Looking for my Gnomes in new places

January 9, 2013

Well, I finally got around to reading through some of the critiques I got back in December for the first sample chapter of “The Gnomes are Missing.” There were some very nice things said in all those emails I got from critterfolk, and a few problems raised that I have to agree with.

I took a little while to think about it, and decided that I needed to turn the project around at this point. When I started with ‘Gnomes’ in late November, I really hadn’t planned it at all beyond ‘Hey, this will be a great thing to write now that I’m done with “Snow Job,” and maybe I can send it to CSSF novels.’ I took maybe 15 minutes to organize a few character thoughts at a local write-in and then dived into the first scene.

So, now, I’m going back to the drawing board. Based on what I’ve discovered about the Gnomes and their friends in Nanowrimo, and what people have said via critters and Six Sentence Sunday, I’ve started a new list of characters, changing around some of the personalities and relationships I began with in Discovery. Next I’m planning to do the five-page plot synopsis, (or as many pages as I can wring out of myself,) and then go back to rewrite the sample chapters with a clearer idea of where I want the story to go.

It’s going to be hard to put some elements of my trial run aside, but I’m also excited!

Short story stuff

January 30, 2012

So, I think that overall, I’ve done pretty well on my January goals and projects list, but one area where I’ve been procrastinating is the short stories department. Week after week I’ve resolved to outline a new short, (or even complete a first draft!) or rewrite one of my existing stories, like ‘Project Fast Track’ or ‘Father Ismay’, and for four full weeks, I made pretty much no progress.

Working on shorts is hard, especially since I’ve raised my expectations for them, and I guess part of the problem was that it was easy to procrastinate while I hadn’t reached my JanNoWriMo goals for sample chapters of ‘The Scroll’ novel manuscript. Maybe I shouldn’t be pushing myself to work on a novel project and shorts at the same time.

But I really do want to do more with shorts this year, and before the end of June in particular, since even though I’m not planning to go back to the short story workshop, I’m sure if I go back to Lawrence, some people will ask me how my short stories are doing this year. When it comes to breaking short story ideas, I think that it’s the sort of thing that I can build momentum on if I keep working on it every day – keep a file of notions that haven’t quite jelled into story outlines, for instance, to see if maybe I can find the right angle on them tomorrow, or next week.

So I think that’s going to be one of my big targets for February. (As well as revising the ‘Scroll’ stuff, gulp – I want to have my workshop application ready for Feb 29th.) And I think I managed to make some headway on a new story outline this evening, based on a random prompt I found on a website of random generators.

“The seaside is the location, happiness is the theme. A mirror is an object that plays a part in the story.”

At first I thought that was a pretty useless prompt, and I was even tempted to try a different website. But I kept at it, looking to see if I could figure out a fantasy take on those three elements, and something’s coming together. I’ve got two characters – the first is a teenaged boy, Melvin, who lives in the seaside fishing village; his father’s a fishing boat captain, and his big brother that he loved was lost overboard in a storm.

Everybody in the village says that the storms are bad because of the old, ugly witch who lives in the grey house up on top of the cliff. But when Melvin climbs up the cliff to confront the witch, he finds a beautiful girl about his brother’s age, Sorina, who isn’t a witch, but she has a temper and a dark secret involving mirrors…

I tried using the random character generator at http://shortstoryideas.herb.me.uk/ to flesh out the teenage boy character, but I got a name that just didn’t fit – I think it was ‘Walter Jenkins’, and the full description was so ludicrous, I wish that I’d saved it. 😦 I remember that he was 80 years old and had muddy blue hair.

Character worksheets and Google.

December 30, 2011

I’ve been doing some character worksheets as part of the ‘Magic Manuscript’ story outline – I started with this worksheet template at Jody Hedlund’s blog, which Rinelle posted a link to over at Stringing Words, and picked the items that seemed to interest me about my characters at this point.

One thing I noticed was that nearly every item seemed to send me off on a google search to do further research. Height, weight, and body type? Over to “BMI calculators.” I quickly learned that to pick character scents, I wanted the Wikipedia article on the Fragrance Wheel. There’s a great list of eye color synonyms over at the Obsidian Bookshelf. And so on and so forth.

I think that this is cool, and it probably says something about my thinking and my creative style that I like to choose from lists instead of coming up with these details entirely by myself. And this kind of research can turn up unexpected facts that send my storyline down new paths. I’d gotten the idea by myself that Mandy was from an Italian-American immigrant family, but orphaned in her teens, so moved to Ontario to be taken in by her closest relatives, an aunt and uncle. Looking at the Wikipedia page on causes of death I was surprised to see that HIV and AIDS accounts for as many deaths as lung cancer and car accidents put together. (If the statistics were for North America and not global that might not be true.) So I decided to have Mandy’s mother die of AIDS when she was 16. Her father died when she was younger, getting into a car crash shortly after moving out of their home. It all smacks a little of trailer trash tragedy, but I think that works for the character so far.

What’s the most unusual Google search you can remember doing for writing research?

UPDATE: Since so many people seemed to find value in the few links I shared, I decided that I’d continue reviewing my history and share some more!

Outlining a short story

December 26, 2011

There’s a new short story contest up at the Straight Dope board, and I decided that this time, I was going to put some more thought into outlining it, not just start writing the first idea I thought of when I got the prompt.

That wasn’t particularly easy. I had a notion what I wanted to do when I started, mostly because of the picture, which had a clock and a bell hanging from a chain, (which immediately made me think of time travel or time manipulation,) but when I tried to apply what I’d learned in Kansas and from other workshops and classes over the past year, I kept ending up on storylines that were missing conflict, or a good antagonist, or something else important like that.

And time was somewhat running out – the contest rules specify that you have sixty hours from when you collect the prompt – I sent in my email yesterday morning before leaving for Christmas with the family, (hoping that I’d be able to mull over ideas in the back of my mind,) and so I need to have my finished story in by tomorrow night.

This evening, though, after I printed off some handouts from Julie Czerneda’s site, things suddenly started to fall into place. I ended up writing nearly 1800 words in an hour and a bit, some of which will have to get cut to finish the outline in under 2000 words, but it’s a great start, and I think that I’ll keep the entire first draft without cuts to refer to later. I’d been mulling over the idea of enclosed spaces where time runs slower or faster than normal, and then got an idea about one possible application of ‘fast time bottles’ that really got things moving.

Here’s the outline that I’ve been working off. Note that ‘sequel’ is a technical term that I learned from James Gunn in the Kansas workshop – it’s not a seperate work of fiction, but a kind of scene that’s less active and conflict-driven than the usual kind, but serves to bridge between proper scenes.

Read the rest of this entry »

Going down the Snowflake, part Four

October 18, 2010

Okay, so Project Snowflake Nanowrimo is continuing to go fairly well, I’ve pretty much finished with step 5, which is more in-depth character profiles. This did cause me a bit of trouble at first, partly because of the way it was phrased:

Take a day or two and write up a one-page description of each major character and a half-page description of the other important characters. These “character synopses” should tell the story from the point of view of each character.

For one thing, I’m a little tired of rewriting the story from different points of view, I feel like I did enough of that in step 3. And without that, I wasn’t quite sure what to put in these longer descriptions. I tried pulling out my usual character questionnaire and hit some trouble with that too, since a lot of the questions weren’t really that applicable to Richard.

What I ended up doing, was a bit more of a free-form interview, with myself asking different questions for each character, inspired by what I thought would help me write them, and then doing the answer in that character’s voice. It worked pretty well… except for one character, who I’ll talk about further down.

Here’s the interview for Perry:

– Have you ever blacked out in a church before?
Well, once, but I was very hung over and didn’t think of it as anything unusual at the time. And I only lost a few hours.
– Okay. Where were you born?
I’m practically a local, from a town just west of Rochester, actually.
– What do you think about Jessie, really?
Well, I like her, she’s cute and funny and kinda sexy. Wouldn’t object to getting to know her a bit better in general, but right now, figuring out what she knows about me, if anything, is more important.
– Have you had a lot of girlfriends before?
I’m not sure about lots – at least my fair share. After Heather Millen drove me crazy enough with jealous questions that I felt I had to cut her loose, I’ve avoided trying to find anybody else on account of the trip to Haiti already being arranged by then.
– Have you thought about the possibility that whatever it was in your missing days, you really don’t want to know it?
Yeah, but – come on, it’s my life. Don’t I really have a right to know where it’s taken me?
– What’s your favorite way of spending downtime?
Either exercising or playing old video games.
– Who would you say is your closest friend?
Probably Ace. He’s a crazy goof, but always fun to be around, and I know that he’s got my back – though he might accidentally whack it with an elbow if he’s not looking the right way.

The one character I’m still having problems with is the antagonist, Rhona… no matter what I try, I feel like I still don’t have a handle on her or her motivations. I’ve put together a request for help over at the NaNoWriMo forum, so we’ll see how that goes.

And I’ll try to keep you all posted!

Going down the Snowflake, part Three.

October 15, 2010

Had a really good day! (Less good evening, but that’s another story, as it were…)

I think I’ve finished step 4 of the snowflake method, which is expanding into a five paragraph summary, approximately a page. I think that it’s on the long side, actually. Here’s a look at the first paragraph:
Richard finds himself in church, somewhat disoriented, but with a sense that there’s something that he needs to do. He wanders the short distance to the UB campus, noticing that he can see auras and troubled by memories of an explosion. Once there, he starts to notice signs and other details that apparently mean something to him, leading him to the chemistry building, where he meets Katie and Jessie. Jessie is busy at first, while Katie sits with him and talks with Richard while he recovers some of his memory. Based on a dream-like memory, Richard goes into the chemical supply rooms and finds Jessie to ask her some questions. They realize that explosive compounds are being stored unsafely and Jessie reports this to someone who takes it seriously.


It’s still kind of amazing to me how well this is flowing – though I guess it remains to be seen what November will be like once I actually start writing!

Going down the Snowflake, part Two.

October 14, 2010

The snowflake continues on!

For the past two days, I’ve been working step 3 of the snowflake method, which is introductory character sketches. I’ve done the sketches for five main characters so far:

  1. Richard, my male lead.
  2. Jessie, the female lead.
  3. James, Richard’s angel boss
  4. Perry, the guy whose body Richard is borrowing at the start of the book, and a possible foil and love interest for Jessie
  5. Katie, Jessie’s straight laced best friend.

I think that there might be another significant character, the villainness who wants the chemical explosion to happen, but I’m not really seeing who she is or where she fits into the rest, so I’ll delay doing her character sketch yet.

It’s been an interesting process, working on a planning method that’s so formal and yet encourages creativity at the same time. Already the characters are surprising me somewhat – when I was starting the entry for Perry I was feeling vaguely uneasy about what his goal was, and then, when I got to the right spot, it just popped out – he’s lost several days of his life and more than anything, he wants to know what happened to him! So natural, and yet it gives a nice sideways kick to Jessie’s possible crush on him and Richard’s reaction to that.

As a sample, here’s my sketch for Katie at the moment…

Katie Hiatt
Katie’s always been more grounded and realistic than her best friend Jessie. When Jessie runs away from school and starts hanging out with strange men, is it Katie’s job to talk her back down to earth?
Motivation: Get a good education, keep good friends, have a little friend.
Goal: Get Jessie agree to go out on a double date, and stop talking about angels and dead boys and explosions.
Conflict: Well, Jessie’s kind of irrepressible when she gets a notion in her head.
Epiphany: A grounded life isn’t the only one worth living, and your friends don’t have to be like you.
Sheesh, does Katie have to make everything about herself? First she starts running around with this guy Richard when he first shows up, askind weird questions. Then Katie takes off, missing Friday classes, and comes back days later, hanging around Richard, but calling him Perry, and ‘Perry’ plays along, pretending not to know who Richard is. And there’s this creepy older guy James hanging around her too. Finally another boy shows up, (less cute,) pretending to be Richard. Maybe she just wants more drama than my boyfriend’s best friend can offer her!

Going down the Snowflake, part One.

October 11, 2010

I’ve been wanting to prepare a bit more than usual for starting my National Novel Writing Month piece this year, and a few days ago found an article for the Snowflake method and decided to try it.

The snowflake method is an approach for developing a book idea that starts with a very simple premise and then adding more detail to it – analogous to building a snowflake fractal by adding more triangles pointing out of each line in the earlier design. This idea appeals to my sensibilities as a computer programmer – it’s what’s known as top-down algorithm design in the software field, starting with a statement of the goal and then breaking it down into steps and substeps until each element is trivial to implement.

So, here are the first two layers of my snowflake design:

Step 1: (One-sentence summary)

A dead man, sent back to Earth to do the Angel’s work, falls in love with a living girl and runs away with her.

Step 2: (One paragraph summary, 5 sentences)

Richard is sent to Buffalo by Angels to stop a chemical explosion from going off at the University. In the process, he meets Jessie, and infatuated with each other, they decide to run away once the job is done. The head angel, James the Elder, tracks them down and tells Jessie that Richard has more missions to do, and that he can only stay on Earth by taking somebody else’s body. James switches to another body, a coma victim, and works another mission, unaware that Jessie ‘met’ the true owner of his first body, and likes him too. In the end, Richard has to figure out if he must leave Jessie, fight for her, or let her make her own choice.


Not perfect yet, but that gives me an idea of where it’s going. Step 3 is short character sketches, and it’s probably the point at which I won’t be including the full results here in the blog, but I’ll do my best to keep you all informed of how it’s going.

Developing a novel idea.

August 23, 2010

So – I was surprised by a plot bunny, or possibly a small pack of them, walking home from work last week. Well, I don’t walk all the way home – I walk about two and a half kilometers into downtown Burlington, and catch the Hamilton number eleven bus from there, but that doesn’t have anything to do with the idea.

And possibly I shouldn’t even call this bunny a ‘plot bunny’, though that’s the usual term in some of my writing circles, because the idea that I’ve got a the moment – well, there are a few plot elements, but mostly what I’ve got is the beginning of a sci-fi world setting, and a few character notions, and how an adventure for them begins, and the vaguest idea of where it might take them.

So, out of this – I’m not quite sure where go next to flesh the idea out before I start writing – though I’m sure I do want to put a bit more thought into it before I start. This is a part of the process that I’ve never really thought about in much detail before – I suppose I keep the notion on ‘the back burner’ of my head for a little while to see what develops next. It would be interesting to try to structure this into an outline in a more formal way, though, but I’m not sure where to start.

Do I start with the characters I already know about, interviewing them with questionnaires, and trying to figure out who else might be a person of interest in the story? Worldbuild like crazy? (Especially important since the idea involves several alternate Earths.) Try to segment the plot, breaking it up into beginning middle and end, or come up with a plot structure like the Beat sheet and fill in the blanks?

If you have any thoughts or especially useful links on this topic, please comment away! I’m exhausted just thinking about it all.

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