Going to take a few weeks off from blogging as I’ll be busy doing IRL stuff, recharging my brain cells a bit and spending a few days in New England to see friends and family! [Yes, I know we’re heading there at the back end of winter, when it’s still freakin’ cold with the possibility of wonky weather, but that’s the way it goes. Oh well!]
We should hopefully be back to our normal schedule come March. See you then!
I’ve been thinking a bit more about using tropes in my writing. As I’ve posted previously, using well-worn tropes can be a good thing, especially when I’m starting out on a new project. I’ve tried building up new stories organically in the past, but to be honest it really is like trying to reinvent the wheel sometimes, and perhaps I don’t need to put myself through that much toil. I can just as easily build the foundation and framing of the story I want to write based on well-used and well-trusted ideas, then make it my own.
It took me some time to learn how to do it successfully when I was just starting out, though. A lot of my trunked stories were 100% pantsed and suffer from having little to no sense of that foundation; I just had a vague idea of where I wanted the story to go, but none about how I was going to get there. There’s a reason those are still trunked.
One way I learned was to watch anime. I’ve stated many times before that my obsession with the form is not on the otaku level but more on the creative. My favorite anime series and movies have always been the ones that took a well-used idea and gave it a unique and often non-Western spin. The ‘star-crossed lovers’ trope of Your Name inserts not just the Asian ‘red string of fate’ mythology but skews with the idea of time as well. The ‘army of misfits’ trope in Dragon Pilot is subverted by their flights being, well, dragons (which ready themselves for flight by literally swallowing their pilots). The ‘young adults finding their way in the world’ of Carole and Tuesday has the extra twist of taking place on a semi-terraformed present-day Mars, where all popular music is literally created via algorithms and little to no human input.
It’s this kind of unconventional twist that inspires and influences my own work. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but the process is always a lot of fun. I have different ways of going about it: often I’ll be writing a scene and get to the point where, if I was going to follow the tried and true plot trope, I’d have the character act a specific way. I’ve trained myself to always be conscious of when this happens, so that when I get to that point, I can make a conscious decision: do I want them to follow this path, or do I want them to do the unexpected instead, thus taking the story in a different direction? I do this all over In My Blue World, because my aim was to show that its main characters were all unconventional women that didn’t always do what people expected of them. Sometimes it got them in trouble, but more often than not their irreverence undermined the expectations of the antagonists.
Another way I play with this setup is to take a page from Studio Ghibli: the world of my story is pretty much the same as this world, only the rules are slightly different. The world of Diwa & Kaffi is the same as real life, just that there are sentient beings other than humans living in tight knit communities. This is more tied in with the world-building side of things, but it’s equally as important, especially when it’s an integral part of the story.
I’ve learned from experience that I don’t necessarily need to go above and beyond, creating extremely detailed twists and backgrounds (perhaps like I did with the Bridgetown Trilogy, though that was done purposely due to its ‘epic’ tone I was aiming for). Sometimes all you need is just that quirky little detail that will set things going off in an intriguing direction. And not only does the reader enjoy that, the writer often does too!
Last week at the Day Job was very long, busy and headache-inducing, so I did not get a chance to update my blogs. On the plus side, I did spend a considerable amount of time in the evening finishing up the first draft of my synopsis for Diwa & Kaffi! Plus, it was a nice relaxing (and relatively clear!) long weekend here so I decided to just enjoy it while I had it. Got caught up with emails, slept late-ish, cleaned the house, and completed other errands. And we also walked quite a few miles in and around the neighborhood to get our exercise in!
Sometimes that’s the best thing to do for extended weekends. I know some writers will immediately think: Brilliant! Now I can spend hours on end working on my WIP! And if that’s your jam, that’s cool too. I used to be that writer back in my single days, staying up far too late working on stuff and goofing off online at my leisure. But now I find that taking the weekend to just enjoy it is a really neat idea as well. We’ll maybe hit the gym one morning (like we did today) and go out for lunch, then spend the rest of the day streaming tv shows or catching up with easy errands. Like catching up on my blogs!
The older I get, the more I appreciate taking weekends off from writing. Not because I Am An Old, but because I’ve finally come to the conclusion that I don’t have to work at top speed all the time. The weekend is here to recharge, so why not do exactly that? It gives me more energy, but it also lets me think about my current WIP at a slower speed. I don’t always have the time for that during the week, so I cherish the slower, calmer moments when and where I can.
Please I beg of you if you want to be a published author read one effing book published in the last 5 years. Just start with one. I’m BEGGING. — Sarah Nicolas on Twitter
Last week a YA author posted the above tweet, but the reaction to it was quite unexpectedly divisive. While quite a few authors completely agreed with her, there were just as many who acted as if she’d took the lord’s name in vain or something similar.
To be honest, I totally get what she means by it, but it’s not something I can easily explain in just a few words. Personally, I’ll admit to reading a lot of books that have been published within the last five years, and hardly any that are older than that. It’s just my tastes, I guess? I did a ton of reading of the classics when I was younger; I was a middling Asimov fan and had a brief obsession with Vonnegut, but I kind of grew out of that in the mid-90s when I started reading more recent titles.
For me, it was never about trying to stay on top of whatever happened to be popular at the time. Even then I understood that it would no longer be hip by the time I got my own manuscript out there. It was more about checking out different voices and styles. Each writer has their own way of using and even subverting trusted ideas and tropes to make them unique to their own style. It’s informed not just by their imagination but often by their culture.
Sure, I’ll occasionally pick up an old book now and again. I still have to get through the last few books of Kate Elliott’s Crown of Stars series, nearly all the CJ Cherryh Union-Alliance books, reread Mary Gentle’s Ash books, and all those Robotech tie-ins. I’ve been wanting to revisit the Transmetropolitan trades, and I’m about to get caught up with John Allison’s Giant Days trades as well. So many books, so little time!
But back to that tweet. I mean, I can understand how some might have been upset by it (though to the point of trolling harassment is just a titch overboard, mind you), but let’s be honest: there really is a lot more out there nowadays. A LOT more, thanks to indie and self-publishing, e-books, anthologies, Kickstarter-funded publications, and even concerted efforts by big name publishers to introduce new voices.
If you want to write similar to Tolkien or Asimov or even George RR Martin or Stephen King, by all means, go for it. If that’s the style you’re best at, that’s cool. But this tweet isn’t about forcing you out of that style — this is suggesting that perhaps you should check out more recent books written in a similar style. Perhaps you’ll see that the genre has evolved in ways you hadn’t expected, giving you an even wider playing field for your created universe.
I’m always worried wen I start a new writing project, especially during the initial world building sessions and the writing of the first couple of chapters. Is this going to keep going, or is it going to crash and burn? I’ve worked on enough of them to the point where I should be used to this, but it still happens. And I won’t know either way unless I get started on them.
Over the years I’ve found that the most important signal to watch for when starting a project is resonance. Do I resonate with the story? And I totally mean that in a KonMari way: does it spark joy? It’s been said so many times that if writing the story feels more like a chore and you no longer feel happy about writing it, it’s time to trunk it. [Yes, I know… I keep threatening to un-trunk a lot of those ideas when the mood strikes, but by the end of the day I’ll put them back when I remember why the previous attempts didn’t work. I should invest in a padlock, shouldn’t I?] I’ve started so many ideas that had good intentions that died on the vine for one reason or another.
But what if it keeps resonating? Well, by all means, go for it! Keep working and have fun with it! There’s really no reason to second-guess yourself, at least not at this early stage. Don’t put up obstacles you’ll only end up breaking down. Just keep going with it.*
[* – As a caveat, you should at least have some kind of conscious reminder at this point of how your readers will react to the story. It’s hard to explain this without resorting to tired phrases like ‘political correctness’ — which, by the way, was a lazy and ignorant conservative-minded complaint about getting called out back in the early 90s as it is today — but you should at least be aware that if you’re going to consciously write a subject matter or in a style that someone might find insulting to their culture or lifestyle, you’re going to receive some noise complaints.]
I’ve approached each new project in different ways as well. Sometimes they have a long gestation, a small germ of an idea that I put aside for a length of time before I decide to dedicate time to them. Sometimes they’re a riff on a dream or a thought that popped into my head. Or as with this current project of mine, sometimes it’s the product of desperation, a need to get something down on the page before I drive myself crazy, and the outcome being an unexpected and pleasant surprise.
Whatever works. And if it works, don’t question it. Just keep going!
As I’ve said before, having to go back into the office has definitely shaken things up for me. Sometimes for the worse: I’m doing a lot of shuffling of priorities within a very narrow window of time now. But sometimes for the better: it was far past time for me to get used to being part of a larger crowd again after years of hiding in Spare Oom.
But it’s not just about the Day Job, though… I’ve been trying to break out of a lot of old habits over the last few years, and while it’s been easy to let go of some things, it’s been like pulling teeth for other things. Some days I’ll revel in trying out new things and thinking about things in different ways, and some days I’ll slip back and get caught in those old feedback loops and forget I was trying to change myself.
Still — sometimes it’s the most mundane things that help in changing things up. Like changing the wallpaper of my PC (I just changed it from a pen-themed slide show provided by Microsoft to a Year of the Rat-themed picture from a webcomic I currently read. I’ve stopped wearing so many silly tee-shirts and changed to simple colored tees from Old Navy. Every now and again I’ll do a mass cleaning of Spare Oom and rearrange a few things here and there. Like I said…mundane, but it keeps things interesting.
What does this have to do with writing? Well, I suppose it ties in with the current thing I’m working on with my daily words. After spending most of January flustered and flailing, I figured I may as well change things up by playing around with a new idea, just for the fun of it. No concrete ideas or plans, just something to work on. And I’ve done this with my music and writing as well: trying out a new playing or drawing style, listening to new bands that I wouldn’t have listened to in the past, reading new comics for inspiration. It clears the slate a bit, blowing away the dust of old ideas and giving me new things to focus on.
It’s hard work, and I’ll still slide back into old habits and forget the new ways I’ve been approaching things, but eventually I’ll catch myself and continue again.