Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Trinket Box
50,250 words
201 pages
29 days
The End!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Website Naming

I found out that and are both available.  Any votes?

Also, there's and, ...

Decisions, decisions.

Narrative, Dialogue, Action and Description

One of the things that really helped me progress as a writer was the idea that much of writing is technique rather than inspiration.  Just about anyone can be inspired.  What they do with that inspiration is then a matter of technique.

One technique mentioned at OryCon was highlighting different types of prose in your work to see how much you use of one type or another.
Narrative is the author or pov character chit chatting, talking about what's happening.  In can be anything from internal dialogue, if the pov is close, to the hand-waving overview of events that don't need to be studied closely because they're not that important to the story.  Narrative is transitional.  It links pieces of the story together so that they make plot sense as well as emotional sense.  If we didn't have Benedicts's soliloquy in "Much Ado Without Nothing" to give us his internal thought process, what followed wouldn't make much sense.  It'd be OMG, Benedict, WTF are you doing man?!  This brings up the point that a character talking to themselves or their horse isn't real dialogue.  It's just a different style of narrative.  Sometimes dialogue as narrative works, and sometimes it's awkward and silly.

Dialogue is two or more people talking to each other.  I personally don't count the tag lines as dialogue.  Those are action, or narrative, or description.  Take for example the duel in Cyrano de Bergerac.  That's dialogue mixed with action (although his opponent barely gets a word in edgewise.  Get it? Edgewise?  Har har.)  Without dialogue, we don't get to see characters interacting directly with each other.  We just get told about how they are--argumentative, snippy, loving, chatty, etc.  They talked long into the night isn't nearly as interesting as hearing part of the conversation.

Action is characters doing stuff, in real time, right now on the page.  They stab it with their steely knives but they just can't kill the beast.  Not all work has to have action in it, but you're walking a tough road without it.  Limiting or eliminating action is done more in literary work than in mainstream or genre fiction.  People who write with a distant narrative, talking about things that happened a long time ago when they were young and spry, tend to have the problem of interrupting action that is already distanced by the style choice with commentary from the 'present' pov character looking back on the situation.  If you don't have much action or very distanced action in your work, that means the dialogue, narrative and description has to really shine to keep your reader's interest.

Description is the red-headed stepchild for many authors.  Description is the establishment of setting.  Sometimes dialogue and narrative and even action can help establish setting--like in the song "Up on the Roof" where the singer is telling us about how much he loves being up on the roof.  He uses as much dialogue and narrative to paint a picture as he does visual images.  In action, if a character is climbing a ladder then we don't need description to let us know that a ladder is somewhere in the room.  Sometimes authors mistake description as 'expository lumps' and try to pare them down to nothing.  An expository lump is narrative, actually, although it can be argued that it's establishing setting and therefore description.  Pure, unadulterated description allows the readers to see, smell, feel, and hear where they are.  It's sensory and hopefully immediate, rather than being demoted to 'background.'  Too much description and you lose your reader in the field of flowers with every botanical name spelled out and the temperature of the air and the way the bison roam across the field munching so and such plants.  If you add that the bison have always done this and for centuries they have selectively cropped these plants, making them more and more scarce--you've just dropped into narrative and have left description behind.

A manuscript is not going to be balanced in these elements.  Trying to make it that way will make you crazy.  However, highlighting these elements can show you if you've been neglecting or omitting one of the four completely.  It would take an unusual short story and the very, very rare novel to short change one element and still pull off something that's enjoyable.  You can also determine if you have big chunks of one type of writing.  Sprinkling is a good technique, where you intersperse the various types of writing among each other so that you don't have big chunks.  Expository lumps aren't the only lumps to be wary of in a manuscript.  Dialogue lumps (council meetings, argh!) action lumps (on and on with the blood and guts, gack) and descriptive lumps (as previously noted) can be just as tedious as a long narrative lump.

Good luck out there and keep writing.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Writing like a madwoman

I'm  playing catch up with Nano this year, same as last year.  There's something about OryCon and Nano together that's kicked my butt very consistently during November these past couple of years.  But I like it, kinda, sorta.  I'm at 38,789 words today, so far.  I'll need about 5606 words each day for the next two days to win.  I'm not going to be able to do much if any writing on Thursday, so that's all for me.  Of course anything I can skim off of that count tonight will be a big bonus.  5600 words in a day is doable, but it's a lot.  That number hits especially hard because today I did about 4000ish, at least I think that's what I've done so far, and I'm pooped.  Man, I hope I miscounted that.  Yuck.  I hope I did more like 6000, yeah, let's say I did 6000 and the next two days will be a cinch.

Go Nano!

Monday, November 19, 2007

New Capacity

I'm typing this from Jasmine, my new, very white iMac.  I shouldn't be this thrilled.  I really shouldn't.  But being able to see options, forms, fields, to have frames stack correctly, to see things in their proper colors and sizes--to me it feels like I've been hearing voices from the depths of a toothy cave and then suddenly I've emerged to the surface world.  I like it here.  It's all sunshiny and beautiful.

Of course nothing comes without a price.  Even with the fabulous deal that allowed us to get two snazzy computers, we spent heapos of money and just in time for the holidays.  Also, I'll be spending a great deal of time tomorrow transferring files from Gypsy and Snape to Jasmine.  I bought a pretty nice thumb drive for a great price (select sizes are on sale at Office Max right now, btw, for those of you in need of a bigger one) to help facilitate but I don't believe Gypsy has a USB port, which means anything on Gypsy has to be moved over to Snape first.  Yee.  Ha.

In OryCon news, OryCon is over!  Yay!  I didn't sell any art, but that's all right.  I have never felt so lucky and blessed coming out of a convention as I have this one.  I met a writer friend's cousin who is raising an Asperger's child and we traded stories and wisdom.  I had moment of joyful hope when I learned from a great friend about a quiet insight given to someone else.  I had a highly respected writer tell me surreptitiously (he was clever about it too) in front of an audience how much he valued a certain woman's critiques (mine, though they didn't know unless they knew inside info on the Lucky Labs.)  I had praise coming at me from all sides right at the moments when I felt the most pressure from managing a hydra of a workshop.  I learned a huge amount.  I got to spend time with people I dearly love but seldom see, hour after hour.  I had some great meals.  I had yummy drinkies.  I was invited to be a guest panelist at Radcon (I am so going to that now.)  I managed to get autographs from Peter S. Beagle and Ursula LeGuin.  On and on.

I missed out on spending time with my husband and kids, never got to the dance despite the fact that the music seemed really decent, I missed a lot of fabulous parties, and although I got to chat with a lot of neat people I didn't get to visit with as many as I would have liked to.  I needed at least three clones of me, preferably four.  But I don't regret how I spent my time.  I would have liked to have done more, but the few hours of sleep I managed to snatch were barely enough to get me through.  So there we have it, the limitations of a human being.  I guess it makes everything that I experienced that much more precious, knowing how little capacity I have.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled Nano.  Well, except that I can't work on it yet.  But it's in my head, raring to go!

And Jasmine is all excited because I named my sexy new computer after him.  Except I was thinking more of the fragrant white flower.

Jas:  "You were not!"
Me:  "I was.  Your grace is just an undercurrent nuance."
Jas:  "Whatever you have to tell yourself to think you're in control of how much you want me."

On Critiquing

Orycon was a great success, for me anyway. I learned a great deal on several aspects of writing, but I thought over here I'd share my notes on critique groups, as I attended two or three sessions on the subject:

On Writer's Workshops and Critique Groups (one with David Levine, Rob Vagle, John Burridge, and Nina Kiriki Hoffman; a second with Irene Radford, Bruce Taylor, Jayel Gibson, David Goldman, and Stephen Stanley; a third with Richard Lovett, David Levine, Michele Avanti, and Kami Miller):
* Critiquing and hearing critiques can triangulate how you are reading a story. Does your interpretation match the other writers? What might you be getting that they aren't and why? What are you missing that they are seeing and why? (Thank you, David)
* Critique groups are great as producing mechanisms, setting external deadlines for the writers.
* "Ditto" is a useful tool when group commenting, so that the same issue isn't brought up again and again. As in "Ditto Kami about the tension in the first scene." Free to discuss new issues and benefits instead.
* Instead on manuscript format, either for electronic submission or hard-copy submission.
* Reading aloud can be beneficial to catching errors, but beware that a good reader can bring a problematic piece to life, while a bad reader could sink a good piece. Better: have someone not the writer read the piece aloud. Gives the writer a chance to judge body language and immediate response to the piece (gasps, chuckles, boredom).
* The audition process for incoming members if useful on both sides; gives the writer and the group a chance to feel each other out.
* The Clarion style of group critiques is tried and true, with the author remaining silent while the group takes turns with their own comments, but beware that the person who begins the critique sets the tone.
* Individual critiques avoid feeding off what others are saying, but limit the brainstorming possibilities that a group can offer.
* A writer writes in a vacuum; reader response is useful to judge how the story is going.
* There is a sharp difference between the 'I didn't like it' reaction and the 'I didn't like it because . . .' response.
* Knowing the predilections of the readers is useful: do they have biases against certain stories, are they more knowledgeable in a subject than an average reader would be, or less so.
* Writing to please the critique group will grind the edges off your story. Avoid using their foreseen reactions as your internal editor.
* There is such thing as overshooting a revision based on a critique that can wreck the heart of the story. Always keep in mind why you wrote the piece to begin with.
* Always deliver an honest critique with compassion, whether to an experience writer or to a novice. Honesty counts, and so does compassion.

There are notes on other subject on my personal blog. I also have several thoughts to throw at the INK group when we next meet for the Orycon Debriefing (nice phrase, Carole). And I have a new goal for myself based on not only the above notes, but my own critiquing experiences during the con. All of it will go a long way to improving not only how I write, but I how I critique, and I'm sure you will all thank me for that.

I can't wait for the debriefing! But now, I have to get back to our regularly schedule Nano. My novel is lonely after two days of sitting forgotten in a folder. Well, not completely forgotten.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

I Suck So Bad

Going through my works to find a couple of somethings to print off for the open read and critiques (ORCs) at the con has turned into a session of ego-mutilation. I can't find anything that doesn't cry out "this Writer SUCKS and here's an example of how bad!"

My excerpt for the writers workshop, which I spent weeks editing and having it critiqued and editing it again until I thought it was the best thing I've ever written . . . now sucks so bad that I'm embarrassed to sit down with a couple pros to go over it. It took all my will not to grab a red pen and start slashing the piece into something less horrid.

This mindset is a familiar one. I experience it before any reading or presentation of my work. My work inevitably plunges and I want to make several changes before it reaches the light of day.

It seems to be getting worse, however, as I grow more proficient at editing. I see my mistakes much quicker and I desperately want to fix them. But with a workshop going over the piece as is, I can't really launch into it.

The ORC is much more problematic. I could, theoretically, edit till my little heart burst, and I really want to, but I'm running very short on time. So do I put the time I have into edits that might not hold up once I get to the con, since I'll be rushing to do them? Or do I just go with what I have, try not to cringe too badly, and put my time into Nano and getting ready for the con?

It's a hard call. Right now, I'd like to skip the ORC altogether instead of going with a piece I feel is inferior to what I could actually produce. But that seems like a coward's way out.

So, back to the documents, and the head banging.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


I just broke the halfway point in Nano. I'd do the Snoopy dance to celebrate, but I'm feeling kind guh today, so I'll just grin slightly in pleasure and down some more ibuprofen.

I've decided that my goal before Orycon is 30,000. That would be where I need to be by end of day Sunday, so even if I don't get any writing done at Orycon, I won't be going into next week behind.

That means another 17 pages before I head off on Friday morning. I'm hoping to get in a few more pages tonight (five more would be good, seven more would be ideal), but I still have a chunk of other things (like, um, a critique) to do today. And then there's the Powell's sf/f authorfest tonight, though if I'm feeling like I am at the moment, I may have to stay home. I'd love to go, really, but I'm also trying to be realistic about what I can and can't accomplish.

Bleh. Screw reality! I'm a writer! I can write myself doing it all!!
Ignoring cramps of epic proportion, Carissa not only completed all her laundry, lugging the linens up the back stairs to fold and store away, but vacuumed the house and cleared the overflowing counters of their several days worth of dishes. She wrote a stellar critique for the writers workshop on both the synopsis and the excerpt of her fellow attendee, typing it up in a readable format and filling out a short form to organize her thoughts for presentation before printing off several excerpts to choose between for the ORCs. And then she drew up the packing list for gathering her items the night of packing, wrote up instructions for taking care of the animals for the neighbors, and still managed to finished writing seven more pages before getting dressed to head out for an authorfest across town. She fed her daughter and herself, cooking a nice turkey chili meal before depositing her daughter with the neighbors to play until her husband was home, took the dog out one last time, and then she was off to an evening of discussing books and writings and little book shopping. All the shape of [Carissa the writer checks clock] a mere three hours!
You know, I'm tired just writing about all that stuff to do. Thankfully, I still have another full day in which to get ready.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Emotional Rescue

One of the scenes I wrote yesterday made me cry. I haven't done that to myself in a while, but I've felt myself getting close to doing so with several scenes in this book. Yesterday just happened to be the one that pushed me over the edge into actual tears.

I know when I go back to edit the story, I'll probably tone that scene back. It was a little over-the-top. Most of my writing that makes me cry ends up reading later as over-the-top, exaggerated emotionally, and needs to be taken back just a little. For subtle emotional responses rather than out and out heart-tugging. But if my early (and I mean early) stories and poems are any clue, I'm particularly good at the exaggerated, out and out heart-tugging.

I like writing them, and I've avoided writing them for a long while now. I tend to toe the line of emotional response, and its harder to work the emotional level up rather than to tone it back, at least I've noticed that I have a harder time with it. If it ain't there, I'm gonna have to struggle to put it there.

I need to let myself go over the top more often in the rough drafts, because then I know the emotion is there. All I have to do is tidying it up, play it down just enough so that it is more of a breath against a reader's cheek rather than a slap in the face.

Or maybe the slap is good, on occasion. I'll have to leave that up to my internal editor during the rereads. But the slap needs to be there to begin with.

I'm so glad I'm writing this story. It's opening doors for me in my head, and some of those doors lead to things I use to know about writing, but got 'learned' out of me. Those basics, like the way I was writing stories way back in the day, are good things to return to. They were, after all, the reason I started writing. That passion and over-the-topness that were my early pieces. I'm glad I'm returning to that. It feels right.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Happy about Hats

I'm so glad the whole hat thing came up at the Nano meeting last night. I'm having lots of fun with various hats, and my pov character who is so steadfastly against them. I think it's because in the Kilhells, where she's from, they only wear hats in winter. The rest of the time their hair is wild. Few bother with it, not even braiding, although men will sometimes braid their beards. I think it's a physical show of her own feelings of being an outsider, the ties of loyalty she still feels to her homeland and the regret and guilt she feels for not returning home.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
[i] ©2000 Denise Van Patten -
I love big, daring hats and it's fun to put my characters in them.[/i]

He hands me a brocade vest. Thankfully it has frogs, not laces and it goes on fast.
I look up and he has a big, lacy hat in his hands.
"A hat?" I move around him and make for the door.
"It completes the ensemble."
"Jasmine, you're not going to convince me to start dressing fashionably right before a fight."
"But look at it! I'd love to wear this hat, but it doesn't match my clothes. It's a beautiful hat, Billi. It'll look good on you."
"Let's just go." I'm ready to fight. I just pray that I'll fight on the right side.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007


I love -ivity words. They're just silly.

I have noticed with the onset of Nano (which I'm rocking, btw) that all other projects have been tossed aside to gather dust, no matter how pressing they were at the time. Notably the Inkwell Cult edit and the Fool's Errand edit.

The Inkwell Cult edit isn't worrisome. I'll be able to pick it up in December without breaking too much of my stride on it. Perhaps I'll be even more jazzed about working on coming out the writers workshop critique during Orycon (where I intend to take many notes not only of the critique, but any plot/story ideas that strike me during the critique).

A Fool's Errand, however, I'd planned to have edited and ready for the open read and critique sessions at Orycon. I don't think that's going to happen now, alas. I'll have to go with my original draft (If I can dredge it up from somewhere), clean up the existing manuscript, and cross my fingers. On one hand, this seems a little unnecessary, considering the INK group has already gone over it and I'm loaded with ideas. On the other hand, it might be useful to hear from new sources on the existing manuscript.

Obviously, I have mixed feelings about it, but A Fool's Errand is my only complete short story. My only other option is to dredge up a lesser finished piece like Iceholm or Brimstone and try to whack them more into shape before the con. Which, since I don't have time to finish the edit on A Fool's Errand, seems unlikely.

Gah. What to do?

Maybe I'll just read a chunk from The 8th Day and call it good.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

8509 words

This year it's a little easier to be on a work schedule and to write, at least so far. I couldn't write at all the first two days but I've caught up, thank goodness. I'm finding a huge advantage to revisiting Mayhem--I've missed these characters and writing with them is like visiting with best friends. Maybe that will make my draft even crappier than usual, but at least it's fun.

I'm writing it in a style waaaay different than normal. Not only is it in first person present, which I normally dislike, but I'm writing very short chapters, 3-10 pages. Writing this far outside my comfort zone for a Nano would probably fail, but with super-comfortable characters it's coming along okay. It's a great learning experience, and it keeps me on my toes without dragging me far out to sea in a riptide. If it stops working I'll probably revert to my normal third person, but I won't go editing back from the beginning to make it consistent until I've given it a chance to rest a couple of months. Then I can read it and decide if I want to keep the first person present or if I want to go back to normal view.
Normal View! NORMAL VIEW!!

That was for the MST3K fans out there.

The story so far--old friends reunite in grim circumstances, the pov character almost dies, and demons attack the fortress. I wonder what the next 42 pages will look like.

Eleven days and counting until my new computer. Just in time. The Finder crashed this morning. Time to back up Gypsy again before imminent catastrophic failure.

Then again, much like the Cascades, you never know what's going to be a full-blown top-exploding eruption and what's going to be another fluffy hiccup.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Going, Going . . .

Not only did I get all nine (yes, nine!) pages typed in that I'd written last night, but I wrote another nine on top of that, bringing me to 31 pages (around 7750 words). And the story is going so well! I have plot. I have characters. I have situations both profound and tragic. And hopefully, I have enough to keep me going through the dreaded week two, which is only four more days away.

I hope I do. I really think I do. But it's still so early in the draft to tell. In the very least, I've given myself lots of room (about two thousand years worth) to maneuver. And extra pages, which I'll keep adding to so that when I hit the typically unavoidable wall of plot breakdown that occurs in week two, I'll have some leeway to puzzle my way through it without losing too much ground.

Wow. This is actually working out!

Friday, November 2, 2007


I wasn't sure how well I'd hold up at the library write-in tonight, given that I'd be handwriting, but I did great! Twelve hand written pages to add to the four and a half typed pages I finished early in the day and I'm ahead of the daily goal! And the story, for as much as I have a story, is rolling along. I have no idea where it will end up, but I'm having a lot of fun finding out where it's going each day.

I'm looking forward to next week's write-in. Now if only I can get those hand-written pages typed up in a timely manner . . .