Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Miniskirts -- A Writing Visual

Once upon a time, a friend passed on what I consider some absolutely fantastic writing advice: "Writing should be like a miniskirt: Long enough to cover everything; short enough to be interesting."

A lot of agents mention on their blog what would be about the right length for a book, depending on genre and intended audience. I have heard agents say that after certain word counts, they just put down the query, because they know the book doesn't have a teardrop's chance on a hot stove.

There's some disagreement on the particulars, but basically any agent will tell you that the key is not to waste any of your words. Basically, if you're writing an 93k YA novel, then those 93k better be worth getting through. How do you think J.K. Rowling got away with writing 160k words books? Because people kept on reading them. People thought the words were worth it. At least, worth it enough to keep reading.

Every word should be covering something that needs to be covered. It should not be there covering things that are best left uncovered. This would be one of those areas where underwriting comes in handy. Saying less to mean more (something that I can admit I don't do perfectly. Yet.) is a great way to tighten up your prose and create subtle works.

I'll admit it, when I write out my first drafts, they tend to meander a bit. Sometimes I get a little lost. Sometimes I come up with something I think is a brilliant ideas but end up abandoning or something that just goes nowhere. That's why I edit. I go back and remove the words that aren't contributing to my plots. I go back and remove the words that aren't contributing to my characterization. I go back and remove the words that aren't contributing.

Basically: Long enough to cover what I want to cover. Short enough to be interesting.

What's your policy on text, length, and editing?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Are You Listening?

Once upon a time, some people I know and I had a silly debate about audiobooks. Basically, it boiled down to the question: Do they count?

One of the guys said they do, because you've experienced all of the words the author meant you to experience. The other said it didn't, because you weren't going through the reading process (this appears to be a common objection to audiobooks. I've gotten it from others as well). Me, I'm more of a middle of the line sort of person. I fully believe that listening to an audio counts as reading the book. On the other hand, I know that listening to a book takes less time than reading it and, for me at least, it's easier.

I've taken to using audiobooks a lot more lately. I use them for things like assigned reading. It's more convenient. I can do it on the treadmill (when I'm pretending to exercise) or when I have to walk to the store. I carry the book with me to leave my post-it notes, but mostly I just listen. And, strangely, I think I remember it better that way. I think I've a more auditory than visual memory.

Sorry for the rambly post. Basically, what I'm saying is, audiobooks count, and I'd like to come out in favor of them.

Do you listen to audiobooks? Do you count them as reading the books?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Intellectual Pet Peeves

You know how some people can't stand knuckle-cracking or gum popping? Well, the thing that bugs me are certain intellectual facts that I just can't stand people getting wrong. This probably proves I'm a jerk, but there's stuff that bugs me. That probably makes me has been appearing in a lot of books lately, a fair amount of it wrong.

Now, if I wanted to cop out and blame my childhood, I'd say that my father used to always say that authors and screenwriters should not misrepresent or falsify history and then claim that they are telling truth, because people will believe that it is true when it isn't. (Let's just say, my father did not approve of Disney's Hercules.) I feel no embarrassment in having grown up to share this view.

When it comes to old stories being referenced in new stories, I get frustrated when people falsify the original story, and my flexibility on there is limited.

I mean, if you want to tell me that we were wrong about the Persephone story and it actually wasn't as shady as we've always thought, I'll accept that, at least to a point. Tell me how we got the story wrong and tell me what actually happened, and I'll accept that, so long as you haven't ignored the other facts (original mythos).

If you want to paint Artemis as a self-centered, shrill bint who only cares about clothes, I'm going to stop listening to you, because by that point you're just making stuff up and completely ignoring the entire base literature. To me, this is unforgivable.

So, yes, my intellectual pet peeve: people picking an original set of facts and lying about them/misrepresenting them.

This kind of pet peeve bugs a lot of people. It definitely bugs a lot of writers and artists, Captain Film Major for one. But I stand by it, if and only if because I already know from a lot of experience that it was not stop bugging me, to varying degrees. Just like my pet peeve will probably not stop bugging the people it bugs, again to varying degrees.

What's your intellectual pet peeve? Other pet peeves? Does my pet peeve bug you?

Monday, January 9, 2012

They're All Gonna Die

I recently read a certain book series that shall remain nameless, because spoilers are evil, but suffice it to say it was one of those series where people die all the freaking time, and not just Red Shirts either. And, honestly, I didn't feel too bad for most of the characters who died. It was just the nature of the beast. It was just one of those things where the author says, "Here's a passel of folks. They're all gonna die. Let's go."

In the end, the characters basically shook out into a certain break-down.
  • 33% = The Ultimate Red-Shirts.
    No one cares about about these people at all, so when the writer bumps them off, people shrug and move on.Link
  • 33% = Bad Guys
    These are the folks you aren't supposed to like. So, really, when someone -- the narrator, a character, whoever -- bumps them off, you kind of applaud. And, let's face it, you don't feel sad at all.
  • 33% = Good guys
    When these people die, we all feel sad. Even if you know it's coming, that you the writer intends to kill him/her eventually, you're kind of hoping that isn't going to happen, that they'll find some way around his/her own rules and will keep that one.

The other 1% is the MC(s), who assumably, because you're reading a series, the writer has to keep around for the later books. It's functionally Contractual Immortality with a splash of Plot Armor.

Eventually, though, I'm just gonna say it, all that dying gets old. It's not that I have an inherent aversion to the death that some books just plain have to have. It's just that eventually that the time came that I felt like the writer was bumping off characters just to bump of characters. There came a point when I thought the writer was killing characters, and I'm included characters people liked who did not for any real reason have to die, just to prove that he or she could.

To me, it just looks like the writer was trying to shore up his or her Anyone Can Die cred. I get it, Anyone Can Die is a nice thought, because it establishes real world values in the text, exempting characters from MC Superpowers that annoy people, it maintains tension in the story but keeping stakes high, and it increases the motivations of any character who survives the death of someone they knew. But there's a line between Keeping It Real and Being Downright Arbitrary, and an overuse of the Anyone Can Die rule seems to be arbitrary and almost trying too hard.

I'm not going to lie, sometimes I worry I give my characters a little too much Plot Armor. I've bumped off characters before, but only because I thought it benefited the story and the plot. Once upon a time a character appeared in my head and one of the first things I knew about him -- lovely guy, great character -- was that he died in the middle. But I only knew he had to die, because the story would not have worked if he'd lived. Sometimes characters just have to die.

Sometimes they have to die. But they don't all have to die.

How do you feel about character's dying? How do you feel about killing characters? Do you do that a lot? How do you feel about writers who kill off a lot of characters?

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Blog Memory and World Building

Every now and then, I look back into my blog archives and scan through older posts. It's a very interesting thing. It's sort of like having a link to my past thoughts and all the weird/stupid/crazy things I thought once upon a time.

Once upon a time, when I was working on something I think I called the Epic Thing -- it's possible I never got around to titling that project -- I put a post on the blog about world building. (I'm not linking back to it, because in hindsight it wasn't my cleverest moment.) Back in my younger days, I didn't know how to balance the story in my head with the story on paper. I thought somehow that because I'd figured out a universe and a back story in my head, it all needed to appear on the page. And, you know, that's just not true.

No matter how big something is in my head, readers only needs to be told as much of it as I intend to use later -- they only need to know what's going to help them understand. Everything else is just wasting the reader's time. It might be cool and clever and interesting, but it's still a waste of time, since I'd just be throwing it out there just to throw it out there.

A few years ago, I hadn't realized how annoying that would be. Nowadays, it's one of my pet peeves as a reader. "Dear Author, just because you thought up a long back story doesn't mean anyone cares." That sort of thing. And in my revisions, I try to boil off the excess, the stuff I included but never ended up using.

This isn't to say I've given up on the idea of world-building. I still do that a lot. I'm working on my edits for Cordamant's Heir right now with both my notes and an alpha reader's, and one of the things I'm trying to make clear this time through are the rules of the political system. This is world-building, but it's world-building I need to do to make the plot clear. Because that's what really matters.

How's your writing going? How do you feel about elaborate back story? How do you build your worlds?

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Rule of Ka'a (Thumb)?

A friend of mine recently reminded me of the Fiction Rule of Thumb as explained my the Gods of Wisdom (a.k.a xkcd).

As sarcastic as the cartoon seems I can't deny it has something of a point. Though, I must admit, in my mind, there's a steeper curve. Because, it seems to me, there must come a point when you've made up so many words, what you're doing is no longer recognizable as writing in English.

This leads me to my quandary. A friend of mine (as yet un-Named, to this blog at any rate -- working on that) pointed out while looking at my MS for Cordamant's Heir that many names I use, while actual names from the planet Earth and probably familiar to some people, are not common in the Hemisphere in which I live and will be trying to publish. What this means, it turns out, is that they generate the same functional confusion on the part of the reader that a made up word would. I can't deny, that puts me dangerously far along the Number of Words Made Up scale.

This puts my in a difficult spot. I've done what I can to keep characters from having names that I think sound too alike, but I also don't want to sacrifice this aspect of the book and end up giving them all names like Rebbecca, Gil, and Peter. It would feel like I was deleting some of the color from the story. Then again, I don't want to confuse the heck out of or utterly lose the reader.

How do you feel about using non-Standard names for characters? Are they different from made up names in your mind? How do you feel about these as readers? Are they hard to keep track of.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Happy New Year

Hello, my lovelies. I hope your New Year's off to a good start. Sorry I missed the holidays. I went to visit my cousin, which meant lots of good food and lots of museums, but also no Internet. On the other hand, my wonderful extended family picked up its newest member, so we couldn't have been happier these holidays. I hope you had a good holiday season as well.

Now, we all know what New Years means: New Year's Resolutions!

As we all know, I like posting my goals online. Makes me feel accountable. And, as always, I'll tell you mine if you tell me yours. ;-)

Writing Resolution
  • Edit and revise Cordamant's Heir, Legal Aliens, and Imogen and Leander. (Once again, I'm resolving to spend the rest of the year getting stuff done. We'll see how that goes.)
  • Mini Goal: Edit 1k words a day.
  • Finish Born of the Knife, my NaNo project. (Yeah, with that one, I basically did my 50k and then stopped, because I'd worn myself out. But, you know, I really liked it, so I'll definitely be finishing it up.)
  • Mini Goal: Write 700 words a day until I'm done. (Compared to NaNo rates, I'm wussing out, but it's much more manageable for my life.)
  • Read 65+ books this year. (I really came down to the wire on that one last year, so I'm not going to be upping the ante in this department. Still, I really think this goal helps me as a person.)
  • Read Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Yes, this is a revival from last year, because I didn't really finish it. Still planning on counting just watching the play.)
  • Read the Bible cover to cover. (Yep, another revival from last year. Let's see how long this one lasts.)
  • Post 3 times a week. Most likely MWF, but we'll see.
  • Get back into the blogosphere and read more blogs.
  • Exercise 2 times a week. (Yes, I'm actually dumb enough to resolve to do this. It might feel like a painful resolution for me, but I really need to work out more, and saying it here is going to help me keep it going, I hope.)

We'll see how all that goes. Probably, I've lost my mind. How are you doing? What are your resolutions?