Posts Tagged ‘process’

Sometimes, It Works Like This

Posted: April 7, 2015 by writingsprint in Fun Stuff
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I thought I’d share a fun story about how one of my characters is developing. I’m not insane, but sometimes it looks that way.

"Corso Riggs" from Star Wars: The Old Republic

“Corso Riggs” from Star Wars: The Old Republic

He was originally inspired by Corso Riggs from Star Wars: The Old Republic, a gentlemanly hired gun who’s a bit of a country guy. My character won’t look or act like him, but he’ll be just as tough, good-hearted and loyal. First, I needed a new name. One Google search later, I picked the name “Kahlil,” nickname “Kal,” which means “friend.”

I was writing a “get to know you” scene where everyone on the ship is having dinner together for the first time. At first I had Kal’s boss, Raffa, cooking chili, but then I realized that Raff was making dinner, and had put on the music (blues) and was a musician himself (guitar player). He has plenty of things that make his character interesting, and I wasn’t leaving anything for Kal. Switch over to Kal doing the cooking. At first I kept the chili, but then I thought, let’s follow the ancestry of his name and make it Middle Eastern. I mean, it’s the year 3000 or who knows (not even me, yet), so he could cook anything, but I wanted to make it simple.

(My characters break the 4th wall and look out at the audience. This is simple?)

So he’s a hired gun who likes to cook. How good is he? I decided he’s very good at it. When you’re stuck in space traveling all the time, you might as well try to eat as well as you can. I even made a gag out of it, saying that the rest of the crew often does his chores for him so that he’ll cook for them.

Dinner was kebabs using meat from an animal he shot in the field, the local version of an onion, and spices that they picked up on other planets. He also improvised hummus using some alien rendition of chickpeas. So not only is Kal a gunfighter and a cook, we also know that he’s resourceful, persistent or stubborn, and takes pride in what he does.

Zohan

Don’t mess with the Zohan

My pop-culture-addled mind jumped from hummus to Adam Sandler’s Zohan. Do I want to play Kal for laughs, too? Make him listen to disco, have 1980s hair? No way. If I can work in having him and Raff play hacky sack to build up their coordination — maybe Kal’s a martial artist too — that’s fine, but no more than that.

Probably.

To get a visual of what this feels like, watch the “Script in Development” sketch from Saturday Night Live :).

"Script in Development," from Saturday Night Live

“Script in Development,” from Saturday Night Live

All images used without permission.

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Two Broke Girls with Guns

Posted: March 30, 2015 by writingsprint in Fun Stuff
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Actually they’re not broke, but they’re starting out with the clothes on their backs. And guns. 2,107 words tonight, about 900 of which came from a scene I wrote a few months ago when I was jumping ahead. Risha and her best friend are on their own now.

Having 900 of today’s words was a huge shot in the arm, but even without it, I can’t get over how much better the writing feels now than it has before. I think it’s because I’m getting to know the characters better and I’m taking my time with the story. Originally I had expectations of what had to happen when and when the story should look like. To be blunt, f*** that. Let the characters tell you what they feel like. Listening to them, exploring the story, is opening it up more than I ever dreamed.

Do you eat dinner with your friends with expectations of what they’ll say and when they’ll say it? Hell no. You sit back, have a few drinks, and let the night go where it does. Never mind that an evil empire is chasing after you. That’s a whole ‘nother problem.

Two days until Camp Nanowrimo officially begins!

Embers

Posted: March 27, 2015 by writingsprint in Fun Stuff
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1,557 words tonight. I’m caught up and 63 words ahead of goal. Yay! The caper wrapped up and now we’re dealing with aftermath.

Lesson #1 for doing Nanowrimo: write your face off. Describe settings in detail. And characters. Wander. Try out ideas. Backtrack. Hop. Skip. Jump. Did I say wander? Otherwise, unless you have a rock-solid plan to write, or you have a talent for free writing, you’ll run out of gas halfway through or sooner.

Lesson #2: Even if the scene isn’t what you thought, the essence of it, your desire to write it, is burned in behind the words. You’ll kindle those embers when you edit it later. I’m finding that what I thought were holes in my story weren’t holes at all–they were undeveloped ideas that I’d refused to explore because I couldn’t see them working. Want to go for a swim? Dive in. Yes, I’m going to have to rewrite this entire thing later. So what. DIVE. IN.

Lesson #3: Discovering a character isn’t about getting inside their heads. It’s about letting them inside yours. (I’ve tacked this one up on my wall.)

A Rough Start Is a Good Start

Posted: March 10, 2015 by writingsprint in Writing
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Following up on my post “Is This My Process?“, I wrapped up the summary I was doing of The Lost Princess. For sure, it’s rough. It has dead ends and potential that needs places to go. All that can be solved. The miraculous part is, it’s DONE. I have the beginnings of a full-blown story. I even have ideas for some new scenes to write.

Next I’ll scrub it. The summary is tightly focused around a handful of characters. I want to add more layers and try to weave in some aspects that aren’t there now. Then I need to look ahead to books two and three and make sure I’ve laid threads of what happens next.

Is This My Process?

Posted: March 8, 2015 by writingsprint in Writing
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At the end of “We’ve Got Your Back” you’re going to see a summary of what happened to all the Mass Effect characters after the Reaper War in my personal “head canon.” When I first wrote it, I stared at the pages in disbelief when I was finished. I had just written a quick summary of the rest of the lives of over ten different characters. Why couldn’t I do that with my own stories?

Maybe I can. Lately I’ve been wrestling with writer’s block–more like “stubborn author syndrome”–over The Lost Princess. I didn’t like where the story was going, so I’ve been stewing in frustration and attacking the problem from different angles to break loose. I stay away from writing outlines because I can analyze anything to death and not get anywhere. But unlike outlining, writing the summaries felt creative–it had characters, it had mini-plots, and short moments of triumph and meaning. It felt like storytelling, expedited.

I’ve done it before, after the fact. When I submitted Shadow and Shade to publishers, some wanted a summary of the story attached to the query letter. The first draft came out to two pages, which I skinnied down to one. (I think. I can’t find the bloody thing. Kids, don’t be like me. Organize your files better.)

I decided to write as many summaries as it took to come up with a story that I wanted to write. I’ve started two so far. They mostly have one sentence per scene, more when I had to work through a knotty plot issue or if I got jazzed by an idea. The first summary got my attention. I made it several chapters into the story, and while it had potential, it wasn’t heading in the direction where I wanted it to go.

Some of you are thinking, “It’s not about what you want the story to be about. It’s about what the story wants to be about.” True. But if we take a few steps back and change some things, like the main character’s motivations, we can write a completely different story. In the second version, the main character doesn’t find herself in trouble, she gets herself into trouble. This version has electrified me. I want to take it to the end to prove that I can do it.

I’ve heard other writers talk about their process. Some say “start with a character.” One of my favorites writes the entire first chapter without stopping, and if it grabs her, she continues. I don’t have a process. I have characters I love and a collection of ideas that I want to turn into something great. Pulling them all together is like building a puzzle where you don’t know have a picture of how it should look at the end. For the first time I can see how the characters’ layers interweave with each other. I had two “oh my God” moments in one day. Is this my process?

Eyes open: a summary is one thing. A story is much, much more. True enough. But a summary still beats the hell out of stubborn author syndrome.

I Can Do This. I Will Continue.

Posted: March 2, 2015 by writingsprint in Writing
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Tonight I wrote 400 words or so, along with racking my brain and scribbling ideas for an hour before then. I’m working on one of the first scenes in Risha’s story, and I’ve been procrastinating to the nth degree because every time I work on it, it gets bigger. A deal is going down, and it’s going sideways. Here are the kinds of questions I’m asking:

Who’s her crew?
Where is she?
Is it civilized or on the frontier?
On the frontier of what? Are there wild animals? Barbarians? Klingons?
What’s her cargo?
Big or small?
Is there a double cross or does something else go wrong?
Who are her friends?
Who are her enemies?
Does she meet them now or later?

The list goes on, and on. At this point one of my first teachers would say, “Back up. Start with the character. It all has to tie together and it starts with her.”

True. But does that mean I need to build the whole galaxy and her place in it before I do anything? I don’t have that kind of patience. I have a lot, but not that much. So I may do it in chunks. Zoom in as tight as I can and keep the focus on her, so that I don’t have to deal with the rest of the galaxy yet. I’ll work on that in parallel, a little at a time.

It’s funny. When I wrote Shadow and Shade, I had no idea how much work novels were. I said to a fellow writer that if I’d known, I might never have started. She laughed and said it sounded like raising kids. I have one thing now that I didn’t have then: the first one under my belt.

At times like this I like to remember this TED talk presented by Sarah Kay. I’m in awe of her craftsmanship with words.

I love the part when she says, “I can do this,” and then “I will continue.” That’s where I am. I’ll do step three along the way: “Infusing the work you’re doing with the specific things that make you you, even while those things are always changing.” For now I’m focused on steps one and two.

Side Note on “the Process”

Posted: February 28, 2015 by writingsprint in Writing
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Sometimes writing is like falling in love. It just happens and the words flow the wine.

Other times it’s like digging a ditch. It won’t dig itself. It isn’t fun. Staring at the ground and waiting for the ditch to dig itself won’t work. Getting yourself into the right mood to dig the ditch only works so well. Sooner or later, you have to just pick up the shovel and dig.

I finally bit that shovel into the earth today. Now it’s time to go to bed. I wish I didn’t have to sleep! I’m finally making progress! Not much of what I wrote was creative, but a start’s a start and I’ll take it. Tomorrow I have job-work to do, as opposed to writing-work, not to mention groceries and other household stuff, so I don’t know how much writing will happen.

Maybe I can do some writing “out loud” while I run the other errands.

I Don’t Know, and That’s a Good Thing

Posted: January 27, 2015 by writingsprint in Writing
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The best part about making yourself write every night is that it forces you to explore your scenes. You don’t always know what’s going to happen. You may only a rough idea of where the scene needs to go.

An easy way is to begin with a scene-setting image of where we are, or a precipitating event like someone showing up, walking away, or a throwing down a gauntlet. From there, either move into the character’s head with what they’re thinking about, or give the reader some physical details to pull them farther into the scene.

And to pull you in there, too. When you don’t know what’s happening next, you want to feel like you’re standing in the room. What would you do next? What do you wish you would do?

As far as physical details go, I’m partial to smells and tactile sensations. Sounds and sights need intellect to give them meaning, but smell and touch are visceral. You’ll react from the gut long before your brain figures out how it feels about them. Unless your character is eating, drinking, kissing or smoking, taste is a subtle one. Air can have a taste. Fear has a taste. Otherwise, there isn’t much call for it.

Those details will give you ideas on what happens next. Jump into why your character is here as soon as possible. Let them take a step toward it, then put an obstacle in their way. Make them overcome it or reassess their goal. Or, for the exercise, make it easy for them, just to see how boring it is 🙂 . Then try something else.

When you’re done, wrap up the scene and move on to the next. A sense of conclusion works well for scenes where you want the reader to go, “Ahhh.” Love scenes, reunions, moments of victory all end well if you let your characters and the reader enjoy the moment. Dropping a hint works well to pull the reader into the next scene, or the next chapter. Mention that things aren’t finished, that the character has someone to meet, somewhere to go, something to do that didn’t happen here. Then if you can, start the next scene where that thing happens.

Give yourself the freedom to wander. You’ll be amazed where you wind up.

Inch by Inch

Posted: January 26, 2015 by writingsprint in Writing
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ruler

Last night I spent two hours doing research on the geography of the Milky Way galaxy and another 30 minutes on theories of faster-than-light travel. I really wanted to read a book on train robberies in the Old West that I picked up on eBay, to get a feel for criminal life on the frontier.

I was scared of the blank page. I didn’t know where to start. How long would it take me get what I needed from the book? Would it take me farther down the rabbit hole? What if I headed in the completely wrong direction? At least with the Milky Way and FTL travel, the problem was well-defined: I don’t know anything, so hit Google and see what I come up with. Sift through the results.

Being scared is one thing. Being chicken is another. The story needs me to get into the heads of my characters. The map and the tech won’t take care of themselves — I will need to handle them sooner or later — but they aren’t what I need now right now to move the story.

I need to remember that even if I only move an inch a day, in a year I’ll have moved 12 yards. I need to be honest with myself when I write. No more avoiding. Each day, minimum, I’ll work on the story for 30 minutes, even if it’s nothing more than conceptual scenes I’ll probably change later. I’ll write the scenes as best I know them so that I get inside my characters’ heads and rough out the story.

Today I wrote the beginning of an argument between the two main characters, and I’m going to read from the train robbery book before I go to bed.

Inch by inch.

Image credit: “Ruler” by Scott Akerman at Flickr
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Grab a Shovel and Dig

Posted: January 1, 2015 by writingsprint in Science fiction
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digging

Because that garden won’t dig itself

I spent the past two days working on a critical part of the story: justifying Risha as a princess, when there are only 26 monarchs in the world today, and 11 of those are figureheads.

The original character of Risha in Star Wars: The Old Republic, that mine is inspired by, was the exiled princess of a planet called Dubrillion. I’m no Star Wars scholar, but from what I can tell, planetary governments in Star Wars appear to be a mix of monarchy, democracy, oligarchy, whatever. Each planet of sufficient size or status sends representatives to a senate, where everyone has equal representation in passing the laws that govern them. Obi-Wan Kenobi himself said to Anakin Skywalker that his allegiance was to the Republic, to democracy. So, at some level, be it senators, viceroys, Hutts, whatever, people are being elected and have rights that are guaranteed by the Republic constitution.

Yes, writers think about this stuff. I call it digging into the story. Even if it doesn’t make it into the story, we need to know what’s going on so that we know the rules of our world. Minimally, we need to know at a high level. If necessary, we’ll go down to the gnat’s a**. Hopefully that doesn’t happen.

Royalty give the story a heroic, fairy-tale feeling, but I’m having a hard time answering the simple question: why? Star Wars and Dune bypassed the problem by throwing us tens of thousands of years into the past and the future, and decreed “let it be done!” It’s an option if I want the story to have a science fantasy feel. Other possible reasons:

  • One or several of the world’s monarchies led the way into space.
  • Earth was taken under the wing of an advanced, monarchial species when it moved into space, and adopted the titles to smooth the transition.
  • As Earth moved into space, power became centralized around the largest colonies. Due to the dangers of starting new colonies, changes in authority were less popular in the short term. Monarchial titles and practices came back.
  • It’s an alternate timeline where constitutional monarchy is the most popular government.
  • The wealth gap continued to expand to the point that the rich stopped pretending they wouldn’t hold on to power forever, appointing their successors rather than through elections. Monarchial titles were adopted as a matter of course.

Or I could ditch the idea of her being a princess entirely. I’m pulling on threads, knitting them into sweaters and unraveling them again to see what comes out. If Risha’s a princess, she has a claim to her parents’ throne after she goes into exile. If she isn’t, she’s a nobody, a Jane Doe with a gripe against the people who staged a coup against her family’s administration.

More than Risha, this is about what I want the human race to look like. How far will I take us into the future? Will it feel like today, or more like a storybook? Will we have dominated the galaxy, or are we small players? Do I want to treat monarchy and democracy like balls of Play-Doh, mush them together and come up with a reason? As much as I sweat the details, there’s a good science-fiction reason to just make sh*t up: the future will be stranger than we can imagine.

I still have to believe it. If I don’t, you won’t, either.

Photo credit: “it’s almost always just about digging in the dirt” by woodleywonderworks at Flickr
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Shared under Creative Commons license