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.