August 1, 2014 § Leave a comment
What’s Happening With FMTEE?
July 10, 2014 § 4 Comments
I ran into an interesting problem just recently – someone asked to see some of my writing! This was a little outside the norm for me because while I’m always talking about it (and yes, actually doing it), it’s usually only once I fish around for someone to look around at my things that people want to see any of it. Today, basically right now, is a little different. I was chatting about an idea/concept that’s prevalent in the fantasy story (/stories) I started in NaNo 2012, and I was asked if I had any samples to show.
I kind of do, but then I also don’t. So while I’m still working on FMTEE, and doing all the other bits and pieces, I think I ought to put it all together in a more accessible format. And have it all linkable from here.
Sure, some of it is around at the moment. There’s a poem, the short story I wrote for my wife, a first draft prologue, some shorter sprints, etc etc… but it’s really not *that* accessible. Maybe the blog posts handle that to some degree, but it’s not really the same as fiction.
I’m definitely going to look into putting some stuff together, and trying to be organised. I don’t know if it’ll be a few sample chapters from WIPs (maybe starting chapters for some of them), or the short stories, or whatever else.
So other writers, here’s today’s question – do you make your writing available beyond either self or traditional publishing? What sort of things do you host (okay, it’s a kind of self-publishing). Is that the kind of thing the WordPress Portfolio (which looks like a new thing) is meant for? Thoughts in general? Even what you’d like to see in terms of written, non-bloggy content.
July 7, 2014 § 2 Comments
Rewriting is progressing at a slow rate, however believe (so far) that it’s making solid improvements. Whether this means I only need to edit three more drafts instead of eight more is yet to be known. At the moment I’m up to chapter four, and thoroughly planning out all the structural changes that should elevate the story into something better.
Yes, one of my alpha readers will see this and believe it’s not necessary, but this is the one I want to be everything it could be.
The process itself is simple.
A while back, I went through the first draft twice. The first was just a read-through. Second, I took notes. The notes were focused more on the way the story was told, mostly looking at the sequence of events with an idea of what the pace felt like, and looking at the roles each character played. I had a lot of ideas on when things should change. Case-in-point, with my protagonist, I felt she was mostly free of repercussions for mistakes she made, as though she had a safety net under her that kept her in the story for the sake of convenience.
I had an idea that instead of the inciting incident in her story propelling her into something great, she should have a moment of turmoil where it seems that things are dire. In the first draft, it’s too convenient – she uncovers a fact her employers don’t want spread, so they reward her from the outset.
The thing is, I love this character. She’s not where she is because she was handed an easy road, but because she was tenacious and dedicated. I want her to be given crumbs, and for her to dig in and be determined that not only does she deserve a meal, but that she deserves to be at that table more than anyone there.
Another change, while she’s still flawed, I’d say her character shows real competency from the outset now. It’s always been implied, but she was never meant to be careless (as it might appear in the initial stages of the first draft).
I think it’s a facet of redrafting – the rocky characterisation you begin with is not the same as who we have at the end. The character still grows, but redrafting provides the nuance in the early stages of raw archetypal characters that haven’t yet been tested.
Ah, but for the actual rewrite process? I gather my notes and my first draft. I read through the chapter I’m working on, read through the notes, and begin. I tend to write my first drafts in longhand, and the rewrite stage is no different. I continue this over whatever the required days are, rephrasing things in some cases, rewriting entirely in others, and occasionally keeping things the same. Once a chapter is done, I type it all at home, and ready myself for the next chapter.
On the off-chance that the words are being stubborn about coming out, I switch to another piece of writing where the words might flow more freely, or chat to an alpha/beta reader about how it’s going, as that often psyches me back into rewrite mode.
I still have a while to go, but as I go on, the structural changes should balance out, and it will go quicker.
Well, I hope it will.
June 30, 2014 § Leave a comment
It was almost fourteen years ago that I went to Europe for the first time (out of three). I was a newly minted twenty-one year old, still at university, only just working (comparatively) and an occasional dabbler in writing (much as I was until more recent times). I also possessed a sense of wonder about the world itself that may or may not still be somewhere inside, though the level of cynicism that oft infests my thoughts was greatly diminished.
I’m sure that if I were to return, I would be just as taken by the places I visited as I was at the time, and perhaps be able to look at them as though these eyes had seen no time between the glimpses.
Of the places I went to, I can faintly recall a visit to the water’s edge near the Columbus monument in Barcelona, in particular going to a shopping centre down that way, where there was a clothing store. Out of all the sights seen there, it’s an experience instead that is my most memorable. While I was in the store, some music was playing over the speakers. Now, this was all in Spanish, and I know scarcely a word of the language, yet I found something captivating about it. I asked the salesperson who it was. She told me. I went off to a nearby music store, and just bought it.
The CD I bought was the self-titled album by Estopa, which became (and has stayed) one of those albums/bands that I can continue to listen to. Which songs I liked most changed over time, yet there was one in particular that stood out as a favourite. There was a part in the middle of the song (at about the 2 minute mark) where it shifted (keychange or something along those lines? Not really up on the musical lingo) that especially got my attention.
When I later found ‘maquina’ version of the song, which had a techno take on the melody, complete with that shift.
Well, that hooked me.
At the time I had an mp3 player which could set arbitrary repeat points, so naturally that led to me listening to that melody over and over, getting my keychange addiction sated through repetition. It was a type of audiocrack I would find in a few other songs (including one that felt like a song was having its way with my eardrums, and I had no desire not to let it). A reliable, nice quick fix of an emotion brought on by music.
But it wouldn’t last.
Over time, the shift wasn’t enough. It didn’t have the same buzz for me that it used to, and while I’d progressed on to more ear-fornicating songs, I’m sure part of it was a shift in my audio devices. I could no longer set custom playsections on the fly, meaning if I wanted to get my techno-melody, I had to listen through all the crap parts of the song too. The maquina version of the song eventually left my playlists, hanging around only as a reminder of how it used to be.
I replaced it with others; some you may like and others you won’t, some you would have heard of and others that will die obscure.
The individual names of the songs don’t really matter, but they went through the cycle of giving tingles, cold shudders, lifting hearts and dropping stomachs. Nothing had the same effect as that one version of the song did. I was tempted to mess with the audiofiles and give myself a real fix again, but I wasn’t far gone enough for that yet.
When I was in high school, I didn’t have a locker. I was also very unorganised. If I hadn’t packed my bag the night before, I would inadvertently leave behind textbooks. Ones I needed.
I call it laziness, even if it was more physical work for me, but I eventually started packing every textbook and taking them every day. I preferred carrying everything and not needing it, to packing as required and forgetting something. I’m still like this. It’s why (to bring it back), I would put all of the music I had onto my computer, and then onto my various music players. Even if I thought there was no chance I’d want to listen to them (or rather, hadn’t really thought about it beyond MUST HAVE EVERYTHING)
It’s on Random
Everyone knows this one. You have your playlist of current favourites. In time it becomes a playlist of sometimes favourites. Eventually, you’re skipping them all, and you may as well let the shuffle find something you would like. A shuffle that’s picking from every possible song it could have.
That’s when it returned.
That’s when it surprised me.
Estopa’s Como Camaron came up on my shuffle. It had been a while since I’d heard it, so I let it go through.
When the shift happened this time – the real one – it was so much more powerful than I recalled. Perhaps it was the passage of time, the distance between the song and I, or just the sort of shift in taste that happens as we get older. What I realised then, observing my favourite book (The Count of Monte Cristo), and my favourite film (The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly) – I want a set stage. I want to be sucked into something so real that when things change, when the world goes to shit or everything escalates, it’s seismic. It ruins lives.
I don’t know how to describe how a song does that, other than it takes its time. I’d say that in this case, I would consider a song to be deliberate, where nothing is casual about it, and it really makes every punch count and connect. Another prime example of it would be Lana Del Ray’s Born to Die. To me, this is not a rushed song. It has its point to make and it does it in its own time – twenty three seconds before the singing starts, and a minute eight before the chorus.
Powerful emotions do not form out of the ether here, but are brought up gradually. We do not start at boiling, but turn on the stove, fill the pot with water, and let them each play their parts, in the proper time.
This one was a little different. I’ve made no secret of being a fan of the Mass Effect series. Somehow though, it took a few playthroughs of the first instalment for something to pop out to me. I remember how it happened. I’d just finished the game again (renegade Femshep, my canon playthrough), but had left the room. Then I heard a song playing. I went back to the room, and there was Commander Shepard staring back at me in front of a red background, while Faunts’ M4 Part II played. It was amazing. I was (therefore) amazed.
It filled a similar place in my playlists from about 2009 onwards, and it’s a fantastic song in its own right, but it made be curious about the other music by the same band. I mean, it’s right there in the name. Part II.
So Part I is out there, and it’s different (yet similar).
So I did a thing. I listened to them one after the other, as though it was one big song called M4. Part I then Part II. Doing that made the weight of what Part II sends me through even greater. It takes longer to get there, but it becomes worth it.
Against the Grain
The advice you get as writers will vary, but a lot of it is geared toward getting to the action quickly. I’m not going to say that it’s wrong (and on the surface, have agreed with it before – albeit mockingly). Instead, look toward your own preferences. Think about what you would want to read, because you are unlikely to be alone. The world is full of people with varying tastes, and there’s no hard rules about what they will like.
I will continue to write this way, setting a stage and then drawing the actors of the world into something beyond themselves, because if nothing else, it is something I would want to read.
If you’re writing something you wouldn’t enjoy reading, who are you writing for?
June 27, 2014 § 2 Comments
This was originally written as a guest post for the readful things blog, and was published there in July 2013. I tweeted about it during the week and as the response was positive, it seemed worthy of a re-post. As with all my blog posts, it’s especially relevant to me at the moment – so consider it a pep-talk for you and I.
The path a writer takes is a rocky one, and the only true safety net is yourself. It doesn’t matter if others have travelled that same path before, if you’ve read their guides and how-tos, and all that advice. You might meet up with other writers, discuss your ideas, methods or even the writing itself, but it’s still you taking all the steps, and all the risks.
Here’s an awkward fact for you:
You’re going to mess up. A lot.
That’s not supposed to make you feel better, but it should give you some certainty. CERTAINTY OF FAILURE. Oh man, make it stop.
The reality of writing is that at some point, you are not going to like what you’ve written. You are not unique in this. Many writers bigger and better than you have had moments when they’ve felt they’ve been writing utter shit, and submitted their manuscripts to their editors while thinking “Yeah, this is the one. This is the submission when they realise I’m just a hack who got lucky.”
Your first instinct will be to stop.
You want to make sure that you get that right before you continue, since if that’s wrong, surely everything else will turn out wrong. That’s not the way to do it. There needs to be something more, besides getting it right, that you can hold on to, and it’s the belief in what you’re writing. There is always something that sets you apart, and you need to be content in just knowing that, because it’s not something you can force, and it’s not something that you can even identify.
There’s a degree of personality that comes through in everything you right, so long as you’re not trying to mimic another author or style. When you just write it out, usually not too differently from the way it first comes out of your imagination, then you’re expressing yourself in a way that slowly becomes new.
You could go through the process of writing out a plan for a novel, and give it to three different writers, and you would get back three different stories. Each would read different, feel different, and vary in more than just quality. The idea is not the execution. You could also hand three different ideas to the same writer, and it may not be the uniqueness of an idea that makes one result in a better story. Writing advice often talks about raising the stakes, but it may be that the story of a farmer about to end the life of his first cow could be a more gripping story than the rebel plot to destroy a city of orphans and puppies. The execution is not the idea, either.
Where does that leave the writer?
The perfect intersection of these two ideas is to have a great execution of the right idea, that twists the words enough into something that ignites the imagination of a reader. Again, don’t try to do it on purpose.
It either happens or it doesn’t, and as a very biased party with regards to your own writing, you won’t be able to identify it either. You won’t feel as though there is something special about what you’re doing when it’s something that comes naturally, and it’s here that confidence comes into it. You will hate your words, but you need to have faith that subconsciously, you know how you speak and express yourselves better than you do when you think about it. When you talk to others, your words just come out without spending minutes to get the right ones there, and you sound like you.
It’s the time involved that gets us. Writing takes time, whether you’re writing by hand or typing. Your brain moves quicker than your fingers can, and that little bit of time gives you a world of thought that you don’t need and shouldn’t want. Ever had trouble falling asleep? Had your mind race over a number of things until it’s focused on “Am I ever going to sleep tonight?” Has that ever HELPED? Unlikely. The quickest way out of that cycle is to occupy your mind by doing something else, either a spot of reading, some TV or a game. Something passive, that your brain can be merely a receptor for.
It doesn’t need to do anything, and when it comes to expressing yourself, it usually isn’t required either.
Yes, your brain gets in the way.
If it needs something to do, it can think about plot, and character, and setting. It doesn’t need to think about the words that make up the sentence, because that should just come to you. If it needs more, have it stand guard and make sure you’re not letting cliches and idioms infiltrate your writing (because you don’t need more same-think).
This is where confidence is needed, and it may not make sense at first. You need to be confident in the fact that you know how to speak. You need to be confident in knowing you have lived your life so far, that you know how to read, and that you know what you like. You need to be confident that if you put the words you right aside for a time, that they won’t get worse, and that even if they’re not great, you don’t need to fix them right now.
Doubt will kill your muse. The time you spend worrying about whether you’re saying the right things, or if your characters are real enough or varied enough, or about how they all speak, is all counter-intuitive. The doubts will suffocate your momentum, and eventually you won’t be able to get the words out. It will also ruin your enthusiasm for whatever story it is, and you might end up in a situation where you feel like you need to finish that story, but can’t bring yourself to work on it. In essence, a lack of confidence has paralysed your writing.
So, brains off.
You can bring them back for the editing, after it’s been a while, and you’ve read through your work, and you can more objectively judge what you’ve done. You don’t need to get rid of your brain entirely, but while you’re writing, it will want to contribute, no matter how irrelevant it is to the process.
June 25, 2014 § 2 Comments
As strange as their content may be, ideas themselves are peculiar beasts. Some of them occur to us at inopportune times, begging to be remembered yet often doomed to a fog that makes us ask “What was I thinking?” Others might pop in and out, emerging at times we are unable to do anything about them, and then receding in our mind once we’re in a position to act on them. Some still are more themes than flashes, presenting themselves regularly over time with demands over our attention, thought and otherwise trying to move from the idea to belief.
The idea in question is simple. From our thoughts to the way we act, our lives are guided by patterns.
People are good at seeing patterns. Perhaps it’s a case of projection, asserting a set of rules upon what would otherwise be indecipherable chaos.
In the Wild
Over the past week, I’ve had two mock arguments on Twitter. They were nonsensical in effect, yet at their heart, they mirrored the actual arguments that do occur with relation to sexism and representation.
While neither intentionally began that way, the further the banter progressed, the more uncomfortable it became.
That it was there as a mirror, holding up a reflection of what happens in such arguments was a huge part of it, morbidity by association as it were. Yet it was the automatic nature of the responses, the lack of critical thinking required to accurately duplicate both sides of those discussions, as though I and the other participant were guided by a script we’d agreed upon previously.
Is it the case that these conversations have become so predictable as to become meaningless? If our response is already set, in what way can progress or understanding be reached?
If you do follow me on Twitter, you may have seen me lament on this. If not (or if you missed it), I expressed my sentiment as this: “That we fall into our scripts with ease, repeating words that have become a kind of mantra, belies unfathomable sterility in our thought.“
Even when we haven’t been participants in these discussions, either because we’ve stayed passive observers or commented about them elsewhere, we might have been exposed to them. We see the pattern to the conversation repeated across discussions, to the point we know what objections will be raised to any calls of diversity or equality. When in the situation ourselves, our automatic response is to fall back to the standard replies, and it can happen because we’re guided by a pattern – one we’ve observed before.
It isn’t the first time I’ve written something about this idea. The Holding Pattern presents the idea as an afterthought, while an SWF-inspired post, The Dangerous Power of Story, furthered the idea that it’s what we consume that informs how what and how we think.
Let’s not sidestep the point this time, nor try to cushion it.
You are brainwashed by the world around you. You are effectively being conditioned to act a certain way, to feel a certain way, and to think a certain way.
This may not be a circumstance brought about by malevolence. One of the primary ways in which we learn is through repetition, mimicking the strange sounds spoken.
Obviously I can’t know exactly how people think, in terms of how their own thoughts are formulated, assembled or structured. In my own case, sometimes there are vague concepts that no words can present, but in most cases I have words and sentences dancing about in there.
Sometimes I think aloud (coded: talk to myself), and while the pace is different, it is not so dissimilar to how the thoughts are there in my head.
Given the phenomena of talking to one’s self is not merely limited to me, I assume, rightly or wrongly, that language is a chief part of how our thoughts exist in our heads. I’ve also experienced (years ago) having thoughts and dreams in a language that was not of my native tongue, at a time when I was thoroughly absorbed in another place, culture and language. The use and repetition of another language affected my thoughts.
Beyond stretches of immersion in subjects or methods entirely new to us, we are also presented with a steady stream of information through our lives. It affects us. Reading widely enriches our vocabulary. Phrases or words in written works enter the mainstream, becoming part of the established language and in turn, our thoughts.
Everything that we do without conscious thought then becomes a product of what we have consumed. Our habits become entrenched as a part of ourselves, and any diversion from the pattern seems wrong or risky.
The prevalence of bite-size wisdom diminishes our thought. Brief slogans related to political interests are effective because of their simplicity, and the presumption that the issues they concern can be adequately summarised in a single breath. When we revert to the unseen script in our beliefs or responses, when no active thinking is required for us to reply, we are following a pattern.
We become passive observers in our own life as a result, unable to exert control – even over our thoughts.
When I was at university, I went off-book a little. I needed to take a few electives, and none of those in my degree appealed. I saw that there was another one I was interested in, over in a different academic stream. Surprise surprise, it was writing. One of the tasks/challenges I remember most vividly from that elective, was an exercise in describing a tree.
In the exercise, we would write down a list of twenty words (though may have been more) that could be associated with a tree (whatever came to mind). Once we had our list, we were asked to describe the tree, using not one of the words in the list. What followed were descriptions of difference, beyond what was conventional, yet still targeting the essence of a tree. We had to be more mindful in the construction of our sentences, forsaking the easy road of greens, bark, leaves and wood, for something else.
It’s not a unique exercise, and I’m certain I’ve happened across a similar one before. I know even outside of that, I tend to prefer to phrase things in ways that may not flow predictably, even if slows down the pace with which one can read my writing. If I had to pin a descriptor upon my writing style, needlessly complex might be most accurate.
The challenge may be to reverse the codification of our belief systems, whether it be in terms of politics, social issues, religion, or other values.
It is to be aware of our thoughts, to dig further into their source and their meaning. It is to deny the explanations that trickle from our tongue before they’ve been examined by our own thought. No conversation can take place until we deny the familiar fall-back positions, and refuse the statements we have learned by rote.
Go beyond the default.
June 23, 2014 § Leave a comment
Following on from my recent post, I enacted the new approach, at least in terms of writing (though yes, I’m also addressing the game-related stuff in my own way, as described in the post). I started dabbling in a piece of fanfiction where I could switch my brain off and just write, which is perfect for something I’m passionate about but where I’m okay with things being off.
It’s a continuation of a piece I thought about a while ago, and I’m not exactly sure where it’s going to go (though I have an idea for how it all culminates), and it was originally going to be the endpoint of this ridiculously mapped out saga that my current WIP kicks off, but it still feels like it belongs more in that other universe (even if it’s my original characters in the story that I’m most excited about).
It’s been good for getting my creativity moving, and pushing myself into the habit of just writing without overthinking it. Best of all, it’s bleeding through.
I finally finished the redraft of another chapter, and it’s the first where the event sequence changed. I’m not sure if I’ve described my chapter flow before for FMTEE, but in short- three main threads happening, over different locations, until they all intertwine.
If we consider the threads to be described as A, B and C, this first shuffle involved taking an event from the start of chapter B2, and bringing it forward to the end of B1. The stuff that previously happened at the end of B1 would be pushed back to a separate point in chapter B2.
The reason for this is I’m attempting to fix the pacing of the B-thread. I don’t think the characters in B follow their due courses enough to ring true at the moment, and I want the main character from B-thread to be a more proactive force in their own life.
There’s a few more things like this that have to happen, moving events up or down along A-thread, B-thread and C-thread. C-thread is the next one to work on, and that requires a different approach. The current draft of C-thread has a development in C1 that was unsatisfactory to me, so at the time I re-attempted the development in C2. It worked better there, but means C1 needs adjustment so that it doesn’t contradict C2. A-thread, well, it’s down to making sure the protagonist is 1) an agent in her own story and 2) not living a life without consequence.
There’s lots more to be done besides, but setting up the new basis for A,B and C is where I’m at right now. The aftermath of the union of the three threads (as opposed to them merely crossing over, which is what happens earlier) also needs additions, but that’s for a future day and update.