JulNoWriMo – almost there!

July 30, 2010

Don’t really have the time or energy to blog more than a quick update post, I’m afraid. Been writing too much of late.

A few quick stats about my JulNoWriMo so far…

Words written in 29 days: 44,584

Chapters completed: 6 and a half

Words left to reach 50k: 5416

Days of writing left: 2

Last sentence, so far: I’ve managed to avoid getting drafted for anything too frantic so far, but you might not be so lucky.

First sentence: So overall, this does sound like a game or sport we have back on Earth, capture the flag – well, at least a little.

And, for the fun of it, I made a wordle out of those 44 and a half thousand words: Wordle: Julnowrimo 1-29

Hopefully I’ll have something a bit more original to say than ‘whew’ once JulNo is done!

A plot hole big enough to fly a starship through – or not?

July 25, 2010

I know that I do it myself, (and hope that my critiquers catch most of them,) but occasionally I do come across plot holes in great books that really annoy me, especially if they’re glossed over with an explanation that just doesn’t hold water.

Spoilers for the book ‘The Rowan’ follow from here, by the way.

An example just popped up recently – I’m about halfway through ‘Damia’s Children’, from the excellent Talents series by Anne McCaffrey. It deals with the third generation of a family of remarkable psychics, with strong telekinetic and telepathic powers, and what happens when they get caught up in the middle of a three-species interstellar war. In this passage, Thian Raven-Lyon is stationed on a Fleet starship as representative of the psychic ‘Talents’, and he’s speaking with ‘Gravy’, a friendly nurse on the same ship, about the enemy threat.

“They seem to think that you’ll reach out with your Talent and somehow do what the Fleet ought to be doing.”

Thian laughed more heartily then. “Gravy, that’s not very likely. Not to mention impossible.”

“But you Talents did that at Deneb. Twice!”

“Talents, plural, Gravy. In fact every Talent available down to kids of ten and twelve. Not singular, me, with a dozen minor Talents to assist. There’s no way I could or would grab any glory.”

On the surface, this argument of Thian’s makes a lot of sense – one guy can’t do what a huge crowd could do to blast the enemy with psychic powers alone. They probably can’t build ships big enough to hold huge numbers of ‘Talents’, and if you put a few of the most powerful on Fleet starships, then you’re risking very valuable people in case something happens to the ship and they can’t all teleport themselves off in time.

However, what isn’t mentioned was that in the Deneb encounters that were references, (and which were high points in the plot of ‘The Rowan’, the first in the series,) fairly few of the Talents who were participating were physically present in the Deneb neighborhood. Huge numbers of Talents were able to combine their powers across vast interstellar distances and take part in the effort to save Deneb from the evil aliens.

So, that’s where I see the ‘glossing over’ part. Yes, Thian is the only strong Talent who’s physically with the Fleet task force. If needed, however, couldn’t he serve as the focus point for all of the Talents back home?

Part of the problem, of course, is that the rules of the psychic powers in a book like this are hard to explain comprehensively, especially if you’re going to have much room for telling an interesting story with the characters. But it still nags at me to have cases like these.

Thoughts? Am I making too much out of a tiny little thing? Do you have ‘favorite’ plot holes to bitch about? I’m all ears, people. (Well, not literally, I only have two, and actually my eyes are more useful when it comes to blog comments. But it’s a figure of speech.)

A writing experiment…

July 23, 2010

And a bit of a mash-up for today, as well!

One of my favorite writing panels at Polaris was ‘Making Sentences’, with James Alan Gardner. James seemed to have a lot of ideas about how to hone your skill with the nitty-gritty workmanship of writing, as his panel title sort of implies, and one approach that he mentioned went along these lines:

Pick a passage that you like out of a favorite book, and try to change as many of the words as possible with alternates that fill the same grammatical role, to tell a story that you want to tell.

It’s sort of an extreme madlibs exercise, with a piece of writing that you like as the template, and among other elements the idea seems to be to dissect the original passage to learn as much as you can about how it works by getting your fingers dirty with what’s in there.

I’m going to try this with the opening to ‘So you want to be a wizard,’ by Diane Duane – a great opening page I’ve thought for many years. And I’m going to combine the exercise with a little experiment at http://iwl.me/

The IWL site, ‘I write like,’ is supposed to analyze your writing style and compare it to a database of possible writers to see who you’re most like. I’ve tried it with many of my own passages, and heard about some other people’s submissions, but my suspicion is that it’s a fairly superficial analysis that doesn’t really get close to the heart of what I’d call ‘style.’

I also want to stress that I am not endorsing or recommending anything that’s up for sale or giveaway on IWL, and have heard some uncomplimentary things about the ultimate aims of the people running it. Myself, I just think that the submission tool itself is kinda fun, and I’m not really interested in clicking on any other links there.

So I want to send in the original version by Diane Duane, and my ‘mad-libbed’ version of the same passage, and we’ll see if IWL thinks that the style is different.

So, first, here’s the original passage in the book:

Part of the problem, Nita thought as she tore desperately down Rose Avenue, is that I can’t keep my mouth shut.

She had been running for five minutes now, hopping fences, sliding sideways through hedges, but she was losing her wind. Some ways behind her she could hear Joanne and Glenda and the rest of them pounding along in pursuit, threatening to replace her latest, now-fading black eye. Well, Joanne would come up to her with that new bike, all chrome and siler and gearshift levers and speedometer/odometer and toe clips and water bottle, and ask what she thought of it. So Nita had told her. Actually, she had told Joanne wha she thought of *her*. The bike was all right. In fact, it had been almost exactly the one that Nita had wanted so much for her last birthday – the birthday when she got nothing but clothes.

Life can be really rotten sometimes, Nita thought. She wasn’t really so irritated about that at the moment, however. Running away from a beating was taking up most of her attention.

“Callahan,” came a yell from behind her. “I’m gonna pound you up and mail you home in bottles!”

I wonder how many bottles it’ll take, Nita thought without much humor. She couldn’t afford to laugh. With their bikes, they’d catch up to her pretty quickly. And then…

That comes out as being like: Dan Brown. (I wonder what Diane would think of that comparison?)

Okay, so here’s my attempt to try to change the words to make this into a different scene:

“All of the trouble,” Collin said as he flew quickly up Duke’s Corridor, “is that I won’t leave a take alone.”

He had been climbing for ninety seconds now, watching pings, threading carefully between yachts, and Juno was pushing her all. Two clicks below him Collin could see Zeus and Poseidon and the entirety of the fleet lifting up in formation, seeking to challenge his hard-won, tenuous temporary freedom. But Morgan had walked around the corner with that hard stare, all medals and crisp fabric and stunner/blaster and peaked cap and decorated sash, and demand what he was doing there. So Collin had told him. Really, Collin had told Morgan what he wanted to hear. Morgan had been suspicious. Actually, he had been nearly perfectly a match for Collin and deployed the guards around the perimeter – the perimeter that he nearly hadn’t broken through.

“Crime can get very tricky these days,” Collin mused. He wasn’t exactly so angry about this at the time, though. Flying away from the navy was eating up most of his fuel.

“Rayman,” sounded the hail from his radio. “We’re going to chase you down and blast you into molecules!”

“I know how many molecules we’ll make,” Collin thought without much interest. He couldn’t spare time to calculate. With those engines, they’d overhaul Juno in minutes. And so…

You may notice that I was bending the ‘always the same part of speech’ rule by the end – because I had the story that I wanted to tell, and was willing to bend the rules to get to it. And, drumroll please, IWL says that this passage could have been written by:

Dan Brown again.

Maybe there’s more to this than I thought. Hmm…

If any of my readers try this exercise, or play around with the IWL statistical writing tool, I’d love to hear about it!

Dispatches from Polaris!

July 18, 2010

Well, I’m sitting in a hotel room in north Toronto as I write this, with two days of the Polaris convention gone by and only one left to enjoy.

It’s been a great weekend so far. I’m fairly new to the ‘con game,’ and wasn’t really sure what to expect from this one based on the website, but there have been loads of great panels – from the incredible geek-off trivia contests, (I’m going to the finals this afternoon, based on my knowledge of Whedonverse canon,) to discussions of Trek, and Buffy versus Twilight.

There have also been more fantastic writing panels than I really expected, and it’s been great hearing what published sci-fi and fantasy genre authors think of topics like “What’s next for young adult readers,” “Right ways to write,” “Researching what you don’t know for your story,” and “Rebuilding worlds and history” — and joining into the discussion with other convention guests. On my schedule today for writing panels, I’m looking forward to “Our stories are just as much fun without romance” and “Making sentences,” plus a discussion on the legality and morality of fanfiction.

Let’s see, what else – I met Ethan Phillips from ‘Voyager’ and Mark Sheppard from ‘Firefly’ and got their autographs, and shot video of the contestants at the costume masquerade until my camera battery pooped out and my memory card was nearly full.

I should wrap up this entry, because I want to get all packed up before the charity auction starts, so that I can just swing by the room at ten and quickly check out before heading off to the ‘Classic tv crushes’ panel.

We’ll return to our regularly scheduled writing blog later this week.

A quick JulNoWriMo update

July 16, 2010

Well, it’s pretty much halfway through the month of July, and my JulNoWriMo project is going well – in fact, I just passed the halfway mark of my 50,000 word goal this afternoon on the bus, writing on my little Eeepc – 25,135 words lighting up on my openOffice spreadsheet screen. A beautiful thing.

I’m not going to go too much detail about my JulNo writing, because it’s fan fiction and I don’t want to ramble much about fan fiction in this blog, which is more focused on marketable writing (hopefully.) But I do find writing fandom works to be an incredible boost for my creative batteries when things are going well.

For JulNo, I’m continuing a story I started last year, ‘Children of the Molecule’ – a crossover between Doctor Who and Roswell, with the Doctor taking Rose Tyler to visit Roswell because she wanted to know if there were really any aliens there. She didn’t expect to find teenage aliens in the year 2001.

It’s a fun story to write, and one that I hope I can manage to finish soon, with the power of JulNo behind me. (I was feeling writer’s blocked on it starting around May.)

Elevator pitch for ‘Dungeon heroes’

July 11, 2010

I’m interested in the concept of elevator pitches. Among other things, I’ve been trying to come up with one for ‘The Long Way Home’, but I can’t get it down far enough. So, to warm me up, here’s my first try at an elevator pitch for my 2010 Script Frenzy project, Dungeon Heroes.

Heran, a swordsmith’s apprentice in a quiet medieval town, finds his life coming apart when a mysterious cave appears near town, his master is found dead, and his girlfriend Ciana goes missing. Gathering his closest friends, Heran explores the cave and finds a dungeon full of monsters who have taken Ciana prisoner – and the leaders of the monster army are hunting for Heran, determined to capture him alive!

What do you think? A bit over 50 words, I know.

The art of critiquing

July 8, 2010

I’m helping to put together a Critiquing month event over at Stringing Words for August 2010, and it’s got me thinking about the process of critiquing and giving feedback on another writer’s work. I’ve heard an awful lot lately about what makes for a good and useful critique, and like any situation where you have a lot of helpful advice from different people, it can be difficult to sort through it all, figure out what’s really most helpful or valuable, if there are any contradictions and if so, which way you want to lean.

Well, one way is to start with a source that you like and who’s saying stuff that just makes sense to you, and to build from there. Brian Henry raised some good points in a ‘revising and rewriting’ workshop that I attended a few weeks ago:

  • Start with a subjective response as you read through the piece: did you like it, where did you think that the writing was working, where did it ‘lose you.’ For instance, if you’re reading off a printed copy, you could put a little check mark or cross on each page, just as an ongoing progress report card.
  • Give a bit more detail on what you didn’t like and why – what did you want to read more about instead at certain points? What did you need more of?
  • Then, possibly, you can get into specific about what changes you’d make if you were the writer – including deleting what’s there entirely or adding new stuff in. This, of course, is the stuff that the author is most likely to disagree with you about, when you get into specifics, and that’s their perogative. As the critiquer, your job is to do your best to come up with stuff that they’ll find helpful and use.

And though this really isn’t the critiquer’s job, he also underscored the importance of getting different critters to read your stuff, so that hopefully you can compare their perspectives and not be too unduly influenced by a random opinion from one source of feedback that might not work that well with the story.

And a few more useful tips from Gale over at Stringing Words – primarily for critiquing smaller excerpts:

* Restate what you understand is happening in the passage.
* Point out ‘gems’ in the language and style, and the bits that you thought were working particularly well.

So, over to you guys. Have any interesting stories to tell about critiquing somebody else’s writing, or getting a critique yourself? What do you like to do if you’re working on a critique, or what do you want if it’s your stuff that’s being read??

Anatomy of a rejection letter.

July 5, 2010

So – I got a story rejection in my email last week.

I haven’t really been sending out stories to publishers for long enough that I’m used to this yet – if you ever do get used to it. Still, it was a fairly nice rejection, both gentle and constructive, so I think I’m going to try dissecting it a little to see what I can learn and how I might be able to improve the story and do better next time.

Thanks very much for sending this story to _______. Unfortunately, it’s not quite right for us.

Could be standard boilerplate, or maybe not – nothing really worth sinking my teeth into there, at any rate.

I found the pace of the opening somewhat slow, in part because of the amount of Samantha’s commentary and reflection.

Okay, so we’ve got three flaws mentioned here, rapid-fire. Slow opening, too much commentary, too much reflection. For reference, here’s the opening of the story as I submitted it:

“Wake up, your highness.”

I blinked, feeling disoriented. For one thing, even though I’d been travelling quietly from Chica to Bismarck for nearly a week at this point, it was still a bit of a new and disconcerting feeling to be waking up not in my bed back in the Palace in Carolina, or a guest apartment somewhere else equally elegant. Here, in this fairly small city in northern Dakota, (or was it a large town?) my hosts had tried to be very generous with the quarters they provided to a Princess of the family of Brussard, the Heiress Royale no less, but I could tell the difference in little things like the thread count of the sheets. Still, it wouldn’t do to complain at a moment like this.

More significantly, though, the voice that had wakened me – it was a familiar voice, but not one that I was particularly used to hearing first thing in the morning. That disconnect wasn’t one that I could figure out for myself without waking up a little further, and then I smiled with pleased recognition. Tom Danter is the first man I’ve ever known whose voice I’d *want* to get used to hearing first thing in the morning, all my life, and that’s the best way I can think of explaining how I feel about him. That’ll have to wait for a little while – we’re officially courting, but as much as Tom loves me back, he’s told me that officially asking for permission to marry me is something that he’s not quite ready for. It’s too bad. Another thing that’s too bad was the worried, concerned look on Tom’s face, which pretty much ruined the warm, fuzzy, and happy feeling that I got from seeing him.

So, yeah, not too much happens in all of that. Somebody tells my MC to wake up, and she blinks. Everything else is very much ‘reflection’ – a reflection that I’m trying to show the background of the story in, through Samantha’s eyes, and letting her comment on her leading man in the story. Is that too much to fit in there, all up front? Maybe I should just have her wake up and react to Tom, and put some of that later? I’m not sure.

I didn’t find her voice as engaging as I’d like, mainly due to inconsistencies in her diction and vocabulary that made it difficult to get a handle on her social station, attitudes, or time period.

Again, this is a fair comment, but one that I’m not really sure how to deal with, because the time period is a bit hard to establish well in a 5500-word short story. (This story is based on the same alternate world as ‘The Long Way Home’, focusing on the big sister of my heroine from LWH.)

Here’s a passage that’s probably pretty good at showing both my editor’s concerns and what I’m trying to do. It’s an expository dialog between Samatha and Tom:

After a few minutes of driving along what seemed like a fairly isolated back road, though, I did feel like I wanted some sort of conversation. “Okay, don’t talk to me about it as if I’m dumb or anything, but I’m not quite sure I understand about the Brotherhood of the Wolf. If they’re not all wolves, why do they call themselves that?”

“I’m not sure that I know all of the details myself,” Thomas admitted. “There are something like five thousand gray wolves living in what’s now Montana-Wyoming, and nine out of every ten of them are as intelligent as people, capable of learning human languages – and some of them are clever enough with their paws to fashion and use rudimentary tools. One of the major factors in the revolt of Montana and Wyoming and their secession against the Dominion of the – well, of your grandmother and your parents, Samantha, was the wolves taking the side of the seditionists and attacking known supporters of the Brussard family.”

“Alright, I’m with you so far,” I agreed.

“Afterwards, in the decision-making system that developed in Montana-Wyoming, the Wolves became the focus of a power block – generally, the ones who most distrusted any contact with the Brussard Dominion and just about any contact with outsiders. The term ‘wolves’ has come to be used to describe anybody from Montana-Wyoming who agrees with them, be they lupine, human – or of any other species. There’s also the Sons of Helen, who are cautious and don’t to lean too much in either direction, who currently make most of the decisions, and the Yellow Stones, who are generally fairly moderate and believe in the idea of opening up more friendly relations with the Dominion.”

“Right,” I said, because this part I was a bit more familiar. “Mother sent us out to Wyoming to meet with the Yellow Stones to assure them of her friendly disposition towards an independent Montana-Wyoming, and to ask if there was anything that we could do to help increase support for the Yellow Stone platform in Montana-Wyoming, so that we don’t always need to worry about raiding parties from the wolves or what have you. I think I understand more.”

“Okay, so if you’ve got it all figured out, could you tell me what I’m doing here?” Tom muttered. I looked over, assuming that at first he was joking, but some honest frustration was easy to read on his face. “Seriously, I mean – you’re here to get some practice with diplomatic negotiation as the Heiress Royale, the firstborn daughter of the firstborn daughter, destined to become Queen yourself some day – and because sending you is a great sign of respect to the Yellow Stones from Queen Neveah. But me…”

So, overall – where to from here? I still like the idea of setting short stories in the Brussard’s world, even though it’s a complicated one and hard to explain quickly. Since I can’t get a handle on what should be changed in ‘Samatha and the Wolves’ to change it, I don’t think targeted rewrites will help. I think that I’m waffling between trying to rewrite it over again from the start and seeing if it gets any better, or putting it aside and starting again. But neither before JulNoWriMo is done!

So, what do you do with your rejection letters?

JulNoWriMo starts today!

July 2, 2010

So – being the first day of July, and Canada day, today is also the first day of JulNoWriMo, also known as July Novel Writing Month. As you might be able to guess, this is a sort of spin-off of National Novel Writing Month, and I’ve been participating every year for at least three years already.

As it happens, I was logged into the official JulNoWriMo IRC chat room while starting this blog entry, so asked for a few opinions from fellow JulNo-ers on the subject, which prompted the following little conversation thread:

chrisk: does anybody want to help contribute to my blog by telling me what’s great about JulNoWriMo?
solica: It’s awesome if you’re a masochist
adivineeternity: it’s fun if you write fast and are a sadist
giltrap: S & M writers 😛
chrisk: JulNo – it’s all about the pain. 😉
giltrap: Actually, having someone with a whip could make word wars fun
giltrap: And you could tie yourself to a chair to prevent distractions

From there, the topic turned to word wars, which are a wrimo-ey way of boosting your word count where you set a time limit and see who can write the most in that time. There’s a fun bot in the nanowrimo and julnowrimo chat rooms, BattleJesus, who serves as timekeeper for word wars if you know how to ask him nicely.

So – the objective of JulNo is fairly simple – write 50,000 new words on any title within the 31 days of July. The word count is identical to Nanowrimo’s, but you have one more day to reach it in. I find that it’s also a bit more relaxed a challenge than Nanowrimo, partly because it’s lower budget and doesn’t have the same sense of local organization to it, just a bunch of writers meeting on a website and writing their hearts out.

Wish me plenty of luck!

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