And who knows?  Maybe something good will come out of the random writings.  Maybe I'll post some here; my therapist recommended that so I can get feedback and feel less like nobody wants to read my work.  Maybe I'll look at them the next day and print them out just so I can burn them.  Anything's possible.

Anyway, I'm back at this again.  And while I'll try working every night, I've learned not to force myself to.  Here's hoping I have more entries with better things to say in the future.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

A Brief Hiatus.

I've been thinking about this for a while, and after last week's entry, I decided it was time: I'm going to take a quasi-break from writing for the rest of May, and I will not be updating my blog during that time.

The lack of blog updates is the less obvious one, so I'll address that first.  I've been updating this thing regularly(-ish) for five years.  Lately, I've started to feel like I'm just repeating myself - most of my recent entries are variants on "I'm having this issue", "I learned something", and "everything is horrible", with occasional forays into "things are actually going well" and "I liked this book".  This will only get worse if I'm on a break.

So, this will be my last blog update until June 7th, for the next IWSG.

As for taking a break, I know people have been advising me to do that since at least March.  I've resisted it because I didn't think it would make any difference.  The last time I took a break, when I came back from it, it didn't seem that anything had changed.  Like I said in that entry, I'm a miserable fuck without writing, but I'm a miserable fuck with it, so really, what's the difference?  But I'd rather not be miserable, so I sat down and spent some time thinking about taking a break, to see if it was really something I should do.

Then it hit me: I have not come up with anything that works for more than an entire year.

Having ideas crash and burn is nothing new for me.  That's been happening since pretty much forever.  But spending an entire year fumbling at plots, at throwing every idea I've had against the wall and not making any of them stick?  That's new.  And that's not good, to say the absolute least.

In short, I'm utterly and completely burned out on the one thing in life that truly makes me happy.

So I need to take some time to figure out what's gone so wrong for me and see if I can either get back to where I used to be or move on to something better than where I am now.  I don't mean for this to be a complete break; I'll still write down things as they come to me and hopefully that will go well.  But I'll do my best to not put pressure on myself to get work done.  I definitely won't open my word processor and stare at the blank page for a good half-hour, hating myself the entire time.  I'll write what I want when I want to, and hopefully it'll work out, though I'll settle for it just not being bad.

That's where I am right now.  Writing this has been depressing as all hell, since I think the odds are good this won't matter much in the end.  But I've been wrong before.  I'll see how this one goes.

See y'all in about a month.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

IWSG: I Don't Know What I'm Doing.

Yes, yes, I know the joke.  None of us actually know what we're doing.  But with everything that I haven't been able to make happen for myself and all that hasn't been working, I'm starting to feel like if there's a way to know less than nothing about all of this, that's where I am.

I'd say something about what started me feeling like this or how I got here, but really, this me in the same place I've been for the entire past year, ever since I finished STARWIND.  Everything I try to work on still falls apart.  Every single time I try to develop something from an idea into an actual story, I still can't figure out how it's supposed to go, or I lose interest in it after a few pages' worth of development, or something else happens.  The thing I'm working on now, I sit down and work on it for maybe ten to fifteen minutes, enough to hash out a page or two of character stuff, before it all seems pointless.  In the past year, the only plot I've managed to finish and get into workable condition is the sequel to STARWIND, which doesn't matter because odds are good I'll never have reason to write it.

It's gotten to the point that I'm not even writing things down anymore.  For all the times I've talked about how I write down all my ideas, in case I can use them someday, I haven't bothered with that recently.  Because it feels like it doesn't matter.  Because it feels like no matter what I do, everything's going to turn out the same.  It'll either be a few lines in my idea file that never develops beyond that, or something that crashes and burns or just goes *pfft* at some point when I attempt actual development.  So really, what's the point.

And to make this all worse (because of course it can get worse) I don't know how to do things any differently.  I've tried to write stories without knowing how they go from the start, and that only leads to me writing shit.  I don't want to do short fiction because I don't like it and I already wasted years trying to make it work for me, to no avail.  So here I am with the one damn thing I want out of life and I don't know how to make it work.

As per fucking usual.  I'd think I'd be used to this by now.  Not that being used to it would change anything, or make it any easier.

To make things yet still worse, this is all on me.  Nobody is keeping me from figuring my stories out.  Nobody is making me lose interest in something that once fascinated me.  Simply put, I am the problem, and I am the reason it's not working out.

And I don't know how to fix me.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

You Don't Have to Save the World.

I tend to think big in my writing.  A glance at last week's entry can confirm that - my first genuine attempt at a novel resulted in nearly 302,000 words of what can charitably be called epic fantasy.  I like to create stories in worlds that have real history, tales that go to interesting places and have big things happening and end with something major going on.

But it's easy to go too far.

Looking back at last week's list, I can count which books revolved around saving the entire world.  Hell, book #7 happened because the world had been destroyed, and the entire story was about the gods' failsafe making her way to where she needed to be (which meant traveling through the internal layers of a moon until she reached the surface; long story) so she could put the world back together.  And it was only after I finished it that I realized, holy shit, how am I supposed to follow that?

Part of my problem with this comes up in world-building.  I tend to make worlds where seriously bad things have happened in the past, so having those things rear their collective ugly heads makes for a good story.  In theory.  It leads to the problem of facing down a major threat again and, of course, saving the world.

It's an exciting thing, to be sure.  But it's also limiting.  When the world's at stake, there's only so much room for personal issues, so it's easy for characterization and development to get swept aside.  There's also the need to show why it's a world worth saving.  I mean, if the reader decides that the world would be better off burnt to a cinder or erupting into tentacles, it'll be hard to get them to cheer for your characters.  And as I said above, there's always the question of what to do next, for the inevitable sequel.  :P

I'm not sure when I realized this was an issue, but it's something I still deal with when I'm in the plotting phase.  My ideas tend to start with a character doing a thing, so I've had to learn to focus on who the person is and why that leads to them doing that thing, instead of immediately jumping to what the thing is and why it needs to be done.  Because what's more interesting - the reasons behind a character dropping a bomb on a city, or why this character is riding on the bomb as it falls?

(Yes, that's what I'm working on now, and yes, I know the answer.  It's the result of a decision that's going to piss off a lot of people.)

It is comforting to know that I'm getting better about this.  For all the times I tried to make an interplanar story work, it wasn't until I got the first ideas for STARWIND and came up with the race that it actually came together.  And for all the tales I've told about Shiloh and Alexi, the better ones have come from their personal issues, not the world's problems.  So for all the plotting problems I've been having lately, it feels good to say I've largely fixed one of my issues.

Until I get another idea, and I have to make sure not to do this all over again.  >_<

Next week: IWSG.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Word Count

I'm probably going to regret this, but I don't know how it will end.

There are a bunch of different quotes and variants on sayings about how writers need to write a million words before they're any good.  I don't think this is any sort of absolute; there are some writers who seem to have picked it up easily and have good work even from their early days, and some whom I think might need a few million more under their belts.  But for all that I talk about how much I've written and now long I've been at this, I've never actually figured out what my total novel word count is.

Hence the "I'm probably going to regret this."  But I'm short on blog ideas for this week, so why not see where this goes?

So.  Here are the final word counts on the last versions of these books, as well as the last date I worked on them.  Let's see. . . .

1: The Blessed.  June 29, 2001.  301,998 words.  (holy shit)
2: Of Rune and Shadow.  May 5, 2004.  149,163 words.
3: The Captured Gods.  October 18, 2006.  177,621 words.
4. Shattering the Firmament.  January 8, 2010.  201,958 words.
5: The Winds of Limbo, v1.  May 31, 2010.  183,249 words.
6: The Winds of Limbo, v2.  October 10, 2010.  187,550 words.
7: Skyborne.  April 19, 2012.  133,219 words.
8: AMU.  August 21, 2012.  103,761 words.
9: The Winds of Limbo, v3.  January 31, 2013.  100,227 words.
10: Untitled interplanar book .  May 11, 2014.  70,990 words.  (Vague precursor to Starwind, hated upon completion.)
11: The Accidental Warlock.  August 16, 2014.  95,693 words.  (Written in 2013, tried to get published for about a year, trunked.)
12: TGM Untitled.  November 2, 2014.  94,312 words.
13: The crazy dream book.  June 24, 2015.  68,631 words.  (Written after BOLR, but dismissed after first draft for not being weird enough.)
14: The Book of Lost Runes.  November 17, 2015.  83,981 words.
15: Starwind.  April 12, 2017 (most recent draft).  109,975 words.

Word count total: 2,062,328 words.

And that's only counting what I could call finished!  Looking through my old files, I see more than a few drafts, reworkings, files full of cut text, so on and so forth.  To say nothing of books I started and dropped after who knows how long.  I've done at least another 100K in things that aren't showing up on this list.  This also shows me patterns - the time between my third and fourth books I largely spent trying to write short stories and hating every page of it.  The idea for the fourth book came to me as a sudden flash of inspiration on the drive home from work, and I knew it was time to start writing novels again.  And the second two TWOL books are also based on interplanar stuff, an idea I clearly couldn't figure out for quite some time.

Well, this has been sobering.  Now I know what I've been doing with my life for the past sixteen years, eh?  Not much else to say, except that I hope I've gotten better after all this time.

Next week: you don't always have to save the world.