Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Moving Onward

Chaco Canyon Ruin

Sometimes all you can do move forward and do the work. I've never had much of a problem doing that, really. The last four days were not terribly difficult for me once I turned off my email and just threw myself into the novel. I wrote 36,605 words in four days. If we hadn't gone out of town on Sunday I might have done 40k, though some of it would have had to have been on something other than Serendipity Blues -- because I finished it today.

The first draft of the novel is done. Is it any good? Some of it. Some of it is very good, in fact. The plot is great, and the parts that I picked up on during the writing just made it better. I am, however, lacking a lot of the depth I want to place it in the proper time period. Russ is going to help me out with some of the historical/cultural material because it's a time period he's really more knowledgeable on than me. I also realize that I short changed one of my characters in the second half of the book, and maybe worked too hard to make certain things happen that might be handled better.

Right now, though, I'm going to let the book sit for a while. Probably the rest of the year and have it on the rewrite list for 2006. That will give Russ plenty of time to go over it and help me out with some background material, and not put any rush on him. He's kind of a busy guy.

In fact, he'll be back in Georgia for a week starting on Thursday. Sigh. Well, at least we had a few days where we spent a little time together. I'm sorry he felt so ill for some of it, though! And he's going to miss his three day weekend by being out of state again. I wish he could have spent it at home.

I just turned my email back on for the first time in two days. Oh dear. I have a LOT of work to do. On the good side, someone wants me to adapt one of my pieces for the cover art to an anthology. We'll see what I can do. On the other hand, I have the county agenda to get done RIGHT NOW. I've been doing these agendas since 1998, and you know they still take me by surprise when they show up. I can never figure out the pattern to when they meet! It also doesn't help that they've had a couple extra meetings the last two months.

In the next couple days I'm going to try to finish up the final draft of Glory. This includes a reworking of the final confrontation, which I realize missed several important points. I've listed them out and now I'm going to look at the battle and see how best to rework it with these factors in mind. I hope that it won't take me more than one rewrite of the last chapter to get them into place.

And then on September 1 I am going to begin work on Ada Nish Pura.

For those of you who read the previous post, you might realize what an important step this is. Ada is a good novel. It's one of the best I've ever written. What it isn't is literary science fiction. I don't write lines that are meant to stop the reader to exclaim how lovely the wording is. I don't want to throw the reader out of the story to admire pretty words just for themselves. But that is what the publisher wanted when we went into the rewrite. And that came as a real shock to me, because before I signed the contract I had asked specifically what the rewrites would entail. Her answer had been that it would be working in more cultural detail in the story as well as expanding some of the details about the world's makeup, and I agreed completely with both parts. That is, in fact, what I am going to be doing on this rewrite. What I couldn't do, after five months of reworking the same three chapters, was write in a way that I -- to be quite honest -- rarely like. There are some writers for whom the beauty of the words themselves will get me to read anything they writer. Samuel R. Delany is one of them. Ellison is another. I love their words and I don't care what the story is about. They can make me stop and read a passage with delight.

But I am not that kind of writer. I won't even pretend to be. And I could not rewrite myself into one. Once I understood that the rewrite had changed from worldbuilding to style, I backed out of the contract. I hated to do it, and it left me with a very anxious and annoyed feeling, and that is what has affected my writing for most of the year. I had spent five months (and a bit more, from the year before) trying to reach a satisfactory rewrite, only to learn that the entire rules had been changed and no one told me.

I've had hundreds of rejections, and some of them rather sharp. I've had a few bad reviews. I've looked them over, learned something from some of them, and kept going. What happened with Ada Nish Pura was something completely different. It was not a rejection or criticism. The editor, even after we parted ways, said she liked my novel, but it was not going to be what they wanted.

Yes, I'm spending way too much time looking this over, rethinking it, trying to find if there was something different I could do. I know there wasn't. I was not going to be the writer they wanted, and five months of trying to fulfill that role was more than enough. But the entire incident left me reassessing what I was willing and able to do to get any single publication. I'm still working through that process. In the meantime, thought, I'm going to get back to work on Ada and get it back out in submission.

It's obviously way past time to move on.

And while I was writing this up I suddenly remembered an entire little side thread toward the end of Serendipity Blues that I forgot to tie up. Oops. Well, I'll note it and do it... later today. It's nearly 5am. I have to get to bed for a few hours so I can start fresh and get to work on Vision.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Thinking things through....

I've been spending the last few days working up a little post about the problems I sometimes have with first person and third person stories. Nothing too drastic, and I wasn't in a hurry to get it done. Just as well. Holly's post about her problems with Hawkspar made me sit down and admit something to myself -- the real reason I'm not getting a lot of fiction writing done for almost the entire year. It is an annoying and, in the end, stupid reason.

Yes, I've been busy with a lot of things that, while writing related, are not exactly writing. Vision, DTF, Forward Motion -- they do take a lot of time. I've had some serious nonfiction work to get done for a couple projects, and that takes a great deal of concentration that doesn't allow for little imaginary fluff. But still....

The problem I'm having is because of the trouble over Ada Nish Pura. I know it. I had very high hopes for that book, and I thought it was the best that I've ever written. I was willing to do the edits -- but I could not make myself into a literary science fiction writer. I couldn't make those changes, and I had to drop out of the contract. (First chapter of Ada Nish Pura can be found here. I still think it's a damned good chapter, and the rest of the book will be the same....) It's a good story. It's better for the editing we did -- but I could not make that final change that they wanted. I couldn't write lines intended just to draw attention to the words.

I have barely finished anything since that trouble. I have not put a single novel out in submission this year. Even material that is virtually done has been sitting on my hard drive while I make myself too busy to do anything about it.

The sale of Mirrors, and the request for a book a year with those characters, has started to change my attitude again. I'm going to try to finish Serendipity Blues over the challenge at Forward Motion this coming weekend. Chances are that I won't get that far, but I should get a good chunk of it done -- if I can keep myself focused on the story and forget both other work and the feeling that it just won't be good enough, so why bother?

That is not a usual attitude for me. It's the measure of how much depressing news has come at me this year, from Ada to my mother's death -- and even the growing problems with my camera. Even stupid little things start to add up.

I haven't stopped writing. I don't think I can. I have written quite a bit of fluff these last few months. Fluff is alright. I even made a quick 'give away' sale of $5 for a little cat Christmas story. Those can be fun and there's nothing wrong with the occasional fun. But there are still a number of novels sitting here, waiting to go somewhere, or waiting for the final edit.

I still have several months left in which to pull my act together and get some novel material back out there. If I have to, I'll start looking for help with some of the other work around FM. I'm going to start doing less intensive rejections for DTF, at least until I get caught up there. The 2YN classes are still going, but I have the new ones roughly decided and worked out, and there are only about 20 left.

Maybe next year will be less trouble.

So, obviously, I have to get focused on the real material. And I'll do that... right after I finish up the edits and formatting for Vision, work my way through some of the DTF submissions, and maybe get the rest of these pictures scanned in. (Okay, to be honest, the pictures are really wonderful and have put me in a great mood. And that's important too.)

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Me Post

The last week or so has been filled with one project after another, almost all of them nonfiction, and nearly all of them taking longer than I had expected. And I'm still not caught up, but I'm closer to the point where I can just sit down and write again.

I've been working on my outlines, though. Once I get other things cleared out, I'll be able to just leap in and work. I'm looking forward to it. The little bit of fiction I've gotten done in the last week has not been enough to sustain me for long! I want my characters and stories back!

But today I have a couple other things to do again, and a few more outline notes to type up. Last night I had a glimmer of how to add some material to Kat Among the Pigeons, too. I can see one good scene, and there will have to be several things that happen leading up to it. I might be able to get another day's worth of material there.

I'm looking forward to the end of the month and our annual 'Labor of Love' and 'Unfinished Business' five day writing dare at Forward Motion. At the rate I'm going, I think I'm going to be doing Unfinished Business and see if I can get Serendipity Blues completed. If I did Labor of Love it would be one of three outlines that I have sitting here -- Kat Among the Pigeons, I'm Not Who You Think, or Wind and the Sand. Oh, and there's the Resolutions of Trust outline still here, too.

I would really like some writing time! (grin) I can't even find time to do this blog very often lately, and that's kind of pathetic.

I think Russ is, unfortunately, going to be out of town again during the Dare. That gives me more time to write, but really I'd rather have the company and a little cheering on during the dare. Not to mention the Taco Bell food. Hmmm... Maybe I'll stock up on some bean burritos and throw them in the freezer.

I keep joking to Russ about going on a writing retreat to some hotel for a few days. It is a joke because I can't retreat much more than I already have. My office is at the back of he house, I don't keep a phone here at all, and except for the cats I rarely have anyone back here. Russ has his own office next door, so he doesn't use my computer very often now. I keep clearing the stuffed animals away, but somehow new ones seem to take their place. There is usually one or two cats stretched out on the left side of the desk, too. I have my own little stereo system and all the books a person could want. (Practically. I still lust after a couple sets of nonfiction way-to-expensive sets. Someday....)

All I need is more time.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Working with Writers

I'm involved in a good many projects -- Forward Motion, Dragon Tooth Fantasy Ebooks, Vision, Estand -- and all of them involve writers to one degree or another. Those writers are obviously a varied bunch. That's good. After all, if we were all the same, we'd all be telling the same stories in the same way. Personal experience and personal preferences will always influence the material and even how we write it.

All writers are different.

That's not a negative statement or an attack on any writer. It's certainly not an excuse of any sort. It is a statement full of wonderful opportunities because it means no writer has to work in a certain way to achieve success. We can look at various methods that others use and experiment with the results. I often try to give writers ideas of how I work, and sometimes it even helps them. More times it does not -- but it's the few that find something helpful that is the only reason to give ideas at all.

If you ignore that you have helped some people in preference of those who didn't find your suggestions useful, then you're never going to be happy working with other writers. If it bothers you to see others working in their own ways, having their own opinions on what works for them, and sometimes even making sales, then you should absolutely stay clear of writing groups of any type.

Writing groups are full of people who not only have questions, but also have a few answers of their own. The people in these groups celebrate each other's good fortune with a sale and sympathize over a rejection. And they offer help where they can, without expecting anything in return.

The pooled knowledge at FM amazes me. And it's all there because others were willing to help. Now that I'm starting my third year running the site, I feel a little less anxious. The site works. No, it's not for everyone, but nothing is. And some people are just not going to fit into any group like this because they don't know the difference between a disagreement and an attack.

Forward Motion is a testament to the willingness of writers to help others, even if they are technically trying for those same few spots in the publication line up. It's an amazing experience to be part of. But not every answer will suit every person.

However, there are answers that suit you, the individual, and will help you write in the way that works best for your background, your mind, and your habits. I've been posting things in this blog lately that are more writing-centered than usual, and it's been great to see the people who say that something works or doesn't work for them. It points out the variety of ways in which authors can achieve what they want. If someone doesn't agree with the way in which I work, is that wrong? Is it an attack? Of course not. It only becomes an attack if they say that no one should work in that way and should only work in the way that they proclaim as The Answer.

Sites like Forward Motion work because people see a variety of answers from different people at different levels of their careers. It also works because people are, for the most part, truthful in their posts. It is not sugar-coated, and no one is told that there are guarantees. All people can do is help new writers explore the possibilities and help teach them the few true fundamentals.

Forward Motion is about 150 people short of 8,000 registered members. Almost half of those members are regular visitors, many just to read posts without adding information. About 2000 post at least once a month, and several hundred post almost daily. That's a considerable amount of information available. (And I'm working on a slight restructure of the site to try and make it easier to sort through!)

We have the 'rejection contest' in which writers get points for rejections (and more for acceptances) in a little on site game. It's silly and fun, and takes a little bite out of the inevitable downside to being a writer. We have a large section on creating query letters and synopsis proposals to help writers though that difficult hurdle. Classes, dares, challenges, crit circles, chat rooms -- there are a number of different ways in which the people on the boards can interact.

What we don't have is a rule that there is only One Way, or that people have to agree on writing rules. Disagreement is not negative in itself -- it only becomes so if one side can't accept that the other might have their own points and makes disagreement into an attack. I've seen dozens of those people during the last nine years at the site. Many of the people grow up and grow out of that attitude. Some don't. Some people just can't work with other writers and find nothing positive in the experience. That happens, and there's nothing inherently wrong with it. We are not required to help one another or listen to each other. But some of us still try to help -- at sites, in blogs and in books.

And I'd like to say thank you to all of them. I've learned a lot from those who are willing to help without expectations or demands that it be more than aid offered to a fellow writer along the path.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Character Versus Plot

Linda brought up another aspect of writing -- the character driven writer versus the plot driven writer.

Anyone who has read my material on FM and Vision will know that I am absolutely character driven in my writing. Everything I write starts with the vision of a character, sometimes in a situation that needs explaining and sometimes not even with that much. They just appear and before long I start to see more of the world around them and begin exploring what ifs and how did they get there. But I build the world, and then the novel, around that character and the others who happen into range. The world is built for them, and it is the characters who shape the story. I know who they are, and I know what I want them to be and do, and so the world conforms to what they need to tell that particular story.

I've tried to write a plot driven story, and it just doesn't work for me. It's not that I don't care about the events, but they're not what draws me. I want to know what the people are doing -- and not just any people. They have to be people I'm interested in, for one reason or another.

But it doesn't matter if you're character driven or plot driven when you write a story. And it doesn't make a difference in whether or not you use an outline. It's an individual preference and it really doesn't have anything to do with plot first or character first. One person might start with 'A city falls into decay and revolution is coming, with a series of horrific events that drag the city to near ruin' and another starts with 'A young woman scrapes together a living in a dangerous town, and finds herself involved with revolutionists and their dangerous ploys to get control.' The plot might turn out to be remarkably alike as they both work out the steps of the revolution and the horror of the events, but they will have come to the idea from different perspectives.

Now the truth is that the plot driven writer is probably more likely to write out an outline of the events that take place because those events are the focus of his interest. But it's not really much different than the character driven writer who works out a page or two of background for the character. It's just where the initial focus starts. By the time the story is written, the readers won't be able to tell if the author used an outline, character sheets, started with the plot or started with the characters. Well, okay... sometimes you can tell a plot driven novel from a character driven one just because of the focus of the story. If a novel jumps from person to person and rarely sticks with anyone for any length of time, you are probably looking at a plot driven author who is more interested in the events than the people.

But generally they all combine and you really don't know. It's not that plot driven writers dislike characters and will never create a truly great one, or that character driven writers don't come up with fascinating plots. It's just the point where you dive into the story.

And some writers might be both, depending on the project.

I have found that I like outlines, but I write them after I've created the character and have a number of plot points where I want that person to go. Sometimes my outlines are just a few quick notes, and other times they are massive with even bits of dialogue dropped in so that I don't forget it by the time I get to the scene.

Oh, and yes -- I am a linear writer. I may see random bits and pieces in the planning phase, but the story itself unwinds like a movie for me, and I start at the opening and go to the closing. That part doesn't matter if I have an outline or not. Even if I later add in a subplot, I'll still start at the beginning and work the new material in from front to back. The idea of writing out of order is absolutely foreign to me, I suppose akin to reading the end of the book before you start. I want to take the journey from start to finish. And having an outline doesn't make a bit of difference in that respect. I study roadmaps before I go on a trip, too -- but it doesn't mean I know what I'll see there or what I'm going to say and do. That's what outlines are like for me -- even the more intensive ones I write. They're just roadmaps, some with more directions than others. Chances are that I might end up taking a few detours and skipping places I thought I would head to, but I'm always aware of where the path to the final destination is, and that I will always work my way back to it rather than wandering off and getting totally lost.