Now that Meet the Lidwells is in post-production revision status, I can now finally move parts of the New Project to the front burner. Yay! I’m really looking forward to writing this one.
Which of course means switching up the tunage I’d be listening to during my writing sessions. Being the music nerd that I am, I’d been thinking about this for the last few months. What would fit the mood of this next story? It’s going to be a much lighter story, at least in terms of mood — I’ve been describing this as my Studio Ghibli-inspired project — so I don’t think the epic epicness of alt-metal or prog rock that were my stables during the trilogy would fit all that well.
No, I think this one’s going to go all the way and attract a lot of dreampop and light electronica like M83, BT, Lamb, and my latest find, The Sound of Arrows. That sort of thing. And maybe some alt-folk? We shall see. I’m keeping my eyes and ears open.
When I start a new story, I don’t really focus too much on character names right away. I’ll give them a placeholder name that I think fits at least for now. If it sticks, it sticks. If it needs changing, well… that’s what Find/Replace is for in MS Word!
I rarely assign a name based on what the name means. Instead, I go with how their name — and sometimes its spelling — resonates with the character that I’m creating. I’ll at least ensure the name fits the character’s culture, but that’s about as far as I’ll take it. The character’s name, in my opinion, should fit their family’s dynamic.
For instance, Caren Johnson from my trilogy: she has a very unexciting, stereotypical last name, as she’s supposed to come from a very blue-collar family that’s been in the police force for ages. And her first name is deliberately spelled with a C and not a K, even though her Mendaihu name starts with a K, to hint that there’s a bit of a rebel in her. She’s someone who doesn’t want to stick out, but she doesn’t exactly want to fit in, either.
Now, did I really think that at the time of creation? To be honest, no. Her name just sort of popped up when I started the book and it sounded right to me. It wasn’t until a few chapters in that I realized that the personality I imagined from the name could be imprinted on the character.
Yeah, I do tend to do a lot of things bassackwards, but hey, if it works…!
For the new project, have the names of about a dozen or so characters. All but one was created in the same way: just a name out of thin air that sounded right to me. I still do this for the same reason, actually. I usually have a basic idea of who the character is and what they’re about, so the name becomes a memetic or an anchor for the idea.
Sometimes the original name I came up with no longer fits and I have to change it. I changed five or six names in the trilogy over the course of writing it, one major change taking place well into the revision period. And that’s okay too. Sometimes the name I come up with is just a placeholder, waiting for me to figure the character out a little more before I can assign a much better fit. I’ve already decided to change the name of one of the main characters in my next project, because I’ve finally figured out his own family background. Thankfully, the only places I’ll need to change this is in my notes, as I haven’t started the first draft yet.
This process of naming characters might not be for everyone, but it seems to work well for me. I like the idea of a character’s name not always being a perfect fit; it reveals part of their personal background and fleshes it out. That background may have nothing to do with the story itself, but it certainly could help reveal why they might act as they do.
The beginnings of my novels and stories usually get the most revision, mainly due to the fact that there’s a bit of flailing involved. I’m still trying to figure out the voice and the focus of the story, so there’s going to be a lot of dead-ends and extraneous filler that gets cut out, once I find my footing.
The endings, on the other hand, can go either way. Usually I know exactly where I want to stop; it’s just a matter of laying out how I’m going to get there. It’s a balancing game at that point…I don’t want to rush it, nor do I want to pad it out with unnecessary rambling.
I’ve made all kinds of errors in my years of learning how to write stories. I’ve written corny cliffhangers, implausible wrap-ups, unimportant ‘where are they now’ passages, and everything in between. [I can proudly say I have yet to write an ‘…and then he woke up, and it was all a dream” ending. Even I have my standards!] I usually spend as much time focusing on nailing the end as I do nailing the most important climactic scenes that come before it. I want to do it just right. Or right enough, where it can be fine-tuned in revision.
With Meet the Lidwells — I’m currently writing the last chapter at this time, and I should be done most likely this week or next — the ending has definitely been a tough one. As this is a story written in the format of a music biography, I can’t give it a nice poetic ending, or a roll-credits ending. Those books tend to resolve themselves in a slightly different way. The focus characters go on with their lives and careers, so this ending has to be more of an emotional closure. That part of their lives is over now, and they’ve moved on. And that’s been a hell of a tough one to capture just right.
I’m not looking to nail the ending perfectly, at least not right now. But when revision comes along, hopefully I’ll be able to do it justice.
A. and I decided to restart our Anime Nights, something we used to do at our old place in North Beach but hadn’t done in ages since. I’ve always been a huge fan of anime since the mid-90s, though my watching habits always tend to come and go, depending on how much time I can devote to it and when it’s available. I was a huge fan of Cartoon Network’s Toonami back in the ’00s, and it introduced me to some great titles like Naruto (of which I’m still a fan), One Piece and more. We would also rent out anime through Netflix, checking up on some great titles like Haibane Renmei, Ergo Proxy and Trigun.
I kind of let it go for the last few years, mainly due to wanting to focus on finishing and publishing the trilogy, and also needing to get myself back into a consistent writing habit. But lately I’ve come to realize that maybe I should at least take a night off and watch more of the things that inspire my writing in the first place. Maybe in the process I’ll be inspired once more by newer, different stories.
Last night’s viewing, courtesy of Funimation, was finally catching up with Yuri!!! on Ice, which I believe all of our otaku friends have already seen when it was first released not that long ago. It’s a lot of fun to watch (and I now understand the plentiful shipping that went on back then).
I should also point out this was a great example (one of many) of why I love anime so much: it’s a cartoon series about competitive figure skating. It proves you can write a compelling story about pretty much anything, whether it’s about sports or cooking or high school girls starting a rock group. As a writer, it reminds me that no idea is too weird or too corny or too goofy. It really is the storytelling that counts.
It’s also made me think about finite serial storytelling. For instance, something like Cowboy Bebop. It tells a specific story over the course of its twenty some-odd episodes and its film, but it also has many shorter stories within the span of each episode. That gave me a lot to think about as a writer; it made me rethink how to interweave the main story arc around several smaller subplot arcs.
[I should add that I recently rewatched an episode while on our flight home from Boston, and realized just how great that show really is; I definitely need to watch it again.]
Then of course there’s my favorite movie of this year, hands down: your name.
I’m totally a fanboy for this film, because a) it’s beautifully made with some absolutely stunning shots, and b) its storytelling is amazingly detailed (I pick up more bits the more I watch it) and woven together in a really creative way. On the surface it looks like a girly ‘star-crossed lovers’ story but it’s not. I’ve watched it three times already this year (twice during our UK trip earlier this year) and I’m pretty sure I’ll watch it again before the year is over, just to study the storytelling.
So yeah…I’m looking forward to watching more anime in the coming months again. It’s not only fun, it almost always inspires me to come up with new story ideas and storytelling styles.
The great 80s punk band Minutemen from San Pedro, CA had a wonderful motto: “we jam econo.” Tight playing, minimalist lyrics, dispensing with frivolous musical wankery. Economical writing, playing and touring, in other words. Their songs rarely hit the two minute mark; many were even under the one minute mark. [Despite the brevity of their songs, they state their name was actually making fun of the 60s rightwing fringe group of the same name.]
I wrote Meet the Lidwells with the same idea in mind; after the sprawl of the trilogy, I wanted to ‘write econo’ — dispense with as much subplotting as I could, tighter writing, constantly pushing the story along. As of this post, I’m writing the last chapter of the first draft. It looks like I may even complete the novel within the next week or so.
I started it on 28 April (not including a few weeks’ worth of outlining on index cards, as well as outtakes on 750 Words), and if I end it by the end of October, that’ll be exactly six months. Its word count is around 75k, and by the time I revise it, it’ll probably be just a little higher. If I play my cards right I might even be able to have it up on Smashwords and Amazon by the end of the year.
Those are new records for me, I think.
As I’ve said before, one of the reasons I wanted to try writing econo is to see if I could do it. And if that worked out, then maybe I could continue with it. I love writing sprawling genre fiction, don’t get me wrong…just that sprawl doesn’t always work with some of my ideas. [Another reason of course was that after working on the trilogy for so damn long, I wanted to work on shorter, quicker projects where I could turn it around in a year or less.] Sure, I did waste some time in between with distraction and procrastination, but still…six months ain’t bad at all.
I still have to revise Meet the Lidwells once I’m done with it, but at this point I’m thrilled that I was able to pull this off as quickly and as smoothly as I have.
Every now and again I think of how fans see their favorite writers or musicians or performers when they’re not center stage with a new project. I get to thinking, this band has finished their tour, they’ve already released all the singles from their latest album, and they’re out of the limelight. So what are they doing at that point?
Well, the 80s told us that all the bands were hanging out on the Sunset Strip and getting completely shitfaced and taking an apothecary full of drugs and partying until it was time to start the whole album-tour rollercoaster again. Or something other ridiculous, overblown stereotype of some sort.
The era of social media shows it differently. Nowadays, we find that artists are working at their day job or completing freelance projects and selling their own wares at conventions. Musicians are bringing up a family or helping out a friend at a recording session. Writers are slogging away, trying to make deadlines and heading out on book tours and conventions. Any one of them might be taking a breather so they can just be regular non-famous people.
I think about something Paul McCartney once said about the length of time it took for the Beatles to record Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band: “Because we were done touring, people in the media were starting to sense that there was too much of a lull, which created a vacuum, so they could bitch about us now. They’d say, ‘Oh, they’ve dried up.'”
I sometimes also think about the time it takes from a writer saying ‘I’m working on a new project’, maybe giving out vague details about it, to the time they tweet ‘YAY! It’s done! Off to my agent/editor!’, to the time they announce that it’s being released. Back in the internet age you were never sure how long it took, especially when some writers like Stephen King could have multiple books and stories out within the span of a year, while other writers might not see publication until a decade after their last release. Nowadays you can follow your favorite author In Real Time.
I think this might be one of the reasons why some writers are always pleasantly surprised when their book gets a positive response. They’ve lived with that book for anywhere from six months to a few years, and it’s all their own creation. They wrote the score, they built the sets, they sang the arias endlessly to get them just right. Perhaps maybe a few lucky backstage friends got to beta read. They or their production crew (their agent and/or publisher) may have even done the artwork for the program. They put it in the hands of their agent, in hopes that someone will be interested. For all intents and purposes, it’s a one-person show almost all the way to the end. And when they get there, they’re so immersed in their story that they’re really not entirely sure how the public will react.
It’s one of the most interesting paradoxes in the creative arts; you create something for the public to enjoy, and yet you’re never completely certain if you’ve done it right until they see it. But if you’re lucky, you have, and all that work will have been worth it.
The Day Job has been kicking my ass these last few weeks. The fallout from a new system roll-out that suffered a few growing pains, a ridiculously large workload, and everything in between. On the one hand, it all makes the day go by ridiculously quickly, but on the other hand, it leaves me hardly any breathing room. Last week’s vacation was a short respite from that, but alas, I’m still getting my butt handed to me at the end of the day.
Over the last few days I’ve been tempted to lighten the load: stop drawing my Inktober entries, take a hiatus from the blogs and the daily 750 Words, and focus only on finishing Meet the Lidwells. Or maybe even take a break from that as well.
And then it occurred to me: That’s how they win.
The last thing I ever want to do is give up my creativity for frustrating reasons. Yes, I know, this is my Day Job, the one that brings in the money. But really — do I want to put my lifelong career goals aside because of it? Hell to the fucking NO. It aggravates the hell out of me when that happens.
Even if it’s something insignificant like the blogs or the daily words or the Inktober drawings? Yes, even those. It’s part of who I am and what I want to do with my life. They’re the practice that makes me better at what I do, and I can’t give that up. I won’t give that up.
I was greatly tempted to put up a ‘fly-by’ post a few times over the last few days and say ‘I’ll be back when things quiet down’, but the more I thought about it, the more it made me angry. I did not want to do that. It felt like I’d be slacking off, or worse, not taking my writing career seriously.
Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes it’s hard as hell to balance my Day Job life with my writing life. I get that. A hell of a lot of creative people have to contend with that. We all take time off to recharge, or to regain sanity, or finish a Day Job project, or whatever. I’ve done it myself plenty of times. [Hell, I did nothing during my vacation last week except take pictures and do the Inktober entries.] But I don’t really think I’ve hit that point just yet.
Best Laid Plans were once again thwarted, and I’m pretty sure it was because they weren’t Best Laid after all. I seem to have forgotten to take into account vacation days off, busy Day Job days, and other events. But that’s okay! I’m back, we have nothing of import on the schedule for the next few weeks — in fact, I have today off and other than going around the corner to go see Napping Princess at the 4-Star, I have the entire day to get caught up on things. Sounds good to me!
[Update: My movie plan was not so much thwarted but delayed today. As you may have heard, there are currently some nasty wildfires burning north of us, and late last night much smoke drifted our way. This caused me to barely get any sleep, so I wasn’t really up to seeing a film today. Perhaps next weekend if it’s still there!]
One good thing that’s come out of this sort of thing is that I no longer feel like a failure. Sure, the frustration of going past deadline and not hitting my goals as quickly as I’d like is still there, but Everything Is Not Ruined Forever. Just gotta get up, brush myself off, and start again.
I’m nearing the end of the first draft of Meet the Lidwells and I hope to get it done by the end of this month, at which time I’ll start revisions. I’m not sure how long that’ll be, but hopefully I can give it a quick turnaround (there won’t be nearly as much triage as I had with the trilogy) and get it out by the end of the year. Here’s to hoping!