Friday, July 29, 2011

Stats are Whack (and Wicked Helpful)

Once upon a time, I was discussing Miss Snitch with my dad, and I mentioned that two of the secondary male characters were dating each other. Now, I tend not to bring up my characters' personal business unless it's actually related to what they're doing, and in this case it was. But my dad's reaction was something along the lines of "Isn't that a bit much for YA?"

Me, I didn't think so. Because, near as I can tell, most teens have met LGBT people. There are LGBT people in the schools YA readers go to. Most teens are fans of LGBT celebrities. Some readers will be LGBT people. To boil this down: No, because LGBT people are a fact of life and thus are fit for books.

Once upon a time, in the fantastic play The Importance of Being Ernest by the utterly wonderful Oscar Wilde, "I don't know whether there is anything particularly exciting about the air in this particular part of Hertfordshire, but the number of engagements that go on seem to me to be considerably above the proper average that statistics have laid down for our guidance." This is very useful advice, even when one isn't trying to get engaged.

In life, the shadow (stats) move in response to the sun (people), but in fiction, if you want it to look like life, the the shadows of actual life need to tell us, as writers, where our suns should be pointing.

Hannah from Invincible Summer once posed the question: Why aren't there more characters like me?

This is a good question. Readers want to be able to recognize themselves in the books they read. But, if that's really going to happen, books have to reflect actual life with characters like actual people. That includes the statistical minorities. They exist in life, so why aren't they in the books?

I, for one, think sometimes I try so hard not to make every character in my book just like me that maybe I forget to make them like people. To include a little something for everyone. But it's definitely something I'm trying to work on. Because everyone reads books, so everyone should have someone to relate to in them. No one should be out there thinking, "Why aren't there characters like me?"

How do you feel about this? Do you let stats or your life experiences tell you how to make up your world? Do you have trouble finding characters like you?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Where's my shady corner?


I think we've met. I'm the villain with no motivation. I appear in movies, books, plays, and operas. I do bad things to good people for no particular reason.

You probably don't like me. That's okay. I'm doing bad things to good people and enjoy it. I kick puppies when I don't have anything better to do -- and sometimes when I do have better things to do as well. And, quite frankly, I'm a little bit boring, because, you know, I don't really have a reason to do any of these things or any redeeming qualities to make what I'm doing worth watching.

You probably wish you knew what I was doing here, because it probably looks like I cropped up for no good reason to make people's lives harder for no good reason. You probably wish I had any motivation, because that might make me vaguely understandable or cause me to in some way resemble a human being. You probably wish I weren't here at all, that someone much more interesting and, who knows, maybe even devilishly handsome would appear and take my place so you'd have something better to look at.

But I'm not going to let any of those happen.


No reason. Because I'm the villain with no motivation. So I want to make your life harder.

(The Angel on Your Shoulder will now take this moment to ask what sort of villains you love, what sort you hate, what sort you write. Drop her a line. The Villain with No Motivation probably won't answer, because he doesn't care about what others think, but you should feel free to leave him a note too.)

Monday, July 25, 2011

Do You Need A Calendar?

Sorry about no post on Friday. I promise I didn't forget you, my lovelies, but I was out of town Thursday and Friday in a place where I had no Internet access, and I hadn't scheduled my post to come out.

In other news, I'm working on something new (so new it doesn't even have an official title), and I've hit a snag.

My times are off.

This is a new one for me, but for some reason, things are not unfolding in chronological order. My Male Lead and Female Lead are in different places and thus are following their own threads for quite a while. Somehow, and I'm not quite sure how or when this occurred, my Male Lead Thread got three days ahead of my Female Lead Thread, so every time I move back to my Female Lead, I'm always backing up a bit.

How big a sin is this?

I know I'm not alone in non-linear or nonchronistic stories. Lord of the Rings gets straightened our and put in chronological order for the movies, but most of the books follows one set for a considerable ways and then jumps back to the same point to follow the other set for a while.

But they follow the same set for an extended period, and they pick of at the same point. I'm not quite doing that.

My only thoughts right now are that I'll figure out how off it can be for others when I pass this one out to betas. Until then, I'll go with my gut and keep the nonchronisitic order.

How about you? Do you always follow a chronological order? How do you manage multiple threads?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Refile to the Recycle Bin

On Monday, I mentioned the idea of scraping off the paint -- undoing what one has done -- in the effort to create art. I think this is fitting. Sometimes, it seems to me, that the biggest part of editing is not finding the right word to put on the page -- though that is important -- but actually finding all the words that do not belong on the page, and getting rid of them.

In a letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1934, Hemingway wrote, “I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.” Yes, even Hemingway produced some bad writing. No one is immune.

He's not alone in cutting the rubbish. John Green claims the best part of his books come out in the revisions and that he's lucky to use 10% of the original draft.

Sometimes, the key to good writing is just cutting the junk.

While I hope my ratio is slightly better than 1:91, that's sometimes how I feel about my writing. For The Thief Book, a good 70% of the original draft probably made it into the rubbish bin. In my revision of my first draft of Cordamant's Heir, I sliced a good 10k off. And, you know, I really feel both projects were the better for it. The Thief Book just ended wrong, and it all had to go. Cordamant's Heir came in really heavy and contained either plot threads that weren't going anywhere because I didn't want to develop them or had parts that were just redundant.

The first time we write things, they are generally not brilliant. Sometimes, they just need a spit shine. Other times, they need a fair amount of nipping and tucking. Other times, they just need a hacksaw and a trip to the recycle bin.

The trick is telling the junk from the masterpiece.

Do you feel like you end up binning most of your original MS, or are you often able to keep most of what you put down? How do you feel about major cuts?

Monday, July 18, 2011

A Touch of Light

While I usually compare my writing process to sculpture, today I'm going to branch out a bit and talk about painting. Shouldn't that be fun?

It has been explained to me by a few people that painting with watercolors and painting with oils are very different experience. A key difference between the two is the light.

In oils, light is the last thing you do. You do all your objects and background first, and the light is the final touch of color to show were on the objects you've drawn, your light hits.

In watercolors, things are much trickier. To a certain extent, light is actually the first thing you do, because the light is the space you leave in from the beginning. Light is, in effect, the space where you do

It seems to me, in some ways, writing is like both of those things, depending on who you are. It's all a matter of the planning.

Some people are planners. They can see right from the beginning where they're going to go, how they're going to get there, and what the scenery is like where they park. They can tell where to leave the light in.

Some people don't know quite so much in advance. They change direction midway through. People appear who weren't even imagined at page one. And, heaven help us all, sometimes we end up somewhere not at all like where we meant to go. Hey, things happen. In that case, you put the light in last, once you've figured out what the picture's really going to look like.

The point is, both styles, while different, produce fantastic artwork.

Me, I think I write like a Cezanne painting. You've done your darks. You've added your light. It's still not done. So you turn your brush around and scrape off some of the paint, baring things down to the canvas. Hey, if it get's the job done...

How about you? How do you paint? Water or oils? Back of the brush?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Evidence of Things Not Seen

Once upon a time, I played the character Douglass in a play called "Party Time" by Harold Pinter. A friend of mine was playing Dame Melissa. When we mentioned to some friends that we were in the same play, they exclaimed, "Cool. We'll come. What's it about?"

That, as it turned out, was where the trouble started. Because, after staring at each other for two minutes, we realized that having auditioned for, been cast in, and read the play, we still couldn't say what it was about.

Of course, two months later, when we were ready to go up, we could answer that question almost succinctly. It just took some explaining.

As it turns out, the thing that made the play so interesting but also so hard to describe that it didn't have the usual sort of plot. This occurred, but they didn't coalesce toward one main character or one main goal. Instead, the real action of the play all seemed to be happening off-stage.

The play was about what all the characters weren't talking about or were being told not to talk about.

This is a tricky proposition. How does one build an entire plot whilst not saying things? How does one delete just enough to leave gaps big enough to see but small enough things don't fall through?

While I firmly believe that black cannot be seen without white and that it is entirely possible to draw a white egg on a white paper using only colored pencils, I wonder how much we can leave not there and have people still be able to see anything at all.

Obviously, it can be done. It has been done. But I find it a tricky and intimidating consideration nonetheless.

I do not favor the minimalist style when I write. In my first draft, I chuck things on the paper. Tons of things, not always with a clear plan about what to do with them or a full understanding of what they mean. In my next draft, I carve things out that I don't need anymore, things that were overstated, things I changed my mind about. I create the white space that wasn't there again. Then again, in later drafts, I also add things back in. I set up things I'd made decisions about later in the process. I change things do not reflect my final vision of the character. I add the black back in.

Writing's a growing process, to my way of seeing it. Each draft is a continuous process of shading and erasing, altering line thicknesses and darkness. To varying degrees, of course. But I do know that, by the time I'm done, it's a piece composed largely of what is said, not what is unsaid.

How about you? Do you favor the spoken or the unspoken when you read? When you write?

Monday, July 4, 2011

I Feel Magic

At one point, I had a plan. Isn't that how it always starts? You always have a plan, and it always goes straight to hell. If not instantly, somewhere along the way, the plan just gets blown to bits.

My plan for this year involved editing. Lots of editing. As in, I was going to pull out each of those WsIP I had lying around "simmering" and actually get those things shiny enough to see the light of day.

My plan did not involve writing. Because what I really needed were more MSs overcooking on my backburner. No, this was going to be the year when, instead of generating more unedited, untouched babies, I was actually going to raise a couple into something nice and lovely.

Did I mention that that plan went completely to hell?

After assiduously editing two books -- I don't know if I ever mentioned my edits on Cordamant's Heir, but I think I just changed more than a fifth of that baby, including dropping 10k -- I felt all fresh and ready to bite into something Shiny and New.

Thus came out the lovely work temporarily entitled Here We Go Again, which feels apt in so many ways. This lovely baby had been simmering, then bubbling, then full on boiling in my brain for a good 6 months, and trust me if it hadn't gotten out soon, it might have done some permanent damage in there.

Now, after 2 months of dedicated effort -- and more secondary source involvement than I've ever put into a text -- I've got a first draft.


She isn't perfect, I'll be the first to admit it, and she's not going to be meeting anyone else -- let alone a stranger -- for a while yet, but she's so lovely and new and interesting -- to me at least -- that frankly I don't care.

I feel like magic.

How about you?

Happy Happy

To All Canadian Readers, Happy Belated Canada Day!

To All American Readers, Happy Independence Day!

Celebrations all around!