Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Listening to Stories

I guess I wore myself out with my deadline push because I was utterly useless yesterday. Well, maybe not entirely. I searched some stock photo sites for potential cover images, did some reading from a book on writing craft, took care of some business things, and did some minor housework. Today I need to get back in the grind and accomplish the to-do list that piled up while I was frantically writing. It’s funny, for the past week, I’ve desperately wanted to clean house, but had to put it on hold to write. Now I really need to clean house, and all I want to do is write.

A lot of my recent “reading” has been on audio, but not regular audio books. After I listened to the audio drama of Stardust, I found the other things they had online to listen to. I got through Northanger Abbey, then discovered Persuasion, and that was where I realized that a regular audio book just doesn’t work for me. It has to be a full-cast drama with sound effects, music, etc. Persuasion was done as part of the BBC’s “Book at Bedtime” series, which is just a narrator reading a book. This was a book I like, read by an actress I like, and I kept zoning out and couldn’t follow it. So it was back to the dramas. There was one from a novel by Julian Fellowes, the writer of Downton Abbey (and including some of the DA cast). And then there was Madame Bovary, narrated by John Hurt (RIP) and with a cast of familiar voices.

Last night, I found a production of Les Miserables in their archives (it seems to be from about 2001). It’s a dramatization of the novel, not related to the musical … except there’s one bit of cast crossover. Roger Allam is playing Jean Valjean, and he played Inspector Javert in the original London cast of the musical. That’s one of the recordings I have, and he does the best version of the “Confrontation” scene. There was a bit of cognitive dissonance during the opening scene of the audio drama, which was a scene between Valjean and Javert, and the voice I associate with Javert was Valjean, so it took me a while to be able to keep the characters straight.

Playing “who’s that voice?” is part of the fun of these. In some cases, they list a full cast on the web site or the announcer gives the credit at the end. In some cases, there’s no cast list, or they just list a few key names for each episode. So many of these actors are people who are familiar from various British TV shows, Masterpiece Theatre, etc.

I’m finding that these work pretty well as a way to wind down and get to sleep, a transition between reading and sleeping. I read for about half an hour, then put the book down, put on my headphones, turn out the light, and lie still while listening to a 15-minute drama episode. Usually, I can then slip off the headphones, put the tablet down, and go to sleep pretty quickly.

Though with British voices running through my head as I fall asleep, how long will it be before I pick up a British accent?

Monday, January 30, 2017

Needing Some Dynamite

I think the book is pretty much done. There are a couple of things I want to check and tweak, and then it’s off to the copyeditor. And then I will collapse/clean house and then get to work on the next thing. I’d like to get a proposal revised and back to my agent before I get the copyedits on this book back.

In tracking the time I spend writing/editing or otherwise actively working on a book, I’ve already spent as much time so far this year as I had by mid-March last year. If I keep it up all year, just think of what I could accomplish!

Meanwhile, the house I was kind of dreaming over at Christmas that was then taken off the market and put out for lease is now back on the market. I’m not any closer to being ready to buy/sell/move than I was a few weeks ago, so I’m going to have to think about what to do. The seller must be pretty desperate. They’re not giving it a lot of time. It was on the market for only a few weeks before they panicked and tried to lease it, then it was up for lease only a couple of weeks before they dropped the rental price, and then a week after that they put it up for sale again — but didn’t drop the asking price from before. I may check in with my Realtor friend and maybe see about at least looking at it, and I guess now would be a better time to be taking action than at the beginning of the month, since the book is done.

On the other hand, these are rather uncertain times, and I’m not sure I want to be making a huge investment right now. As with so many things in my life, it often takes a stick of dynamite to force me to make a move once I’m feeling settled and comfortable. It’s especially appropriate to remember that on the eve of the anniversary of getting laid off from my last job, which was what forced me to be a full-time writer.

Now to go run a search on a couple of words and then muck out the house.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Book Brain and the Budget

I got my draft done last night. Now I need to fix it. I’ve already thought of some adjustments that need to be made to the ending, and I’m sure that a lot of words will need to be made prettier.

It’s funny how much better I slept last night after getting to the end. It’s like my brain couldn’t really rest until the story was done.

Ideas are already starting to swirl for other projects that are getting impatient for attention.

One thing I’ve noticed is that being so intently focused on a book is good for my budget, and not just because writing a book means having a book to sell, which means I make money. When I have a bad case of book brain and don’t want to do anything else, I’m not doing stuff like going out to eat, going to movies, or doing recreational shopping. When I need to shop for necessities, I feel like it’s an intrusion on my writing time, so I make a list and then have a very focused shopping trip in which I go straight to the things on my list, get them, then get out of the store. There’s no wandering around and browsing or being tempted by things that aren’t on my list.

So, I guess I should stay intently focused on books more often. That is kind of the goal for this year, to get more books out there, which means more writing. I have long-term goals and plans that require some short-term sacrifices.

And now off to fix the book. And make a quick grocery run, just for the items on my list.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Finish the Draft Day

Today is finish the draft day. I had a school visit on Tuesday morning, and although it didn’t cut into my actual work time, those things are a massive energy drain, so I got a lot less done that day, and I spent much of that time on research and plotting. I’d been going back and forth between ideas for how to get my characters out of the fix they were in, and at about 4 a.m. on Tuesday I woke up with an idea. Normally, those 4 a.m. “brilliant” ideas that solve everything in the book end up being utterly ridiculous when I wake up and think about them, but this one still made sense and was somewhat viable once I did some research. I needed a better mental image of the location in that time period, and fortunately there are some libraries and museums who have put their historical map collections online. So, that was Tuesday’s work, backtracking to get that set up.

I finally managed to move forward and get my characters out of their immediate jam yesterday, but then I had to get ready for children’s choir. I had something I learned from the workshop a couple of weeks ago that I wanted to try, but it took some preparation.

Today, though, I have no reason to leave the house, nothing on my calendar or to-do list other than writing, and I’m very close to the end of the story. That will leave me a few days for revision/editing and a couple of days for proofreading. I don’t have a lot of rewriting to do, since I’ve been doing it all along. The only thing I know I need to fix is adding a character to an earlier scene to set up his existence. Otherwise, it’s fixing words, adding description and emotion, etc. I can do this! And to help, yesterday I found a bag of dark chocolate Dove hearts that I must have bought last year in the Valentine’s candy clearance sale. They’re just past their sell-by date, so I need to use them quickly, right? They’ll make good writing fuel.

The school visit was interesting, even if it was draining. It was my “neighborhood” middle school — it’s actually in the adjacent town, but it’s where my kids would go if I had kids. The kids were really engaged and asked great questions about books and writing. A couple of girls lingered afterward to ask more in-depth questions. It turns out they’re already writing novels and posting fan fiction on Wattpad. Those kids are the reason I like doing these events. I was those girls at that age, though without the Internet to share my work with others, and it would have been a really big deal for me to get to talk to an actual author when I was that age.

Now, off to go turn tea and chocolate into a steampunk fantasy novel.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

First-Person POV

Continuing my writing post series on point of view, I’m going to dig into first person POV today.

First person POV is when the narrator is a character in the story, so the parts where the narrator talks about him/herself are in first person — “I did this, this happened to me, we went there,” etc.

Usually, the narrator is also the protagonist or the main character, but not always. Dr. Watson is the first-person narrator of the Sherlock Holmes stories, reporting on the adventures of Holmes, the main character. You may also find first-person narrators in framing stories, something fairly common in 19th century novels — the narrator relates a story told to him by someone, and once the story gets started, he’s no longer a participant. An example of this is Wuthering Heights. Sometimes the narrative ends up getting rather nested, as in Frankenstein, in which the book is a series of letters relating stories told to the narrator by someone he encounters, and within those stories is yet another first-person narrative.

The story may be straightforward narrative — a story the narrator just happens to be telling to some undefined audience — or there may be some purpose or particular audience. The story might be the narrator’s testimony, it might be a series of journal entries (as in Bridget Jones’s Diary), or it might be letters. In the case of letters, there might be two first-person narrators who each tell their side of the story as the letters go back and forth.

One strength of first-person narration is that it showcases the narrator’s voice, which can give the book a very strong voice. This is a big reason this POV was popular for the chick lit genre, with its breezy and very contemporary voice, and why we often see it in young adult fiction. Or that voice can very firmly ground the story in a particular time, place, and culture, as in Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. I find as an author that a book written in first person tends to flow more quickly. It’s almost like channeling the character and just letting her talk. On the other hand, you do have to be careful to stay in character and not let your author voice seep through. Anything said needs to be something the character would say, and stated the way the character would say it.

One challenge with first person that can be either a strength or weakness is that it can be rather limiting, since your narrator has to be present for every story event you want to dramatize. If your narrator isn’t present to either witness or participate in the event, you have to resort to having someone else tell the narrator about the event, which is less interesting for readers. That means you have to choose your narrator carefully. This character needs to be someone who is likely to witness and participate in the major story events. Once you’ve committed to a narrator, you’re limited in what events you can show.

But this can also be a strength, and is a reason this POV is popular for mysteries. If readers can only see and know things the narrator sleuth sees and knows, they get to be on the same page and solve the mystery with the narrator. There’s no opportunity for the reader to watch the villain at work, run across evidence the sleuth doesn’t know about, or hear conversations among suspects when the sleuth’s back is turned. This doesn’t mean that the narrator necessarily puts all the pieces together. You can have the narrator note but not interpret something, and clever readers may be able to do the math that the character isn’t inclined to do, so they figure out what’s going on before it occurs to the narrator.

Perhaps the most unique aspect of first-person narration is the fact that the narrator is aware that he or she is telling a story. That means the narrator is choosing what to tell and how to tell it. This is another factor in choosing your narrator wisely. If you want to write a steamy story and your heroine is the sort of person who has to spell the word “s-e-x” and blushes furiously when doing so, she’s not going to make a believable first-person narrator because that character wouldn’t tell anyone about the intimate details of her life. You have to stay in character with what the narrator character would be willing to share, what she’d think about, and what she’d share about her thoughts.

This makes first-person narration probably the best way to tell an unreliable narrator story. With third-person narration, in which the reader is eavesdropping on the characters, who are unaware that they’re in a story, it’s difficult to pull off a big twist about who a viewpoint character is and what their true motives are while still playing fair with the reader. With first-person narration, the character might be lying or withholding information. Your narrator might not share that he’s a secret agent whose real agenda is messing up the operation until he’s ready to reveal himself if he knows he’s telling the story. If you’re just eavesdropping in his brain, you’d think he’d be thinking about his mission and making plans. If you want your viewpoint character to keep secrets from the reader, first-person narration is the way to do it.

On the other hand, there is some loss of suspense with first person, since if the character is telling the story, that implies that the character survived the events and is looking back on them (unless, I suppose, you make it clear that the character is narrating from the afterlife but don’t make it clear when the character died). I have read at least one book in which the first-person narrator died—the story cut off abruptly right before the character headed off to the final confrontation, and then was picked up by someone else who talked about finding the journal that recorded the previous events, then told what he’d learned of the fate of the person who wrote it. I don’t know how many times you’d get away with that gimmick, though.

There are probably more limits to writing first-person narrative than you find with third-person, but those limits can be used to your advantage. Next, I’ll talk about third-person narrative.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Closing in on The End

I have a new stove! It actually came early. The delivery was set for sometime between 2 and 6, but I got a call at around 11:45 asking if I’d be there if they came in 45 minutes. I had to scramble to get things ready, but I was fine with that, and it was all set up and they were gone by 1, so my afternoon went uninterrupted. I cooked dinner on it that night, and I baked something for breakfast on Saturday, then used both the stove top and oven for Sunday dinner. According to my oven thermometer, it seems to be running a bit cool, and the “oven on” light clicks off before it’s heated to the proper temperature. After years of an oven that was much hotter than the temperature on the knob indicated, it’s going to take some trial and error to get used to this one. I may use it for a few weeks before I do anything to recalibrate the knob.

And now I have about a week to finish this book. I may have about two days of writing to get my rough draft done, depending on how much gets done (I’m having to go back and adjust a few things to get where I need to be), and then there will be a frenzy of revision. I imagine I won’t have much of a weekend next weekend. I’ll be holed up with the computer, doing a marathon of editing.

Then I may allow myself a day or two to breathe and get my life back in order, and then I’ll get to work on fixing that proposal I’ve been working on. After that, the plan is to develop an Enchanted Universe novella — a shorter piece set in the Enchanted, Inc. universe but about one of the secondary characters, like that free short story, but a bit longer. I have several ideas, but I haven’t narrowed down whose story will get told this time.

But first, I must finish the book. Off to work …

Friday, January 20, 2017

New Stove Day

My new stove is coming this afternoon, so that means I have to totally clean my house (at least the downstairs) before then because I’m one of those people. I still say that what I need is a maid service that does nothing more than set appointments saying they’re coming, and that will make me clean the house in preparation for the appointment, so I no longer need the maid service.

I will admit that a monthly deep cleaning service is on my wish list when I make enough money to support it. I sometimes even remind myself of that as motivation when I have a “but I don’t wanna write” day. I figure that would force me to keep clutter in check, as it can’t get too bad in one month, and I’d tidy up before the maid came. The maid could take care of the stuff I seldom get around to doing or don’t think about doing, and then I’d enjoy it being clean so much that I might be motivated to keep it that way, like when I stay in a hotel. When I do a massive clean on my own, I enjoy it and can keep it that way for a while, but then I have a lazy day and slip, and it’s all downhill from there, so I need the combination of a good clean baseline and a regular reset. I suspect there will be a cleaning and organizing frenzy when this book is done (though I say that with every book because one symptom of being near the end of a draft is a sudden urge to clean and organize my house, which passes as soon as the book is done).

Anyway, most of what I need to do is make sure there’s a clear path to the kitchen, which will require some furniture adjusting. Then I will need to tidy, just because I want to. And I need to get all my pans out of the old stove’s storage drawer.

Meanwhile, I did manage to throw some monkey wrenches into my characters’ plans. Maybe not a complete reversal, but they’re having to improvise. This is actually making them look even more clever, which is fun, and I’m showing them working as a team. I have about 15,000 words to go to reach my rough target word count, and I don’t think this one will require massive rewrites, since I’ve been fixing things as I go. I’ll just need to do a good clean up and polish pass.

Now, off to fix my kitchen!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Curse of Clever Characters

I’m starting to see why it’s so tempting for authors to create characters who are Too Stupid to Live: It’s so much easier to write that way. If it’s totally in character for your people to just blunder into things or rush rashly into things, then it’s easier to get them into trouble. If your characters are really clever and thinking several steps ahead, considering possible consequences, planning their actions, and generally having common sense, they’re less likely to be able to get into the kind of trouble that makes for an interesting plot. There’s not much fun in a story that has a character see what the bad guy is up to, research it, come up with a plan that has several backups, and then execute that plan perfectly to achieve victory.

That means that if the characters are smart, the writer has to work a lot harder to make things interesting. There have to be unexpected snags the characters couldn’t have anticipated — events they weren’t aware of, betrayal by other characters, mechanical failure, badly timed weather events. This is the rare place when you can get away with using coincidence. The general rule is that you can only use coincidence to make things worse for your characters, never to make things easier. So you can use the coincidence of weather hitting at the worst possible time, the rare guard who shows up early for his shift change, a traffic accident that blocks the road and impedes the getaway, etc. Even the smartest person can’t plan for absolutely everything.

I keep running into this in the Rebels books because my main characters are so smart and logical. Verity doesn’t rush into things rashly. She does her research and thinks things through, trying to account for all contingencies. That means my first attempts at her carrying out a plan tend to be boring because her plans work. I have to go back and break her plans in ways that don’t make her look dumb.

And I’ve run into that yet again, only this time it’s both her and Henry, so we have two smart people, one of whom has extensive experience in pulling off elaborate plans and then getting away. Anything they come up with should work — and that’s a real problem for me. I have to come up with things they didn’t account for to force them to improvise. I have to be even smarter than my characters. It helps there that I can know things they don’t. I can make someone betray them, derail a train, cause an accident. But I still seem to always have the “the plan works” draft that has to be scrapped for the “unexpected things make everything more difficult” draft. At least this time around, I figured out what was happening only three pages in, and I removed the situation that made things too easy. That back door mysteriously vanished, like it never existed. No trace remains in the story.

I would say that I should give myself a break and write a dumb character, but I think I’d find that annoying for other reasons.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Shopping from the Sofa

I did something new for me yesterday: I bought a stove while sitting on my sofa. My old stove worked, in the sense that it got hot and cooked food, but it had been perhaps a wee bit overzealous about that. The oven was heating up nearly 50 degrees hotter than the dial indicated, and the “burner on” indicator light for the stove would come on randomly, first if you shut the oven door or otherwise bumped the stove fairly hard, later if you set something on the stove. Yesterday, after I cooked breakfast, the light wouldn’t go off when I turned off the burner, and it stayed on even when the burner was cold. Worse, it was making a weird whining sound that unnerved me so much that I flipped the breaker (unplugging would have required pulling it all the way out). Since the stove is original to the house and more than 30 years old, I figured that it wouldn’t be worth it to try to get it repaired, and it looks old and worn enough that it would have been a factor in selling the house, so I figured I might as well get a new one. I was grumbling about spending the time to go shopping while I researched stoves on the Home Depot site, when it occurred to me that all that happens when I go to the store is that the store associate goes online and orders it (usually after I’ve spent about half an hour trying to find someone to help me). There’s no real difference in ordering it myself online. I had it narrowed down to two stoves that were basically the current version of what I have now and had decided to go with the slightly more expensive one that had the better customer reviews (93 percent said they’d recommend it, vs. 85 percent of the other one), and the more expensive one was above the threshold for free delivery, which made it ultimately less expensive. But when I clicked to put it in my cart, the price came up at $100 less than was marked. It was an online only unadvertised special. I ended up getting the more expensive one with the cord kit for installation, delivery, haul-away, and tax for less than the base price of the “cheaper” version. And it was a deal I couldn’t have had if I’d gone to the store.

It’s going to be delivered Friday. I can survive that long without the stove because I have an electric teakettle for boiling water, I’m having dinner at church tonight anyway, and I made a vat of nacho soup on Monday, so I have leftovers to nuke. Between the electric kettle, the toaster oven, and the microwave, I’m good to go, though I will confess to getting a few baking urges, just because I know I can’t bake. I imagine I’ll be making either muffins or scones for Saturday breakfast, just to play with my new toy.

Now I will have replaced all my kitchen appliances, and they’ll all be white instead of the ugly bisque color that came with the house.

It is possible that I have some kind of plain, white issue going on. My walls are plain white (except for one wall of wallpaper in the dining room). My sheets are plain white, as are my towels. My dishes are plain white. And now my appliances are, as well.

I’ll have to be efficient the rest of the week to fit in the writing plus the tidying I’ll need to do to be able to clear a path for the delivery. Some furniture may have to be shifted, and I’ll have to rearrange some things in the kitchen to make it easier for them to work. Plus, I’m the kind of person who cleans like I’m having a party whenever anyone, even a repairman, is coming over, and my house currently looks like I’ve been frantically writing a book.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Book Report: Thoughts on Fantasy

I might actually meet my deadline. I think I can finish the first draft this week, and that then gives me about a week for polishing. I’m heading into the big final confrontation stuff, so it tends to go more quickly, unless I have to stop and think.

I haven’t done a book report in ages. I guess I went through a bit of a “blah” reading phase. But I recently read one I want to talk about, The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst. It’s the kind of fantasy novel I’ve been looking for. I’m not sure I’d call it “light” because some pretty dark stuff happens, but it has a sense of optimism to it and the protagonists are honorable, relatable people, so it’s not too depressing. The worldbuilding is astonishing. The society and the physical structure of the world are unlike anything I’ve seen before. This is definitely not your standard-issue quasi-medieval fantasy world.

For one thing, the people live in trees! There are whole villages formed among the branches of giant trees. However, the forest isn’t entirely safe because there’s a delicate balance between the people and the spirits of the world. The spirits want to kill people, but people have managed to keep them in check and get their service at times. The story is about what happens when that balance goes off and how it may take a new approach to achieve a different kind of balance. Saying much more about the story would give away too much.

Between this and Uprooted, it makes you look at the woods in a totally different way.

I’ve also been doing some non-fiction reading. It took me ages to get through it since I was fitting it in around fiction reading and writing, but I read The Fellowship, by Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski, which is about the group of writers around Oxford that included C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. The book gets into the history and lives of Lewis, Tolkien, and the other main members of the Inklings, weaving their individual stories together in the ways their lives intersected and delving into their individual faiths and the influence of life and faith on their writing. It was fascinating stuff, if a bit dense at times.

In a way, it made me wish for a group of friends like that, people to get together with and talk about writing and myth and faith. But then the thought of reading my work in progress out loud to people is rather terrifying, and getting together a couple of times a week would be overkill to me. I wouldn’t have time to get any writing done.

Reading about their influences and their philosophies on fantasy was interesting because it echoes a lot of the way I look at it, as a way of exploring ideas and creating places where amazing things can happen.

I’m not sure I’d recommend this book to anyone who wasn’t really, really interested in the topic, though.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Back to Writer Mode

After spending a couple of days playing musician, I’m back to writer mode, and I don’t get a holiday today because I have a deadline.

It was a good weekend, though a bit tiring. I’m not used to having to get up early and get across town — into the real city — first thing in the morning and then sit in meetings all day to then drive home in evening rush hour, being around people that whole time. They’re nice people and fun people and I’m doing stuff I love, but it’s still crowded and noisy and active. In the sessions on dealing with preschoolers, there’s a lot of physical activity because we have to do the stuff we’re going to have to teach. Then there are sightreading sessions where it’s kind of challenging reading music I’ve never seen before and I feel self conscious about not being a truly trained professional musician when I’m surrounded by professionals. One interesting thing I got out of the weekend was a good voice lesson. On Saturday, I had a slot where I’d gone to the session that interested me on Friday (they do the same schedule both days, so you can do multiple things) and there wasn’t anything else that really applied, and someone I sat with at lunch suggested I go to the session on youth choir just because the instructor was so good. It was on developing musicianship, and that’s a weakness of mine, as I never really learned music theory. He was talking about how to teach music theory for choir members, but I was picking up how I could go about learning music theory. I enjoyed hearing him speak so much, and I had reached information overload about preschool stuff, so I stayed for his last session, on developing the individual voice. His premise was that it’s not a great idea to tell a whole choir they should be doing something, technique-wise. The ones who are doing it wrong don’t think they’re doing it wrong, so most of them won’t correct it, and it tends to be the ones who are doing it right who are worried about doing it right and will try to correct it (and probably overcorrect), which means they’ll end up doing it wrong. The result of telling the whole choir to make a correction is generally the whole choir ending up being wrong. He said directors should listen and pay attention to what each person is doing and make individual corrections. There were only four people in this session, since it was the end of the workshop, so he demonstrated on us, having us all sing something, and then giving individual corrections. I turned out to have been the overcorrector in the group. It was obvious that I’d taken a very common group instruction, since it addresses a problem that’s very likely, and overdone it to the point I was wrong. Now I have to work on fixing that bad habit, and I know to ignore it when the choir director tells everyone to do a particular thing.

Then last night we had some nasty storms. I was watching PBS when the neighborhood tornado sirens went off, my weather radio went off, and PBS dropped audio to play a weather warning, so I switched over to a local station showing the radar. When I saw that the storm track included my specific neighborhood, I put on my “real” shoes and started preparing my safe space, putting a towel in the bathtub to lie on and getting the old featherbed ready to pull over me. I lucked out because just before the questionable part of the storm got to my area, the squall line caught up to it and the tornado risk dropped. We had gusty winds and a lot of rain, but no tornado. It was just rather unnerving having those sirens going for about half an hour. We got enough rain to test the repairs on my house, and I can’t detect any dampness, so now I get to fight with the HOA about getting the interior repaired and doing some mold remediation.

But first, I have a book to finish, and it’s going to be a close call to meet the deadline, so work, work, work.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Falling into Structure

Among writers and other people involved in the books biz, there’s often discussion about various plot structures and their merits or whether they should even be used at all. Some claim they hate the hero’s journey or the three-act structure, or Save the Cat, or whatever the current trend is. But the thing is, I suspect most of them come down to more or less the same thing, expressed in different ways, and if you’re doing it right, you’re probably going to fall into these structures, even if you didn’t plan it that way.

For instance, the last few days I’ve been writing the big midpoint part of the book — not the climax, but the big stuff that happens in the middle to lead up to the climax. If you’re thinking in terms of the hero’s journey, that would be the Ordeal section. I did plan that because I’ve found that the best way to avoid a sagging middle is to write a big action sequence in the middle of the book. It’s kind of the midterm exam for the characters — they’re being tested on what they’ve learned so far and realize that they aren’t quite ready for the final confrontation, so they have to regroup before we get to the big climax of the story.

Yesterday’s writing picked up from that and went into the aftermath, a quieter scene of waiting, characters who hadn’t spent much time together getting to have a conversation, and even a bit of romance. And then I realized that without having planned it that way, I was writing the Reward scene (aka Seizing the Sword). It’s the regrouping after the Ordeal, a time of letting the characters and the readers catch their breath, often a time of bonding or a love scene. It’s the emotional aftermath of what they’ve just gone through. I didn’t chart it out to happen that way. It was just what seemed logical to write next, and that’s why the pattern is the pattern. It’s what makes sense in storytelling to maintain the sense of tension and emotion.

Today’s writing should get to another big emotional moment, as it involves a big discovery about something I’ve been teasing for a while, and I don’t have anything I really need to do today, other than write (and maybe a walk to the post office), so I hope to get a lot done, since I’m out all day tomorrow and Saturday at Choristers Guild. There’s a specific session on dealing with “live wires” in young children, and I need all the help I can get with my choir. My gang of unruly boys seems to absolutely love being there — they race to be first and would happily come into the room as soon as I arrive to set up if I let them — but it seems to be more about getting to play together than about actually doing choir stuff. My reward for going to learn how to direct my kids is getting to participate in a few of the adult sessions to learn to be a better singer. The sightreading sessions, where everyone else in the room is a professional, mostly with music degrees, are daunting and challenging, but still a lot of fun, and I get to sing first soprano for a change.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Point of View

It’s a new year, and time to get back to the writing posts. If you have a question or topic you’d like me to address, let me know. I’m also thinking about compiling these posts into an e-book. Would there be any interest in that? I’d have to figure out what a reasonable price would be. There would be a lot of content, but all that content is also available for free if you’re willing to dig through the blog archives.

Anyway, I’m going to address point of view because I recently tried to read a book and could never get into it because of a huge point of view error in the opening paragraph. So, time for a refresher!

There are four main points of view that you can use in writing fiction (and probably subgroups, but I’m going to try to keep it simple here).

The most common point of view used in fiction is probably third-person — the “he did” and “she said” kind of books. The narrator is outside the story. There are two main varieties of third-person POV.

Third-person omniscient has a narrator who knows everything, including what is in each person’s head and events that the characters don’t know about. To some extent, the narrator has his/her own voice as the storyteller, even though the narrator isn’t a participant. The narrator can dip into various characters’ heads to give their thoughts or can clue readers in on things the characters don’t know (the “little did he know, his life was about to change” sort of thing). You see this kind of narration in fairy tales and fables. It was also popular in a lot of Victorian fiction. Charles Dickens often used this POV. I think Jane Austen fits in here, too, as her books are very much in Jane’s voice, with a fair amount of editorial commentary on the characters and situations. It’s less popular today, but sometimes pops up in more satirical works, like Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books.

The more common version of third-person narration is limited third, where you’re in only one character’s head at a time. It’s still “he did” and “she said,” but through the eyes of a particular character. The perspective may change from scene to scene, so you get multiple viewpoints in a book, but while you’re in a character’s head, you only see, hear, think, and experience what that person would be aware of. To see that character from the outside, you have to get into someone else’s head.

Another point of view used in fiction is first-person. That would be the “I” books — The narrator is a participant in the story and is telling his/her own story. You see this a lot in mysteries. I write my Enchanted, Inc. and Rebel Mechanics series in first-person. Because the narrator is a character, you’re limited to what the narrator character sees, hears, and thinks. You can’t dip into anyone else’s head. You can’t show events if the narrator isn’t present.

Finally, there’s second person — “you” books. This is fairly rare and tends to be used either in more literary stories or in choose-your-own-adventure books. It turns the reader into the protagonist: “You wake up in the morning and don’t know what’s happening.” Aside from pronouns, this functions a lot like first person because readers don’t get access to anything the protagonist doesn’t know or experience.

That’s a broad overview. In the coming weeks, I’ll dig deeper into the more common viewpoints and address the strengths, weaknesses, and pitfalls.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Bedtime Stories

I spent four hours (by the stopwatch, so that doesn’t count e-mail checking or tea breaks) writing yesterday, only to end up with about the same word count as I started with. There was a lot of deleting of old stuff, but now I’m rid of everything I probably won’t be using and everything going forward will be new and (I hope) on the right track. I woke up this morning thinking of what will happen next, and it’s a very exciting, fun scene, so that will be this afternoon’s work.

Meanwhile in reading, I gave up on that 80s fantasy novel and returned it to the library today. I made it about 100 pages in, and I guess it wasn’t entirely bad, but there are other things I’d rather be reading, so why waste my time on something I’m having to force myself to read? I think I might have liked it if I’d read it in my teens, but I’ve ready so many books exactly like that, and I’m at a point in my life when reading about the coming of age of a teenage boy is less than thrilling. I still enjoy books about teen girls, but if a guy is the primary viewpoint character, I want an adult. I’m sure there are exceptions, but the book would have to be exceptional, not just the standard-issue “clumsy, small for his age stableboy turns out to have special magical powers” story.

While at the library, I picked up a couple of the books recommended here in comments. I knew when I was more excited about reading them than I was about the book I was reading, and there were about 700 pages to go in the book I was reading, it was time to throw in the towel. Another bad sign was that I was putting that book down so I could listen to the adaptation of Northanger Abbey on the BBC radio web site.

While I was listening to Stardust, I discovered that they have a whole section devoted to “15-minute dramas,” which are generally serialized productions of books, or else single-episode short stories. They’re just the right length for a bedtime story, something to lie there and listen to with the lights out. It seems to be good for shutting down the mental hamster wheel so I go to sleep more quickly. So this week it’s been Northanger Abbey. I’ll have to see what to listen to after that.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Up and Down

We’re having a fairly normal Texas winter. I spent Friday afternoon working in my office while watching snow fall. I will possibly end up working at least a little bit this afternoon sitting on my patio. I’ll probably be patio officing most of the week. Then Saturday is another possible winter weather event, which I hope doesn’t go for worst-case scenario, as I have the Choristers Guild winter workshop this weekend, so I have to actually drive on Friday and Saturday, and I’m the scripture reader in church on Sunday. The up-and-down temperatures can get annoying, but in a way I don’t mind. I can deal with a few days of cold when I know I’ll have a few warm days to look forward to. It just would be nice if we could occasionally find a happy medium. This year we’re either below freezing and well below normal or in the 70s and way above normal. I wouldn’t mind a few days with highs in the 50s and lows in the upper 30s. But at least we’ve had more hard freezes this year than we got last year, which should mean fewer bugs next summer.

Now that Epiphany is over, my house has now been de-Christmased (though I do need to make a couple of trips to the garage now that it’s warm enough). I always dread that because I feel like the house will look naked afterward, but it’s funny how quickly it just feels normal again. Though I do miss having Christmas tree lights in my bedroom. That made for a nice way to bridge between the full light of the lamp and having all the lights off. Maybe I should look for a ficus tree or some kind of artistic ornamental branch I could hang lights on.

I’m going to have to really dig in and write this week. I was hoping to get a draft done before the workshop this weekend, but that seems unlikely. I’m about halfway through, but most of what I wrote Friday will have to be undone, as I realized that it was the big midpoint of the book and all that was happening was people were making speeches. I spent Saturday and Sunday brainstorming and making lists of things that could happen and replotting the book while trying to put myself in my characters’ heads and figuring out what they would do in this situation, and now I think I have a solution. I’ve even started seeing the movie of it in my head.

Meanwhile, I checked out the new series Emerald City, the latest Wizard of Oz telling, last weekend, and it’s rather interesting. They’re taking the basic story elements and updating them, putting the action into a fairly gritty Game of Thrones-type world. Dorothy’s an adult nurse who was left as a baby with Aunt Em and Uncle Henry. She’s in a police car when the tornado hits, which gives her some useful supplies and a German shepherd police dog (that’s our Toto). They seem to have done some decent worldbuilding, as there’s some kind of mythology/backstory going on with the Wizard and witches. Our “Scarecrow” is a man found semi-crucified, wounded, and with amnesia (“if I only had a brain …”).

I think that last part may be what sucks me in because I love that “who would you be if you didn’t know who you were?” trope. Clearly, this guy has been through something. He just doesn’t know what it was or why, and since Dorothy knows nothing of him, she has to take him at face value. He doesn’t even know what he looks like until he looks in a mirror, so he will be entirely defined by the actions he takes and the choices he makes.

I need to add this trope to my literary bucket list. I did something similar with Kiss and Spell when everyone had fake identities but still found their true selves, but this is different. I actually have an idea brewing where this might fit. But first I have a few other things that need to be written.

Friday, January 06, 2017

Old Books

I hit a particular reading mood right before Christmas in which what I desperately wanted to read was fun fantasy — something escapist, about people I liked having adventures in a world I’d want to visit. I wanted something like Stardust, with adventure, magic, and romance. I posed the question to a fantasy group on Facebook and got a lot of recommendations for things I’ve already read. But there were also some recommendations for old classics that I hadn’t read, books from the early days of fantasy as a commercial publishing genre. Fantasy stories have been around forever, but it was the US paperback edition of The Lord of the Rings in the late 60s/early 70s (I think the late 60s one was unauthorized, but it was still a big hit) that kickstarted the idea of books like that as a genre that was kind of a subset of science fiction, and they started actually labeling books as “fantasy” and had publishing imprints dedicated to that.

As happens with a lot of newly popular genres, publishers became desperate to find more books like that, which meant the quality varied widely. The Sword of Shannara was one of those early books, and it was essentially a retelling of The Lord of the Rings. There were a lot more a lot like that. I missed many of them, even though I was a teen fantasy reader hungry for more books like that in the early 80s, mostly because of my access to books at the time. I was living in a small town without a library or bookstore. The school library was pretty much useless. The nearest bookstore was a B. Dalton in the mall in a city more than ten miles away, and I didn’t have independent transportation to get there or much money to spend on books. We mostly got our book fix from the large used bookstore in that nearby city, and later we were able to get a membership in the library in a nearby small town. But that meant that my selection was limited to what was in the library (and when it came to paperbacks, that usually meant what people had donated) or what was in the used bookstore, and that meant it was the books people were willing to get rid of. As a result, I missed a lot of the classics from that era.

So, I thought I’d give some of those that were being recommended a shot. I figure that someone working as a fantasy novelist ought to have read some of the standards. Unfortunately, it’s really hard to go back and read those now. They come across as awfully cliched. These were the books that created the cliches, so they weren’t cliches at the time, but if you’ve ready pretty widely in the genre and then go back to the earlier books, the tropes really jump out at you.

For instance, how many of these books start with a weather report? It’s like the way to set the mood and establish the world is to have the main character noting the weather — snow is falling, it hasn’t rained in ages, there’s a storm coming. Then we frequently have our hero do something really dumb that ends up launching him into the story — he misses a turn and goes to the wrong place, forgets what he was sent to do, takes a break to take a nap and oversleeps, trusts the wrong person, trips over something and causes a disaster, etc. This is because we have to establish our hero as an unlikely hero, an everyman underdog in the mold of Frodo and Bilbo, and apparently that means he’s a bit bumbling. He’ll probably be helped out of the fix he got himself into by the appearance of a white-bearded, wise old wizard. Once he’s thanked the wizard for his rescue, the two of them will have some kind of conversation in which they discuss the history and current political situation of their world. The wizard will either sense some kind of power or potential in our hero or will know something about the hero’s background that the hero doesn’t realize about himself (all those orphans with mysterious origins). The wizard will either recruit the hero for some kind of quest or take him on as an apprentice. The hero will try to learn magic and fail (more bumbling), and it’s almost inevitable that he’ll later learn that this is because he’s truly special and has a different kind of magic that doesn’t work by the usual rules. Once he figures out how his power works, he’ll be the most powerful wizard ever.

I won’t name the book that inspired this rant because it applies to more than half the fantasy novels published between about 1973 and 1993. I’m really making an effort to get through the one I’m reading now, since the author is now considered a grandmaster of the field and I’ve never read anything by him, but I don’t know how long I can take it. It’s not his fault that other people went on to do the formula better than he did or that other people ripped him off (then again, I’ve read several books in this mold that were published before this one, so it was already a bit tropey).

However, I will blame the author for making a bad point of view break in the opening paragraph. I think I need to do a writing post on handling deep POV.

I need to find more current fantasy that’s not so grim and dark. What else is out there for someone who wants to read something like Stardust?

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Moving Along

I had to start children’s choir again last night, and it was an interesting experience. To say that the kids were hyper would be an understatement. One kid was so out of control that his mother had to get involved (fortunately, she was present in the building and recognized the sound of his yelling when he had to get taken into the hallway for throwing things). Others were clinging to the legs of the adults and teens, so they couldn’t move. I guess they must have had indoor recess at school that day, or something, because the energy levels were off the charts. But they did catch on to the one thing I tried to teach, so that’s a plus.

However, I’m very glad to have a quiet day at home. It’s cold and gray, so it’s good writing weather. I’m making decent progress on a third Rebels book, and when I have extra time, I’m working on a proposal for a possible new YA fantasy series. Yes, that means I’m juggling multiple fictional worlds, but I’m always doing that. I’m just not usually working in them at the same time. I’m usually spending the afternoon on the book and the evening on the proposal.

Meanwhile, I’ve never really been a short story writer, but the ideas for that are hitting me left and right, so I want to make time to do some of that. Maybe between books or between phases of books.

I realize my blogging has been kind of “meh” this week, but I’ve really been focused on writing and am getting back into the swing of things. I may be re-assessing how I do this as the year progresses. If I ever get around to redoing the web site on a different platform, I’ll probably incorporate the blog into that, and then I may do something like use social media for short status updates (what I’m working on, what’s going on in my life) and use the blog for deeper discussion, maybe a few times a week instead of every day.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Stardust at Night

We’re having a roller coaster winter, with warm days and sudden cold snaps. Monday, I worked on the patio. Yesterday a front came through, so today I’m bundled up indoors. It’s supposed to be even colder tomorrow and Friday, with a chance of snow, so I will likely be working from the bed, under the electric blanket.

I’m trying something new and making myself sit on the exercise ball at my laptop desk when I’m using the “Internet” computer. I finally got that new computer I bought in the fall set up, and it’s so much faster online, so I’m using it for Internet, graphics, and the like. The old computer works, but is slow online, so I’ve turned its Wi-Fi off and am using it to write. That’s also the machine that has Office. I may eventually get Office for the new one, but for now, the Mac applications seem to do just fine. I also got Scrivener for this machine, but I’m still on a learning curve there. I’m looking forward to figuring out all the features for keeping a series straight. I can get Internet on the old computer, in case there’s something I want to look up while I’m writing, but keeping the Wi-Fi off means less temptation. So far, it seems to be working. I’m getting stuff done at my desk upstairs when I’m writing, and sitting on the ball makes me less likely to get sidetracked into mindless surfing. It will also probably end up helping my posture and my core muscles along the way. What sparked this was a newspaper article on all the ways that sitting all day is bad for you. I’m not sure I’d get much done on a standing desk, but one of the alternatives they suggested was sitting on an exercise ball because that counteracts some of the bad aspects of sitting, like the effect on posture. It’s nearly impossible to slouch while sitting on one of these things.

In other news … I’ve never really gotten into audiobooks because I tend to zone out when people read to me, but I enjoy audio dramas like they do on BBC radio. There’s currently an adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust available to listen to online. I listened to part one last night, and it’s quite good — rather different in some ways from both book and movie, so while the story is familiar, it’s still got some “new” to it. I streamed it on my tablet with my headphones on while lying in bed with the lights out, and I would recommend headphones or a good stereo because there’s some nice separation that gives you the impression of motion as a sound goes from one channel to the other. I enjoyed listening to my bedtime “reading” enough that I may have to give an audiobook a try. It might be a way to shut off my brain to go to sleep. Or I’d end up more awake from listening intently.

Anyway, you can hear Stardust at this link for another couple of weeks.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Year in Review and Looking Ahead

I feel like I got the year off to a decent start with some writing work. Now to really buckle down and do even more so I can meet that deadline. The weather is cooperating, with a nice cold front coming in, so there’s not much temptation to do anything other than write. And read, I guess. It is a good time to curl up with a good book, but I’m going to focus on writing them.

I did hit my goal of reading 100 books last year. My other reading achievement was reading the entire Bible through. I may have done that when I was a teenager, but it’s possible I fizzled out somewhere along the way. This time, I did it, and kept it up every day. The big change for me in reading this year was getting a tablet so I could start reading e-books. The bulk of my reading is still on paper (mostly from the library), but I’ve tried some things I might not have otherwise when there were special discounts. And then I discovered the ways you can check e-books out from the library. I may now be doomed. Those times when I finish a book in the evening after the library closes and I need something new to read (I mean other than those hundreds of books in the Strategic Book Reserve) are now no longer a crisis. I can just jump on the library’s web site, find something to read, check it out, and start reading right away. Yep, I can go to the library in my pajamas without getting out of bed.

I didn’t see a lot of movies last year. The big ones obviously were Fantastic Beasts and Rogue One. This year, I’m really looking forward to the live-action Beauty and the Beast, and I’m intrigued by the Dunkirk movie coming out this summer. I’m not sure what else is coming out.

I’m trying to make more time for reading this year, mostly by making myself step away from the computer in the evening instead of giving in to the temptation to keep surfing late into the night. Yeah, it’s only been a couple of nights so far, but I seem to be sleeping better in addition to getting more reading done. Really, stepping away from the computer more — other than when I’m actually writing — is high on my list of goals for the year. That will free up time to do other things.

Monday, January 02, 2017

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! I was working off and on during the holidays, but now I’m more or less back to work with my regular expectations and schedule. Today is still semi-holiday, since the Rose Parade is being shown this morning, but I’m doing work stuff while watching.

2016 was notoriously awful in a lot of ways. It wasn’t too horrendous for me. It was a low year, income-wise, and I lost yet another publisher, but I accomplished a lot. I wrote more than I have in years, and I received some nice honors.

Last year I decided to go all-in with conventions, accepting every invitation that came along, and see how that affected my career. My sales went down. I don’t think my sales went down because of the conventions, but they didn’t go up, either. So I’m dialing way back on that and devoting that time to writing and perhaps some of that money to other forms of publicity. I’m committed to two local conventions for the year, and I plan to go to the Nebula Awards weekend and the World Fantasy Convention for networking purposes. I’ll be a guest of honor at Necronomicon in Florida in the fall, and I’m certainly open to being that kind of guest, but after ten years on the convention circuit, I’m probably not going to do a lot of conventions where my travel expenses aren’t covered. I’m definitely not going to do more of the comic/media conventions, the kind where the focus is on celebrity guests. I did two of those last year, and I found that the non-celebrity author guests are treated like an afterthought at best, and at worst like an inconvenience. I had a really bad experience with that at a convention this weekend, and never again until or unless I’m big enough to count as a celebrity. Instead, I plan to focus more on school and library events.

I have a plan for what I want to write this year, and I’m hoping to get more books out more frequently, with some shorter pieces in between novels, and I’d like to get some proposals out to sell some books to publishers. I really upped my writing time last year, and I want to do even more this year.

Otherwise, I really want this to be the year I get my house in order. I had a bit of a wakeup call during the holidays when a house that would have been ideal went on the market. I was in no way ready to sell, buy, or move, but I really liked that house. It got taken off the market to be leased, so I didn’t have to scramble, but I realized that I need to get my act together so I can act on any future opportunities when they come up. I’ve got a plan of daily work to get that done. Let’s see how far my beginning of year enthusiasm propels me.