Tuesday, March 29, 2016


I had a different entry planned for this week, but I stopped after about two paragraphs because it was boring.  Granted, another round of "this is what I learned about writing this week" would have been better than another round of "this is why I'm doomed to failure", but really, most of my blog this year falls into one of those two categories.

To be more specific, the entry was going to be about the character work I'm doing for the story I'm plotting, and how it's turning out when I hammer out the basic plotline from start to finish and then fill in character details.  This is not my usual plotting process, but it's going well, else this would be another downer of an entry.  But thinking about the characters led my train of thought down another track:

Just how much of the characters we write comes directly from ourselves?

I never attempt to write myself into a story, and I don't think I ever would.  Aside from a bunch of other issues, odds are good I wouldn't survive most of the stuff I put my characters through.  Seriously, one of the characters I'm working on dies at the start of the second act, and if I was in this book, that would probably be me.

However, I did something different when working on development for the book's four main characters, and I didn't even realize it until I wrote up the profile for the fourth one.  Every one of them started with a specific trait of my own, and I built them up from that, figuring out their backgrounds based on the world they live in, knowing where the story would take them and determining out how they would react.  (None of them seem like they're going to run away with the plot, which I'm thankful for, but I might end up eating those words later.)  I know I put a little of myself into everyone I write, but I've never done it so deliberately.

One has never felt like she fits in, no matter where she is.  One feels that he never gets what he wants out of life.  One worships his heroes more than he should.  And one would rather hide away with her books than face the rest of the world.

Now that I've finished the writeups for all four of them, I find myself looking back at some of my writing and wondering just how much I've done this for all the characters I've worked on.  I know there's always an element of wish fulfillment in writing; I think that's a lot of why we write, as it's not just to create the stories we want to see, but it's the chance to live in them for a little while.  A lot of my characters are a lot more daring and clever than I'll ever be, and they not only get into but get out of more trouble than I could ever get away with.

And I do admit that there's a lot more of me in Shiloh than there should be, which is part of why getting nothing but rejections for BoLR hurts more than it should.  >_<

I know this is nothing new or earth-shattering. but it's not often that I see writers really talking about this.  As for the characters I'm still working on, I'm looking forward to seeing how they handle things when I write the fully fleshed-out plot and put them through those paces.  I don't think they'll react like I would, no matter what pieces of me they carry in them.

Next week,  IWSG: Starting Again, Again.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Darkness Called, and I Hung Up.

"Darkness called... but I was on the phone, so I missed him.  I tried to star-69 Darkness, but his machine picked up.  I yelled, 'PICK UP THE PHONE, DARKNESS,' but he ignored me.  Darkness must have been screening his calls." --Demon Hunter, WarCraft III

Lots of people who know me probably wouldn't believe this, but I like dark and creepy stuff.  Give me the things that go bump in the night, especially if there's nothing there when you go to look.  The subtle scares are my favorite, the ones you have to think about for a bit, and it's terrifying once you realize what's really going on.  This is part of why I like the Cosmic Horror sort of stories from and inspired by Lovecraft - when the terror is partly primal and partly psychological, where the real darkness is undefineable and undefeatable.

As a side note, have you read Neil Gaiman's Coraline?  Creepiest fucking thing I've ever read.  O_O  And it's, like, a middle grade book.  Damn.

Anyway, like most if not all authors, I want to write what I want to read, so I've spent quite a bit of time trying to develop stories in this direction.  I've written several plots that deal with unfathomable beings and their effects on the world.  I've put characters into places where they unleashed the horrors, or where they're dealing with having to appease those horrors every certain number of years, or where they're trying to fight against those horrors in an eventually futile struggle.  I created apple spiders.

And not a single one of those stories has ever worked out.

This has been frustrating, as I'm sure you can imagine.  I know not everything I try to write will work out, but I should be able to write what I want to read, right?  That's one of the most common pieces of writing advice.  So not long ago, determined to get past this particular block, I sat down and hammered out a plot for a story that I thought would be everything I wanted to write in this direction.

Once I was done with it, it depressed me so, so much.  When I looked at it again, I felt no desire to work on it at all.  I was about to toss it aside as another failed project, when I started thinking, wait, why didn't this work?  Why did I spend so much time putting this plot together only to despair over it once it was done?

Appropriately enough, it dawned on me: it was the darkness in the story that was bringing me down.

Part of why people often don't believe me when I say I like creepy stuff is that I'm generally a positive person.  (Unless I'm depressed, in which case I'm apparently hilarious because I come off as a bitter version of Eeyore.)  I realized that I need that positivity in my writing.  I need the struggle against the darkness to not be futile.  I need adventure, I need friendship, and I need hope.

Even if it's not forever, damn it, I need a happy ending.

Two good things have come out of this.  First, I'm no longer struggling to write something that's not working for me.  Second, I repurposed the entire plot, rebuilt the world (nothing like coming up with world ideas talking to yourself out loud while dusting (don't give me that look, I don't get on your case about how you get your ideas)), and have been reforging that story into something new.  It's going really well so far; I'm deep enough into the plot that it's still surprising me where it's going and I can't wait to see how it all comes together in the end.

It is, of course, an incredible relief to have something good come out of this, as I was in dire need of having something go right in my writing life.

Next entry: a character experiment.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Another Practice Story.

It's always weird writing new characters.  I wrote this one a while ago, back in the summer or fall, I think, as practice for my next book.  The cast is full of interesting beings, and I wanted to get to know them a little.  I didn't like it at the time, but now?

Well, I actually like it enough to share, so that says something.

This is sort of the origin story for the two human characters.  I did have to do a little research, but I probably got some things wrong - I have no idea if those giant telescopes have security guards like this, nor why only the guards would be there at night.  (All the scientist-types who work at the telescope are off celebrating some major discovery; let's go with that.)  But it suits what I need for the story.

The book itself picks up about a year later, and a lot changes in a year.

Hope y'all enjoy it; looking forward to seeing what everyone thinks.  I'm planning to start writing the book next month.

Next entry: Darkness Called, and I Hung Up.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Sit. Stay. Good story!

In last week's entry, I mentioned Brandon Sanderson's Calamity, which I recently finished.  The book is the third in a series - think Ocean's Eleven teaming up to defeat Evil Superman - and just came out last month.  In the author's note, Mr. Sanderson talks about finishing the book in 2015, and how he first had the idea for the series in 2008.

Seven years, from idea to complete series.  Think about that for a moment.

As writers, I think we're all familiar with the concept of the Shiny New Idea.  Whether pantser or plotter, there are times when something pops into our heads and demands to be written RIGHT NOW.  Abandon all your other projects, it says, for this is the one true story, the one that will sell a million copies and launch you into the ranks of the literary superstars.

Over the years, I've frantically scribbled down notes for dozens of Shiny New Ideas.  I don't think a single one of them has ever played itself out all the way and become a book, not as it first came to me.  And while this feels like another one of those things I should have learned decades ago, it's something I've recently come to understand.

No matter how good or how big an idea is, no matter how much you think the world needs to have this book yesterday, you'll get a better story if you let it sit.

This is something I realized when working on the plot for what will be my next book.  I started taking down notes on this story back in 2014.  I've tried a bunch of different stories that dealt with people traveling from one plane to another; the most recent attempt was the first book I wrote in that same year.  Anyone remember me talking about that?  I took a week off of work to write, hammered out the first draft in about three weeks, and hated it as soon as it was done.

It was hard to convince myself to work on something similar to a book that turned out bad, but the tale of an interplanar journey wasn't one I could just give up.  So I worked out notes for a new book, with a mostly new cast and a different reason for the trip.  This tale was on my short list of plots that I thought were ready to write last year, but I still had the feeling that it wasn't quite there, so I didn't use it.  (Good thing too, as I had the main characters' genders wrong.)

But now, after working away at this thing for nearly two years, it feels like it's finally ready for me to get started.

This is tremendously reassuring.  I've talked about how many plots I've worked on and either set aside or tossed away over the years, and while I've never had a problem with mining old notes for new ideas, I hadn't considered that letting something sit for a while could be part of the process.  The downside to this is that now I wonder how much better some of my stuff could have been if I'd only let it sit for six months or so before starting on it.  Gah.

On the plus side, I recently took three different ideas I'd been working on - one of which I first came up with in 2011, another I started on in 2013 - and sat down to see if I could blend them all together, based on stuff I wrote down at work last Friday.  Did it work?  Yes.  Yes, it did.  All of these ideas felt like they were missing something, but put together, they're something special.

And I never would have discovered that if I hadn't let them sit for a good long time.

So now, seven years from idea to completed series doesn't sound bad.  It makes a lot of sense, to be honest - as tightly-plotted and well-developed as Mr. Sanderson's series was, there's no way he could have done that by hammering out the stories as soon as he had the idea.  And while I don't try to imitate my favorite writers, I can definitely learn from how they work.

Next: if all goes well, a practice story from the interplanar plot, showing how it all got started for the two humans.  If it doesn't go well... I'll think of something.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

IWSG: It's Supposed to be Hard.

"What drives you on, can drive you mad." --Garbage, "Stupid Girl"

Thanks to a tweet from Carrie Butler, I found what might be the best article about writing I've ever read.  Oddly enough, it's from a psychology website.  The whole article is worth reading, but it contains one of those messages that's so simple as to both make perfect sense and seem like something all we writers should have figured out by now:

Work the problem---don't make yourself the problem.

Yeah, I know.  It's one of those things that seems so incredibly obvious... if you're not a writer.  If realizing this sort of thing was easy, I doubt there would be an IWSG in the first place.  We'd accept that writing is, in fact, supposed to be hard, and that so many of the problems we're having are the result of the difficulties that come with trying to create new realities with twenty-six letters and some grammar, not of our own failings.  We'd accept this difficulty for what it was, and simply resolve to put in more effort to get better at what we love to do.

If you've been reading this thing for the past two months, you know that's not what I've been doing.  And I know I'm not the only one who's been on the wrong end of that bold phrase up there.

Part of the problem is that it's incredibly easy to blame myself for everything that's been going wrong.  Writing's a fairly solitary pursuit, so really, who else is there to blame?  The answer isn't in blaming someone else, the answer is that there's no need for blame.  Writing is hard, it's supposed to be, and working through all the troublesome times (yes, all of them) is the only way to get better.

I've felt better about a lot of things since reading that article.  There's this weird sense of relief for me now, like I can look at things differently and accept that the problems I'm having are because of writing as a whole, not because of something I'm doing or not doing.  Keeping that in mind makes it easier to sit down and get to work, because I know that if things don't go well, it's just part of the process.  I still have to go through the process, but when things get hard, I'll work on that instead of saying I suck at this and wishing I could quit.

It feels like these are all supposed to be things I should have already known, and I do think I'm repeating myself a little with this entry.  Maybe I just needed to remind myself, especially after how this year's been so far.

So yeah, between this and the ending of Brandon Sanderson's Calamity, I feel like I've smacked down two of my biggest issues over the course of a week.  (No, I'm not saying what happened at the ending of Calamity.  I'm not even linking to it, since the description on Amazon has massive spoilers for the first two books.  I've linked to the first book in the series, start there.)  No way to know if this new feeling will stay with me, but I'll enjoy it while it lasts.

I've been coming up with a lot of good stuff lately, and watching three different stories form over the course of hours and days.  Hopefully, one of them will turn out to be one of the books I write this year.  The other book for this year is all plotted and ready to go.

Speaking of which, next entry: on letting things sit for a few years.