Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Changing the World.

Sadly, this is not a post about how writing can change the world.  I mean, we all know it can do that, but it's not something I've personally experienced.  My stuff would have to be read by more people than I can count on two hands for it to even start changing anything.

Yes, I'm opening with self-deprecation.  It's what I do.  :P

One of my current plots-in-progress has always felt like it was missing something.  As per usual, I was having trouble with the antagonists, and last week, I finally figured out what might work to solve the problem.  Making this replacement led to me getting a new perspective on what the world's magic should be, and that led to some significant rearrangement of both the plot and the cast.

I'm still working on a lot of this, but it's going fairly well so far; I've mostly been figuring out how the difference in the world is going to affect everyone's backgrounds, particularly when it comes to manifestation of personal magic, which is kind of a taboo thing.  Delving into the changes to the world that the new magic system makes necessary will be an entirely different thing, and it leads me to a troubling thought:

I'm not sure if this new world is the right one for this story.

Part of why I've been having so much trouble with this plot is that it's largely based around a single image that inspired both the main character and the third act.  Most of my work on it has been about building toward that moment.  And the changes in the world have me wondering if that moment would actually happen.

This is the part where I'm glad no one has ever asked me "Aren't you the writer?  Can't you just make the story do whatever you want?", because I don't need that kind of frustration.  >_<

I understand that the only way to figure this out is to keep working on the plot.  I have a rough outline of the actual story, and I've made room for all kinds of trouble for the cast, which is something I still struggle with.  But the problem is that I won't know if these changes work until I've put everything down.  And the doubt that's already riding my back on this makes it very hard to sit down and get to work.

As I've talked about over and over this year, I've had so many things not work out.  It is very, very hard not to think about that.  I'm trying not to let that keep me from trying something new.  But every time something falls apart, it gets harder to try to put anything together again.

I will keep trying, of course; I keep telling myself that this is what I do even when I have trouble believing myself.  And maybe this one will finally work out.  We shall see.

One thing I have been thinking about is taking the time to just create a world, and worry about the stories that happen there later.  Maybe I wouldn't have so much trouble with things if I knew more about where they take place.  And blogging about that process would be more interesting than another entry about my troubles.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Quotable, Part 3.

To make a long story short, last week was full of stress and overtime, and the only reason last week's blog entry happened was because I typed it up on Sunday.  I'm still trying to relax and recover, and I have barely been able to work on anything writing-wise for a week, because there's just been too much going on and this week is full of even more overtime.

So.  For the third time (Part 1, Part 2), you get quotes:

"A world in which there are monsters, and ghosts, and things that want to steal your heart is a world in which there are angels, and dreams, and a world in which there is hope."  --Neil Gaiman

"Write to write.  Write because you need to write.  Write to settle the rage within you.  Write about something or someone that means so much to you, that you don't care what others think."  --Nick Miller

"If you don't feel that you are possibly on the edge of humiliating yourself, of losing control of the whole thing, then what you're doing probably isn't very vital.  If you don't feel that you are writing somewhat over your head, why do it?  If you don't have some doubt of your authority to tell this story, then you're not trying to tell enough."  --John Irving

"We need to make books cool again.  If you go home with somebody, and they don't have books, don't fuck them."  --John Waters

"You own everything that happened to you.  Tell your stories.  If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should've behaved better."  --Anne Lamott

"Don't be afraid to write crap, because crap makes great fertilizer."  --Jessica Brody

"It is only a novel... [or in short] only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language."  --Jane Austen

"Writing is the only thing, that, when I do it, I don't feel I should be doing something else."  --Gloria Steinem

"Don't bend; don't water it down; don't try to make it logical; don't edit your own soul according to the fashion.  Rather, follow your own most intense obsessions mercilessly."  --Franz Kafka

"Everything you've ever wanted is on the other side of fear."  --George Addair

And the last one I'm throwing in here for myself:

"A writer is a writer not because she writes well and easily, because she has amazing talent, or because everything she does is golden.  A writer is a writer because, even when there is no hope, even when nothing you do shows any sign of promise, you keep writing anyway."  --Junot Diaz

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

On Losing Interest.

I've been thinking about writing this entry for a while, as it's something that's been bothering me for quite some time.

If you're a regular reader here, you've most likely heard me talk about having ideas that don't work out.  Either I can't figure out how the story goes, or I never figure out how to develop it beyond the original idea, or I hammer away at it for so long trying to make it work that there's nothing left but a metaphorical pile of dust.  But what's bothering me is when I simply lose interest in a story altogether.

Before I started writing STARWIND, I finished a rough plot draft on something new; I've talked about this one before.  I had six pages of plot, a good deal of world and character development, and a magic system that worked without people knowing they were using magic.  It seemed like I had something good, but when I went back to it many months later, I just plain didn't care about it, and couldn't bring myself to work on it.

As much as I'd like to think that no time spent working on writing stuff is wasted, that one definitely feels like a waste.  And I'm trying to figure out how to keep that from happening again.

I know that I can't force myself to work on something I'm not interested in; a lot of the problems I had over the past six months came from thinking I had to be working on something all the time.  But I don't know how I go from "I want to work on this every day until it's ready for me to write it" to "I don't care about this any more and it's going to languish on my hard drive forever."  I've never been one for apathy, so it feels very strange to think that way about my own work.

One cause, I suppose, could be that I just wanted to see where the story went - I had an idea, I pursued it, and once I reached the end, that's all I needed to do.  But that seems really weird to me.  What's the point of developing a story if I'm not going to eventually write the whole thing?  Pretty much everything I've ever written has ended up with anywhere from zero to four people who actually read it.  So writing something and stopping at the halfway-plotted stage because that's as far as it needs to go seems . . . ridiculous.  Especially after making a page or so worth of notes on the theoretical sequels.

To make everything worse (because I need to do that, really I do), I can think of easily half a dozen different plots-in-progress that I was having trouble with, then figured out something to make them work, and got all excited only to stop working on them again after a day or two.  Call me melodramatic, but this is the sort of thing that feels like the slow death of me as a writer, sitting here unable to dredge up enough interest in my own work to do anything.

This has gotten depressing, so I'm going to cut off my pondering here and ask if the rest of y'all have ever dealt with the same thing.  Whatever your process is, have you ever just plain lost interest in what you were working on?  Did you figure out what caused it, or did you move on to whatever came next?  And did you ever regain interest in that abandoned project?

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

IWSG: Slow Progress Still Counts.

I feel like I've lost half the year.

That's a bit of an exaggeration; I was doing okay until some time in mid-February, when things kind of came crashing down around me in my head.  I spent the next few months dragging myself down, around, through, and eventually out of that.  It's taken me that long to feel like I can make this writing thing work for myself again.

But it feels like a lot has changed.  Where I used to be able to sit down and hammer out two or three pages of plot and story work in a night, I now struggle to figure out a few paragraphs' worth.  It used to be easy to work on my current project every night, but now, I constantly have to remind myself that it's okay if I don't feel like working on anything on a given evening.  And with every project, I wonder when I'll lose interest in it, or if I'll feel like I can't figure out how to make it work, and set it aside to maybe pick up again someday (but probably not).

My feelings about this, as I'm sure you could imagine, are mixed.

There are, however, two positive things I can get out of this.  The first is the hope that I'm actually getting better at this writing thing, which is why it's getting more difficult.  I talked in my last entry about seeing things in published books that I've learned not to do, so maybe I'm having more trouble putting things together in my own plots because I've got a better idea of what does and doesn't make a story work.  I could go on about this for a while, but a lot of it is too nebulous and long-winded to fit into a single blog entry.  >_<

It strikes me as funny that I'm thinking of things this way, though, because I used to feel like writing was an easy thing.  I didn't entirely understand when people talked about how hard it was.  I do now.

The second positive thing is that I can consider any work I manage to get done as positive progress.  Getting a page done is better than just a few paragraphs.  One paragraph is better than just a sentence or two.  And a single sentence is better than nothing.  Plotting used to feel like drawing a map as I explored new territory; it now feels like chipping away at a stone with only the basic idea of what I'm trying to carve and knowing that it could all change as I go.

But slow progress is better than no progress at all.  Any day that I get something done, I count as good.  I have to, or else I'll only have bad days.

To put it simply, this year has already been a kind of personal writing hell, and it's only half over.  I'll take any positivity I can get.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Lessons Learned.

I read a book recently.  (Big surprise, I know.)  While I did finish it, there were many times throughout the thing when I wanted to add it to the rejected stack and move on.  I kept going because I wanted to see how things turned out, and the ending was kind of disappointing.  While I wouldn't say the book was bad, there were a lot of things about it that kept me from really enjoying it.

But when I sat back and thought it over, I realized that all the things I didn't like about the book were things I had to learn not to do.

It's a weird thing to realize that I can look at a book as ~430 pages' worth of a lesson.  (Especially when the author did a bunch of things I've learned not to do and still got published.)  But I thought it would help to take a good look at the three big things I had trouble with and go into why they're so important.

First: deliver on your premise's promise.  The first chapter promised a heist story with a lovable rogue main character, and I was completely in after a page and a half.  The story went on to delve into political intrigue, the main antagonist's revenge plot, and the main character's buried past.  The actual heist made up at most a twentieth of the story, and the lovable rogue didn't even do it - the antagonist did.  This left me feeling like the book was one big bait-and-switch.  But I recognized this because I did it in BoLR - I started with the premise of blackmail and revenge, but swerved into a plot involving ancient magic.  It's a dissatisfying way to structure a story, and it makes it seem like the book's trying to be too many things at once.

Second: you need to love your characters and your world, but make the reader love them too.  I've been dealing with this for I don't even know how long, which probably comes from writing the same characters over and over and not understanding why readers don't connect with them.  >_<  But I could tell, in this book, that the author deeply loved their characters and the world around them.  It read like I was supposed to find it all interesting and fascinating, but it just didn't work for me.  The villains that showed up in the last quarter or so of the book struck me as the most interesting people, and I found myself wondering why they hadn't shown up much earlier.  I know this is very subjective, but making the reader care about your characters is essential, as it gives them reason to keep reading.

Third: don't be vague about what's happening.  Many times in the book, I had to reread passages and figure out what characters had actually done, because the text didn't explicitly say it.  This is the big one for me; I know this because I've caught myself doing this and caught it in others' work as well.  It's frustrating to see it in a published book, especially in the rather complicated endgame, because having to stop and say "Wait, what just happened?" yanks the reader right out of the story.  Mystery is good for backstory, history, and other such things, but if a character is taking an immediate action, it needs to be clearly stated.

What about the rest of you?  What lessons have you learned from something you read?  And were they lessons in a "do this" way, or a "don't do this" like what I just read?  :P

Next week: IWSG.

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. . . .