On Visualization

Storyboarding the first chapter of ‘Diwa & Kaffi’

I’ve said numerous times in the past that I’m a visual writer — that is, I tend to see my stories visually and try to write what I’m seeing in my head. Sometimes it works, sometimes it needs a bit of post-writing revision, but either way I try to tell the story in the best way possible.

Meanwhile, as a fun not-entirely-serious project to get back into the habit of drawing again (and maybe, slowly, getting better at it), I’ve decided to storyboard Diwa & Kaffi, which is one of my more visually-created stories. I wrote it fully seeing it as a Studio Ghibli film or a manga tankobon, so it certainly lends itself to that particular format.

The above page is one from page 6-7, just after Diwa and Kaffi have nearly gotten themselves in trouble all while being monitored by their fathers. Below is the text version:

“You’re right,” Samuel said, leaning back against the railing. “That game of theirs is a bit haphazard. It’s a simple game of catch, but it only tests their timing.”
“There was no coordination between them whatsoever,” the tintrite huffed.
“Agreed,” he said. “but it doesn’t have to be all about coordination, Gray. You watched Diwa navigate the garden almost flawlessly—”
“Almost,” Graymar snorted, flashing a quick fang.
“It’s about knowing the area,” he continued. “I know for a fact I’d have gone the longer way around the garden and playground and missed the catch entirely.”
“You were never good at catch games, Samuel.”
Samuel didn’t miss a beat. “You never wanted to play them! Seriously, though…I see potential. They were confident in their surroundings. They’ve been all over this estate for years, they know it backwards and forwards. I’ve seen them both taking a lot of initiative, helping the tenants, and chipping in during our quarterly festivals. They’re old enough to be our interns now. Diwa has been showing interest in the tenancy committee. He’s been active in the last few meetings. I’d be happy to show him the ropes. And he says Kaffi has an interest.”
Graymar lifted his snout quickly in response. “Kaffi hasn’t said anything about this to me.” Samuel had expected as much. Graymar’s relationship with his pahyoh – with anyone, come to think of it – sometimes required a lot of patience and understanding.
“He’s waiting for the right moment. Ask him, or at least let him know you’re aware of his wishes,” he said. “I’m sure he’ll be interested.”
“Hmmm.”

I’m having a LOT of fun with this diversion, so I’m going to continue with it as time and inclination allows! I’m learning while I’m going too, dusting off a lot of my long-ignored film production/theory knowledge while also letting myself enjoy the creative process. It’s helping me visualize the characters better — in my head I can see what Graymar and Kaffi look like as tintrite, but I haven’t quite managed to nail their exact image as closely as I’d like, for instance — and in the process open up a possible new direction with my creativity.

Will anything come of this? I might shop the storyboard version around, or I might turn it into a webcomic, or it may come to naught. But I’m keeping the options open for now!

A little off schedule…

A little lizard friend at Immigration Point Overlook in the Presidio, with the Marin Headlands across the way.

…but that’s okay! Yesterday we drove up to Petaluma to visit A’s parents for the first time in I’m not sure how long — definitely before March — and enjoyed a great lunch and caught up with each other. A nice relaxing day with very little to worry about. And today we took a walk through the Presidio, despite it hovering near 80 degrees, and got a good long walk in.

Which of course means I have not done a lick of serious writing since Thursday evening. And I’m happy to say that I’ve finally broken my habit of feeling guilty about that. It’s taken me years, but at this point in my life I think it’s high time I stopped thinking in terms of crunch and OMG I need to Do All The Things before I die, and think more in the moment. Enjoy life for what it’s giving me at that point in time.

If that means doing things like discovering a tiny lizard on the low concrete wall at Immigration Point Overlook in the Presidio and taking the time to get the perfect shot with the Marin Headlands in the background, then I’m doing it right!

Yeah, no.

If I’ve learned anything about being a writer over the last few decades, I’ve learned to notice when I’m bored with my own work. And unfortunately, Theadia is heading in that direction almost directly out of the gate.

BUT! I’ve also learned that this is a good sign. What this really means is that I’ve just gone in the wrong direction, which is completely normal for me when I start a new project. It almost always takes me three or four tries before I get it right. I just have to keep at it.

Why does this happen so often? Good question. I think it’s because so often I start with a pretty sturdy long-game story arc, but I don’t put enough thought into the short-game subplots as I should. This was exactly why Diwa & Kaffi stuttered to a halt a few times. It’s all part of the process.

So what do I need to do to fix this? Simple: start over. Think of the short-term goals and story arcs that I need to hit first before I can introduce the long-game arc. And if it doesn’t work the second time, try it again from a different angle. Start in medias res if I have to. Effectively what I need to do is raise the stakes a lot more than they’re currently at.

Recently I started thinking about why I’d suffered the same fate with Mendaihu Universe book four, and I can see I made the same mistake there as well. It had nothing to do with the story idea itself…it was that I started it wrong. And I think I know what I can do with that particular project as well, so who knows…maybe I’ll be writing more tandem projects again soon? Heh.

Onward and upward.

A bit of reading

I’ve been on a reading kick lately, digging through various sections of my To Be Read list. Right now I’m cleaning out my Music Bio shelf and blasting through a number of them; Chrissie Hynde’s Reckless (ridiculous and funny), Kim Gordon’s Girl in a Band (no f*cks given), Pat Benatar’s Between a Heart and a Rock Place (badass fun) Ani DiFranco’s No Walls and the Recurring Dream (a bit cringe for varying reasons and could not finish), Chris Frantz’s Remain in Love (fun and endearingly wholesome), and Graham Nash’s Wild Tales (quite the drug-happy horndog back in the day) are just a few recent reads, with more to go. I’m devouring those just as fast as I devour manga tankobon, so I should be able to hit my GoodReads year-end goal pretty easily.

It occurs to me that as a writer of science fiction and fantasy, I probably should read more of that genre. I mean, aside from rereading my own stuff for revision purposes! Heh. Seriously, I’ve been kind of lazy in checking out new titles over the last couple of years, and maybe a bit too choosy as well. Although I have been tempering that by catching up on a few older titles never got around to until recently (Marie Brennan’s Lady Trent books are absolutely amazing!), I really need to open my eyes to new stuff again.

I guess part of that is because I’ve been feeling a bit distanced from my own genre as of late. I still love writing in it, still like coming up with some great ideas, but when the only genre titles I’ve been reading are my own, then I end up in an echo chamber of my own making, and that’s not good. I need to look out there and see what’s going on, what other writers are talking about. Oftentimes I’ll be inspired, whether directly or indirectly, and I feel like I’ve been missing that.

I mean, not that I need more books in this house. But still.

Another day, another few hundred or so words

Courtesy of Makoto Shinkai, of course.

Starting a new project can often provide its own set of obstacles and trip-ups. My first few chapters are always a hot mess, primarily because I’m still feeling my way through it all. There’s the fear that I won’t be able to expand on this new idea past a couple of flashy scenes. There’s the reminder that I’m proud of my last project and that I really want this new one to be just as great. There’s the nagging reminder of past goals I’ve reached, such as hitting over a thousand words a day, every day, or writing two novels in tandem, and wanting to immediately recapture those goals again with the new project.

Instead what I’m doing is ignoring those trip-ups. It’s hard sometimes, but it’s doable. I remind myself that this is a Brand New Project that can’t and shouldn’t be personally compared to anything I’ve done in the past. If that means that I’m only hitting maybe two or three hundred words a day instead of eight hundred or a thousand, so be it. I gently remind myself that I’ll get back up to that count soon enough, once I feel more secure and confident about the project.

Each project creates its own mood, its own set of habits and goals, which are different from those of the past. Because of that, and unless I’m writing a sequel or a story in an already created world, I have to treat this new project as its own entity. It’s part of why I make mixtape soundtracks for them. It’s also why I’m my own worst enemy when I feel like I’m not writing enough or as strongly and fall into the trap of “why can’t this be as fun as Lidwells or as easy as In My Blue World?” Those are questions I should not be asking myself.

I should be asking better questions: Who are these new characters? What are their strengths and weaknesses? What would they do in this particular scene I’m about to write? And once they do it, what are the consequences? And instead of focusing on the word count, I should be focusing on nailing the arc of the scene I have in my head. I have to relearn the process every single time, because the process is different for each story I write.

It surprises me how often I need to remind myself of all this, every single time I start a new project. I understand that it’s part of wanting to repeat a personal success, and sometimes that’s the right way to go, but not always. Every project starts off with its own unique rules and creates its own paths to completion.

If that means I’m only hitting a few hundred words instead of a thousand or more for the time being, so be it. As long as it gets done.

Writing in Spare Oom

The current look of Spare Oom hasn’t really changed all that much over the years, other than an upgrade in PCs, desk, and so on. I got rid of the Former Day Job laptop and phone, and the current PC (a Lenovo ideacentre 720) has been moved from the floor (where it was attracted a hell of a lot more dust) to the far right side of the desk. Most of the wall decoration remains the same, with the addition of multiple “I power KEXP” stickers scotch-taped in various places. A few toys like Chopper, a burger-shaped eraser, and a Yuri Plisetsky miniature. You’ll most likely find a mug of coffee and a snack nearby as well. And always, always some music playing.

The monitor, as you can see, stays over on the left side at an angle, a leftover from my Former Day Job remote days. It’s a comfortable setup because I get to put the wireless keyboard on my lap while I type away. (It’s similar to the setup during the Belfry days in that respect, and why I don’t suffer nearly as much from carpal tunnel as I normally would.) The angle also faces the door so I’m not ignoring A when she comes in to visit.

The rest of the room is…currently a bit of a mess. We have multiple months’ worth of read books piled up against the loveseat, awaiting donation. There’s also a few boxes and bags worth of donatable stuff waiting for Goodwill to reopen (or alternately, for me to get off my butt and get over to the one donation place that’s open down in the Mission). Eventually I’ll have a clearer floor again…

I try not to spend too much time in here. I’ll do all my work and writing here during the day, and join A in the evening for dinner and a bit of tv streaming. We’ll both visit each other at various times throughout the day as well, just to get up and stretch. At the end of the work day, we’ll both go out for a mile or so stroll around the neighborhood.

I also try not to think of this as a ‘man cave’ because it really isn’t. It’s more like a combination office / storage room / library / studio, and while a lot of things in here are mine, there are a lot of A’s things in here as well, including her yarn and jarring stashes. I think the only sports-related thing in here is a dust-covered Niners ball cap that I got for Christmas who knows when.

Sure, I sometimes get distracted here in Spare Oom. If I turn 180 degrees from where I’m sitting right this moment, I’ll be looking out the room’s one window at the rooftops of the neighborhood, the western hill of the Presidio, and the very smoke-and-fog laden southern tower of Golden Gate Bridge. It’s a great view on a clear day (and one of the big selling points when we first moved in). Sometimes I’ll pick up one of my guitars and practice for a while, playing along with music or just noodling around on a riff or two. And yes, there are a few word search magazines underneath the monitor there — don’t laugh, those are a perfect way for me to unwind when my brain is getting frazzled!

But other than that, I do get a lot more done than I sometimes expect. Once I get into the groove of a project, sometimes I don’t notice that it’s an hour and a half later and the KEXP DJs have switched and it’s nearly time for lunch. I’m not writing dual novels at the moment, though I am working on multiple things. The quick things — the blog entries, the personal journal writing, the daily 750Words entry, and so on — I can finish up quickly, leaving the rest of the time for me to focus on novel writing.

Theadia is being written directly on MS Word, something I haven’t done in quite some time. It felt right to return to a classic process this time out rather than trying to prove something to myself with longhand or using 750. I’m not overplanning it this time, other than a vague outline and some story notes. (And yes, I’ve already made a mixtape soundtrack for it.) No big plans other than just wanting to rediscover the joy of writing.

It’s not a flashy life, but it’s a life I enjoy, and that’s all that really matters!

World building when you’re not an expert

My new project takes place partly on a space waystation, but I will admit that I am certainly no expert in writing hard SF where such things would be normal. I’m pretty sure I’d need to consult a LOT of people just to get all the technical things correct.

But to be honest? That’s the least of my problems, because that’s not what the story is about. Theadia will be told from the point of view of two of its citizens who live on the bustling waystation, which has its own city, suburbs and cultures. They’re just two working class kids who aren’t all that interested in knowing how to fly a station-to-planetside transport because there’s no reason to. It’s just a form of public transportation for them. They’ve got more important things that concern them.

I was partly inspired by the Wayfarers series by Becky Chambers and to a lesser but still influential degree, Ann Leckie’s Ancillary trilogy. There’s also a bit of Cowboy Bebop and Star Wars: Resistance in there as well, among other things. I liked the idea of a local space station/stargate hub being used not so much as a hard sf thriller but mostly as setting. Like Diwa & Kaffi, it’s more about the people within the station rather than the setting itself.

Of course, I do have the usual rules and regulations to follow, even though they won’t be visible in the story itself. For instance, a ship so big and in geosynchronous orbit with its local planet would of course be incapable of reshaping itself and achieving escape velocity as if it was some Robotech warship. There’s also the matter of keeping the balance of on-ship citizenry and visitor count stable, both physically and economically. I came up with similar House Rules when I wrote the trilogy as well; there are some things that can be done, some that can’t, and some that really shouldn’t. These aren’t arbitrary rules, they just make the fictional society, and the story, run a hell of a lot smoother.

Given the few ideas I have for this story so far, I don’t need to worry too much about the technical details. If I need them, well…that’s where additional research and outside assistance will come in. But for now I’m not going to burden myself with it. Right now I’m more interested in creating that on-ship society, its ‘city’ environs and even its traffic infrastructure. Most of the focus will actually be on the two characters and their friends and family anyway.

Theadia might not contain any zero-g chases or bypassing security in air-free cargo holds, but that’s okay…that’s not the story I’m planning on telling anyway. Our heroes are more fiddle-with-the-data anyway when it comes to things like that. Things that you and I might pull off. And that’s the trick, at least for me: sometimes all you really need to do is enough world building to make it realistic for your characters. The rest is just shiny and cool-looking artifice.

Starting a New Project

I’m happy to say that I’ve been consistent on the Daily Words all week so far, and I’m hoping to keep it up until further notice. I’m super excited to return to it! After backing away for a good number of months and for varying reasons (most of which I’ve already explained in previous posts), I felt I was more than ready to get back to what I’d like to think I do best.

What am I writing, you ask? It’s a new-ish project, something I’d been playing around with during the waning days of my Former Day Job. Right now it’s going under the project name of Theadia. It’s about two best friends who find themselves in intrigue much bigger than their immediate surroundings. I’d say it’s a mix of the lighthearted approach of Diwa & Kaffi and the immersive world of the Bridgetown Trilogy. Best of both created worlds! Heh.

This is the second new project of mine where I’m following my new and improved approach to writing. A lot of the processes are still the same — I’m still a bit of a pantser with minimal outlining, and yes there is already a playlist/mixtape in the works — but like D&K, I’m approaching the story organically by letting the characters tell me what the story is. With the Trilogy (and to some degree, both Meet the Lidwells and In My Blue World), there was a set universe and I had to ensure the characters worked within its confines. This time out, I’m letting the two main characters discover themselves as well as the bigger story that surrounds them.

Is this a sane way to write a novel? Sure, if one remembers to set up certain rules and boundaries, as well as a final goal. Yesterday I wrote up some rules and regs of the place where a good portion of the story takes place. I also started building up the framework of The Long Term Plotline. This is the plot that I’ve borrowed from anime shows for the last few projects: the one that’s only hinted at near the beginning (which, on the other hand, focuses mostly on character development and single episode arcs) but grows and expands as the overall story goes on, until it becomes the main plot that drives the rest of the novel.

Am I worried it’ll crash and burn? Sure, I always feel that way at the start of every project. It’s either that, or I’m so excited by it that I crash and burn before it’s finished. But if I have faith in the story, I’m willing to see it through. I’ll know if it’s a success once I’m done.

Sometime to Return

I ran away I walked a fine line
Wasting time only to find
You were callin’ I think finally
To remind me I am fine

Whoof. It’s been HOW LONG since I posted here? At least a couple of months. What the hell have I been doing all this time? A bit of this, a bit of that. Going at my own pace for once. Figuring a lot of personal shit out. Cleaning out the attic and the cupboards and rewiring the circuits, so to speak. I haven’t been nearly as productive as I’d like, but I have to remind myself I’d taken this hiatus precisely to break myself out of that mindset.

And now I’m back. Hell, I’ve even built up my whiteboard schedule again! It was a much-needed vacation, but now I need to get back to work. I’ve only got the barest of plans (which to be honest is kind of par for the course for me anyway), but I have the drive and the goals again. And that’s enough for now. That’s all that’s needed.

I don’t know what I’ll be working on next, other than doing the non-creative parts of Getting a Novel Out Into the World for Diwa & Kaffi, but as soon as I know, you’ll most likely be hearing about it here. In the meantime, I’m returning to the blogosphere with both Welcome to Bridgetown and Walk in Silence — same schedules for both — and I’m really looking forward to it all.

Doing the best I can
With or without a plan, I’m taking what I can get
I haven’t seen nothing yet
If one day you wake up and find what you make up
Come and get me, come and take me there