Friday, July 30, 2010

How Soon Is Too Soon?

On Wednesday, I gave into my compulsion and began revising my new ending to The Thief Book. Happy, happy, joy,joy. There's some serious changing going on, definitely cutting at least 2000 words, probably writing another 2000 or more. This'll be draft 3-ish. It'll be interesting.

A friend who Alpha read Draft 1 saw my revisions-in-progress and insisted I email her my newest work. I said, "Maybe after this draft." She prefers now. She's just got that sort of personality.

The part of me that wants to hear what someone else thinks would rather like me to send her draft 2.5. The part of me that knows that draft 2.5 contains bad dialogue, an unedited ending with lots of extra words, and a scene of ridiculous melodrama, say, "Mmm... I'm thinking no." I don't know just yet what side will win out.

This calls to mind for me a debate I had a few days ago with Captain Film Major about the writing process and, more specifically, early drafts.

It is my personal belief that a first draft is between a writer and maybe a trusted Alpha. However, I tend to let my first drafts only be scene by me. I like to keep my own schedule and let my own thoughts have a go first. Also, my first drafts tend to have unneeded scenes, excess prose, and poorly defined characters, because I'm often making things up as I go along and learning as I go.

Personally, I don't think the MS can defend itself against the criticism and critique of any other reader (who doesn't love it quite as much as I do) until it's in Draft 2 or 3 at least. Draft 1 is rough and no one needs to see that.

Captain Film Major endorsed getting another eye to look at one's work very soon in the process. In some ways, this view makes sense to me. When I worked on Miss Snitch, I gave the chapters to an Alpha as I wrote them. She could give me notes about the characters and plot arcs as they formed, which for that project I felt useful, since I was truly writing that one off the cuff and didn't always know if it all made sense. Sometimes, also, an Alpha can weigh in on plot and character and open a window for the story the author might not have seen before or notice a hole forming that the author is missing.

How do you feel about this issue? How long do you wait before showing your work to someone else? Does you time limit change with each project or are you always consistent?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Your Book Is Not You

I recently had a long discussion with Captain Film Major about how to respond to people disliking certain works in your oeuvre or in your genre. I tend not to take personally when someone doesn't like books I like or books in my genre. He, when it comes to cinema, sometimes does.

One sticking point that came up for us is that Captain Film Major said that he wanted people to like the movies that inspired him or movies of the sort he wanted to write, because he thought that if they didn't like those movies, then they wouldn't like his.

My reaction to that statement was something along the lines of, "But, your friends don't need to like your work. Your friends should like

That's when we reached the central focus of our disagreement. To sum up his response: "My work is me."

Okay, here's my deal: As far as I'm concerned, my work isn't me. My work is something I put a lot of time and effort into, and it is something I am passionate about. It represents my thought processes, my decision-making, and my struggling. Sometimes, it even represents some of my recollections. It does not, though, as far as I'm concerned, represent me.

How could it be me, after all? I'm not my MC(s). I'm not any of the other people either. There is no writer's cameo in my work.

I understand that others might have a different view. It is hard not to become strongly tied to one's creative work. It's not uncommon for an MS to represent the blood, sweat, and tears of a novelist. (Although, personally, I'm hoping it wasn't a tremendous amount of blood. And, really, if there's any blood, I'm hoping it's your own, because otherwise, that would be creepy.) However, I do flatter myself that I've found a healthy reaction to my work.

I don't think people should their work be them or themselves be their work. I've seen people put themselves into that place where all of their life was about one thing they did. Then, when someone rejected that one thing, that one aspect of their life, the person took it hard, because it felt like someone had rejected all of who they are.

I am not just one thing. I am not just my book(s). I am a friend. A daughter. A sister. A twin. A thespian. An American (and sometimes a Canadian). I am a cousin. A niece. A student. A listener. A speaker. A thinker. A doer.

I am not just a writer. And I don't think you are either. You are more than your books. You are you.

For other related reading, I recommend *Fiction Groupie*'s post. Click here.

Do you ever have trouble separating yourself from your work? Do you feel it's necessary to separate yourself from it?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Decisions, Decisions...

A while ago, I was watching an old episode of a television show that, while I find it entertaining, I don't take particularly seriously. I don't take it seriously, because, well, I find it rather ridiculous. I find it somewhat ridiculous, because the characters, whenever anything happens, tend to take the most outlandish or over the top response and run with it as fast and as far as they can before someone vaguely reasonable character turns around and makes them knock it off.

The show demonstrated this quality during the old episode when the Male Lead walked in on Female MC (with whom he's in love) and His Best Friend in a darkened room, alone, on a bed. When I saw this situation unfolding, I thought, "Wow, we're seeing the potential for High Drama. This could be really interesting. Interpersonal relations here could get much more complicated. Yay! ..... Wait, they're going to find a way to screw this up."

They did.

Instead of having an interesting reaction or having his relationships with either character change, nothing happened. The Male Lead went wacky for 30 seconds. Then it all shut down and went almost completely back to normal. No drama, just a few moments of the ridiculousness. I rolled my eyes.

What happened at that moment right before the Male Lead went wacky was the writers made a choice. They made the decision not to choose the highly dramatic route, or really, any dramatic route at all. They decided to go with the ridiculous. They decided.

At every point in the writing process, the author has to make a decision. Does the MC have a good relationship with this character? How does this character secretly feel about the MC? Should these characters turn left at this fork or right?

Every time a character makes a decision in the book, the author also made that decision to move the story forward. The choices the author makes should be moving the story forward, upping the stakes, increasing the tension. Writing is an active mental process where everything must be calculated to up the ante of the story.

The secret problem of having a lot of decisions to make is that you have to make these decisions, you have to keep your hand on the wheel, because if you stop making the choices, if you start flipping coins for your characters or guessing at what they should do next, then you surrender your control.

When you surrender your power to make the decisions of the story, you'll lose your control of the narrative. Characters will do random stuff that doesn't move the story forward, that doesn't make sense, or doesn't align with your actual intentions. That's bad. As writers, we're basically playing God in this universe, we need to be in control of it. We are the music makers, and we are the deciders.

How do you feel about decisions? Do you ever feel like your narratives are getting away from you? Do you make all of your decisions?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Did I Blink?

The other day, I was watching a TV show, and at the end of one episode, the MC came to the mistaken conclusion that one of his closest friends had, to put it bluntly, had sexual congress with the MC's ex-girlfriend. I became rather excited, because I thought we were about to observe High Interpersonal Drama. Very happiness-inducing, I promise. However, when I did the natural thing and flipped to the next episode expecting great drama to unfold, something very shocking happened. Nothing!

That's right, absolutely nothing happened. Not a single character mentioned this mistaken belief on the part of MC and MC's Best Friend. And, as a viewer, I took that moment to pause, wave my hands emphatically at the screen, and demand of nobody in general and the universe at large, "What the what?"

Because it might just be me, but if I thought that someone I considered a close friend had had physical relations with someone I was secretly in love with, then I'd say something. Just, you know, if might have come up, possibly the second I found out, possibly at great volume. But that might just be me. And -- now I'm just spit balling, so correct me if I'm wrong -- but I think that's most people.

[Okay, I feel compelled to interject this now, I am not a euphemistic person in real life. In actual reality, I can be an upfront, honest, even blunt person. However, I still feel inside me a pernicious and irrational fear that somehow, somewhere, there is an alien life form showing this blog to my kindly, but old-fashioned and occasionally puritanical aunt. Just a feeling I get sometimes.]

Back on topic, I was left, after watching those two episodes, with the uncanny feeling that I had somehow blinked and missed the important and relationship-altering -- not to mention highly interesting -- drama. There was no emotional follow-through.

There should be emotional follow-through. People do not have emotions in little box-like units of time. An event occurs, people feel things as a result, and those feelings effect future actions. Nothing happens in a vacuum. There are effects. Like ripples in a pond. One cannot just chuck a pebble/shoe/small human being into a pond and not expect an ripples to result.

Let's say your MC got her heart broken by a short person and chucked this person bodily into a lake before driving home. Said MC would be unlikely to show up at home perfectly alright again. She'd probably stop on the way home for ice cream, or have a problem with someone at home because she's snippy because of the heartbreak, or there might be angry cops on her porch because of whatever happens when you chuck people in lakes and she'd cry in front of them. There'd be results.

Have you ever come across an event in a story you thought should elicit a reaction but turned out to be nothing? How did this make you feel?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

French Books and My Inability to Find Them

I hereby issue an advance warning that this post will constitute a rant. It is also not particularly related to writing. [In a deep ominous voice] You've been forewarned.

Once upon a time, I decided that since I'd dedicated a decent amount of time and passion to learning French, it would be a rather nifty thing if all that French stayed in my brain. I rapidly came to the conclusion that a great way to do that would be to read French books. Sounds like a good plan, no?

That's when I hit the roadblock. Namely, it's really hard in the US to find books that aren't printed in English.

Is it because the people who run these stores don't believe there are enough multilingual Americans to have a market? Is this because they think everyone should just speak and read only in English?

I'm curious, where did this idea come from that Americans should only have to know one language? Or the idea that the rest of the world should learn to speak as we do? I was never consulted on these issues. What gives?

According to the 2000 census, 17.9% of Americans speak more than one language, and that number was on the rise from previous polling. To me, that seems to indicate some potential market for non-English books. So why are none being stocked?

Admittedly, I'm currently in a rather monotone, monolingual area, so I can almost understand why there aren't many alternate language books for sale in my area. (Though why my local bookstore carries so many English-French or English-Spanish dictionaries but no French or Spanish books is beyond me.)

But I've checked in other areas. Last time I found myself in Chicago, I checked out a bookshop. Number of French books, probably 15. Number of Spanish books, I'd say less than 50. It's Chicago! You'd expect some sort of diversity in product represented, right?

On some level, I'm willing to cede this idea of monolingual stores. In some areas, it is not cost effective to stock books that are not in English. I can accept that. But this problem, it seems to me, has extended to Internet book retailers.

A certain book retail site that shares a name with a river, a basin, and a population of warrior women has what I'd consider a very limited selection of French books. Sometimes, to find a book I'm looking for, I'd actually have to buy in Canada. Personally, if I wanted to spend all my time shopping Canadian, I'd move to Canada, or at least a lot closer to the border. But that might just be me.

Am I the only one frustrated at a lack of non-English material available for purchase in the US? Or am I alone in having trouble finding these things?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Ce N'est Pas Anglais!

(That's Not English!)

Every now and then, I'll be listening to a song with French lyrics or reading a book in French or something will happen and I'll start talking in French (yes, I do that, even to non-French speaks. Just ask my best friend,) and I'll get inspired.

Yep, scenes or characters or dialogue will pop into my head. The kicker: It's not in English!

Am I the only one this happens to?

I like to pretend my French is pretty good. But pretend is the important part of that sentence. Without a lengthy and in-depth dictionary, I've a tendency to get stuck on ordinary, and often necessary, words like window-blinds or carpeting, not to mention words I might reach for in conversation, like sanctimonious, and Court of Appeals. (Because, quite frankly, if I can't call someone a sanctimonious git, I don't know if I'll be able to bicker effectively, and, I'm sure, I'll one day land myself in a situation in a french speaking country when I need a Court of Appeals. It's always that place you don't know the word for you desperately need to find, isn't it?)

Now, I'm in awe of people, such as Chinua Achebe or Joseph Conrad, who wrote books in languages that are not their mother tongue. I'm impressed. I really am. But I'm not one of those people. It wouldn't take me five minutes to run into a situation where I can't find the word I want. I can see myself now beating my head on a wall thinking, 'Is there a way to say 'flaming imbecile' in French? I DON'T KNOW ENOUGH WORDS!! AAHH!!' Yes, I would lose my mind that fast. Am I alone in this?

And, sometimes, even worse, it's my English that fails me. I'll hear or read a nifty line or saying in French and think, "This doesn't work nearly so well in English." I get this feeling about song lyrics a lot. I'll love the lyrics and try to explain to someone else why it's brilliant, but the poetry seems lacking when I translate it. Maybe it's me, maybe it's English. Maybe I need a second opinion...

Sorry to ramble, but this has been nibbling at my brain for a while, and I've been wondering if anyone else has found themselves in a similar situation. Do you occasionally hear something great or think something great in one language and have trouble putting it in the language you generally use? Have you ever tried writing a novel, short story, or poetry in your non-primary language?

Friday, July 16, 2010

I Think I Found My Line

First of all, I'd like to apologize. I've redirected today's intended fare to talk about this instead. I understand that y'all probably didn't know there was another post planned for this morning, but I canceled an intended post on you and feel a tad guilt about that none the less.

While I won't go into the details of the intended post, suffice it to say that it dealt with my previously mentioned theme of Drawing a Line and it would have inched my blog closer to the PG-13 line than I generally let it stray. (Yes, I still think the Disney Channel would approve of my blog. I haven't dissed Zac Efron online. That I know of...) But, somewhere along the way between scheduling the post to come up at the usual time and actually let it come up, I got struck my a feeling of disquiet. I felt like I didn't want to run the post. It was going in a direction I didn't think I wanted to blog to go.

Now, generally speaking, when I smell censorship on my part or anyone else's, my instinct is to run head long in the opposite direction, pull things into the open. (Last time we had to delete the F-word from a play I was working on, I wrote a paper about it for a class I was taking, and I used just about every quote we'd had to cut. Including in my title.) But, in this case, I bowed to a common sense instinct I've yet to squelch in my brain: if it worries you before you say it, keep your mouth shut.

And so, I realized, I'd found my line. While I might talk about violence, love, and my opinions on a lot of things, and while I might even rant, rave, and cuss a bit on this site, there are, as it turns out, some things I don't want to put out there.

On my blog, I don't swear (much), or blaspheme (pretty much at all, I think), or mention certain topics that would be frowned upon for discussion in Victorian England. Not because these are my personal morays or how I act, think, or talk in real life. However, there are, in my opinion, times and places for things. And, to me, this is not generally the time or the place.

So, where's your line? How do you decide what's okay to post on your blog?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Where Do We Draw The Line?

I found myself vaguely surprised at the level of enthusiasm given to the question about MCs who cry, and cry, and cry. I think someone actually used the word 'drop-kick' in there. I could sense a clear line that people didn't like to see crossed.

This got me thinking. After all, I know when I'm reading, listening to, or watching a story, I have certain lines that I don't like seeing crossed either. Today, I'd like to discuss another line: interpersonal violence.

A while back, I watched the movie Chinatown for the first time. At one point near the end, Jack Nicholson's character slaps Faye Dunaway's character three times in rapid succession, because he believes she's lying to him. Now, let me make this clear, he's supposed to be the hero here, not to mention the romantic interest. For me, the slap was leaping head first over the line. I lost a lot of love for him in that moment.

Let me make this clear: as far as I'm concerned, the second a man slaps a woman, I'm gone. In my head, I'm thinking, "Honey, dump his ass," and maybe some other things in even less polite language. Barring unbelievably mitigating circumstances (to the point of he'd have to have done it to save her from certain death), I'd lose all love for that guy and encourage any girl he's interested in to head for the hills.

In a balanced perspective, I did once read a book in which the male lead slapped his wife without losing all of my respect. However, in that case, he was a spy in deep, deep cover, and if he didn't slap her, it would break his cover, and then they would both be brutally executed. And he did demonstrate soon afterward his regret for having done so and that the circumstances had necessitated it. In that case, I granted him an exception.

I guess it deserves to be said, if I came across a book in which a woman were beating up on a guy with whom she had contact, I like to think I've equal enough perspectives on society to have a similarly negative reaction to her. However, I don't know if I've ever come across a book in which the female was the physical abuser. (I say physical, because sometimes I think Bella from Twilight is emotionally abusive, but that might just be my view.) Has anyone come across a book with a female abuser?

How do you feel about interpersonal violence in books? Where do you draw the line? At what point would a character become unforgivable in your mind? Can you forgive things that might have crossed your preconceived line?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

What's With The Tears?

Okay, I hereby admit that some of the things that I'm about to say might sound just a little bit sexist. I try not to be, but the potential definitely exists with this post.

I am currently reading a book in which the MC (who, yes, does happen to be male) breaks down and cries on a regular interval. And by regular, I mean there was a point a while back when this occurred just about every single chapter.

Now, I can abide some crying on the part of a character. After all, humans experience a great deal of emotions, and sometimes it's hard to take it all without breaking down. However, after a few crying jags, it reached the point that if I saw anything resembling the words "and tears spilled down my face," I took a short break from reading to mentally curse out the MC. It got so bad I found myself wishing at least once a day that I could be transported into the book to Gibbs slap that guy once or twice. It seemed called for.

Here's my beef with the tears: Crying is not acting. As far as I'm concerned, to cry might be a verb, but it certainly isn't a goal oriented one. Every time the MC burst into tears at the realization that the love of his life was engaged to another man, he wasn't out winning her heart and solving the problem.

It looked to me like he was too chicken to do anything about his situation. Thus, whenever he wept when she smiled at someone else or fell worshipfully at her knees (I kid you not) when she smiled on him, I wanted to yell at him, as Shakespeare put it, "be of good heart and counterfeit to be a man." Yeah, I pretty much just wanted to go into the book and tell him to man up. (For the record, if the MC had been female, I'd have said the same thing, probably in the same terminology.)

Once, I read a article in which the writer said, "Put tears in the eyes of your character, and the audience will cry for them. If the tears fall from the eyes of the character, the reader will feel nothing." I don't know if I feel nothing when characters in books cry, but I know I feel a lot more for them when they brace up under their suffering and push through in an attempt to resolve the issue. That's when I cry for them. When they're crying, my tears would feel excessive.

But maybe that's just me. How do you feel about crying MCs? Or any crying character for that matter? Is there a tipping point for you between 'I get it' and 'I can't take it anymore'?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

I'm Back!

Hi all. I hope you had a wonderful holiday weekend. I'm back from Canada. It's great to see you all again. I spent most of Independence Day in transit (you'd be surprised how many places you can get to and from on a national holiday), but at least I spent some of that transit time with family.

The wedding was lovely. My cousins are very much in love, the kind of thing that makes you happy to see or think about. Family's the best, and not to boast, but I've got some pretty wonderful relations.

I had an interesting time going through customs this trip. On my way into Canada, I presented my US passport to the customs agent, and we had a special conversation. (The Other One claims I must have brought this out in the customs guy, because she had a wonderful time going through customs. But I'm inclined to blame him.)

Customs Guy: What is the purpose of your trip to Canada?

Me: Pleasure. My cousin's getting married.

Customs Guy: In Canada?

Me: Yes.
(Note: at this point, I'm not even thinking of Sarcastic things in my head, such as, "No, actually, the wedding's in Portugal, but I'm stopping in Vancouver to do a little shopping en route." I'm not always sweet as cherry pie, but I think I take a time change and travel bureaucracy pretty well.)

Customs Guy: (Aggressively) Why?

Now, a lifetime of experience going to and from Canada's taught me not to tick off a customs official. After all, that's a sure way to get your passport flagged or get stuck somewhere while they check your bag for 'undeclared produce.'

Still, at this point, it's tempting to give a really sarcastic answer, such as, "Well, getting married in Canada seemed the most efficient way to procure girls for the white slave trade. Family business, you know?"
I went with something a little subtler.

Me: They're Canadian, and they live here.

Though, I suppose there's the answer my relations suggested. Me: (Plaintively) Because they love each other very, very much.
Also true and would probably have been more fun to say to a customs guy. Could've given a nice show to the family in the next line.

Anyway, I hope you're having a great day and not being stopped unnecessarily by government officials or rampaging Canadians. Not that Canadians would ever go on a rampage, I'm sure. :-D

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Canada Day!

Today is Canada Day. (Think Independence Day, but for Canadians. Hey, everyone deserves a national day.)

In a somewhat fitting manner, as you read this, I'm probably in transit to Canada to celebrate the upcoming (read: occurring tomorrow and I'm very excited about it) nuptials of my cousin Sacha and his fiancee, Sukhia. I'm so happy for them. Sacha and Sukhia, if you're reading this (can't imagine that you are, but it's still true), I love you and wish you endless joy. Congratulations.

Now, to all Canadians (or those who are Canadian at heart): Happy Canada Day!

To everyone: I'm including this video, because it's highly amusing and, in many ways, accurate. Hope you enjoy.