Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Great Balls of Fire

Monday, my sister in law calls out of work because her throat is sore. Turns out she's come down with strep throat, and was kind enough to share it with me (thanks sis!). My lymph nodes are the size of golf balls, and my throat is on fire, I have large doses of antibiotics and decongestants coursing through my system.

Therefore, comprehension is briefly suspended from my posts. You have been warned. :D

Monday, before my throat decided to do it's flaming razorblade impression, I managed to get some really crucial details about my setting worked out. Worldbuilding is personal to every book and every story. My other three novels didn't require this much worldbuilding because they were set on Earth. It's amazing how many details we take for granted. What kind of food is served, how the materials for the buildings arrive, how the technology continues to function when the entire structure of civilization has come crumbling down around the character's ears. Little details like that.

I am being very careful about not over building, since that is how many fantasy writers procrastinate actually starting the novel. But Monday, I worked on several pieces of the "special physics" that most of my plot works on. Crime procedures, how magic applies to ghosts, what it can and can't do, these are important details when you're writing something close to a murder mystery.

The best method I've found to not over do any aspect of working on a novel is making a list of what I absolutely must know. What I have to know about the world, what I have to know about the characters and the plot. Everything else can sort itself out. Life's been a little crazy lately, so I've been moving much slower on the pre-writing aspect of my WIP, but I only have a few more details to build on before I can start.

What do you guys to do prepare for your novels? How do you balance between knowing enough that you don't stare at the blank page, or knowing too much that you're bored?

On the other hand, you pansters out there, how do you pull all your details together after writing your novel? I wrote a book without knowing enough about the setting once, and it was the biggest pain in the neck to go back through and add all those details.

And who thought up gargling with salt water? Salt? Really? Normally salt hurts wounds, not helps, but somehow it works magic on a sore throat.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Uncontest: Public Humiliation

Today the Rejectionist is having an excellent uncontest in the form of public humiliation. Since there's nothing better than a good public embarrassment every once in a while, I thought I would participate.

For your viewing displeasure I bring you two entries: one, a teenage love poem. Yes, you saw that coming, didn't you?

Let me preface this little disaster with: 
a) I was writing under a pen name composed of three of my favorite poets, Sara (as in Teasdale) Butler (as in Yeats) and Autumn because it rhythms with Auden (as in W. H.) and 
b) I was going through a hard core e.e. cummings phase. This entry is not the worst that came out of it, but I think this selection is both sappy and angtsy, without having any sort of redeeming qualities, unlike some of the other poetry that came out of this phase.

Sara Butler Autumn

I take no comfort in knowing
that mine are not the only
tears that have ever shed.
Nor does the thought that I
am not all alone in my grief,
in my sorrow. I know you
have hurt many just like
me; their numbers are stacked
high up, like checkers. But this
does not make the pain less;
does not stop the tears from flowing.
This does not stop the meaning in my
life from going.

Even more "special" than that little bit of angry poetry, I give you a few paragraphs of one of my early attempts at writing a novel.

I started trying to write novels in high school, and attempted this feat even though I knew next to nothing about how one went about such a task. Concepts like word count and genre didn't enter into my vocabulary, and I wrote with reckless abandon. Most of it is drivel, but I can see some of my style coming out.

Apparently my style at the time was overwrought imagery. I can't tell you how many times I was told I "walllowed" in my imagery. Since that's what I was going for at the time I took this to be a compliment. (what can I say, I experimented a lot as a teenager. We all go through a phase. Or two.)

"The young women stepped with one black, high sandaled foot in front of the other, cat-like, a tigress, using every curve and shape of her exquisite body to her advantage. Her bronze doeskin pants were laced with black leather up her long coltish legs to her hips, with a tan leather belt encircling her waist, the fringe from the end of the belt bouncing back and forth with her cat-stepping.
She wore a beige shirt, two or three shades lighter then her pants, that had a broad neckline, and showed her ivory shoulders, so pure-looking in the burning desert. Most people had never seen anyone without a deep tan, and that alone made her unequaled in their eyes. A black leather choker circled her neck, with tan, beige, and fawn colored beads woven into it. Matching beaded bands circled her wrists. A light cloak that matched her pants in color and material was tied loosely at her neck."

My font of choice at the time was Book Antiqua, but apparently Blogger doesn't support my nostalgia. This description of my character went on for eleven more paragraphs. I wish I was joking. I really wanted to make sure that reader knew what she looked like, so I described her in painstaking detail. 

I swear I have learned valuable lessons on "show don't tell" since then. Honest. Please don't judge me.

Better yet, join me! Let today be a marker as to how far you have come! Post some sappy journal entries, teenage love poetry, and old "novels". Link back here, and on the Rejectionist and join us in our embarrassment!

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Webinar on How to Write Science Fiction/Fantasy Queries! Huzzah!

I feel like that actress clutching her Oscar, crying, "You do love me! You really do!"

Kristin Nelson, of the super awesome amazing wonderful fabulous Nelson Literary Agency is giving a webinar next Thursday called "How to Write and Sell Fantasy and Science Fiction". She stated that they are actively looking to expand their roster of Science Fiction and Fantasy novels, but they are the area that is the weakest in terms of query letters. 

Sure, there are plenty of conventions for us geeks, but precious little "How to" information at those seminars for writing novels (which is why I jumped on that seminar I took at Dragon*Con like a rat terrier on a tennis ball). How do you work the worldbuilding and back story into the query letter, where space is a premium? How much of that worldbuilding is crucial? If you refrain from including a major detail in the query letter in favor of space, will that hurt you later on down the partil-full requests line?

These are questions I am sure us fantasy and science fiction writers are no stranger to. These questions and more will be answered by the wonderful Kristin Nelson next Thursday. Here are the details: How to Write and Sell Fantasy and Science Fiction Novels 

The extra awesome aspect of this webinar is you get a critique of your query letter, and if you can't make the time of the webinar, you can still access the archives for up to a year later. Sounds like a sweet deal to me!

Now if you will excuse me, I have a query letter to butcher.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Sunshine and Rainbows

In an effort to reset my sleep schedule I got up really early this morning, and now I am regretting that decision. I am TIRED. But I haven't been tired enough to fall asleep until 11 at night or later lately, despite work and other demands on my time, so hopefully tonight I will be able to go to bed at a decent hour.   

I am at that stage in my book where I am really excited about everything and thus, am hyper and bouncy. This is one of my favorite phases of writing, where I know enough about the plot to be uber-excited, but I haven't nailed everything down yet. The broad horizon of possibility stretches out before me.

I could add dragons! I could set it on the moon! That could make the book so much better!

This lunatic optimism never fades with each book. I have three completed and three half completed manuscripts, not to mention dozens of false starts, short stories, and ramblings under my belt, and this phase never diminishes despite how many times I start a book. 

I tell myself *this* time the book will be easier. It will flow out of my fingertips like water from a river, and it will be inspired and poetic, and perfect. Editing will then be a breeze, all my beta readers will weep with joy and sorrow at the appropriate parts when they read it, and I will know exactly the right final touches the book needs, and be ready for querying in record time.

Shiny rainbows!
 All of the agents I query will love it, and want to represent me. They will be kind and wonderful, ready to have a great working relationship with me, and I will start a friendship that will last me for years to come. My book will be a commercial and literary success, I will sign a multiple book contract with a wonderful publishing house with an editor who is also wonderful.


It's like a defense mechanism. Sure, I remember the horror of editing my last book, not to mention the several dozen occasions that things went splat while writing said book. The same thing happened with the book prior to that one, and the one before that. 

But this time will be different! My lunatic optimism tells me. This time it's all sunshine and rainbows!


As a result, I lay awake at night, trying to fall asleep while my voice chatters to me about my book. Some of the stuff I think about is useful for the plot, but mostly I just lay there and quiver, like an over-excited Chihuahua on the night before Christmas.

Am I the only one who does this? Or are the rest of you just as crazy-optimistic for a period of time while writing, before reality crashes the party? 

*thanks to wikicommons,, and for the clip art and photo. You've made my blog more vast, sunny, and rainbowy-er.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Ocean is a Big Place; or How to Use Note Cards to Make A Plot Outline

In case you haven’t noticed, the ocean is a really big place. It’s really deep, and there are all sorts of creatures that live there. It’s very easy to get lost in the ocean. That’s why some people take life jackets with them, and boats, and food, and all sorts of other stuff.

Writing a novel is a lot like trying to sail across the ocean. There’s an vast expanse of possibility to explore, if you get writer’s block it’s very much like being in the doldrums, and I pretty much imagine my internal editor as a shark. 

This sentence is terrible! Arrrrggggghhh!!!!

Some writers, like yours truly, like to be prepared. We like to sail across the ocean, safe in the knowledge that we’re never going to run out of food or drinkable water, that if we hit the doldrums we’ll just plop our motor into the ocean and keep sailing, and there are plenty of life vests aboard. We plot the book out, make character sheets, do some worldbuilding, and have all sorts of worksheets on our novel. This preparation will keep us safe from disaster. At least, that’s what we tell ourselves.

I think I can, I think I can...AHHHH SHARK!!!!!!

Other writers like to just wing it. They, like Joseph Selby, write the book by the seat of their pants, otherwise known as pantsers. They might have ideas and characters and plot stuff in their heads, but they plan very little. I like to imagine these writers as the Indiana Jones of the ocean. Instead of packing supplies into their state of the art ship, they just jump aboard a raft with a machete between their teeth, and set sail. If they’re hungry, they just dive into the ocean and stab a tasty looking fish. If a shark tries to eat them, they just give that shark the hairy eyeball, and the shark swims away in terror. At least, this is what I imagine, since every time I have written a book on just a wish and a prayer I wind up getting eaten by sharks. 

Equals dinner!

Regardless of your chosen sailing methods, things will go wrong. Over planners can pack their boat so full they sink, and under planners can take the longest way possible to get to the other side, which means lengthy revision (not to mention lots of shark encounters).

That’s why this voyage, I am trying to go for a happy middle ground via note cards. I am building my plot outline from note cards. According to one of my other writer-friends who write by the seat of her pants, she enjoyed using note cards to keep track of her plot as well (she doesn't have a blog or I would link to her).

If you try to keep everything about your novel in your mind at once, you’ll give yourself a headache. Do it right now, and see if I am wrong: think about your book in it’s entirety. Think about the character arcs, the progressive complications, every single place your character goes and how it looks, foreshadowing, symbolism if you use that, tense, POV shift, sensory images, and oh wait, don’t forget about the secondary and tertiary characters.

It’s enough to make your head explode. That’s why I use note cards. Because I don’t want my head to explode. I will now show you how to make your head not explode. With arts and crafts.

"Head explodes" was too horrible to wiki, so here's a pretty picture.

Supplies Needed:

*a book idea
*white note cards
*a hole punch
*a metal ring
*a pencil

Personally, I like to wait until I am further along in the novel planning process before I make my note cards, but you can do this as early as you want to.  

What to Do:

1. Basic set up

Get your pack of note cards, and open them. Punch a hole in the very top left corner (doing this BEFORE you write on them saves you from punching through important information). Keep your metal ring (I got mine in a pack from Staples. They are just a slim metal ring that connects to itself. You could unwind a paperclip just as easily) to the side, since you don’t want to bind your note cards up just yet.

2. Set up your note cards.

Each note card stands in for one scene in your book. You might have several scenes per chapter, you might only have one. Since a scene is the smallest unit you can break a novel into and still retain the essence of a book, we’re working with scenes. Plus, imagine how many note cards you would need if you decided to use one per paragraph. Yikes! And I find chapters to be too much information to deal with, which defeats the purpose of the note card.

You should have the following information on your note card, for the sake of your sanity:

*a sentence describing what happens in the scene
*the note card number
*the POV

But you’re not going to have all that information on the note card right away. You just need a space for it.

A Sentence
After you’ve punched a hole in a few note cards, you write down in the middle of the card a single sentence describing an event in the book.

Theoretically, you could write whatever type of sentence you wanted. You could write “the cat explodes” and be fine. But I prefer to save myself some work and headache in the future, and include where the scene will take place, who the protagonist and antagonist of the scene are, and what the conflict is.

So I would write: Jane and Bill struggle with dynamite in the living room, and the cat explodes.

I have shot myself in the foot before with a fragment like “the cat explodes” because when I get to the scene, it’s too vague for me to make any use of it. I tell myself I will figure out how the cat explodes later, but I almost never do.

"Cat explodes" was also too horrible to wiki, so here's a relaxing picture of a seagull.

The Note Card Number
The note card number is as it sounds. I just lay the cards out in the order I think the events will play out, and number the cards starting with one. This allows me to play with the scene order without having to remember how I originally thought events would unfold.

Which character’s perspective you think the scene might be from.

More Information
I like to put a place for more information on the note card. You don’t have to fill it all out for every card, but you will see how it might come in handy in a minute.

*Scene Number
*Chapter Number
*Conflict Rating
*Type of Scene
*Time Frame

Scene and Chapter Number
I leave a space for these numbers, and fill it in as I write the book. Doing so allows me to use this card for revision later.

Conflict Rating
How intense I think the scene is going to be. I use a scale from 1-10, with one being nothing is really happening to ten being the planet is exploding. This might change as I actually write the scene, but I have an estimation.

Rating the conflict lets me play around with the plot conflicts, and make sure I am not going to have a long stretch of really boring scenes in a row. If I lay my note cards out in front of me, and see that the first five scenes have a conflict rating no higher than four, I know I need to rethink some of the content in the scene.

A note about conflict: Conflict is conflict. Just because you’re writing a coming of age story where a woman discovers she’s been adopted doesn’t mean you’re writing a “boring” book and none of your conflict will be over a five. Another way to look at conflict is the amount of tension in the scene. The scene where the protagonist finds out she was adopted, and her parents have been lying to her for years would probably rate at least a seven. Don’t assume just because no one is getting shot means you have no conflict.

In the right context, this could be the most tense moment of your entire book!

Type of Scene
This is just a quick note to myself of what type of scene I think it’s going to be. It’s a single word, and just a tool I use to focus the scene. It’s subject to change, and not set in stone. Scene types range from contemplative, action, suspense, romantic, dialogue, dramatic, and many more. Essentially, this is the “feel” or the “tone” I am shooting for in this scene.

Time Frame
The time of year, the month, and possibly day this scene takes place in. Depending on how much you go back and forth in time, you might consider moving this category up to “must have” for your note cards. I usually at least keep track of the time of year, and month for books that don’t require a really time intensive plot. For a book with a ticking clock, you might want to keep track of the day this event is happening. It will save you lots of looking back through your book to make sure you don’t have a character in two places at once.

Wait a minute, you’re probably saying to yourself right now. I thought this wasn’t supposed to be plot overkill? I thought the pantsers would be able to use note cards too?

You can. I know it’s a long-ish explanation to go through the function each section your note card could have, but now you know how to use each item, and can pick and choose what you need.

I set my note cards up as such:

Very top line of the card: POV character/ Scene Number / Chapter Number / Note card Number
Next Line: Conflict Rating / Type of Scene / Time frame
Skip a space
One sentence: Scene event, including protagonist, antagonist, and an interesting setting.

Any of those pieces of information you decide is irrelevant to your project, you simply don’t include.

3. Fill out your note cards.

Every scene idea you have goes on a note card. You can have as many or as little note cards depending on how much you plot ahead of time. I think having at least four note cards would be a good skeleton for you pantsers: the opening scene, the inciting incident that starts the ball rolling, the middle that changes everything, and the climax.

You could also make note cards as you write the book, and plan out the next few chapters as you go, using the material you’ve already written as inspiration.

For us plotters, you might have many more note cards. You might have as little as 40 scenes in your book to over a hundred. It depends on how long the book is, and how long your scenes run. My suggestion for you is to write a note card for the major events and any scenes you are really excited to write, but leave spaces in between. The object is not to plot out your entire book, scene by scene, but to have a working skeleton.

The ocean is a big place. But with the power of note cards, we can tame it just a little.

4. Go nuts with the note cards.

Now that you have your scenes written on your note cards, the real fun begins. At this point, you might have spent a day or two working on your note cards, or all in one afternoon.

Lay your note cards out on the floor or a cork board. A table might work if it’s big enough, but I don’t recommend your bed. The minute you lean forward and your mattress caves in and slides your note cards to your knees, you’ll know why.

Now you get to play with them! I love playing with my note cards. I like to have hard copies, even though there are some excellent software programs that simulate note cards on a cork board. For me, part of the fun is touching and manually arranging the note cards. This is one of my favorite parts of writing. There is so much possibility ahead of you, you feel like you could do no wrong.

I actually dreamt last night that I sold a book on a note card outline, that’s how happy it makes me. :D Not that would ever happen in real life, but you get the picture. It’s fun!

I place the note cards in the order I think they are going to go first, and then number them. After that, I pick up all the note cards and shuffle them. Yep. I shuffle ‘em like a deck of cards, and lay them out randomly. Doing this has yielded some amazing plot ideas. It helps break up your preconceived notion of how the plot should unfold, and gives your plot a more spontaneous feel. It can even spark ideas for new plot events.

Play around with the order of events as much as you want. See what would happen if you started with the ending first, the beginning next, and the middle last. What if a certain character was introduced earlier? Rearranging events open up new possibilities for plot events, and can help you spot plot holes.


5. Secret Bonus

Remember I talked about how difficult it is to hold your entire book in your mind? Spreading your note cards out in front of you is an excellent way to look at your entire novel in a condensed fashion. All that empty white space under your sentence? You can make all kinds of notes right there. You could remind yourself to mention something in that scene, or plan to add in some foreshadowing.

I prefer to set up a different set of note cards for revision (the reason why is too long to go into here. Suffice to say you want different things out of each set of note cards), but if you didn’t want to do new cards for revision, these card are already set up to help. Again, since you’re looking at your book in miniature, it’s easier to see where the conflict sags, and where you could add a little twist.

Do not cling to your outline like a life preserver. The beauty of writing is things change. Don’t get so attached to your outline you refuse to deviate from them, even when a much better, cooler idea happens. The note cards should be a guide, not commandments chiseled in stone.

Plans change, and the some of the best parts of your book comes when you get that spark of creativity. This is another reason not to make a note card for every single scene in the book. If you get a better idea midway through, you’re going to feel like you wasted time with those note cards, and consider not using that new idea just because of the time you invested in the outline. 

I hope you guys enjoyed this tutorial. Let me know how things turn out for you! Do you have any note card success or failure stories?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Gasp! A Saturday Post!

I normally don't post on the weekends, mostly because my busy days are on the weekend, and no one wants to hear the insane ramblings of me after three or four clients. 

But! I thought about making a Western song list, and that seems like a weekend-ish sort of post.

Before I dazzle you with my list of awesomeness, allow me to direct you in the direction of Joe's equally awesome post on a neat middle ground between writing by the seat of your pants, and outlining your story: Wash Your Pants

It's an option I've only heard of before, but I actually haven't tried it. Mostly because I would probably plan more events out than is strictly necessary for this method. Go read the post! It's interesting!

Onward with the list!

This is a list of really cool songs that make me think of a western setting. No, not country music, where the guy sings about how his wife left him and his truck and dog died...I mean a western. Like, Clint Eastwood and outlaws and guns! Also, post-apocalyptic westerns in the vein of Mad Max, where the world is a desolate wasteland and there's NOTHING for miles and miles, and you might get ambushed by marauding bandits at any moment, and water is something worth killing over.

Yes. THAT sort of western... 

*Bad Company by Bad Company

*Hurt by Jonny Cash. He covered NIN's Hurt and it is EPIC WIN!!!!!!!!

*Patience and Civil War by Guns and Roses

*Ghost Riders in the Sky by the Outlaws. Oooooo! Oooooo! I love this song SO MUCH! 

*Bon Jovi *Yes, I will just mention his name, and not a particular song. Just about everything he sings about relates to being a cowboy. See: Blaze of Glory, Wanted Dead or Alive, Two Story Town, One Wild Night, These Days...the list continues. If you see Bon Jovi as the artist, you can safely add it to any western mix. Promise. Even the romantic songs have a vaguely western feel.

*Renegade by Styx. This is a CLASSIC.

*Black Velvet by Alannah Myles

*The Eagles *they too deserve their own slot. See: Hotel California, Desperado, Take It Easy, Tequile Sunrise, the list goes on...

*Welcome Home by Coheed and Cambria. Ooohh this song gives me shivers, every time!

*Wayward Son and Dust in the Wind by Kansas

*Shame on the Moon by Bob Segar and the Silver Bullet Band.

*Bravado by Rush. I LOVE this song!

*Gimme Back My Bullets and Tuesday's Gone by Lynard Synard. This band is another treasure trove for western mood music. 

*Where Have All the Cowboys Gone? by Paula Cole

*When the Stars Go Blue by the Corrs

*Black Bob and Lonely Road of Faith by Kid Rock...okay, and "Cowboy". Even though the rock rapping thing gets on my nerves sometimes. He also does a good cover of "Feel Like Making Love"

*Joker by Steve Miller Band

*Magic Man by Heart. Before you tell me it doesn't fit, listen to those guitar riffs again and tell me you can't see that being sung in a saloon.

*Hair of the Dog by Nazareth 

*Rain by Patty Griffin

*Turn the Page, covered by Metallica

*Ain't No Rest for the Wicked by Cage the Elephant

*Daylight Again, Helpless, and Wasted On the Way by Crosby, Stills, and Nash

*How Far We've Come by Matchbox 20

*Dancing in the Ruins by Blue Oyster Cult

*My Hero, Everlong, and Times Like These by Foo Fighters. The sound of the songs aren't exactly what you think of when someone says "western" but the themes of the songs always makes me think of cowboys.

*Electric Worry by Clutch

*Rack 'em Up, Lie to Me, pretty much everything by Jonny Lang

*Pride and Joy, Texas Flood by Stevie Ray Vaughn

Okay, I could go on...really, I love music almost as much as I love books. So there you go!

I have tried to refrain from adding country western music stars on this list, even though I have a few in my playlist, mostly because it's too easy. It fits by definition, even though I don't particularly like most country western music.

If Westerns really make you happy, here's a great list Joe made for his top favorite Westerns:

Top Westerns

Also, feel free to add your favorite Western/Post apocalyptic songs in the comments. I am always on the hunt for more music that I can destroy worlds to.

*thanks to wikicommons for the pictures of Australia to set the mood.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Lot to Do About Nothing

Song Playing: Cosmic Love by Florence and the Machines (on repeat one)

If you've never heard of Florence and the Machines, I suggest you check her out. Oh my goodness, her entire CD (named "Lungs") just gives me oodles of inspiration. I just love how powerful Florence's voice is, without being harsh. Listening to "Cosmic Love" brings to mind rocky coastlines and cold beaches.

Here's the Youtube link in case you're feeling lazy and : Cosmic Love

Anyway, on to more relevant topics. Or semi-relevant.

I was productive yesterday. I worked on some worldbuilding and plot building for my WIP, I went shopping with my mother, twin brother, and his wife. We did the wander around Barnes and Noble and eat lunch thing, which is always good times. Afterward I watched the new Star Trek movie with my parents. I know, that movie's been out forever now. Remember how we talked about time? And how I prioritize my writing just under the Day Job and my family? Yeah, that means I am usually way behind on movies, unless it's something I rabidly want to see.

I must say, the new Star Trek movie was an interesting reboot of the franchise, especially since I had to explain the concept of "reboot" to my mother. She was irritated they changed so much of what was canon in the original series. There was a vaguely confusing time travel plot, which I content was there just so they could shoehorn Leonard Nimoy into the movie to play Old Spock. I had heard fans complaining about the lens flare in the movie, and while I do like the quality it gave the movie, I agree it was a little much. There were several scenes where I couldn't see anything clearly because of the flare, or the glare from the flare (I'm a poet and I didn't know it) actually hurt my eyes. Not a deal breaker, but certainly annoying.

I also watched "Inglourious Basterds" which was much better than I feared. I am hot and cold with Tarantino films. Some of them are so bloody and violent I have a hard time following the plot, but this film seemed like a good balance between plot and Tarantino's trademark bloody scenes.

The dialogue is excellent, and I really enjoyed how the movie was broken up into little short stories that tied everything together. It was an interesting way to bring so much plot lines together. I was most impressed with his use of suspense in this movie. It's not your average sort of "girl walks down shadowy hallway" suspense, but more focused on characters hiding secrets. In one scene, a German SS officer Hans Landa is talking to an woman, who we know to be an escaped Jewish woman. Landa was there when she escaped, but didn't really see her face, so we're left wondering if he knows who she is, and if he's going to attack her or what. All over some coffee and strudel.

It was also fun to watch with my father, who HATES subtitles with a passion. And for those of you who have seen "Inglorious Basterds" the movie is more subtitles than English. The characters go between French, German, and English. Dad can't read subtitles as quickly as I can, so I wound up reading 3/4's of the movie out loud to him. I even tried to do different voices, and put inflection in my voice during long conversations between characters.

The reason why I brought the movie up, other than the fact that I wanted to talk about it, is there was a really cool bit of culture in "Inglorious Basterds". It was such a subtle thing, but it made the difference between a German officer recognizing a British Officer posing as a German.

The British Officer ordered three drinks, and held up three fingers: his pointer, middle, and ring finger, using his thumb to hold his pinky down. Like how we all do it, right? If I told you I was holding up three fingers, that's probably what you would imagine me doing.

But that simple gesture blew the British Officer's cover, and wound up getting the lot of them killed. Why?

Because in Germany (according to the movie, I have no idea if this is true or not. I will have to ask my friend Lena**) they hold up their thumb, pointer finger, and middle finger to indicate the number three.

When we write, we chose which details of our world gets let in, and which do not. I think fantasy tends to lend towards the end of over-description because we think since it's not a real world, we need to make sure people can see what we're describing.

It's important for your reader to picture your setting, but equally so for fantasy and non-fantasy alike. I have never been to Colorado; consequently, the author describing the setting as "Colorado in the spring" does nothing for me.

But if the author gives me some specific details to the setting, maybe the clear mountain air, the crisp, clean atmosphere, and jagged mountain peaks in the distance, suddenly I am there. It's no different if this place exists solely in your imagination or not. I believe description and sense of place comes out better in the small details, like how a people indicate the number three with their hands, than three hundred pages of beautifully wrought prose.

What about you? What are some ways you attempt to get the culture and setting across in your work without stopping the story?

*thank you wikicommons for the pretty pictures.

**I have asked Lena, and she says yes, it's true. They start counting on their thumbs. Cool!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Critical Writing Skills: Time is on My Side

Quote: "Hear the ticking of the clock...the sound of life itself." Kamelot, The Human Stain

Song Playing: Time by the Rolling Stones (surely you saw that coming)

Despite my connotations with "Time" to the movie Fallen (great movie by the way, held up really well even after the Digital Age), I think it's quite fitting for today's post.

People complain about not having enough time. Time is one of the those non-renewable commodities; once it's gone, you're not getting it back. You can make more money, you can get healthy, but you can never get back time you feel you have wasted. The best you can do is learn from the experience and move on.

Almost as bad as that, there are many, many distractions out there to steal your time away. In today's age it's virtually impossible to avoid all distractions.

That's why one of the most important habits you can ever develop as a writer is to protect your time.

Learning how to improve your writing, learning the market, learning where the dictionary is are all important skills as a writer, but if you forever let other things get in the way of writing, you will never be a writer. Forget about publishing. You can't wait until you "have the time" to write, because that's like waiting for tomorrow to arrive. You have to make time. You have to squeeze time out of your day, like blood from a stone.

When I tell people that I am a writer, a good 50% of them tell me they've always wanted to write a book, but they've never gotten around to it. That makes me sad. It occurs to me that if they really really wanted to write, they would make the time, but still think there's a misconception that writers just sit down to write, and the rest of the world will arrange itself around you.

It won't. You have to fight for your time, however short or long it might be, and protect it like a mother bear protects her cubs (how many metaphors can I cram into this post? Let's see...). Even if you can only squeeze ten minutes out of your day, that is still 70 minutes in a week. You could write a novel in a year with that sort of time.

But only if you are consciously aware of how you're spending your time. I became a much happier person the day I started consciously using my time. If I sit down to vegetate for a half hour, I know that's exactly what I am doing. I no longer feel guilty when I sit down to relax, because I know how I am spending my time. Before, time would just slip away from me, and I wondered where it went.

Now I budget my time like I budget my money (there's another one), and I feel more relaxed for it. I know I have time to do what's important to me. Life events will snatch up your time if you let it, so be wary of time wasters.

I am not advocating that you lock yourself away in a hole and ignore your loved ones. You need to make time for other things in your life that's important to you (friends and family should probably figure on that list somewhere...they get cranky if you ignore them for some reason). I am suggesting you take a good look at where all your time goes, and then try to rearrange your day so you have time for what you want to do.

You might have to make sacrifices. Most writers aren't avid TV watchers not because we're pompous elitists, but simply because we don't have the time. There are a few TV shows I watch on a regular basis, because I enjoy them and sometimes I need to relax my brain, but I haven't just channel surfed in years, simply because I don't really enjoy TV and it's very time consuming. I'd rather be writing. Also, I have those shows on DVD so I can watch them on MY time, not on the TV's time.

Here's my suggestion for making the most of your time:

1. Make a list of all your activities. All of them. Include hanging out with friends, watching TV, everything you do for fun.

2. Make a list of all your chores. Include everything you have to do to keep the power on and food on the table. Cleaning, paying bills, etc.

3. Now, keep track of what you do for a few days, and how much time you spend doing them. Did you waste three hours watching TV shows you really didn't enjoy just because the couch is where your butt landed? Keep track of that.

4. Now, merge your activities and chores list. Keep things flexible, and don't plan your day too tightly, as that is a recipe for failure (been there, done that). Make your list according to what is the most important to you. For me, time with my husband and friends, writing and reading are the most important activities to me. So I make sure I have time to do that, and if something less important to me falls by the wayside (like keeping up with a TV show or the current movies), it's not a big deal to me. I am so behind on movies it's not even funny, but that's because I'd rather be writing. And I don't often have time for both.

You might notice gaps of time you're not using as well as you could in your time tables. Consider combining tasks. Do you have to have a cup of coffee to wake up in the morning? Why not read emails during that coffee time?

I won't say you'll have plenty of time for everything you want after you keep track of your time, but you will know where your time goes, and be able to take advantage of unexpected opportunities.

What about you? What measures have you taken to make sure you have time for writing?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Monday Update--Sucess!

Song Playing: Lux Aeterna, aka Requiem for a Dream

Ever notice how no matter what you’re doing, if “Lux Aeterna” is playing in the background, it seems epic? Making the bed, brushing your teeth…all of these mundane tasks can be made way more interesting with a stereo set on “Loud” and that song playing in the background.

But spicing up mundane chores isn’t what I wanted to talk about today. That’s just an added bonus. No, no, you don’t have to thank me, I am here to help.

I wanted to tell you the excellent news.

Remember how I was complaining last week that every time I tried to work on the plot of my current WIP I hit a dead end? No matter which angel or character I looked at my plot from, I still had gaping plot holes large enough to drive a semi truck through.

Some of you kind souls might be wondering why this was such a concern for me. After all, plenty of writers start writing a book with barely more than a wish and a prayer, and they come out the other end just fine.

Not so for me. Not so at all. Every. Single. Time. I sit down to write a book by the seat of my pants, or mostly by the seat of my pants, it fails horribly. You know all those plot holes, holes some writers tell themselves will work out as they are writing? Yeah, they just get bigger for me. I can’t plan everything out because that kills the novel, but I need to have a few landmarks or stepping stones to traverse across the treacherous path of novel writing.

So I stepped back, and started working on my setting. Much of the plot centers on the mistakes of the past exploding into the present, so it’s no wonder I was having issues with the plot. I needed to know more about the mistakes of the past before I could figure out how they affected the characters in the present.

This approach is paying off in spades. I am still working on the setting, but now I am sort of going back and forth between setting and plot. I find novel writing is much like cooking a multiple course meal at the same time. You’re not just working on the setting, and then characters, and then the plot, and voila, you’re done. It’s more like working on the setting here, and some characters there, and then a little bit of the plot, and then back to the setting, and over to the characters, and so on.

So, my progress report for today is one of success. The novel is moving steadily along, and even though I still need to do some major research into the technology aspects of the novel, I am making some definite progress.

How are you guys coming along on your novels? Did you ever have a major roadblock dissolve almost overnight? Pretty cool, huh.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Funny Apocalypse

While surfing the web and trying to find the answers to my technology questions, I came across this website: Survive the Apocalypse, and found it quite hilarious.

It didn't really answer my question of how much power a generator needs to produce to run a small city, but it did make me laugh, and there's some interesting tips. I especially enjoy the "Escape from..." series that the blog owner does, where people email him for escape routes and he talks about the best way to escape from their particular city.

Happy Sunday!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Keeping a Series Bible

Yesterday while working on the plot for my WIP I realized I didn't know enough about the setting. 

I've run into a few snags along the way with this WIP, but I kept trying to press forward. Over building a book before you write it can be problematic. You're tempted to keep everything you're built, even if the book veers off into uncharted territory, and it can be a really great way to procrastinate actually writing the book.

So this time around, my intent was to go very lean with the worldbuilding, only stuff I absolutely need to know to make my story work. But as I am getting to plot events, I keep running into walls. I am having a huge issue figuring out where the planet would be technologically speaking. Prior to a massive series of wars, the planet was slightly more technologically advanced than we are on Earth. 

After a couple hundred years of ongoing war and plague that culminated in an event tantamount to an apocalypse, civilization is scraping by. I just can't figure out if they would still have electricity and indoor plumbing, and whether or not they would have lots of fuel leftover, or none at all.

People that I have talked to seem to think contradictory things as well. Some people think all the fuel would be rare, since there is hardly anyone around to produce and refine it. Other people think there would be tons of it laying around, since there are far fewer people using the fuel.

After trying to tackle this, and other setting-related plot problems, I broke out the big guns. I made my series bible. I took a binder, and put some tabbed dividers into it. I set up tabs for characters and plot in the front, and tabs for the culture in the back. 

Sometimes I just work better when I have something I can see and touch. Now that I have made my series bible, I will go through the sections of culture I need to develop. I figure if I know more about the past, more about the cultures before they crumbled away, I can make better decisions about what technology they still have and what new innovations the people have made after the apocalypse. 

What is a series bible, you might be wondering at this point. Basically, it's a binder or a notebook, or a file, where you keep all your notes on a book series. My WIP is the first book in a series, so I figured I would just make it now, instead of having to comb through my WIP for the right information. A well kept series bible will save you time when you're trying to remember the name of your character's third aunt you mentioned in passing in the third book. It's a way to organize all the information you need to make your books run.  

Some authors swear by them, and some don't bother. I plan to use my series bible as a reference for the culture as well, so I think I will get a lot of use out of mine. 

I printed up an index, and made notes about my filing system (cribbed from Holly Lisle's Create a Culture Book) so I would always know where to file the information as I was creating it. Keeping a consistent filing system allows me to add stuff to this for the rest of my life, and I will always know where to find a bit of information.

Series Bible: Name of Your Series

Filing Code:

Mark in upper right hand corner:

Number or Letter: Category
Lower case letter: information type
Page number

Example: A POV character's bio would be filed as 1/a/1
A major, but non-POV, character’s bio would be filed as 1/b/1


I. Book Information:

1. Characters

a. Point of View Character
b. Secondary Characters
c. Minor Characters 

2. Plot 

a. Theme
b. Genre
c. Calendar
d. Life Events
e. Ongoing Conflicts
f. Reoccurring Places
g. Inventions/Special Powers
h. Rules of Law

II. Worldbuilding Information:

A. Home Life

a. Basic Information
b. Arts and Artifacts
c. Cultural Library (books, scrolls, oral history)
d. Music and Dance
e. Housing and Architecture
f. Science and Magic
g. Other

B. Community

a. Basic Information
b. Arts and Artifacts
c. Cultural Library (books, scrolls, oral history)
d. Music and Dance
e. Housing and Architecture
f. Science and Magic
g. Other

C. Religion

a. Basic Information
b. Arts and Artifacts
c. Cultural Library (books, scrolls, oral history)
d. Music and Dance
e. Housing and Architecture
f. Science and Magic
g. Other

D. Government

a. Basic Information
b. Arts and Artifacts
c. Cultural Library (books, scrolls, oral history)
d. Music and Dance
e. Housing and Architecture
f. Science and Magic
g. Other

E. Language

Basic Information
Word Pool

Some of you might be thinking I am crazy to go to all that trouble at the moment. In reality, it was no trouble at all to print this out, and I will simply file the information away as I develop it. You don't have to fill each section out either. For my WIP, I am not planning on doing too much with the Religion and Home Life sections, but focusing my efforts on the Community and Government sections, since that's what my book deals with.

You could also modify this series bible, and use it for a stand alone book. Folders like this when it comes time to edit and revise and you're not sure where to put all your hand written notes on editing.  
The idea isn't that you now have all these sections you have to fill out, but simply a cohesive filing system.  For example, under the Plot section, there's a divider for Reoccurring Places. I don't know what those places are yet, I haven't written the book! But during revision, I might notice they hang out at the Drunken Cowboy Saloon an awful lot, so I might create a page with some quick details about the lay out of the place, the names of the wait staff, and anything I might do the saloon.

If my main character accidentally sets fire to the saloon during the course of the first book, I think it would come up if they frequent the saloon in the next book. A statement from the bartender in the vein of "Please don't set half the saloon on fire this time, okay?" can add extra realism to the readers who have been reading along with the series. 

With so many tiny details to keep track of while writing a book, keeping a book or series bible can be a life saver. 

Have any of you ever kept a series bible? How did that work out for you? Where they any sections that you had, that I don't?