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  • Happy Third T-Day!

    It’s hard to believe that it’s been a whole three years already since I started on T. At the same time it’s hard to believe it’s only been three years. I’m starting to feel like I’ve always been this person, that I’ve always been Eric and that my previous life was some kind of bizarre dream.

    More than that, it’s hard to imagine that I was ever not a writer. I began to take my writing seriously back in November 2010, and I’ve been pulled deeper and deeper ever since. I’m still slogging through Fallen Things with my critique group and am sending chapters out to beta readers at the same time, and this process has improved my writing incredibly.

    One thing that made a huge difference was writing the first draft of the second book in the series, Hidden Things. I got to know my characters so much better; when I went back to editing Fallen Things, I had a much clearer idea of what I was doing with them. My view of the story is so clear, in fact, that I have to completely rewrite just about everything from this point on because I can now see how far off my first (and second) draft was. This is amazing. This is incredible. This is what gets me up in the morning (and often keeps me up at night). This, even more than a name and an affirmation of gender, is Who I Am.

    That said, it’s great to take the chance to look back over the past year and all the things I’ve accomplished. For the first time since I went to college, I have a job that’s lasted more than three months. Even more, it’s a full time job that still gives me plenty of time to write, which is an amazing thing. I started as a desk clerk at a small motel almost a year ago, and I have no plans of leaving any time soon. After a few years without stable employment, having a steady income and a schedule I can count on is a luxury I don’t want to lose. The fact that I genuinely enjoy the work itself helps a great deal, of course.

    And now–because if I don’t stop I’ll blather on forever about my writing–it’s time for progress photos:

    Feb26-2010

     

    I’m not even sure what to say about this one anymore. It’s like looking at a stranger; it’s hard to imagine being this person now.

    Feb26-2011_2

     

    A wee bit of scruff on the chin, desperately in need of a haircut, and still way too much in love with the filters in Vignette when taking pictures with my phone. It’s still incredible how much of a difference a year makes.

    Feb26-2012

     

    Still in desperate need of a haircut, but at least I’ve ditched the earrings now… I almost wonder why I held on to them as long as I did. The beard’s gone from ‘scruffy’ to ‘respectable’ and is still one of the things I’m most pleased with.

    Feb26-2013

     

    And here I am today. I finally got a haircut! And new glasses! (One of two pairs I bought recently; the others are simple, squarish, black frames.) And I finally stopped taking my picture in the bathroom! (Yes, that is a Dalek on my living room wall.) Bow ties are still cool, and my beard has gained a photographically-visible presence!

    And that, as they say, is that. Until next year.



  • And Now For Something Completely Different

    We all have our writing routines. Some are more strict than others, some involve a particular setting or music, and some include what we’re reading when we’re not working. Sometimes we need these routines–and sometimes we need to abandon them for something completely different.

    My routine typically involves listening to no music whatsoever while working, and reading a similar genre to my own during leisure times to keep in the proper mindset. Recently, however, I hit a bit of a snag. The novel I’m up to the eyeballs editing and rewriting, Fallen Things, is urban fantasy (though I wonder sometimes if it isn’t more contemporary fantasy), so I’ve been reading a lot of urban fantasy. A good idea usually, but it wasn’t working this time.

    Whenever I sat down to work, I was annoyed with what I was writing. Whenever I went to relax with a book, I was annoyed with what I was reading. Whatever I was doing, I was annoyed, and I realized that I just wasn’t getting a break from anything, which wasn’t helpful. Something needed to change.

    A couple of things happened at once here: the first was that I was looking for some music that related to the character I was working on. While I usually find listening to music while writing distracting, I relate certain songs to certain characters and listen to those when I’m doing other things. This one, however, was being tricky. Nothing seemed to fit–until I abandoned the lyric-filled pop and rock music for Beethoven. It fit him so perfectly, and since I wasn’t trying to sing along with it, I could listen to it while I worked.

    The second thing was finding a selection of classic literature on sale three for ten dollars. Having two versions of the song Wuthering Heights, (Kate Bush and Pat Benatar), I thought I ought to actually read the book sometime. This was a complete departure from what I had been reading, and I loved it. For the first time in a while, it actually felt like I was giving my brain a break from the work I’d given it. I didn’t have to compare things like style and point of view because they weren’t  meant to follow the same guidelines.

    I still spend a good deal of editing time glaring at the screen. That’s a natural part of the process. But the task doesn’t seem so impossible any more, and my leisure time, filled with Emily Brontë and Beethoven, actually feels like leisure time again. I can actually relax.

    Sometimes our writing routines help us to be more productive, but sometimes we need to know when to put aside old practices and shake things up a bit. Sometimes we need something completely different.



  • There’s No Such Thing as a Minor Change

    As you can probably guess, I’m deep in the middle of the editing process on my novel. I’ve been through the whole story at least once–some parts many, many more times than that–and now I’m making all those minor adjustments needed for the story to flow and make sense.

    Except that there are no minor adjustments. Not really.

    One of my characters originally had a cat. After some deliberation, I realized that the cat was a ‘darling’, something lovely and oh-so-precious but ultimately a detriment to the story, and had to be ‘killed’. Of course, since I had performed incredible contortionist feats to accommodate the stupid cat in the first place, I now find myself having to delete any mention of it in the first quarter of the book, at least. This means rearranging dialogue, description, action… the beast had gotten his paws into all sorts of things.

    In another instance, I realized that I should maybe introduce a particular minor character who plays a major role sometime before his appearance in the final act. It should be easy enough to just have him passing through a particular scene early on, right? Wrong. The fact that he’s even there in that early scene reverberates through the rest of the novel, affecting how many other scenes play out. Some of it will be in the background where the reader won’t necessarily see it, but some of it happens right out there on the page. Let’s face it, I can’t really introduce a character as occupying a particular setting and then ignore his presence whenever it becomes inconvenient.

    Every time I make a tiny change, it seems to snowball, affecting something two, three, twenty scenes down the line. Sometimes it means having to make notes later (or sometimes earlier) in the draft to make sure I account for that change where it matters. It can become a lot of work, especially since it’s never just one minor change. But you know what? All that work? It’s worth it. One of the amazing things about making these changes is seeing how much better my story is becoming.

    Because just as one minor change leads to a string of other changes, it can also snap a string of events into focus. Suddenly, one character’s behaviour makes a lot more sense, and another’s motivation becomes clearer. Everything becomes tighter, everything becomes richer, and everything hangs in a better balance. And the best part? Through all these changes, I’m still discovering new things about my characters as they do things I hadn’t anticipated, things that say so much more about about their personalities than what was there before.

    If you happen to be in the same boat as I am with your writing process, don’t worry. All that hard work and all those ‘minor’ adjustments are worth it in the end, bringing your story to a stronger, more cohesive place.



  • When Bad Writing Sparks Good Ideas

    Growing as a writer, learning the finer points of character and storytelling, can really change the way we watch TV. Because we can now see what works–and what really, really doesn’t–it can be hard to just sit back and enjoy something. There’s always that part of us critiquing the show and thinking about how we could have done it better.

    Case in point: ABC’s Once Upon A Time. Don’t get me wrong, I love that show. It’s my guilty pleasure, and I really do hope they go on for a second season. I liked the concept and some of the characters, Regina and Mr. Gold/Rumplestiltskin specifically, were interesting and engaging. I enjoyed some of the ways they took old fairy tales and turned them around… but sometimes it didn’t quite work out. Sad to say, but Once Upon A Time suffered from clumsy writing.

    It irritated me to no end that (ignoring for today the incredibly dense Emma Swan) the fate of Storybrook depended on the relationship between the two most oblivious, flaky, and emotionally cowardly characters in town. At one point I didn’t care if the curse never got broken so long as I didn’t have to hear one more word about their ‘tragic love story’.

    Then, during one of the fairy tale flashbacks, it dawned on me: Snow White was the real villain. It was the only thing that made sense. After all, her every move was precisely calculated to cause the most damage while still appearing innocent or in the moral right. And this would have been great–if the writers had meant for it to come off that way, which I don’t think they did.

    If they were trying to make Snow the villain and Regina the heroine, then they failed at establishing the protagonist. (Yes, I know the heroine was supposed to be Emma, but we’re ignoring her, remember?) More likely they were trying to make Regina more sympathetic and make Snow more active and self-reliant, but it backfired. I ended up with far more sympathy for Regina than any of the ‘good’ characters, and quite frankly, Snow came off as a sociopath.

    Which brings us back to ‘how I could do this better’.

    Maybe I’m not tackling the whole concept of the show, but Snow as the villain? That I can sink my teeth into. In fact, it sparked a Shiny New Idea so strong that despite the mountain of editing needed for Fallen Things, I started scribbling out the beginning of a new story in my Moleskine. It’s an idea that sits somewhere between fan-fiction and ‘derivative work from a common source’. The MC’s name is still Regina and her back story has some similar elements with the show, but there are some things that I already know will be done differently. The mirror, for instance, and I probably won’t be trying to wedge every possible fairy tale character into this story.

    Will I ever try to get this story published? Who knows. For now, it’s just a fresh, easy thing to give my mind a break while I tackle larger projects. It should be interesting to see where it takes me.

    How about you? Have you ever watched or read something that sparked an idea that could not be ignored? Have you ever thought, “I can do that better,” and made good on it? Please, feel free to share in the comments.



  • Self-Directed Writing Course

    In a bit of a continuation of my previous post on planning after the fact, I thought I’d share with you one of the things I’m doing to help myself figure out what I’m doing with Fallen Things.

    It started as a spur-of-the-moment suggestion from my critique group to help me with identifying and writing description: going through a favourite book and highlighting instances of description. I’ve decided to take it a bit further by also marking whose POV a scene is from so I can identify POV balance, another place I’ve had a few… issues. In that spirit, I bought a fresh copy of Lynn Flewelling’s Stalking Darkness. I chose this book for three reasons: 1) There’s description. There must be, because I can picture characters and settings clearly and consistently whenever I think of them. 2) The story is told through multiple POV, and yet it’s clear who the main characters are. 3) Even if it is the second book in the series, I’ve read them all so many times that I nearly have them memorized, and can therefore focus on the mechanics of the writing.

    Now before you worry too much, this is not an exercise in plagiarism. Fallen Things is its own world, full and complex, and I certainly don’t need to steal someone else’s. This is me brushing up on my technique. Are there inherent similarities? Of course. Whether we admit it or not, there are no new ideas, we are all influenced by what we’ve read before, and the only thing that makes our work different from the rest is how we put it all together.

    Anyway, back to the lesson. What I’m doing right now is going through the book highlighting every instance of description and marking the POV of each scene. What I plan to do with this is to look at all the description to see what she did and why it works. I’ve already come to the realization that, sometimes, description occurs in dialogue. I’ve also noticed that this makes what could otherwise be a fairly dry passage more active.

    For POV, I plan on looking at what is happening in each scene and why it’s important for that scene to be told from this character’s perspective rather than another’s. One thing I’ve already noticed is that, surprise surprise, the bulk of the scenes go to one or the other of the two main characters and that there are only a handful of other regular POV characters. I on the other hand am juggling more, and I may need to decide whose POV to cut and whose I should focus on.

    All in all, I’m looking forward to this, and not just because it gives me an excuse to read a favourite book all over again. It gives me a chance to delve into why it’s my favourite, and the chance to improve my own work.

    What strategies do you use to improve you’re writing? How often do you look at your favourite authors to see what you can learn from them?



  • Planning After The Fact

    Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser, if you’re going to write a book–and want it to make sense–you’re going to have to do some planning at some point. It’s a given that plotters will do the bulk of their planning before ever putting fingertips to keyboard to write their first draft, but what about those of us who just start writing?

    All right, I’ll admit that I’m more likely than I once was to do some planning beforehand, but that wasn’t really the case with Fallen Things. Ironically, it actually started out as an exercise in description(my critique group will get a laugh out of that thought) and a ‘what if?’ and went from there. So now, somewhere around my third draft–give or take ten drafts depending on the scene–I’m finding that I need to do some planning.

    As the book grew, it became more complex and more layered, which is great. Mostly. The problem is, I’m now juggling several POV characters, three distinct worlds, and about as many plot lines. My focus has gotten a little fuzzy, and it turns out I’ve actually forgotten to introduce important elements until half way through the book. This is, as you might imagine, a problem.

    Now I have to go back to the drawing board a bit. Who are my main characters? What are their motivations? (You’d think I’d have that one nailed down by now, but that’s not always the case.) Does this scene have to be told from this tertiary character’s POV, or would it be better to change it to the POV of a more major character? Where do I need to slow down the pacing to show character growth? Are all the relevant elements properly explained, or am I assuming that my readers are also mind readers?

    My critique partners are excellent for helping me figure out where I’m having issues in these areas (especially the mind-reading part.) Now it’s time for me to figure out what I’m going to do about it. A lot of it comes down to brainstorming and writing out ‘character bibles’ based on what I have so far so I have something to work from as I revise my book. Once I know my characters’ motivations, I can figure out the plot. Once I know my plot, I can figure out what each scene needs to be doing and whether or not it’s doing that.

    It’s a lot of work, but in the end it’s worth it. I already have a much stronger book than I had in my first draft. And from here, I have a better idea of where I’m going with book two and beyond, which means I’ll be able to write a tighter first draft when I get there.

    Whether we like it or not, planning will happen at some point in the writing process. If we don’t get it in before we start, that just means we have to do it after the fact.

    How do you plan your books? Do you plan everything out in advance, or do you end up playing catch-up afterwards? Alternately, have you had any interesting slips as a result of not planning ahead?