On Starting A New Project

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!

Changing Things Up

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.

On Using and Avoiding Tropes

Tropes can be your friend, especially if you’re trying to use them as a guideline for a project. Recently I’d been frustrated by my lack of fresh story ideas and decided the only way to break out of that block was to come up with a list of SF tropes that I’d enjoyed over the years and play around with them a bit. For example, I’d long had an idea about a group of young adults living on either a generation ship or a space waystation, and purposely created a list of plot tropes and characters with classic traits, just to see where it went. I let myself go much further than I usually would with the characters; rather than creating each one organically like I usually do, I came up with a list of five Classic Characters, each with the usual personalities one would expect from them. The Uplifter, The Popular One, The Misfit, and so on. I took a page from a lot of my favorite recent anime and manga series and created people I’d want to write about.

The trick here was to take those tropes and twist them a little to make them unique. For instance, the Overly Positive Character With a Dark Secret became an extrovert and the group’s ringleader not out of a need for attention, but because she’s terrified that when they do go their separate ways, there’s a good chance not all of them will ever come back; she’s desperate to keep them together for as long as she can. She’s genuinely worried about their futures.

On the other hand, tropes can also be a crutch that you might lean on far too much. I could have stayed with this Overly Positive Character and actually given her a Dark Secret, such as her having some kind of physical or mental handicap. Not that that’s inherently wrong in and of itself, of course*. What I’m saying here is that, at least for me, using that idea on a shallow surface level seems like Doing the Least Amount of Work. It would be like just labeling her as anorexic but not actually focusing on why she’s anorexic and how it would tie in with the story, if at all. Just giving her that quirk isn’t enough for me; I need it to be directly or indirectly connected to the story somehow.

[* – Speaking of handicaps, this was something I had to keep in mind when I wrote the character of Cole Caine for Diwa & Kaffi. He’s a humanoid psychic vampire with what I named Steiner-Hedraac Syndrome; essentially it’s a disorder unique to his kind where, when he’s passively feeding off the physical and psychic energies of those around him, there’s a chance it could escalate sort of like a feedback loop and he’d be unable to dislodge himself. I went through great lengths throughout the story to a) explain what the disorder is and how it affects him, b) show that he accepts that he has it and has to live with it, and that his friends are aware of it, c) show or at least mention moments where the syndrome kicks in to show how it can affect his life, and d) it is never used as a trope plot point, i.e. ‘he overcomes it and it never returns’ or ‘everyone is inspired by his strength which boosts their own success’. To me those two tropes feel like an easy out for my writing and not true to the character at all. I like my characters a lot more nuanced than that.]

Either way, I do what I can to avoid being overly dependable on tropes. They’re good as guidelines, but that’s really all they should be; what changes them to strong stories and characters is the added humanity and depth we as writers need to put into them.

Breaking Past the Barriers

Source: Hisone to Masotan (aka Dragon Pilot)

Oh hey! I’m back again. Sorry about the delay. So what’s been going on in the writing world for me lately, anyway?

Glad you asked! Because I’d been getting rather annoyed with myself because nothing was going on. I mean, I have been doing my daily words for the most part, but I really wasn’t getting anywhere with it. It’s all fine that I was using this time to write something just out of necessity — in this case, a few holiday-themed experiments in the Mendaihu Universe (which I may or may not expand on at some point) and quite a few outtakes for an as-yet-unnamed college campus story set in the Diwa & Kaffi universe. I even played around a bit with a few older ideas…but nothing seemed to be sticking. I was either getting bored with it, or there really was no story there to begin with.

To put it bluntly: I’m itching to start a new project. And none of these outtakes were calling out to me.

That is, until I decided to try a different approach: one day last week, I wrote out a few detailed paragraphs of various story tropes that I’ve positively gravitated towards, both past and present. Nothing specific, just working out what kind of stories resonate with me at this time. In the process, I let my imagination go wild: how would I go about writing these stories, anyway? Would I be able to expand on this, make it a novel or some other format? Not that I was about to write one then and there — this was just to expand my mind a bit. This is exactly how I’d approached my last three novels, and the process worked pretty damn well.

In all honesty, this was EXACTLY what I’d needed to do. Because now I have a few Possible New Projects worth looking into. Again, I’m not going to look at these as Big Epic Undertakings… I’m just going to let them evolve.

And hopefully something new and exciting will come out of it.

Decisions, Decisions…

It’s the question that nags at every writer at some point: what should I write next?

I’ve got two, maybe three projects idling in the background, and I’m not entirely sure which ones I want to start first. I’m not making a solid decision just yet, as I’m still heavily focused on this current revision phase of Diwa & Kaffi. If I’m going to do any prep work for any of these at this time, it’ll just be a few notes here and there or some practice words.

Each new project starts off a bit differently from the previous one, I’ve noticed. Meet the Lidwells started out as an enjoyable diversion while trudging through the massive prep work for the Bridgetown Trilogy releases. In My Blue World started out as a light adventure, and Diwa & Kaffi started as a serious approach at YA. I really have no idea how these two or three possibles are going to kick off.

And once I start them, who knows if they’ll see completion? Between the those three books and the Trilogy, there are at least three or four more projects that I’d started but eventually trunked. That’s always a frustrating decision, but sometimes it’s got to be done. [There are many red flags that will tell me when a story needs trunking, but the biggest one for me is when it truly feels like I’m wasting my time.]

The most I can do as a writer is just DO it, and hope for the best. I doubt I’ll ever truly run out of ideas. I might have a dry spell, sure — I had one of those about ten years ago — but something else will come along eventually. And when it does, I’ll do my best to see it through. And if that fails, well…onto the next project.

Outtake: Magical Girl story

Somehow I’ve roped myself into working on three different projects at the same time.  I’m revising Meet the Lidwells and writing the Apartment Complex story, and now I’m writing outtakes of my Magical Girl story for my warmup words (while listening to ELO, no less).  Go figure.

Here’s an outtake I wrote Thursday evening.  Hope you enjoy!

*

[Story so far: a group of college kids are on a camping vacation in the wilderness and witness a girl, clad in armor and wielding a glowing broadsword, tearing a hole in reality and jumping through to escape an unseen evil presence.  The girl closes the hole, but faints.  The kids bring the girl to their rented cabin to nurse her wounds, and a few days later she reawakens, though stricken with amnesia.]

*

Zuzanna stepped out onto the porch of the cabin and once again tried to remember who the hell she was. She was a solider, yes. Zuze was definitely her name, weird as it was. She was apparently a badass — Katie’s description, at least. She remembered ripping a hole in the fabric of time and squeezing through to get away from… who? Someone named Krozarr? A vague emotion stirred whenever she thought of that name, and she wasn’t sure why. This amnesia ate at her, frustrated her to no end. She needed to know who she was and where — and when — she was from, damn it all! And she knew she needed to get back and finish what she’d started.

But how?

“Hi, Zuze,” she heard off to her right. Katie was sitting in one of the wicker rocking chairs, kicking back and relaxing, enjoying the morning. “You doing okay today?”

Zuze hummed in response. She still wasn’t sure how to talk to this young girl who, in an odd way, reminded her of herself. Zuze had never had a quiet childhood, and her teenage years had been fraught with noise and stress and worse. Again — she knew the memories were there, but she could not quite connect with them.

“Frustrated,” she said. “And hungry.”

“I hear you,” Katie said, smiling at her. “The boys should have come back with more food and supplies by now. I don’t know what’s taking them so long.” She pulled the blanket closer around her legs, despite it being not all that cold. She seemed distracted, looking out into the front garden and down the pathway, wanting to say something but holding back.

“Do you mind if I sit with you?” Zuze asked, pointing to the other chair.

Katie blinked, the question unexpected. “S-sure, go right ahead.”

“Thank you,” she said, and sat down. She didn’t feel all that cold… in fact, she felt too warm. The others had been grousing about a cold snap earlier, but she alone hadn’t noticed. She wondered if she was just used to the climate back where she was from that this current one felt like bliss. She looked out across the garden as well, past the treeline at a large lake off in the distance. That body of water definitely looked familiar. Of course she couldn’t remember the name. She still couldn’t remember a lot of things.

“Zuze, can I ask you a questions?”

Zuze glanced over at the girl. “Sure.”

Katie frowned, thinking of what she wanted to say before she spoke. “You’re from the future, right?”

“I…I believe I am, yes.”

“You don’t know how far, though? You still don’t remember?”

She shifted uncomfortably. “I’ll… remember it eventually. Pretty sure I will, anyway.”

“Hmm.” Katie shifted herself, still frowning. “You were fighting someone. I don’t think any of us saw his face, but we heard his voice. Sounded like a big bad guy. I…” She drifted off, looking away, and Zuze let the silence linger. This was hard enough for her to comprehend, so it had to be worse for this girl. “I tried looking up his name online. Different versions of it. I couldn’t find a match anywhere. For you to jump through time to get away from someone like that, they have to be pretty evil. And they’d have made the news *somewhere*. So I’m thinking you’re from pretty far ahead.”

Zuze shuddered. “He won’t bother any of you, I promise,” she said a little too quickly.

But Katie smiled instead. “We’re not worried about that, Zuze. We’re worried about you. I’m worried. I want to help you remember. So I figure, if we can’t pin down exact memories, we can at least narrow the scope, right?”

Zuze blushed, equally warmed and embarrassed by her words. “You don’t have to do that, Katie,” she said. “It’ll come to me soon enough.”

But Katie wouldn’t relent. “Don’t you see? We want to help. You’ve dropped into our lives, Zuze. Literally. You ripped a hole in reality and jumped through, and we were all there to catch you. We’re your friends. We want to help.”

Zuze couldn’t believe what this girl was saying. She couldn’t bear to expose these young kids to the evils of her own time! She did not want their lives on her conscience. And yet… she found herself tearing up. She even felt a little cold that moment, and wished she’d brought a blanket of her own.

“I…” she started.

“We’re here for you as long as you need us,” Katie said, and laid a hand on hers. “We can be your safe haven for the time being.”

Zuze wiped the tears away, grinning like an idiot. “Th-thank you, Katie,” she said, her voice just above a whisper.

*

Postscript:  Of course I’m going to give this one an anime-inspired title.  Given that this one has ties to ELO, I’m going to call it In My Blue World for now. 🙂

 

Worldbuilding for the new project

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Drawing Kaffi the tintrite – not my best work, but better than expected

If anything, I’m sure I’m going to need to study some basic anatomy if I’m going to try to visualize my characters like this.  These images aren’t necessarily going to be in the book…they’re just reference for myself, so I can at least get the basics right.

Kaffi up above is a teenage alien tintrite (pronounced TIN-treet), one of the many different beings that live in the apartment complex that comprises the main setting for my new project.  He’s kind of a dragon/lizard hybrid, long and sleek but also muscly and winged.  He’s an excellent flier, but he’s also reckless.  Teenage immaturity seems to be a universal constant in this world.  Anyway, he’s one of two main characters, the other being his human BFF, Diwa.*

*Note – I had to do a bit of homework to get Diwa’s name right, which is a rarity for me.  Diwa is mixed-race — his father is Caucasian and his mother is Filipino — and I wanted a Filipino name that was a) gender neutral, and b) kind of unique and unexpected.  It means ‘spirit’ or ‘essence’.  I hadn’t expected to find one that fit so nicely with the story, but I’m not complaining!

It’s mainly Kaffi and Diwa’s story (and it’s an enjoyable one about love, friendship and trust), though there are other characters who’ll pop up throughout.  There are humans, mandossi (tallish sleek aliens that are built for running), hedraac (humanoid vampiric aliens), minotaur-ish beings (I haven’t got a name for them yet), and I’m sure I’ll come up with more as the story unfolds.

My idea here was that I wanted to have a world where humans coexist peacefully with all kinds of different beings, so the conflicts in the story weren’t about sentient-versus-sentient but more mundane.  Teenagers trying to figure out who the hell they are and what they want to do when they grow up.  Old men worried about the new generation coming in and taking over.  And how much energy, creativity, and dedication it takes to keep a community active and healthy.  [See, there’s a reason why I keep calling it ‘my Studio Ghibli story’!]

So yeah, you could say I’m having a fun time with this project so far! Now if I can only come up with a decent title for it…

 

A return to longhand writing

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A return to longhand writing with the first chapter of the new project

After many years of threatening to do so, I’ve decided to start 2018 and the Apartment Complex story by writing it longhand.  Though I’ve done rough outtakes of various stories with paper and pen in the past, the last one I’d completed in this manner was The Phoenix Effect back in the late 90s.

I can usually write three to five handwritten pages in an hour.  I don’t rightly remember how much that comes out to in terms of word count (as you can see above, I write pretty small compared to others), but last I remember, it would work out to about 300 to 500 words.  And since I’ll be editing/revising as I transcribe it to Word at a slightly later time, that’ll add even more.  So all told, I’m not gaining or losing word count, it’s just getting spread out differently.

[Yes, I still put a start timestamp (and whatever I happen to be listening to) in the left margin.  No particular reason other than to keep track of my words and soundtrack.  It’s been a habit of mine since the 80s.]

So how will this one be any different from the rough outtakes and incomplete stories?  Well, for starters, I have this one almost fully outlined — yet another relatively new process for me, pantser that I usually am — so I don’t think I’ll be flailing as much as I normally would.  It also makes me more mobile, and less susceptible to internet and musical distractions.  And most importantly, I’m already dedicated to the story, having written outtakes on the 750 earlier in 2017.  I’ve been looking forward to writing this one for a few months now.

Wish me luck!

 

 

Looking Forward to 2018

bleach fireworks
Credit: Bleach

I’ve got a busy 2018 ahead of me, that’s for sure.

A good busy, though.  I’ve given myself a lot of goals to hit, and I’m sure I can hit most if not all of them.  A few will be harder than others.  Some will most likely roll into 2019.  A majority of them will take most of the year.  And I’ll be juggling it all with the Day Job, of course.  But I think I can pull it off.

The trick here is to have a long-term schedule going, which I’ve been playing around with over the last few days.  It’s a little like how I write novels: multiple threads going at the same time, fully aware of how to orchestrate them, put them in order, and make them flow.  It’s only taken me how long to figure out that I can (and should) do this with the non-writing part of my writing career?  Sheesh.

Anyway…I’ve got a novel to prep for self-publishing (Meet the Lidwells!), a new novel to start writing (untitled Apartment Complex story) and one, maybe two others to outline when I have the time.  I’ll be going to three conventions, with the plan of being on a few panels and possibly a few readings.  I’ll be resuming my photography for book cover and image library purposes.  I desperately need to do restart the document scanning (it’s something I’ve put off for far too long).  I’d like to record some more mp3 demos, maybe pull them together into full completed tracks.  And most importantly, I need to move forward with the Mendaihu Press entity, using it as an umbrella for both my self-published novels and cover artwork.

This is going to be a very complex symphony to orchestrate, and I’m quite sure I’ll hit all the typical obstacles along the way, but I’m in it for the long haul and I’m too stubborn to quit easily.

This coming year is going to be one hell of a challenge for me, but I’m looking forward to it nonetheless.

On Writing: Unexpected Ideas

puella magica homura
Homura Akemi from Madoka Magica

I’ll say this: pay attention when ideas pop up, even if they’re weird and unexpected.  Especially when they’re unexpected.

A few weeks back I was listening to the new live album from Jeff Lynne’s ELO (Wembley Or Bust — it’s quite excellent and contains a lot of ELO classics old and new) when their take on “Xanadu” came on.  I remember being a big fan of that movie as a nine-year-old kid.  It wasn’t just the music that captivated me — I was a fan of the band even then — but I was intrigued by its fantasy elements, of muses come alive.

Amusingly, it occurred to me that it would be quite fascinating to see an update/rewrite of Xanadu as a Magical Girl story.  And then I riffed on that a little: ELO’s next album after that was the cult classic Time, a time-travel concept album which also happens to contain the track “Twilight” (known in anime circles as the track used in the DAICON IV film).  Somehow that album would tie in as well.  I shared that as a tweet and didn’t think too much about it after that.

A few weeks later, and the idea is still stuck in my head, and I think I might be able to do something with it.

I thought about it some: a magical girl sent back in time (Time) to save the world somehow, or at least change someone’s fate (Xanadu).  She realizes she’s stuck in that time stream and can’t escape (Time) and has to come to terms with her own fate (Xanadu).  She changes the lives of a few certain people by teaming up with them (Xanadu) though she’s afraid she can’t completely connect with them (Xanadu, Time).  In the end she’s changed the world, or at least someone’s fate (Xanadu) and is finally able to transcend the time stream to return temporarily (Time).

Of course, I’m omitting the rollerskating and the musical interludes, but still…I’m a bit surprised at how easily this came together.  I’m still not sure if I’m going to follow through with it, but the temptation sure is great.

So yeah…pay attention to those ideas when they come up unexpectedly.  You just might have your next story!