Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Along for the Ride

This past weekend, I sat down to work on one story and ended up not doing a thing on it.  But I'm not upset, because that night's writing time turned into me working on two different plots that I'd left behind at least a year ago.

No, I don't know how this works either.  And that always makes me wonder: where the hell does this stuff come from?

I know the technical answer to this question; in theory, what I write comes out of my head, inspired by everything I experience filtered through my subconscious and whatever I happen to think is cool, applied via characters who are not me despite me being all of them.  But there are times when there's this weird sense that I'm not actually in charge of any of this, that I'm somehow watching something that's happening somewhere else in whatever the rest of existence happens to be, and managing to understand it enough to write it down.

Like I'm just along for the ride.

One of my favorite cosmic-type theories of something-or-other (I apologize, I don't speak science fluently) is that in an infinite universe, everything you can imagine must exist somewhere.  I have no idea if this is a legit theory, and I don't care.  I just like the idea that somewhere out there, all this stuff that's going on in my head is actually happening.

There is of course the flipside to that, which is that things are happening somewhere out there in the infinite vastness of existence and somehow they're showing up in my head.  This frightens me a little, but it would explain a few things.

For example, in one of the stories I worked on this weekend, I've been trying to figure out the actual plot for quite a while.  This is a common state for me and I'm used to it; I'm sure I've ranted here about such things before.  But despite all my attempts, I never was able to figure out how the story started and how it got to the end.  This weekend, I realized that I'd started it way too early - the main character was supposed to be a teenager when the inciting event happened, not a child.  From there, everything started falling into place, and I figured out the general outline of the plot.

Like I was suddenly seeing it clearly, because I'd spent a year or so trying to see something that wasn't there.  This could explain why I have such trouble with some plots I try to work on - maybe I've had only a glimpse and spent the whole time since then trying to see something that's not there.  Trying to plot a story that doesn't actually exist.

There are many reasons why writers drink, but I think this is one of them.

I realize I'm getting ridiculously metaphysical with this, or maybe just plain ridiculous and abusing the word "metaphysical".  But there's something interesting about maybe being the medium for something else that's out there, something that exists independent of me that I'm lucky enough to be able to see.

Is any of this true?  No idea, and I wouldn't claim otherwise.  I just started thinking on it and found that I liked the idea.  ^_^  Either that, or I actually am going crazy.  :P

So what about the rest of you?  Does what you write come exclusively from somewhere in your head?  Do you ever feel like you're just along for the ride, trying to write down what's happening?  Or is this all just a little too far out there?

Next week: IWSG.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Bullets and the Dodging Thereof.

I hoped I would never have to write an entry like this, though I suppose things could have turned out much worse.

While seeking out new agents to query this weekend, I found someone who sounded like a good fit.  I'll consider most anyone who's looking for adult fantasy, and if they're looking for LGBTQ+ and/or woman lead characters, those are only points in their favor.  Some other things they said on their webpage made it sound like they would love BoLR.  So, I sent off a query.

I got a response in about an hour.  It was a request for a full.

Maniacal laughter ensued.  I couldn't believe this - I mean, I'd had a good weekend, but this?  This was unreal.  It felt like things had somehow aligned for me and the querying process could be over when it had hardly even begun.

Yes, I had high expectations and was already putting all my eggs into one basket.  It's a problem I have.  Anyway.

After the initial euphoria wore off, I realized that I should do some research before I sent off my book.  I'd never heard of this person's agency, and wasn't looking into it the smart thing to do?  Yes, it was.  So I googled it.

The first link that came up was, of course, the agency itself.  The next two links were people detailing their horrible experiences with said agency.

Hands up if you saw this coming.

One of those links was documentation of a writer's personal experiences with an agent from this agency over the course of the year, during which they dealt with months-long delays in communications and learned that their agent was using the shotgun approach with submissions.  This was followed by that same person being threatened with possible legal action for discussing their experience with the agency.  Both pages had comments sections that included several anonymous attacks against the writer.

The second was an ongoing discussion going back nearly a decade, with people discussing their experiences with the agency.  Several people who had once been represented by the agency told of the same problems with several agents from there: lack of communication, the shotgun approach to submissions, and of being passed from agent to agent within the agency with little explanation.  There were further and more upsetting issues stemming from a writer's experience with the agency's president, which I won't delve into here for the sake of keeping this non-specific.

I look at things like this the same way I looked at reviews for companies or apartments when I was searching for work and housing.  One or two bad reviews aren't a big deal - among enough people, someone's going to have a negative experience, and they'll be more inclined to warn others away.  But if all the negative reviews say the same thing, then there's clearly a problem.  So it seemed to be the case with this agency.

This was not what I wanted to hear.  And I fought with myself over it for a while.  Things will be different, I told myself.  It's a different person than the agents those people who had the bad experiences had, I reasoned.  Maybe things have changed, I hoped.  But in the end, I couldn't go against my gut - I couldn't go in when I knew it could be such a bad decision.

If everyone's complaints about the agency are the same, then it's a problem with the way the place is run.  And I'm not going to willingly sign up for that.

So, I politely told the agent I was withdrawing my book from submission, and hopefully nothing more will come of it.  I sincerely hope this was me dodging a bullet and not ruining what could have been a really great chance.  This also leaves me two-for-two for getting a full request that turned out to be doomed.  -_-  But I walk away from this wiser, I hope.  And at least I know my query will work with someone who's looking for the sort of stuff I write.  Now I just need to find someone else who wants that.

This is rough as hell on me, though.  >_<  Crashing from that kind of joy sucks like you wouldn't believe, and now I get to spend the rest of my life hoping I didn't make a horrible mistake.  I just keep telling myself that a bad agent is in fact worse than no agent, and that there's bound to be someone else out there who will read my stuff and want to rep me.  Someone whose agency doesn't throw up red flags as soon as I search for it.  (I will be telling myself this over and over for at least the next week.)

...funny, I was just thinking over the weekend that I didn't know what I'd blog about this week.  But now, between this and my worst rejection ever, I've seen how bad things can get.  It's all up from here, right?  ...right?

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Back in Character

"The core of every good story is a character for whom we care—and not just care a little, but care deeply."  --Chuck Wendig

This feels like a lesson I should have learned years ago, or maybe one I did learn and forgot somewhere along the way.

I've gone on at length here about various stories I've tried to make work.  The most recent problem child of my imagination lives in the contents of a file simply titled "Dragon Saga", because of the world it takes place in.  This is also the would-be 'metal fantasy' I've mentioned before.  Over the past two years or so, I've tried to find the story - or any story that works, really - in this world, and every single one falls flat in the plotting or seems stupid when I go back to it.  And recently, I think I finally found the problem.

Working on stories in this world, it was always about the events, the happenings, the big set pieces.  It was never about the characters.

Looking back, it makes sense to me now why things never worked out.  I had all these cinematic moments planned out, with most stories coming to me in melodramatic glimpses the literary equivalent of a multi-million-dollar special effects scene.  The books had no lack of action and drama, but had little in the way of quiet character moments, the slower times when we really get to know these people we've been reading about.

Largely because there was very little to know about those people.

I had a cast I thought I loved, of course.  The latest version had a bunch of over-the-top individuals with names to go along with them, all made to evoke the kind of world this place is, or was, or what-have-you.  (It's a big world, things can be different in different places.)  But they weren't really characters.  They weren't really people.  They were just a means to an end, a way to drive the story forward.

So at some point, I realized what I was doing wrong, probably around when I read the above quote.  After I stopped feeling like a twit, I started over, sort of.  I took a character I've had living in my head for a long time, and started figuring out his story in this world, who he would be and how he got there, so on and so forth.  For the most part, things worked out well.  Over the course of several days, I focused on character background, only throwing in world details when necessary.  And I came out the end with a small group of new characters whose backstories should make for interesting tales.

This is the part where I'd like to say that I've solved the problem.  And maybe I have.  But I've watched stories in this world fall apart again and again and again.  So I'm wary, of course.  It does help to know that I'm going at this whole thing from a different angle, and not trying to find another way to tell a similar tale.  Things could still crash and burn, but that could happen with any story, and it's a fear I've learned to work past.

It's amazing how much of this whole writing thing revolves around getting past one fear or another.

And now, as I'm working on this, it's nearly time to get back to plotting.  Will any of this end up working?  No way to know.  But I am glad to know that I've figured out at least one thing I was doing wrong.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

IWSG: Confess!

I have this horrible habit of remembering all the stupid stuff I've done or said over the years and going through it over and over again in my head.  And I know I'm not the only one.  A lot of this relates to writing, because if you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you've seen that I don't exactly know what I'm doing.  (I'm pretty sure that nobody knows what they're doing, but that's another entry and doesn't decrease my insecurity at all.)

So I figured a good theme for this month's IWSG would be to confess as many stupid, silly, or kind of embarrassing writing things as I can fit into a blog entry, in hopes of both letting it all go and hopefully laughing along the way.  :P  Here goes:

  • The very first book I tried to write was a novelization of a video game, Final Fantasy IV (then Final Fantasy II in the US because of localization weirdness).  I planned to write about the first quarter of it, then send it to the company that made the game and get their permission to finish it.  I actually thought this would get published.
  • My writing after that was largely horrible fanfic based off of the X-Men cartoon from the early 90s.  I'm glad the internet as we know it wasn't around then, as I know I would have posted it.  Under an incredibly stupid name that 14-year-old me thought was cool.
  • I get really hesitant about putting in pop culture references in anything I write that takes place in the real world, because I worry that either no one will get it or it'll sound dated in a year or so.
  • I spent three years writing my first novel and I think I managed to fit in every single fantasy cliche I knew.  Multiple chosen ones (chosens one?), pure good vs. evil, hidden old wizards, savages with weird magic, a false hero who gets gutted halfway through the story, and a metric assload of dragons.  I actually thought this would get published.  Hell, I had an entire trilogy planned.  I think I gave up after querying six agents.
  • I once printed out the book I'd been querying just to burn it, to make sure I fully set it aside.  It didn't work.
  • I plotted another trilogy based on another video game (in the same series, no less), because I had this idea that I could make it my own.  I really thought it would work.  But I got five or six chapters in and realized that this wasn't just "inspired by", it was "derivative of".  It's for the best that this never worked, because I know that eventually, someone would have called me out on it.  >_<
  • From what I remember about my early queries, I made the mistakes of comparing my books to bestsellers, and was generally kind of pompous because I was trying to sound writerly.  I don't know if agents pass around really bad queries they get, but I wouldn't have blamed them.
  • I've tried to make a book about a post-apocalyptic road trip work three different times.  I still can't get it, and it torments me because I really want to.  Grr.  Arg.
  • I once had an idea for a story involving celestial beings who rose up out of cracks in the ground.  Then I realized I'd have to call it "The Stars in our Fault", and that kind of killed it.
  • I tend to use characters that aren't mine as shorthand when in the early plotting stages, to give me a general idea of who someone's supposed to be before I develop them further.  One of my plots in progress is currently populated by an old RPG character of mine, a visual novel character, someone from "Legend of Korra", and two Disney villains.
  • When I'm working on a book, my pre-writing ritual consists of taking a shot of liquor and dancing around my living room to a song I've chosen for that particular book.  Don't knock it, it works.
  • If I need a name for a bit part who's a real asshole, it will likely be Steve, because of a guy who bullied me when I was in fifth grade.  Apologies to any Steves out there who are decent guys, because some things stick with me.
  • Finally: the crazy dream book that I've talked about here before was, largely, an attempt to write a legit version of a fanfic I wrote years ago.  I thought I could recapture something I pulled off really well when I was working with other peoples' creations.  I thought wrong, which is why I'm not working on that rewrite for NaNoWriMo.
Enough of that.  Please, share in the comments - not only will you feel better, I'll feel better.  :P

Next week: what I forgot about creating characters.