Indulge Your Various Creativities

Right now, I’m editing a manuscript that took me about five years to write. I don’t think another book will ever, ever take me that long. This was a book that, if I hadn’t believed in it as much as I do, and loved the characters as much as I do, I would have probably given up on it long ago. I know it’s a possibility. I’ve given up on other stories, left them to dwindle in files on my computer, some of which I forget exist 95% of the time.

But this story would not let me go. Even when I finished it and I knew, and I mean KNEW that it wasn’t ready. That it was NOT in a place that I could send it out to the world and give it the chance it needed. But I also didn’t know, at the time, what it needed. So I wrote some other stuff and tore my hair out a bit and worked and relaxed and didn’t look at it much. Finally with gentle nudging from my CP and not-so-gentle nudging from my husband (let’s face it, I needed it at that point!) I started working in earnest on the rewrite. I sort of knew what needed to happen, but it started slow.

So I did the thing I like to do to keep my creativity fresh… I made things. Other things. Things that have very little to do with words and writing (though not nothing, all the time).

Here are a few examples of some things I’ve been making/indulging in the last few weeks:

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This is, clockwise:

1) yarn for a new yarnie project—I’m going to be making this Abalone vest, all goes well… I usually knit shawls and hats, so….,

2) I wrapped a new pair of headphones with embroidery floss on account of I thought it would be pretty and I often break my headphones at work and am sort of hoping this will provide extra protection, though I don’t really know that it will. Mostly, I thought it would be pretty.

3) Really  all this is is a rub-on decal that I put on my book journal—where I write notes to myself about whatever I’m reading while I’m reading. It’s not much, but it made me love the simple plain old thing much more. I’ve had the journal for years and finally used it for this because I was never interested in using it for actual journaling purposes. Oh what a difference a little bit of pretty makes! I prettied the title page a bit, too… Oh I just had a lot of fun with it. 🙂

4) A year or two ago I bought a bag of floof scraps (read: roving, AKA fiber AKA what yarn is made up of) and I’ve decided to lay it out in somewhat of a gradient and just spin it all up into one long yarn that may or may not all make sense together. We’ll see.

And as I was doing all of this… along with another top secret project for my mom and one or two other things… I’ve kind of solved my stump over what needs to happen to make my manuscript sale-able. Sellable? WORTHY OF SALES.

Something worth buying, anyhow. Something cinematic and poignant and full of grim justice to go along with the pretty, pretty I had before.

Even The Mr agrees that my new ending idea has a lot of potential. And that’s big.

So excuse me if I’m busy the next couple of months. This baby is finally getting ready to see the world.*

*You know… eventually. Or at least a few dozen (?) agents’ eyes.

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Use Your Microcosms

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Photo by Lisa Moreira

The company where I work is huge to a point that I cannot fully comprehend, because of the fact that when I am there, the building is mostly empty except for my floor—I work graves. And while the graves world is a very strange one—especially in a medical lab on the outskirts of a not-large city that is overwhelmed with both very religiously conservative and simultaneously very liberal views—but it is a funny little microcosm of Salt Lake society, and Utah as a whole.

The better part is this, though—it is a microcosm of humanity as a whole. Now, maybe not a very evenly represented one, of course (this is Utah, after all!) but still a more mixed view than I’ve seen anywhere else in the state in my time here. My company is a tapestry of the cultures existing in Utah—Thai, Polynesian, Arabic of more than a few shades, some African American, and of course a lot of variations white. The Mr and I contribute to some of this diversity ourselves, though we are more of a mixed variety than some.

But more to the point, there are characters of all shapes and sizes (not to mention fuzziness vs. spiky ratios and again, religious/political extremes) and it is a constant reminder to me of how very complex people can be, and how very different from each other, and this is important in writing because in fiction people should be complex and different from each other, also. Yes, there are archetypes and you can use them freely—but remember that without specificity, things are forgettable (read: boring).

I’ve been thinking about this because of a girl I work with. She likes bears. Well, likes is a mild term. She loves bears. She admires bears, and is mildly jealous she does not get to sleep through winter the way that bears do. I showed her a link the other day with a lot of different kinds of animals being really adorable (because hey… that’s what people do these days)… and she responded with: “Bears!”

Me: ………and others

Her: But I like bears.

And that was how that conversation went. On the one hand, I was mildly frustrated. But there are so many other animals in the glorious animal kingdom! I wanted to argue, even though bears are certainly very nice. I just personally cannot devote so much love and adoration to a single species, when there are creatures such as turtles and owls and foxes and wolves and mountain lions and—!!!

Okay, so I get worked up about a lot of kinds of animals.

ALL CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL PEOPLE!

But this friend of mine…. she likes bears.

And that’s okay. Because on the one hand there’s me, who likes lots of animals and finds them all delightful and wondrous…. and then there’s my friend, who likes bears. Specific. Something tangible and describable and… characteristic.

Not to say that I don’t have a character, but let’s face it, I’m an introvert/writer/person-watcher whose superpower is typing 85 wpm. I take a lot of getting to know.

Which isn’t bad in a fictional character, either. I’m not trying to say it is.

But neither is liking bears. Some people just really, really like bears.

Why “The Day of the Doctor” made me forgive Steven Moffat for everything I didn’t like about his version of Doctor Who. Or: Good storytelling and how it can sneak up on you.

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(Spoilery, but not by much.)

So first things first: while I had no history of watching the classic Doctor Who as a young British child (yes, I’m well aware I never was quite such a British child) I flop-hearted nonsensical in love with Russell T. Davies’ reinterpretation of it. I watched it sporadically at first, more eavesdropping on my sister’s viewings than being willing to trust my heart to some wonky British show with latex and silicon aliens.

I guess you could say what I fell in love with, at first, was not the Doctor, but that young, fragile companion of his, Rose Tyler. She

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was fresh-faced and eager, wholeheartedly willing to experience everything and yet tumbling with the knowledge that the universe was so much more than she ever would have imagined.

I loved her.

And of course, the Doctor was wonderful. Funny. Madcap. Full of yearning, but not for anything nameable. And always, always impressive. I thought I would never love another Doctor the way I loved Nine. And then came Ten. And everything expanded and got better and hurt more and made me love it more. As much as I loved Rose Tyler? I wanted to BE Donna Noble. When they were both taken away from me (and of course by me, I mean the Doctor), I was heartsick, heartsick, heartsick. Satisfied in their storylines and loving the show for hurting me that much, but heartsick all the same.

endoftimeBut not as heartsick as when I heard that both David Tennant and Russell T. Davies would be leaving the show. That seemed like too much to bear. In fact, I put off watching Tennant’s last specials for a full year, totally unwilling to move on to Moffat and Matt Smith. I thought that that would be enough time to prepare myself, but I was wrong. Tennant’s last episode destroyed me.

And then there was Matt Smith. And… no one knew what Daleks were? Or any of the media-hey-day bits that Ten had gotten into? No one knew who the Doctor was?

I was thrust into confusion, and then skepticism, and then dislike. But I was a year behind by then, and I was assured by some that Smith would “grow on me.” He did not grow on me. Every episode I watched, rubbed me just a little wrong. Amy and Rory were fun,

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sure, but I felt distant from them. And where oh where was my Doctor?

Naturally, I blamed Steven Moffat, new helm of the show, for everything. I felt as if he wanted to distance himself from Davies’ Doctor Who as much as possible. I could understand that, in a way, but as a fan I also felt kicked in the gut. So, so much of what I’d loved in the show was gone, and Moffat seemed to refuse to even acknowledge Davies’ reign, though  he did reference the classic show what seemed to me a lot more (again, speaking as someone unfamiliar with the classic show, other than a viewing of The Curse of Fatal Death, which doesn’t really count). I saw this distance from the previous season as a slight betrayal to the fans of the more recent incarnation of the show, and as a big mistake on Moffat’s account.

Eleven’s first season of Doctor Who was darker and creepier than I wanted to see, to be frank about it. While I’d been deliciously chilled by Don’t Blink just like everyone, I did not watch Doctor Who to be creeped out. I watched it to feel wonder, celebration of humanity, and hope in the face of everything. Still, I don’t give up on shows easily, and there was just enough of a glimmer of the Doctor I was familiar with to make me wait it out.

karen-gillan-amy-pond-matt-smith-doctor-who-new-costume1Eventually, I’m not sure when or how, Matt Smith did grow on me a little bit. And bit by bit, it seemed like Moffat was willing to embrace the more recent history of Doctor Who. Rose Tyler’s name was even dropped out of the blue. It was great. The last couple of seasons, I admit, have been a lot of fun, and much more like what I fell in love with the show for. It seemed as if Moffat had learned from his earlier mistakes of distancing himself and was finally willing to embrace the feel of the show the way I had always hoped would happen. It didn’t quite make up for things in my heart, but I was happy to look  forward to the future.

And then, “The Day of the Doctor.” And all of my frustration and grievances against Moffat were swept away with two lines of dialogue that turned all of Moffat’s mistakes (or clever, long-held plans? I’m still going to go with mistakes) and swept away everything I hadn’t liked about the Eleventh Doctor.  Those two lines, both spoken by John Hurt’s “lost” Doctor, were these:

“You’re children, both of you” (okay, can’t remember the precise wording on that one)

and

“The one who regrets and the one who forgets.”

That sound you’re hearing? Is my brain bursting with applause. Because with two lines, Moffat justified everything that I had disliked about his first taking on as the head hauncho behind Doctor Who.

Oh, Doctor.

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I’d already been leaning towards this thinking myself, after reading a fan posting I wish I could find right now, about how Ten was so, so human that it hurt him immeasurably, and in response, Eleven more or less drew away from everything about that life and forced it into a drawer to collect dust.

But Moffat went further than that. If Christopher Eccleston had been involved in this special (though it would have had to have gone quite differently) I think that second line may have been “The one who rages, the one who regrets, and the one who forgets.”

Let me explain why I love this so, so much. We understand from this that John Hurt is the “Doctor” (though he doesn’t call himself Doctor) in between Eight and Nine. The one who destroyed Gallifrey. The one the Doctor does not want to remember being. He is the one that becomes Nine—the one Ten alludes to as having been “born of blood and anger and revenge.” As I said, the one who rages. Nine had a tendency towards anger, and was often fed up with humans (“stupid apes”) even though he would defend them to his last breath. If you look at this from the Doctor’s personal timeline, it’s likely he was angry at his own humanity—his ability to be at fault, or rather his inability to save his people in a way he could accept.

But then there was Rose. This young girl who trusted him openly and was fallible and imperfect but was willing to offer mercy when even the Doctor could not. And that humanity the Doctor had been suppressing? All came flooding back in with his new regeneration. Ten was impossibly human. Formed attachments even when he thought he was protecting himself. And was always so, so sorry.

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I had been so mad at Moffat for forgetting about all those people Ten loved, but then Ten lost more people than it was prudent to remember. A love, a best friend, a pseudo-family, a possible wife, even a daughter (though I’m still hoping Genny will show up again). Even his greatest enemy! The weight of all the people Ten lost is astounding. And even after all that, he was afraid of letting it go and changing.

So as Eleven, he forgot. Forgot his deeds on Gallifrey. Forgot Rose Tyler and Jackie Tyler and Martha Jones and Donna Noble and Mickey Smith and Captain Jack and every single person he could. Even forgot his current companions for long stretches of time. Ran further away than he ever had, only to run smack into himself.

And now with Peter Capaldi coming in, it seems as if the Doctor is willing to admit that he IS an adult. That he’s done running away and hiding from everything, done regressing.

Basically, storytelling genius. I won’t even go into how fantastic the uses of Billie Piper and Tom Baker were in the special, or how beautifully the story was resolved and set a new course for the show. That’s been said elsewhere, I’m sure. I still think Moffat made some mistakes when he first took on the show as Executive Producer, but like any really good storyteller, he’s taken those mistakes and put some sense to them, hiding that they were ever mistakes in the first place. There’s a lot to learn there, and I take my hat off to Moffat. I could not have been more pleased or impressed.

Best Take-Away Thoughts from Storymakers 2013

Now that The Mr has in his wonderful tenacity fixed my laptop at least enough that it will read its battery again (this is a big win… especially considering we probably are nowhere near being able to afford a new laptop right now, what with my broken cellphone screen… ahem… yeah…) I can finally blog about some of the absolute best take-away thoughts I had from the Storymakers 2013 conference.

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J. Scott Savage (Farworld & Case File 13) and Tyler Whitesides (Janitors) gave a great class on the difference between an IDEA and a STORY. For example, you can have an idea of a fantastical world with a lot of different races with deep, significant histories and individual languages, and whatnot… but it’s not a story until you take a little creature called a Hobbit and give him a quest to throw a dangerous, sought-after ring into the far-off-across-lots-of-scary-lands fires that it was forged in.

STORY has to have five things: Characters, Goals, Obstacles, Consequences and some High Concept that sets it apart from other things.

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High Concept was something I heard a lot over the conference, and while I’ve always thought it was important, it was pointed out that High Concept is more important now than ever before, because self-publishing is impacting national publishing’s influence. In other words, if you want it pubbed by the big 6, High Concept HAS TO BE THERE.

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John Brown (Servant of a Dark God) gave some fabulous advice on keeping your reader in-tune with suggestions you might never have thought of, even though they’re magnificently simple. In other words: keep things in order. If you’re describing someone or something, work from top to bottom, close to far, whatever, just stay in one direction. Don’t hop from one direction to another. If something is happening, let the reader see that, see your character’s internalization if necessary, and react. Don’t try and start with the reaction… it just gets things mixed up in the reader’s mind. Really simple things, but key to stop your reader from having those “wait, what?” moments.

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Keynote speaker Anne Perry (Charlotte & Thomas Pitt novels) gave a just beautiful speech about the fact that we all have had magical experiences, and as writers it is our duty to write them down, to reach out to human experience and say yes, I know what you’re experiencing and I’ve felt that way before. That’s a much less eloquent paraphrasing, but largely the same. She ended by saying “Have courage, and do it beautifully.”

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And lastly, Agent Michelle Witte (The Craptastic Guide to Pseudo-Swearinghad a fabulous class on Voice that I just loved. She showed some wonderful examples from books such as I Capture the Castle and The Unfinished Angel, and made me feel like I did a decent job describing Voice in my own Blue Bicycle ExperimentMy favorite thing that Witte said was “Be quietly distinct. You don’t have to shout. You don’t have to go overboard.” Life is in the details, after all. The trick is knowing that everyone sees those details a little differently than everyone else. Witte was good enough to fangirl about books with me a little bit after the lesson, too. Which was fun. 🙂

And that was my best take-away advice from Storymakers 13! It was a fantastic weekend, and I came home with a lot to think about. Hope this gave you a little sliver of that as well!

Three Things I Needed to Hear Today.

I have a confession. I like to listen to commencement speeches. A caveat to that: I especially like to listen to commencement speeches given by authors. I don’t particularly seek them out, but when I find them, I give a listen.

Today I stumbled upon one by Neil Gaiman, one of the premier names in fantastic literature today. He gives a lot of advice, but he said three specific things that I really needed to hear today:

1) ENJOY THE RIDE

The road to success in any creative field is difficult and unsure. Even when success is at hand, there’s usually the worry that the success won’t last, or that somehow someone will take it away from us, and it’s important not to let those worries distract us from the triumphs we do achieve. Even without success, though, we should be enjoying the things that we create. Otherwise, what are we doing it for? And if we don’t enjoy it, who else will?

2) MAKE GOOD ART

This seems like a no-brainer, but it is something to be remembered. In Gaiman’s speech he talks about making good art in reaction to everything, good or bad. This is something that I try to do, but I wonder if I get lazy sometimes.

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3) FAKE IT ‘TIL YOU MAKE IT

This is something I have to admit I heartily believe in. After all, I’ve publicly admitted that I like to Author-Interview myself in my head. Whenever I want to shy away from my dreams, because it’s just taking me so long to get to them with life in the way. Plus, let’s face it, you never really know how to write a novel until you’ve… finished writing a novel. That’s just a fact. But until then (and I’m moving ever closer! Hi 75K!) I’m just going to keep pretending that I know how to do this thing.

If you want to see the rest of Gaiman’s address, it’s here:

The F Words. Fear. Of. Finishing.

I worry sometimes that I am afflicted with the F words. Not that one you’re thinking of. These: Fear of Finishing.

This is a first-timer’s fear, I know. Because this first time is, while maybe not the hardest (how would I know?), HARD. Because I’ve spent my whole life, just about, thinking about getting published and how I probably have the stuff to make it if I work at it.

As writers, though, even when we have a story that we love and something that we would like to share with the world, sometimes the prospect of telling a story right is (or SEEMS) inhibiting. What if we get it wrong?

The fact of the matter is, when it comes to writing an original story, we’re the only ones who have any chance of getting it RIGHT.

This seems kind of silly to say, but it’s true. It’s YOUR story. YOU have to write it. Or it won’t get written. Simple as that.

This is the thought that has been pushing me along lately. This is my book. I want it out in the world. I want ME out in the world as an author, instead of shut up in my comparatively small corner of the internet talking  to the spare passerby reader who likes to look up “Posts on Writing” on WordPress. (Though I really appreciate you readers!)

So when it comes to the Fear Of Finishing… kick it. Out. Don’t even let it sink in. This is something I’ve struggled with, sure, and probably most writers have at some point. But the professionals get it done, no matter what. And that’s my goal in this plan over all, isn’t it? To become a professional? You bet your petutti it is. How do you spell petutti anyhow?

P.S. See that photo up there? That was scribbled and taken in haste by yours truly.  Following the recent blogger-gets-sued train of thought… that we probably should have all been doing in the first place… over the next few weeks I’m going to attempt to swap photos I’ve used with less-than-clear permission and find some Creative Commons License stuff or take my own pics. It’s about time, Lisa. It’s about time, blogosphere.

Booking Through Thursday: One or Many?

Vampira2468 asks:

Series or Stand-alone?

I know this question is about reading books, whether you prefer reading a series or a stand-alone novel, but since I’ve answered that before (somewhere… don’t quote me) with a resounding “Well… both….” I’m going to instead look at this today from a writer’s point of view.

Forgive me if my answer stays more or less the same. Do I prefer writing a stand-alone novel or a series? Well… both.

If you look at my “Works” page, you can see that my two main WIPs at the moment (though really, I’m letting the one wait in line as I finish the other) are a stand-alone (Daughter) and what I at least hope might have the meat to pull off a series someday (Jethro). Both of them are very different writing experiences. One is an epic-fantasy-adventure that’s somewhere between The Princess Bride and Anastasia (figure that one out) and the other is about a bunch of high school kids in a small town who have to face the fact that they all have unexplained powers. One is focused very closely around one main character and a few of her closest connections, while the other technically has a main character, but also has an ensemble cast list as long as my arm.

I cannot tell you which one is more fun to write.

I really can’t. And I’m not going to make any comments about it being like picking between two children (though really, it is) but what I will say is that both stories have their own challenges and benefits, and I love that. So let’s talk about those challenges and benefits… let’s call them bonuses, though, because that’s what they really feel like.

Writing a Stand-Alone Novel (One or Two Main Characters)

 Challenges:

  • Typically you only have one (or two) perspectives to work with, even if you’re working in third-person. Unless of course you’re working in third-person omniscient, but that’s not often the case. This can make it hard to show the audience something without letting your character see it, which is sometimes vital.
  • Your character also has to be strong enough to carry a full-length novel. There’s really no half-ways-ing on this. Either you have someone who feels like a real person and is exciting or relatable, or you don’t have anything. Really. Because if your character doesn’t hold up, nothing else will. There’s no room for it to.
  • This is your one shot. Everything you want to say in this story, has to be said in this book. It’s a little bit different with the internet now, because we have the opportunity to do ebook tie-ins and things like that, but it doesn’t change the fact that if there was something you wanted to happen in this story and it didn’t make it there, it will never be there. The end.

Benefits:

  • The story has a clear-cut ending. This may not be the case with a series, at least with an ensemble cast like I’m planning. The story could well go on forever in an ensemble piece, but with one character, it’s easier to see where to say goodbye. (Clarification: this does not make it easier to actually SAY goodbye!)
  • You get to really fall in love with your characters. Not saying you can’t do this in a bigger cast (and obviously you can if your series is all based around one character, but that doesn’t seem to be the way I work), but fictional characters are often enigmatic and untrusting, and it takes time to peel away their layers. You get to do this if most of your time is spent with only one or two of them.

Writing a Series (Ensemble Cast)

Challenges:

  • Think making one character strong enough to carry a book was difficult? Now you have to have half a dozen (or more!) characters and they each have to be different enough to feel like different people. No use having a lot of characters if no one can tell them apart.
  • You also have to be very, very careful that your characters don’t fall into archetypes. Or if they do, that they have something about them that really makes the archetype worth it. Make sure there’s a twist. If the character just really needs to be an archetype, make sure that they feel organic. Avoid clichés as best as you can.
  • You have to make sure that your ending lets everything be said. Again, this is a little different now that we can offer side novellas and what not, but if you have half a dozen important characters, you have to make sure they each get their due and that their storyline ends by the time you say “The End.” This may not be an easy thing to balance out.

Benefits:

  • So. Many. Voices. Really that’s what’s fun about an ensemble cast and the time a series will give you to feature them. You get to experiment with so many different characters and write in their distinct voices. You don’t get “stuck” with one or two characters.
  • Time. Really a big benefit of a series is that you have room and time to get to a lot of things. In my case, a lot of different characters with personal storylines that play into the bigger story arch. You can even end a book halfway through one character’s personal struggle… it will bring some back to read the next book, to see how it turned out.

So… sorry to turn a reading question into a lecture about writing… but really, I’m not. I wonder if anybody else can think of benefits and challenges to the two?