Thursday, May 24, 2012

Mid-year's Resolutions

At the beginning of the year, I had resolved to query Course Corrections and hopefully finish the six parts of Disciple.

My CC query is currently sitting in the e-slush pile of a small press publisher whose work I've enjoyed. Part IV of Disciple is in progress and I'm getting chunks of Parts V and VI as lines of sight open up. Remember the asteroid bombardment (starts at 6:30) at the beginning of Armageddon? It's kinda like that...

Whatever happens with CC, I've decided that I will publish by the end of 2012. My post on T: Target during the A to Z Challenge got my mind rolling and I've done some homework on freelance editing services, proofreading services, and the cost thereof. Next up: cover artists, tips on html e-book layout, promotional services, and finding those ISBNs bought back when I was just another fool in the RPG publishing industry. (Long story, bad ending, don't ask...)

While I've gotten positive responses to CC, I can't help noticing that Disciple gets stronger, more positive responses. Plus, it's a six-part monstrosity I can roll out, not just a book and a sequel. So let's lead with that. I resolve to publish Disciple, Part I: For Want of a Piglet by the end of 2012.

There will be a Kickstarter project and I will gladly offer e-books, POD paperbacks, autographs, cookies, firstborns, whatever else people would like as an incentive. What kinds of goodies would you want?

No dates carved in stone yet, only that I should finish Part IV before the end of June and that's probably when the Kickstarter project will get put together. And I'll revise Part III. And work on Part V, and, and, and.

If you'd like to recommend a fantasy artist who is looking for work, please comment! I've been stumbling around overwhelmed by the talent out there.

In unrelated news, I was awarded:

by Alicia of Saffron Wine (Who recently posted about various oils to use in the kitchen. I must confess to using just plain old canola, rendered chicken fat and sometimes bacon grease, as I am, uh, a "rustic style" cook... good thing my cholesterol is OK. :D) Thank you, Alicia!

Now, she did not answer questions or provide factoids as I've seen on other blogs that got this award. So I will answer up to seven questions posted in comments, so long as they are not too personal.

In more relevant news: 
Next week is my first shift at the helm of Unicorn Bell! I will be talking about dialogue in all its wild and wooly forms, and volunteering to critique submissions. If you have anything you'd like me to tackle in specific, post in the comments and I'll try it next week over at Unicorn Bell.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Managing name avalanches

Over at Unicorn Bell, Huntress posted some pet peeves -- which included the writer dumping names, terms, and titles onto the reader too quickly.

Coincidentally, at this stage in Part IV of Disciple I need to introduce a bevy of new characters. Six, in fact. All of whom have titles. For extra complications, there are also going to be a handful of background characters that the reader doesn't need to pay attention to.

I knew I was in trouble when I was outlining Part IV because I had to introduce a stack of characters and while my narrating MC may have perfect memory my readers surely do not. So I started pulling out a few tricks I've picked up for telling characters apart. Most of them are, not coincidentally, stolen from movies/acting.

Visual cues
This is easier to do with pictures, admittedly, but a strong visual element attached to a character is an easy way for the reader/viewer to tell them apart. We do this in real life, too -- which is why when somebody gets a drastic haircut, for example, we might not recognize them for a moment. Or if someone you always see in a business suit turns up in jeans and a t-shirt.

I picked a distinctive feature to emphasize when the character was introduced, and I'll sneak it in quickly the next time they turn up. I can't do this with all of them, though, or the cues themselves would become an avalanche.

In my case,  I put one of the new characters in a distinctive blue uniform. Nobody else of importance is wearing a blue uniform, and now that it's linked to her, she'll be wearing it throughout the story. But that's reasonable -- it's her uniform, after all, and she's on the job.

In prose, unlike TV/movies, we can also invoke smell or texture cues. If it's reasonable.

Unique speech patterns
A lot of people hate written brogues -- I suspect most of that stems from when you start replacing syllables with apostrophes and words become unrecognizable. But they can be an easy way to differentiate characters, so long as you don't hit the reader with six different brogues at once. Or more than two, really. 

I did not have this aspect to play with, unfortunately, because of who these characters are. But it could be useful in other situations.

Strong, distinct first impressions
How fast can you sketch a character? The personality, not the appearance. A clear personality will separate any character from the crowd -- important when you've got background characters that aren't important at the moment.

In my case, one of the characters was introduced, described (I assume the reader will promptly forget that) and then opened her mouth. Hopefully, what came out stamped her with a big, red CLUELESS.

Another one got in an MC's face for an alpha-dog staring contest. TROUBLE.

The point is for the characters to hit the ground doing what they do best. What they'll be doing most often. We don't meet them on an off day or in an oddly introspective moment, because it's that first impression that sticks. This is just as important for the supporting cast as for main characters.

Spread it out AMAP
Breaking up a slew of introductions with some familiar faces to remark on the newbies, give the reader a little breathing room, helps too. The more you can break it up, the less it will feel like an avalanche of information, too.

Since I had six to throw at the readers, I started by introducing just two. End of scene, little bridge scene, then the big introduction scene for three new characters. End of scene, a few of other scenes, plot developments, and number six will be joining us a little later. Hopefully this will minimize confusion.

 ... and then I'll give it to my betas and see if it worked.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Where the story begins, part 2

Since I'm a plotter, I sketch out all the plots in a story before I start writing. In each part of Disciple, that includes: the external action, the emotional arcs of Kate and her two co-MCs, and Kate's mastery of her magical ability. All the stories include these, but which one is the primary plot varies from Part to Part.

Humming "Drive" by Incubus. Photo courtesy of
Why do I need to know which is the primary plot? Because it's the one I will use to write my query letter, and it's the one I will base my synopsis on. 

How do I know which plot is the primary driver of the story? Well, because of the overall progress of Disciple, that was easy to pick out in Part IV. But when it's not so easy to tell, the question I ask myself is:  

What's the most important thing that happens in the course of the story?

That's your primary plot. I'm biased toward these being changes in a character, personally, but it can be an external goal. Catching a serial killer, for example.

In my scifi novel, Course Corrections (McBride's Eight? I'm waffling) I had to ask that question, think hard, and then  revise accordingly. The primary plot was:  Maggie McBride becomes a leader.* Therefore, the story began when she decided to do the thing that made her a leader -- to rescue her cousin Neal. I hadn't written that scene in the first draft because I hadn't realized it was the primary out of the handful of plot threads... so I added the scene in revision.

If the plot were: Neal McBride escapes prison, the story probably would start when he was captured, or maybe at his trial and sentencing. 

Where does that primary plot start? What is its inciting incident? Figuring that out is another blog post. But for now, whether you're a plotter figuring this out ahead of time or a pantser hacking your manuscript into shape:  

The story begins when the primary plot begins. 

Everything before that is extraneous, to be brutally honest, and every page you make your readers slog through to get to the story is a risk. A risk that they will put the story down and find something more interesting to do. You can take that risk -- I put about three pages in front of the scene where Maggie makes her choice, and I did it for the purpose of introducing Neal as a sympathetic character who deserves rescuing. (did I succeed?) Or you can jump right into the plot on page one.

How many pages are you willing to read before you know what the plot is? "It depends" -- on what?

*Though having read Ursula LeGuin's recent post, this may be the story, and the plot was how she went about doing that (rescuing her cousin.)

Part 1 is here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Where the story begins, part 1

I recently began writing Part IV of my fantasy monstrosity, Disciple, and unlike the previous three Parts the beginning of this one was more difficult  to pin down.

Part IV begins -- really begins, and I'll get to how I know that -- about three and a half months after the end of Part III and my narrating character, Kate, pretty much pitched a fit about all the stuff that would be skipped. (Now, I blame this on Kate but honestly, it's my gut talking to me. And I trust my gut, in general. See also: G: Gut.)

I let Kate present the case for all the skipped stuff, which is to say I sketched out everything that happened in those three and a half months in the process of outlining Part IV in general. As things began to come together, I figured out which parts of the skipped stuff would, in fact, be important for the reader to know. These scenes would:
  • Introduce characters and situations: One of the scenes was a chance to properly meet a supporting cast character. It also set up a situation that will be used in Part V (though exactly how is a little hazy at the moment.) I should note here that it's always a good idea for more than one thing to be "happening" in a scene. That's a whole 'nother blog post, though.
  • Track progress: One of the through-lines of the whole series is Kate's developing magical ability. On the feedback of my betas, I've started writing supplementary scenes that track Kate's progress and help explain the magic system in more detail. What will become of these scenes and how I'll get them to the reader, I'm not sure yet. But they have their uses despite not being integral to the plot.
  • Set start parameters for a plot: This was the weakest scene, in many ways, except that it explained the starting situation for the primary plot driving Part IV. That's a useful thing to have, given how Part III ended and the time gap between the two. 
I put my foot down and told Kate no on the scenes that didn't do any of the above. But none of the scenes above contribute directly to the various plots in Part IV, either. Every page you spend not directly developing the plot is a risk -- a risk that the reader will get tired of waiting for something to happen. ESPECIALLY at the beginning.

Being a control-freak writer, I did write the scenes in the bullet list above. I'll decide what to do with them later.

Stay tuned for part 2 on how to figure out which of your story's several plots determines the starting point. Meanwhile: how hard does a scene need to work to be included in your story?

Go to Part 2.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Instead of boiling wine, clean wounds with...

Maybe you've read my little rant about the use of boiling wine on open wounds in GRRM's Game of Thrones series? Here are some more effective options for your fantasy world, blogged over at Science In My Fiction.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The influence of poll results

I posted a poll in the sidebar for a week -- and then on a suspicion that maybe most people are reading my blog through an RSS feed and thus never see the sidebar, I put it in a post for a while. The results of that experiment  indicate that I may be right, so I'll put any future polls in a post.

In the poll, I asked what people came here to read. It was a multiple-check poll, so people could choose all their faves.

Ain't that the truth

The tie for first place goes to my writing posts and my science fiction world-building posts. Next: samples of my writing, and then the character interviews. A write-in vote went to "rants about creative issues."

So I will keep talking about writing. Since I'm in the middle of a fantasy story, science fiction world-building isn't on my mind so much but I will try to keep posting about that too.

Writing samples, fair enough -- I will leave my two sample scenes up for a while longer (See the page tabs above. Links for feed readers: Hard scifi or Fantasy) and you can find more bits via my "samples" tag (link).

Character interviews (link to tag), okay, I will keep doing those too.  And I'll rant when the spirit moves me. :D

I will keep the talk about music, non-fiction books, memes, and the fantasy world-building (they didn't get any votes -- shrugs -- if you want to see them, speak up!) to a minimum.

If you don't like my poll results for whatever reason, comment! Or email me. My addy is in my profile. 

Other announcements

I have been invited to contribute to Unicorn Bell's plans for world domination critiquing forum. Which means I will be hosting for a week at a time every so often, talking about writing and asking people to send stuff for critting. (I have a little something posted there for crit right now, in fact.)

I've got time until my first week on duty there, but I'm tossing around ideas of what to talk about and crit. Dialogue, maybe? Plotting? Would people want their outline critted? Maybe a query/synopsis crit?

I'm open to suggestions.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

In defense of MOIST

Yes, I said it. MOIST.

Some people hate this word. Recently, JEFritz listed it as a Word That Needs to Go Away. Now, I agree about the invented and redundant word "ginormous," and I agree that "special" has lost all meaning due to over-use.

But MOIST? I must disagree.

Apparently people get a creepy feeling from this word because of its application to dank, dark, musty, mold-encrusted spaces. Hidden grottoes, perhaps, where the smell of algae and moss hangs thick in the air. Let me throw some more description on that -- humid, stale air pressing on your sweat-pricked skin, suffocating as a moist wool blanket.

OK, that's just "summertime" where I live, but... we're way beyond the implications of one little word like MOIST. So you want to get rid of MOIST? Okay.

But consider the loss:

This chocolate cake is moist and delicious. 

will become... what?

Sad cake is sad.
This chocolate cake is damp and delicious.

Damp cake?

This chocolate cake is humid and delicious. 
This chocolate cake is wet. Poor thing. It could have been moist. 
I threw the dank, musty chocolate cake in the trash and mourned the loss.

English is a wonderful language. Few of our words have only one use, and we're inventing more all the time. And if you don't like a word, you can just avoid it. Or can you?

Monday, May 7, 2012

A to Z Reflections

The hosts on the main A to Z page posted some questions for today's reflection on the Challenge.

How about commenting - did you stumble upon lots of sites still using word verification? Did this prevent you from leaving a comment? What worked for your blog?

You know, I don't mind word verification. It doesn't stop me from commenting. Then again, I don't post unless I have something to say -- I'm not the "Me Too!" kind.

I turned mine off before April, but I can't say it's made much difference in the comment rate.  I just don't get a lot of comments.

What pearls of wisdom do you want to share with the Co-Hosts of this event?

"Keep it short" is not the kind of advice that is going to keep me reading A to Z posts. Personally, I want blogs that I can sink my teeth into. That may well be just me, though. And I may have big teeth.

OTOH, I may have gone overboard with my own posts. Then again, that may be part of my personal brand: pretentious writer flailing in the deep end.

And here's another thing: I know that on the main A to Z board there was a wish expressed for all participants to break 100 followers... being on Blogger, for me that means the Google Friends Connect list in my sidebar.

Does everyone realize that Google has "discontinued" Friends Connect? I was never 100% clear on how to use it, and then at one point it began giving me trouble so I actually cleaned my whole Connect list out -- I read everybody's blogs through Google Reader now. Which, I suspect, does not show up on the Friends Connect following count.

I'm not even sure if my reading through Reader will register as a hit on your page, for that matter. Which makes me wonder how many ghosts in the machine there really are. TBH, I have no idea how many real people are reading my blog and how many of the hits Blogger records are just spiders or bots or whatever's crawling the web these days.

In general...

April was a challenge for me. I've been blogging for a bit more than a year now and the habit is fairly well ingrained in me, but the level of obsession that April brought was new. I'm not entirely sure it was a good thing. I'm not going to commit to doing this again next year, yet -- I'll have to see how things lie come January 2013.

Meanwhile, if you're a new follower pick a Comfy Chair, pour yourself a beverage and let's have a write-in. :)

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Endings: show's over, go home

I wrote this post early in April, during the A to Z Challenge, so it's a little out of date... 

Just to top off Part III, the ending was a problem too. That's fitting, seeing as how a bunch of other things went wrong in this draft:
  1. Plotter FAIL! shortly before the climax
  2. The Hot Mess in the first third (and according to my betas it's still problematic)
  3. Forgot an important step in an important scene
  4. ...and then I did one of my edge-of-the-cliff endings
I'll have to label this a habit of mine: I build up to a big climax, which may take a while to convulse its way out, and then bang! Done! Drop the curtain!

A little wrapping up after the climax is appreciated by most readers, I'm given to understand... not that I should carry on for thousands of words, but something. Even when there's a whole Part IV to come.

Things I ought to do after the climax:
  • Clean up the mess: this was kinda literal, in Part III. There were people to patch up and a half-destroyed courtyard to try to smooth out.
  • Address the fallout: in the middle of the climax, I lobbed a bombshell related to a long-term plot development. Even though the full explanation will wait, it had to be at least partly addressed. Otherwise, the reader will be saying what the heck was that all about?
  • Will things be OK? Even a little bit? Amusingly, I just finished reading GRRM's Dance with Dragons where nothing is ever going to be okay and any hints it might be are just the author playing you along so he can twist the knife in your heart. My Part III is 65k and probably half of that is unmitigated combat, so if the reader's half as burned out as I was, we need some hint that things are getting better.
I wrote an epilogue, too. It was a bridge scene that would've been an odd place to start Part IV, but it had several  reasons to be fit in someplace.

What do you find you need to remind yourself to do?

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Answering A to Z questions

For W, I asked what you wanted to know. So here goes -- and hey! I'd love to get your feedback!

What kind of graphic design do you do, and do you ever try to combine it with your scifi ventures? 

I got into graphic design through the back door. I started out as a proofreader and did fairly well at it. I was working in a very busy place and at first it was "Could you just do those little edits to the file yourself?" and then it was "This is an easy job, could you knock it out?" and after a couple years I noticed they were giving me job jackets that said "For your best designer."

It wasn't anything glamorous. It was one of those companies that sends you envelopes full of coupons, in fact. Not Val-pack, but the same idea.

For ten years or so, I was the one-person design/pre-press department in various small print shops, so I've done everything from business cards to 300-page books to custom die-cut promotional stand-ups to photomanip... still, nothing glamorous but very practical.

Currently, I'm freelancing and working temp jobs when I can get one. Feel free to email me if you're looking for someone with mad P-shop and InDesign skillz.

I haven't combined this with my writing... yet. Aside from this blog, which I hope does not grate on anyone's eyeballs. 

No favorites, love them all
Hello! What's your favorite color?? If aliens forced you to see only one color forever, which color would you choose?

I don't really have a favorite color -- they've all good, honestly. But if I had to choose a monochrome, I'd go with plain old black-and-white. Why? Because greyscale is actually easier to look at than any other color of monochrome. It's a quirk of the rods and cones in your retina. You'll pick up details quicker and with better definition in greyscale than if everything were shades of blue, for example.

That's a huge oversimplification, of course. But yeah, I'd go greyscale if the aliens put a ray gun to my head.

Have you ever thought about blogging a theme within a theme? Perhaps creating simple science experiment lesson plans for teachers and students? If science is your fiction, I'm sure you could expand your blog in this or some other way. What are your thoughts about this? 

I wouldn't mind taking up the theme of "Hey! My stories are for sale!" but they aren't, yet. So far as expanding my blog goes, I'm not clear on what more I could do within this writing theme that isn't directly related to my own work -- whether sales boostering or fanservice. 

And as far as lessons plans go, no, never thought about them. If these blog posts have helped anybody, I'm glad... have they? Carly Watters recently posted about platform-building for writers, and it raised a similar question: what do you keep coming back to my blog for?
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