Monday, May 30, 2011

Thoughts on blogging

I started this blog in February, which is also about when I started seriously following other writing blogs and a few months after I began spending a lot of time at the Absolute Write Water Cooler. Big recommendation for AW, if you haven't been there. Great people, lots of great forums. But don't look for me -- I didn't plan this out too well and I set up my AW account under the wrong screen name.

So it may seem that I'm new to writing. Well, I'm new to talking about my writing. I'm older than you probably think, and I've written more than I'm willing to talk about.

After my four months in the blogosphere, I've had some thoughts about writing. There's a lot of advice out there, and a lot of it is:

1. vague.

2. nearly identical to other advice.

3. and if it's not those, it's what works for one specific person.

4. geared towards beginners. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but after you've been doing this for a while you want new advice. I find myself clicking on a lot of blogs and finding the same old same old. Yes, I know I need to develop characters, have a plot and build a world. However, as you get past the beginner stage of writing things become more difficult to talk about. Because then it's not about what the tools are, it's about how you use them and that can be very subjective. A question of style.

Maybe this is where mentoring comes in. I wouldn't know -- never had a mentor.

I've been blogging for four months and there are some people who come around and read my blatherings (which is very kind of them) and I'm wondering what it is that people want from a blog that's about creative writing. Maybe this is obvious to some people, but I'm socially awkward and easily distracted, so please bear with me.

If you've been reading my blog, what do you come here for? Are my Word Choice Wednesdays interesting? Are my posts rambly and confusing? What do you want me to talk about?

Everyone's got strengths and weaknesses in their writing, and if you've read the samples I've put up recently for blogfests (convenient links: here and here) you've got an idea what mine are. I'm not going to presume I can teach people how to write good fiction, but if you wanted to pick my brain about something, what would it be? 

Or do you just want a blow-by-blow of another unpublished writer hacking her way through her umpteenth novel? Would not expect that to be interesting, but you never know...

They say blogging is about self-promotion -- definitely not my strong suit. Don't even know what people would want to see. So I'm asking. First person to answer will get an inordinate amount of influence. :)

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Made of Awesome blogfest!

Title: Course Corrections
Genre: Hard SF thriller
Word Count: 77,400

First 250 of Chapter 1:

Five years ago

Neal was cooperative, even docile, until he saw the chair and the halo scanner at its head; then he planted both bare feet and backpedaled. His two guards had him by the elbows, his hands cuffed in front of him, and they picked him up easily in the low gravity.

“No. No, please!” Neal twisted in their grip, and with a bootstrapper’s instinct for low gee shoved one foot down hard behind him. He spun, facefirst, wrenching his elbows out of their hands. Shoving his palms against the floor, he zipped back a meter, put his feet down again and was bolting for the door when they tackled him.

“No!” His voice cracked, ragged, as they dragged him back to the chair. “Don’t do this! Don’t take her away!”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” the doctor said, sitting lightly on a stool beside the halo scanner to check the data on his handheld display. 

“Don’t wipe me,” Neal pleaded, tears coming. He flinched when the nurse touched an injector gun to the crook of his elbow, just below the uniform’s sleeve, and dosed him. “Don’t wipe me, please. Don’t take her away. I don’t want to forget.”

“Neal McBride,” the doc said as his patient was strapped down. “I’m Dr. Seitz and I’ll be seeing you through the first stages of therapy.”

The guards stepped back once Neal was tied to the chair and his head clamped under the halo scanner. Seitz nodded to them and they left the doctor and nurse with their patient in the white therapy lab.

Would you keep reading? :D All feedback welcome.

Blogfest hosted by Shelley Watters -- read more entries from the list here!

Sunday Edits -  tweaked the first paragraph according to comments... did my best to describe balking. :) Thank you everyone, and good luck!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Word Choice Wednesday: Jangle


Merriam-Webster says:
a: to cause to sound harshly or inharmoniously b: to excite to tense irritation

It also defines it as: to utter or sound in a discordant, babbling, or chattering way. Which goes along with a above, but I can't say I've heard it used in that context often.

This is a solid five cent word. 

More specific than:
Ring and other noise-related verbs. There's a distinctly bouncy element to jangle, maybe because it's similar to jingle. Jingle can be pretty annoying too, mostly when they start playing Christmas music in August.

I mention other synonyms in the next part, but here are some more vague irritant-related verbs: annoy, discomfit, unsettle. They're mild and general, good for covering non-specific disruptions. Discomfit is oddly formal and unusual -- seven or eight cent word?

Word relationships:
For a, bouncier than ring, more irritating than jingle, and harsher/terser/tenser than sound. I'd use it when something happens again, to emphasize irritation: The doorbell jangled again.

For b, I see someone who's been jangled as more active than one who's worried. Pacing, fidgeting, maybe sweating. Irritated can be physically active too, but I think it covers a broader range of emotional states. Jangled seems pretty specific to me.

What comes to your mind? Do you associate it with bells, or with nerves?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Power of Tension Blogfest

Check out the Power of Tension Blogfest at Cally Jackson Writes and Rachel Morgan Writes! I'm entering an excerpt from the middle of my hard SF/horror short story "The Rookery":

Danika pointed to something in the wall, looking at me pointedly over her shoulder. I recognized the crescent shape, the smooth bit of dome. Portion of an eye socket and skull. Human. And then we heard the noise and she snapped the bolt rifle up, ready.

I know. Hard vacuum. Sound’s impossible. Past the end of the wall and the opening it created, a hallway led off the great room toward a lonely emergency light by the airlock. Then a shadow moved in the light cast by the opening, and the noise started again.

A series of clicks, followed by a chorus of soft, crooning calls. Kee-ah, kee-ah. Two clicks, and the crooning stopped. Danika touched the stone with one hand and glided slowly toward the end of the wall. Her toes dragged, bringing her to a stop as she peeked around the corner, over the rifle’s sights.

“Payge,” she whispered over the intercom, “see where the hall is, there?” Indicated the next emergency light. “Gap’s about two meters. Come up here and on my mark, go. Don’t look, just go.”

Claire shot me a wide-eyed look. I crept alongside Danika and gathered up my feet underneath me, waited. When her hand moved, I kicked hard and shot across the gap between the brown wall and the stone hallway the ‘steaders had cut. I couldn’t help it, I looked as I went.

Too much to see in the second I saw it: a mass of slithering limbs, three small bat-winged flyers eagerly hopping and flapping, their reptilian, toothed jaws open in anticipation. Their tentacled master held a treat just out of their reach: a human arm, torn off at the shoulder.

Feedback welcome!

Got the Made of Awesome blogfest starting Friday too!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Word Choice Wednesday: Jell


Merriam-Webster says:
1: : to come to the consistency of jelly : congeal, set 2: to take shape and achieve distinctness : become cohesive

Not to be confused with the verb gel, which means... to become a gel, which is what jelly is anyhow. So, actually,  feel free to confuse gel with jell. I'm confused now. Stupid English.

Both jell and gel are nice little five cent words, short and sweet.

More specific than:
Form, set and most other synonyms. Because of my scientific background, I think of jell specifically in terms of the internal structure that makes gels what they are -- a web of molecules, like a three-dimensional fishing net. It's the creation of an orderly array, so the use of jell in unstructured situations won't ring true for me.

Word relationships:
IMO, the closest synonym to jell is clot, because clots are also a self-arranged structure. They're just not orderly, like gels. Clots can congeal or coalesce, both of which might involve internal structure, but not necessarily.  Cohere is tricky because I tend to think it requires stickiness... but I'm sure that physicists would say that coherent light (a laser) has rigorous internal structure like a gel.

Set and form are both vague and apply to a number of things, like concrete, which have no internal structure. 

What comes to your mind?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Character development: the enemy, part 2

My first post got a bit rambly, so to recap:

1. Enemies need motivation, goals and dedication just like heroes
2. Fumbling, arbitrary or incompetent enemies bring no tension to the story
    This weekend I happened to see Thor (blond beefcake, mmm) and was pleasantly surprised by the movie's handling of Loki as the enemy. No fumbling. No cutesy joking around. No unjustified venom or using "he's just evil" as an excuse. On top of that, kudos to Tom Hiddleston for looking tragic and yummy opposite the rather dauntingly delicious Chris Hemsworth. I especially appreciated how Loki did not explain himself at any point and remained cryptic and ambiguous to the end of the movie.

    I should hope to do so well in my WIP.

    Enemies come in all shapes and sizes, and I wanted to address situations in which the character is his own enemy. This could be a story where a character struggles to overcome substance abuse or any internal problem, really. Man vs. his inner demons. My WIP has one of these: Tanner Sheppard.

    It's something new, for me, and on the unexpected side. I guess the challenges Maggie presented me (being a very different personality from me) weren't enough, or something. Now my brain wants to talk about someone who is much more like me, in some ways, but take him on a journey I... haven't necessarily taken myself.

    I've been trying to write this post for the better part of a week now, without much luck. It might be getting a little too personal. Not ready to post about it yet. :)

    Anycase, the rules above still apply. Inner demons have their own motivations and goals -- self-destructive demons, as in substance abuse, usually intend to numb psychic or physical pain. Depression involves a need for "safety" from the horrible world and, at the same time, separating your horrible self from the world. Well, that's how it has seemed to me in any case.

    Tanner's demons aren't the same as mine, but if he can face them it will be good for me, too. Though he came along unexpectedly, he's done for my WIP what Ping did for his story -- put an engine in it. Gave me the drive to write it. Along the way, Maggie will still be developing her leadership qualities and challenging me to stretch my brain. The rest of the cast have an assortment of lesser worries that I sympathize with.

    Writing as self-therapy. It's the journey, not the destination. :)

    Friday, May 13, 2011

    Stealing from the best

    Have we all heard this saying: "Steal from the best"?

    There's nothing new under the sun, in storytelling, there's only new arrangements of old ideas. So steal from those who did it best. Steal from the masters of your genre. Steal from the masters of another genre.

    Here's a little twist: steal from the masters in real life.

    I'm coming up on a scene where one of my MCs (Maggie, for those of you who've read her character development posts) has to give an inspirational speech. Unfortunately, it's not my style to do something like say: "And then she gave a stirring speech that had the audience on their feet and cheering." I've been trying to avoid summarizing things -- if I'm not going to spell it out for the reader, I'll skip the scene entirely and mention the outcome later. For things like hand-to-hand combat, this means going pretty much blow by blow. Which is its own can of worms, as writers know, but it can be done and you don't have to be a fighter to do it.

    Inspirational speeches, though? How do you fake that? By stealing from the best.

    I looked up Patrick Henry's famous "Give me liberty or give me death" speech and I'm plugging in details that are appropriate to the story. Also shortening it a bit for the modern attention span. And suddenly I'm not worried about how many speeches Maggie might have to give because think of all the famous ones out there -- MLK's "I have a dream," Reagan's "Tear down this wall," Kennedy's "Ask not." Plus all the speeches Shakespeare wrote.

    What have you stolen from real life?

    Wednesday, May 11, 2011

    Word Choice Wednesday: Moist


    Merriam-Webster says:
    1: slightly or moderately wet : damp 2: tearful 3: characterized by high humidity

    I've heard people say they hate this penny word and avoid it whenever they can.

    More specific than:
    Damp. IMO moist is a little wetter than damp. Or maybe squishier, not necessarily wetter. It's not wet, though.

    Word relationships:
    The connection between wetness and temperature is interesting -- and physical. If you've ever stepped on a penny barefoot, did you notice how it registers in your brain as both cold and wet? Maybe it's because wet causes cold, on your skin.

    Anyway, moist when referring to a degree of water saturation does not, somehow, carry any connotations of temperature. For me. We've got clammy for cold and wet, humid for warm and wet, and dank for dark and wet (and  smelly). Would those be five cent words? Two or three cent? What's a ten-cent synonym of moist? All that's coming to mind is stygian, which only carries a damp connotation (for me) because of its derivation from the River Styx. I don't think wetness is a part of its formal definition, though.

    Moist when referring to food (a nice, moist cake) usually does not refer to its water content -- it's oil that makes baked goods "moist". And you definitely wouldn't want a damp cake. Or a clammy one. Humid might work, if it's fresh from the oven...

    What comes to your mind? Do you hate moist?

    Monday, May 9, 2011

    More on music

    Prompted by Summer's blog post at Twentysomething.

    In an earlier post, I mentioned that I compile playlists for each of my stories, too. Summer posted her top ten by how many times they were played (and given the contents of her list, I guess I should check out Muse). I don't put single songs on repeat, personally, but I do revise my playlists and I keep building on them as the story goes. So the first ten on the list for Course Corrections (out of 40) earned their place on the list. Each one has its own reason, of course. But here they are:

    1. "Jet Pack" by Eve6
    2. "Deep Enough" by Live
    3. "Killer" by Seal
    4. "Boston" by Augustana
    5. "Barrel of a Gun" by Depeche Mode
    6. "Nothing Else Matters" by Metallica
    7. "Viva la Vida" by Coldplay
    8. "Simple Rules" by Massive Attack
    9. "World on Fire (Junkie XL club mix/GM edit)" by Sarah McLachlan
    10. "Just Let Go (Thin White Duke remix)" by Fischerspooner

    Eclectic, yeah, and it doesn't quite illustrate how much electronica is in the list for its energy content. That Fischerspooner got me through some action sequences, let me tell you.

    I hope to see more top ten song lists on other blogs! If you prefer new age, jazz, classical, don't be shy! I love Bach and Vivaldi, too... and Enya and Yanni... okay, I'm not familiar with jazz but I just copped to liking Yanni so cut me some slack :)

    Friday, May 6, 2011

    Character development: the enemy

    While reading about the attack on bin Laden's compound, I mentally turned to my character Maggie and asked her if she was ready to be public enemy #1 on the Jovian Frontier.

    She looked kinda scared. I don't blame her.

    It's an important part of writing a story: making sure the "bad guys" are as real as your heroes. Bad guys need goals and reasons to pursue them. Their actions need to be every bit as reasonable as your heroes' actions. Their pursuit of their goals every bit as determined.

    And as they say, one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter, so if Maggie is going to pursue independence for Jupiter's outer moons she's going to be labeled a terrorist by the establishment. They're going to act accordingly. If they get a chance to send the equivalent of a SEAL strike team to kill her, they will. Maggie's no combat ninja, so it's scary stuff. Ben Franklin had a great quote (as usual): We must hang together or we will all hang separately.

    If I tried to portray the enemy as bumbling or incompetent, it would be difficult to take the story seriously. Even trying to say the enemy consistently underestimates the main characters will hamstring the tension. And an enemy without motivation is pointless too -- how many movies have you seen where the characters head out into some kind of wilderness, immediately trip over some major predator and then get chased across half the planet by that predator, tearing up the landscape as they go? Because predators have nothing better to do with their time, you know. And they have no self-preservation instincts either. Please do some homework on how predators actually go about their business.

    In my story, the enemy is the establishment, the one with the money and the intelligence operations and the military. If they don't act like a real government, I'll be making a pretty transparent statement about what I think of governments. And while science fiction has a long history of social commentary (something I support whole-heartedly, even when I disagree with a given story), I don't want to be transparent about it. So competent it is.

    Maybe you say but it took us ten years to find bin Laden, that's not all that competent. Maybe that sounds like a long time to you. Maybe it's a long time to live on the run. But I'm getting to an age where ten years isn't all that long anymore -- and I'm much younger than bin Laden. How long do you think it felt, to him?

    What's the most sensible thing for your bad guys to do to stop your main character?

    Wednesday, May 4, 2011

    One Wandering Ghost

    Finished drafting Ping's story last night. New title: "One Wandering Ghost". Final count 8300 words, down from 9200. Still kind of long, for short stories these days. Don't know if it could get much shorter... we'll see what the crits say.

    If you're on Book Country, I've posted it there for critting. Link to its page.

    Word Choice Wednesday: Idiot


    Merriam-Webster says:
    1 usually offensive : a person affected with extreme mental retardation 2: a foolish or stupid person

    Back to the controversial words. It's a penny word, though. Gets thrown around a lot, gets objected to a lot.

    More specific than:
    Idiot has a medical definition, yes, and it gets so over-used that its impact is pretty dilute unless you hit somebody who's in a position to be offended by it. So it's a less specific word with very specific underpinnings.

    The medical definition is an IQ of under 30. Though the whole concept of "IQ" is fraught with its own problems...

    Word relationships:
    Somehow the adjective stupid  has dodged the offensive label. Not sure how it did that -- or is it just me? Idiot and moron are shades of the same thing, I think, whereas fool is less about intelligence and more about behavior or wisdom. Which is worse: idiot or moron? The former sounds a little sharper, thanks to the d and the t, and the latter draws out more because of the two o's. So maybe moron comes across just a little dumber and more insulting.

    What comes to your mind? Does intelligence-based insulting offend you? How do your characters insult each other?

    Tuesday, May 3, 2011

    Substantial revisions

    Time for revisions. So I re-read Ping's story (which still needs a title, but I feel like it's going to show up soon) for the first time since I finished it back on March 25th. Several things are much clearer now.
    1. I knew the beginning didn't work, but some of it can be cannibalized to illustrate where Ping is mentally.
    2. I think the buildup to the climax is good, but precisely what Ping does at that moment does not logically follow. Emotionally it could follow, but it would need a hell of a lot more explanation and this isn't going to be a novel. Don't have time. So we will turn the gun in the more sensible direction and still get catharsis. Just in a different way. 
    3. Dialing back on the suicidal thing, too. Jittery, short tempered, miserable... and in denial.
    4. Because of time/length (because time is space, as Einstein pointed out) I'm going to fight my tendency to use a third person objective limited POV. See that chicken livers post for more on that. Actually, the POV as it currently stands isn't too well defined, so shifting it to the very popular third person subjective limited should be do-able. 

    This's why putting your writing down for a while and coming back with a clear mind is so important. Ping's had some time off and now I'm going to need to get inside his head. A couple years are coming off his age and I'm going to try to remember how it felt to be restless, dissatisfied, itching to go. That feeling I had between high school graduation and moving into the dorm at college. That was quite a while ago.

    Or maybe that summer after I finished college, when the job search was tanking fast and I ended up working full time on the breakfast shift at McD's. Constantly tired, sore, bored as hell and no end in sight. That summer, I came to see why some people go straight to a bar after work. Glad that I didn't, but I understood it.

    Write what you know, right? People seem to think that means I'd have to know something about living on a rock out in space, but I disagree. "Write what you know" refers to the emotional content of the story. Everything else can be researched or invented.

    Monday, May 2, 2011


    Prompted by the road trip-related post over at A Writer's Notepad. That road trip was hosted by YA Highway.

    I tend to create playlists for my WIPs in iTunes. Saying that I choose the songs would be... not entirely accurate. Not always clear on why some songs attach themselves to stories or particular characters, but it happens. Not every time, but often enough. The other songs are there for their energy level or atmosphere, and tend to fit the story fairly well. Often an oddball or two in the mix, though. 

    Readers of my blog may recall my character development posts for Ping. Well, Ping acquired himself a song early on: "This Is The Picture (excellent birds)" by Peter Gabriel. Darned if I know why, but listening to the song always puts me in the right mindframe for Ping. There are eight other songs in that playlist, but that one's the strongest stimulator.

    Course Corrections has a playlist of about 40 songs.  "The Rookery" has seven (dark, traumatic) pieces that helped shove me into the dark every night to finish that story. I'm starting to brainstorm about the followup to Course Corrections and it doesn't have any tracks yet, but it's only a matter of time.

    Amend that: I've started a playlist for it, but the only song so far is "Gravity" by A Perfect Circle. That's a track that shows up frequently in my Jovian Frontier playlists.  It's somewhere to start.

    There's been research indicating that music taps different neural pathways in the brain than language. Memory and emotion both get involved. So do endorphins. No wonder so many people are affected by music and use it to help channel their creativity. 

    At the same time, it's highly individual and what works for me isn't likely to work for you. Or is it? What do you think? What do you listen to while you write? Is it different for different stories?
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