Monday, August 31, 2009

Your Character is Wrong

Your Character is Wrong

squenix-character-design Let me paint a picture. We’ll discuss it, then I’ll show you how your character is wrong.

You wake up in the morning. What do you do? Brush your teeth? Take a shower? Make breakfast?

Why not brush your dog? Take a nap? Make dinner?

Sounds silly at first, but what happens is that you make choices. You decide what is important to you at every moment, weigh the alternatives, and make a choice. At every moment of life, we have an infinite number of choices. We think we know what the consequences are of each choice. If we brush our teeth, then we have clean breath and an unkempt dog. But if we brush the dog, then we have a nice puppy but bad breath. Choices.

Some choices are not so obvious, especially when emotions are involved. These are the decisions that people spend a lot of energy thinking about. Whom do we ask out and how? When do we break up or quit our job? Which college is the right one? Should I enlist? People agonize over these choices because the consequences of a bad choice can be painful if not outright deadly.

I read a snippet of someone’s WIP the other day. It included a line something to the effect of “She hated the way he made her feel.”

Here’s the thing. There are no wires attached to your brain and no strings attached to your arms and legs. Nobody is controlling your emotions through some external means. You have eyes, ears, a nose, a tongue, and skin. All these organs generate electro-chemical impulses that are fairly indistinguishable from each other. These signals enter your brain which then decides what those impulses mean. A bunch of neurons fire in your ear, which activates your brain, which interprets those impulses into words, which (according to your X years of life on Earth) you decide means someone is saying something, and that something is hurtful. You’ve wired your own brain to decide what something means. No one can make you feel anything. You’ve chosen the meaning based on your experience and your beliefs about that person and the words that are said.

Here’s the next thing. You decide how your brain is wired (mostly). Your brain is not a computer with X number of transistors. You decide how to decode external stimuli. You make choices based on these stimuli. At some point, you may suddenly make a new choice, given the same external input. How does this happen? You choose to interpret things differently. The process in which you choose new interpretations is called learning. It’s the process in which people change and grow. Inside your brain, the neurons are always changing, creating new connections and severing old ones. You decide which connections are important, and which ones you choose to drop.

This is the key to successful story writing. Your character starts out with a certain world view. They make the same choices given the same external stimuli. This view does not serve them, given an unbiased external analysis, and especially as the story moves forward and they face greater and greater obstacles. Characters are locked into their world view because it’s all they’ve known, and they’ve rejected anything outside this view. They fight to protect this world view, because what does the alternative mean? What would it mean to find out that their belief system is incomplete or flawed? What would they discover if those same hurtful words they hear became helpful or even a revelation?

fonz and richie It would mean that they were wrong. Nobody wants to admit they are wrong, or ignorant, or mistaken. More than that, they would have to see that they were wrong about their interpretation of the most important event of their lives, whether this event happens in the backstory or in the first act. Their conclusions were wrong, and every choice they made based on this conclusion was probably based on faulty logic. The best episode on the TV series “Happy Days” is when The Fonz(Henry Winkler) has to apologize to Richie Cunningham(Ron Howard). He’s established his entire world view on being “cool”, or being tough and unrepentant. He must learn that even the great Arthur Fonzarelli makes mistakes. He finally explains, “Cool is knowing the difference between right and wrong and doing what is right with guts.” He has a new interpretation of the word “cool”. He was wrong, and once he realizes this, his whole life changes and he now has the power to conquer his foes.

A good story should rip apart the character’s world view. But characters shouldn’t go down without a fight. The biggest and most important battle a character fights is not with the antagonist. The villain is simply there to point out the character’s weaknesses, to show them where they’ve been wrong. In fact, there’s no way to defeat the villain while clinging to their old world view. The villain uses this knowledge to their advantage. It’s not until the character learns a new interpretation of their defining event and beliefs that they can defeat the villain, and the old demons in their head. It’s the moment where they say, “I’m not this weak/boring/unlovable/unworthy/untalented/indecisive/fearful person. I’m a mighty/fascinating/cherished/deserving/inspired/assertive/brave man/woman and I’m kicking ass!”

So here are the questions you should ask yourself when reviewing your story:

  1. What critical event occurred in your character’s life (usually in childhood) and what decision did they make about themselves based on that event? How does it affect their world view?
  2. How does this negatively impact them in the present (the start of the novel)? How does it hold them back?
  3. How does this world view impact their ability to work through the central crisis of the novel?
  4. What do they learn about this critical event in their past? What new interpretation do they have? How does this affect their choices moving forward?
  5. How does this help them confront the antagonist and prevail in the end?

I’m going to answer these questions for Dawn in Dawn’s Rise in the comment section. I’d love to hear how your characters change too.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The “Evil Twin” Meme Sucks

The “Evil Twin” Meme Sucks

wonders-if-i-has-evil-twin-muhahahaha Meme: A postulated unit or element of cultural ideas, symbols or practices transmitted from one mind to another through speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena.* (Wikipedia)

You’ve all seen it or read it. The main character is somehow “split” into a good and evil part. Or a long lost twin reappears for an episode or chapter, and is nothing like the original character. Ever since TV and movie directors discovered that they can overlay the same actor twice in the same frame, they’ve explored in nauseating repetition every possible angle and variation of the Evil Twin Meme. It all started full steam with the “Evil Kirk” ST:TOS episode “Mirror, Mirror”. This Wikipedia entry has more details.

Evil Obama The latest series to fall victim to this craptastically unoriginal concept is Warehouse 13. In the latest episode (stop reading if you haven’t seen it and want to), Myka Bering (Joanne Kelly) is trapped in a mirror and an evil, possessed version of herself emerges. Our hero Pete Lattimer (Eddie McLintock) supposedly discovers the switcheroo when they kiss. “She would never kiss me, even if the fate of the world was at stake.” Hey, guess what Pete? Maybe your clue should have come from the stinky derivative writing! At least she didn’t have a goatee like Evil Obama over there. Ever notice that Evil Twins of women are sexier than the original? Why is that? At least they got this meme over with early in the series (Or have they??).

Are all the good ideas gone? Is there nothing new? I’ve complained about this before. I know that when you have to crank out a 13- or 26- week episodic series, you need to use whatever ideas are out there.

Moving right along, I have a confession to make. I have a concept for a novel or short story where a person lives in two universes inhabited with the same cast in different roles. One is a “light, happy” universe, the other is “dark, deadly”. You know, Utopia vs. Dystopia. So, like my concept with Dawn’s Rise where I include as many disasters as I can into a disaster novel, maybe in this case I’m going to do the Evil Twin meme to death, the ultimate Evil Twin novel to end all Evil Twin novels. Maybe the Evil Twins will have Evil Twins. Yes, that’s it! Evil Quadruplets! Start lining up the publishers!

halloweenTaking this even further, I can’t wait to come up with a Paranormal concept. I will find every repetitive and overused meme in the genre and overdo it completely. I’ll have vampires, ghosts, werewolves, zombies, skeletons, monsters, demons, witches, spirits, angels, devils, sprites, fairies, and haunted houses up the wazoo. It will be frickin’ Halloween on every page. And of course I’ll have to make it an urban romance as well, because apparently you can’t sell fiction unless it’s a romance nowadays. Another meme I’d like to kill. Well, you gotta write to the audience. Paranormal urban disaster evil twin romance market, here I come!

*Forgive me for using the LOLcat meme. And note the new category “Random Rants.”

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Goals, Obstacles, and Epiphanies

Goals, Obstacles, and Epiphanies

A couple weeks ago, I submitted some chapters from Dawn’s Rise to an online critique group. One person provided some sage advice:

I feel that the POV characters are lacking in well-defined
goals that drive them.  This … made the story feel to me
like a sequence of events rather than a coherent story.

I’ve really been pondering this statement, and the more I think about it, the more I realized that it’s true.

I had one concept/premise when I created Dawn’s Rise: throw in every conceivable disaster into one novel. “The Disaster Novel to End All Disaster Novels.” Every bad thing I could think of. So, my characters are thrown about like clothes in a washing machine, unable to affect the outcomes of their lives to any meaningful degree. Things just happen to them, and they react. Usually with fear and profound amounts of sweat.

crap for sale Then came my first epiphany: Crap happens to everyone. Most people don’t just sit there and go, “oh darn. More crap.” Well some do, but there’s no story unless the events affect the characters in some way. More than that, we need to know what the disasters mean to the characters. Everyone will agree that 9/11 and Katrina were disasters. No one was affected the same way. Some saw those events as failure of governments, some saw them as murderous incidents that stole their loved ones. My epiphany was that I need to focus on the inner state of my characters more than the outward events. My characters need to be the masters of their own destiny, and interpret events in their own unique way. Crap doesn’t happen to my characters. My characters are trying to do something and crap gets in the way.

I’m starting to look at each chapter differently. I now think about what the character wants to accomplish, and what obstacles are in the way. Without obstacles, the chapter is simply an expository narrative of events. Dawn saw a city fall. Dawn saw a tree fall. Dawn fell down and bumped her head. Nothing interesting in those compared to: Dawn figured her rent would not need to be paid since her apartment was rubble, but now where would she live? Dawn barely escaped with her life as the falling tree swung by, blocking her path. The last thing Dawn needed was a concussion, not with the fate of the world in her hands.

Still, something didn’t sit well with me. I mean, when I wrote the first draft, I knew the characters had goals. I knew Dawn wanted—well, I kinda wanted Dawn to be this big hero and save the world. I knew John wanted—well, I kinda wanted John to come up with the solution. Do you see where this is going? My second big epiphany was this: I’ve totally confused my personal goals with my characters’. Dawn doesn’t want to save the world. She just wants to pay rent, and maybe save up enough to co-own her own place outside of the city. She doesn’t want to fall in love with John. She wants a man who will accept her and love her for who she is. John doesn’t want to solve any problems. He doesn’t even want to do a good job at his current position. He just wants his life to mean something, to have a reason to get up in the morning, to get out of the dreary work he’s been performing for the last eight years.

In summary, I’ve imposed all my own goals onto my characters, and haven’t even let them breathe or be human. I wanted a novel with tons of disasters and that’s what I got. I wanted John and Dawn to just like each other right away and that’s what I got. I wanted everything to be resolved in a nice tidy fashion and that’s what I got. The overall problem is not that my characters have no goals in any specific chapter. It’s that they don’t have any goals at all outside I what I want them to do. They may have goals when it’s convenient, when danger is staring them straight in the face, but not all the time.

This is my conclusion: Every single event in the book has to become an obstacle or boon to a specific character’s specific goal. No random trees falling in the forest unless it either thwarts my character’s progress or helps them along. No achieving goals either. I mean, this is a disaster genre novel. Heck, even if Dawn goes to brush her hair, either the comb breaks or her hair is too tangled. Otherwise, no brushing of the hair. (And I know from personal experience that the simple inability to brush one’s own hair can lead to dramatic consequences). No goals may be fully achieved until the very end. And that’s my goal. I hope my characters are onboard.

Friday, August 21, 2009

State of the Novel Address

State of the Novel Address

Here’s the long-promised self-analysis of Dawn’s Rise. Now if you’re an agent or publisher, note that all the problems mentioned in here have been long since addressed, so you needn’t read further. After all, as I’ve mentioned in a previous post, everything about my novel is pure perfection.

Okay, are they gone? Good, it’s just us writers now.

top down

As I’ve mentioned before, the parallels between literature and software are remarkable. What I’ve been doing so far is what I call a “bottom-up” approach to editing. I first address the line-level problems, things like grammar, style, POV, showing vs. telling, etc. Reduce redundancy, keep to the point, remove extraneous information. In software, this involves coding small components first, working through the intricate details and fixing the bugs before putting everything together. You start with something simple, and build complexity on top of it.

Last week I encountered a problem with this approach. I’m a little over halfway through an complete novel edit, and I realized that the book just doesn’t “work”. I have characters and events with no purpose, I have climactic events in the wrong part of the book, and things happen for no reason. For the last two weeks, I’ve been in a complete standstill, not knowing what to do. It’s like I’ve written all the components, and they operate correctly, but the software doesn’t do anything useful. The problem with a bottom-up approach is that you are building something bit by bit. It’s like building a complete wall with trim and windows and paint, but you don’t have a floor or ceiling. You may have to tear down that wall if the ceiling doesn’t fit.

This brings us to the other approach, the “top-down” methodology. This is where you build the framework first. Sounds logical, doesn’t it? From a software perspective, the drawback is that you have nothing to test until the whole building is completed. Bottom-up lets you test individual components as soon as they’re completed. Literature is different. It’s very linear. It’s not like after reading chapter 10, the reader goes back to chapter 5 six times and then you read chapter 22. Every line of writing affects every line that comes after it, whereas in software, everything is compartmentalized with minimum interaction between components. So I thought that if I start at the beginning, the story will logically flow, and I’d figure out how to fix it. Building frameworks sounded like a useless exercise. I was wrong.

I’ve discovered that there is a top-down approach to writing. (Most people call it “plotting” or “outlining” or some such nonsense). I’ve been reading a book called “The Writer’s Journey” which describes the twelve steps of “The Heroes Journey”. I was surprised and relieved that my book contained all twelve steps to varying degrees, although maybe not all the character archetypes. (I’ll save the details/review/application of this method for another post). So, I’m now writing out the plot of Dawn’s Rise chapter by chapter, with the intention of identifying all the elements and arcs in the story, and figuring out what needs to be fixed, because I’ve discovered that my writing style is the least of my worries. I think the worst possible thing in writing is to capture a reader for 50, 100 pages and then they throw the book out because it starts to suck. It may work for landing an agent, but I suspect that publishers'/editors read the whole book at some point.

I think I need to abandon my software mentality. Each chapter is not a software component. I can’t just treat every issue like a bug. There are these lines and themes that run through the book like a river that flows from point A to point B. I need to judge every line not by whether it “works” in isolation like a line of code. I’m not writing a novel of 2500 perfect individual sentences, or 1000 well-crafted paragraphs, or 74 scintillating chapters (although I should wind up with them in the end). I’m writing a novel, which is one coherent piece, beginning to end. It doesn’t have “features”, it has “themes”. It doesn’t have model-view-controllers, it has characters. It doesn’t have components, it has story arcs that run through every single page.

So here’s the “State of the Novel”

I started Dawn’s Rise in Feb. 2002 after a startup I worked at went belly-up. I’ve worked on it off and on since then. but full-time since March 2009. In terms of full days, I must have worked at least 9 man-months all told.

Dawn’s Rise currently stands at 143K words (down 10K from its high point), approx. 500 pages, divided into 74 chapters.

I’ve edited through about 60% of the book for this revision.

I’ve received dozens of critiques, almost solely on the first 7 chapters. Critiques have been mixed, but I think I’ve drastically overhauled my style and improved by leaps and bounds. The problem with critiques is that everyone will find something to comment on, so they’re not the best indicator that I’m “done” with a certain chapter, so I just have to use my best judgment. They’re also out of context with the rest of the book, so they’re not a great indicator of how the whole story is faring.

My best guesstimate is that I have at least 3-5 months of editing on this revision, unless I magically begin to crank out edits at a breakneck pace. Meanwhile, I don’t have an income.

Here’s the crux of the issue: I’m wondering whether to continue on or abandon this project. Can I whip Dawn’s Rise into publishable shape in a reasonable amount of time, or is it better to abandon it while I hone my craft on some other piece that has higher market potential?

I’m reminded of my mom. At one point, she desperately wanted to be a novelist. She wrote a Regency-era piece called Belinda’s Lock which she must have slaved on for at least three years. She even caught the interest of some agents. But it never sold, and she never worked on anything else. She put her heart and soul into BL, working on revision after revision. When it didn’t sell, she gave up.

I don’t want to fall into the same trap. I don’t want to beat a dead horse so to speak. I want to maximize my efforts and my possibility of future income.

Is Dawn’s Rise a marketable story and if not, can I fix it in a reasonable time? Does it require just some minor tweaking or wholesale revisions that could take months? I don’t know if there’s any way to answer that. I don’t know “how good” a first novel should be. Obviously blow-your-socks-off-good would be preferable. But what about “nice story, interesting plotlines, but characters are too shallow, and style a little flat. Shows a lot of potential, I should lock him up now”? Yes, I know it’s a harder sell.

Which of course brings me to the other unfortunate question: can I write? Can I write publishable material? Am I just throwing good money after bad? Only I can answer that (and the answer right now is YES until proven otherwise).

As of this moment, I’ve taken a step back, examining Dawn’s Rise from the top-down. I’m coming up with a plan for a final revision I can take to agents. I’ve identified my style issues (I hope). I’m investigating my story issues. I hope that what’s going to come out of this is something remarkable. It may be a tough sell, but I’m going to come up with something I’m proud of. Even if I wind up self-publishing, I want Dawn’s Rise to be something people want to read and can’t put down.

With the distraction and excitement of NaNoWriMo just around the corner, I want to really have a plan in place in the next week. Like that publisher mentioned to me, I need to act like a professional, and look at my writing with a critical eye. Unless I win the lottery, this may be my last shot at becoming a writer, so I need to give it everything I have.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Excerpt of Dawn’s Rise with Edits

Excerpt of Dawn’s Rise with Edits!

Dawn's Rise Cover 1 Victoria Mixon was gracious enough to do a one-page edit of the “hook” for Dawn’s Rise. You can check it out here. Please read the rules before making any comments on her page. However, feel free to leave any comments here. I believe she is still offering free one-page edits of your hook if you’re interested. 150 word max.

I’m always amazed by how much crap I throw into my writing that can be edited out. And yet I still have readers who get confused.

Monday, August 17, 2009

What NOT to Blog About as a Writer

What NOT to Blog About as a Writer

boris-foot-in-mouth I had an interesting encounter yesterday. A publisher on Twitter tweeted something like “I’ll listen to pitches” so I figured “what the heck, it’s first thing Sunday morning” and sent him my 140 char pitch. He responded something to the effect of “I read your blog and saw that you’re still working through some problems, come back and see me when it’s ready.” I guess he read last Friday’s post where I outline areas I’m still working on.

Therefore, I’ve decided that I will only blog about my writing in the most positive light possible. You never know who might be reading. Here goes:

Dear Anyone Interested in My Work:

Dawn’s Rise is the most amazing story ever written, both eloquent and exciting at the same time. Towering in at an impressive 144 thousand words, I’ve written an epic masterpiece that will stand the test of time. I’ve filled the book with reams of detailed exposition to clarify every aspect of the dubious technology I’m proposing. I have pages and pages of calculations demonstrating that a tethered space platform is on the edge of theoretical possibility. I’ve dedicated a chapter to the marvels of the internet as well. It’s a hoot when my characters discover Twitter, with pages of funny tweets between them.

I’ve also become a master of characterization and viewpoint. I’ve made sure to hop around each character’s head, to show the reader what each character is thinking at each moment. I think I’ve created pretty lovable characters, full of remarkable traits and special powers, not a flaw among them. People will love them, but I’ve left their motivations open so the reader can kind of fill that in. I think you’ll see from their inner soliloquies exactly where I’m going.

I’ve totally pwned the world of adverbs and adjectives, using them to the most positive effect possible. The reader is really, really going to know exactly what I’m talking of. I’ve included serendipitously exquisite prose with long flowing sentences so the reader doesn’t have to stop for punctuation or anything that would interrupt him from the enjoyment of the marvelous world that I’ve created for the last seven years while either working or being unemployed and having to take care of my family while they recover from injuries or in my case some kind of mysterious stomach problem that never got resolved to my satisfaction in case you were wondering about that since I don’t really bring it up that much.

And finally, I’ve tried to maintain a high level of conflict throughout the book. Someone dies on every page, so right now I’m on 525 deaths overall, depending on page count. How could writing be more tensionfied? Although, my characters don’t ever argue with each other or anything because I can’t really handle confrontation so I keep their world safe and relaxed. They don’t really deal with their issues but I have a magic wizard from space come along and solve their problems so everyone is happy at the end. Don’t get me started on how great the ending is.

So that’s Dawn’s Rise in a nutshell, one of the greatest novels ever written, flawless in its perfection. I’m just fixing up some tiny, tiny problems at the moment that I probably shouldn’t even bother with so it’s pretty much ready to hit the “print” button at a publisher. If I’ve ever blogged anything negative about it, let me assure you those problems are way in the past, because I’m suddenly an expert on all these issues because I read a couple writing blogs. I think you’ll really enjoy it.

There, is that better? I think I’m really selling it now. :)

Friday, August 14, 2009

I Won a Prize!

I Won a Prize!

From Jordan McCollum’s website.

Read all about it here.

Actually two prizes.




Albert_Einstein_Head It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.

The first step towards knowledge is to know that we are ignorant.
-Richard Cecil

We know what we are, but know not what we may be.
-William Shakespeare

Imagination is more important than knowledge. For while knowledge defines all we currently know and understand, imagination points to all we might yet discover and create.
-Albert Einstein*

I divide knowledge into three categories:

1) Things that I know.

I know a lot of things. I know the English language. I know how to tie shoes. I know people’s names. I know how to tweet. I know how to make toast. I know how to ski and snowboard. I know how to run a half-marathon. I know how to put words to (electronic) paper. I know how to blog.

I’ve also learned a lot about writing. Here’s a small sample:

  • Grammar and spelling
  • Showing vs. telling
  • Locating good writing sites
  • Reading with a critical eye
  • Using verbs instead of adverbs
  • Indentifying passive voice

In terms of writing, how does this apply to character development?

In the beginning of a novel, characters have a worldview built from years of experience. They’ve learned to run their lives in a certain way. They’re somewhat comfortable in their existence. They’ve defined their world in a box, and rejected anything that doesn’t fit into this box. Their lives aren’t perfect, but they aren’t willing to make changes. They think things in the future will more or less be like the past. They’re just like you and I, getting through their lives as best they can.

2) Things that I know that I don’t know.

This category includes all the things I’d like to do but don’t know how. Fly a plane. Fix a car engine. Travel faster than light. Get published (and become a bestseller). Win a gold medal. Find the best sushi in Tokyo.

This also includes life issues I haven’t resolved: Paying for kids’ college. Support my family as a writer. Pay for a new heater. (hmm…these all seem to revolve around money). How to not always get upset with kids’ misbehavior and cut them more slack. (there).

In my writing career, I’ve identified a lot of “problem areas'” that I haven’t mastered yet:

  • Point of View
  • Characterization
  • Concise writing
  • Work/life balance (who has?)
  • Maintaining tension and conflict
  • Working on multiple projects simultaneously

Your character also will have issues at the start: How do I pay the rent? Why is my SO leaving me? Why can’t I find happiness? Why do I always fail? How can I fight this disease? How do we defend our planet from the Xylorg attack? When will I get a promotion? What will I wear to the big dance?

These are all issues your character has identified, but they don’t have a solution, so they go about their lives knowing that they don’t currently have the knowledge or ability to solve these problems, but hope to at some point.

3) Things that I don’t know that I don’t know.

This is the trickiest form of knowledge. This is where “aha” moments come from. These are the deep imponderables. You can’t even ask the question, otherwise, it drops back into the second category of knowledge. Once you identity the question or the thing you don’t know, you’re halfway to becoming knowledgeable. They only way to examine this is to look at yourself in the past. What did I learn ten years ago that I didn’t even know I needed? I knew about “marriage”, but I never knew X,Y,Z about it. I didn’t even know to ask anyone. I knew about having kids, but I never knew I’d have to learn A,B,C. I never knew writing required so much work.

This is what scares me about my writing. What am I missing? What technique or concept has completely eluded me? Am I missing an opportunity to publish X because I’m working so hard on Y? This is why I elicit as much critical feedback as I can, because at some point, someone might explain a concept to me that I never knew existed. Someone might show me a new way to look at my writing that I never considered. I know that I don’t know everything about writing. It’s what I don’t know that I don’t know that frightens me.

However, this category of knowledge is the most glorious part of writing. Your character starts out with a set of issues and goals. As the author, you know what’s going to happen, things the character can’t even dream about. Perhaps your character starts out fighting an illness. They’re focused on that one problem. But what they don’t know is that a murder is about to happen next door. As the book progresses, the character must first learn that there are things they don’t know. They didn’t know their neighbors were nice people. They never knew to even find out. They didn’t know this illness has shut them away from the world. No one ever told them. They only thought about the effect on themselves, not on the world around them. So by the end, perhaps the illness is resolved, maybe it isn’t. But a whole new world has opened up for your character, one they never knew existed outside of the small walls they had constructed around themselves. This moment of epiphany makes your novel shine.

This is the beauty and challenge of writing, to break through the walls of ignorance and expose your characters (and potentially your readers) to a world they never knew existed (even if it’s just a fantasy world you made up). Your readers may look at their own life and wonder, “what am I missing? Maybe I should go talk to the neighbors. Maybe there’s a whole world out there where I can make a difference.”

Or…maybe a reader will say, “I love this book so much…maybe I should try my hand at writing.” And a new world opens up.

* quotes courtesy


Monday, August 10, 2009

My New Writing Technique

My New Writing Technique

First, some general updates. I think my submission for Dawn’s Rise went okay. I didn’t get as hostile a response as last time, and a couple people actually provided some keen insight into what was “missing” from my writing. I think I may have picked up some more beta readers as well, which is always good. Anyone else interested in beta reading Dawn’s Rise please let me know. I do think I shot myself in the foot because my submission was too long and people like to deal with shorter material, so I’ll keep that in mind for next time.

My wife is doing better. Hopefully next week we’ll get the “all clear” to start putting weight on her broken leg. I think it will really help her get around. Having to rely on my lazy butt for everything is driving her up the wall. Things have calmed down a bit and I’ve started to resume a somewhat more normal routine.

I’ve made some decisions as to my running. I don’t think I’m going to compete in any more Triathlons this year. I just don’t have time to train for three sports (run, swim, bike) simultaneously. My new goal is now the Seattle Half Marathon which is the weekend right after Thanksgiving. Having a goal always improves my workouts. I’m going to continue swimming and biking when I can, but only as cross-training at this point.

Finally, about Dawn’s Rise. (Takes deep breath). I’ve written a long blog post that I haven’t posted called “State of the Novel Address”. It’s a long rambly whiny post about how hard editing is, and how many issues I have to address before DR is queryable. My conclusion is that I want DR out to agents by Oct. 1, 2009. I don’t think this is doable but it does give me a goal to shoot for. I have three other projects that are starving for attention, plus a couple other things waiting in the wings.

text2speech-1 Now for the “meat” of the post. I heard about this from other blogs, and unfortunately I can’t find them now to credit them appropriately (but you know who you are…thanks!). I download a text-to-speech app from NaturalSoft. Based on the feedback I’ve received over the last week, I’ve started a complete rewrite of the first few chapters. I stick my writing into the speech app, close my eyes, and listen to the words. It’s amazing how awkward certain phrases sound when read aloud. Now it’s not perfect, far from it. It can’t distinguish homonyms like wind and wind, read and read etc, and of course it stumbles through my made-up words like Eyespy (it says EE-YESP-I), but it’s helped a lot. I guess it’s something about how the brain works listening vs. reading. After all, literature has its roots in spoken word. If anyone has any suggestions for good text-to-speech apps for Vista let me know.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Strengths VS Weaknesses

Strengths VS Weaknesses

weakling To continue along the lines I started in Heroes vs. Villains and Supporting Characters, let’s talk about strengths and weaknesses. Every character has them. Every character has some strengths, like intelligence, physical strength and/or stamina, technical skills, martial arts, or emotional strength like calm under pressure and ability to withstand pain. They also have many weakness: Bad habits, addictions, disease, ineptitude, bad parents, or ruthless enemies.

Here’s a little secret I’m going to share with you. At first glance you’re not going to believe me. It’s going to take some soul-searching before you come to grips with it. It’s hard to explain. It has something to do with the nature of things, the yin and yang of life. Without further ado, here it is:

Your greatest weakness is your greatest strength. Your greatest strength is your greatest weakness.

I know you’re saying, “how can that be? And why did he drop into 2nd person present tense?”

Let’s take strengths first: Take your classic swordsman. He can’t be beaten. He’s a match for anyone. How can his swordplay be a deficit? Maybe with an arrow to the heel. He’s relied on his sword for so long that he can’t adapt to new threats. Take a brilliant scientist who can solve any kind of puzzle or problem. Except for the solution to a woman’s heart. This applies also to organizations. Take the US Military. They seem capable of just about everything. This makes them targets of derision and fear, and tend to use unnecessary force to achieve their objectives…because they can. This creates many enemies.

Now for weaknesses. Take someone who’s unable to deal with confrontation. They back down every time. How is this a strength? Maybe they keep their wits about them in critical situations. They aren’t seen as a threat so they can operate “under the radar”. No one ever suspects the butler. That’s why it’s such a cliché. Take someone with a broken leg (please. Just Kidding ;). They can’t get out of bed without assistance, but maybe that gives them time to solve a neighborhood crime. (I’ve had this idea of a completely bedridden woman who solves crimes from her bed kicking around for a while. She’ll need a sidekick who’s her eyes and ears on the ground and who’s conflicted about her role—but I digress. Maybe I’ll flesh it out and post it as a “Free Plot Idea”).

Now let’s apply this to writing:

  • What’s your greatest strength as a writer, and how is it holding you back? For me, it’s my creativity. I’m constantly thinking of plots and ideas, which makes it hard for me to focus on editing. My stories aren’t very coherent and they fly all over the place. It’s a lot of fun to write but pretty confusing to read. I don’t even completely write down my ideas; they come out half-formed and indecipherable at times.
  • What’s your greatest weakness as a writer and how is it propelling you forward? For me, it’s getting inside my characters. It’s taking me a lot of time and effort to accomplish this. It’s making me focus on them a lot more instead of plot. I need to know what they know, what they feel, and what’s motivating them. I feel though that this going to become my strength because I’m focusing on it so much. I can also argue that my deathly fear of rejection is forcing me to really make sure my work is as good as I can get it.

Think about your characters (and your own literary) strengths and weaknesses and see if you can turn them around to either help your characters or create problems for them. This applies to villains as well. Give your characters flaws, because at the right moment, those flaws will become their greatest asset. Let me know what you come up with.