Friday, August 26, 2011

Big Changes

So, Tuesday morning The Other One cut off my hair with a pair of scissors. A lot of it. Roughly 18 inches.

In her defense, this was preplanned, and I'm happy with the result. Still, it's a big change.

Embarrassing confession: The first time she came at me with the scissors, I screamed and ran into a corner -- notably with my hair to the wall to protect it. She carefully set the scissors down and said we'd try again when I was feeling better. This has brought her much amusement. In my defense, The Other One has always had a Use It and Lose It policy towards my hair. If it hit her, she was coming after it with scissors. She never actually cut it off, but there are some associations in my mind, apparently.

Eventually, my hair was considerably shorter, my old hair was laying neatly contained on my counter, and I was jumping up and down to see how my shorter hair bounced. (I promise I'm a reasonable person most of the time.)

The moral of this story is simple: Change is scary. (I know, no one's said that before.) Although I've been thinking about short hair for a while now (read: months and months), but actually gearing up to do it shocked me and took some adjusting.

Now I'm gonna circle this one back to writing, because I like to pretend that's what this blog is really about.

You ever look at an MS you need to edit and think about running away because oh my goshness you just have to make so many huge changes and it's going to be so hard and different? Ever get scared about a new idea, because it's just so different from everything you've ever done before and you just know it's going to be hard and messy? Ever stepped away from one set of characters to realize you've been with them so long you're not sure if you can write other characters half so well?

Growing as a writer develops messy and unpleasant things like thought and diligence and work. Sometimes it even involves changing our ideas, changing our stories and characters, or even changing in ourselves. But we have to do it if we ever want to be better, to be the best writers we can be. Yes, change is scary. Yes, new stuff is scary. But, yes, it is also totally worth it.

Any big changes on your end lately?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

French It Up A Bit

This weekend, I finished my first draft of Imogen and Leander. I am, of course, at lose ends. Apparently, I don't know what to do with myself when I'm not writing.

Anyway, this is the first story I've ever seen all the way through that contained multiple protagonists. Guess who they are. While other projects I've worked on have had a male lead who went opposite my female lead, that guy tended to be more of a Love Interest than a Male Protagonist. He wasn't the guy I was following around, generally.

Still, as I was writing, I kept getting the feeling that instead of sharing the screen time, as it were, Imogen was really hogging the limelight. So, reverting to my theater days, I made up a French Scene Breakdown.

Technically, a French Scene is a scene that begins and ends with an actor’s entrance or exit. So a French Scene Breakdown shows you when the character enters and exits the scenes.

Or, a visual example from Imogen and Leander. (I started with just Imogen and Leander, but I tacked on breakdowns for their primary compatriots, largely for my own amusement.)

This sort of chart strongly backs up my suspicion that while Leander does appear on more than half the pages of the text, he really is comparatively less represented. I'm taking this as a serious reminder that in my next draft I really need to go back in a beef up his storyline. Because, really, as my Male Protagonist, he's got to be doing as much as my Female Protagonist, or I'm going about this story the wrong way.

I think French Scene Breakdowns are very useful for analyzing plots and keeping track of story threads. It's a visual indicator of how often you're hitting all of your notes, a fact that can easily slip away from you in a large project.

Do you ever make something like a French Scene Breakdown? Have you ever used something like this ever? Do you like doing visual breakdowns? What sort?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Numbers or Letters

For the record, this post was inspired by this video from the vlogbrothers who are, of course, made of awesome. Watch and enjoy.

In the video, John Green talks about this crazy idea that people have that literature is somehow easier than math or that math is this really complicated, incomprehensible thing, and how this just isn't true.

I have these memories of sitting at a table with some friends of my father listening to their son talking about the math he was studying at college and thinking, "Wow, he's really freaking smart." Because I did not understand that math he was talking about, but it sounded really freaking cool. And the characters I write tend to be math people, not literature people, which is weird, since I've always been a literature person.

Then again, my mother did advanced work in Chemistry, and she thinks I'm doing something really complicated by writing. And I've some friends who are math people who think literature is really complicated because it doesn't come with a set right answer.

You're probably asking why I'm rambling about all this. I guess it's just saying that sometimes it helps to remember that things are just hard, because you don't know how to do them, and just because something is hard to you or involves numbers or a foreign language or anything else doesn't make it more valuable than other things.

Boiling it down: Life is cool, and knowledge is beautiful.

So, how about you, numbers or letters or both?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Got Dreams?

Last night, I watched the movie Tangled, an enjoyable film. In one scene, the MC tells several scary-looking men about her dream, and they begin sharing their's (a lovely return to the idea that there's a little good in all of us). It was nice. Later in the movie, a character remarked that the when one finishes one dream, the nice thing is that one gets a new dream.

This made me think. Because that's what all characters have. They have a dream, something they want more than anything else in the world. Maybe it's not what they're doing right now, maybe it's not something they think can ever happen, but it's something that's in there.

My present MC had a dream (live happily ever after with her husband). It fell off in the middle (she's pretty sure he's dead). She got a new dream (save her dad's life). Her dreams keep her going when all the other things are going horribly wrong.

Dreams are good for characters. They're definitely good for keeping them going. After all, they're something to hope for when everything else has already gone completely to heck (as things tend to do when a writer is in control and trying to raise the tension).

I've got a dream. It's got something to do with the stuff I tend to yammer about on the blog. As we might have guessed.

What about your characters? What do they dream about? What's your dream?

Monday, August 15, 2011

So, Here's What Happened

Okay, let me catch you up, a while back, the author of this blog went to see a play, and every now and then, one of the characters would turn to the audience and basically tell them everything that had happened before the show, had already happened in the show, or was about to happen in the upcoming scenes. Now, whenever he was appearing as an actual character in a scene, she didn't mind him at all. It was when he turned into Captain Exposition that she thought he was annoying.

He was. Because, really, the audience didn't need him explaining any of these things. Usually, they were cleared up much more amusingly during the following musical number. So, really, he was just wasting the audience's time.

She just wanted the people to sing and him to shut up. Then she decided to go home and do a blog post about him and how things are more interesting when you show instead of tell, because the telling thing gets old real fast, even when you've got humor to cover.



Thanks for that, Captain Exposition. I was gonna write a whole post, but you sorta just stole my thunder. I guess I'll just go away now and have some tea. I'll see you all later.

If you have any thoughts, comments, or questions, I'll be happy to hear them. And I'll try to keep Captain Exposition away.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

So Bad It's Good?

The other day, Captain Film Major mentioned that when he comes across a bad line or scene in a movie, he'll rewind and watch it over again. When I asked why he would want to inflict that on himself a second/third/umpteenth time, he said he wanted to make sure it was really as bad as he'd originally thought.

Though this originally struck me as a little unusual (read: crazy weird) it's since dawned on me that it's not the most uncommon thing. After all, when I'm reading a conversation that seems to be going off the rails or the character is saying something utterly ridiculous, I find myself pausing to redirect the scene or patch up the rocky bits. I find myself trying to save it. Is that so different from Captain Film Major trying to see if maybe it wasn't that bad.

This leads me to an interesting thought. Normally, as writers, we are told to revisit works we considered particularly fantastic so that we could study what that author did right. Might it not also be worth our time to consider some things that were particularly awful so that we can see just went wrong and, possibly how it could have been made better?

Maybe studying things that we thought we massive train wrecks could actually be a useful tool for finding the errors in our own work and learning to correct them.

Do you ever find yourself revising work that's already done/published/released for your viewing pleasure? Have you ever read/watched/studied something just for its level of badness? Is there something to be learned from work that was just plain awful?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Got Dictionary?

As you might have sensed from my previous post about irony, I have a thing about language. Namely, there's what words mean, and when you use them to mean different things, it doesn't change the meaning of the word but sure says a heck of a lot about you.

Now, what's about to follow is a less obsessive version of 'gay does not mean annoying' and 'retarded does not mean inconvenient' comments more commonly point out. But this is basically the same premise.

The Other One was telling me about a friend of hers who misused the word disinterested in an essay, because she "liked the way it sounded." When The Other One pointed out she had changed the meaning of the sentence by using a different word, the girl replied that most people use the word incorrectly and would thus understand her incorrect usage. Or -- and I believe this is a direct quote -- "You're only confused, because you know what this word actually means."

It is at moments like these that I want to introduce my head the my desk and make them roommates.

The only way language works is that we all agree about what words mean. Otherwise, I'll be going to Starbucks to get a dog by which I mean iced coffee, and they'll say they don't have hammers, by which they mean pets. Words mean what they mean.

I know, I'm probably a ranting crazy about this, but this will probably never stop being something I care about. Precision in language is not a waste. It is the beauty of it.


Friday, August 5, 2011

Isn't It Ironic, Don't You Think?

Just the other day, I was watching a video in which someone explained that he uses the word gay to mean stupid because he is "an ironic liberal." I am not linking anyone to this video, as the arguments it contained were ridiculous (not gay -- ironically or otherwise -- because arguments are not attracted to other arguments of any sort or gender, assuming that arguments even have genders, which I doubt).

Let's clear a few things up:

1) Irony is "the use of words to convey a meaning that is the opposite of its literal meaning." Thus, using gay as stupid would imply that the concepts of homosexuality and intelligence were in any way related. This is incredibly untrue. Thus, there is no capacity for the use of the term gay to mean stupid and achieve irony. I would say sorry,but it would have to be ironically, because I in no way apologize for the meaning of these words.

2) As the word gay refers either to homosexuality or happiness (setting aside all overlaps thereof which would be puns and not ironic), the only way to achieve irony using this word would be to use it to refer to things that were either heterosexual or sad (including any overlaps thereof, which would not be puns or ironic). Thus, if I referred to two heterosexuals of the opposite gender kissing as gay, that might be construed as ironic, but more likely we would consider that annoying and ridiculous, and I'd look like a prat.

Ironic does not refer to things that are frustrating, accidentally offensive, or just don't make any sense. I'm sorry, that catchall, quick fix only works on people who don't know what the word means. I'd like to think most of us do.
Remember the song "Ironic" by Alanis Morisette? (Which I will link to, because it's a nice song.) Of course, the real irony of that song is how much of the song is not really ironic. But we know that now.

So, please, people of the internet, stop misusing the word ironic or assuming it's a quick cover for being a prat. You're damaging the English language, misinforming people about the meaning of words, and frustrating the people who know what that word actually means. And because you're making a fool of yourself. There's that too.

Are you a fan of irony?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Getting Into You

At the end of the semi-autobiographical play Yellow Face by David Henry Hwang, [SPOILER ALERT] Hwang admits that the character he's been playing opposite, the main source of the drama of the play, is fictional: "Marcus, is a fictional character, created by me...because I'm a writer, and in the end, everything's always about me."


I think Hwang had a point when he says "I'm a writer, and in the end, everything's always about me." (Sorry for the repeat, but I wanted the key piece to be on the other end of the spoiler alert so I could do the post without giving away the ending.) As writers, it is always about us. Because, in much the same way every aspect of a dream is a representative of the dreamer's psyche, the aspects of the story are representatives of the writer's psyche.

Let's face it, these characters are fictional. They might be based on real people. They might be inspired by true events. But the long and short of it, these are all a bunch of people we made up. (Hint: if you didn't make these people up, there might be problems in your future, even if it's just the friend who gets very mad that you killed them in the end.) And, because we made them up, they are little bits of us, and they do what we say (usually) and they say what we want (usually).

I'm not saying that everything that happens in a book in necessarily true of the author or the author's life, but that idea came from somewhere inside the author. It made it onto the page because the author had an idea and ran with it. Thus, some of that author did make it onto the page.

We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of the dreams.

So, yes, in a way, it is all about us. Bits of us, anyway.

What do you think?

Monday, August 1, 2011

Shadings vs. Flaws

Once upon a time, when I was new to the whole writing thing (and by new I mean so wet behind the ears, you'd think someone would have handed me a towel) I showed a friend some notes for my second book (because, I was so new that I thought this would be easy and that my first one was already perfect). My friend told me she didn't think it was going to work. She said my characters seemed a little to perfect. She told me they needed flaws.

I was confused. Did I have to turn my characters into bad people just to make them real? Because that seemed to reflect a rather dim view of humanity.

It took me a long time (a really long time, an embarrassingly long time) to realize that my characters didn't need flaws per se. What they needed were shading.

There's a difference between flaws and shading. Shading fills out the character, adding layers and helping a reader see the depth to the character, much like shading in a painting demonstrates the three dimensional nature of the object shown. Flaws and bad things about a character are a type of shading. However, they should not be confused with shading in its entirety.

When painting a three dimensional object, there are shadows, but there are also highlights. You need both to show a three dimensions. When there are negative attributes to a character, there are also positive ones. Maybe your character pops her gum and is also a terrible procrastinator, but she also calls her grandmother every week and grows geraniums. Both make her into a fuller person, and they don't all do it by making her look annoying or frustrating or in the case of some flaws, just plain evil.

Characters need to be filled out so that they look more like people going through something and less like cardboard cut outs just forcing their way to fill out the plot.

It took me years, but I finally figured that out.

How do you feel about shading your characters? Anything that took you a while to figure out?