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.

That one story that just won’t go away

I believe I came up with the story for Can’t Find My Way Home back in…2007 or so? I know it wasn’t that long after we moved out to San Francisco, and it was right about when I’d finished writing that vampire novel I’d soon trunk. I’ve done some work on it here and there, even trunked it multiple times, but every now and again I have this urge to revive it and try again.

It’s not as if I don’t have it planned out…I actually have a full outline for it, and I have a number of outtakes started, both typed and longhand. I even made a mixtape for it back in 2018. [The version of the title song by Electronic is the one I have in mind as the opening credits for the tv show.] But each time I attempted to revive it, I never got any further than maybe a chapter or two; I was either working on the Bridgetown trilogy or something more exciting came up that I wanted to focus on. In the end, I felt I wasn’t yet prepared to write this kind of story. It was forever put on the back burner until it was trunked once more.

Every now and again, however, I’m tempted to revive it again. It would need a hell of a lot of work and some serious refocusing, that I’m sure of. I recently reread the outline and while there are some really great ideas, there are also some incredibly weak points that would need to go. [Having already written a sort-of-time-travel novel with In My Blue World, I think I can pull off the genre so that’s not too high on my list of concerns.] I know one of the things that keeps bringing me back is that I’m fascinated by its format, inspired by anime shows: twenty-four episodes, many of them standalone at first, but with a long-game story arc pulling it all together.

Will I pick this up once more? Who knows. I’m still dithering on what project to start next, as none of them feel like they’re ready to be written just yet. Maybe I’ll try it out on my Daily Words for a bit and see where it goes.

And then maybe this story idea will stop haunting me!

On Getting Back in Gear

After I finish a major project, I almost always suffer from a severe case of the Don’t Wannas.

It’s different from simple exhaustion and wanting to take a break. I always let myself have those, guilt-free, because I’ve earned them. This is after all that, when I really should be writing again. I have the Daily Words platform up but all I end up doing is rambling about personal stuff. It frustrates me because I’ve already decided that’s what my longhand journal is for; these Daily Words should be part of a creative process. It doesn’t matter if it’s outlining or just riffing on an idea or an actual chapter for a book.

I just…Don’t Wanna. And I know for a fact that I’m just dithering. Putting it off. Like my homework back in my school days, I just don’t want to do it until I have to do it. I let myself believe that I can’t come up with anything worth writing about. And like then, when I do return to it, it feels rushed and half-assed and I get mad at myself.

So how do I combat that? How do I get myself back on the creative track? Good question. I can remind myself to just shut the f*** up and DO IT already; I can assign myself specific things to write on certain days (such as these here blogs); I can just ignore the Don’t Wannas; I can stop making excuses and jump into the deep end with a completely random idea and see where it takes me. Whatever works. Hell, I started three novels on the barest threads of an idea and just…went for it.

Some days I work past it, other days I need that swift kick in the butt. Eventually I get there.

Looking for fresh inspiration

Source: Read Or Die

I’ve been having this itch to do a major book purge. I mean, I’ve done quite a few of these over the years, so this is nothing new. I’ll get rid of books I haven’t read in ages, ones I’m no longer interested in, ones I’ve had for years but never cracked open. Do I need to have these in my life? As I’ve said before, the books are donated to the library and it opens up spaces for new books. Win-win!

I’ve also been having this itch to find new inspiration for my writing. This happens now and again, especially if I spend far too long reading my own stuff for revision purposes — which I’ve been doing the last few months with Diwa & Kaffi. I’ve finished that part of the project, however, so now it’s time for me to read new things again.

But what? My tastes have definitely changed over the years, to the point where I’m not entirely sure what I’m interested in reading at the moment. There’s the manga: the intriguing and unique storytelling such as Nagabe’s Siúil, a Rún: The Girl from the Other Side or Paru Itagaki’s Beastars. There’s the countless music biographies and histories I can catch up on, such as Ed Ward’s The History of Rock and Roll Vol II (the first volume was much more enjoyable than I’d expected it to be), or Prince’s The Beautiful Ones.

But I’m also at a loss when it comes to new titles. I used to find them via Publisher’s Weekly, but I let that subscription lapse some time ago. Sometimes it’s word of mouth, sometimes it’s just a book store browse. But I haven’t really looked for anything completely new in a while now. I’m not sure if I’m just dithering or if I’m just lacking inspiration. Not much is really jumping out at me lately.

I know it’s not the titles themselves or the current trends. I’m just out of the loop and not being very active about my search. I’ve been busy with a lot of things. But now I’m not as busy, and I’m looking for something new.

And I feel like I’m no longer resonating with a lot of my old collection, either. I gave up a lot of titles some time ago, but I think it’s time for another go-round. A KonMari level purging this time: if I’m not going to read it within the next six months, chances are good I won’t be reading it at all. Time for it to go.

It’s time to open up more space on these shelves again. Time to find new inspiration. Time to find new books that will refresh and reinvigorate my creativity.

Time for something new.

New Year, New Plans

When I made my unceremonious return to the office for the Day Job, I gave myself a month. I’ve done this in the past; life throws me a curve ball that I can’t avoid no matter how hard I try. I’ll be angry and frustrated and be stuck in that feedback loop. But I’ll give myself a month to Just Get Over It.

Mind you, it’s not the same as giving up. I’m still angry about the situation and I’m still making alternate plans. But I’m not giving in. I am not making do. In fact, I’m making the best of a frustrating situation. To wit:

–I’d forgotten what it felt like to have a car commute. When was the last time I had to drive to my job? That would be the temp jobs back in 2005. (I had office jobs in 2006-2014 or so, but I could get to those via public transit.) This reminded me of a few things: how to head out early so I had a cushion of time before logging in; how to find alternate routes; how to utilize the drive time creatively. I spent most of December relearning a lot of that.

–I might be getting home anywhere between 5pm and 6pm (and believe you me, I hate the latter), but I can still work on the laptop while hanging out with A in the living room after dinner. And I still have the weekends to do things.

–I found ways to best use my time for creative endeavors, even on company time. I can write longhand (journal and poetry), my daily words (as of this moment, I can access 750 Words on my work laptop and this makes me so blissfully happy right now), and considering that I’m stuck in a cubicle without all the distractions of Spare Oom, I’m actually forced to not goof off.

–I have multiple mp3 players to keep me entertained when need be, and a lunch and two breaks if I feel the need to surf social media.

So what does this all mean? This means that I’ve realized that my situation is nowhere as dire as I was making it out to be. I spent that month getting that frustration and flailing out of my system, and spent the entirety of December thinking okay, how can I make the best out of all this?

This means that I’m going to continue with the writing schedule that worked so well for me over the last few years. Walk in Silence will be posting Tuesdays and Thursdays again, and Welcome to Bridgetown will be posting Mondays and Fridays again. I’ll be doing my daily words Monday through Friday.

Do I have any specific projects I’ll be working on? I’ve a few, but I’m holding them close right now. I’ll reveal them when the time is right. I can say that I’ll be submitting Diwa & Kaffi to publishers in the next few weeks, however, and I’m really looking forward to that particular project. It’s been too long and I think it’s time. I’m ready for it.

It’s 2020, and I know what I need to do.

Sort of Fly-By: Working On Stuff

Source: Makoto Shinkai’s ‘5 Centimetres Per Second’

OH HAI THERE. I’ve been busy most of November, getting used to the new schedule and Day Job situation. I mean, I’d rather not get used to it, if you know what I mean, but I’ve managed to find workarounds for various things I need and want to do. I chose to take most of November off to recalibrate myself and my situation, see what I can work with, and make it happen.

And make it happen I did! I have managed to set aside time to work on Daily Words! This is going to be pretty much the same as when I was writing In My Blue World and Diwa & Kaffi in tandem — whenever there’s a slow moment during the day, or when I’m on my breaks, I’ll do a lightning round of a few hundred words. As long as I’m working on something, that’s all that matters.

And I’m glad to say that I’ve made some real progress this past week, much to my complete surprise! Right now I’m working on a few Mendaihu Universe ideas — one that’s sort of a fun diversion of a short story, and the other is a Possible Book Four thing. It’s still all in the planning stages, but I’m willing to see where it takes me.

As for the blogs, they’ll probably be a bit erratic over the next few weeks until the end of the year, but I’m hoping I might be able to post at least one entry for each blog a week, time permitting. Like I said, I’m still recalibrating, so it may take a while for me to get back on track.

Thanks for waiting, hope to see you here soon again!

Fly-By: Blogs on hiatus until further notice

I hate that it’s gotten to this level, but I’m putting both Walk in Silence and Welcome to Bridgetown on temporary hiatus until further notice. There are just too many frustrating IRL things going on right now and I have no idea when I’ll be able to return to them.

(All is well mentally and healthwise, if you’re concerned…the issue here is wholly related to Day Job Things that I’m not going to go into right now.)

I may pop in and post something now and again, but don’t expect it to be on any schedule. Sorry about that.

Hopefully things will be a bit more…sane, in the near future.

Where I’ve Been and What I’ve Been Up To…

excuse me pardon me comin’ through

As I’ve mentioned earlier, I’ve been doing a lot of juggling of personal events and situations as of late. I still can’t go into too much detail, but right now I’m hoping that I’m coming close to the end of it all. And with that, I’m hoping I’ll be able to get back into my writing and blogging!

One major change – one that wasn’t my own decision and I’ll be honest, one that I’m not entirely happy with – is that as of yesterday, I am no longer working from home for the time being. After… (does math in head) … five or six years?… of full-time remote work, the Day Job has decided to end that particular setup and starting Monday my commute will go from one room to another to thirty-three miles across the Bay. That’s an hour in a car both ways. I’ll just say I’ve made my peace with it for now.

What will this mean for my writing? Good question indeed. I’ve been thinking a lot about it lately…certainly I won’t be doing any writing during slow times or during breaks, and I may not even be able to do it every single night once I get home. I’ve thought about going back to longhand, but I’m not about to start that just yet. Too many things are still up in the air. I’ll just say I’ve made my peace with that as well for now.

As for Diwa & Kaffi…? That has been going well, actually! I’m about to start working with a reader to help me nail down a few specific points that need nailing down, and once that’s done, I’ll start shopping it around. I’m doing this at my own speed because I want to do this right. Sorry it’s taking so long, but I promise I’ll get it out there one way or another!

I’m not entirely sure when I’ll be posting next, but I’ll do my best. Thanks for waiting!