Sunday, January 31, 2010

Thanks, Thoughts, and Thunks

The very sweet Tiana Lei has given me the Over the Top Award. Thanks for thinking of me, Tiana. ^_^

The rules for this award are pretty simple. I need to answer the following questions with just one word and then pass it along.

(Just one word. That might just kill me. A training exercise in concision, then.)

Your Cell Phone? Battered
Your Hair? Long-ish
Your Mother? Charming
Your Father? Tall
Your Favorite Food? Pasta
Your Dream Last Night? Movie-inspired
Your Favorite Drink? Tea
Your Dream/Goal? Publication
What Room Are You In? Dungeon
Your Hobby? Reading
Your Fear? Isolation
Where Do You Want To Be In Six Years? Somewhere
Where Were You Last Night? Friends
Something That You Aren't? Expected
Muffins? Nope
Wish List Item? Books
Where Did You Grow Up? Pennsylvania
Last Thing You Did? Music
What Are You Wearing? Clothes
Your TV? None
Your Pets? None
Friends? Awesome
Your Life? Great
Your Mood? Anticipatory
Missing Someone? Nah
Vehicle? Feet
Something You Aren't Wearing? Hat
Your Favorite Store? Borders
Your Favorite Color? Alternates
When Was The Last Time You Laughed? Now
Last Time You Cried? Dunno
Your Best Friend? Awesome
One Place You Go To Over And Over Again? DoF
Facebook? Yep
Favorite Place To Eat? Home

I answered those in one word, and it didn't kill me. Who'd have thunk it? (And, yes, if you're wondering, it was hard.)

Anyway, it is my pleasure to pass this award along to:

Lady Glamis over at The Innocent Flower
Natalie Whipple who is Between Fact and Fiction
Kiersten White of Kiersten Writes
Susan Mills the footwear queen of A Walk in My Shoes
Lisa and Lauren, the dynamic duo of Lisa and Laura Write

Friday, January 29, 2010

To Infinity And Beyond

Well, in this, my final post related to Stranger Than Fiction (for the time being, at least. I make no promises about eternity), I'd like to throw out a quote from a character whose name I've forgotten but I call in my head Awkward-Friend-Guy. In response to the question what he'd do if he thought he were going to die, he said, "Easy. I'd go to space camp." Bear in mind, this guy is at least 30. When the MC asked him if he weren't just a little old to be going to space camp, Awkward-Friend-Guy replied in all seriousness, "You're never too old to go to space camp, dude."

"You're never too old to go to space camp." You are never too old to go after your dream. (If your dream is to run with the bulls in Pamplona, I might suggest rigorous training in advance and getting on that goal now. But who am I to set an age limit on running with the bulls? You know your limits better than I, bull-runners.)

Let me expand this to both ends of the spectrum. You are also never too you to start pursuing your dreams, either. You are never to young to plan the adventures you'd like to have, write that novel, learn to speak Portuguese in preparation for the day you get marooned in Lisbon by your pirate comrades.

Age is rarely a factor in what you want. (Unless what you want is a driver's license, in which case the government might take issue with your time of birth. DISCLAIMER: I am not encouraging anyone to violate the law of your state/province, your country, or physics. Please check with your local officials and appropriate medical person before attempting bullfighting/flight/marionette racing, etc.) The right time to start going for what you want is now.


Don't let anything hold you back. 'I haven't seen enough/done enough/learned enough.' You can learn more, figure out more. Get smarter, get wiser. These things can be achieved. They aren't time sensitive. Strike while the iron is hot and get what you're going for.

Do you often feel like you're questioned about what you want or feel unable to achieve it because of your age level? How important do you think age is to writing? Does age correlate to experience?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Packing Peanuts

This post is also related to the movie Stranger Than Fiction. And, I'm once again going to quote Dustin Hoffman's character, who amused me way too much. "Meeting an insurance agent the day your policy runs out is a coincidence. Getting a letter from the emperor saying he's visiting is plot. Getting your apartment eaten by a wrecking ball is something else entirely."

First of all, I've never had any domicile of mine consumed by any piece of heavy machinery, so I don't know if I'd consider it a plot-esque moment if it happened to me, but I'd probably call it 'something else,' too.

My alpha calls the 'something else' filler. (I do not dispute that there can be other varieties of 'something else,' however, I'm going to discuss the filler aspect only in this post.) Well, filler has never been something I'm super good at, but it's actually much more important than it sounds.

Filler is the stuff that happens in between Big Events. Not everything that happens in the story can be a Big Event. There has to be some lower key things to balance it all out, otherwise your Big Events won't look so big anymore. Also, it smooths things out between Big Events, so it doesn't feel like you're bouncing from Event to Event. It eases the transition.

The filler can be a subplot or a minor story arc created for the purpose of filling the time. As long as it gives the reader something to think about betwixt the more important things you really want their attention on.

One of my favorite examples of filler material is pretty much all of the Quidditch stuff in Harry Potter. (I remember a while ago, someone mentioned in the comments section that they hadn't been able to figure out what the purpose of the Quidditch was. I'm sorry I've misplaced your name in my mind, however I am remembering you as I type this.) They might not be furthering the main plot or any of the major subplots; however, they are interesting to the readers and are something the reader can focus on while time has to pass and things have to stew.

I'm not so good at the filler stuff. I do the bouncy-bouncy thing with my Big Events, probably because it's the Events that come to me. I have to find the fill-in-the-blanks stuff along the way to get from A to B and hopefully all the way to Z eventually. But I know I need to get better at it. Otherwise, I might just leave my reader feeling like I'm racketing them from point to point.

How do you feel about filler? Do you use enough of it/not enough of it? Do you like it in books? If so, what kinds?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Forward Motion

During the movie, Stranger Than Fiction, as two characters attempt to foil the plot (not a maniacal one, an authorial one), one, who is a lit prof, says, "Some plots are moved forward by external events and crises. Others are moved forward by the characters themselves. If I go through that door, the plot continues. The story of me through the door. If I stay here, the plot cannot move forward, the story ends." To me, those were words of sheer genius. They summed up quite simply what sometimes writers, including myself, forget.

Plot = Life.

Plot is the story moving forward. Now, I'm not going to get drawn into a debate about what forward motion is better, plot or character, because both have their purposes. However, either way your story is moving, it's got to be moving in some respect. The characters should be growing. People should be pursuing their goals. Stakes should be shooting sky high.

If the plot does not move forward, your story will end. Or, it should end, because if your plot is over, there's nothing more for the reader to watch. So, you don't really get to take breaks of non-plot in the middle of your story, because the reader is going to think that's the end, close your book, and walk away. Your reader walking away is the end of your story whether you were done telling it or not.

The problem with not moving the plot forward is quite simple -- it's killing your tension. You've got everything set up. Everyone's invested. Protagonists are struggling against impossible odds, antagonists are making things hard as heck, and everything is as it should be mid story land. But if you just off the plot to meander down some side path of nothingness, your reader is just going to think, "I'm sorry, what just happened there? Where'd the story go? Why is happening?" And then they'll put down your book to go watch
24 or House or some other show, where things are probably happening.

I'm not suggesting that the main plot of the story always be in constant discussion. However, even times when it feels like the author has let the main plot sit and stew for the time being, there are usually subplots or minor story arcs that are being treated during that time. Though the plots at work at minor, it is not a moment bereft of action pulling the story on.

Plot is life. Without it, you stand a strong risk of losing your reader's focus.

How do you feel about moving the plot forward? How much down-time can you have before the reader gives up? Do you like some down time with not much going on in your reading?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Oh My Golly, Did You Just See That?

During a scene on a bus in Stranger Than Fiction, the narration informs the viewer that the MC is stopped at the intersection of Euclid Avenue and Born Boulevard. In case those names don't sound connected, I should tell you that Love Interest Girl's name is Miss Pascal. Euclid, Born, and Pascal. Those are all the names of famous mathematicians. Euclid wrote a book about geometry. Yes, that is the Pascal of triangular fame. I didn't know about Born until I googled him, but he was a famous German mathematician.

Now, you're probably wondering why I found this all so amusing. Well, the MC works for the IRS and is very good at mathematics. So, the names of all the mathematicians are sort of a joke. (Either that or the writers just chose the darnedest names. Which, I guess, they could have done. I've not real proof for my suppositions here. It's not like I know them personally.)

Sometimes, people sprinkle little jokes like that throughout the text. Minor references to things related to the subject at hand. I find them funny, and I think they indicate a certain level of thought and consideration in a text, which is always nice.

True, these are only funny if the reader understands what you are doing. For example, if the person watching Stranger Than Fiction didn't know anything about geometry, they probably would have missed some of the math jokes. But, if you got the joke, it was rather cute. So, these referential jokes are only funny if they're references to things people will understand.

Actually, in one of my shelved works, all of the school teachers have the surname of a person who attempted to assassinate a US president. I don't really know why I did that, except that I was listening to the musical Assassins a lot around the time I started, so when I reached for a name, I grabbed Fromme. Well, the pattern formed. I'll probably have to remove the pattern if I hope to do something with that book, but for the moment, it amuses me.

Do you leave patterns and little motifs in your work? Were there any such motifs in books or movies that have amused you in the past? Do you like this idea, or do you think it's odd.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Muse Musings

In the movie Stranger Than Fiction, Emma Thompson plays an author struggling with how to write the end of her novel. She does several unique things to try to figure out the ending, including sitting outside in the rain. When her assistant tells her that sitting in the rain doesn't write books, she replies, "Well, that shows you just how much you know about writing books." When she finally figures out the ending, she tells her assistant, "Like anything worth writing, it came inexplicably and without method."

Answers like that call to mind, for me, strange people huddled in cafes with cigarettes and alcohol talking about their 'genius' and their 'muse.' People I called 'artistes' and thought of as divas who needed careful handling, because they couldn't just put their butts in chairs and get something accomplished.

I do not believe I have a Muse. I do not believe there is some person or thing who causes my ideas and whose absence will cause my mind to dry up like a well. Ideas tumble off shelves in my brain, but I don't know if there's anything I could do to induce them to fall other than kick a lot of stuff around in an effort to help mental gravity out a bit. If one thing's for certain, pouring libations and sacrificing goats does not help my creative process.

However, I cannot deny that sometimes the whole story idea, the key aspects of the tale, or the brilliant thing that I love came to be in some sort of flash. Often there's a glimmer of a hint of a thread, and I'll follow that to the end of the thought process. But, sometimes, things walk up and announce themselves. Inexplicably and without method.

Do you have a 'muse'? How do you get those illusive muses to sing/dance/produce ideas from thin air? If you don't have a muse, what do you do to get the creativity to work when it doesn't want to?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Some Things of Interest

Here are a few happenings on the blogosphere:

Ms. Tana Lei is having a contest featuring books by Maureen Johnson. Go swing by and check it out.

Edittorent has some posts about Steam Punk. I'm not super familiar with the genre, so I found these informative, and I think they might be helpful for those interested in knowing more about it. (Click for posts 1, 2, and 3.)

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Nibble, Nibble Like A Mouse

Right now, I'm nibbling away at my MS for The Thief Book. I'm dusting this one off from the shelf and trying to see what I could do with it to make it better.

Remember a while ago when I said I thought I knew what it needed? Not to be confused with the while before that when I said I didn't have the foggiest clue what to do with it. Well, I do plan to rewrite the whole ending. I just needed to remember the beginning a little more clearly before I could figure that out. So I'm rereading it.

I broke the somewhat chubby (70k -- eek!) manuscript into two chunks to handle as their desperate qualities demanded.

Part A: The first 37K or so, a.k.a. the part that I can still use -- I made some big changes that I already knew needed to be made and made notes where I plan to reread some stuff here. Plus, well, I couldn't resist the urge to made notes about things that bugged me as I went. I cannot deny that some pages look like they're bleeding blue (my preferred editing color), but plenty look in decent shape.

Part B: The remaining 33K, a.k.a. the stuff I'm cutting. Well, I'm rereading this to note parts that I like and would like to save for later use, either in this project or another. Plus, some things still need to follow a similar arc, so I want to make note of how I organized a lot of that before hand so I can profit from the work I did in August and September.

Happy me, I've already made it all the way through Part A. Now, time for Part B. That should go much faster, since I won't be stopping for line-edit-esque notes.

Since I'm goal oriented-ish, I feel like I can set a reasonable goal for the second part and make it through by the end of next Saturday. The goal: 6 pages a day. That should be quite feasible. I'll let you know how it goes.

How is everyone else's revising going? I hope you're all having a good weekend so far. :D

Friday, January 22, 2010

Vicious Villians and Annoying Antagonists

During a discussion with an acquaintance about storytelling, the person always used the word villain when referring to the antagonist of the story. This rather bugged me, because I do not consider the words villain and antagonist to be synonymous.

According to, which of late I have elevated to the position of a minor deity...

villain: a character in a play, novel, or the like, who constitutes an important evil agency in the plot.

antagonist: the adversary of the hero or protagonist of a drama or other literary work.

The difference that I read into those two definitions is that the villain must therefore possess a quality of evilness and maliciousness, whereas an antagonist could just be someone who's getting in the way or working against the MC and friends.

According to my definitions, a villain can be an antagonist, however an antagonist does not have to be a villain. Sort of like how a rectangle can be a square, but a square doesn't necessarily have to be a rectangle.

In my head, that's the difference between, say, Severus Snape and Lord Voldemort. Lord Voldemort, I think we can all agree, is the villain of the tale. He's evil, wicked, and out to cause pain and destruction for others. Very not nice guy. Snape, I'm sorry, Professor Snape, on the other hand, is just out there to screw with Harry and make his life a littler harder. He's not evil or malicious. He just doesn't like the MC and is interested in making things a bit harder for MC and friends. I'd classify him among the antagonists.

My current WIPs do not include villains, just antagonists. People, especially in actual reality, tend not to be evil in nature (I'm not ruling it out, but it's statistically uncommon), and they also tend not to commit acts of evil for kicks and giggles (again, I'm generalizing, because sadly, some people like doing acts of evil for giggles. But I like to imagine they aren't part of the same species as I.)

However, the world has no shortage of people who are interested in getting in people's way. Well, life wouldn't be life without people being interested in crushing your dreams and making your day a little rainier, would it? (Normally, I'd say something about that being character building, but we all had a parent who said things like that. It probably came somewhere after stories about walking to school ten miles up hill both ways.) Antagonists, in my mind, are more common in the Other Side bunch.

Do you tend to have villains or just antagonists? Do you think villain and antagonist are the same thing?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Those Magic Words

Okay, I'm about to mention Avatar again. **ducks to avoid being hit with thrown objects** I can fully understand if you're thinking, "Oh my golly goodness gracious, are you kidding me?" I promise you, I did not set out to make this some sort of Avatar themed week or anything like that. Plus, I promise to connect this back to the things I said yesterday, so try to just think of me as smart or clever or something along those lines.

When people ask how I liked Avatar better than so many other movies that most would consider equally good, I have sometimes replied, "It told me things I like to hear." That may sound strange, but I think it's true.

All things with stories have a message or a set of beliefs around which the story is based. And, if you are partaking of those products, you have no real way of avoiding said beliefs or messages. For example, if you read the Harry Potter Series you had as good a chance of missing the message "Love triumphs over all evil" as I have of learning how to turn marbles into steaming hot cups of tea with milk. (If you missed that message, go back and read the books again. It was there.) No matter what you're reading or watching or listening to, you are being told something by the maker.

And, the very important question is, do you like what you are hearing?

A while ago, a class I took required us all to read the book Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. (A very good book. I would highly recommend it, especially if you liked Avatar.) Well, about 2/3 of the class declared that the book had changed their lives and that it was awesome. I figured the book hadn't changed my life, because I'd already agreed with what the author was saying, but it told me things I liked to hear, and I declared it to be awesome. My sister (hereafter known as The Other One) said it didn't change her life and hadn't told her much she didn't already know; The Other One declared the book to be good, but definitely not life changing. It didn't tell her things she liked to hear.

What people like to hear is sort of like a demographic all of its own. "People who like to hear this sort of thing" could be a target audience in its own right. The message of the story can be just as important as genre and other target audience factors, if not more so, in determining whether or not an individual likes the book/movie/epic poem, etc.

In my life, I'm not a fan of sports, but there are some movies about football and rugby that I love, because the message about growth and interpersonal understanding is one that I enjoy. The message beat out 'genre' for me in those cases. Some books, I know, no matter how well written they are, I will never enjoy them, because the philosophy of those books just makes me want to chuck that tome against a wall. (Not that I would mistreat a book like that, but sometimes the stuff I'm reading just makes me want to drop-kick something. Maybe I should post a warning sign before reading books like that.) The message overwhelms the other aspects of the book for me.

How do you feel about art /books/movies saying what certain people like to hear? Does such a phenomenon effect your reading and buying?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Because I'm Supposed To

In case you couldn't tell yesterday, I liked the movie Avatar (No, this is still not a movie review. Sorry). I liked it more than some people did, and on a scale of 1-10, I know I gave it a higher review than some people did. I know this, because I had to give it a rating on 1-10 and ended up on the receiving end of a Captain Film Major mini-lecture on my taste in movies.

Here's the deal: I was always going to like that movie. That was sort of a foregone conclusion. I'm the sort of person who likes that sort of movie. Sure, there are aspects of the plot that have been done before (in other movies I liked, actually), and there might have been a few things I might have done differently, but I was going to like that movie. I was their target audience.

Other times, I've come out of movie theaters and said, "Nah, didn't care for it." And those were often predictable as well. Because I knew going in that I was not the sort of person who liked that sort of movie. (I'm not going to name names, because I don't want to diss things on the blog. Though, people who know me who are reading this might recognize what flicks I'm talking about.) It drives Captain Film Major crazy when I say this in movie discussion, but I do believe that there are some things that I'm not going to like, because I'm not the target audience. That doesn't mean I think these were bad works. It just means that I didn't like them, and that that was a predictable thing.

I believe that everything -- books, movies, music, everything -- has a target audience. If they're very good, they'll have a lot of appeal outside that target audience or just a very wide target audience, but there's still a group the maker is hoping to reach. Those within the target group are expected to like it and those outside it aren't really expected to. They still can, but there isn't the same expectation of enjoyment. The system isn't infallible, but there's a certain expectation.

Are there guys who read the Princess Diaries series by Meg Cabot. Yes, I know there are. I've met some. Were they the target audience? No. So, if you meet a guy who says he doesn't find them interesting, you're not surprised. After all, he wasn't the target audience. You didn't expect him to be into it.

There are all sorts of different target audiences. If it's a demographic, it can be a target audience. For books, we break things down all sorts of different ways: age, genre, style. Even length could lend itself to a certain target audience, because those are different sorts of readers. I'm writing YA and I figure that for the most part the readers would be girls. They're my target audience.

Do you believe in target audiences for books? What's your target audience?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Blinded by the Light

About a fortnight ago, I went to see the movie Avatar. As we left the movie, my brother, Captain Film Major, asked me, "What'd you think of it?"

In all honesty, I admitted I couldn't say. Now, me not having an opinion on something is a strange thing. If I don't have an opinion on something, I can usually generate one in 5.4 seconds. So not having one about Avatar was a bit weird. But I knew why I couldn't say anything. "I was seduced by how pretty it was."

Yes, the first time I saw Avatar my initial impression was, "It's pretty." I'm just easy like that. Go ahead, make you jokes. My ego can take it, I think. (Since seeing it again -- long-ish story involving 3D glasses-- I've moved past it's beauty to still give it a 9 out of 10. [Captain Film Major, if you're thinking of mocking that, you can just bugger off. I liked the movie.] Anyway...)

You're probably wondering what this all has to do with books, because I didn't come over here to write a movie review. Shocker, I know. What I'm curious about is the blinding effect of the beauty.

I know that this is not a groundbreaking revelation: People's judgment may be obscured to altered by the attractiveness of the subject at hand. Yes, I know, our species can be a little shallow like that at times. But, that doesn't tend to happen to me. At least, not with this medium.

Sure, I've seen paintings that commanded my eyes. I think we all have. And music can move me to tears. But this would be the first time that the prettiness of a movie warped my thoughts. And now I feel compelled to wonder, does my mind get warped by the Pretty when it comes to books as well?

It seems logical that sometimes we'll suffer through boring plot or repugnant characters for the sake of beautiful or well-crafted writing. We suffer through a lot worse in our lives for the sake of Pretty. Besides, I don't think most people read those books they were assigned in class because the books were just ever so fascinating. Instead, the caliber of the writing kept folks going.

Even Shakespeare is like that sometimes. Every now and then I look at a monologue and think, "Dude, was someone doing a costume change here and you needed three minutes? This speech isn't moving the plot along at all. Why'd he bother?"

But, you know, you miss those thoughts the first read through, because it's Shakespeare, and it's pretty, and it's eloquent, so you let the words wash over you and it doesn't matter that the speech serves no purpose. Okay, maybe if you aren't a Shakespeare geek, you're thinking, "No, he could have cut that whole act. The pretty isn't blinding me on this one." But I get a little blinded, and I think even hard-core Shakespeare fans have to admit to a little Pretty-blindness every now and then.

Does this happen to you? Do you get blinded by the prettiness of the writing and overlook the other qualities of the piece? What book was so pretty it blinded you? How much do you let the prettiness of the prose compensate for the other aspects?

Also, if you're keeping track, this happens to be my 200th blog post. I hope you enjoyed it. :D

Monday, January 18, 2010

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Today, our nation honors Martin Luther King, Jr. a great civil rights advocate who did tremendous things to shape our nation's laws and people.

King, born January 15, 1929, was an advocate of nonviolent protest and racial equality until his assassination on April 4, 1968.

Let us honor his memory in the truest way, by loving and respecting our fellow men, irrespective of race or gender.

Also, in recognition of the fact that today is also Martin Luther King, Jr. Service Day, please, take a chance today to do something nice for another person and for your community.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

In Which I Fall Off One Wagon

I looked back to an old post. Was it really on a fortnight and odd days ago that I said I was shelving The Thief Book? Well, that didn't last.

See, I came to the conclusion that I'd have to edit something, because not being involved in writing related things would drive me crazy. I wanted to stick to my plan about waiting on Miss Snitch, but that didn't mean I couldn't work on things that were on the shelf.

So, I started thinking about the end of The Thief Book, which was where I stopped liking it so much in the first place. It came to me: It's not good. I mean, I knew that already, which was why I shelved it. But I realized that the real problem was that while it was a respectable ending for some story, it was not a good ending for the story I'd written. I'm not ready to admit what I wasn't ready to admit before -- it must go.

That's right. My new plan is scrap the whole second half. Literally, the last 48% of this book are getting the ax.

I'm rereading it right now, so that I can get a feel for what about the ending should be kept for use in other work, what components need a similar part in the new ending, and what just simply has to go the way of the dodo.

Wish me luck. I'm biting off something big this time.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Splitting Focus

I talk a fair amount on this blog about the importance of not biting off more than one can chew. But, if I took that seriously, you would think I'd wouldn't be in various stages in three different books, not to mention working on my ow writing at the same time. But, there am I, strolling on the fine line of insane.

I don't think I've ever been a one-book-at-a-time sort of girl. More often than not I've had some sort of reading that I 'had' to do, as it were, for various reasons, and then I'd have the reading of something I picked out for myself and actually planned to enjoy. And, sometimes, in addition to those, I'd have that book I planned to read and enjoy that I didn't want anyone to know I was reading and therefore could only read when no one could see me -- not an easy thing to achieve.

So, I guess it shouldn't be so surprising that I started with one book I 'had' to read, then picked up another that I wouldn't be able to carry around in public (yes, I do sometimes get embarrassed about what I read) because it sounded interesting. And then, of course, because I'm a masochist, I got distracted by something young, modern, and pretty.

Still, this shouldn't be a problem. I hope.

I usually don't have a problem reading more than one book at once. I'm pretty good at keeping plots and characters straight in my head. But I don't want the reading to interfere with my other responsibilities, and that might be harder to manage.

Are you juggling more than one book at the moment? Do you like to be reading more than one thing at once?

Sprechen Sie Englisch? Hablo Ingles? Parlez-Vous Anglais?

While reading Burmese Days, something surprised me. I had to read that book with a dictionary close at hand. Now, I'm not saying I have the best vocabulary there is, because that would be patently false, but I know that when it comes to the English language, I've got some game. I am not accustomed, as it were, to needing a glossary to get through a text.

However, the words that were tripping me up weren't English. The book is littered with Urdu, some words that the Internet implied were Nepalese, some thing I'm 98% sure were Burman, and more than a little of what the text called "Hindustani." I feel confident enough in myself to admit that my "Hindustani" is not good and my Burman is even worse. (If you speak either of those languages, I feel I ought to shiko to you, or maybe just a handshake, since I'm a tad rusty on the bowing, too.)

In the context of the book, the use of so much non-English makes a lot of sense. After all, the book takes place in Burma (you know, in case the title didn't give that away), and the characters who are speaking have spent many years in Burma, most of them, if they're not natives and/or not English speakers. Moreover, sometimes, there's just no proper English equivalent for some things that happen outside the English speaking world. The Burmese fits.

Still, I know that I would not feel comfortable doing something similar in any of my books. No matter what language my characters are speaking, or where they are standing, I would worry a great deal that I was tripping up the reader by splashing around all sorts of words I knew they probably wouldn't know the meaning of. (Bonus points if you can define the words dacoit, lakh, and longyi without a dictionary. I couldn't.)

If I were going to use a word I didn't think my reader would know, my instinct would be to define it somehow in the text. Otherwise, I feel like I'm throwing my reader out into the sea without so much as a life-preserver. 'Oh, here you go, dearies. Hope you can keep up. Oh, you don't speak Portuguese? How sad for you.' The definition is a life-raft for the reader so that they can stay hooked into the story without having to pause and wonder, 'wait, what is a chokra and why do they keep talking about them.'

One author I thought did this very well was Lemony Snickett. He had a habit of defining words and expressions in his books in highly amusing ways. For example, "his[Olaf's] face fluttering as he tried to decide whether to come clean, a phrase which here means 'admit that he's really Count Olaf and up to no good,' or perpetuate his deception, a phrase which here means 'lie, lie, lie.'" I this because it's funny, and because it allows the author to use the phrasing he'd like without sacrificing reader comprehension. Heck, it even adds a teeny bit of educational value, but don't tell the kids that. ;D

How do you feel about the use of non-standard English or non-English or obscure/complicated English in books? Do you use it? Do you define terms you think might be unfamiliar to your reader?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Ink on Ink

Once upon a time, I went to high school. And, whilst in that high school, I took some English lit classes. (Shocking, I know.) Well, Junior year, one of these teachers required us to write in our books. Write in our books.

When I got that assignment, my head sort of imploded. (Don't worry, my ego quickly swelled my head back to a normal human size.)

Back when I was a much smaller sized human being and didn't understand that my father was not ten feet tall, my parents gave me books and taught me how to respect them. Respecting books included a few things: Never throw/chuck/manhandle a book; do not leave books upside down, cracked open on the table to hold you place -- use a bookmark; do not, under any circumstances, write in a book.

I would never write in a book. Writing in a book would be disrespectful of all the good things that were books, disrespectful of the authors, disrespectful of my family.

My teacher wanted me to do this?

Well, that year, some of our first readings were focused on weighing the merits of writing in and not writing in books. These were very interesting readings and many made strong points. One I remember clearly termed what my family would have considered inappropriate book treatment 'carnal love' and the way my family treated books 'courtly love.' The author said we were putting books on a pedestal, whereas he or she (I can't remember which) preferred a more 'passionate' approach. I thought some of the descriptions of carnal love sounded like an abusive relationship. (Hey, these included descriptions of tearing pages our of the book to make it lighter, or slamming it shut if a bug landed on it to preserve the insect corpse in the book.)

I did see merits in writing in the books. Those who supported it hadn't lied when they said it would make that copy belong to me. Even the one's I'm not fond of, I still have, because I don't want to lose the thoughts I left in the margin. It is nice to look back at the books and remember how I thought back then.

Once I got out of the class, I can only remember ever writing in one other book: Ender's Game, Senior year, when I re-read it to analyze it for a term paper. But, except for that, I do not writing in my books. Too many childhood memories of "Books are our friends. Treat them with respect." I found a decent middle ground, though, with which I am very happy.


Yep, I put post-it notes in my books. Not all books, of course, because that would be impractical, but then again, I wouldn't have wanted to write in all the books either. I'm post-it-ing a book right now, actually. I'm reading Burmese Days right now, and I know I'm going to need to be able to reference it later and remember what some of the Hindi means whenever I open it again, I'm leaving a ton of post-its inside this book. It's actually having a visible effect on the book. If I lay it flat on a table, I can tell where I left a lot of notes.

I like leaving post-its in books. I can still respect that book, and I can have the joy of leaving my thoughts behind in the text and also finding and enjoying the thoughts later. It's my fine line between carnal and courtly love.

Do you write in your books? Do you never write in a book? Are you a middle of the ground sort of person?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Rest in Peace, Ms. Gies

Miep Gies, the last surviving member of the group who helped protect Anne Frank and her family from the Nazis, died in the Netherlands at the age of 100, yesterday.

Ms. Gies, thank you for the good you did during your life. You may have said, "We did our duty as human beings: helping people in need," but these were extraordinary achievements nonetheless. Rest in peace.

Monday, January 11, 2010

You Are Forgiven. Go in Peace.

Lately, I've been thinking about forgiveness. Not in the inter-personal sense, though that's certainly a good thing, but in the intra-personal sense.

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know I'm one of those goal-setting people. I consider myself a goal-setter most of the time but a goal-achiever only part of the time. There are a couple reasons for this: maybe I structured the original goal badly; maybe the situation changed in a manner I couldn't anticipate but still prevented my reaching my goal; maybe I just fell off the wagon (especially true if the goal in question involves exercise). But, one thing that I know has helped turn some of my potential goal-failures into goal-successes is forgiveness.

I think forgiveness is an element frequently ignored by all those goal-setting seminars (and yes, I do admit to having sat through one or two of those, but I promise you it was not voluntary). After all, to err is human, right? (And, by the by, if anyone reading this blog isn't human, this would be the time to share that info with the rest of us. We don't judge, and it would be flipping cool.) People setting goals can err in various ways, and I don't really need to go into them right now. I think we're all familiar with the ways things can not go as hoped. But, I can safely say that at some point, everyone sets a goal and comes to a time when it doesn't work out. That doesn't mean that all is lost, though.

If you're like me, you set goals and they come with neat little mini-goals along the way to help out. Like, if your goal is to get in shape, you might try running for 20 minutes a day or, if your goal is to learn to speak Portuguese, you probably study for 15 minutes a day. Now, for most people, this is where they trip up and everything goals off the rails. You either miss a day on the mini-goal schedule and fall behind, or you slip up and break your rules (maybe find yourself back on Twitter when you swore you were cutting back on that, or you cheat on your diet a little bit). Anyway, people slip up and allow it to detail everything. They write the goal off as a bad job and give up. Don't. Do. This.

Forgiveness time! You screwed up. It's okay. We all do it. (Again, I'm working with the idea that most people reading this are fallible mortals. If you aren't, it's okay, run with me anyway.) You messed up. Admit it to yourself and move on. That's right, move on. Worse things have happened, and I think you're going to be fine. Don't let one little hiccup derail your whole plan.

Now, if you really want to do something good, you can analyze the situation. Find out what triggered the problem and find out how you can avoid a similar situation. Find the flaw in the goal and amend the goal so that it is no longer flawed. (Yes, goals can be amended. That is allowed. These things aren't carved in stone or cross-stitched on pillows. And if they are, that's a bit weird, unless either of those things was your goal, which would be interesting. Goal: Must learn to carve stone. Project one: Carve my goal list in alabaster. But, I digress.) Figure out the problems and fix them.

Depending on the goal, you might have to do a little catch-up, but even that isn't a problem. Just don't let the cure be more of a hindrance than the problem. The key is to do it in a way that doesn't hinder your goal. If your goal was to get in shape, and you have a ton of chocolate cake and ice cream, I would not advice hopping on the treadmill and running for two hours, especially if you aren't a regular runner. The next day, your legs will be saying, "Oh, you want to get up? To hell with you. You're going to be lying in bed in agony all day. Hehehe." Adjust rationally. Spread your amendment out over the course of a few days. That way it might actually be good for something.

Forgive yourself. Make amends. Try hard not to do it again. Relax. Breathe easy. It's all good.

How have your goals been progressing, since the New Year or otherwise? How do you deal with slipping in your goals?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

In Other News...

So, all in all, this has been a pretty big week. (Actually, I'm talking about the first seven days of the year, but it could go either way and still be a big week.)

As you might remember, I finished my rough draft of Miss Snitch (thanks, everyone, for the congratulations. You guys rock), and now my rational side is keeping it away from my little editing fingers will a whip and a chair.

"Wait," says my rational mind. "It is better this way."

"Me wants it," the editing urge cries. (Yes, a large portion of my brain speaks like Smeagle. It also hisses when displeased and whimpers when sad. I guess that's not the side of me that writes.) "Give it to us."

Anyway, I'm resisting the urge to edit. Hey, yet another reason to clean -- distraction. I choose to take the fact that I don't want to put this down as a good sign. I still really like the story.

In reading news, I've so far kept my resolution of finishing a book a week. This past seven days (yes, I do weeks in a funny way), I finished Emma by Jane Austen. (Technically, that's two resolutions, so I'm get to do a dance of joy. Yay!) All in all, not my favorite of Ms. Austen's works; however, it did show some of the things that I believe make her work truly great. I think she shined most in the character of Mrs. Elton, one of the more antagonistic forces. Her use of little details to show that we aren't supposed to like this one are just brilliant.

Next book on the reading list: Burmese Days by George Orwell. We'll see how that goes.

I hope y'all are well. How's your New Year coming along so far?

Friday, January 8, 2010

I'm Done?

I'm done. At least, I think I am. I mean, I finished up the whole story and closed it all down. If I kept going at this point, it would be pretty stupid. So, I guess I'm done. With draft one at any rate.

Yep, I'm done with draft 1 of Miss Snitch.

But then why does it not feel like I'm done? I think it's because I don't really like my ending. I got the happy ending I wanted, but the summation felt a little bland to me. I'm waiting on my Alpha reader's thoughts, I guess, before I really think of closing this one down. I comfort myself by remembering that Chapter 18 can get overhauled in the revision process.

Still, a part of me is itching to get in there and start nibbling away at the revisions. I'm already excited for working on draft 2. It won't be easy. I already know there are going to be some big changes in this one's future (some major logic-fails need some fixing. oops). Must ... Resist ... Urge... To ... Edi t...

Well, for the moment, draft 1 of Miss Snitch is done, even if it is begging to become draft 2.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

How Do You Get There From Here?

Okay, so, today's post doesn't have much to do with the previous three posts. I wish it did, because it would feel so awesome to have a sort of series feel going, but I'm moving on to another topic today. Actually, there was a transition between the two ideas, but I won't waste your time with it. (If your curious, the whole thought process started with Susan R. Mills.)

Today, I'd like to talk about transitions. While there are many types of transitions, I'm thinking, at the moment, mainly of those of time. A while ago, there was a very good post about this at the Literary Lab, which I highly recommend.

When it comes to passage of time, in my current WIP, at least, I seem to favor what Mr. Bailey calls the "Just do it" approach. I tend to have a scene break or a chapter break and then begin by explaining roughly how much time's passed and maybe mention if a few things changed the reader might incidentally care about before jumping right back into the action of the story.

This didn't strike me as a problem. I didn't see a need to kill time until the important and interesting things were occurring. I don't remember Trig homework being interesting to do in high school, and I don't think it'll be so fascinating when my MC does it for three pages when nothing else of interest is occurring in her life. I skip over those days when not much is happening. Concentrating out the useless bits. (I'm tying back to a previous post. This makes me oddly pleased. Anyway...)

One of my betas, however, didn't care for it. In her eyes, it seemed there ought to have been subplots or some other story arc occurring in that time instead of just skimming over it. I believe she means something along the lines of -- in Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone the Quidditch scenes might not be key to furthering the Voldemort (yes, I said the name) plot, but J.K. Rowling shouldn't have just cut them. They're interesting, can serve a good purpose later, and help pass time before Big Events. Without other details, by just skipping around, she says it feels like I'm just bouncing from Big Event to Big Event. She thinks I need more transitions.

Admittedly, there are a few leaps in Miss Snitch. One, I think, is a bit more than a fortnight long. I guess I can see how she'd feel that way. However, it's not in my nature to 'transition' so much, as it were. If feel like my readers get the point that time is passing without needing to see what's happening as it goes on, and I often worry that I'm wasting their time by including things I know don't go into furthering the plot, even if those things might be interesting.

How do you feel about transitions? Do you use them? How do you like to transition between Big Events?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Not Made From Concentrate, But Certainly Much Like It

Yesterday's post received some very interesting comments. One, by Davin Malasarn, struck my notice: "I think a lot of times books are like 'real life concentrate.' They describe events that have been filtered of all the boring stuff."

I must say, I like that description. Usually, when I think of things like that, I think of books being distilled into movies. Last time I saw a movie based on a book I'd read, I realized that in the shortening, the film makers had cut most of the moments where the tension levels were at 2 of 10 or so. The movie moved up to an average plot speed of 6 of 10. They'd deleted the low-key moments. However, it now occurs to me, in large part thanks to Davin's comment (thanks, Davin) that books are, similarly, the distilled version of something much longer: life.

Life is long (at least, it feels that way while it's happening. Hindsight, on the other hand, has a shortening effect), and there are lots of moments in it that are not, well, all that interesting. There are many aspects of life that do not make for fascinating reading.

For example, that average person spends 38.5 days brushing their teeth in a lifetime. Now, if someone wants to compose an epic poem about my teeth cleaning process, power to them, but I, personally, don't find the whole deal that intriguing and would be shocked if anyone else considered it less than mundane. (I apologize to any people very interesting in teeth or teeth-brushing. I meant no disrespect. I just don't care for them.)

While one can say a great deal about the tendency of life to be beautiful and brutal, ugly and elegant, and I know I've said my own share on that thread, but there remains a large portion of life that is indifferent and ordinary and mundane. Not everything that occurs in life is fascinating or worth mention in a book.

So what do we do? We cut it out. We trim those portions and skip over them. We distill life to make the book. It makes sense, doesn't it? After all, your reader probably doesn't need to know that your MC uses cinnamon toothpaste and a red toothbrush (wow, am I on an oral kick at the moment. I wonder what that means...) unless there's some deeper meaning to the story. Maybe she can't stand the taste of mint. Maybe red is his lucky color. Maybe your MC likes to think their Deep Issues over whilst brushing their incisors. But if there's no real reason for such a simple moment, if it just exists to kill time or fill space, I would suggest losing it. It's slowing you down.

I'm not ragging on slow moments, because I do believe that everyone needs a little breathing room, and I do know that if every scene is an 8.75 out of 10, your 9 later will feel like a 4. However, there's something to be said for keeping your action at a 5 or 6. A few 2s and 3s are good for balancing things out, but too many of those and even the best action scene and the strongest moment of tension later might not save the book from feeling too slow.

I strongly recommend thinking carefully about those 2s and 3s. Any time where nothing is happening is a time when your reader doesn't feel like they need to stick around. After all, if nothing is going on, what is there for them to keep caring about?

There are lots of moments when life isn't particularly interesting. Books, on the other hand, should always be interesting. While I would never suggest that the mundane has no place in literature, I would say that it should serve its purpose just like everything else, or it should go. Books should be streamlined to the interesting and the important. Real life, concentrated down to the good parts.

How do you feel about concentrating stories and cutting out the 'average' or 'mundane' portions?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Better Than Good

In yesterday's post, I expressed some thoughts about making the dialogue better than reality. There were some thoughts expressed about whether it would be possible for a book, a realistic one at any rate, to really be 'better' than reality.

I personally think that a lot of things about books should be 'better than reality' as it were, because reality is often not beautiful, elegant, or poetic. Life is capable of all of those things; however, it is also often ugly, clumsy, and unromantic. These qualities all have their place in the universe -- I'm a big believer in balance -- but these qualities don't always make the best writing. Writing should be better than reality.

I think about this the same way I think about Hollywood. In the world, the attractiveness average is a five, of course. In Hollywood, though, because it's a mystical place where things I don't understand occur, the average seems to somehow take one step to the right, and the average is a 6.5 or higher. If you think I'm kidding, go look at the unattractive people in a few Hollywood flicks. My bet is they're 5s. The only place they count as ugly is in movies. (I make this statement only about American cinema. Other countries seem to play by different rules. Or maybe I'm just not a good judge of attractiveness in other countries. I could be wrong.)

In my mind, literature, like Hollywood, should take one step to the right. Now, I'm not suggesting that everyone in books should be attractive, because that would just sound hinky, but things could still average a 6 instead of a 5. There can be more wit and humor in a book than there is in many people's lives. There can be more meaning in things than there tends to be in life. (In case no one warned you, life as we know it is not symbolic. Books can be, though.) There can be more eloquence than the average moment ever seems to afford any of us. Things can, for once, tend towards order instead of chaos.

I wouldn't say that books should never have things go wrong or show the ugliness that can be inherent in the universe. Truth, after all, should be sought just as much as Beauty, maybe even more than it. But, that search doesn't have to be ugly or unappealing. We can make things in books just a little bit better. A little wittier. A little prettier. A little bit better.

I'm not talking about a 10 out of 10. But maybe a 6 or 6.5

Your thoughts? Can books be better than life? Should they be?

Monday, January 4, 2010

Better Than Reality

It's strange fact of my life that, since I spend a lot of time with film majors, I'm involved in more than a few conversations about writing, script or novel. A while ago, my brother, who got involved in a friend's project, was discussing dialogue with me. According to him, his friend had a very interesting manner of speaking not common to most people. And, according to him, it showed in the script.

My brother told me that scripts should never sound the way people actually talk, because that's going to change. Instead, they should sound the way people wished they talked, because that wasn't going to change any time soon. The dialogue shouldn't mimic real life's; it should be better than it.

Now, I cannot believe I'm actually going to say this -- and if I thought there was even the vaguest chance he might read this post, I would never say it -- but I think my brother actually have gotten that one right.

To save myself the pain of having to concur with my brother, I will chose instead to quote Nathan Bradsford: "Don't write what real life sounds like; write better than real life."

If you're sitting there thinking, 'Wait, isn't that basically what her brother said?', yes, that is basically what he said. However, I'm willing to skip over that fact in my head. What can I say, that's how I roll.

Anyway, I must say, I believe that quote is quite true.

I know that the way I speak bears very little resemblance to the way a lot of people speak. I like the words 'quite' and 'rather.' I also try to avoid using the word 'like' out of the context of 'Oh, I like this cake very much. It is very delicious.' (When I was younger, my father used to charge me a quarter every time I messed that one up. He pulled that stunt on my friends as well. Believe me, you shape up fast when you cannot get a paragraph out without interruptions on a grammatical front.) I also tend to sarcasm and sentences that thrive on commas.

I also know that the way people speak isn't always the wittiest, funniest, or prettiest manner of speaking. I know I clean it up when I'm writing the dialogue for my stories. Gut feeling tells me dialogue writers for films must clean that up as well, though I don't know as much about that as I should.

This is, indeed, another concern for me, as I'm writing in first person. My narrator writes the way people talk, which isn't always the best thing. I don't just want her to sound like a real person. I want her to sound better than a real person.

How do you feel about realism in dialogue? How about in narration?

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year


Hello All, and Welcome to a Glorious New Year. A new year is great, isn't it? It's all spiffy, and new, and full of promise and potential. Well, I'm jazzed at ready to go. :)

Well, let's see, I wouldn't be me if I didn't start listing a bunch of goals for the new year. You know me, I'm a Goal Girl. Well, let's see...
  1. Write 500 words a day until I finish Miss Snitch. I'm not sure how long that will make it take, especially since I hope to write more than 500 a day. Still, that's the goal, and I'm not going to let myself bite off more than I can chew.
  2. Read 50+ books this year. Yes, I know, there are a great many people intending to read 100+ books this year. But, as I said, I don't want to go biting off more than I can chew. One book a week is plenty of work for me, thanks.
  3. Related to note 2, finish Emma by the end of January, for the love of Zeus. It's been my back-burner book since about October, and it's getting ridiculous. So, I am moving up to front and center now, thank the heavens.
  4. Of course, I'm preserving the old goals of posting five times a week, never fear. I know how thrilled you'll all be to see the return of the regular posting schedule. ;) And I'll be keeping the old goal of only going on blogger twice a day, to keep be from spending my whole day hooked to my laptop, tempting as that thought might be.
For the sake of your boredom levels, and the fact that you probably have a lot more interesting things you could be doing than hearing about my life, fascinating though it is, I'll spare you the other, personal, non-book related goals. Those involve icky, disgusting things like exercise, and who really wants to think about topics like that.

I hope everyone is having a happy New Year, and is super-psyched for 2010!

Having a happy New Year, are we? Anyone else make any interesting/demanding/unusual/writing-related/fun resolutions?