Monthly Archives: April 2010

Milwordy

I’ve been meaning to write about this for some time, but I keep forgetting.

I respond well to challenges. I’m a competitive person by nature, and I like to win. That’s one of the reasons that I keep upping my goals for NaNo ever year (though 2010 will have to be something different, because I don’t feel it’s humanly possible for me to go past the million mark). The problem is, November only happens once a year. See the problems discussed in Inaction to see why once a year writing contests, in my present unemployed state, do little for me in terms of the rest of the year.

So, I present – milwordy. It doesn’t have anything like near the number of participants in NaNo (only a couple of dozen), and many of them started on different dates. But in general, the goal is to write a million words in 365 consecutive days. Going in, I thought that that sounded pretty easy for someone who spent all of November writing several tens of thousands of words a day. I decided to join on March 1st, but decided to give myself an additional challenge, given that it didn’t seem difficult enough for me: I’d backdate it to January 1st, so I’d start more than 2 months behind in my words. And it’s harder than I thought. I’m catching up on the lost words, but only slowly.

Nevertheless, it’s got me writing again, and writing useful things like my draft of Burning Eden. I have every confidence that I’ll catch up by mid-summer at the latest. I’m also hashing out a short story. There are some fun, non-publishable-in-their-current-state pieces of writing as well, but I plan to start another serious novel as soon as I finish the draft of Burning Eden. Keeping the momentum going is key.

The moral of my story: at least for me, it’s nice to have set goals and at least some competition. And despite that, most of last week I didn’t even come close to the 2800-minimum. No one’s perfect, after all.

(Disclaimer: Yes. Fully aware of the fact that producing masses of words does not make them publishable.)

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Watching Movies, Part 2 (yeah, there’s spoilers)

You know, just having watched my second movie in preparation for writing this blog, I have decided that along with the weekly book reviews, I’m going to discuss movies once or twice a month. Not every week, as I’m only posting three times a week, and to devote one post to a book and one to a movie would only leave one post a week for the other inane ramblings. I’ll try to make sure that each of the watching movies posts focuses on something different; I’ll be watching different genres of movies and looking for different things. If anything, last time’s focus was on the rom-com plot structure.

Today’s is on character relationships. The movie in question is Sherlock Holmes. Now, a disclaimer: the only Sherlock Holmes stories I read were when I was in middle school or high school, and yes, I know there’s been all kinds of disputes about how this doesn’t follow the traditional canon of Sherlock Holmes. Fine, well and good. That’s not what this is about. This is about the portrayal of the relationship between Holmes and Watson, because I happen to think that it’s done really well.

In a lot of movies, there’s a hero and his sidekick. That’s the same in this one. It’s almost a necessary trope, because the hero needs someone to play off of, and just throwing enemy after enemy (or situation after situation) at him gets dull after a while. You need something to break up the monotony. As Sherlock Holmes only has a dubious love interest who flits in and out of the movie, the obvious companion is Watson.

The tension in the relationship is obvious and immediate; the two are opposites and Watson is about to leave the partnership – no wonder Holmes appears to be doing everything in his power to sabotage the impending nuptials (well, first Watson has to propose to her!). But despite the conflict between them, a just-below-the-surface struggle, it’s obvious how much they care about each other, which is demonstrated quite aptly when Watson nearly gets killed.

In fact, as I watched this movie for a second time (watched it first with the family, second time for the purposes of writing this), it was the character interaction which came out more richly than the plot itself, which at times seemed a little contrived and was only interesting in the reveal at the end.

I like dialogue; I don’t know how good I am at writing it, but I can appreciate a well-written conversation, and this movie is full of them. From the conversation about having left the stove on – Holmes did – to repeated efforts to kill the dog, there’s never a dull moment when the two of them are in the scene together; the chemistry between them is obvious and engaging.

Not all movies succeed in creating character chemistry; sometimes it is the actors/actresses themselves, sometimes it is the plot and roles into which they are scripted. Here, it works. Here, I could listen to some of those conversations a dozen times over and still smile at them.

So, what am I trying to get at after this rambling?

Well, by dint of their structure, most action/adventure movies require a hero and a sidekick; the hero to do heroic things and the sidekick typically to be comic relief and/or provide the crucial bit of evidence/action/heroic sacrifice near the end. It’s reversed here; Holmes is obviously the comic one yet he’s the hero, and Watson is the sane and sober one shoved into the sidekick role. Along with the character chemistry, it takes this movie out of the realm of the typical action/adventure because there is a much more deliberate and defined human element to it (your stereotypical action/adventure has a handful of stereotyped characters who behave in particular and predictable ways in order to advance the plot).

And that’s why I liked Sherlock Holmes.

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Outlining As You Go

So I’m about halfway through my draft of Burning Eden. The book is split into four parts, each with their own mini beginnings and endings. It’s similar to the first couple of drafts, but different in some important ways: this go-around, it’s written completely in first person, and starts in a different place entirely. I just recently finished the second part, and something’s happened to me that also happened just after I finished the first.

I’m one of those people who can write and rewrite and rerewrite until my brain falls out. It’s a tendency I’m trying to curb, and I think I’m stumbling onto a solution that has helped so far. The evening after I finished the first part, I was lying in bed and I began to run through the structure of it in my mind. There were some small flaws and some big ones, and I realized how it would best be restructured. Instead of plowing backwards and rewriting that first part ad nauseum, I made the beginnings of a new outline which had things the way I envisioned would work better.

Because I work mostly with loose outlines open to vast interpretation, my drafts tender to wander off to tangents. My revision outline helped to focus what needed to be conveyed while also incorporating the more important wanders to give a thorough picture of the world of Eden. Though I’ve not gone back through part one yet, I like the look of the outline and think it’ll be much more coherent.

The same thing happened with the second part. There was a major diversion in the middle that I’d not planned for, which engorged the section and made some of it redundant. Towards the end of it, I had a major plot revelation which made so much more sense than the original, but which also made some of part two entirely superfluous. I don’t need to force him to think so much about how beautiful someone is if it no longer makes sense for them to sleep together. So I wrote up a new outline for that part, too, without going back and touching one word of the draft.

After I’m done writing all four parts, I envision having four outlines which will allow in my rewrites and revisions to give it a tighter structure and plot, instead of just deciding that “something doesn’t work” and scrapping it with no clear idea of how I’m going to make it any better.

This isn’t something that I’ve tried before, though now that I’m doing it, it makes pretty obvious sense. The only way to tell how well it’ll work is when, after I’ve finished and let it sit for a month, if the rewrites come out considerably better versions of the story, rather than just different.

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Book Review: The Scandal Plan by Bill Folman

I don’t restrict my reading list to SFF, though a casual glance at my bookcase(s), of which there are three in my bedroom and one downstairs that used to live in my apartment (plus the boxes of books in the basement), shows that it’s pretty predominantly that sort of thing. Naturally, when one pursues a degree in political science, it’s a useful thing to actually have some interest, and so I always enjoy a well-crafted politically-based novel, whether it’s satire or serious. The one in question today is The Scandal Plan.

What do you do when you’re a likeable, accomplished, skilled politician who is failing miserably in the polls against an incumbent who’s an idiot, but the kind of guy that guys want to sit down and have a beer with? Well, you come up with some way to make the politician in question more human. Ben Phillips’s chief adviser decides that the best way to do that is to give him flaws; to give him a scandal. A scandal created is a scandal they can control and use to their advantage. After considering various options such as substance abuse (no good, as the incumbent’s a recovered addict) and  no rape and murder (too cliche), they decide the only thing to be done is to have a long-ago sex scandal. With reluctance from Ben Phillips – and his wife – the plan is put into motion and for a while, things proceed as planned. But things like this can take on a life of their own, and when the scandal escalates out of control, it’s not only the presidential bid that’s threatened, but Ben Phillips’s happy marriage.

With a colorful cast of characters including a Mexican-American spy/chauffeur, a high school teen magazine reporter who stumbles onto the biggest story of his life, and a Republican-turned-Democrat chief adviser, The Scandal Plan is a skillful satire of the pre-Obama political scene (which, given it was released in mid-2008, makes sense). While some of the allusions are a bit obvious (who can miss who the former alcoholic and incompetent public speaker is supposed to represent?), and the books is left-leaning, there’s enough here that even those on the other side of the spectrum could find something to laugh at.  The various POVs from which it is told are intertwined in an interesting and unpredictable manner. I’ve always been fond of ending a chapter and not knowing which part of the story I’m going to jump to next. More, all of the storylines held equal interest – I’ve read books with multiple POVs where I’ve been tempted to skip a chapter so I can get to the storyline I really like.

I’ve talked about that critical part of my mind that’s appeared lately, and even though I’m trying to learn how to subdue that part of me, it was still well and active as I was reading this. But just as I enjoyed the plot and structure of the book, the book was also well-written by the standards that my mind has created (though I’m still fuzzy as to what they are, to be perfectly honest).

But you know what my favorite part of this book is?

The ending. Never saw it coming.

This one is a must-read for any fans of political satire.

Rating: 5/5

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Inaction

Let me present three scenarios

1. Life as a full-time student with friends and fun and stuff

2. NaNoWriMo-life

3. Life as a jobless bum.

Scenario the first

Here I am, chugging away at college. Busy as hell, pretending to be a good student, going out in the evenings occasionally. The time I have for writing is pretty limited to late at night when I should be doing other things (like homework or papers, or dare I say, sleeping) and the half-hour between classes because I live off-campus at the wrong end (the end not near any of my classes), so if it’s less than an hour between them, it’s a waste of my time to go home. In other words, maybe two hours a day if I’m lucky.  Yet, I produce. Not a lot of writing, mind you, but consistently writing just about every day. I squeeze it into the spare moments because I have to if I want to write.

Scenario the second

Pick any NaNoWriMo from 2006 out. Each one I’ve written more words than the year before, but it’s always been a rush. My entire life gets rescheduled. Friends get told that they won’t get to see me more than once a week. I decide if I really *have* to go to all my lectures, and which ones I can miss. I stay up to obscene hours of the night and go with little sleep and fewer showers for thirty days. I’m on an adrenaline high basically the whole time. My hands hurt at first, my brain hurts in the second week, I’m sick of it by the third week, but I finish in a fking triumph. It’s like when I ran cross-country in high school. When my coach was shouting at mile times at the second mile (of a 5k, 3.1 miles), I usually wanted nothing more than to collapse in a heap. But when I crossed the finish line, I always felt like I could run another 5k. That’s how NaNo makes me feel.

Scenario the Third

I play lots of sudoku. I’m actually getting really good at it. I also play lots of Freecell. Not so much solitaire, because it’s my secret suspicion that it’s rigged against me. I spend lots of times browsing sites like Nanowrimo, Absolute Write, and FSTDT.  I do look for jobs, but that’s starting to become even more of a chore than it used to be. I make dinner. I watch lots of television.

Oh yeah. That writing thing. That thing that I used to spend ridiculous amounts of time doing. yeah. Well, I do that sometimes, too. But not as much, and not with as much enthusiasm as I used to.

And that’s the problem. When I was busy, or trying to do something impossible, putting writing into my life/schedule was easy. I looked forward to it and treasured the time I got to sit down and write something. Now that I’ve been unemployed for nearly a whole fking year (a fking YEAR), there are so many other distractions, because it’s so easy to say, well, I’ll do that tomorrow or later or something. Because there’s this Shiny Thing I want to do now. And there are an endless succession of Shiny Things. Maybe it’s because I’m not properly dedicated or something. I’ve started to think that although it is my dream to be a published author, that maybe I’m not in the state of mind or attitude to even consider, were it possible, to be a full-time writer. (and yeah, I know it’s a minuscule percentage of writers who can do that, but still).

Sometimes busyness is good.

Wish I was.

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Something I’ve Realized About Editing

I’m not very good at editing. My former versions of editing were basically scrapping everything I’d done and starting from scratch. The first time I tried to do anything different was with the contest I entered on AuthorCulture. I wrote the story, and it was far too long. So, rather than starting from scratch, I tried to find ways to shorten and tighten it – in other words, I actually did some editing. And it paid off.

Since then, I’ve been trying to do the same thing with the short story that I’m working on. A good way for me to motivate myself is to check the present wordcount and then tell myself that I bet I can trip 25 words from it. I go back through it and cut irrelevant information, make sentences flow better…and cut those 25 words. It’s actually kind of fun, because I make it a challenge. It’s probably not the best way to edit, but I figure that baby steps are best. I’m better than halfway through the current draft of Burning Eden, and I figure that I probably want to have some basic editing tools in hand if I want to make the sucker properly publishable (which I do).

The real problem is, I’m arrogant. I don’t like to think that my work needs revision. It’s not Golden Word syndrome by any means, because I’m just as likely to decide something is utter, unfixable crap and banish it to the graveyard (yep, got a folder called that). The problem is, while I have a fairly good grasp of grammar and spelling and basic mechanics, no one’s perfect.  Okay, so I’m flawed. We knew this about me already, didn’t we?

What’s been really useful to me has been Absolute Write (and I really should get around to adding it to the sidebar, shouldn’t I?) and looking at critiques of writing, because it helps me to see what does and doesn’t work in real samples of writing. Just having information thrown at me, a set of rules, is likely to turn me off, but this doesn’t.

Anyway, I seem to have wandered off-topic. Shame I don’t have those magic editing skills under control yet.

But I’m getting there. And if I have to make it a competition with myself to see how many words I can cut out, it’s at least a place to start.

(P.S. Totally unrelated note: I’ve recently come into some Amazon money. Any books, dear lurkers, that you’ve read lately that you’d recommend?)

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Book Review: This Perfect Day by Ira Levin

An oldie, but a goodie. (Also, sorry about last week. procrastinator and all that stuff).

So.  This Perfect Day.

It’s one of my all-time favorite dystopian novels, because it sets itself apart from them in some very important ways. Rather than looking at a snapshot of life taken over the period of a couple of years (like 1984 or We), this is a history of the main character, Chip, from his very early years up until well into adulthood.

In this world, there are four names for boys and four names for girls. Unicomp controls their destinies and the bracelets they were help to give them the drugs necessary to keep them healthy and safe. “Fight” and “hate” are the dirty words, while fuck is perfectly acceptable even in children. The main character, Chip (so-named by his grandfather, after the expression “chip off the old block”) is encouraged by that same grandfather to start thinking about choices, about wanting things, even though those are considered extremely aberrant thoughts. Eventually, as in pretty much all dystopias, he runs into a group of rebels. As in most, he ends up getting caught and “treated”. But unlike most, he escapes.  Unlike most, it has a happy ending which I won’t spoil in case any of you lurky readers wants to read it.

There aren’t that many characters mentioned with any real depth (probably no more than half a dozen), but I don’t think that’s uncommon in novels of this type. Only Chip and one or two others are really fleshed out, but given the depth of this world, it’s easy to not care so much about that.  Given the massive advances of technology that we have around us today, it’s difficult to see how this world could ever be a possibility, but for all that, it still feels very real.

The plot moves along quickly, encapsulating different segments of Chip’s life, but not so quickly that it’s difficult to keep up with it. It’s a fairly simple plot, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. MC is an outsider. MC finds others who are outsiders. MC gets caught. MC escapes. Filling in the blanks with the world is what makes plots like that shine, in my opinion.

Unlike books like 1984 and a Clockwork Orange, this one doesn’t seem to be as popular today. When I just looked it up on Amazon, the most recently printed edition was in 1996. I don’t know why; I’ve read the book many times and I think it’s a real classic of the genre. I highly recommend it to anyone who reads or writes dystopian fiction.

5/5

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