lookingforoctober: (Default)
2016-08-16 12:05 am

[sticky entry] Sticky: Hi!

Hello, and welcome to my blog! This is a public blog, please feel free to follow and/or comment in any way you wish.

I don't post a lot, but when I do, it's usually about writing, because I'm interested in techniques and details about writing far more than anything else. I am currently writing a fantasy/science fiction story that I expect to be multiple volumes long (so the kind of series that's basically one long story), as well as another novel (which might have sequels, but I'll get there when I get there). I occasionally write fanfic.

I also post occasionally on random things I'm watching or reading.
lookingforoctober: (Default)
2017-06-22 04:10 pm
Entry tags:

Deadlines

It occurs to me that the only time I really ask myself "Could this be shorter" and really mean it is when I have a real deadline with actual consequences for missing it.

(For example, most of the time, if I come up with a scene while outlining then after that I assume that it's there for a reason... which it probably is, but even so, there may also be reasons to eliminate it, or cut down the amount included in the scene, or... etc. etc.)

Hmm.

The problem is I don't actually like deadlines very much, even if they sometimes force me to ask questions that I should probably be asking all the time.

So I guess the next question is, having realized this, can I get myself to ask the question without having the deadline?
lookingforoctober: (Default)
2017-03-26 03:39 pm
Entry tags:

(no subject)

I seem to find it easier to construct a story around a character arc than around a plot. Structurally, I just seem to be able to hold on to that better.

But it's hard to retrofit a character arc into a plotty story, if it's not obvious already from the plot...

So I'm not convinced the answer is to make everything into character arcs instead of plot (since I do want to write plotty stories), but it's still a thought.
lookingforoctober: (Default)
2017-02-28 07:10 pm
Entry tags:

My Process, Part One: Simple Outline

Written last year:

At a very basic level, the way I work (with a process or without) is extremely simple: come up with stuff that goes into the story, try to organize it. Repeat.

(I think I got to this point after following various writing advice about how it's important to turn off your internal editor when you write, just get it down, etc. etc.. I seem to have gotten pretty good at that, at the cost of... well, when I'm really going, ideas bounce around in no order or organization at all. I suspect that if I were a bit more tolerant of stream-of-consciousness in organization (i.e. just go with the flow, jumping from one related idea to the next), I might be a bit more of a Robin McKinley type of writer. If I had a bit more idea of where I was going when I started, I might be a Rumer Godden type. As it is, I guess I'm...a me type writer :) )

Anyway, generation and organization generally, for me, happen at different times. (It's actually really hard for me to come up with ideas and then organize them on the same day. I have a theory that I need sleep in between, but I haven't really tested that. Early morning and late evening might work just as well.)

So technically, the very first step of the process is to have an idea. (A generation step.) But since I have more ideas than I have time, and keep coming up with more, in my process, having some kind of basic idea -- pretty much taken for granted. (In January [2016], I went through all my old ideas and pulled out the ones that are 1) original 2) could probably be written as short stories and not novels 3) were already fairly well developed and 4) I still liked, hoping to narrow it down to about a dozen that I could try to write this year, one a month. I found 35 that I really liked, and have since added another idea to the list.

[June 2016: Hmm, that idea about trying to write a short story a month...would have been a good idea were it not that I seem to have a limit of two things that I'm working on for any amount of time. I've been alternating working on two long projects all year, and the short stories just couldn't inspire me enough to actually fight their way into my brain, and I guess I just wasn't motivated enough to fight for them. Hmm.

It might have helped if my criteria for picking stories to write had had a bit more to do with being truly excited about them, rather than well, this idea is the shortest and so should be easiest to finish. Though really, I like all my ideas, so I'm not sure how much difference that would make.]

My ideas usually start with character (or a relationship, by which I don't usually mean a romantic relationship), a world (sometimes sketchy, but I usually have an idea about science fiction or fantasy, modern or future or past, technology/magic level, things like that), and some kind of idea about what the whole thing is about. These are usually pretty fused together, the about part usually has something to do with the character and the world, etc.

So given that, the first step of the process is to take the idea about what's going on and try to make it more story-shaped. Usually the idea is more like...there are these forces that are opposed to each other, either internal or external (i.e. maybe the character is divided against themself, maybe they are opposed to something that's happening in the world) but the story has to move from a beginning to an ending.

And now:

It's funny, I had forgotten about how last year I was trying to write original short stories. This year, I'm thinking about trying to write more short fanfic, and I've put one of my large projects on hold, which makes room for shorter projects, because it's still true about two things at a time. ...though actually, I can sometimes squeeze in a long project and two short projects so long as the short projects are in different stages of development.

Anyway, I thought I'd written much more than that last year, but at that point it quit being writing and turned into semi-random notes, which is disappointing. I thought I wrote about how to create a two-level outline (which was the first step in my theoretical process) and yet that isn't here.

I also notice that I talk about generation of ideas and organization of ideas but not about winnowing of ideas, which is totally typical, and one reason that I tend to write long, no doubt.

Anyway, the idea of the two level outline was to start with a very general pattern (I liked motivation - reaction as a pattern because it's very simple and very general and can encompass a lot of different things while feeling true to how things generally work) and use that pattern at the top level either once or twice.

(And then I tended to add another thing on to the ending, which I thought of as synthesis, because otherwise the story didn't have a satisfactory ending. So the pattern was either motivation - reaction - synthesis or motivation - reaction - motivation - reaction - synthesis.)

(I also played around with the idea of using different structures as the basis for repetition. For example, there's the aaba pattern, which I think might make a good pattern for something that's more thematic rather than plotty.)

And then the idea was to break out each section into smaller motivation - reaction sections (or whatever pattern is being used). Usually two repetitions of the complete pattern. (This did end up being ... really structured, but I figured that would come out when I started writing and things took more room or less.)

I believe at the time I had the idea that when I did this, I would end up with something like chapters as the lowest level of this outline. I then had another pass where I went through and came up with scenes... And then I was supposed to write the scenes and then be done. Ish.

What actually happened last year as I attempted to implement this process was that instead of working my way through by using the results of the previous step as they stood in order to produce something with more detail but basically the same plot, I had to redo every step along the way every time I went through because the previous ideas I had weren't good enough.

Which was a lot of work and took a lot of time, but I did end up with a very detailed scene level outline. And then before I got very far into the writing part of it, I realized that I was running long, and did several things to try to fix that (one of which ended up being changing the antagonist, which changed the shape of the story a lot, though not necessarily all of the events), which brings me to now.

So the question is, do I still believe in this process, and I guess the answer is both yes and no.

First of all, I don't think any process is going to eliminate the "better idea as I work on it" problem, if you want to call it a problem. Sure, it would be nice if I could come up with the best idea from the first, but as things develop, new possibilities come into sight and if they're better, then that's a good thing and not a flaw in the process.

Re: outlining the plot via fractal patterns of motivation and reaction, I think that was something that I needed to do because I wasn't very good at plot. As a crutch, it did let me come up with a plot that I could work with and then come up with something better, so that's probably worth remembering for instances when I'm stuck.

But overall, I think it was a bit too structured, and also it led me to try to include things that weren't exactly part of the story. That is, it encouraged me to think linearly rather than holistically, and I'm sure there are writers who write that way, but it turns out that's not my ideal.

(I also tried to fill in a certain amount of stuff into each section so that the pattern would repeat the way I was expecting, which was probably also a problem because some of that stuff wasn't important enough to deserve the space I was giving it.)

I think this process also encourages writing long, because there's nothing in there about how to figure out what belongs in the story.

Although in my defense, a big part of the idea was to come up with everything that happens, and then make each event either big or small in terms of the actual words it took, either foreground or background, depending on the needs of the story. It turned out, though, that I'd rather keep some ideas for the next book rather than make them small and put them into the background just because they don't fit this book.

I also have doubts about thinking of everything as motivation - reaction. Turning points might be a more useful way of thinking about most of the big events that happen in the book.

(In a way, motivation - reaction and turning points are the same thing. The moment, or the space that happens between a motivation and a reaction could be thought of as a turning point. I.e. you start with a situation where something is wrong or imperfect (motivation for a character), and at some point (maybe things get worse, maybe the character is just fed up) the character can't stand it and decides (turning point) that they have to do something, or change what they've been doing because of the situation (reaction).

But I'm not sure if I really think of turning points as being completely character based in the way this suggests. Sometimes turning points are about the world changing (and the characters reacting, true). In fact, turning points are not just the character or just the world, it's the whole story turning in a new direction, and having potentially a new focus (though each section's focus is, of course, related to the overall story focus)...

Which is something that motivation - reaction, which is very much about character rather than story overall, doesn't quite get to.)

There are also a couple of things about this process that are still useful to me. First of all, I don't think the first pass of outlining should try to capture the whole story. I think the first pass should try to capture something simple and basic about the story, which is what this was also trying to do.

Also, I forgot to mention that every time I described something when outlining (an act, a chapter, a scene) I used a certain structure. I would try to come up with three things: from, through, and to. This captures the idea that in every piece of the story, something needs to change.

This is probably the most important thing about plot -- plot is when something changes, and it was definitely a good habit to foster, thinking about the story on every level in terms of change.
lookingforoctober: (Default)
2017-02-16 11:44 pm
Entry tags:

My Process: Re-introduction one year later

I started writing about my process about a year ago (and have been telling people I was going to write about it in more detail ever since)...

But meanwhile, it's been a year, and during that time I've been writing, working on various projects, and my way of thinking about writing has definitely changed, though I'm not entirely sure just how much. So instead of just writing about "my process", I'm going to take a look at what I wrote about it last year (and never completed), and at what I've done in the year since then, and see how much of the theory and ideas I had still makes sense to me, and whether I have any better ideas based on what I've been doing for the last year.

I think it might turn out that the process I came up with and was working from last year is going to turn out to be too heavy weight. In my first post about process, I talked about trying to make a process that made each step easier, like switchbacks when going up a mountain. It takes longer, but it's a steady progression of things that are completely do-able.

Now, looking back, I wonder just how much my year-ago idea of "easy" is going to map to "useful" and how much it's going to map to "but way too much work". (Which is, nevertheless, far better than "produces stuff that can't be used", just to note.)

I've noticed that no matter what kind of process I use, there are certain stages to writing.

There's a generating ideas stage (and this is something that long, long ago, before I started thinking about having a process at all, I used to do entirely in my head...which is nice but you can only write something fairly short that way. About 3,000 words, give or take, which is about how long chapters tend to be when I write them. I don't think that's a coincidence).

And there's a sorting and winnowing stage.

Obviously, this is not unique to my process, everyone has to do these things when writing, whether in their head or on a page. I think that differences in writing processes have a lot to do with how long a writer spends doing one before doing the other. (As well as what kind of ideas come first, i.e. plot first, characters first, etc.)

For example, NaNoWriMo-style writing says "generate ideas first, don't sort and winnow at all until you have a complete draft". NaNoWriMo-style writing has the virtue of being very easy to generate a first draft, and the disadvantage that you might end up with something that's practically impossible to edit, because it wasn't put together with the idea of editing in mind. And if you notice what a problem you're setting up for yourself, you might end up not being happy doing NaNoWriMo, whether you "win" or not. (The one time I tried it, years ago, I ended up with a mess that I haven't dared to go back to look at since, though I think there are some good ideas in it ... somewhere.)

On the opposite extreme, there's writer's block, which I think is basically a situation where a writer can't generate any ideas because they're pre-winnowing as they come up with ideas in their head and perfection hasn't occurred yet, so they refuse to commit to putting anything down. (At least, I think this is one variety of writer's block. There may be others.)

But in between the extremes, there are a lot of ways to have a cycle of brainstorming followed by structuring/winnowing of material. I find that the important thing for me is not to create too much of a backlog of unstructured stuff that needs to be sorted, because I can only hold so much in my head (and I only have so much patience for structuring, which I find hard).

On the other hand, I need to have a certain amount of material to work with when I sit down to put something together (a draft of a scene or a draft of an outline, it works fairly similarly), because otherwise I will probably end up stuck (and then I just have to go back to brainstorming to fill in the holes).

So my ideal process breaks things into chunks that are not too much bigger than what I can hold in my head. I've also found that I work better if I write down all my brainstorming and then extract the good ideas from it, instead of trying to do the winnowing in my head and only write down good ideas. My head is just not big enough to hold it all simultaneously, and a "good idea" depends on context and the surrounding ideas. Some of my favorite ideas just haven't fit the story, and that's sad, but it's also impossible to see until I have all the ideas written down and can see what doesn't belong.

(In a way, it's wasteful, but it seems to be inevitable, at least for now, and at least with stories that are long or that require research. I think I consider story to be what you have when you take away everything that's not story...but this can't be seen without generating some amount of both story and not-story.)

My old process covered some of this, but it also had some ideas that I don't think scale -- like writing each pass from beginning to end. This was great in the early stages, but for big projects I ended up mired in details and unable to see the big picture as I got further and further down into the the story. (I failed to take into account just how much the big picture has to change as the story develops, it doesn't actually develop totally top down even if that's the plan.)

I have some ideas about expanding from the early stages of a large project via subplot instead of via expanding each section into more and more detail, which I will try to talk about in later posts.

I also want to think about and explore the idea of what order to do things in, not just subplots but also things like character and structure and also storytelling things like tension...

I'm also not so sure about the idea of always working from start to finish. On the one hand, you do have to work in some order and start to finish is the really obvious way to do this. On the other hand, I seem to tend toward tangents when moving from beginning to end (though that might be because my endings so far haven't been strong enough to be a sufficient story-magnet). But I also really prefer to see a story as a whole rather than taking it on linearly, so a process that always goes through the story from beginning to end might not fit me that well? It's something to think about.

I also need to think more about how to deal with being wrong. Though perhaps "wrong" is the wrong word... But it always happens, at some point I realize that I've done something that doesn't work and needs to be changed. Not (always) because there's something wrong with it, but just because it doesn't fit...

When this happens, I generally have a very strong "I can fix that" instinct that kicks in the instant I realize that something is not working...but it might be worth stepping back and developing some ideas about what I want to do when I realized that something isn't working to avoid just going with the first fix that occurs to me.

I mean, if you have a process, but then you bypass the process every time something triggers your "wrong" "must fix now" instinct, then in some ways you don't have a process. I don't think there's any way to avoid being wrong every now and then, but maybe I need some things to always think about to evaluate potential fixes?

Focus and size is another problem that...I probably need tons more experience before tackling. It would probably help to have satisfactorily finished one or two novels. The problem is that (despite having read thousands of novels) I have no idea how to make sure I have a novel-sized idea when I decide to write a novel. (The problem is probably more that I don't know what size my novels will be. I'm developing my own ideas about what I want my novels to be about, which is not exactly the same as anyone else, so I guess I won't know what my novels are like until I finish one. Or two, for comparison purposes.)

Anyway. Next post will be looking at what I'd written about my old process and thinking about whether I think it does the things a process needs to do, and whether it does them in efficiently. Or at least that's the plan. Hopefully this year I'll get to a little more of this than I did last year :)
lookingforoctober: (Default)
2017-01-04 07:20 pm
Entry tags:

The Sombre Season

The Sombre Season
Fire and Hemlock - Diana Wynne Jones
10,184 words

I started off to write about how Laurel taught Tom about horses, and ended up writing about how Laurel taught Tom something else. Sneakily, even though it takes place pre-canon, this is a story about my thoughts about the ending of Fire and Hemlock.

(These thoughts were shaped as I was writing my story by Diana Wynne Jones' essay about Fire and Hemlock, "The Heroic Ideal-- A Personal Odyssey", which can be found online starting at https://www.sccs.swarthmore.edu/users/01/kyla/Heroic_Ideal7.gif -- the numbers go up to 7.

I also read an extremely insightful essay about the ending (part 1, part 2) by [livejournal.com profile] rushthatspeaks, which influenced my thoughts...though by the time I finished writing my story, I think I ended up having a somewhat different perspective, or at least coming at it from a somewhat different angle.)

spoilers for Fire and Hemlock, and for the story I wrote as it relates to my interpretation of the ending )

...I think I wanted to write that meta about Fire and Hemlock even more than I wanted to write a story about it -- lucky I could do both :) (Though sadly, I'm not sure everything I wanted came across in the story, and actually, having written this, I wonder if I could make the ending of my story a little better...but it's always so.)

(Actually, if I were writing this story outside the constraints of Yuletide, it might enhance what I was trying to do to write it with a frame story that was about Tom and Polly, probably post-canon, and it would be the exact opposite progression as the story about Tom and Laurel, but with lots of cross connections and parallels and opposites that link the two stories together thematically...though I'd have quite a bit to figure out, like whether Tom post-canon retains the gift/curse of telling the truth, etc. and there's a lot about the horse that would need figuring, and I'd probably have to explicitly address the nowhere stuff, or at least have a better understanding of it in my own head even if it wasn't explicit, and ... and ... ...and I'd probably never finish it and this is exactly why it is impossible for me to write things that are short. Believe it or not, I expected the plain Tom and Laurel story to be about half the size -- or less! -- as it turned out to be, which is absolutely typical. And I even feel like I had more time than usual for editing this year, which I think helped the writing, but doesn't seem to have affected the length.)

Anyway. In writing the story, I also ended up soaking in T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets, to the extent that I'd almost call it half Jones fanfic and half Eliot fanfic. But since Jones mentions in her essay that these four poems were one of her (many) sources, I think that's fair. I'd read these poems before (the first and last were favorites of mine at some point), but T. S. Eliot can be really obscure, so much so that ... well, I can't claim to have completely sounded the depths of these poems, but whatever I got from them was worth it.

The other major source I used was The Golden Bough, which I've had a copy of forever and never read all the way through. I still haven't -- I read the part about fire festivals, and the part about year kings and related concepts, and then browsed around quite a bit. This book is actually mentioned in Fire and Hemlock, so it's also a source for Jones too, but since The Golden Bough is a classic, I'm now pretty curious about opinions about this book and its contents among people who are current in this field.

A cursory web search didn't come across a ton of criticism (unlike The White Goddess, another classic in the same line, which seems to have been influential on fantasy as a whole, and which apparently is now regarded as pretty ahistorical). But The Golden Bough doesn't seem to get the same criticism on first glance, perhaps because it's divided into sections containing either evidence or clearly labeled speculation. The speculation basically assumes that the reason behind every myth with similar aspects is the same reason (which is very syncretic), and then tries to figure out the specific myth that Frazer is interested based on the idea that he can take evidence from all over the world. It's interesting, I just wonder how that methodology has held up.

But I assume the evidence sections are probably fairly accurate, because if you say things like "In such and such a place they baked oatcakes on such and such a day" ... well, if they did that, they did that.

Anyway. For my purposes, which was inspiration, I don't really care if it's academically supportable...I can see why I've heard of this book as a good reference for fantasy (or easily recognizable symbolism). I'd use it that way too -- by the time you've read dozens of variations on fire festivals, for example, it's easier to take the basic idea and use it some way that works for a story. I just wish it was a bit broader, since it doesn't really go into myths or myth categories that are outside of the range of its original myth. (Which is totally understandable considering there was so much material that applied to the original myth...)

So yeah, I might have actually gone overboard on the research aspect, but since it's all stuff I've wanted to do for a long time, I have no regrets. It's also possible that this might have been my last Yuletide (my Christmas/holiday situation has changed since I first started doing Yuletide and I'm just not sure how that's going to play out next year) so it was nice to get a canon that I really wanted to spend the time with this year.

The only other thing I have to say is about the title. It's from T. S. Eliot, and the spelling of sombre is the spelling that he used (in both the book I have and in the online version I found that claims to be accurate). It's also the British (and so far as I can tell, everywhere except the US) spelling. But every time I look at it, it strikes me as spelled wrong, so I'm not sure I made the right choice there. Still, I'm not sure I'd have been happy the other way either.
lookingforoctober: (Default)
2016-11-22 09:58 pm
Entry tags:

The Problems with Elementary (this season?)

Nothing good to say here, sorry )

Really, I'm just baffled. I used to really like this show, and I'm not sure when that changed?

ETA: It occurred to me that my problems with Elementary are basically that it's the opposite of Harry Potter, at least in terms of narrative drive as discussed here.
lookingforoctober: (Default)
2016-10-20 01:50 am
Entry tags:

Weird thing to get attached to

The idea of the outline was always to move past the outline at some point, and I've finally gotten to that point and now it turns out that although I started with characters, I have at this point become weirdly attached to the detached god-level view of this story, so much that I'm actually reluctant to move down into an actual character pov.

(I've mostly decided on writing in third limited, but there's an outside chance that I'll reconsider in favor of first at some later point, and have to switch.)

Symptoms include having to write everything that seems important down from an impartial perspective so that I know, off in notes somewhere, even if I'm also putting the exact same information into the actual text of the story from a character pov, because the characters aren't seeing the whole picture. Which is sort of the whole point of characters, isn't it?

Also, tendency toward infodumps, which is a bit unfortunate, I suppose, but surely everyone will be interested in endless worldbuilding details?

Ah well, this is not the pass that's supposed to be readable anyway, that's the next one. (My process contains many passes through the whole story.)
lookingforoctober: (Default)
2016-10-07 05:23 pm

The difference between mathematics and reality

Apparently, some mathematicians have discovered an "envy-free" algorithm for dividing up cake between any number of people. (https://www.quantamagazine.org/20161006-new-algorithm-solves-cake-cutting-problem/)

The difference between mathematics and reality is that when I'm cutting cake, even if it's just into two pieces, I inevitably survey the results when I'm done and then go "Oops, this one is bigger and this one is smaller." What I don't do is try to cut little bits off the cake or smear the icing all over the place to try to make it more even, because that would just be messy, and the people for whom I'm generally cutting cake appreciate nice slices that don't look like someone has taken a chainsaw to them over exact equivalence of cake slices.

I just resign myself to having a slightly smaller piece if I'm the one who has to cut it. (Unless it's my birthday cake, because in the past on my birthday I have been generously granted the big piece even though I messed up and made a big piece. But then, it's not like anyone else is reliably exact either, cake-cutting is just like that.)

This outlook, I suppose, is why I'm not a mathematician.

(Truthfully, though, I thought that the cut it and then let the other person chose was because you couldn't complain, not because it was "envy-free". But it's really sort of amusing to image a group of people all gathering around with their cake knives, and doing n-squared steps in order to get it perfect... and then sitting down to eat their collection crumbs...)
lookingforoctober: (Default)
2016-10-01 04:02 pm
Entry tags:

Yuletide!

Thank you in advance for your writing! I hope this letter will be helpful to you, but obviously it's all optional; I'm just putting ideas out there.

In general, I prefer stories with some amount of plot. Either gen or something centered on a romantic relationship is fine, but I'd rather not have any explicit sex, or sex as the main point of the story, please. I like things that are fairly close to the spirit of the original in these fandoms.

Casson Family - Hilary McKay - Eve Casson, Linda - I am curious about their relationship, and how they shared everything. Maybe something about them when they were younger, and what their family life is like growing up? What is Eve like when she's the age of any of her children that we see, and is Linda anything like Eve? How do they handle being twins? Perhaps they could face some similar circumstances to the events in any of the books, but react differently based on their own characters and background, as they would? Or show how the world is different for their generation (if that makes sense to you)? Or something about how they were similar or different as mothers of young children, or an AU in which Linda survived to raise Saffy. I would really like to see a positive relationship between Eve and Linda, though unconventional is also pretty much a given. Please, no incest, and I also do not want a story about the circumstances of Saffy's conception.

Dragaera - Steven Brust - Pel - Pel is such a twisty and devious character, and yet I think some of his best moments are when he's not being devious, but rather explaining some devious concept to a more straightforward character. I'd love to see moments like that, or some moment when the devious intersects with the straightforward, like if one of Pel's plans hit an unexpectedly straightforward obstacle. I'd also love some kind of intrigue plot (maybe Yendi vs. Yendi, and Pel as a detective unraveling a situation that is not as it seems?), or something about the art of discretion. Does Pel ever face any challenges in his chosen profession? Anything with swordfights would also be lovely (but maybe the swordfights are not as they seem?) I would also enjoy a story that included Tazendra, Aerich, Khaavren, I enjoy that group of friends in any combination (but would prefer it be only friendship).

Starfarers Series - Vonda N. McIntyre - Basically, you cannot go wrong with this. Write about any of the characters in the whole series, I love them all. Write about OCs if you'd like. Write about the squidmoth or about any of the other alien species in general or in particular, write about Starfarer, the ship, and its future... I'm interested in the future, what happens next, and how Starfarer fits into it. How does Starfarer's mission hold up to the return to Earth? How does Earth respond? Where does Starfarer voyage next, who lives on Starfarer, what does the future look like after the events at the end of the last book? I'm also interested in alien biology and societies, alien politics, human politics as it relates to space travel... I also like the spirit of openness of Starfarers, and the aspects of it that are a lot of diverse people together on a starship, so if you want to write something that highlights that sort of thing, that would be lovely as well. Oh, and the archeology art project is my favorite side plot in the series, for what it's worth... Really, anything that evokes anything about this series.
lookingforoctober: (Default)
2016-07-09 02:07 pm
Entry tags:

First Lines and Openings

There are some people, I understand, who like the first line of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice because it's clever, amusing, and makes a good hook.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
Me, I like it because it's extremely easy to understand without any previous understanding of the story, introduces a concept that's going to be important to the story with a minimum of fuss, and lets the reader understand what's going on so that when one gets to Bennets in the next sentence, one knows exactly what they're talking about.

What I don't like in a first sentence is a "hook" that introduces two characters that the reader doesn't know in a way that doesn't make it clear what their relationship is, a very blurry and disjointed setting, and a situation that seems to be ominous but it's not exactly clear why. Yes, it is very mysterious and a little ominous; no, I'm not excited about figuring out why. And when the first scene is an exercise in pulling clues out of the narrative to figure out who these people are and what's going on and where they even are and why they're even talking to each other...

I mean, I'm pretty sure it did the "hook" thing by the book, and it's supposed to be that way because it's supposed to make you want to keep reading to figure out what's going on...but I was not hooked. I don't want to spend all my time figuring out when I could spend my time understanding.

This is what I like about the openings of Diana Wynne Jones books too. They pretty much start off with something that's immediately understandable, and go from there, explaining and expanding until you're painlessly right in the middle of a story. I can read from the first sentence on as easy as anything. It's not in media res, it's usually very much summary rather than right into any action, but I'm in almost immediately. No time spent going "Huh?"

That is what I want in an opening.
lookingforoctober: (Default)
2016-05-06 09:45 pm
Entry tags:

Captain America: Civil War

Summary: The three main threads in this movie, what I liked, what I didn't like, every thought I have about it, overall judgment. Lots and lots of spoilers.

Did I say spoilers? Why yes I did. )

And considering that I have written and written and still not got through most of my thoughts on this movie...clearly I have way too many thoughts on this movie. Perhaps I will be back with them tomorrow.
lookingforoctober: (Default)
2016-04-15 05:42 pm

Star Wars

Having been spoilered for basically everything, watching The Force Awakens was a distinctly odd experience. All the things I knew about happened, but the focus was just...different than expected. It makes me wonder what it would have been like to watch the movie unspoilered. I guess I'll never know.

(I watched it again to try to make it be a movie and not a collection of events, but ... *shrug* My current theory is that it was just too visual for me.)
lookingforoctober: (Default)
2016-04-01 05:19 pm
Entry tags:

Process: Stuff that isn't plot

I'm still planning on writing about my more general process step by step, but I've been...I don't know if busy is quite the right word, but I've been distracted at least, and somehow have managed to get behind on almost everything. (I'm not sure how that works, you'd think that there would be something that has been keeping me busy/distracted and which I'm therefore not behind on, but...)

Anyway. Today I was thinking about writing, and it occurred to me that while I feel like I have a fairly good process in terms of plot, and in terms of being able to organize my plot according to a structure that I'm happy with, I have basically no process/structure to guide me when it comes to things like worldbuilding and characterization -- and yes, this is partly by design, because I have confidence in my ability to do them, and I was more worried about plot...

But looking at my current project, I'm pretty very disorganized about worldbuilding especially. I think of something and try to stick it into my notes somewhere, and then... what? It sits there, and I can't find it when I need it. And yeah, I can always come up with more, but it would be more efficient not to, wouldn't it? And to be able to find the stuff that I know I already came up with?

So in the hopes of coming up with a better filing system for non-plot story notes, I'm going to list out the current ad hoc structure and what it's good for.

Under "Ideas!", I have folders for books 2 and 3 (into which I drop thoughts with absolutely no attempt at organization because I'm not writing books 2 and 3 right now), subplots, mode, theme, inspiration, characters, setting, timeline, structure, round holes, square pegs, and todo.

Of these, todo is meant for things that I mean to do in the very near future, and is hardly worth comment, structure has one file with one sentence in it, so I guess it didn't need a whole folder, timeline is really out of date and mostly contains stuff that probably ought to be moved to square pegs (which I will just go do right now...) and mode is something that I haven't developed a lot yet but is a really good idea for later development.

So that leaves subplots, theme, inspiration, characters, setting, and round holes and square pegs.

You would think than subplot would be plot-related, but it's quite possible that it's misnamed... It's more raw material for subplots than actual plotty material itself. Not incidents or events so much as forces that are going to cause incidents and events. The most useful thing in the subplot folder is exploration of the goals of various actors in the system that is the world I'm creating. And goals grow into actions...

Related to subplots (actually, generated from the subplots folder, along with a few other sources), square pegs are things that I want to put into the plot but don't know where yet, and round holes are places in the outline that are vague and need details. I've merged the round holes and square pegs, but I'm not totally happy with the results of that, I'm also working on a world-level outline which should clarify some of the high level world-changing stuff that the plot needs to hang on (but this world-level outline is a big sheet of paper with lots of post-its, so it doesn't have a folder anywhere).

So this stuff, the goal is to eventually merge it into the outline, so I guess that's okay. It's not really structured properly now, but it should be eventually.

(There is a question though -- when I'm finished integrating this into the outline, what do I do with the raw material? Does it get sorted off somewhere as irrelevant and used up, or do I need to re-file it somewhere so that I can continue to use it?

The subplot material has a lot of good character stuff, for example, lots of information about various organizations, etc. etc. I think it needs to stick around for reference. The other stuff can probably be deleted once I get it into the real outline.)

Which leaves theme, inspiration, characters, and setting.

I have no idea what I'm going to do with the theme stuff.

Inspiration is notes from stuff I've come across in various research or just my normal reading that I think will be useful for generating ideas. It's really a pre-idea stage.

Characters and setting are ideas that are actually not plot-related. Funny how I thought the whole ideas folder was not plot-related, but most of it was.

I guess the truth is that plot can be made out of anything, but... there's also the fact that things can be present without being plot (I am defining plot here as being characterized by action or change). So some of the characterization might end up turned into plot, but not all of it. Some of it will be description or come out in conversations or moments, not in big actions that change everything. Some of the settings will exist without changing. Etc.

So I guess in my mind, the big distinction in the ideas folder is how close the idea is to being incorporated into the story. I have inspiration, which is pretty far from being ready to go into the story (I'd think of it more as "questions to ponder"), I have what I'm going to call "being", characters and setting, more static than dynamic, more summary than specific, and is not really supposed to go into the story until later, when I'm actually writing scenes and doing details, not just big picture plot stuff. When I can make "Char X is like such and such" into something that informs a moment in time.

And then I have "doing", actual events or things that are meant to become events, stuff that's pre-plot, stuff that's going to (hopefully) get incorporated into the outline.

Well, that was interesting. Now I guess I can go reorganize my ideas folder according to this structure, and see if that makes me feel more organized.
lookingforoctober: (Default)
2016-03-16 06:44 pm
Entry tags:

Outlining

I think I'm moving away from the view that outlining is for the purpose of making sure it's possible to get to the end, and toward the view that outlining is for the purpose of making sure that the structure the rest of the writing is going to depend on, the core of the story is...I don't know that beautiful is quite the right word. Solid? Elegant? Immaculate?

Either that or my perfectionist tendencies are running away with me.

(But seriously, a flaw in the premise, or a flaw in the outline, maybe you can fix it later -- if you are not a seriously lazy person like me who will resent having to make changes later on -- but there is always the chance that it will be a flaw forever.)
lookingforoctober: (Default)
2016-03-14 02:13 pm
Entry tags:

MCU

I was reading some reactions to the recent trailer for Captain America: Civil War, and I realized that my brain has, in the time since Age of Ultron, smoothed out quite a few of the parts that make the least sense (to me). I mean, it's not that I've completely forgotten Johannesburg, for example, it's just that I've just classified it under "fanservice" because in my mind, it's there because apparently Iron Man vs. Hulk is cool, instead of under serious plot that I have to grapple with.

And I've sort of reconciled with the fact that there is going to be a Civil War movie, which used to terrify me. I guess I've jettisoned all the stuff that Civil War was terrifying about. Like caring too much about Tony Stark, or actually Steve Rogers.

Which is in one sense good, in as much as having a fandom is good (I don't do much fandom stuff, but I do roleplay MCU characters). I'm still waiting for a new fandom to replace MCU, so it's nice that the old fandom has morphed (in my own mind, at least) into something that I'm generally okay with from some perspectives.

But on the other hand, it means that when talking with people, there can be some huge bumps when my assumptions and smoothing process hit hard against their assumptions. I don't think this is necessarily even a comics/movies disconnect any more, though that used to be my go to explanation. The movies have enough discrepancies now, enough fuel for varied assumptions, that it's become a field of potholes. Everyone hits a different one, and lives in a different MCU world.

I am so ready for a new fandom, this one is just too hard to connect with other people over.

Was I saying this a year ago?
lookingforoctober: (Default)
2016-03-03 02:26 pm
Entry tags:

Conflict Lock for Complicated People

And by complicated people, I mean me as a writer, or even me in general, I can always find complications. (But I would like to make it clear that I don't think simplicity is a bad thing. It's just not a thing that I seem to be able to manage. In fact, I probably admire it more when I see it because I just can't write that way.)

A conflict lock is a pretty simple concept, which I first ran across here, and the first time I saw it, I thought it sounded amazingly useful. This was about the time was I figuring out that I had very few antagonists in my stories, so the idea of antagonists and what to do with them came as a revelation to me.

Since then, I've frequently tried to achieve a conflict lock in various stories, and most of the time, I've failed. So I'm starting to wonder just how useful it really is (to me, at least) after all.

There are two sides to this. On one side, it's a really attractive concept, something that pulls everything together and fuels the whole plot because the characters feel like they need to keep putting themselves into conflict with each other in order to achieve their goals.

On the other hand, whenever I try to actually achieve the conflict lock, my characters tend to slip out of it. My character twist and squirm and find substitutes, avoid the conflict one way or another, take detours, find a different perspective, bring in outside help, change the situation, and so on and so on.

And you know what? That's story too.

Watch them twist, watch them explore options, why not? It's interesting to see what they'll do, what obstacles they might come across in the detour, how the substitute might prove to be not quite as good as the original...

Or what makes it as good or better. It's all interesting.

The problem, perhaps, is with the idea that everything is conflict (I seem to struggle with this a lot). I don't actually believe that every story is a battle. Stories are reflections of life, and that's no way to live. I just don't like framing things that way, that is really not the metaphor for me.

And yet... I don't want to abandon the idea of conflict lock entirely. It's just... okay, you have a protagonist and an antagonist. And if they want things that conflict directly, then that's a conflict lock, and it's really simple, except that it's also really hard to get to that point (for me).

But the world is never made up of two people, two sides, one extremely simple conflict. There's a whole world out there, this is where the substitutes and the detours come from, from trying to get around the conflict by bringing in other factors. But if the world keeps throwing these people back at each other, for one reason or another... then there's still a conflict lock.

It might be a sort of accidental conflict lock, based on the random factors going against one character or another. Based on the world having random factors, based on there being more stuff going on than what shows up in the story. Based on the characters we see doing things that might have an effect later on, that might go off screen and compound in weird ways, or cause those butterfly chaos sorts of things to start happening, and then...

The world changes around the characters even as the characters change within the world.

(And when I say world, I just mean everything that's not a named and well-defined character. Or maybe everything / everyone that's not the protagonist and the antagonist. However you define the world, there are never enough well-defined characters to comprise the entire world, there's always stuff happening just out of sight...)

Although I suppose there are some stories with a wider scope than others. Actually, I think this is why I write science fiction/fantasy and Crusie writes romance.

Crusie says that the antagonist shapes the plot; I'm starting to think that I prefer it when the world shapes the plot. The world shapes both the protagonist and the antagonist, keeps them within the plot...plus, if you think about it that way, it allows the exploration of different aspects of the world as the world impinges on different aspects of the competition between the protagonist and the antagonist, and I'm always for more exploring of the world.

And because the world (any world) is usually in dynamic equilibrium, which doesn't mean that it's standing still, but more that things are pushing against each other from all sides, and on a global scale all these forces that make up the world cancel each other out (more or less, generally, unless suddenly everything changes, which has been known to happen in the world, but change or not so much change is generally believable because for every force that wants to change something, there are forces that want to keep it the same too...)

But even if you don't want the whole world to change, thing could believably become unbalanced a bit locally -- and when you're writing, you get to pick which direction the world pushes on the characters specifically, because this could go either way. It stays true to the nature of the world, no matter which direction you pick for the world to push...

Or you can have the characters take a look at the world and decide to try to support change or to support the status quo... Or try to use some of these forces to accomplish their own goals...

And I think at this point, perhaps there's a difference between what is part of the plot and what is part of the story. Or maybe what is part of the story and what is part of the plot? I'm not sure, terminology confuses me. But there are a whole bunch of cause and effect links that make the world work in the background, and they don't have to be written. I don't think this stuff needs to be explained in the story, though as the writer, it really helps if I do know all these things.

Or at least some of these things.

But as for presenting them in the story... Worlds are very complicated. Perhaps what I really need to present to the reader is more...the feel of things, in this world? What sorts of things fit into the world?

I think that the world, as presented in a story, needs something to keep it from appearing to be totally random. But also from appearing to be governed entirely by understandable cause and effect links...because who understands all the cause and effect links in the real world? I might be thinking of theme, or I might not. I don't think I'm thinking of worldbuilding, especially not the kind where you answer a ton of questions about every aspect of the world. I don't want something to expand things here, I want something to focus everything. Repeating patterns or some kind of structure or thematic organization? A look at the the being side of things rather than the doing side of things, with things that are linked together by ideas rather than cause and effect?

That's how I think it might be best to approach the world, when it comes to the world and it's effect on plot. Find a focus, an idea, a feeling...

There is a problem, though. If the world is an opponent, then how is it possible to win? Or to come to any sort of resolution? With an antogonist, it's always theoretically possible to defeat them. An antagonist is a person, with weaknesses. How do you defeat the entire world, though? Without an antagonist, it's hard to have an ending. (At least, it's harder compared to the really easy end condition of "antagonist defeated, the end".)

Which is why I think that the antagonist is still needed. The world can't be the antagonist, but the world can (and should) shape the story.

At least, that's my theory for now, and how it seems to be working in the novel I'm currently trying to outline :)
lookingforoctober: (Default)
2016-02-29 03:56 pm
Entry tags:

Venting

It would be really nice if, when you called to get customer service, they would listen to what you have to say, instead of clearly not listening to what you said in the first place (because you have to interrupt to repeat it when they get it wrong), filling any possible silence with a vast stream of umms so that you can't possibly get a word in edgewise, and then putting you on hold several times without letting you say anything there either.

I mean, I got what I wanted, but I feel very irritated nevertheless.