Month: March 2014

In the Word Mines

this word mine is in Brazil

this word mine is in Brazil

Please excuse the shortage of blog posts this week: I’m making words in Song at the moment, so not much writing space for bloggery.

In the meantime, I recommend this article about analysing your novel for plot. There’s a lot in there I like, especially walking away from the story to give it space to breathe, and putting scene content down on index cards.

This kind of high level view is also available if you print out your manuscript in tiny writing, which is something I plan on doing.

But I need a complete manuscript first, so – back to the word mines.

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2014 Goals Post: Ostara Edition

March is a month where I often find personal plans disrupted – it’s the month when I realise how little personal project time I really have, and it tends to get poured into tax return prep and spring house projects. So, an adjustment to make next year may be to be less ambitious.

With that said, on to seeing how I did on the goals from last time.

Summary

This is the first update where I have traffic light colours. I am putting them in a table here as a handy overview.

GoalImOsBeMiLuMaSaYu
Finish Songn/a1/2
Complete Shapesn/a3/3
Look for an agentn/an/a
Be productive in fictionn/a1/3
Run Hood To Coastn/a1/4

… which is a pretty summary, but on with the detailed review.

1. Finish Song

Here is the plan:

  1. To complete the outline.
    Last action: complete the outline once I write off the end of what I have.
    This appears to be done after all, despite having done no particular work on it. I think I mis-assessed where I was.
    Complete!
  2. To complete the second draft in line with the outline.
    Last action:
    continue second draft process.
    I reworked my process to complete the second act, pulling in the first draft text and modifying the POV rather than rewriting everything. This was a good thing to do, since my outline was missing some scenes I wanted to include! I’ve completed the POV change edit on those scenes I can reuse, but still have one scene left to write to finish the act two draft.
    Next action: continue second draft process.
  3. Edit that second draft. Pending completion of steps (1) and (2).
  4. Make submission materials. Pending completion of step (3).

So I completed the action, even if I didn’t do such a great job of applying it just yet.

Goal Assessment

Goals from Ostara were:

  • complete second draft of act two – only one scene short, but not quite there
  • revise outline for the rest of the book – apparently complete by dint of my mis-assessing what I had!

Total: 1/2 – yellow

Goals for next update: act two was the end of the plot from the first draft – now I am moving into new writing again with act three, and I think finishing that third act is a plausible goal for this next period.

My goal for next update is:

  • complete draft of act three – twelve scenes.

Metric: Yellow for substantial work on this (50% of the scenes written, say), green for a completed draft.

2. Complete Shapes

Here is the plan for Shapes:

  1. finish reading of draft – once for readability, once for errors.
    Last action: complete draft reading and markup.
    Complete!
  2. apply corrections from draft read.
    Complete!
  3. give it to my wife to read.
    Complete!
  4. restructure outline. Pending step (2) and feedback from step (3).
  5. second draft – make existing material match outline; add new material. Pending step (4).

Goals Assessment

  • finish error markup – completed
  • apply error corrections – completed
  • hand off to my wife to read – completed

Total: 3/3 – green

Goals for the next update: Shapes is largely on hiatus, at the moment. I may pick it up again if I happen to get to the end of act three of Song faster than I expect, but primarily I am waiting for feedback. I do have that interesting change to the setup that I need to apply to the outline, though.

  • receive feedback
  • revise outline to reflect setup change

Metrics: yelllow for one, green for both.

3. Look for an agent

Last action: finish a novel so I have a manuscript to query.

This goal is pending having a manuscript I can shop around.

4. Be productive in fiction

As noted in the preamble comments, I’ve lost time to other priorities (tax return, especially), but I have done some work on fiction. I’ve also been working on the plotting and prep for the third season of A New Dawn, which I had no goals for because it does not really figure into my fiction.

Goals Assessment

  • get up to write in the morning – done pretty consistently, and this should be easier from now on since I am no longer fighting my cat allergy.
  • give time striping another couple of weeks – abandoned.
  • try something else – not done

Total: 1/3 – yellow

Goals for next update: I’m going to be losing some bus time since I need to start riding into work, so the challenge this next period is to continue writing in the morning while managing to carve out some time at lunch to write.

  • get up to write in the morning
  • write at lunch when I ride

5. Run Hood To Coast

Here is the plan:

  1. lose some weight.
    Last action: actually lose weight.
    That didn’t go so well – I haven’t lost any meaningful amount of weight, although I have also recently stopped taking an anti-histamine and I feel a lot better for it, so I am optimistic that I will be able to control my eating more consistently.
    Last action: actually lose weight, for reals this time.
  2. figure out a team training plan.
    Last action: sketch out a team training plan.
    Last action: rally the troops.
    I wrote a blog post about training, but have spent most of my time at work working so have not done much more than that.
    Next action: kick off team training
  3. races.
    Last action: run Shamrock.
    I ran Shamrock. It was nice – not as fast as I wanted, but a lovely run despite that. Next race is the Helvetia Half in June, so I will be kicking off the training for that soon but the thing I want to do now is to build up speed and cardio capacity, which means cross training.
    Next action: ride to work a couple of days a week
    Next action: maintain distance base
  4. injuries.
    Last action: don’t get injured, but also do some low-impact exercise to rest existing weaknesses.
    No new injuries! Haven’t done any low-impact workouts, but my right ankle is improving all the same.
    Next action: remain uninjured.

Goals Assessment

    • lose five pounds – about the only thing I can say here is that I did not gain. So, there’s that.
    • have a team training plan – some steps, but incomplete.
    • complete Shamrock. Goal time here is 9:30 miles – completed, but missed my target time by five minutes (actually ran 10:06 miles – but I did run)
    • ride to work a couple of times a week – didn’t do this at all

Total: 1/4 – yellow
Goals for next update: more of the same, really, since consistency is the main thing about training for long runs.

    • lose five pounds – let’s try this again, shall we?
    • start team training – write something up, meet with the team.
    • maintain distance base – I want to put in at least a couple of ten milers over the next few weeks. I’ll ramp up the distance a bit more closer to Helvetia, but staying on form is all I can really hope for here.
    • ride to work a couple of times a week – the weather’s improved, so let’s have another go at this.

Metrics: yellow for 1-2, green for 3-4

Risks

Things that may sabotage these goals –

  1. not getting up early – as noted elsewhere, morning time is my only reliable writing time if I start cycling into work regularly, so I need to be consistent about doing this.
  2. roleplaying – A New Dawn started up again last week. I think I’ve done most of the plotting I need to do to support this, but I will still be spending a lot of my writing time in game weeks on session prep. This season will be running throughout the next period.
  3. projects – there is a lengthy household project list which I will be working on on the weekends.

So, overall, that’s a less successful period than I had hoped but a more successful period than I had feared. I’m going to call that a score draw.

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A Surprising Change

both cats in happier times

both cats in happier times

I was very sad on Friday because our cat had just passed. She was a good cat.

Unfortunately, I have become increasingly allergic to cats over the years. I used to have more or less no reaction at all, then I started to find my skin peeling if I spent a lot of time stroking a cat after a long period without exposure, then I couldn’t have the cats on the bed, then I couldn’t sit on the sofa after the cats had been shedding on it. I only realized how bad things were when we went cabin-camping and I got almost no sleep but still felt more clear-headed than I did at home. Our recently late cat was also the fuzziest cat I have ever met: a short-hair to be sure, but dense fur which generated enormous amounts of shed hairs and dander.

For the last year or more I have been taking loratadine every day (the generic term for the active ingredient in Claritin) and things have been much better – I’ve not been laid low with cat fuzz hangovers and things have been generally more manageable. I always felt slightly dubious of taking it over a long period because loratadine is by its nature more or less a topical remedy: you take it for a few weeks during the depths of pollen allergy season, or over a weekend when staying with cat-owning friends.

Now I’ve stopped taking it, and I am very surprised to find that I feel yet more clear-headed. Whether this is directly attributable to stopping the loratadine or is a consequence of coming down from the Shamrock run the other day I am not sure, but it’s a good feeling.

Something to keep an eye on, anyway. We are not rushing to get a new cat in any case.

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Needs and Wants

I wrote a few weeks ago about different kinds of characters which stories are about, but I didn’t really explore motivation for those characters. For the sake of avoiding now-overloaded terms, I am going to refer to these central characters as the lowest common denominator – MCs, or main characters.

What do the types of MCs have in common?

Need.

For a character to be at the centre of the story, they must have a need or desire which they aspire to. How effective they are in satisfying they need is where the agency axis I mentioned before comes in – a hero can be effective in pursuing their needs and desires, while a more fallible or constrained MC might have their story be about how their needs are always out of reach, so that any tiny movement in the direction of their needs being satisfied will drive them to make otherwise questionable decisions.

Where I Am

I’m thinking about this a lot at the moment because I have three stories I am working on with different levels of neediness and agency in the MCs.

  • Song – the MC (and, now, narrator) has agency aplenty in his usual sphere of operations, but has still loosely defined needs: doing his job and freeing AIs seem to be the goals he aspires to more than anything. How do I present a choice in which he chooses to dive into unknown waters?
  • Chance – the MC wins agency through the story, but her needs are well-defined: to be taken seriously, and to avenge great loss. The change I’m thinking of in the setup will, I think, make the root of these needs more clear.
  • A New Dawn – I don’t control the motivations of the MCs here since they are the player characters, but I am working on the motives of the NPCs. The government operative is so far apparently only a jobsworth*, but his origins are inevitably deeper than that. The therapist is apparently a manipulative and deranged lunatic, but her drivers may be more subtle. And so on. The key point here is that needs and wants aren’t just for the MCs – every character has them.

All of this is about figuring out the factors that characters would use to make decisions in the moment. The MC is presented with a choice – mercy or malice? Honesty or deceptiveness? – and the needs they have will control how they act at any point in the story.

[*] a Briticism for an officious individual, typical applied to petty bureaucrats and obstructive service staff. “It’s more than job’s worth.”

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The Cormorant by Chuck Wendig

cormorant-coverI like Chuck Wendig’s books about Miriam Black. Blackbird and Mockingbird were beautifully damaged stories and I enjoyed them enormously. They take you by the neck and do not let go.

It was with great anticipation that I picked up The Cormorant, the third Miriam Black book.
Chuck Wendig has a vivid and arresting writing style which he puts to good use here.

Miriam is a dark character, a torn strip of anger and resentment with a cruel gift: she sees how people die. She is (usually) trying to do the right thing – by this third book she has had some success at that – but it is never easy and rarely clear, and it follows a lifetime of being punished for even trying. This story puts you right in the middle of the hard choices she has to make and the hard things she has to do. The action is intense and bloody, and the language is appropriately strong*.

One of the many things I like about these stories is the origin of the “gifts” which Miriam and her ilk labour under – the great losses suffered are reminiscent of blood sacrifices paid by ancient shamen (shamans? Looks like a dodgy plural whatever you do) to earn their insights. Horrible, but somehow true.

Just like this book.

[*] in other words, if you don’t like swearing, you may not enjoy this book.

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Goodbye, Maya

bow down before me, puny human.

bow down before me, puny human.

Maya was an imperious cat, always very sure of what she wanted.

We had to let her go this evening.

She was nearly sixteen years old and had been in fine shape until a few months ago, but then the same creeping illness that took her litter-mate Gatto a year ago started to creep up on her. We treated as well as we could, but that treatment brought on another condition, and… well.

All we could do was stop her from suffering any further. Her last couple of days saw some improvement, but it was a golden sunset – beautiful and welcome, but still the end of the day. She was my wife’s cat first, but I know she was comfortable with me too.

Thank you for many years of amusement and company, fuzzy cat. You will be sorely missed.

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Picking Things Up

so much paper

so much paper

I hate colds. I remember soldiering on when I was kid, whether because I was tougher or more resolute then I do not know, but these days I get light-headed with a sore throat and completely laid out by a blocked nose.

After fighting something cold-related off this last week, it’s time to pick things up again.

Here, for example is a blog post. Not, I suspect, a return to a regular schedule, but something.

I’ve been working on the next season of A New Dawn, the supers campaign I have been running with my roleplaying group. The first episode didn’t happen last Friday because of the cold, but I have been working on plotting out the season and working out specifically how to play the resolution of the end of season cliffhanger from last session. I will write more about that once it has been played.

I am also picking up Song again, thinking about my novel-writing process a bit in so doing.

My process for novel drafting has historically been to rewrite the whole thing when I do a fresh draft. This makes sense if the story is being largely rewritten as it so often has in the past: a new draft of Bluehammer, for example, was usually necessary because I was writing a whole new version of the story. So when I started in on the second draft of Song, where I’m taking the first half of the 2011 NaNoWriMo work and expanding that out to a full novel while adjusting the point of view to first person, I started afresh as I usually do.

And I’ve got a fair way into it, but I find myself writing the same scenes over again and thinking that what I wrote the first time was better. History does not bear out this perception – I felt the same about a lot of the Bluehammer extension content I wrote in 2012, and a lot of that was better in the newer version – but I can’t help feeling like I an making poor use of my time.

In picking up the Song manuscript to continue the second draft, then, I am going to work differently and revise the first draft text directly for point of view. It was pretty close in third person in the first place, so adjusting into first should not be difficult. This way, I hope, I can get to the new stuff faster.

Do you have any tricks you use to pick things up after a break, enforced or otherwise?

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Blocked

time to go sledging

time to go sledging

I don’t believe in writer’s block, but I have been having terrible trouble with a blog post I was going to put up here. It was about superfluous narrative in coverage of sport* in the US, and although I have examples from a couple of sports** the argument just hasn’t come together.

And now I’m sick – not properly ill to the point where I could actually realistically take a day off, but the kind of run down, fighting-something-off, needs-eleven-hours-of-sleep-and-it-still-won’t-be-enough sick which occasionally afflicts me in my high octane life style***.

So I am declaring the blog on hiatus again for the week because really I have no idea when I will have the energy to conjure a cogent argument again.

Be excellent to one another in the meantime, eh?

[*] sport as an activity is singular in Britain unless you are talking about more than one kind of sport. So, winter sports might include skiing, skating and luge but winter sport is any ice-related physical competition.

[**] see?

[***] ha ha ha.

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