Monday, March 19, 2012

Once And Again

Today, I began rereading a perennial favorite: Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. I've mentioned on the blog before how much I enjoy this book, and I'll continue to endorse it if anyone asks. This is probably the third time I've read it through -- not counting the times I've basically reread it to pillage for quotations. I've enjoyed it ever time.

There are a few books I have that I've read more than once. I listened to the Harry Potter books so often growing up that there are portions I can recite from memories. Sometimes, if I just want something cute, I'll grab a romance I enjoy and flip to a random page.

Sometimes, I think the real test of a book is whether or not it holds up on re-reading. Is the book still interesting, now that the surprise factor is gone? Are the characters still interesting now that the reveals are already revealed? Basically, do you still care the second time around.

Usually, when I read a good book for a second time, I enjoy getting to see how it unfolds the next time around. If the book is well done, it unfolds in a process, and you can watch it play out. Now that you know where you're going, you can be really impressed with how they get you there. In a good book, you can appreciate the subtle clues they laid in in advance so that you can say, "Oh, my gosh, I should have seen that coming."

I think there's something fun and even educational in rereading a really good book. It'll help you see why you thought it was good in the first place.

How about you? Do you enjoy rereading books? What books do you read time and time again?

Monday, March 5, 2012

Visual Stimuli?

This weekend, I attended a lecture given by a director/scenic designer. As someone who spends a fair amount of time working on theater, I found it a very interesting discussion. One thing that really struck me was the extent to which the designer relied on visual stimuli. He poured over thousands of visuals until he found the ones that spoke to him. That's where he drew most of his inspiration from.

This took me somewhat by surprise. In hindsight, I guess it shouldn't have. Theater really is a very visual medium. Except, when I do it, I still don't approach it in that sort of visual way. I make spreadsheets and checklists. Maybe that's just me. I often prefer words to just a picture. Or music. I've mentioned before here how I like that for inspiration. I've just never thought of myself as highly visual.

Which was why I was surprised by how much I like Pinterset. It's a website where you can set up boards, like cork boards, and collect on them images that you like, that interest you, that inspire you. I heard about it ages ago, but I only got one recently after all of my friends proved to me how awesome it is. I must say, they had a point.

Pinterest is a great tool for people who like visual inspiration or even those who just like looking at pretty things. It's a great site, and I'd highly recommend it.

For more on getting the most out of Pinterest, I'd suggest reading Rachel Gardner's thoughts on the subject.

How do you feel about Pinterest? Do you enjoy visual stimuli?

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Me 2.0

Hi guys.
I know it's been a while. I let myself get swamped under a play and bunch of other things. But, I'm back now, hopefully.

How've you all been in my absence? Good, I hope. Anything interesting happen?

Some of you might have noticed a name change on my profile. When I first started writing, I was very embarrassed. I didn't want anyone to know I'd been silly enough to actually think I could do something like that. So, I used on of my alternate names -- Dominique. Still me, but not something that would show up on a Google search.

But four years later, I'm still writing and reading and blogging (as my life allows). And I've been thinking for a while that I should start using my real name. I'm not embarrassed anymore. I'm a writer, and I don't care if anyone finds out about it. I'm proud of what I do.

On a related note, I've recently done something very stupid: sign up for Twitter. Because what I really needed in my day was one more time vampire. But, you know, if you're ever jonesing for more of my voice, you can follow me. And, you know, say hey, so I can follow you back.

What have you been up to?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Miniskirts -- A Writing Visual

Once upon a time, a friend passed on what I consider some absolutely fantastic writing advice: "Writing should be like a miniskirt: Long enough to cover everything; short enough to be interesting."

A lot of agents mention on their blog what would be about the right length for a book, depending on genre and intended audience. I have heard agents say that after certain word counts, they just put down the query, because they know the book doesn't have a teardrop's chance on a hot stove.

There's some disagreement on the particulars, but basically any agent will tell you that the key is not to waste any of your words. Basically, if you're writing an 93k YA novel, then those 93k better be worth getting through. How do you think J.K. Rowling got away with writing 160k words books? Because people kept on reading them. People thought the words were worth it. At least, worth it enough to keep reading.

Every word should be covering something that needs to be covered. It should not be there covering things that are best left uncovered. This would be one of those areas where underwriting comes in handy. Saying less to mean more (something that I can admit I don't do perfectly. Yet.) is a great way to tighten up your prose and create subtle works.

I'll admit it, when I write out my first drafts, they tend to meander a bit. Sometimes I get a little lost. Sometimes I come up with something I think is a brilliant ideas but end up abandoning or something that just goes nowhere. That's why I edit. I go back and remove the words that aren't contributing to my plots. I go back and remove the words that aren't contributing to my characterization. I go back and remove the words that aren't contributing.

Basically: Long enough to cover what I want to cover. Short enough to be interesting.

What's your policy on text, length, and editing?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Are You Listening?

Once upon a time, some people I know and I had a silly debate about audiobooks. Basically, it boiled down to the question: Do they count?

One of the guys said they do, because you've experienced all of the words the author meant you to experience. The other said it didn't, because you weren't going through the reading process (this appears to be a common objection to audiobooks. I've gotten it from others as well). Me, I'm more of a middle of the line sort of person. I fully believe that listening to an audio counts as reading the book. On the other hand, I know that listening to a book takes less time than reading it and, for me at least, it's easier.

I've taken to using audiobooks a lot more lately. I use them for things like assigned reading. It's more convenient. I can do it on the treadmill (when I'm pretending to exercise) or when I have to walk to the store. I carry the book with me to leave my post-it notes, but mostly I just listen. And, strangely, I think I remember it better that way. I think I've a more auditory than visual memory.

Sorry for the rambly post. Basically, what I'm saying is, audiobooks count, and I'd like to come out in favor of them.

Do you listen to audiobooks? Do you count them as reading the books?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Intellectual Pet Peeves

You know how some people can't stand knuckle-cracking or gum popping? Well, the thing that bugs me are certain intellectual facts that I just can't stand people getting wrong. This probably proves I'm a jerk, but there's stuff that bugs me. That probably makes me has been appearing in a lot of books lately, a fair amount of it wrong.

Now, if I wanted to cop out and blame my childhood, I'd say that my father used to always say that authors and screenwriters should not misrepresent or falsify history and then claim that they are telling truth, because people will believe that it is true when it isn't. (Let's just say, my father did not approve of Disney's Hercules.) I feel no embarrassment in having grown up to share this view.

When it comes to old stories being referenced in new stories, I get frustrated when people falsify the original story, and my flexibility on there is limited.

I mean, if you want to tell me that we were wrong about the Persephone story and it actually wasn't as shady as we've always thought, I'll accept that, at least to a point. Tell me how we got the story wrong and tell me what actually happened, and I'll accept that, so long as you haven't ignored the other facts (original mythos).

If you want to paint Artemis as a self-centered, shrill bint who only cares about clothes, I'm going to stop listening to you, because by that point you're just making stuff up and completely ignoring the entire base literature. To me, this is unforgivable.

So, yes, my intellectual pet peeve: people picking an original set of facts and lying about them/misrepresenting them.

This kind of pet peeve bugs a lot of people. It definitely bugs a lot of writers and artists, Captain Film Major for one. But I stand by it, if and only if because I already know from a lot of experience that it was not stop bugging me, to varying degrees. Just like my pet peeve will probably not stop bugging the people it bugs, again to varying degrees.

What's your intellectual pet peeve? Other pet peeves? Does my pet peeve bug you?

Monday, January 9, 2012

They're All Gonna Die

I recently read a certain book series that shall remain nameless, because spoilers are evil, but suffice it to say it was one of those series where people die all the freaking time, and not just Red Shirts either. And, honestly, I didn't feel too bad for most of the characters who died. It was just the nature of the beast. It was just one of those things where the author says, "Here's a passel of folks. They're all gonna die. Let's go."

In the end, the characters basically shook out into a certain break-down.
  • 33% = The Ultimate Red-Shirts.
    No one cares about about these people at all, so when the writer bumps them off, people shrug and move on.Link
  • 33% = Bad Guys
    These are the folks you aren't supposed to like. So, really, when someone -- the narrator, a character, whoever -- bumps them off, you kind of applaud. And, let's face it, you don't feel sad at all.
  • 33% = Good guys
    When these people die, we all feel sad. Even if you know it's coming, that you the writer intends to kill him/her eventually, you're kind of hoping that isn't going to happen, that they'll find some way around his/her own rules and will keep that one.

The other 1% is the MC(s), who assumably, because you're reading a series, the writer has to keep around for the later books. It's functionally Contractual Immortality with a splash of Plot Armor.

Eventually, though, I'm just gonna say it, all that dying gets old. It's not that I have an inherent aversion to the death that some books just plain have to have. It's just that eventually that the time came that I felt like the writer was bumping off characters just to bump of characters. There came a point when I thought the writer was killing characters, and I'm included characters people liked who did not for any real reason have to die, just to prove that he or she could.

To me, it just looks like the writer was trying to shore up his or her Anyone Can Die cred. I get it, Anyone Can Die is a nice thought, because it establishes real world values in the text, exempting characters from MC Superpowers that annoy people, it maintains tension in the story but keeping stakes high, and it increases the motivations of any character who survives the death of someone they knew. But there's a line between Keeping It Real and Being Downright Arbitrary, and an overuse of the Anyone Can Die rule seems to be arbitrary and almost trying too hard.

I'm not going to lie, sometimes I worry I give my characters a little too much Plot Armor. I've bumped off characters before, but only because I thought it benefited the story and the plot. Once upon a time a character appeared in my head and one of the first things I knew about him -- lovely guy, great character -- was that he died in the middle. But I only knew he had to die, because the story would not have worked if he'd lived. Sometimes characters just have to die.

Sometimes they have to die. But they don't all have to die.

How do you feel about character's dying? How do you feel about killing characters? Do you do that a lot? How do you feel about writers who kill off a lot of characters?