Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Dwarves.

I tend to go through several different versions of an idea as I try to make it work.  This past year being what it's been, I've been doing this more than usual; when nothing works, it's easy to try throwing everything away and starting anew.  One story I've been trying to do has its origins in the classic Snow White fairy tale, so when I first tried to figure it out and it didn't work, I thought there was one major thing I'd done wrong:

I hadn't included any dwarves.

Looking back, I'm not sure how I ever thought I could tell a Snow White story without dwarves.  I mean, they're right there in the name.  So when I started to plot a new version of my story, the dwarves were front and center from the beginning.  There would, of course, be seven of them, because that's just how it's supposed to be.  However, the farther along in development I got, the less I liked what I was working with.  It took me months, but I eventually realized that I'd fallen into a trope's trap.

That trope?  Our Dwarves Are All the Same.

Much as I hate to say it, this one's really true.  I'd bet that, when you read this entry's title, you got a mental image of a dwarf that would be about 90% similar to anyone else's mental image.  And I found that, when I tried to develop seven distinct dwarven characters for the story, I had some real trouble getting them to be different from each other.

This is not an issue I've ever had.  I've written a bunch of humans, some elves, some dragons, several cat-people, quite a few demons, so on and so forth.  STARWIND alone contains wargolems, a gnome, a lamia, and a handful of different species I didn't even give names.  Yet somehow it's easier for me to write a small furry creature as the ship's pilot than it is for me to imagine a dwarf who steps outside of the usual dwarven traits.

The weird thing is, this took me out of the story entirely, and I stopped wanting to write it.  The idea of having so many characters who just blended together in my mind had me wondering if it was worth working on or not.  I genuinely don't get it.  What is it about dwarves that makes so many people want to only write them one way?  There are always stereotypes about fantasy races, but for every magical, forest-dwelling, utterly stuck-up elf out there, there are dozens of variations on the race.  So what was wrong with me that I couldn't get this right?

Eventually, I accepted that it wasn't going to work out - I couldn't find an answer that led to me writing the characters as the individuals they should be, not just plain dwarves.  I delved back into my notes for the initial version of the story, and looked up the characters who'd originally played the roles of seven specific people.  Then, I put the two plots into a blender and started mixing.

The result has been overwhelmingly positive so far.  Part classic fairy tale (I even worked in the evil stepmother), part classic movie plot.  I'm starting to think this one's going to work out, and hoping I can get the plot done this year and write it next year.

Because if I'm finally going to do "Snow White and the Seven Samurai", I'm going to get it right.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

IWSG: Something from Nothing


This isn't the entry I was going to write.

I had it planned, I really did.  I was going to leave the entire thing blank, except for the IWSG logo, for the length of my usual entry, with a sentence at the end saying the above text consisted of all the writing work I'd gotten done in November.  I might have left it up for all of December, if things continued to go so badly.  Some part of me called it melodramatic, but I thought it would be a good way to show what it felt like to look back at an entire month and see that I'd done nothing.

It was also kind of a riff on John Cage's 4'33", but that's neither here nor there.

Things didn't seem to be shaping up last week either; I thought I had an idea that would work out, but once I wrote it down, I realized that I didn't want to write it at all.  That was Tuesday.  On Wednesday, I accepted that I didn't feel like trying to get anything done, and pulled up an old e-mail from a friend.  The e-mail is something she copy-pasted and sent to me, titled "falling in love with your story", but that's not really what it's about.  It's a writer talking about finding out what's wrong with your story and figuring out how to fix it.

Something about that must have sunk in, because on Thursday, I started thinking about a project I hadn't worked on since August.  I remembered what the e-mail said, and came to realize what was wrong with the main character that was keeping me from wanting to write her.  I scribbled down notes at work for the first time in I don't know how long.  And later that day, when I was out on my second break, I started having ideas.

No, let me rephrase that: I started having IDEAS.

Do you know that moment, when you put something together in your head for the first time, and it sparks a character and setting, a place and a reason for them to be, and you know you've got something worth pursuing?  I got that.  For the first time in I don't even know how long, I got that.

So, I went home and got to work.  And to my great surprise and relief, everything I worked on actually worked.  I leaned back from my keyboard, thrilled but exhausted, and felt like I'd just woken up after spending most of this year in one long nightmare.

It's been a busy few days since then.  The new idea is still going strong; I've been developing it a little bit at a time and seeing how things play out, letting the actual plot work its way into my head as I develop the world.  As for the project I'm getting back to, it still needs work, as I have the entire thing plotted but something about it still doesn't seem right.  But I have ways to try to fix that.  And even if I can't, then at least I have something that is working.

We'll see where it goes from here.  I know it'll only take another story crashing and burning for me to feel like it was all for nothing.  But I have a place to start from and one to build on.  And it feels good to have hope for my own work again.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

A Combined Problem, Part 2: Love, Suddenly

So this is building on what I talked about in last week's entry, which was based on the two entries before it.  Next week's entry will be about the entirety of five and a half years of blogging here.

No, probably not.

Today I'm talking about what seems like the next level up from arranged marriages: plot devices that give two (or more) characters some sort of unbreakable bond, including but not limited to them falling in love with each other.  This can be instant or build over time, it can be subtle or ridiculously blatant, so on and so forth - there are dozens of variations I can think of right now and I'm sure the rest of you could come up with hundreds more.  This sort of thing has been around since the early days of storytelling and anyone who's heard more than a few fairy tales is surely familiar with it.

And, like arranged marriages, it's a trope I like but have no idea if I actually want to work with it.  Some of my reasoning is the same, largely the part about not forcing characters together.  Yet this concept can lead to so much conflict, meaning it can fuel a great many stories.

It also can make things ridiculously uncomfortable, especially if the bond involves attraction and/or love.  I can see it being played for laughs, but being attracted to someone not because you want to be, but because you're somehow compelled to be?  Up to and including being in love with that person?  Something about that just rubs me wrong.

It should come as no surprise, then, that my last attempt at this didn't go well.  Last year, in an attempt to make one of the too-damn-many things I was working on actually work, I decided to spend a month on one story idea.  The basic idea was that people in that world who bonded with familiars (magical animals) gained additional abilities, so it was a desirable thing.  The plot started with three characters accidentally bonding with each other as familiars.  There are a lot of reasons why it didn't work out, and one of them was that I started feeling more than a little iffy about the relationship between the three main characters.

I thought that bringing the three of them together would lead to interesting conflict and character development, ultimately ending with something fulfilling for them that made their lives better.  Instead, it felt like a glorified plot device that only made them all mad and uncomfortable.

So, yeah.  I'm still not sold on this one, and I doubt I'll use it again, at least not as a driving thing.  But Tonja brought up a good point on last week's entry: if something's important to the story, then it needs to be in the story.  It's one of those things that seems so simple, but it's easy to forget.  While there are things I won't write, just being iffy about an idea shouldn't be why I decide not to put it into a story, especially if the story absolutely needs to have that thing.

This has been a bit more of a ramble than I expected, and I'm not sure if I actually made the point I was hoping for, so I'll cut this off here.  See y'all next week for IWSG.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

A Combined Problem

This one stems from my last two entries.  It's about something I think I'd like to write but don't know if I really want to, and it's theoretically about romance - okay, it'll be about romance if I write it, but it doesn't have to be.

I'm talking about arranged marriages.  (In fiction.  In real life it's something I have trouble with, but that's neither here nor there.)

This is a trope I've worked with before, in two different books.  I wanted to make it part of the main characters' pasts in a way that would get them to realize they wanted it to happen, despite the issues it had caused way back when.  It was . . . kind of awkward in both stories, and looking back, it seems out of place.  When I started to consider an idea I dug out of my file that also has this element, I gave it some heavy thought and wondered:

Is this really something I want to do?

I don't like the idea of forcing characters together.  Despite joking about the idea in my last entry, I think that sort of thing is both bad for the story and has far too many unfortunate implications.  But at the same time, an arranged marriage is a remarkable plot device for all kinds of shenanigans, romantic and otherwise.  There's a lot you can do with it.  As I write this, I'm considering using it to fuel an escape plot.  So, like most story tropes, it's not something we writers should dismiss out of hand.

One of the main issues I'm having with the arranged marriage thing is that it can come off as contrived.  I realized this when I was trying to see how the story idea could form a plot - everything I came up with, there were ways to make it happen without the arranged marriage, and those ways often made more sense and were less likely to make the people involved seem like enormous jerks.  To make it work, I think it would need to be a cultural or legal thing, something with precedence, rather than just a clause someone puts into a contract to fuel later romantic tension.

Of course, someone could throw it into the contract just because they're manipulative and/or evil.  I did think of that.  I don't know if I'd go with it, unless the main antagonist was in for some serious mustache-twirling.

I think the main thing to ensure with this trope is that the characters involved in the potential marriage are the ones who determine how things play out.  Whether they find a way to break the arrangement, decide that they'll go through with it for one good reason or another, or find a third option, the result should come from them.  A favorite line of mine from Writing Excuses is "your protagonist must protag", and that's especially true with this trope.  If there's an arranged marriage involved, no one who's part of it should go passively along with it.

Unless it's part of their own greater and more devious plot.  I'm okay with that.

Next week: A Combined Problem, Part 2.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

NOW KISS

When I first get an idea, it's most often a Character doing a Thing.  Said Character will also usually be in a Situation where they can Do That Thing, and said Situation usually involves a Place for the story to happen.  Once I have those crucial elements set in my head, I can start building on them (and often end up with something completely different), but there's something that always comes up in these early stages:

Who is the Character going to Kiss?

Gratuitous Capitalization aside, this is something that comes up in nearly everything I try to write.  It's rare for me to come up with a cast of characters without wondering who should end up together, if they'll have chemistry, and what will or won't develop between them.  I'd love to say that I let this happen organically as the characters develop, but I can't even type that with a straight face.  Most often I'm shipping my own half-formed characters together before I even know how the story ends.

...that's not entirely true.  Most often, I know that the story ends with them together in some way, because I can't stand tragic romances.  Anyway.

For me, a lot of this probably comes from writing the same couple over and over again.  When it's inevitable that two characters will get together, it gets easy to make that part of the planning process for every story.  In one of my plots-in-progress, I realized that there was no romance, and immediately started wondering if the main character should get together with someone.  When I determined there was no one suitable, I thought about changing one of the other significant characters to make them a better romantic foil.

I don't think that's how it's supposed to work.  The characters should define the romance, not the other way around.  Otherwise it ends up feeling forced or problematic.  And I'd really like to avoid that kind of thing.

Realizing that this is how I approach romance has me reconsidering a lot of things.  I had some romantic threads to pull in another plot-in-progress, but as I (struggle to) develop that one, the more I work on it the more I wonder if that's how it's actually going to turn out.  What seemed natural for the characters now seems contrived, and I can't tell if it'll turn out the way I imagined.  I'm a little disappointed, as losing this romance means I wouldn't get to write a sex scene that's both very touching and rather unconventional, but I've sent enough of this story to the cutting room floor, what's one more bit.

(No, I'm not going into detail on the sex scene.  It comes purely from the characters, and without knowing them and what they've had to deal with, it would just seem strange.)

Anyway.  I am absolutely certain that I'm not the only one here who's dealt with this sort of thing.  So how do you deal with it?  Do you ship your characters before you've even written them?  And have your characters ever refused to get together?

Next week: problematic plot elements.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

What Aren't You Writing?

No, this isn't just a cheap excuse for me to say "EVERYTHING" and have another really short blog entry.  :P  This is something I've been thinking about for a while.

I do a lot of plotting, when things are going well.  (When they're not, well... look back over about 70% of this year's entries.)  There are common threads that show up in a lot of my plots, mostly in the form of a few favorite tropes - things and themes I like to return to, whether I've really worked with them or not.  Sometimes they work with what I have planned for the story, while other times, I have to either strip them out or not add them in the first place.

After seeing this pattern, I asked myself: these themes are clearly what I want to write, yet I keep putting them in as part of the background.  Why am I not writing a story that focuses on them?

Since I'll need an example for this, a big one for me is the Cosmic Horror Story.  There's something about the overwhelming darkness of the universe and the horrors that dwell within it that appeals to me, and I've never been sure why.  Themes from that show up in a lot of my plots, but I haven't put any real work into a story that makes them the focus.  The closest I've come was way back in my second book, which dealt with a dark, corruptive god as the big bad behind the actual antagonists.

I've never gone back to that story because I pantsed that book and ye gods, it was a mess.  But something about that darkness has stuck with me ever since.

I know that "write what you want to write" is one of the big pieces of advice we writers get; I think we've all been hearing it for years.  But when I started thinking about this, it struck me as interesting to have something that I clearly want to write but never have.  There are, of course, bits and pieces in my idea file that could count as this type of story.  One is a seriously warped take on an old fairy tale that is entirely Loni's fault.  :P  And yet, I never do much work on these ideas, even the ones that intrigue me the most.

After spending some time thinking on it, I think I figured it out: I like happy endings.  And stories like this are largely meant to end in pain, despair, insanity, and/or death.  Most cosmic horror stories I've read are like that, and while it works for the genre, it's hard for me to think of stories that don't end without at least a little happiness.  So I suppose it's easier for me to work with some of the themes and ideas from the trope, rather than going full doom and gloom.

Though I might have to try that someday, just to see if I can do it.

So, what about the rest of you?  Are there themes that pop up in a significant amount of what you write?  Is there a genre or something like that in which you'd like to write but don't?  And do you know why there are things that you aren't writing?

Next week: NOW KISS

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

IWSG: One Good Thing


I had one good thing happen this week:
Naturally, it didn't last; I haven't done a thing since then.  But it's the one thing I've got, and I'm sticking to it, since everything else lately has been the same shit as the rest of this year.  I'm overworked and exhausted and I feel like hell when I don't get any writing done but I damn sure don't feel like doing anything after yet another ten-hour workday.

Hope everyone else out there is doing better than me.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Short Fiction: Princess, take 2

The last one of these didn't quite work for me, and I couldn't figure out why.  So over the past few weeks, when I've felt like working on anything, I spent some time working on the character, and I think I've got a better hold of her.  I had to throw out a big chunk of her background, but I think she's a lot better for it.  I mean, what makes for a more interesting character - one who was locked away for millennia, or one who spent all that time fighting to stay alive?

So, without further ado, here's the second take on writing for Princess, or as I call it, "The Right Side of a Conversation":

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Attachment to Detail

"I got a lot of good ideas!  Trouble is, most of 'em suck."  --George Carlin

For once, I'm actually not being down on myself with that line.  (Mark your calendars.)  But it's the first quote that came to mind when I started thinking about this.  I do have a lot of good ideas, and the problem isn't that most of them suck.

The problem is that I want to keep all of them.

Most of my early creative process consists of throwing a whole lot of stuff against the metaphorical wall, then trying to sift through everything that's on the wall until I can figure out what's going to stick and what's not.  (It also consists of abusing the hell out of the wall metaphor.)  But no matter how many times I do this, or how many things I come up with while I'm trying to figure out what a story's really about, the same thing always happens: I have stuff that I really want to keep, but it doesn't work with the rest of the story.

Too much of the time, that moment is the one really cool idea that started the whole thing.  So once I've figured out what the story is really about, I still want that thing to happen, but odds are good I've bent some part of the plot into a pretzel trying to accommodate it.

Everything would work better if I didn't need that scene.  Or that aspect of that character.  Or that bit of world-building that's going to be much fun to work with.

I found the phrase 'attachment to detail' in an update for a game I've supported on Kickstarter, and it stuck with me, because I realized it's something I'm stuck on.  It is really hard for me to leave story stuff behind.  And I can see how this has caused me problems in the past - book #13, The Book of Lost Runes, ended up feeling like I mashed two stories together because it changed so much in development but I couldn't give up the original concept.  As much as I once liked it (clearly I must have, as I sent out nearly a hundred query letters), I can now see that I should have reworked it to go with one major concept instead of trying to blend the two together.

As proof that knowing a problem doesn't means solving a problem, this is giving me trouble even now.  The main plot-in-progress that I'm trying to get to work has hit a wall and I think a lot of it is because my original concept for one of the three main characters just doesn't work.  So I'm trying to figure out how to re-conceptualize her and seeing how the story's going to change, and . . . and I don't know what to do with it anymore.  And it just starts to fall apart.

So in not knowing what to throw away, or sometimes how to throw it away, I can end up losing everything.  This is nothing new, but still.

As usual, I now ask: what about the rest of you?  How much do you stick to your original ideas?  Are you good at getting rid of what doesn't work?  And how much do your stories change from your first concepts to the final piece?

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Comfort Writing

Once in a while, someone asks me why I don't have dessert foods in my house.  My answer is a simple one - "I'd eat them."  Sweets are a major comfort food for me, and a big part of the reason my weight has stayed largely the same for years is that I don't keep that sort of food around and I only bake when it's for others.

Which is kind of a shame sometimes, because I make some damn good pies.

Anyway, the idea of comfort food fits with something I discovered when I was looking through my idea file.  I found a story idea I'd largely forgotten about (yes, I wrote it down so I wouldn't have to remember it), partly inspired by a song and set in a place I thought up long ago.  I started wondering if I could make something of this, and then I ran into something that made me stop, blink, and sigh.

I'd noted that this idea could be yet another attempt to write two characters I've written as the lead couple of seven different books.  They've been through multiple names and incarnations, many of which I've talked about here, and I set them aside about two years ago, figuring I needed to write some other people.

This made me wonder if trying to write something with them, yet again, might actually be a good thing.

As anyone who's read this blog over the past few months can tell, I'm not in a good place with my writing.  I've gone from not being able to make plots-in-progress work, to getting frustrated with everything and closing my documents after less than five minutes, to not even trying to write or plot anything.  So the idea of writing some characters I know well, in a world that's been in my head since 2003, has a certain appeal.

This, I think, is a kind of comfort writing.  When everything else is too damn difficult, fall back on something that I know works, something I can hash out without getting frustrated.  Because it's better to work on something than nothing, right?

Granted, I still don't know if I'm going to pursue this; I looked over the notes when I was tired and frustrated and I know better than to make decisions when I feel like that.  And the story notes are a rough collection of vague ideas that I'd need to filter down to a single concept to make a story out of it.  But there's potential there, and it's been a long time since I wrote in an academic setting.  Also, a possible title for this thing was "Thesis Papers and Magic Vapors", which is kind of funny but suggests entirely wrong things about the story.  I probably won't use it, but I had to share it.

To be fair to myself, this might be a non-issue.  I've managed to take down some notes on other projects recently and I feel like my enthusiasm and desire to get to work is slowly coming back.  So we'll see how it goes.

So, what about the rest of you?  Do you have things in your writing that you fall back on when it gets difficult?  What would your comfort writing be?  And is it Thanksgiving yet?  Because I kind of want to make a pie.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

IWSG: Lost


So.  Something happened a few weeks ago, something good, something that will have me nervous about checking my e-mail every day for the next three to four months.  I'd like to say this was inspiring.  I'd like to say this was what I needed to have more confidence in my work, and that I've been getting more done lately.  I'd like to say that this has led to me querying more, in hopes of making it happen again.  I'd like to say I think it's going to turn out well.

But I can't say any of that.

I haven't felt the desire to write anything in the past week.  I haven't felt the desire to write anything in the past damn month except for the character bits I posted over the past few weeks, and those were done half out of desperation to get something, anything, done and half out of feeling like I should have something for the blog besides more of my whining.

Even the blog's not an exception - every post I've made lately, I've wondered if it would be the last one, if I'd close it off with "I'm putting this thing on indefinite hiatus, maybe I'll start it up again when I have something worth saying."  Hell, I wasn't even going to make a blog post this week.  I thought a lot about just not updating anymore and seeing if anybody noticed.  That felt a little too dramatic, though.

So here I am, halfway through a post and feeling like I've said nothing of note because I don't know what to do.  I've tried everything I can think of to pull myself together and get back to work.  I've taken breaks, to no avail.  The short stuff last month was another attempt, and it was all right, but feeling like I still couldn't get a hold of that last character despite living with her in my head for at least a year killed it for me.  I've tried being easier on myself about this whole mess, but that's something I just plain don't know how to do; my therapist has tried to help me figure out how to not be so hard on myself about damn near everything but nothing's worked so far.

Everything I think about working on, I just... I don't even want to try.  Because everything I've tried for the past year and more has fallen apart.  And I don't even remember the last time I had a new idea to write down.

I'm sorry that, yet again, this is all I have to talk about.  I'm sick of it myself.  I wish I had anything else to share.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Short Fiction: Princess

Welcome to the conclusion of my unintended Short Fiction September.  :P  As with the others, this is a character study for a plot-in-progress, and the third of the three main characters.  This is also the one I had the hardest time getting a hold of.  While this character has been in my head for years, this is the first time I really tried to capture her, and she's not one to easily be tamed.  I feel a little better about writing her, but I do think she's going to cause me a lot of trouble.

And in case anyone asks, I don't know her name.  I've never given her one.  She's always only been Princess.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Short Fiction: Aklin

Since this seems to work pretty well, here's another character study for a current project.  She's loosely based on a concept for a character I played in a tabletop RPG years ago, mostly so I could use the name again.  I was having trouble getting a hold of her in the new world I'm working with, and wasn't even sure how to write her character study, until I realized I needed to let her talk.  I feel a lot better about working with her now.

Here's the bit; hope y'all enjoy it.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Short Fiction: Sophie

Since I don't have anything worth writing about this week, here's a small character study from something I'm trying to work on.  It's not much of a story, just me trying to get into a character's head and life a little.  I've been having trouble with, well, everything, so I thought trying a different approach might help.  No idea if it will.


Wednesday, September 6, 2017

IWSG: All the Things They Say


They tell me to write what I want to write.  That's all I've ever done.  I've never tried to follow a trend or anything like that.  But it's never worked out.

They tell me that if it doesn't work out with one book, write another.  Again, that's all I've ever done.  After fifteen books, I'm still wondering when it's going to work, when someone will actually want my stuff.

They tell me to just write.  Third in a row, that's all I've ever done.  I never think about whether something will be publishable or what-have-you when I'm still in the creating part of the process.  And that's never made a difference anyway.

They tell me I'm getting better.  Maybe I am.  But it doesn't matter how good something I write is if nobody ever reads it.  Writing that no one reads might as well not exist.

They tell me to try different approaches.  I do, and it makes no difference - query or contest, I maintain a perfect streak of absolutely nothing.  Hell, I haven't even received a rejection letter in months.  Just silence.

They tell me not to compare myself to others.  I do my best not to.  But it's hard, if not nigh-impossible, when there are so many amazing success stories out there, and I'm... here.  It feels like everyone I talk about writing stuff with has at least one book out, if not more.  (Do not bring up self-publishing in response to this; I've said my piece on that many times and I'm not having that conversation again.)

They tell me things to try to make me feel better.  I appreciate it, but I don't even hear the encouragement anymore.  It's always the same stuff, and words lose their meaning when you say them over and over again.

They tell me my efforts aren't futile.  I look at an unending streak of rejections and silence and wonder how we're defining "futile" differently.

They tell me to keep trying, that I'll make it someday.

I've seen no reason to believe this.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

We're Off to See the Dragon.

I'm only sort of being metaphorical.

No real entry this week; the continuation of mandatory overtime has me in a constant state of exhaustion, and over this past week I've not written a damn thing.  I swear, I try to think of ideas for anything and my brain just goes "SLEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP."  So rather than angst about this, I'll link you to DragonCon, because that's where I'll be this weekend.  ^_^

Seriously, though, I feel completely worn out and whatever was driving me to get some good writing done has crumbled beneath the continuous onslaught of ten-hour work days, so I need this vacation.  I'm hoping to come back refreshed and ready to get back to it, or at least just feeling human again thanks to six days of freedom.

On the plus side, all this overtime has paid for my new desk chair, which should be waiting for me upon my return.  I like how my OT pay means I can be more comfortable doing more OT.  But seriously, as much time as I spend at this desk, I should be in as good a chair as possible, and this one came highly recommended.

Anyway!  I'm heading out Thursday morning, with costumes for the convention and books for the flight there and coffee for my friend Paul who is not a morning person.  He's a night person, which is why we're not flying in until nearly 11PM on Monday.  Either it'll be a good way to end the trip or it'll prove I'm way too old for this.  :P

Next week: IWSG.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

All the Little Pieces.

This entry might be a little disjointed, but I'm trying to capture what something feels like right after I felt it, so there you go.

As much as I swear by plotting, not pantsing, I've come to realize that they're not all that different.  The major difference is that we plotters pants our way through our plotting, instead of the story itself.  And when it works, there's a ridiculous amount of magic in this part of the process.

The project I'm working on now (abbreviated WP; guess what it stands for and I'll give you a cameo if I ever write the thing) is something I've sort of assembled and whittled down from a bunch of other ideas.  But once I got those ideas into a coherent story-like shape, not only did I see how they all actually fit together, but the thing truly started to blossom.

Yes, I'm going to be mixing metaphors like a dictionary-wielding chinchilla on espresso.  Deal with it.

What has me so excited about this is all the little details that come up as I work on it, and how things are all fitting themselves together, in a way that makes it feel like I'm not even doing it consciously, just watching it happen.  After so much trouble with plotting over the past year, I'm thrilled to see this working out.  And so much of it comes from so many different places yet fits together in one massive dysfunctional jigsaw.

Also, thanks to the positive comments on that short story I posted a while back, I've decided to embrace creating a completely evil antagonist and holy shit, this guy is ridiculously fun to write.  Immortal, undead, ruthless, and above all, bored and looking for something to make an eternal existence more interesting.  "I wanted to see what would happen" is possibly the best bad guy motivation ever.

Granted, some of this rapid story stuff could be the product of sleep deprivation brought on by the stress from working fifty hours a week thanks to mandatory overtime, but this book is crazy enough that I'll take it.  I'm not in favor of we writers putting ourselves through unnecessary stress to feed our art, but if someone else is doing it, we might as well take advantage of it.

Anyway.

There's still a lot to work out, of course; there always is.  There's also the eternal possibility that it could all crash and burn and I'll look back on this entry a year from now and depress myself with the memory.  But I'm doing my best not to worry about that.  Because it feels too damn good to have things working out again (and on more than just this plot!) and I want to keep it going as long as I can.

One last tangent: my other major plot-in-progress right now is abbreviated S7, so apparently I'm working with two-character nicknames these days.  No fair guessing what that stands for, since I've blogged about it before.  :P

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Choosing what to Write Next

Starting off with a question again this time, and it's a pretty simple one: how do you choose what to write next?

I think most writers don't have just one idea at a time.  There are some who write only one book, or one series, or what-have-you, but it seems like most of us have a bunch of different stories bouncing around in our heads.  I know I'm no exception; I've used the phrase "I keep universes in my head" more than once.  (Though I usually preface it with "I'm a writer" so I don't sound completely insane.)  But when I see writers talk about their processes, most only write one thing at a time.

For some people, what they write is partly determined by a contract.  They need to produce some number of books for some series by a certain time, so they do.  Or they miss their deadlines, but that's another entry, one I'll write if I ever have a deadline to miss.  I'd call these people fortunate, both because their books are selling and their publishers want more, though I don't know if they'd say the same.  It seems like it would be nice to know what you're writing next, but what happens when you get struck by that thing you just have to write?

Which brings me to the next possibility - writing something you just plain have to.  I've read about this one a lot.  There is something special about the writing compulsion being too strong to ignore or delay.  I think the closest I've hit for that was book eight on this list, which I plotted in about two weeks and started writing right away.  I thought I'd finally figured out how to write something I'd been wanting to write for years, a college story, but I crammed in everything else I wanted to write and it came out kind of a clusterfuck.  I haven't looked at that one since I finished it and I haven't felt like I absolutely had to write something since then.

(I'm not trying to be down on myself in every paragraph, I swear; it just comes naturally.)

Part of why I'm contemplating this is that my plotting is actually going well, and I have two stories I'd like to have ready to write by the year's end.  However, I'm not sure how things are going to go between now and then, so I don't know which one I'll want to write next.  Both have a lot of things in them I like, and I still want to write both of them, but I don't feel any great draw or need for either of them.  I think one has a much higher chance of selling based on the premise alone, but I try not to make decisions based on that.

To be fair, this has been a very difficult year for me on many levels, so I guess I can understand it being hard to drum up enthusiasm for anything.  I'm just hoping neither plot crashes and burns before I can get them into workable shape.

So.  What about the rest of you?  How do you choose what to write next?  Have you had the idea that drove you mad until you got it onto the page?  Those of you who've had contracts, how did that affect your desire to write the next book?  And is anyone putting odds on whether either of my plots will be ready by the year's end?

(Yes, I'm joking, because really, who'd bet on that?)

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

On Character Transfers.

To anyone who also plays WoW and reads this blog: no, I'm not talking about that kind of character transfer.

Now that I've started with a joke that will go over most of my readers' heads, what I'm actually talking about is: have you ever moved a character from one story into another?

A few days ago, I made the sort-of difficult decision to set aside a plot-in-progress.  This is nothing new, and since this was the second incarnation of this plot and I'd been struggling with it already, it was for the best.  But there was one character from the dozen or so I'd been working with who would not leave my head, and even if I wasn't going to write the story I created her for, I still wanted to write her.

Then, as I was trying to get to sleep on Saturday night, I realized I could drop her into another story I'm working on.

I'm not really surprised I thought of this; the character has an incredibly harsh background, and putting her into this world will make things worse.  (I might have finally learned to enjoy tormenting my characters, but that's another blog entry.)  And having a different set of characters to interact with brought out new sides of her.  She'd always been a little passive in her initial story, and putting her in a post-apocalyptic fantasy tale that's part the anime "Black Lagoon" and part "Mad Max: Fury Road" gave her more of a reason to find her strength and take things into her own hands.

Imagining her interacting with the story's cast also gave me a new opportunity to write a sort of relationship I've been wanting to try for a while, so there's that too.

There was a time when I would have thought this impossible.  I would have said that character background and personality are an intrinsic part of where they came from and where they are now, and that pulling a character from one story into another was really just writing someone new with the same name and a similar personality.  And that might be true for someone who's actually been written.

But when a character's three pages of notes and an absolute personality that still only exists somewhere in my head, things are a little more fluid.  While where she comes from has changed, being part of this harsher world has brought a defining moment of hers into greater light, and it'll make for a better character in the end.

Because there, near the book's end, she finally realizes that while others can hurt her, they cannot stop her.  And that's something that might have taken her an entire trilogy to learn in the original story.

Next week: probably more story babble, but things have largely been going well over the past few days, so at least it'll be positive story babble.  ^_^

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

IWSG: Doubt and Fear and Hope.

A week ago, this would have been a very different entry.

Writing-wise, most of 2017 has been one big mess of things not working out for me.  Not only has this slump made it hard for me to get anything done, but querying seems pointless - searching for agents for STARWIND makes me feel like nobody will want the book, because very rarely do I see anyone looking for anything like it.

I'm sure there's at least one vicious cycle in there somewhere, and I'd hash it out but I only have so much space in a blog entry.  :P

But yes.  I've probably spent more time this year blogging about the double team of doubt and fear than actually getting any writing work done.  So when I saw Alex's news about the IWSG Twitter Pitch, I kind of shrugged.  It didn't seem like there would be any point in trying.

As odd as this is going to sound, I depressed myself into participating in the contest.  I was feeling low on the day before, so I prepared my pitches, figuring that nothing would come of it.  And I spent the morning checking my e-mail from work, tweeting out more pitches every hour or two, letting that dark part of my mind revel in the feeling of being rejected all day long.

(This is part of what depression is like for me.)

And then, something happened: I got notification that someone had liked two of my pitch tweets.  I looked at them and shrugged - the likes were from small presses, and despite my earlier intent to query small presses for the book, I've never found one that I thought would work for me.  So I disregarded them, and figured those two likes were all I'd see.

My next two notifications were from agents.

I made pitches for four of the ship's crew, figuring that throwing in some more character stuff could be good and because I had no other ideas.  One that got a like from an agent was about Captain, because apparently a magical wargolem draws some interest.  The other was about Lukas getting set on fire, because as the comments on my "STARWIND Statistics" entry showed, people really tend to fixate on characters getting set on fire.

This whole thing made me feel so much better.  I sent the queries out that night, and it gave me the hope I needed to start querying again.  Whether it'll help me feel better about my writing and get some stuff done, I don't know, but things have been going reasonably well since, so we'll see how it goes.  But this is the first positive reinforcement I've gotten from anyone in the business in nearly a year and I'm not going to question it.

I needed this hope, and I'm going to run with it for as long as I can.

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. . . .

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.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Stripped.

Music for today's entry is brought to you by Depeche Mode.

I've talked a lot about having many different versions of an idea, all of which hit some sort of wall and stopped working.  Now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure I've started at least one previous blog entry talking about this very thing.

I'd pride myself on my consistency, but y'know, this is something I'd really like to stop.

When I reach a point when something stops working and set it aside, I'll often come back to the same planning document, salvage what I can, and shove all the broken parts to the bottom with the label 'deleted'.  Which, as you might have noticed, means I don't actually delete that stuff.  In theory, I keep it around so I don't lose any good ideas.

But in practice, those things become a giant weight on the planning process, a reminder of everything I tried that didn't work.  I have planning documents where there's more text in the 'deleted' section than anywhere else, because I changed so much as I tried to figure it all out.  And it's far too easy to scroll into that section and remember how much time I've spent chasing a story and not finding it.

As I'm sure you can imagine, this is incredibly discouraging and doesn't help me get anything done.  And a major side effect is a loss of interest in the project.  It's hard to find what got me excited about the idea when that's buried under pages and pages of things I built up around it only to watch them come crashing down.

So, I decided to try something new when one of my projects started getting tangled up in its own previous incarnations.  I stripped the whole thing down to its basic concept, to the idea that made me want to write it in the first place, and started working up again from there.  It's not so much "forget everything you think you know" but more "you told me to go back to the beginning".

Fact: any writing advice you can sum up with a quote from "The Princess Bride" is bound to be helpful.

Better than that, though, is that it's actually working.  For one story, I realized a few weeks ago that I was telling it backwards (long story), but I had to strip it down to its basic idea (Robert E. Howard's "Tangled") and go from there for the new order to work.  For another, I determined that the best way to get a crazy magic-user to the final conflict I saw for her was to make her much more of an anti-authority anti-hero from the start, and reworking things with her has been incredibly fun so far.  Both stories are turning out a lot darker than I thought, and I'm eager to see where they go.

The most important part, though, is that I get to keep working on stuff I worried was either dead or heading that way.  I feel like I've lost so much over the years.  I have three plots-in-progress to work on now, and I'm still feeling a lot of things out, but it's great to have a new start.

Here's hoping I don't end up referencing this post in another few months talking about how nothing ever works.  :P

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

IWSG: The Confidence Rollercoaster

"The writer who loses his self-doubt, who gives way as he grows old to a sudden euphoria, to prolixity, should stop writing immediately: the time has come for him to lay aside his pen."
--Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette

Two weeks ago, my therapist started off our weekly session as she always does, by asking me how I'm doing.  I said, "Mercurial," and she gave me a funny look and said I'd responded like that before.

For the record, funny looks from my therapist are nothing new.  But still.  It's started to hit me recently, with everything that's going on in my life and with my work, that this incredible back-and-forth in how I'm feeling about my writing might actually be the natural state for a writer.  Sometimes I can handle everything I need to, and when the work isn't going well, I can step away and figure it out later.  Sometimes a single thing doesn't work and it ruins me for the night, and I hate myself and everything I've ever done and hiding inside an enormous book fort for the rest of my life sounds like a great idea.

Looking back, I don't know if there's ever been a time when I wasn't all kinds of back-and-forth about how good of a writer I was, or if I was... going to....

Wait.  I just realized.  There was a time when I was always confident in my writing, certain that everyone would love my work and I'd get published right away and my first epic fantasy trilogy would be on every bestseller list ever.  It was when I was writing my first three books.  And you know what?  Every single one of those books was bad.

It took those three tries to make me realize this was going to be harder than I thought.  And as appropriate for IWSG, I've been insecure and questioning about this whole thing ever since.  Spending way too long trying to write short stories only made it worse, as I did well with those maybe once.  Going back to novels only made the rollercoaster's ups and downs more dramatic, as it was (and still is) a lot of investing in one big story with no way to know if it's going to work out or not.

All of my books so far have been in the "or not" category, which is what leads me to posts like last month's IWSG, where I talked about quitting it all.  It's easy to think the ups and downs aren't worth it.  But this is the way this particular ride goes, and I'm still on it.
And if it leads to a writer whose work I enjoy and whom I personally respect using me as an example of how you win?  I must be doing something right.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Not That Post.

I mentioned last entry that I'd be making a post about editing in an enormous character change.  This is not that post.  Quite frankly, I'm getting tired of talking about STARWIND; I feel like I'm the only one who cares to hear about it at length and I'd rather not babble on about it for yet another entry.  I'm nearly done with the major edits, so soon I'll get it to the Version 2 beta readers and we'll see how that goes.

It does, however, leave me without a topic for this week.

So since I know rejection is something we all have in common, I'll leave y'all with a video Rena linked in the comments to my existential crisis earlier this month.  Hope you like it.



Next week: April's IWSG, which hopefully won't just be a continuation of this month's entry.  That's an entire eight days away, who knows what could happen.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Recommended Reading, San Francisco Edition

I've read two really good books recently, and I wanted to tell people about both of them.  (It's a good problem to have, I swear.)  Then, I realized that both books take place in San Francisco, and figured I'd go with that.  So:

BREATH OF EARTH by Beth Cato takes place in 1906 San Francisco on an alternate Earth where people draw magic from the earth and use it to power airships, where the United States and Japan are in a powerful alliance and a great many mystical creatures are real, and where the heroine is possibly the only woman magic-user of her type.

HEROINE COMPLEX by Sarah Kuhn takes place in a modern San Francisco where several years ago, a demonic invasion gave some people superpowers, and follows the loyal sidekick of the city's heroine Aveda Jupiter as they deal with demonic attacks (some of which involve cupcakes and karaoke bars) and a bevy of all kinds of personal issues.

Yes, these are very different books, but they're both awesome.

I don't want to give away much about the plots themselves, but both books hit on two things that I was very glad to see, and that made the stories better for me.  First, they're both incredibly diverse, which only makes sense, considering where they take place.  Ms. Cato clearly did her research for BREATH, and the sheer variety of people who make up SF really shows, even in the ugliness directed toward some people which is unfortunately historically accurate.  The mixture of humanity is definitely present in HEROINE as well, in both the main cast and the minor characters, and it's clear that this is not a story that could happen if these people were anyone else.

Both books also feature some really damn good romances.  I noticed this in particular because I've recently realized that this is a weak area of mine.  >_<  But while both authors handle the romances in very different ways (necessary considering the characters involved), both romances are full of heart and passion, yet free of melodrama, and they feel very genuine.  The fact that both books got me interested and invested in what easily could have been Yet Another M/F Romance says a lot to me, and I'm going to study what both authors did to learn how to do this better.

The only problems I had with these books are some story structure issues.  BREATH brings in so many different plotlines and, in the end, only settles the immediate one.  So much is left hanging that I was genuinely surprised it ended when it did.  The author's note refers to this being the first of a series, so I'm sure the next book will address what was left hanging, but "Wait, what?" is not the best way to feel about an ending.  As for HEROINE, the cast does a good deal of guessing about what's happening and drawing conclusions that turn out to be right.  While they were wrong about a few significant things, including a multi-part plot twist that caught everyone (including me) completely by surprise, I felt like they were right a little too often.

However, none of those issues got in the way of my enjoyment of either title.  I sped through both of these books, always eager to find out what happened next, and I'd recommend them both to just about anyone.  Also, they both have sequels coming out this year!

Next week: editing in an enormous character change.