I try thinking about new ways I can play around with storytelling. I’ve often said that the stories that inspire me the most are the ones that have moments of brilliance. I’m not talking award-winning prose here… I’m talking about moments of damn, I wish I’d written that!
Like the above gif, from Fullmetal Alchemist, where Edward Elric uses his alchemical powers (major character trait) to not just pull the atoms of metal from the nearby pipes (major ability) but to reshape it (another major ability) into a rod that he can use for fighting. Moments where three or four separate character traits come together in creative and sometimes unexpected ways, and propel both character and story forward. It’s both a moment of clarity for the viewer (‘aha, that’s right, he can do that!’) and a moment of action for the story (‘oh man, he’s about to beat someone’s ass, isn’t he?’) and it’s all threaded together beautifully in one five-second moment.
I try to work those kinds of moments into my stories when I can. I try to put a spin on them as well, by not always relying on expectations. That way when these seemingly different points come together, it’s often unexpected. Those are my favorite moments to read and watch, and they’re definitely my favorite to write.
Mind you, the story doesn’t have to have wall-to-wall moments like that. But they’re certainly one of my favorite weapons in my writing arsenal.
The downside to having a full schedule, especially when multiple social events are added to it, is that physical and mental exhaustion (and maybe illness) can sometimes kick in, screwing things up even worse. Right now I’m trying to fight off a sore throat and exhaustion from too many things going on over the last few week.
That’s probably the best time for me to remind myself: It’s okay to take a day or two off from writing, you know. Or even more importantly: It’s also okay to call in sick to the Day Job now and again…that’s what your sick days are for. Between my stubborn will to keep to my writing schedule and my Catholic guilt for not letting my coworkers down, I can be my own worst enemy sometimes.
Sometimes all I want to do is play an entire afternoon of PC card games, watch silly cat videos, and noodle around with my mp3 collection. Is that too much to ask?
Well, no, not really. I’m not on a strict writing deadline. I can afford a day off from the Day Job now and again. As long as I don’t make it a habit. I can — and should — take a day or two off from reality now and again. I’ll be honest, sometimes I’m jealous of those people who spend the entire afternoon binge-watching TV series or playing video games. Why shouldn’t I be able to take a day off as well?
As long as I get back on track once I’m recharged, right?
I’ve been thinking about time lately. Well — part of it is due to my work on In My Blue World, but also because I’ve been running all over the place lately, trying to squeeze in as much as I can into a short amount of time during the day. If I look at my social calendar it starts looking far too busy, but if I take it day by day, it’s a little easier to work with.
I’m also doing my best to ensure that I carve out enough time to work on my writing projects at some point during the day. As long as I get a little bit done, then I can rest easy. Right now I’m working with two mini-sessions a day: one during the afternoon break of the Day Job, and the other in the evening. I write my blog entries a few days ahead of time and schedule them. I’m also prepping ahead of time by at least having a general idea of what I’m going to write before those writing sessions start.
Carving out time to write is one of the most important things I must do as a writer, and I do whatever I can to make it happen. Even if it’s a half hour where I’m working out story issues. [I call these ‘blathering’ sessions, but what I’m really doing is voicing what might be bothering me, working out the kinks and rethinking my approach. These too are essential, because I’ll have a much clearer head for the next prose writing session.] As long as I’m going in the right direction, that’s all that matters.
Carving out time to write when the days are busy can be hard to do, but it can be done if you dedicate yourself to it. It might be getting up a half hour earlier, it might be closing down those social media browsers for a while, or it might even be longhand during your commute. Whatever works, go for it. Find an hour, write those five hundred words, and try to do it as many times a week as you can.
Because all that short work adds up to a larger finished project.
Being on a panel at a convention can be a lot of fun, especially when it’s about a subject in which you hold a ridiculous amount of knowledge and fannishness. [Not to mention that it’s a perfect time for a bit of shameless self-promotion!] It’s also a great way to meet other people from all levels of the writing world.
But what about moderating?
This past weekend was definitely a learning experience for me, as I had to moderate not one but two panels that I’d created for BayCon. The first one (recent music inspired by SF/F) ended up being more of a group conversation, as there was a total of six of us in the room. When it’s that small, it’s usually better to be a little informal, and have a bit of fun with it. The audience will enjoy being a part of the conversation as well.
The second one — regarding mentors in the Star Wars universe — needed to be a bit more strict in format. We had about a dozen people in the audience, there were were four on the panel, and of course there would be A Lot of Opinions being shared.
One thing A and I did for this second one was to prepare ahead of time — she created a spreadsheet of possible character relationships to talk about. The panelists were excited by this and used it as a quick reference guide on what they wanted to talk about. Another thing was that I emailed all the panelists ahead of time — especially as a moderator — to ask if there were any issues or points they wanted to make, or if they had any personal requests. [One of the guys wanted to bring in some of his collection of lightsabers, which he very creatively tied in with the theme of the panel.]
Another thing I kept in mind is that I had to, well… Be the Adult In the Room, for lack of a better term. Not that everyone acted like petulant kids, mind you… this was about being the one to keep everything reined in. The moderator has to lay down the rules, make sure that the panel doesn’t drift off topic, and also has to be the official timekeeper. I was willing to let the audience comment now and again — especially since it was relatively small — but I also had to jump in and be the one to say “okay, moving on…”
[I should also mention here that, this is precisely where the moderator should also pay attention to who’s talking and who’s merely interrupting. There were one or two moments where I noticed someone was about to talk over someone who was making a point, so I had to make sure that didn’t happen. And yes, this does in fact include Those Guys who will interrupt women who are speaking.]
That doesn’t mean you have to be the teacher watching the kids at recess. Have fun and be a part of the chatter! But you definitely need to remember that you’re also the one in charge — you own this group and this subject for an hour and a half, so you most definitely have the right to steer the conversation where it needs to go.
Note: ALWAYS start the wrap-up about fifteen minutes before the ending. This is for last minute questioning, not to mention gathering your things for a smooth exit to your next scheduled event. Many find that the clock feature on their cell phones is a perfect time keeper.
And in the end, if the audience enjoyed it, they will may want to come up and have a question or a comment they’d like to share. If you’re not in a mad hurry to get to your next panel, by all means, chat away! [And if you can, leave your books and freebies out on the table in front of you for a few moments longer, because they might want to take a peek!] Just remember to leave enough time so your panelists and audience can leave, and the next panelists and their audience can come in.
I still have to get used to moderating, and I’m sure I made a few mistakes, but all in all, I definitely had fun with it, and would totally do it again.
Hey gang! I’ll be at BayCon this weekend in (hopefully) sunny San Mateo, just down the peninsula from me! If you happen to be there, come by and say hi! No readings this time out, but this time I’m trying something new — Moderating! [This will either be a fantastic experience or it will end in tears, depending on how out of control they get, heh.]
Here’s my panel schedule:
Friday (5/25) at 1:30pm, Room Connect 3: The Next Generations of Science Fiction and Fantasy in Music. Description: What music have we heard in the recent past — from the 90s to today — that infuses the ideas of science fiction and fantasy? I’ll be moderating this one, of course! This was inspired by a panel I’d gone to at Readercon some years ago that did the same thing, though it focused mostly on the 60s-70s prog, psych and folk rock scenes. If I can pull it off, we may actually play some tunes!
Saturday (5/26) at 1:00pm, Room Synergy 4: The Elder As Mentor in the Star Wars Universe. Description: While the Star Wars universe often has the young maverick saving the day, it’s often thanks to their elders who helped pave the way and made them who they are. I’m moderating this one as well! This was actually A’s idea but neither of us could resist it. This one should be a lot of fun.
Sunday (5/27) at 11:30am, Room Synergy 5: Can You Go Home Again? Description: A good many authors these days are returning to the worlds of their successes in years past. Some critics and readers sneer. But why shouldn’t writers expand a beloved concept, if they have something new to say about it? I won’t be moderating, and I believe I’m the youngest/newest writer on the panel, but I’ll of course comment on how much I loved working on the trilogy and how I’m itching to return to it.
Between the two new projects I’m working on, I’m listening to a lot of newer albums lately. This is quite the change from the older projects I’ve spent tons of time on (such as the trilogy) or ones where I need to focus on a specific time period (such as the 90s and Meet the Lidwells!). It’s part of returning back to deep immersion with the music.
Mind you, I do give a lot of my purchases a deep listen as it is, or else I wouldn’t be gushing over albums over at Walk in Silence like I have for the past few years. This is about really getting into the meat of the album, and I find I often do that best when I can assign a mnemonic to it. That way the album will stay with me that much longer. [This is precisely why albums like Beck’s Sea Change are forever connected not just to the trilogy, but to my writing sessions in the Belfry.]
I’m doing this again with a handful of new albums that have become soundtracks of a sort for the Apartment Complex story and In My Blue World:
Beach House, 7. Unlike their more Cocteau Twins-like previous albums, this one ramps up the noise a little bit and sounds more like Slowdive and a bit of My Bloody Valentine as well. The dreamy atmosphere works really well for the otherworldliness of IMBW.
The Naked and Famous, A Still Heart. I keep coming back to this one for the Apartment Complex. TNaF are a much louder band with walls of guitars and soaring melodies, but this ‘stripped’ album takes out the volume and leaves beautifully delicate reimaginings.
Lucy Dacus, Historian. “Addictions” is one of those tracks you hear on the radio and then get stuck in your head for the rest of the day. The music is laid back and unassuming, but the melodies go in really interesting places. This one’s been getting plays for both projects lately.
Editors, Violence. I think pretty much every project I’ve ever worked on since 2005 has had Editors playing in the background at some point. They’re just an amazing band with a unique and adventurous sound. This one often gets played when I need to write an exciting action sequence.
Pinkshinyultrablast, Miserable Miracles. I gushed over this band on the other blog last week, and I still love them to bits. Russian shoegaze is all I need to say, and it’s all kinds of fun. IMBW has been getting most plays of this one, not to mention the rest of their discography!
GoGo Penguin, A Humdrum Star. Same thing — a recent discovery and now I play all of their releases during sessions, mostly for the Apartment Complex. Intriguing jazz sounds that remind me to keep the setting just a little bit on the odd side.
This is the fun part of my writing sessions…I love listening to music while I write, so connecting to a new album while working on a new project makes the sessions — and the albums — that much better for me.
Lately there’s been a bit of a dust-up on Twitter (no big surprise) about whether or not books should have an ulterior motive. More to the point, there are a few complaints out there stating that there’s been an uptick of them, and they bemoan that they’d rather have stories that aren’t all messagey or ‘political’.
Well, recent politics (and politicians) aside, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that kind of thing actually happens with alarming regularity. During wartime, during peacetime, during revolution and during calm, these sorts of stories pop up all the time. Either these people are oversensitive to this kind of story, or the supposed ‘agenda’ is right out front and impossible to ignore or pass over. Sometimes these agendas are there to make you feel uncomfortable.
If anything, I’m sure I have agendas in my novels. The trick to writing them is not to make them overtly obvious or overbearing. Novels with Very Obvious Metaphors or Thinly Veiled Critiques are hard to accept for some readers; it’s better to work with nuance instead. The trilogy’s agenda was all about Doing the Right Thing for Everyone, Not Just Yourself. I even came out and said that numerous times. Meet the Lidwells‘ agenda (if there was one) could be Don’t Be an Asshole to Everyone.
I’m well aware of those who see any kind of inclusion as political. So what if it is, though? The agenda there is simple, then: I’m Here, So Deal With It. I’m talking about novels that contain a minority main character or someone with some kind of disability; I’m talking about stories featuring these characters, doing what characters are supposed to do in the context of the story, nothing more.
Agendas are part and parcel of who people are. They make for good characters, and they make for good stories. And sometimes they’re fun to write, especially when you need to use it for story conflict. In the trilogy, the conflicts between Denni and Saisshalé were always a blast to write, because they pushed the limits. I kept pushing their agendas until it finally got to the point where they both had to stop and say ‘okay, this is getting seriously fucked up, we need to stop this.’ That’s when they both realized that their universe was bigger than just the two of them.
So yes! Don’t be worried that your novel might have a political underpinning to it. Chances are good it’s supposed to be there, and that’s a good thing.
[NOTE: This is a slightly updated repost from the original Dreamwidth entry from Wednesday night.]
I’ve been thinking long and hard about my writing lately, especially in regards to what processes have been working and what have not, and how to minimize the latter.
One thing in particular that had been bothering me was the fact that I had two projects in a row — the Apartment Complex story and now Can’t Find My Way Home — stutter to a halt, and both for the same reason. And that reason being that it just didn’t feel right. I know, I know…that sounds a bit silly and I’m probably talking out of my ass, but at the same time, the last two projects — Meet the Lidwells and In My Blue World — did feel right to me. Instinctively it felt like I was doing the right things, going in the direction the story needed to go.
Now, I knew it wasn’t just because of the story I was writing. Both ideas have a created world that I could have a lot of fun with. And I’ve definitely had my moments of the Don’t Wanna’s and the Oh God This Sucks with every project I’ve ever worked on, good and bad. But there’s so much less drama with those two well-behaved kids. So I had to really think about it — WHY was I having drama with the AC and CFMWH?
And then it occurred to me: maybe I need a change of platform.
Yes, I know, on the face of it, that sounds like one of the worst and lamest excuses I could come up with, but hear me out.
As you all know, Bob, I’ve been writing the first rough drafts of the successful stories in short bouts on 750Words. And all the rough outtakes of the AC that were well-behaved came from there as well. They were working well for many reasons:
–I’m always writing at a specific time.
–With each session, I’m writing a complete or almost-complete scene arc, which also sets up the next scene arc that I’ll write during the next session.
–I’m focusing only on the scene at hand. The novel-as-whole is secondary here.
–I’m allowing minor editing as I go, when I know that I can write something better.
–Each scene or partial is on its own screen; I can only access the other scenes by backing out of the one I’m currently on.
–I need to hit at least 750 words before I can call the session done for the day.
–These sessions are often very productive, as well as fast. And quite enjoyable nearly every single time.
And then I realized: This is the exact same process I used when I wrote The Persistence of Memories, which I consider a personal benchmark. Slightly different platforms, but the process was the same. It was enjoyable and exhilarating to write because I’d laid all those ground rules and stuck to them.
So I thought: what if I set up another 750Words account? I’d follow the same leads as above with whatever second project I happen to have going. This can be my evening writing session. MS Word would only be used for localized save points, revision, rewriting, formatting, and other post-production work.
So that’s what I’ve done, starting it Wednesday night.
And I started it with another trial run of the Apartment Complex novel. Despite my frustration with it over the past few months, my brain returned to it at least once a day. I took that as a sign that I should definitely return to it as part of this newly-implemented process. No giant outline, but just enough pre-planning to know where I need to go for the next couple of scenes.
I know, I know, I’ve blogged about this before, but it’s always worth repeating, because we writers are often our own worst enemies.
Sometimes I get so into the groove of writing or revising one of my projects that I just keep going for weeks on end, and let other things fall by the wayside. Which is fine, especially if I really want to make a significant dent in my progress. Thing is, sometimes I do this for a little too long, and I’ll either burn out or I’ll lose track of other important things.
So this past Saturday, instead of doing any writing, we went on a short road trip down the coast to Half Moon Bay for brunch and a little bit of shopping, and followed it up with watching the first two Star Wars prequels. We hadn’t seen The Phantom Menace since it came out, and neither of us had seen Attack of the Clones. [Our post-movie thoughts: TPM had promise but suffered from horrifically bad dialogue and lifeless acting; AotC was miles better and actually quite enjoyable, if overlong and with a few questionable plot choices. We plan on watching Revenge of the Sith sometime this week. Noted, we’re watching these for a panel we’ve devised for BayCon in a few weeks!]
Taking a day off from writing is always a good choice, for multiple reasons. One, every now and again it feels good not to have to worry about hitting a self-imposed deadline or word count. I’m allowed a fun day off now and again, right? Two, this is a perfect time for me to switch from Writer/Editor Brain over to Reader Brain. Time to kick back, enjoy a story. Be moved or inspired by a novel or movie. Three, I get to be social with other people, including my wife. Four, it reminds me that even though I might find the writing process thrilling and immensely enjoyable, there are other things out there that are equally as enjoyable. Like going to the local zoo!
I think I’ve managed to get the the point in my life where I’m okay if I take a day off now and again. Writer that I am, I’ll most likely still think about whatever I’m working on, but in a passive way, making mental notes for later. It’ll still be there when I get back in a day or so.
I’ve been writing the first complete rough draft of In My Blue World in short daily bursts of around a thousand words on 750words.com over the last month and change, and I’m actually kind of impressed at how far I’ve gotten in such a short time. After writing various disconnected scenes earlier in the year, this is my first start-to-finish attempt. There’s still a lot more to go, new and old scenes inserted, as well as revision, but I’m quite happy with it so far. If I plan this out correctly, I might have a new book to push by the time Worldcon rolls around!
Meanwhile, here’s Take 2 of the opening of the story. Hope you enjoy it!
I’d been looking forward to this vacation for months, and now that it was here, it occurred to me that maybe I should have been better prepared for it. I had on the wrong pair of hiking boots and my feet were aching something fierce, and they we had a mile to go before we reached the cabin. I’d also made the mistake of taking the newer backpack, which ended up being slightly bigger than expected, and its corners were digging into my kidneys.
Not that I was going to let all that ruin their time at our grandmother’s cabin, of course. Once we got there, we could kick off their shoes, relax in one of the deep chairs on the open porch, and do absolutely nothing at all. After four months of dealing with online clients and impassive management, it was high time for me to forget about the goings-on in the world. Me and my sisters had planned this trip to the cabin since late last year, and now that time was here, and I wasn’t going to let anything ruin it.
The path loomed ahead of us, a slow but seemingly unending incline heading up the side of the mountain. To one side were the steeper foothills, and to the other was a gentle slope downwards to the large lake in the valley. Even though I should be watching my step and keeping an eye out for any unexpected animals popping out of the brush, I couldn’t help but glance leftwards to the lake. I’d been camping down there as well in the past, spending hours in the water, swimming with her family and friends. We’d be making multiple trips down there in the next few days.
Grandma’s cabin, on the other hand, was equally as fascinating. About halfway up the mountain, the path leveled off at a meadow, with a few wooden cabins lining the edge of it, just inside the tree line. There was always something mysterious up there. Grandma Patricia always kept weird things there, things from her old life as a hunter. She’d taught all three of us girls, showing us how to catch, clean and cook fish and fowl and other things that ran around these deep woods. We knew how to survive in the wilderness for the next few weeks.
That tear in the universe, though…that was definitely unexpected.
“Dianaaaaa…” Katie whined, dramatically dragging my name out. “Are we there yet?” She made a production out of slogging up the final hill towards the meadow, dragging her feet and hanging her head. She hung onto her boyfriend Greg as if he was the last shred of life force left in her. Greg said nothing, but I was sure his eyes were rolling right then.
“Almost,” I said.
“You are so lazy,” Allie laughed, hitching up her backpack and darting up the hill with a renewed burst of energy.
“Stay close!” I called out, but it was no use. When my youngest sister set her mind to it, there was nothing to hold her back. In the process I sped up my pace to catch up. Katie responded with another groan and trudged along. “Allie, how many times do I–”
“Oh, wow…” Allie had suddenly stopped short. “What the heck is that?”
My heart jumped, thinking she’d just found a dead animal, or worse, a sick animal, and sped up to join her. I sidled up next to her and stepped out just a tiny bit ahead, her hand out just in case. “What did you see?”
She pointed in a vague direction of the path ahead. “That! What is that?”
“Where? I don’t know where you’re–”
“That… shiny thing.”
I glanced up the path again, and sure enough, she could see something flashing. Something small but bright. A reflection of sunlight against something, perhaps? Even Katie and Greg had stopped to take a look at this point, and neither was quite sure what they were looking at.
“That’s too bright for a reflection,” Greg said. “Unless it’s a mirror.”
Katie shook her head. “That doesn’t look like a mirror. That–”
Her words were drowned out, as the air as torn in two.
The point of light sputtered and sparked to life, becoming as bright as the sun. I shielded my eyes and swore, blinking away tears and pulling my sisters back. The point of light began to grow; it expanded from a point to a line; a thick line of light, dripping with god knew what kind of plasma energy. And it wasn’t a smooth expansion, either. It was jagged, as if it was hacking away at the air and hitting resistance. Each time it ripped upwards, another growl of thunder filled the air. It expanded until it was human height, and stopped.
The silence was terrifying.
Then the girl stepped through the tear, screaming unrecognizable words in a strange accent. She held a glowing sword in her right hand and a thread of green light in her left palm.
“Ah!” the girl cried. “Krozarr!”
The wisp of light in her left hand burst into a bright green sphere, and she pushed against the tear. Pushed down on it with all her might. She growled more words that we couldn’t understand. The tear responded with just as much resistance, though it was no longer thunder… it sounded like heavy boulders sliding against each other.
Finally, with a final push, she closed the tear she’d just made and all was silent once more. The girl shook the globe of light out of her hand and it dissipated. The tip of her sword dropped to the ground. She stood there, panting from exhaustion.
She turned around, and saw all of us, watching her.