Monday, November 30, 2009

Book Joy

Did everyone have a nice Thanksgiving season? I hope so. I did. I got to see some family, including a shocking number of Canadians. Well, I guess it wouldn't be American Thanksgiving if there were only US citizens at the table.

Did anyone go out of Black Friday? I got dragged along on a shopping expedition, which I think is my sister's way of punishing me for God knows what. (Or are you punishing me, Lord? Because whatever I did, I am sorry.) But I did pick up two books on my To Find list.

Today, I cracked into one of them. The Sea of Monsters, which is the second book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. I've been trying to find it for a while now, but my local bookstore has decided to stop stocking the things that I'm looking for. I guess they despise me or something.

Anyway, what reading Sea of Monsters basically means is that I'm not writing or working. But I'm okay with that, because the book is just that good. I was a major Greek myths geek when I was a kid, so reading these books takes me back. Riordan does a great job blending and reworking the myths, so it's a bit of a game to try and figure out what he's doing before he tells you what story he's referencing. It's so much fun. :D

I hope everyone's weekend went swell.

Now, if you'll excuse me, there's a certain hero that requires my attention.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Map of the Ancient World

This pic is a map of the "interworld."

To me, it looks like an old map of the US, where all the states are oddly shaped, because things have changed. In my opinion, myspace is not this hot anymore.

If I were to redesign the map, I'd make facebook bigger, because I don't know anyone who has used xanga in years. I'd probably make the blogosphere bigger, too, but my view of that reality might by skewed.

How does the map look to you?

Friday, November 27, 2009

Letting It Lie

Does every detail in a story have to mean something? Does it all have to come with a story behind it? Or can some things just be?

At the moment, I'm wearing a t-shirt that reads The Chorus, from my time in Romeo and Juliet. I like the shirt. It fits, is a nice shade of gray, and reminds me of some good times. On the other hand, I can't sing, so it might be considered misrepresentation, depending on what kind of chorus one thinks of.

But, if I put a shirt like this on a character, I wonder, would I need to explain everything that ties back to it, or could I just let it go as a small character detail? It could say a lot about the character if one wanted to trace things all the way back to the source, but it could also say a bit without any tracing at all. Maybe it would say enough without the history.

I recall at the beginning of the movie Juno that the character is using a phone shaped like a hamburger. It's never really explained how she came by such a phone or why. It's just a detail thrown out there that shows, in case you didn't get it from the rest of the movie, that she's sort of a quirky girl. (Actually, the phone belonged to Diablo Cody. She brought it in, because they couldn't find one.) I think we, as viewers, got plenty from the item without any explanation.

On the other hand, in the television show West Wing there is a goldfish on C.J. Cregg's desk since the first season. If you hadn't been watching from the beginning, you'd only know that C.J. had a pet fish (which often had items in its bowl that foreshadowed things to come in the episode). What you wouldn't know was that the fish was a gift from Danny, a guy who was into her in a big way and whom she was into. Knowing the origin of that item told you more about the character, from Danny liking her, to her liking Danny enough to keep the fish for years, to her liking goldfish crackers.

In my writing, I give the details that I think are interesting or important to the story. So I try to find a medium between nice-detail-with-no-important-back-story and detail-with-a-past. I think the details with a past are useful, because they can be a good way to pass on info. However, detail without a past has its place, too, as the reader needs to know what's going on around the character and get the feel of the area, even if it doesn't all have deep, special meaning.

How do you feel about giving items history? Is it too much detail, or is it interesting, or is there a balance?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone

I hope everyone is having a lovely day.

Today, I am thankful for my family, who are wonderful and loving. I am thankful for my friends, who are fabulous, even if they sometimes like to tease me when it isn't funny. I am thankful for this lovely, lovely world, because it is beautiful.

How is your Thanksgiving going?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Work or Write?

Yesterday, I had a choice: Get 'productive' work done or get some writing in.

I chose to write. Well, not chose, so much as followed some crazy impulse that I didn't have enough control over. I got in two chapters. That makes me happy, though I didn't sleep as much as I'd have liked to.

I broke 20k!

How's everyone else's writing going?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Gods Among Men

I recently saw an absolutely fabulous production of Cymbeline by Mr. William Shakespeare. I loved it. (Please, pause while I take a moment to relive the Theater-Induced-Ecstasy. Okay, I'm back now.)

One thing that struck me during the production was the director's reinterpretation of the play's Deus Ex Machina elements (For my thoughts on Deus Ex Machina, you can click here). While the script called for the chorus of the play to call on Jupiter to alter the fates of the characters and ensure a happy ending, in this version the exposition was given over to a narrator and 'twas to her that the chorus appealed for a happier end.

The narrator attempted to justify the pain of the characters, but when handed a pen by the member of the chorus, she conceded and rewrote the end to a happier one. The audience rejoiced.

I loved this interpretation. It struck me, as a writer, and put me to think of the power that the writer has over the events of the story. Indeed, Shakespeare could have elected a tragic end to the tale, for there was enough sadness it in, but instead it was quite happy, and the audience laughed and cheered for the main characters.

We, as writers, are powerful beings. We create these worlds before us in our stories, create peoples and animals strange to us, and create the past, present, and future as we see fit. We are the gods of these new worlds, even if our characters cannot plead with us, in person, at least, for a different end than the one we choose to give them.

For it is our choice. We have the power.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

NaNo Not For Me

Okay, I knew that Nano wasn't for me during the second week of the month when I decided to temporarily devote my heart, once again, to Mr. William Shakespeare. (Oh, William, how do I love thee. Let me count the ways.)

But that didn't mean to me that I had to give up working on my latest project, Miss Snitch. When I picked it up after the show, it just flowed. The words aren't flowing like rain water down a tree anymore, but I've been getting out about 1k a day since Sunday. This past week, I managed to go from 7.3K to 16.6K.

So I'm feeling pretty good. I feel like I might be able to hit 30K by the end of the month, which was my goal. I just need one or two more good bursts. But, thanks to the upcoming holidays, I should have the time for that.

So, how is everyone else's writing coming along? Will we all be meeting our November goals, regardless of what they were?

Friday, November 20, 2009


Right now, I am experiencing a quandary. My character, for my next scene, needs to think things and know things and realize things. There are also things I would like her to tell the readers so that the reader can remember them for later. However, I do not know what to have happen besides that.

When I work my scenes, I like to try to create a balance. There are internal things that much occur in every moment. However, I cannot let my characters spend the whole scene in their heads, or I fear that it gets boring for the reader. Also, a part of me feels that if nothing but the thinking occurs in the scene, the scene will read something along the lines of, "Okay, here's some info I want you to have. Could you just remember this, because I want to reference it later. 'Kay, thanks."

To balance it out, I like to have things going on around the characters of which they are aware. While sometimes having them just do something of minimal importance while they think suffices, and that can be done very well; however, this does not feel like the time for that. A niggling suspicion tells me that I have already done that, and I do not want to do that too many times. I want action that is also of importance to occur during this scene.

I just don't know what that action will be just yet.
So, I am spending some time figuring out what my MC, Jenny, is doing while all of this is going on. Not sure how I'll figure it out. Maybe I'll throw a ball against the wall until the idea comes to me. (Hey, it works for House.)

How do you like to balance your scenes? Do you mind a lot of internal action or do you prefer the external?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Book Love

Inspired by yesterday's post over at Between Fact and Fiction to remember by high school required reading, I remembered some books I hated (**cough** Ethan Frome **cough**) but I also remember some that I really enjoyed.

Ender's Game. Anyone who's met me in person is groaning. Yes, I love that book. Yes, I reference it all the time. But, senior year, my English teacher gave us a Select-a-Quest option on our term paper to design our own book pairing and question, so I got to compare to Ender's GameThe Republic. Did the book feel different when I had to analyze certain components and think of it for literary value? Yes. Did I still love it? Yes. Because it was a choice, and because it was a book that a kid my age might actual choose to read of their own volition (which, let's face it, few school assigned books are).

Romeo and Juliet. The first time I read the play was for a class. And my teacher made it fun. True, we had to memorize passages and perform them for the class, but I'm a thespian, so I didn't mind that so much. And she only made us do that twice. Actually, my earliest memory of a close friend was his train wreck recitation of the prologue, so these recitations helped kids make friends. Instead of analyzing Act 5 in a paper, she let us perform it. Which, if you had kids in your class like I did, was hella fun. And there's something about a woman who looks like your grandma saying, "He's telling a sex joke. If you're confused, assume he's talking about sex," that just makes you know you're going to enjoy that unit.

The Odyssey. Long as heck, but my English teacher that year was a dream. She and I had a very similar sense of humor. Every act, we had to do a presentation. And, yes, these presentations did have to involve acting a scene out. But, if you're like me and you find zero budget productions to be absolutely hilarious, then you found that be to absolutely awesome. One guy, for the rest of the year, was known as "The Supple [Name Deleted to Preserve His Privacy]" because of the t-shirt he wore during his presentation. My teacher actually made it fun to work on.

What were some of your favorite books from the days of school assigned reading? How did the teachers make it good for you?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Getting Notes

One thing I learned early on when I was asking people to read my work was that I can't be in the room when it's happening. It's one of those "I can't look at you when you're looking at me" things. It's just a very vulnerable moment.

But I sent my current WIP to my sister for a quick Alpha read, and I find myself laughing aloud at her notes. She's writing things in the margins the likes of which she'd say out loud to me while she were reading any book. And I like that. Because that's what people would be thinking when they read it.

My favorite so far: I said, "This had to look weirder than the sun turning blue." Her note, "Won't that happen right before it explodes?"

I love my sister.

I'd forgotten how much fun there can be in getting notes. I think I'm actually going to enjoy getting notes through this process.

How's the process going for you?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


I'm feeling totally crazy right now.

After a week of not writing anything at all, because of Romeo and Juliet, I sat down to my computer today planning to write about 1k or so. I ended up doing 3.5k. I even broke the 10k mark.

I don't know what happened. I just got on a roll and didn't want to stop. So, while I'm probably going to hate myself in the morning, right now I feel flipping fantastic. :D

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Even More Light Reading

It's beginning to dawn on me that people will never cease to be brilliant individuals who will say things that I wish I'd said first and say them better than I ever could.

  • Kierstan White has a cute and very charming post about blogging persona and style.
  • A fabulous post about Voice by Elana Johnson
  • A post by Ms. White about translation and meaning.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Lucky Day

Happy Friday 13th, all!

My sincerest apologies go out to those with paraskevidekatriaphobia, the fear of Friday the 13th, but I call this day lucky, if and only if because I enjoy superstition.

There is more than one story about the 'unluckyness' of this day. I will tell you the one I subscribe to.

For the longest time, there were 12 Norse gods, and things were good. Then, one day, a 13th god, Loki, came unto them. He caused mischief leading to the death of one of the good gods. And so it came to be said that 13 was unlucky, and that if 13 should dine together, one of their number would die within the year.

Another Norse claim was that the day Friday was the special providence of the goddess Frigga, but when the Christians came, Frigga was banished to the mountains and decried as a which. Since that day, it is said, on Fridays the spirits of this world still loyal to Frigga assemble on Fridays to plot the overthrow of those who oppose Frigga. Friday is called The Witches' Sabbath.

Thus, Friday the 13th couples the unluckiest of things.

All that being said, I like the day.

How about you? Do you find today unlucky? To which explanation of the curse do you hold?

Thursday, November 12, 2009


Right now, I'm tired and happy, because I'm working on a production of Romeo and Juliet. I got cast as Pretuchio (no, I'm not confused about what play I'm talking about. There's actually someone with that name in this play, too) who has one line. Teensy part, but I was willing to do it, because I wanted to be in the play.

Petruchio turned into Nonspecific Extra. Being a nonspecific extra can teach you about character development. After all, how does one convey the difference between Guy In Background Who Got Stabbed and Guy At Dance? However, that's a subject for a different time.

The show is tonight, and due to a virulent rumor that I have the play memorized (I don't. Do I look like a crazy savant to you? No, I'm not.) when one of the other extras got the flu, the director asked me to take over his lines. I got this news on Wednesday.

How does this relate to writing? Well, this got me to thinking, How interchangeable are the folks in the background, anyway?

No one would dare suggest replacing Romeo was a guy from the background, or even using Mercutio and getting everyone else to move up one. You do not shuffle leads like that. But extras get shuffled around all the time.

All stories are full of extras. That person your MC bumped into on the way down the stairs is probably an extra. The waitress who sold MC a cup of coffee on her way to school is an extra. These people might get a few lines and some description devoted to them, but they are, for all intents and purposes, extras.

So, how much do you need them? Or, how much of what makes them them do you need? If I told you that you had to cut three of your extras, you probably could. But would the story suffer as a result. One could argue that it might. There will be less variation in the flavors of the story.

If you cut the shopkeeper with the Scottish brogue, there went one interesting tidbit. If the two stamp collecting neighbors become one, you might be losing some interesting/comedic/quirky dialogue. If every time the character goes out, they always run into the same person in the hallway for their gossip, the reader is going to get only the tiniest glimpse of the people who surround the character.

Just because you've simplified the picture doesn't mean that it became a more interesting one to look at.

Moreover, since no two characters are, or should be, the same, one could say that they won't fill the same role the same way. Though they could get the same job done, pass on the same info, they won't do it in the same way.

For example, if the girl downstairs in the MC's building is strangled, the kindly old man who lives next to the neighbor might say that it's such a shame that she's dead, that she was such a nice girl. A persnickety, religious 60-year-old woman, on the other hand, might say that she was a sweet girl sometimes but deserved what she got for having such a parade of strange men in and out of her apartment all the time. These could both be reasonably accurate (skewed by character's perspective of life, but mostly true) descriptions, and they would both pass on that the girl was dead, but they aren't the same, are they? What if the reader didn't know yet that the girl had a lot of gentlemen callers, and the reader needed to know. Then the speaker would need to mention that, so you would need the kind of extra who would fill the role that way.

How do you feel about swapping in the extras? When has simplification gone too far?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Can You Keep A Secret?

Recently, for a play, the director had a do an exercise for delving into our characters. It was the basic exercise: how do you feel about x,y, and z other characters; what are your character's religious feelings; what does your character like to do. But the one question that really stood out for me was, "What is your character's secret?"

And when we went over our answers with the other members of the cast, we were told to keep the answer to that question back. We aren't to tell the other actor's what our character's secret is, but hold it back for use in developing our characters. I think this is awesome.

I guess this struck me, because my current WIP deals a lot with secrets. My MC has a secret website and secret identity. She knows a lot of people's secrets, some of which she keeps and some of which she blabs to everyone. She's secretly in love with someone. Most of the people she interacts with have secrets, not all of which she knows.

But I think the various characters' secrets influence their actions, just like all of our secrets influence ours. If a guy has a crush on a girl he has no hope of getting with, he might not tell people he likes he, but then may take an inordinate interest in her affairs. If a girl has been blowing off her friends to hang with some other friends that her friends don't like, she might be careful to imply days in advance that she'll be too sick/tired/busy to go out with them like she'd planned. Not to mention the effort and stress that goes into the maintenance of a secret.

Everyone has secrets. While these secrets might not come out at any point in the story (though that's a surefire way to find some sort of drama to play out), it's interesting and useful to think of what they might be and what that would mean for the character.

Do your character's have their own secrets? What's your character's secret? I promise I won't tell them.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

What's in a Name?

Okay, I'm a name freak. I adore finding out what first names mean and layering that into my stories and characters. It makes me happy.

When it comes to surnames, I'm a bit less sure of myself. I don't know what they mean half so well -- I'm actually not even that fussed, so long as it doesn't have an obviously off one -- and I don't always know if they sound as good as I think they do. Or if I am using the name of someone I know. (Yes, I once accidentally created and killed off a character that turned out to be a girl from my English class.)

But while working on my current WIP, currently called Miss Snitch, I spur of the moment needed a surname for my character, and I hadn't thought of one yet, and the first name that came to mind was Chen. Not sure why, except that it's very common around where I am.

But Chen? What was I thinking? First of all, if my character's name is Jen Chen, I'll kill her myself. Why would I ever do that to someone? Second of all, she's not even Asian. She's a Caucasian, a brunette. Weird, I think so.

A second character needed a surname. The first name that came to mind: Lin. I know what you're thinking, what's with all the Asian names? Honestly, I don't know.

David Lin. Actually, I kind of like that for his name. I have no objection to the character being Asian, as long as he gets to keep having green eyes.

I think we can all see by now that I tend to pick surnames mostly at random for my characters, unless there's some sort of abiding theme I'm going for, like I did in the Thief Book when class indicated by name. While I'm sure Freud would have some interesting things to say about the name's I've chosen, I choose not to delve into that area of my mind. Who knows what I could find back there.

How do you go about picking surnames for your characters?

Monday, November 9, 2009

My Friends Are Cool

I am very happy today, because a friend of mine has recently landed a job as a professional costumer. I'm so proud of him.

He's going to be doing the costuming for a short movie based on the series Hatter M by Frank Beddor. Knowing Dave, as I do, I'm sure these are going to be some seriously awesome costumes. I can't wait.

Dave, you rock!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

More Light Reading

Because, as it turns out, other people haven't stopped being brilliant.

  • An interesting post over at The Intern about a good technique for measuring your tension levels.
  • A great post about being "Good Enough" over by Miss Natalie Whipple.
  • Nakedness over at the Literary Lab
  • A post about "Being Ready" by Miss Whipple.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Contest Kick

In case you haven't heard, there's a contest going on over at Lisa and Laura Write.

If you're not following it already, it's a great blog. I highly recommend it.

Go check it out.

Friday, November 6, 2009

A while ago, I read a post on Across the Universe wondering whether or not a person could say someone's eyes followed a person without the reader picturing a pair of disembodied eyeballs tailing an individual.

While it could be neither here nor there (and I personally don't picture the disembodied eyes), the idea intrigued me. And today I saw another such thing:

"Her lips smiled." From Un Coeur Simple. Can lips smile without a person causing them to do it? I'm not sure.

Your thoughts?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Matchmaker, Matchmaker Make Me Match

Ever wish there was an eHarmony for buying books?

I do. Because I never know if I'm actually going to like the book I'm looking at. I mean, sometimes things look good in the store, and you bring them home, maybe you set them on the TBR pile for a week/month/year or maybe you crack 'em open right away, but ten minutes in you think, "Woah, this is not the book I left the store with. What's going on here?"

I think we've all been burned by books before.

Buying books sometimes reminds me of the dating world.

Often book buying is a bit of a shallow process. We don't want to admit it, but we make snap judgments, often based on prejudice or physical appearance. But that's how we have to do things, because we don't have the time to give every book in the world the attention it merits.

Everyone's got a type: You go to the bookstore, you stroll over to the section of your genre. If you're me, it's probably YA. If you're some of my friends, its manga. If you're my cousin, it's something about politics. Everyone's got a type. And those are the books you'll spend most of your time looking at. Sure, a really (sexy/hot/attractive) interesting looking book in another genre might catch your eye, but everyone's got their type.

Everyone goes off looks: Yes, people are shallow, visual beings. One thing that gets people to pick up a book is the cover. A really pretty/artistic/dramatic cover can really grab a person. And you need to grab someone, or else they won't get to the deeper parts of the selection process.

The Name: You ever meet someone and think, 'Oh, god, another Brenda. Brenda's hate me.' And then you're less comfortable with that person. (For me, it's Jessicas. I don't think they like me. Oddly enough, my laptop is named Jessica. Hmmm....) It's the same thing with titles. Let's face it, Twilight readership would probably have been greatly reduced if it had been called I Sparkle in the Sun. At least, I think it would have. Okay, I can basically take to the bank that if Dead Until Dark had been called Awake at Sunset I would not have picked it up.

Once you've gotten this far, you can crack the cover, skim, read the blurbs, have an actual conversation with that book and get to know what it's really about. True, you won't really know the deal there until you get it home and can go all the way with it, but now you're getting friendly.

The front flap: This is a quick conversation, maybe a coffee. You get to know about the story and the key characters. And that's great. Maybe you decide you want to hear more. Maybe you decide to put it back on the shelf. I know, if you're like me, just seeing the word vampire on that flap means it's going back on the shelf. It's unfair to many good books, I'm sure, but that's just how I feel about books at the moment.

The skim: This is serious. Reading the first page can usually give you a good idea about how you're going to feel about the book as a whole. Now, I'm not claiming you can figure the whole book out from there, or that books can't get better or worse from that point, but I think that if a book's made it this far, it's beaten out a lot of competition, and that it's down to the final cut. If it's a voice you like or a plot that sounds good, maybe you decide to take it home. Maybe the feel isn't right for you, and you leave it at the store.

Sometimes I wish there was a service that shortened the whole process. Someone that could hand you a book and say, "Yep, here you go, you're gonna love it." But, I don't think that's ever going to happen.

A well, c'est la vie. And, until then, I still enjoy browsing.

How about you? How do you decide what books to read?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Another Opening for Another Show

How long do you spend looking at a book in the bookstore before deciding to buy it? If you're anything like me, you read the back, and if that looks good, then you flip it open and see how the first page looks. But how far do you get down that page? For a lot of books, I'm guessing the answer is not too far.

That's why first line are important. A good first line can be essential in hooking a reader. But what makes a good first line?

To try to answer that question, I'd like to turn to some examples.

"For fifty years, the bourgeoisie of Point-l'Evaque envied Mrs. Aubain her servant Felicity." -- The Simple Heart by Gustave Flaubert. ( I did the translation myself, so feel free to take issue with it, if you like.) What I really like about this line is how broad it is. It really gives one a feeling for the scope of the novel. In one sentence (actually, one paragraph) it fits in 50 years and the entire bourgeois population of a town. That's a pretty impressive. Not to mention that it managed to fit the two major characters, their relationship to each other and the outside world, the setting, and the span of the book all into 14 words. Concise.

"It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife." Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. This one sentence illustrates the two central themes in the book: fortune and the role of same in achieving marriage. Plus, it gives a hint of the voice of the text. It's sort of ironic, considering the it was women seeking husbands and preferably those with fortune, whereas the single man in possession of a good fortune wasn't in want of much. Again, a lot of information in a comparatively short sentence.

"Today, Mama died." -- The Stranger by Albert Camus. (Again, my translation. Fault it, if you choose.) What I like about the sentence is its simplicity. It's short, three words. And yet it tells you the instigating force for the whole book. Moreover, I love the contrast between the sort of detached manner in which it relays the information with the word choice. Camus used the French word Maman which is informal, unlike the 'Mother' that many older translations use. I find it a very interesting contrast, the use of the informal, indicating closeness and love, with the emotional detachment of this sentence and the rest of the paragraph.

So, it seems, the common thread amongst good first sentences is that they fit in a lot of info as short a sentence as possible whilst still being interesting. The first sentence should be in accord with the voice and style of the rest of the book.

What are some of your favorite first sentences from books you've read? What do you think makes them good?

Happy Day


Today is good day, because I have finally finished The Thief Book 2.0. It is now fully typed up and saved on my lovely laptop. And there has been much happiness and rejoicing throughout the land.

I'm actually quite please with myself, as it's two days earlier than expected. It's come in at 70.5K, which is about what I thought it would be.

I know it's in for some rough work, but I just don't think I can look at it right now. The Thief Book and I need some time apart. So I'm going to shoot it over to my fantastic alpha so she can give me some thoughts on it. On my end, it will rest undisturbed.

I guess that frees up some of my November. Let me guess what you're thinking: Will she do it? Is she crazy enough to attempt NaNoWriMo.

Honestly, I'm not sure. I know that most of my schedule hasn't changed, so I'm still too busy for it to be sane; however, I'm feeling like I want to give it a go. Actually, I slipped last night. I tapping away at a new idea that's been festering in my mind for months. What can I say? A good opening line occurred to me and I had a moment of weakness.

As for the rest of the month, I'm playing it by ear.

How about you guys? How's your writing going?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Some Light Reading

People have been saying intelligent things on the blogosphere lately. In case you've missed them, I've put the links over hear.

The kicks:
  • Natalie Whipple wrote a most excellent post on first drafts.
  • Nathan Bransford had two good ones. One on themes and another related one about reverse snobbiness.
  • The Literary Lab had an interesting post about the language of reviewers and critters.
Happy reading, y'all.