Putting it all together (in my head)

So the trouble chapter in Theadia has been somewhat successfully rewritten — it could still use a bit of tidying up, but for now it’s a lot closer to what I wanted it to be — so I’m onto the next scene, which takes place maybe a few weeks later. Now that particular scene is okay (again, could be better), but the transition between the two scenes could probably be a little more coherent. The current problem is that I need it to hint at a passage of time without it being a ‘Some Time Later…’ placard.

As I’ve mentioned before, there are a lot of moving parts that I need to be aware of and ensure they’re in the correct order and make sense. Like most of my novel projects, this isn’t something I ever have copious notes for…it’s all in my head. Sure, I’ll have some notes, but rarely will I ever have the entire thing mapped out somewhere on paper or online.

With Theadia‘s latest go-round, I find that I’m filling in a lot of the gaps with these sorts of things: fixing the transitional scenes, inserting new passages to strengthen the conflict within the overarching plot line, and of course filling in the ‘Fix This Later’ blanks. All of this in my head…getting to a point in the story where I know I need to insert the action from an antagonist’s POV, or better show a character’s development from passive to active status. Things like that.

It’s certainly making the story a hell of a lot longer, that’s for sure. But I’m fine with overwriting like this, because when it comes time to edit, I’ll have enough laid out that it will be safe to streamline what needs streamlining. [This is what I did with The Balance of Light, where I excised about sixty thousand words or so. That one’s still a long book, but it reads a lot smoother than it had originally.]

I still haven’t actually finished the book yet — I’d say it’s just shy of the final climax of the story right now — but I’m not too worried about that. I’ll get there soon enough. Once everything else is put together.

Third time’s the charm…?

Hmm. I’ve been plowing through this one scene in Theadia for the last two weeks and it’s taking FOREVER to get through. There’s so many things wrong with what’s ending up on the screen that I’m having second thoughts about keeping what I have so far. I know the problem: it’s a tense scene with a lot of important information that comes to the fore, but the execution of the scene is absolutely atrocious. There’s tension there, but it’s the wrong kind. And the whole scene is from a single person’s point of view and she’s so passive in it that I keep forgetting it’s her scene.

I think the issue here is that I’m still not entirely sure how the scene should unfold. It’s an important scene that needs to be there, where multiple story threads lead up to this moment, but the weave is weak and unstable. [Yes, I’ve been using this particular crafting metaphor a lot with Theadia. There is a reason for it.] What I need to do is map it out again. I did that for Take Two, and to be honest, I probably should have followed my instincts when it was clear this version didn’t quite resonate with me either.

So. What do do? I’m going to cut the entire thing again. Take Three. (Take One did the exact opposite and did a lot of telling-not-showing, which didn’t work either.) As always, I’ll paste this current version into my Outtakes file where I can use it for reference for the next attempt. Hopefully third time’s the charm, yeah?

About (still) writing poetry

Out of all the creative outlets I talk about here, my poetry and lyric writing get the next to least amount of commentary. [I talk about writing songs the least, alas, but that’s another post.] For a good number of years I just put it aside and rarely wrote any at all. And since the mid-10’s I’d been trying to force myself to write more of it, only to fail utterly. Part of it was that it had lost its enjoyment and no amount of forcing it was going to help at all. Another part of it was that I felt I was essentially writing the same personal themes over and over.

I’m noticing, however, that this latest Mead composition notebook of mine is getting rather full. I’m about two-thirds of the way through it, which is a lot more than the last several aborted tries at personal poetry chapbooks. This one was started a couple of months after I’d left the Former Day Job, and I’d done so on purpose: this was going to be a chapbook of endings and beginnings. Words about letting go of things I’d held for far too long, of coming to terms with things long left behind, and making the first unsure steps at something wanted yet untried.

That was the thing holding me back with the poetry and lyrics, really: lack of emotional movement. In a way it was the same with my music playing — once I gave it that emotional spark it had been lacking, I got better at it. Or more to the point, I’d finally come back around to the creative levels I’d been at in the past that I hadn’t been able to reach again. I had to do some purging of old ghosts before I could move on.

I might post some of these poems and lyrics here — or maybe even self-publish them on Smashwords — at some future point, but it’s not high on my list of projects. This kind of writing has always been personal: written for myself. Sometimes it’s to figure things out, other times it’s just to get something off my chest. Sometimes it’s serious and straightforward, sometimes it’s oblique and metaphorical, sometimes it’s just having a bit of fun.

I’ve gotten a lot better at it over the years, though I wouldn’t know if it’s anything good and worth publishing. But that’s the least of my worries there: if it means something to me, then it’s good enough.

Making notes

I don’t make longhand notes on my novel projects as much as I used to, but I’ll still rely on it when it’s needed. For example, this current scene in Theadia that I’m revising has a lot of intricate interweaving of story threads that need to go together in just the right way that I’ve broken out the small legal pad at my desk to work through how it needs to go.

I do still have a small pad in my back pocket after all these years, something I’ve done since high school. These days it’s mostly for shopping lists instead of music release dates or story ideas. It was probably the candle warehouse job where my writing notes graduated from that pad to folded-up pieces of printer paper.

Somedays I think about that: why is it that I need certain kinds or sizes of paper to work on certain projects? Maybe it’s that back-pocket-pad paper is small, cramped and easily torn, while printer paper is stronger and provides a larger ‘canvas’ to work on. I have some of it folded up and in my pocket that I bring to the Current Day Job. [Not that I have the best time to work on that sort of thing there what with the constant interruptions, but one can hope.] But there’s also that small legal pad I just mentioned — which I’ve been using a lot while working in Spare Oom for working things out. It’s almost like my penchant for the specific spiral notebooks I used to buy for my longhand writing: always a three-subject wide-ruled notebook. Because a five-subject notebook is too big and college-ruled gives the appearance that I’ve hardly written a thing. I know, it’s kind of silly, but so it goes.

Anyway — all this is to remind myself that it’s okay not to get any new words or revised words finished, especially when that time is instead spent figuring things out longhand on paper first.

Influences: Strangers in Paradise

The badass women of Terry Moore’s Strangers in Paradise

Back at the start of my post-college days when I was slumming it in Boston, someone suggested I check out this new comic series called Strangers in Paradise. The first cover was a simple but lovely shot of two women in an art gallery: a moody blonde artist and her seemingly innocent dark-haired bestie. Inside was a story of that second woman having the worst luck with men, specifically a lawyer named Freddie Femur. You’d think this is a classic Bechdel-Test-failing love triangle, yes? Well, maybe not. Because there’s a lot more going on than you think with these characters. A lot more.

Katina “Katchoo” Choovanski, the ‘angry blonde’, is the girl literally from the wrong side of the tracks with a past she’d rather keep quiet. Francine Peters is actually not so pure and innocent and just wants a bit of stability. Freddie, of course, wants to be the slimy alpha male but fails badly at it. And somewhere along the line, Katchoo gets a visit from a fourth character: a kind, quiet and nerdy guy named David Qin, who just wants to take her out for coffee and get to know her.

And that’s only the first three issues. What happens in the next hundred-plus issues that were released between 1993 and 2007 is what truly pulls the reader into this wild universe of criminal underworlds, black ops action, political intrigue, hidden pasts, frustrations in creativity, unrequited love, marriage instability, emotional violence, and spiritual redemption. For some of them, life eventually brings them peace. For the others, not so much, but their downfall is always of their own doing.

What I love about this series is that Moore has chosen to make each female character in this universe as badass as possible in their own unique way. Whether they’re trying to escape their violent past or helping someone battle anorexia or coming to terms with their sexuality or merely just learning how to love and trust someone without any strings attached, these women’s stories very rarely fall into trope or stereotype. These are characters with a vibrant back story and an individuality that sets them apart from each other.

Reading Strangers in Paradise helped me learn how to write and understand my own characters, and how to make them interact. Moore will occasionally throw in silly humor, timely pop culture references, and perfect comedic timing, but when things are serious, he doesn’t hold back. From SiP I learned about pacing, about when to utilize a perfect show-don’t-tell plot device, and how different characters should and could interact. I also learned when to subvert a trope to make the story that much better. And most of all, I learned how a simple back-and-forth dialogue can tell the reader a lot more than just what they’re saying, whether by what’s not being said, or by how it’s being said.

I highly recommend giving the series a try! Moore is a wonderful writer, and he’s also a self-publisher!

**NOTE: If you’ve got $30 to spare, head over to Humble Bundle today or tomorrow, as his complete Abstract Studios bibliography is available in pdf form! If you miss out, check out his work at his Abstract Studios website!**

Revising, rewriting, reworking…

Some days it seems I’m never going to finish Theadia. I still think it could be better, but I haven’t quite gotten there yet. Mind you, I know well enough never to fall prey to overworking it; I’ve always kept a keen eye on when my projects are veering towards that edge and knowing when to reel it back. It’s better than it previously was…but it’s still not at the level I’d like it to be at.

Part of it is that I know there are segments that are still missing. Situations and subplots that need to be beefed up so that our protagonists’ actions make more sense. Small patches of vague world building that need to be clarified to make the story more real. Things that could be improved upon. This is the level I’m at now…going through what I have so far and filling in all those blanks.

Part of it is also that I need it to have more emotion. I’m trying not to talk myself into thinking that I’m merely comparing it to the Bridgetown Trilogy (which had quite a lot of it), only that I know the story could be livelier. Making the characters more personal. Giving them lives that the reader could empathize with. It doesn’t need to be high drama, it just needs to have more of that active spirit that pulls the reader along.

My writer brain occasionally reminds me of the possible idea of doing a complete rewrite to make it more vibrant creatively and emotionally, just like the Trilogy, and though that is of course tempting, I’m not sure if that’s something this story needs. Then again…my creative instincts tell me that this is precisely what Theadia needs right now, and I’ve since relearned that following my creative instincts have rarely steered me wrong when it comes to projects I believe in. And if I choose to follow through, then I will need to dedicate as much time to it as I possibly can.

[That, of course, brings up my long-standing creative foe, Distraction. If I’m going to do a total rewrite, I’m going to need to manage my time a hell of a lot better than I have. But that’s another post entirely.]

I can see this with the last several projects I’ve been working on: MU4, Diwa & Kaffi, Queen Ophelia and Theadia. They’re all stories that I want to tell, and stories I believe in…but my instincts are telling me they’re not quite told to my satisfaction just yet. I can do better. I can write them better. I can give them more of my spirit to make them work the way they should.

Will this mean several more years of not releasing anything? I don’t think so…I’m hoping I’ll have something out later this year, though I’m not sure which one it will be. Maybe it’ll be something utterly different. Maybe it won’t be any of them. Who knows…?

Still. Whatever I do next, I’m going to need to start working on it, and very soon.

Getting there

The downside to rewriting and revising is that after working easily through multiple passages and making minor corrections and fixes, I’ll hit a scene that’ll take forever to get through. I’m at one of them right now as I work on Theadia.

The scene is an important point in Act I where several of the main characters finally meet in the same room and choices are made that send the main plot off in its intended direction. This is a scene that I’d purposely skipped because the scenes leading up to it were driving me crazy and I really wanted to move on. [At first I felt the buildup was taking too long, but upon rereading it, it was totally fine and I was just being impatient. So it goes.]

There’s a lot of interweaving of characters-and-plot-so-far going on here, and in trying to do it right without causing more problems, I’m taking my own time with it. I’ve been working on it for at least a week now (and of course I’m getting impatient again), but I know I’m getting close to finishing it. I just need to keep it up.

The good thing is that once this particular trial is done, then I can get back to working on a few more light-and-easy passages again!

Work and Play

So today I find myself facing a three-day weekend for the first time since I started the Current Day Job, and I’ve already planned that today will be my run to Amoeba Records for dvds and perhaps some used cds and whatnot! We’re going to see a play on Saturday and if the weather is nice, we’ll take a walk in the part on Sunday.

Even at this point in my life, I still feel guilty when I decide to spend my non-work time not writing. Even if it’s watching TV — including things we enjoy watching — I still feel that nudge that I really should have the laptop on and work on my projects. Back in my Belfry years I’d allow a few PC games before getting started, and these days it’s other things like reading webcomics or futzing around with my music library for a bit.

How do I get rid of that guilt? Well, I don’t think I’ve ever quite gotten rid of it, per se…more like I’ve chosen to just ignore it instead. I’ll say to myself that I’ll let myself play until a specific time and have a hard start time, and I’ll stick to it.

And what about all this time away from the PC at my Current Day Job? Good question, actually! If I’ve realized anything over the last couple of weeks, it’s that I’d somewhat forgotten what it’s like to work somewhere surrounded by other people. I mean, more than just an office setting with the same twenty or so people…this is working in a place where I meet all sorts of locals and visitors. It’s been so much longer than I realized, and to tell the truth, I kind of enjoy it! Weird, yes, but I’m seeing it as a sort of writing research, to be honest. Letting myself have a huge rethink about my own created characters. Something I can do for fun instead of trying to squeeze in something while manning the register.

Still, I’m happy that I’ve got these days off so I can rest, too.

When movies make me rethink my writing

Image courtesy of Everything Everywhere All at Once

First of all: the new Michelle Yeoh movie, Everything Everywhere All at Once is coming out in wide release this coming Friday, and I recommend you go see it. It’s absolutely amazing, hilarious, and maybe more than a bit WTF did I just watch, but it’s one of the best films I’ve seen in a while. It’s very hard to describe what it’s about other than that Yeoh’s character is a hard-working and utterly stressed out mom just trying to keep things from falling apart…and things do start falling apart, just not how you’d expect. Just…trust me and go see it.

So. What I meant to say here is that every now and again I’ll see a movie that makes me rethink my own work, whether it’s the style, or the way it unfolds. Often times its unique way of telling a story will inspire me to see my WIPs from a different angle. And, most of all, there are certain films like the above where I can “see the math of it” (as I like to say) — as a writer, I’m intrigued and often blown away by how the filmmakers have used different details, shots, edits, formats, and maybe even colors or angles, to tell the story in a specific way. They’ve allowed me to see how all the different threads of the plot, visuals and dialogue weave together to make a wonderful tapestry. Not every film does that to such a conscious degree, but when they do, those are the ones that have always made me want to run straight home, fire up Word and start writing my own.

When we left the screening of Everything Everywhere there were two things that stuck in my mind: one, I totally want to see this again to pick up everything I missed, and two, I totally want to see this again so I can study it. [Three, if you want to include I love the fact that I just spent half the movie laughing and the other half shaking my head in amused bafflement.] This film was so original and clever with its unraveling of cinematic and literary expectations that you almost don’t notice that it re-ravels them back together in an altogether new and unexpected way.

There aren’t too many films and filmmakers that will achieve that sort of unique creation that will resonate that deeply with me. There are a few anime directors that have done that — Satoshi Kon and Makoto Shinkai are but two — but American filmmakers? Not that many will make that kind of film that will just hit me like that.

And yes, I did in fact work on Theadia after we got home. Heh.

Working on the work/life balance

Image courtesy of Himouto! Umaru-chan

It’s been quite a week. My first full week of the New Day Job left me physically exhausted enough where one night I could not keep my eyes open and passed out at 8:30pm. There were a few days where I thought, what the hell was I thinking, I’m too damn old for this! But at the end of each shift, just as I was leaving, I noticed it:

No mental stress. None whatsoever. No you’ve got to finish this by a tight deadline, no who knows if tomorrow will bring yet another wave of system failures and an avalanche of client complaints, no oh shit I have to drive thirty miles in ridiculous traffic each way which can take either a half our or two and a half. Just…punch out, walk home. Workday done. Minimal time wasted.

It still blows my mind that there are jobs like that. Or more to the point, that my Former Day Job wasn’t like that by design. I’m still getting used to that.

Regardless, I’m doing what I can to squeeze my writing in. My schedule is still a bit wonky (though not as terrible as last week’s) but not so much that I’m unable to get any work done. I just take it day by day. I wrote this entry Sunday before my midday shift. Today (Monday) I’m doing an opening shift, so I’ll work on my writing after dinner. Later in the week I’m doing a midday-to-evening shift, so I’ll wake up at my usual early morning time and get some writing done then. I have two days off midweek so I’ll use that time to relax and take my time working on a few things.

It’s all about the balance. What is my schedule, and what hours can I utilize? And if I don’t have the time or energy to work on new words, I can certainly spend some time reading what I have so far and taking notes. Whatever works.