Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Going in circles...

Am I the only one who finds that my writing progression and techniques seem to loop back around to the beginning every so often? Or that there seem to be phases to techniques and productivity?

For instance, I used to outline. Obsessively. It was over-outlining that actually killed more than one project, because I would write myself into a corner. I tend to take deadlines and outlines and any other kind of line seriously. I was one of those kids who learned to color inside the lines very, very quickly, because the idea of going outside the lines and making a mess was nigh-on sacrilegious.

And then, one day, I just decided to go with it. To just write and let what happened happen. I think I can thank my first NaNo for that. While that project was the offspring of an older, outlined project, and thus had a lot of paper fostered in, it was all background information. The actual story was new and thus I just had to roll with the punches as they came.

Now, I'm at sort of a middle-ground. I'd still classify myself very much as a pantser, but occasionally, I find myself scribbling out a tentative plan for the future. Not even a real outline, or anything really in-depth, but a plan for the future nonetheless.

I don't imagine I'll ever regress back into over-outlining, but I do find sometimes that outlining even that little bit can kill an idea, or at least my enthusiasm for an idea. But I don't count that as a bad thing. The advantage that does exist in outlining is that it can show me the weaknesses in an idea outright, in the beginning stages, before I get too emotionally involved.

Of course, sometimes that is a bad thing. I tend to over-think things sometimes and instead of just rolling with the idea, despite the weakness, and figuring out something along the way, identifying the problem can sometimes just cause me to freak out and avoid it.

But it fluctuates sometimes, which is the entire point of this post. Sometimes I find myself writing notes - outlining, if you will - to avoid forgetting things for the future. Sometimes I find myself actually planning out storylines and character development in advance. Sometimes I don't touch paper outside of actual story. It goes through phases. But those phases happen in a pattern. It's weird.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

On justification...

No, the blog's not dead.

Just resting.

I can be very good at justifying things to myself, especially in writing. For instance, I can totally justify my lack of blogging lately. I graduated my community college and summer craziness began. Hours at work picked up,  other projects began, family members moved, I'm getting ready to move, etc. etc. Blogging sort of took a back seat to other activities. I didn't mean for it to happen, and I'm sorry that it did, but it did and that's what happened.


Except, sometimes that just doesn't cut it. I mean, I totally could have blogged. I spent way too much time on the internet, watching parody music videos and reviewing other people's stories. I totally could have made the time. But I didn't. 


It's like that in writing. My angel project from months ago was shelved. My reasons ultimately came down to that I couldn't seem to make the characters mesh the way I had wanted and it fell apart. But the thing is... I totally could have made it work. I could have written another character in, or restructured the plot so that it would work. It could have been done, which is why the project is "shelved" as opposed to "dead". It really was because I lost interest, though I maintain that the characters weren't working and that was the reason behind my loss of interest.


I'm sure there's many writers out there that would leap at the chance to tell me that is entirely unfair. If I want to be a writer, I have read, I have to actually write. Even on days when it doesn't flow, or I don't feel like it. And normally, I stand by this. I really do. Part of writing is work and it's not always fun. I wonder occasionally why I do this to myself.

But the thing is, I do do this for fun. I don't make a living off of it and while I would love to one day, for real, right now, it's just a serious hobby. Like making fishing lures or raising pet alpacas. If it's not fun, why would I do it? If it became too strenuous, or too expensive, or just too much, I could just stop. Which is what I did.

Still justified?

I'm not trying to make excuses. Well, I am, but it's not because I'm trying to dodge work or something. I still keep writing and putting myself through all the trials and tribulations entailed therein, and I do it without compensation beyond the feeling of a job well done and the occasional word of praise or constructive crit when I'm brave enough to post something somewhere. I do this for me, but as a circle of influence grows, I feel myself feeling more responsible for my writing, like there is someone out there expecting more of me all the time. And I want to live up to it, so justifying things to myself isn't cutting it anymore. 

I dunno. Maybe I'm just thinking too hard about it all and feeling sentimental about coming back and writing in general. 

The point? 

It's good to be back. 

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Exactly like this, except not at all...

Despite all appearances, this blog post is not a cleverly disguised advertisement for TVTropes. Even if it is one of the greatest websites on the Internet.

Personal preferences in writing and reading can be wildly different, occasionally even within the same person's head. Doublethink is often a reality.

For example, I'm not much of a romance buff. I don't like romcoms, rarely venture into the "romance" section of any bookstore or website and just generally don't care for it. However, I do love me a good love story. My shipping goggles are custom-made and quite nifty, with night-vision and everything.

It's quite a strange phenomenon. Thing is, I like my love stories/ship teasing in the midst of something else, as sort of a secondary element. Romantic plot tumors drive me up the wall. Less is more and showing is so, so important rather than telling.

For a minor example, I've been working my way through Gargoyles lately *minor spoiler alert* and seriously fell in love with the minor characters (three "minors" in one sentence there...) of Princess Katherine and the Magus. They have an interesting, downplayed dynamic. It's adorable and it makes my inner fangirl shamelessly go *squee*.

But it was such background information, more character motivations than overt plot. The Magus is obviously doing things because he cares about Katherine and they hang out a lot together, but it's all in favor of the bigger story. We see them together and it is sweet and we know something is there because of how he looks at her, but  we don't need it to go into details because we see it.

And it even gets some more coverage in later episodes when *slightly more major spoiler alert* they are in Avalon and raising the gargoyles' eggs. But then, that beautifully subtle character development suddenly goes all dark and tragic on us when it turns out that the Magus never told Katherine how he felt and so she fell for another guy. And he stepped aside because he wanted his beloved to be happy and he had a slight inferiority complex. It gets its own little flashback/monologue and everything and yet... it isn't the focus of the story. It explains why he is doing what he is doing and it makes the end of the episode all the more bittersweet, but it isn't what the show, or even the episode, is about. We get it and there are beautiful little moments were it is explored and focused on, but the story moves on.

It's how I like my romance. And it's odd, because it's also subjective. I'm usually interested in the characters and if they fall in love, they fall in love. They drive the story so that's what the story becomes. But I like it to be limited. Usually. Stick to the story, let it proceed. Don't make everything come to a standstill because two characters are making googly-eyes at each other. It's why rabid shippers have shipping goggles: so we can take the little subtle moments and run with them, rather than have stuff smushed in our face. Then just give us our happy resolution in the end and we're good. (Yeah, cuz I like my happy romantic endings. I'm a sap like that. Every time I watch/read any version of "Romeo and Juliet", I honestly wonder if they're going to manage to stay alive long enough to get together. Even though I honestly can't stand the original play.)

Thursday, March 31, 2011


Alternate title: Why I liked Megamind better than How to Train Your Dragon.

Spoilers for both movies below.

So I finally saw Megamind. I liked it. I liked it more than (what many people consider to be) the better/more acclaimed How to Train Your Dragon. HTTYD was one of the first DreamWorks animated movies to take itself somewhat seriously. Megamind plays with its genre all over the place and feels way less serious, but I felt like it was a stronger film.

I'm an advocate of character relationships and development driving a story. I harp on it all the time. It's one thing that DreamWorks films seem to be lacking. It's a bit old-hat to compare DreamWorks unfavorable to Pixar, but it's done for a reason. Many DreamWorks films seem to be lacking some kind of heart that Pixar just seems to exude.

Megamind gets the closest to that heart in my opinion, rather than many peoples' favorite, HTTYD. I was left wanting... something... in HTTYD. Having seen Megamind though, I decided one of the reasons is that love story in HTTYD feels phoned in.

Sure, Hiccup starts the story wanting to become a dragon slayer so that he can impress the girl of his dreams. And she gets to take the freakin' cool dragon-back ride into the sunset. And then she's suddenly giving him a pep talk, supporting him staunchly when before, there was really no indication that she should trust him or vice versa. It just sort of ran straight forward to the support and love, when before that, I didn't feel the mutual attraction, chemistry or growing closeness. Hiccup and Toothless felt far more real and heartfelt, because it was given the time to develop. (Though even that seemed really fast. I dunno... The pacing in that film irritated me for some reason. It just felt so lacking in something.)

The romance in Megamind had the progression happen. All the interaction and time that went into developing Hiccup and Toothless' friendship went into developing Megamind and Roxie's relationship. It was the crux of his Heel Face Turn and her encouragement was genuine, as opposed to the sudden phoning in of cheery words in the third act of HTTYD.

Character development is key. In HTTYD, the relationships all start from scratch. Hiccup and Astrid barely know each other and Hiccup is his whole new thing. We have to see the progression from the very beginning. Which is fine. There are many stories in which this happens and it works fine. Most romances do. But here, it feels rushed and we are painfully aware of the fact that Astrid and Hiccup barely interact amiably from the beginning of the film to the end of it. And suddenly they are close?

In contrast, Megamind starts with relationships already laid out clearly. Minion and Megamind have fantastic repertoire as the bestest of buddies, the clear nearly-scripted roleplaying between Megamind and MetroMan is pulled off wonderfully, and Roxanne and Megamind have this strange flirty smarmy familiarity with each other. The progression still works, however, because we get to see their roles change. They go from these familiar roles to something completely different and we spend the time watching them make those changes. And we accept the rather fast pacing here because we already have a frame of reference for these characters. They all already were familiar with one another (which is, like, the first step of any meaningful relationship) and from there it can change and grow. This was the step that was missing from Astrid and Hiccup's relationship.

Personally, I think the HTTYD would have been stronger without Astrid in the film. Make it about Hiccup and his dad and Toothless. No need for a love interest. More time to focus on those important relationships. Either that, or have her be a more integral part of the film. As it was, she just sort of felt like eye-candy.

In Megamind, every relationship shown was vitally important. Between Hal and Roxie, between Megamind and Minion, between Roxie and Megamind, between Megamind and Metro Man, etc. etc. Take away one, and you lose some of the emotional impact of the film. And the most important ones were given the most time. Minion and Megamind didn't have a whole lot of time singularly devoted to their relationship, but we see constantly them interacting in the midst of other happenings and the two very vital moments of argument and apology were given the spotlight they deserved. It all felt very real and much of it was actually very subtle. In contrast, the romance between Megamind and Roxanne was given most of the focus, seeing as how most of their character development hinged on it.

Is Megamind a perfect movie? No. It's certainly just having fun with itself, some logicality be hanged. It's not a classic film. Some things irritated me, like how quickly Roxie accepted Megamind again after she dumped him (personally, I would have liked to have seen a little more of her emotional turn-around).

 But I loved the music (seriously, every time any classic rock started playing, I freaked out my siblings by air-guitaring rather showily), the tongue-in-cheek treatment of super-heroics/villainy, and the animation was freakin' amazing. And it had real emotional impact, which was often treated very subtly. (For real, watch the scene of Megamind being dumped in the rain. Just watch his face. The expressions are almost barely there, but they just exude volumes of his past and his dreams and his despair, in just a few quick shots. Gorgeous.) And it got me thinking, which is always good, yes?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Farewell and thank you...

It seems to be turning out to be one of "those" years. Similar to how there seemed to be a rash of celebrity deaths a few years ago when Michael Jackson, Billy Mays, Ed McMahon and Farrah Fawcett all passed away, there seems to be a string of authors dying, all of whom I loved very much as a child.

First, there was Brian Jacques in February, and then I just found out (via Twitter again) that Diana Wynne Jones passed after a long battle with cancer. Supposedly, she was in the midst of a book, with plans for another, and now she's just gone. 

She was a powerful influence on me, though I began to read her much later in life. Her writing was an acquired taste that I'm still getting used to, but this really hits hard.

Rest in peace, Diana. I'm going to miss you.  

Thursday, March 17, 2011

On story pirates...

Well. 's been a while, no?

Every so often, a character swaggers, fully formed, onto the page and demands to have the story revolve around them. I've had it happen several times with several different characters, the latest of whom are running rampart through my hedgehog project, upsetting all of my original idea's plans, but leaving a much more coherent and interesting story in their wake.

It's funny how this can work sometimes. In the most particularly egregious example, a background character I needed for one tiny subplot ended up getting his own entire novel for NaNo. Yes, my leading man Red started as a walk-on who popped into my head completely fully-formed. He came in with motivation, character description and everything. The only thing that really changed from beginning to end was his role in the story and how he acted in it. While his motivation remained the same, he acted a bit different in several different drafts as how I treated him changed.

It's pretty cool sometimes when it all comes together like that with seemingly no effort on the writer's part. It's like having all the work done for you as this character provides you with a blueprint for everyone else in the interactions between the cast members. Other times, it can be a nightmare as it begins to shift everything around for better or for worse.

Because this can be a not-good thing. Dangers of Mary-Sue-dom abound, as does losing sight of the original story. When one strong character begins to shift all the other character interpretations really quickly, it can show how weak the other characters already were and that can throw you into despair. I know it does me occasionally, as I bang on the keyboard in frustration as each new acquisition to the cast seems far more interesting than all of the originals. Then I wonder why bother with the originals if the new guys are so much stronger and more interesting, but then I remember what made me love the original so much that I would want to write it at all and I get all flustered.

For right now though, I'm still infatuated with these new characters. Two of them this time, they suddenly are giving me long-term goals in the story and background stories to explore in the present action and even shifted the dynamics of the cast around enough that I have new relationships to explore that I think are far more interesting than what was there before. Time will tell if this is true, but for now, I'm happy.

In terms of discussion: has anyone else ever had one of these story pirates as well? Also, does anyone else have another name for them other than "story pirates"? Because they are like pirates, in how they catch you unawares and take control of the reins, but c'mon, there has to be a snazzier title somewhere.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Thoughts on characters (part 3)...

In which there is no crying…
So I was thinking recently about characters crying in fiction.

Very often, to try and evoke a sense of the character's frustration and build some sympathy, a writer writes about how a character is "fighting back tears" or "breaks down crying" and so on and so forth. I've done it myself. But the thing is, it can lose its effectiveness very quickly.

One thing I recommend very highly when writing is to go back and retype it. I've recently been in a handwriting phase and so everything I write has to be typed up eventually in order to back it up. It seems like a waste of time, seeing as how I could be spending the typing time writing more things, but I find that it gives me some down time to think. I can examine my characters' actions and sort of see ahead to what those actions might lead up to. Plus, it shows me how frequently or infrequently I mention things.

When I'm handwriting, and even sometimes when typing, I tend to be thinking ahead. My writing seems to stretch itself out as I keep chugging along, and I'll be shocked to look back and realize that I've only written a few paragraphs when I think I've written a few pages. And because I think more time has passed than it has, I often find that I've put in things far more frequently than they belong. In my current project, it's one character glaring at another. In a particular past project, it was a character crying.

Crying can be effective, whether it's stoic tears or full on sobbing. But too much gets grating really quickly.

Adults don't cry that much. But then, most adults hopefully don't have to go through whatever you are going to put your characters through, so it could be understood if your characters cry a bit more than normal folks. But you can't show every time they cry.

A lot of your character's life can be covered in a short amount of time when writing and so we are seeing the important snapshots from their life. It's why we don't often see characters in the bathroom or sleeping (unless there is some sort of important event happening then). If every single one of those moments involves the character crying, we lose sympathy for them because we become desensitized to it.

Pick the moments that are important for a character to be crying and just have them cry at those moments. Even as stress builds towards the climax, pick important moments and stick to them. It's an example of fiction having to be unrealistic in order to seem realistic.                               

Using the game that started this whole "character thoughts" pseudo series, Tales of the Abyss was sort of irritating at a few points about this. Take the character (ironically enough named) Tear. She comes into the game as a complete badass. She's an awesome character with a wry sense of humor, great skills, and not really willing to put up with any of Luke's crap. Slowly over the course of the game, she grows to care very deeply for him as he matures. And his maturation is done in such a way that I can see how she came to love him. But with her falling in love with him comes the tears.

There are quite a few stressful happenstances in that game, many of them revolving around potentially fatal experiences. And every single one of them is worthy of tears for all of the characters. But the thing is, we only really see Tear crying, seeing as she's the one closest to Luke.

Since she didn't cry once over the first entire half of the game, seeing her cry the first few times is really effective. We have the understanding this is serious stuff if it would makes Tear cry.

But after the game goes on for another ten hours, it becomes ineffective. We've seen her cry and as things get worse and worse she continues to cry at each new development. So by the time the final confrontation does come around and she's crying at that, we've lost the impact. We don't care nearly as much.

Fortunately, the other characters are also crying at that point, which brings up the effectiveness again. Some characters that we haven't seen show any emotion other than snide sarcasm or clever evasion are suddenly baring their hearts and the heart strings go "twang". They don't do this until the final confrontation and it makes it that much more powerful.

Now, before this, there were several instances where the characters have no way of knowing that they are only three-quarters through the game and thus by all rights, they should be thinking they're going to die and so should be making these speeches and they don't. It's because the writers know that they aren't at the final confrontation yet and chose to hold off. Except with Tear, which drives me nuts.

My suggestion? Pick two or three moments in the story that are the most gut-wrenching and stick to those. Now, this can be hard to do during a first draft (especially for a pantser like me), but it's something to look for in a second draft. Pick those two or three moments and that's where the characters are going to cry if they're going to cry at all. Even if lesser moments come before and a real person would actually cry there, avoid it. Yes, people might cry a great deal before and after a loved one dies from a terminal illness. I know I have. But fiction is not real life. Have an emotion moment with the loved one in the hospital and another after the funeral. And that's it.

Are there exceptions? Most certainly. Is this healthy behavior? In real life, no. Human beings have emotions for a reason and we cry for a reason. It's good for us. But no one likes a crybaby and characters have it tough in that we judge them much more harshly and much more quickly. Even if they only cry every time it would be normal for a person to cry, because that makes up a good percentage of the time we spend with them, it feels like they are crying at the drop of a hat.

Anybody have any thoughts on this? Arguments? This is entirely based on my own preferences, so by all means, tell me what you think!