Tuesday, May 29, 2007

When the World (R)evolves Around a Character

In the fall semester of 2006, I drafted the first 200 pages of the first book of XIII. While I've worked steadily on this series for most of my adult life, this book always made me skittish. The middle and the end of the series were not difficult to write, but the beginning was always the bane of my existence. The reason?

My protagonist was like a rock star. A celebrity. Unlike celebrities in the real world, the entirety of the fictional world I created revolved around this guy and his choices. I had to write him exactly as I imagined him, because he was so utterly important to the plot and development of the other characters. He. had. to. be. awesome. All the time. But writing like that was exhausting and intimidating.

So, I solved his ego problem today: the revisions have gone smoothly since. I just had to force myself to realize my hero didn't - couldn't - know his own destiny. As such, I shouldn't write him as though he already carried that weight. He can be reckless. He can be young. He has no idea that at some point, everything will depend on him. So that's that.

Keep your ears open: there's something secret a few of us are creating in the blog-iverse. It has a little something to do with revolutions and evolution...and maybe a little writing. I'll be sure to keep you posted, because I'm sure you'll enjoy.

So say we all.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Petticoats & Parisols...or...Swords & Shields?

The past week was wonderfully productive. After writing out an outline for XIII's first book, I am pleased to announce that for the next month, I will plunge toward a disastrously high word count of 50,000 words. I realized late last night that if I did not give myself a cruel deadline, I would never put my story into descent prose, dooming XIII to remain in note-outline form for all eternity.

After looking over my notes, I realized my protagonist's sister was interesting, but because of limited "screen time" came across as a trope character. As one of the few female leads, I wanted her to do more than just fill a slot in my protagonist's family. I wasn't sure exactly what I wanted, but I knew I did want to stay away from stereotypes: Warrior Queen, Maiden in the Tower, Priestess-Healer, Crazy Feminist Man-Hater etc. She needed to be believable, not a joke of herself.

To remedy this, I decided to split the novel between brother and sister, giving them separate but intertwined plot lines. But the sister still seemed a stereotype. In a last desperate effort, I wrote her as a male character, in the first person. After two or three scenes, I surveyed my work, changing all pronouns and names to reflect feminine gender. And that was when I discovered to my amazement-horror that the sister was suddenly fascinating and complex. Traditional masculinity displayed through dominance, decisiveness, logic and rationale, mixed with her mild femininity and innocence, all turned the little sister into a driving force of the novel.

I'm not sure what this says about my sensibilities, but I can say that I am very pleased with the results. Thoughts?

So say we all.

p.s. Thanks to Jocelyn, Charlie, Martin and Pam for the great brainstorming sessions in the wee hours of the morning.

Monday, May 21, 2007

War Reports, Erebus, and the (Maybe) Return of Barry Allen

I bring you news from the front. I return after a regretfully long campaign into the realms of plotting and viciously smug ideas that appear in the night and vanish before I can find a pen. My war against their evanescent nature continues daily. But, behold! An exit strategy appears for the first novel of XIII, which, by the way, needs a better title. Any suggestions?

How did I do this, you ask. I will tell you. I read. I read a lot. I read George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones, Steven King's The Drawing of the Three and Frank Herbert's Children of Dune. I watched my favorite episodes of Battlestar Galactica and Firefly. I watched and read and observed, making notes. And the method in which they plotted out long-standing story lines and character arcs became increasingly clear and not so amazing. I could see the mechanics behind the writing and applied those same observations to my own outlines of XIII.

Tension created by additional complications ("Bushwacked" episode of Firefly), foreshadowing given frequently, subtlety and early (Drawing of the Three), and the methods of creating interesting political scenarios and intrigues (Battlestar Galactica, A Game of Thrones and Children of Dune) were all things I added to XIII's first book.

The result was amazing. The story took on a new life and the scenes where I felt the action dragged had a way in which to improve. I'm not saying that the story is perfect, at all. But I am standing in the middle of a faster paced, more tightly woven story than I was a week ago.

Other news, not from the front. Our neighbor across the street has a giant black male cat. I have named him Erebus. While, Erebus is not so fearsome as his name would suggest (he let me pick him up and he flopps around on my driveway), he is very dark and very fat. Which had nothing at all to do with him being fierce or like Erebus. That's all.

Last thing: DC is probably bringing back Barry Allen as The Flash. And while this fills me with glee, at the same time I wonder if this does not cheapen his death and his character from the late 1980s.

So say we all.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Plots within Plots and Delivering an Ending

Well, dear readers, let me explain something. Trying to plot out an entire series is, at times and quite possibly, the most infuriating thing I've ever done. But don't worry. Now that I've gotten the writing bug back, I will find a path through this horrid Wasteland of Not-Knowing. Despite this determination, most of my current lists of how to finish the entire story end with "WTF." So, I shamelessly admit it. I have no fracking idea where this metaphorical beast is going and just hope that it is going someplace fabulous.

Sunday night, I stayed awake reading a new book called The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell. I stayed up reading until 6:45 AM on Monday morning, slept until 12:00 in the afternoon then woke and read to the end.

At first, it was compelling and beautiful and heartbreaking, and then the last three chapters seemed like someone threw on the brakes and decided to end the book. The ending was rushed, the characters became suddenly not-themselves, the level of detail and realism was lost. The book is a science fiction novel written by a woman, about religion and what it means to lose touch with being human. Right up my ally. And then the I got to the end.

On this note I will leave you as I mosey toward bed. Writers who promise endings as either horrific, revelatory, life-shattering, or earth-altering should deliver after I have stayed up more than twenty-four hours to read their books. For serious.

So say we all.

Friday, May 11, 2007

On Picking Up Threads and Pieces

Well, after a day or two of thinking over the novel and wading through a cast of about thirty, I have divided my story into three main themes, and parred number of characters down to twenty-two. Don't get me wrong - it broke my heart to do that. Some of those characters have been in the since before I knew the story. But it was necessary. While the plot still remains a bit of a mystery to me, I have plenty of threads because of the overlapping themes. The idea to try the three themes came from a little book called Chapter After Chapter, thanks to Dr. V.

The two other science fiction short stories are coming along, evolving slowly, but steadily. All I can tell you is that one has something to do with a young man named Yuri, going faster than the speed of light, and madness. The other involves a young woman trying to find her way back to earth once we move out of our Solar system and lose our roots in the vastness of space. No titles exist yet, but I'm still running the ideas around in my head.

Last note on writing: my dear friend from Virginia called me tonight and we discussed her long-running novel. Mainly we talked about how she could restart the project by changing her point-of-view and narration styles. It was a fascinating chat about the actual technicalities of writing - why an author would use first person over third, or why a writer would show a certain scene from a certain character's perspective. It's been so long since I've had one of these conversations, I was terribly engrossed. Much fun was had by all.

On to much more light hearted subjects.

DC's Countdown #51 just about blew my socks off. It was so much fun. Written by Paul Dini (the guy who wrote Batman: The Animated Series, Superman, Justice League, and JLU for a mazillion years) is the head writer of this series. The story they've set up looks great.

Battlestar Galactica (yes, it gets its own section):
I started watching Battlestar Galactica again, and that first season is just about enough to make your head explode. One of the things I noticed was that the writers began all the major plot lines of the next three seasons in that first episode. Pretty impressive.

So say we all.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

A Novel in Crisis

Yesterday, I suffered a small crisis (and by small I mean catastrophic).

About midmorning, after I had paced around the house, thrown away various crumpled pieces of paper and laid in the empty bathtub for an hour, I was struck by an awful realization. I was no longer interested in my novel. The horror, the horror. I know.

So I wrote to my friend in Virginia, sending out a mayday. She called me four times while I was out, but when she got me on the phone she talked me back to the book for almost forty-five minutes. Then my good friend Charles did the same. Both to me that there was a still a story to tell, that they liked the characters - and after swimming through my mildly frantic panic, I realized that it was the truth. Some tentative interest has returned, and timid curiosity creeps back onto the page.

On a lighter note, I have found another place to send When Otis Met Everlyse. I'm going to expand the story by about ten pages, make it more mythical, more fantastic and send it out to this fantasy mag I found that accepts new writers, exposes their work to anthologies and contests and who pays. Happiness abounds.

Lastly, I think I might have the option to visit my friend in Virginia. We're holding out hope.

So say we all.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Out Into the World

And so we say hello. After much deliberation and nervous worrying, What is Now: Easter Sunday and When Otis Met Everlyse are gone out into the world. Godspeed, friends. Now, I will hold my breath for the next 5-12 weeks and pray. But! Do not fear, dear readers! I have, waiting in the wings, a variety of fabulously fun short stories, mostly consisting of other science fiction and fantasy-esque pieces.

My novel chapter is due to be outlined and revised tomorrow, so you may know this: the hour of true revision is at hand. You'll have to forgive the overdramatic tone in this entry. I tend to feel more free to express my grandiloquence when I'm not face-to-face with people. When you say these things in the "real," you sound silly. Here, you sound silly and eccentric. That's the trick.

The last thing on the list of things to discuss is my lunch. Today, dear readers, I enjoyed the most perfect sandwich in the world: toasted wheat bread, smoked turkey, American cheese and a fruit-cup jar of orange juice. Most wonderful. I think I might write that sandwich a song.

So say we all.

Friday, May 4, 2007

The Summer of Great Revisions

Yesterday, I finished my last final of this year and I almost did somersaults out of Farris Hall. To the loyal legion who read this blog, let it be well known that this day begins the Summer of a Thousand Revisions! Because of a fairly large shift in my writing style this past semester, the first eight or so chapters of my novel will need to be heavily revised and restructured. Short stories that I started a few weeks or so ago, will soon be finished and sent out, and I will keep updates on my progress on the blog.

I've moved furniture all morning, rearranging my room into more of an office and so far, being home has proved delightful amounts of fun, but the fact that I still have to unload my car, is anything but said fun. It's packed so full, I think it might explode. After that, I think I shall take a break and watch a little of Mr. Clint Eastwood in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

Speaking of Mr. Eastwood, I think of Roland Deschain of The Dark Tower, then of Stephen King, and then I wonder - anyone want to go see 1408 with me?

So say we all.