Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Needs More Drama.

Welcome back to yet another session of me realizing something I've been doing wrong for years.  I think I need to go back and tag these entries, maybe put them into a little collection so people can learn from me screwing up over and over.  :P

I was making another attempt to get caught up on Writing Excuses this past week, and listening to an episode (number thirty-six from last year) about relationships.  I was paying particular attention to this episode, as I've written a lot of relationships over the years, and the general feedback I've received is that I write them well.

Yeah, maybe not.

One of the aspects of writing a relationship that the podcast talked about was the need for a conflict that works against the people who might be getting together, something to give the reader that heart-clenching feeling as it looks like things might not work out.  The idea is to get the readers invested in what's happening between these people so they care about whether things work out or not, and then yank that out from under them.

I have written fifteen books, about two-thirds of which have some sort of romantic relationship.  And I don't think I have ever done this.

It made perfect sense when I heard it.  And it hit me like a truck.  While I like writing relationships, I'm not a fan of relationship DRAMA - I like it when things work out for people, when they get together over the course of the story and all that.  As I made pretty damn clear two entries ago, I like my happy endings.  But by pursuing that, I have repeatedly failed to give my would-be couples much to stand against them besides their own awkwardness.

To get a little deeper, I know where this comes from - I just plain like the idea of relationships working out well.  My parents got divorced when I was a kid, I've been single for centuries, and I can count the relationships I have had on one hand.  So there are some serious aspects of wish fulfillment here; I know this and I accept it.  But because of all that, the idea of using the story, the world, and the plot to drive my characters apart and force them to find a way to still get together somehow never occurred to me.

It's kind of a sobering thing to realize, to see that I was holding myself back like that.

I know that this doesn't have to apply to all relationships, especially those that are established when the story begins; I'm not going to delve into more STARWIND rewrites to wring some relationship drama out of Kris and Sarai.  And this doesn't mean I'm suddenly going to start writing stuff where the relationship itself is the story; I think I'd be bored to tears without something else going on.  But going forward, I know I'm going to look for opportunities to cause even more trouble for any characters who might be moving toward getting together.  I've already started on that in my current plot-in-progress.

Granted, working on that story is like trying to carve something out of stone while constantly ducking away to make sure the stone didn't notice, so who knows how it's actually going to turn out, or if it even is.  -_-

I'm curious to know what y'all think about this, since I know many of you are a lot meaner to your characters than I've ever managed to be.

Next week: IWSG.  It might be just one extended whining session, but we'll see.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

How Much do you Tell?

I'm working on something and it doesn't suck!  *waves tiny flag*

But seriously, this is the first time in weeks I've felt like I actually have a story worth working on (that isn't STARWIND's sequel, but anyway), and I'm ridiculously pleased to be able to say that.  And yes, it's something I started working on early last year and set aside for a good long while.  Hell, the notes currently guiding me are from mid-November, and they were the first thing I'd added to it for a long time.  So I've learned yet again how important it is to let something sit for a while before I start working on it.

That, however, is not what I'm here to talk about.

When I realized I actually had something to work on again, I wanted to tell everyone about it.  This didn't seem like a good idea for a few reasons.  First, the story's still in the early planning stages, and a lot could change; my November notes were the missing piece I needed but there's a lot I don't know.  Second, I might end up not writing this, and even if I do, I might decide nobody gets to read it, and even if I don't, history shows that you can count how many people read my books without taking off your shoes.  Third, a lot of what I'd like to share doesn't make much sense to anyone but me:
 I've seen different writers say a lot of different things about talking about your work before it's done.  A lot of them say to not say a thing, and some say not to say a thing to other writers.  I don't really understand either of those.  Sure, it's hard not to talk about what you're working on, but while I can get resisting the urge, I don't get why it should be an absolute.  Especially when you're excited about it and it's going well.

And not talking about it to other writers?  How does that even make sense?  Who else is going to understand?  O_o

There's also asking for advice about something you're working on.  Much as I hate to say it, I've killed ideas by doing that.  In the past, asking for someone else's thoughts on a would-be project got their idea rooted too firmly into my mind, and I ended up abandoning it, because I felt like it wasn't mine anymore and I couldn't get it back to how it used to be, because I couldn't get someone else's idea out of my head.

So, what do the rest of you think?  Do you tell people what you're working on, or do you keep it to yourself?  Do you ask for advice on what you're working on while you're working on it?  And can you guess how much of the above tweet is a metaphor?


Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Endings and Expectations

This was originally going to be another "Recommended Reading" post.  Then I finished the book I was reading, and felt like the ending dropped the ball hard enough to leave a crater, and prepared to write an entire entry of literary rage.  Then, I took a few moments to consider and realized most of my disappointment with the ending was based on what I thought would happen, not what actually happened.

So now you get the blog equivalent of me sitting here saying, "Well . . . shit."

To make a long story short, the book promised a tragic ending from the beginning, gave me hope it wouldn't turn out that way, then ended with a different type of tragedy than it foreshadowed.  It started with a vision that the love between the main characters was doomed before they even met, showed them falling for each other despite everything, and made it so they couldn't stay together and still get what they wanted most in life.  No happy ending for them, despite spending nearly four hundred pages earning it.

What bothered me to the point of ranting was that things the characters learned along the way seemed to hint that they would find a way to challenge what was keeping them apart.  I thought that was where their story was heading, once their quest was finished.  Nope.  The story ended with an unnecessary post-victory side quest and the story's beta couple getting together.  But when I thought on it more, I realized what I saw as hints were just bits of conversation that amounted to nothing, secrets beyond the story's scope.  They weren't what I thought they were.

I felt like I'd somehow cheated myself, by seeing things in the story that weren't really there.  It's rare that I think I can see where a story's going as I'm reading it, but damn, this time I wanted to be right.

It's weird to me because I've seen so many people rant online about various forms of media, and I've rolled my eyes and/or laughed, because so many of those rants can be summed up as "What you thought about [insert media here] was wrong and/or not what the creator[s] meant."  Being on the other side of that is kind of humbling.

As writers, we can't be held responsible for everything our readers think will happen.  Peoples' minds can go all kinds of different places from just a paragraph, a line of text, a single word.  But sometimes knowing this makes it hard to be a reader when the hints you think you saw aren't what the writer had in mind.  It's way too easy to think of where we would take the story and build up our expectations based on that.

To make things worse for me, the story's main characters were both women; I figured that since I write so much stuff with f/f couples I should actually read some.  The beta couple was a man and a woman who got maybe six or seven pages' worth of development.  And at the end, the tragic couple says that the beta couple's tale will make such a great story.  This is part of why I was so pissed off at the ending.  Spend the whole book building up the two women, tear them apart without them making a single effort to stop their separation, then end it saying I should cheer for the gratuitous straight romance?  Fuck that bait-and-switch.  I suppose I should be glad no one in the main couple died, but still.  Not pleased.

Anyway.  It's weird to think of this book now; I loved the writing and was ready to read more by this author until I got to the ending.  I wonder if I'd see it differently if I hadn't seen things as hints of change that weren't.  I know that I should have expected a tragic ending, because the book never actually suggested anything else.

But now it's on my reject pile because now that I know how it ends, I'll never read it again.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

IWSG: The In-Between Time

Time once again for IWSG, or as I sometimes think of it, another round of me whining about an issue I'm sure many of us have.

With the first draft of the plot for the sequel to STARWIND complete, I've been trying to figure out what to work on next.  I have a bunch of different things I would like to do, but each one has its own little set of problems.  So I find myself switching between them, sometimes two or three in one night, hoping I'll find something in my notes (or anywhere, really) that sparks my imagination and helps me realize how the story's supposed to go so I can shape it into a proper plot.

And so far, it's not happening.  At all.

There's a story I plotted extensively before I started writing STARWIND, which even includes a rough draft of the plot and many pages of character notes.  I read through it a while ago and no longer care to work on it; whatever drove me to write it is gone now.  There's a set of ideas and visions that have been bouncing around in my head for a long time that I've been shaping, slowly, into something real, but it's like trying to herd flying cats with a hockey stick and my effort to write an interesting villain has led to one who could win in every possible situation.  There's a weird new incarnation for an old idea that came to me out of nowhere this past Friday, and it's already mimicking its predecessors, as I can't figure out a thing beyond the first act.  The chief plot device is also seriously problematic, making me wonder if the story is even worth pursuing anymore.  And I don't even want to count all the projects I've made progress on and then not looked at for weeks or months or even years, completely unsure of how to make them work.

To be blunt, I'm in Plotter Hell right now.  Not for the first time, and definitely not for the last.  And it sucks every single time.

I try not to worry about it too much.  I've learned (over and over) that it takes time for me to really put a story together, and that it's for the best if these things do take time.  But it's frustrating to sit down to get some work done and just flip from one potential project to the next, adding maybe a sentence or two, feeling like none of it amounts to anything.  This is the sort of thing that led me to take a weeks-long break last year, and even when I did that, I knew I had a working plot waiting on the other side.  I don't have that now.

I have a lot of faith in STARWIND, but that's nothing new; I've had a lot of faith in everything I've tried to get published and none of them have ever worked out.  So I know I can't just work on that would-be series and think it's all going to pan out.  If that book doesn't work, then I'll need something else to work on, and when nothing is working, well, you can guess how that all pans out.

Advice is welcome, as always.  >_<  I'll keep scribbling down what I can when I think of it, and hoping that somewhere along the way, I figure out at least one thing that I can turn into a real story.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

An Ode on Querying.

To write a book, and thus, perchance to dream,
Spend hours to make the tale what it must be.
But the next step doth impassable seem -
Send queries out, whilst screaming, "PLEASE LOVE ME!"

Rejection's, truth, what every writer knows.
It comes in letters - simple, blunt, or kind,
With the same message, as it ever goes:
"Your book is just not what I had in mind."

I may grow old with books that no one reads,
Or kindle fires in some agent's eye.
I'll flip that coin, send queries to all leads,
Since I will never know unless I try.

I may not be there yet, but soon, I'll say,
"I'm closer now than I was yesterday."

I swear, I didn't sit down intending to write a sonnet about starting the query process.  I sat down intending to whine about the query process, again, since I'm planning to start soon and there's nothing quite like looking down that dark road to make me question every single part of this whole writing thing.

What changed my mind?  This.  Okay, not that exact image, but one on my screensaver with the same message.

Querying sucks.  I'm not going to sugarcoat that.  But I'm at the point with STARWIND where I have to put up or shut up - either start trying to make this happen or set it aside and work on something else.  And I damn well do not want to set this book aside.  Which means it's time to take the next step, to try yet again to get closer to what I want out of my writing.

And while querying rarely feels like it's actually bringing me any closer, I know that it is.  It has to be.  Anything that gets my book closer to the hands of theoretical readers is another step in the right direction.

It's possible that the same thing will happen with this book that happened with every other book I've queried, I can't deny that.  But even if, months from now, I'm writing yet another downer of a blog entry about how I've set yet another book aside, at least I'll be able to say I tried.  And no matter how big or small that step is, at least I'll know I'm another step closer.

...please do me a favor and remind me of this entry when I'm crushed under the weight of rejections.  Thank you.  >_<

Next week: IWSG.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

On Passion Projects.

Before I start this week's entry, I'd like to remind y'all that last week's was my query letter for STARWIND.  If you have a moment to take a look, I could always use a few extra eyes on it before I start sending it out and playing the "PLEASE LOVE ME!" game again.  Thanks.

So, I've been thinking.  (This is a process that never stops as long as I'm aware that I'm awake.)  I've been working on quite a few different things recently, as I'm in that wonderful stage of plot preparation where I try to figure out what works and what doesn't.  There are a lot of ups and downs in this part of the process, and a lot of sound and fury, if by 'sound' you mean the rapid-fire rattling of my keyboard as I try to type out ideas as fast as I can before I lose them and if by 'fury' you mean my rapid-onset dismay when things fall apart for one reason or another.

Through all of this, I've started to notice a pattern: the ideas that hit me the hardest, the ones that beg to be written, are rarely the ones that pan out.

I've gone through a few different iterations of something I thought was going to be deep and dark and amazing, one of the most personal stories I've ever told.  After so many strong emotions invested in the creation of the characters and setting, I have no idea what to do with it and have set it aside several times already.  Hell, I even spun something else off of it, thinking it was going to be new iteration and realizing it was a completely separate project, and that one's in a state of "I have notes and a plot outline, and no longer want to work on it."  Something about this strikes me as off - if it's a story I'm so passionate about, shouldn't I be driven as all hell to tell it?

And then there's the flipside, a little book I've mentioned here a time or two: STARWIND.  This was not a passion project.  I wanted to tell a "crew on a ship" sort of story, I liked the idea of traveling between all kinds of worlds, so I put together a bunch of things I thought would be cool and figured out how to make a story out of them.  Not only has that turned out to be one of the best things I've written in a long time, I have a full draft of the plot for the sequel, and it worked out better than I thought it would.

This is the part where I stare at my monitor with my hands clenched in writerly fury, and shout/whine "Whyyyyyyy. . . .", and never get an answer.  -_-  I know some people say not to question the process, but no, I'm going to question the hell out of this.

It's possible that I'm having trouble with passion projects because I get too emotionally invested in them.  Thinking about how amazing something's going to be when it's a scattered collection of images in my head seems like a really good way to make myself choke when it's time to turn those images into a story.  Whereas the other stories come to me as more of a "what if" or "how would that work" sort of thing - more wondering than realization.  The emotional investment comes from working on the story and figuring it out, rather than from getting smacked upside the head with a supposedly brilliant idea.

I don't know if this is something I can change, but it is something I can watch out for.  I can try to develop the sudden ideas more slowly, and not put so much mental weight on them.  With this, I can try to understand that if there really is a good story there, I'll figure it out as I work on it.  And I can try to hold onto the stories I want to tell the most, rather than just the ones I could work out.

Does anyone else have this problem?  If not, have you seen any pattern in what you can make work for you and what you can't?  Either way, how do you deal with it?

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Query Check, STARWIND Version

...it's that time again. >_<  Much as I'd love to say otherwise, the query check is nothing new to this blog.  But I know I need feedback to get even a little bit closer to a query that actually works, so here I am again, with my current query letter for STARWIND.  I'd appreciate any advice y'all can give me.

Thank you.