August to-do list results

August 31, 2011

Well, August is really almost up now, so I guess it’s time to see how I did on some of the goals that I set myself 31 days ago:

  • Revising “The Way Back Home” – partially complete. This was one of those projects that turned out to be completely different than I thought. That’s mostly because of Lani and the Storywonk class – I had an epiphany or two and made some progress in figuring out what the book is supposed to be, maybe, but didn’t make as much tangible and measurable progress as I’d hoped.
  • Cleaning the apartment – partially complete. Tidying up the kitchen went well, but the living room table just sneered at my efforts. I’ll have to prepare much more carefully to tackle it again, hopefully before it actually begins to lurk in the middle of the room. (Yes, that’s a “Long dark tea-time of the soul” reference.)
  • Rewriting “How to talk to Earthlings” – DONE!
  • Submitting a story for publication – failed.
  • Writing a list-based smartphone app – DONE!
  • Continuing fanfic works in progress – Exceeded expectations, with 2 and a half chapters complete!
  • Posting old fanfic to – met quota!
  • Blogosphere participation stuff – exceeded quota!
  • Fan expo stuff – Done!

So – not too bad, all things considered. Didn’t achieve everything I wanted to, but I certainly kept busy.

Did you have a goals list for August? How did it work out?

Trying to tie up plot holes?

December 29, 2010

I’ve been working since October (but not during Nano,) to complete a basic first-pass edit of one of my Roswell fanfiction stories, ‘Runaway with me.’ It’s fairly basic stuff – some spelling and grammar checking, basic proofreading, changing phrasing here and there for better phrasing – and also just keeping track of places where the need for more in-depth changes seems glaringly obvious to me. In those spots, I tend to put a very terse note to myself in [square brackets] and just move on. For instance. [Review this for consistency with chapter 17 later.]

I’m noticing a lot of places where I’m needing to put in square brackets, partly because the story was one that I didn’t plan out too much beyond a vague notion of where I wanted some of the plot beats to be going, (Organic Linear Plotting, they call that,) and maybe because it was one of the projects that I would work on for a little and then leave alone for weeks or months at a time.

Among some of the issues that I remember flagging are:

– I’ve included references to later aspects of the mythology of the tv show, such as the Granilith, dream archetypes, and even the Destiny book, that are almost entirely contradicted by the ending that I ended up tagging onto the story.

– Since I couldn’t figure out a good ending to a chase scene at a time, I ended up skipping ahead, describing the aftermath as Max and Liz return to Roswell, and have them figuring out what happened bit by bit, piecing clues together. Unfortunately, not all of the clues mesh perfectly, and there’s at least one place where a particular character, who would know the entire story, keeps procrastinating on filling in the blanks for the other characters, until I forgot that she knows things that she still hasn’t told them, and doesn’t mention it again.

– Somebody spills a drink, and the fact that the broken glass appears unbroken later on is a plot clue – but I described the original spill without mentioning the glass getting broken.

– For some reason, when describing a characters homework, I appear to have made up a poet named Willis Chesterley. Not a horrible thing, but I’d like to find a real poet that fits the reference I think.

– The fact that one character has had her appearance shifted to resemble somebody else, and I think that I have the same characters suspecting this two or three different times without any mention that it’s a thought that’s occurred to them before.

It’s a story that I do really like parts of, but hopefully I’ll be able to figure out a way to sort out a few of the small issues like these without causing other problems or being forced to cut out the parts that I like.

Nanowrimo day 24: Pie is squared.

November 25, 2010

Well, today I had my ‘pie time’ with Chris Baty and Lindsey Grant, and it was awesome. (One week to the day since I first got the coupon and started freaking out that they wouldn’t be able to fit me in, by the by.) Rode the BART up to Ashby station in south Berkeley, and all the while I kept thinking of one of those Simpsons episodes with Sideshow Bob – the one where they had a montage of all of his ‘Hello, Bart’ moments, and one of them was actually Bob on a subway platform as the train pulls into the station – and Bart Simpson nowhere in sight. 😀

So, I got there a few minutes early, actually took a picture of the Office and Letters and Light storefront, before going into the Sweet Adeline Bakeshop and finding a free table that looks like it could fit the three of us. As I was getting settled, in comes Chris Baty, tells me, “Hi Chris, I’ll be back in a few minutes,” and continues on to the washrooms in the back.

I get up to take a look at the treats that are available, along comes Lindsey, and she mentions that she’s not sure where Chris went. “He just left the office a minute or two ago.”

“He just came through, I think he’s using the facilities,” I mention, and she looks a bit relieved.

So – I had two little almond tea cakes that were delicious – reminding me of the almondette cookies that we used to get in plastic tray packages when I was young – and a bottle of organic apple cider. Chris Baty had a slice of the lemon tart pie, which he didn’t finish, and tea, green tea I think. Lindsey had some kind of weird cake with pudding in the center or something like that. We took everything back to the Office of Letters and Light building, with Lindsey promising to bring the plates back to the bakeshop later.

I was introduced to a few people in the tech department on the way through, then we arranged ourselves around the conference table and started to chat. It was a great talk, ranging from topics like the wild parrots of telegraph hill and the marriage that they ruined, to how to get more Nanowrimo participants to donate to the Office of Letters and Light, and discussing programs to encourage people to work towards getting their Nanowrimo novels published or their Frenzy scripts produced. Also the snowflake method.

After about an hour, Chris started to very nicely get me up and moving out, explaining that he had another commitment in fifteen minutes, and gave me the full tour of the premises, letting me take a few pictures, and handling a few more introductions. That was pretty much it.

I got to keep my pie coupon, with a scrawl on the back that it is ‘Redeemed’, the date, and Chris Baty’s signature.

Oh, and on my way back to the BART, I saw a sign for ‘The other hobbit’ fantasy and science fiction books, and couldn’t resist going in and looking around. Picked up a Buffy season 7 collection. Also, on my way back to the BART, I got somewhat lost and had to ask someone for the way to the station – only to realize I was maybe fifteen feet away from the edge of the station parking lot. D’oh!!

Nearly pointless Thanksgiving day update from Lindsey: “I think the “pie” I had was called buckle cake…it was very much like a flat round muffin. Yum yum :)”

Taking serious criticism is a tough gig.

September 24, 2010

Possibly one of the hardest stages in any kind of artistic endeavour is having to open your work up to criticism.

I was invited, along with everybody else who was at the local Hamilton Writers meeting four weeks ago, to a new Hamilton Artists’ Writers Workshop. I was excited about giving it a try, and missed the first session owing to a confusion about the dates, but I was also nervous from the start about bringing something of my own to get critiqued by a group of unfamiliar writers.

I ended up bringing copies of a short story that I very much like, ‘The case of the Wizard’s Vice,’ a sort of Agatha Christie meets Harry Potter caper. Because there wasn’t an abundance of time, I only got to read the introduction and the denoument, skipping over the interviews in the middle, but the responses I got definitely had me thinking about the piece in a very different way, and had my head spinning for a little bit.

Significantly, most of the gathering seemed to agree that the choices I’d made to tell almost the entire story in dialog, and to avoid characterizing the Inspector/narrator more than absolutely necessary, were keeping them from relating to the characters or getting emotionally involved in the story. “Dialog fills in the plot,” somebody said. “Narration grounds you in the characters, and you have almost no narration here.”

There were a lot more notes, not all of which I’m going to review here, but… I think I’m not going to be able to start a fresh draft of the story immediately, which is probably good, I can give myself time to let it settle and ask a few writer friends what they think of the notes before immediately changing things. Still, I’m glad that I went and took a chance – it’s better to hear this sort of thing now than to keep thinking that the story is beautiful and flawless, and maybe start pushing hard to sell it without thinking of the ways that it could be made accessible to a different audience.

In other news, I have awarded the Versatile Blogger award to Merinda Brayfield, who’s also a long-time friend of mine from the #nanowrimo chat room. It’s nothing personal that I didn’t also give her the One Lovely Blog, but I felt that it didn’t entirely make sense to keep the two awards together the whole time, so unless I particularly want to award both of them to the same people, I’ll be picking just one or the other.

Rewriting a story in four days.

September 10, 2010

I’ve been wanting to get back to talking about writing here on the blog, so here’s a good bit to blather on about, I think. Rewriting an incomplete story idea from scratch.

I’ve had the idea for this ‘alien landing’ story for going on a year now, I think – I did a starting paragraph for it based on a challenge at Stringing Words in October of 2009, (wow, didn’t realize it was that long until I looked it up,) and I started my first draft in May of this year. It was going pretty well – four scenes, 3200 words, and then it just kind of ran into the ground at the point that the alien attacked the human soldiers.

The basic premise, by the way, is that an alien ship lands on Earth, damaged from a battle with other aliens – they need help to fix the ship, but they’ve still got powerful weapons that can hold their own against anything the Army throws against them, so both sides are forced to bargain in the end.

I asked other writers for feedback on what I had so far – I read it for the Hamilton Writers’ group on June 1st, I think, and got some interesting perspectives, including how soldiers should talk in a much grittier and fouler fashion, and some encouragement, but I still wasn’t sure how to continue, and put it aside to focus on other things, like the CreateSpace draft of ‘The Long Way Home’, JulNoWrimo… and starting my blog.

In August, I submitted the two longer scenes in CritMo, and the crits that I got managed to perfectly clarify what I needed to go. Over and over again, they kept repeating, ‘I like Doctor Juddman, I like the alien, I like the language stuff, I don’t care about the two army commanders butting heads.’

So I did a page one rewrite, telling the entire story in Doctor Juddman’s point of view, how he was whisked out of his office at UBC to go talk to an alien, and what happened after the alien attacked him and held him captive for nearly 24 hours in his spaceship.

It’s still a rough draft at this point, 5400 words, but it’s a complete first draft, and I’m happy about it. Thinking about taking this one to Hamilton Writers this week, to see what they think of the difference.

Do any of you readers have a story to share about rewriting stories quickly?

And thank you very much for the awards, Brittany. I’ll talk more about those soon – hopefully Saturday.

Switching POV and voice.

August 13, 2010

I started a new fanfic crossover piece in late June, and started working on Chapter Two early in August, after JulNoWriMo was over. This story, ‘A New Mexican Alien in Metropolis,’ is Smallville/Roswell fandoms, and a sequel to a charity auction challenge story that I did last fall, ‘Arrow through my soul.’

For a while, the new story was going great – Michael Guerin had come to Metropolis to start a fight with Oliver Queen, but Oliver wasn’t available, so I was introducing him to Chloe Sullivan, (who he kind of grudgingly tolerated,) Davis Bloom, (who he almost got in a fist-fight with, and then bonded over the graveyard shift life with,) and last of all Lana Lang, and sparks definitely started to fly between Michael and Lana, with much flirting and witty banter going on without my feeling like I had to work at it at all…

Until the dinner at the Italian restaurant started to bog down in sharing of canon trivia between their two universes, so desperately I tried to shift ahead suddenly to a scene with the two of them breaking into Maria’s Metropolis apartment… and that scene absolutely stalled. Sigh.

I switched to another project for a few days, and yesterday it occurred to me that maybe one of the problems with ‘Metropolis’ was that I was writing it in third person, generally following Michael’s perceptions. ‘Arrow’ had been first person POV, with Maria narrating as she travelled into the worlds of Metropolis and Smallville, Kansas, and I think that worked well. So today on the bus I started going through what I’d written for ‘Metropolis’ and changing “Michael” and “he” to “I”, “they” to “us”, and all other pronouns as necessary to make it first person.

In the process, I noticed some interesting things happening, that other changes in wording and phrasing were coming up, because the words that I’d initially used weren’t the ones that Michael would use. (That’s one benefit of writing in a fandom that I’m so familiar with, that the character voices are so natural without my having to come up with them.)

I also ran into a bit of trouble with the very first scene of chapter one, because that was NOT third person limited POV of Michael Guerin. The story actually opens in third person limited POV of Chloe Sullivan, how she runs into this agitated guy outside Oliver Queen’s office, (who turns out to be Michael,) and calms him down a bit. So I suppose I’m going to have to rewrite that one scene much more seriously to get it into Michael’s narration.
Wish me luck with that!

CritMo has set sail…

August 8, 2010

Next stop? A magical land where respectful, authentic, and specific feedback flows like – I dunno, maple sap or something?

So – over at Stringing Words, we’ve started doing a Critiquing Month, or CritMo. I volunteered to organize it, since there were interested writers, but all of the usual SuperAdmins seemed to be a bit too busy to jump at doing the legwork this time. Though SW has had 2 CritMos before, this is also the first time I’ve participated.

So far, it’s been a lot of fun, and very instructive. The basic idea was simple – you sign up to contribute a certain number of excerpts, and you’re assigned to critique two other pieces for each piece you contribute, so that each excerpt has at least two assigned critiquers. Along with your excerpt, you provide some questions or notes for what sort of feedback you’re interested in, and then you read the pieces that you’ve been assigned to critique and do your best to provide good feedback.

By the way, when I was blogging about what makes a good critique in early July, I was already planning for CritMo – I believe I mentioned that at the time.

So, this time we’re doing week by week assignments, four week-long periods during the month of August, and the first week is nearly drawn to a close – it goes until Tuesday night. I’ve finished the three critiques I signed up for this week, (we agreed to try a variation where people can pledge to do a third crit in the hopes of getting a third crit on their own work,) and received one critique on the lead-in to a fantasy short story.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

Reading for feedback, and composing feedback, can be very hard.

In the end, it’s so very worth it.

However, I’ve been so focused on CritMo that I haven’t really started on the 3 longer pieces that I’ve agreed to do feedback swaps on. Oh well, I’ll get to them – and I didn’t promise a particular completion date to anybody at least.

And, as a followup to my saga of mixed-up reservations in Huntsville, Saturday turned out to be a non-event. I packed up all my stuff carefully to take to the new room, went to the front desk – and was told that they’d arranged things so that I could stay in the same room until Tuesday. Ah well, at least it’s a nice room, and no stairs out to the lobby,

In search of some good feedback swaps.

August 2, 2010

I’ve started to like the idea of manuscript feedback swaps – two writers exchanging their complete drafts and each reading through the other’s and giving a detailed critique. I did two swaps for ‘The Long way Home’ back in January and early February of this year, and those notes gave me a lot of good stuff to work with on my recent draft revisions.

Now, I’ve gone back to the ‘Critiques, Feedbacks, and Novel Swaps’ forum at the National Novel Writing Month website, which is where I came across the idea in the first place… and the Script Swaps forum on the Script Frenzy website – but neither seem to be too active at this point in the summer, which is when I have a reasonable bunch of spare time to be reading and critiquing other people’s work. Sigh.

At this writing, I have gotten one swap offer at Script Frenzy, though, which I’m looking forward to – and two people from Nano Swaps have offered to critique my manuscript, but without sending me back anything to critique myself, which leaves me a little at loose ends until the critiques start coming back.

I’ve also been looking on google for other places to find swap partners, and there seem to be some possibilities, but I haven’t sifted through them all yet. One interesting one for screenplays is Screenwriters Utopia, which lets you upload your script into the database, and automates the process of releasing your script to others once you’ve posted critiques. On the other hand, they have a spot in the upload for a WGA registration number, and ‘strongly suggest’ that you should have your work registered before you upload. I’ve taken a quick look at registering my work with Writer’s Guild of Canada as a non-member, but I’m still not quite clear on how the payment process works.

So, any recommendations for good places to find feedback swap partners, year-round?

Oh, and a JulNoWriMo postscript – I got up to 50,004 words on Saturday morning, around 9 am. Still haven’t finished ‘Children of the Molecule’ – but then, I never expected to, in a month, and I can actually see that the end is not so far off at this point!

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??

Are you anti-prologue or pro-prologue?

June 24, 2010

I printed off the first ten pages of my new opening to ‘The Long Way Home’ and passed it out for critiquing Tuesday evening at the Hamilton Writer’s meeting at Chester’s Beers of the World. I got a few kudos, the usual helpful notes on phrasing and word choice – and a very spirited debate broke out on the subject of prologues.

I’ve never had a prologue in this story, but I won’t deny that it’s a story that could arguably use it in terms of establishing the fictional world, because the Earth of ‘The Long Way Home’ is not Earth as we know it. Not only are there magik spells and royalty and wizards, but the seven royal families are spread fairly evenly about the planet – one to a continent, more or less, except for a bit of reshuffling involving Antarctica which isn’t really important for this book. The main character is a princess of the Royal Family of North America, which is definitely a concept that a lot of people might find surprising. Also, there are talking animals, a race of dinosaur-like people called Saurians, and halfbreed Saurians who still show some reptilian traits but are closer to human than ‘true-blood’ Saurians. The general level of technology is 1950s, (possibly because transistors in this universe can’t be miniaturized beyond a certain point,) and the culture is modern in some ways and Victorian or even older in others. It’s a lot of little changes to pick up as you read, I suppose.

So, as I said, the feelings on the subject of prologues to explain the world/universe of the story were quite vehement, including one gentleman who became passionate in his opinion that prologues are never needed and seldom valuable. (It got a bit awkward because Rob’s piece that he brought for critique was headed as a Prologue, though his was character-centered and action-based and not nearly what people were discussing for my book.) I’m not really clear on whether I want to write a short prologue or not, but I’m convinced that I need to do something better to establish the world of the story at the beginning.

And I’m not sure how that fits in with my other goal for the start of the novel of hooking the reader right away. Is it possible to hook the reader with a prologue that’s about your world instead of about characters? Are they seperate goals that I have to accomplish one after the other, or side by side?

Comments and input gratefully appreciated.

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