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Okay, Scrivener, I’m a devotee

In which I hail Scrivener.

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I don’t need new word processing software. MS Word works just fine (mostly), thank you very much. Another paid form of word processing? Definitely not. There’s always Ywriter (for free!), if I’m feeling really desperate.

Oh, there’s a free 30-day trial? And it’s a real 30-day trial, as in you get to try it for 30 days, not as in the 30-day countdown to your software turning into a pumpkin starts the microsecond you install it? Well, why not?

Forget 30 days. I think I was actually addicted to using Scrivener less than 24 hours after installing the software. I’ve been obsessively importing my works-in-progress, including all the background information, and Scrivener has been slurping it in like it’s never met a note or a bit of meta-data it didn’t cherish. The thought of having of export everything out again when the trial expires, even if it just went back to the same format it was in yesterday, is actually a little upsetting.

So congratulations, Scrivener. You win. I love you to bits. Word can return to the pits of frustration and despair from whence it came, and never darken my door (except for day job work, oh, and exporting drafts).

When I first starting playing with the software, I was afraid I was just having a little too much fun importing stuff. What if it was just helping me procrastinate? Then I sat down and revised a chapter that needed revising easily. After that, I was convinced: the nightmare of navigating a 200+ page manuscript is over. I can jump around my manuscript scenes like a bunny on steroids, view parts side by side vertically, and attach notes everywhere. And I can actually just sit down to write and revise. Sooo much better than before. Scrivener wins everything.

League of Incredible Colleagues

Or, “Time to step out of the author’s fortress of solitude”.

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Original artwork: Designed by Freepik. Labels by Megan Tayles

So, there comes a time in the writing cycle when you have to let people read what you’ve written. I understand this works better if there’s a sort of trial run, an alpha-, beta-, gamma-readership, before you start asking for money for the privilege.

I joined a writers’ group a few months back, for the express purpose of finding some like-minded alpha readers to trial run on. Well, there were other reasons to join a group–encouragement, motivation, information exchange, the almighty networking–but reading was the one I really didn’t think I could fudge. The upshot is that I’ve joined a tiny posse of SFF writers who (more or less) want someone to read over their work and give an opinion. I’m both excited and incredibly, super-duper, extra terrified.

The plan is to trade segments of our works-in-progress once a month (3000-5000 words) and then meet to discuss. If this seems unambitious, well, we’re still attempting to calibrate our level of ambition. Also, we’re nervous aspiring authors who don’t want to let our babies out of the house, and who also have day jobs, so a certain lack of ambition may be deliberate. I, for one, feel a strong urge to take my precious segment-to-be-sent and polish it to a ridiculous rosy glow before it escapes anywhere. It’s not that I don’t have the words–I have a whole novel draft to work from–I just think they should be better words first.

Also, green shall be the colour of the pen that marks up our fellows’ work; red has been verboten, in case it causes psychological damage. We’re taking our cues from another group, at least up until the moment when something they’re doing doesn’t work for us. It has also been suggested that we each indicate what it is that we would like the others to consider in our work, so I’m mentally attempting to pare my list of issues down to something manageable.

I guess there’s a bit of excitement mixed in with all that terror after all. At least this arrangement provides the comforting sense of a friendly hostage exchange: nobody’s going to rip another’s work to shreds if there’s any danger the same will happen to theirs.

I hope.

PS: Why does WordPress spell-check object to my Brit/Canadian spelling of “colour,” but raise not an eyebrow if I throw in a little random German? *Shaking my head.*

Excerpts from the cutting room floor

Words fallen in the gap between two drafts…and how much they make me cringe.

absorbed-2409314__340This is a bit of writing that was wholly cut between draft 1 and draft 2 of one of my projects. The larger scene more or less survived the purge, but I believe the sandwich suffered an abrupt termination.

 

At last round three ended when Bishop agreed to get Tara a sandwich and a better cup of coffee at a local deli, and he left her alone again. Tara decided that this round had been a stalemate, although she wasn’t quite sure why she thought it had gone less well than round two.

In the stillness of the otherwise empty room, with only coffee and a sandwich for company, Tara became absorbed in the question of her situation. Oddly enough, she was less concerned with ending this ordeal than with explaining it, as though she was on a mission where information was more vital than escape. The problem she kept running into was that she didn’t have nearly enough data to go on.

….

Even as Tara’s mind paced in circles, she kept herself still in her seat, some instinct telling her not to show agitation. Because she was overwhelmingly agitated. Some subconscious manifestation, or some lizard-brain synapses, were showing her a premonition, the certainty, of incipient doom. From every direction around her, Tara felt the cruel jaws of a waiting trap. But she couldn’t see it.

I must not have hated it enough to erase all traces (because I still have the words), while not liking it enough to preserve it in some other way. It’s getting posted here because, a) I’m not going to use it, and b) I’m attempting to acclimatize myself to exposing my writing. For the latter purpose, it helps that I already know it’s crap. Odd.

The first paragraph is boring. Why was I going on about sandwiches and coffee? There’s a level of detail I’m still trying to hit, a balance between realism and pertinence, that seems to be an itty-bitty, moving target. Basically, I couldn’t see myself surviving an interrogation while hungover without a sandwich, so I couldn’t see my protagonist managing it either. But honestly, was it necessary?

Then there’s the second paragraph, with my protag’s internal monologue that’s somehow painfully generic. Internal monologue hard.

And don’t get me started on the third paragraph, which seems to dive into the shades of “purple”, with a hint of cliche melodrama to really wreck the taste.

Ack. Cringe.

One thing I was trying to do was put my every-person protag into a position out of her depth, and then give the impression she was learning to tread water pretty damn well on the fly–this is the first crisis of an ordinary existence that’s only going to get less ordinary. An unexpected but not too revealing competence is important, and I think this section sort of manages that.

And I like the “lizard-brain synapses.” Even if I decided I wasn’t using the reference properly and dispatched them to the cutting room floor.

A Source for Inspirational Strikes

Like lightning strikes, only more helpful for writing.

About a year and a half ago, I learned about an interesting podcast: Writing Excuses

A group of professional, published writers pick a topic and chat about their understanding or experiences; topics range from writing techniques and mechanisms, to genre dissection, to business advice, to … far more subjects than I could possibly list here.

The usual hosts are:

although this year they’ve been adding a few more people: Wesley Chu, Piper J. Drake, and Mary Anne Mohanraj.

Now, I’m pretty late to the party: this podcast is in its twelfth season. But now that I know, I must share. If you’ve ever wanted to learn how to take apart and reconstruct your writing project like it was the recalcitrant engine of a classic car, these are the people to listen to.  They’re full of broadly-applicable advice, and know which spanner to lend you.

However, I must admit that I especially appreciate their focus on science fiction and fantasy.  Most of the universities (and other classes) in my area tend to focus on “great [Canadian] novels”. I read this as “fiction”, which is fine in itself, but not the only worthwhile genre. (Save me from genre snobs.) It’s great to listen to serious discussions on how to write great SFF, from people who already do so.

Check this one out, if you haven’t already.

Broccoli-eating of writing

Or why frustrating limitations can be useful.

There’s this fantasy anime/manga favorite of mine, Hunter X Hunter, which has a world-building detail I used to find random and arbitrary. The characters of this world, who invent and develop their own superpowers, can make themselves significantly more powerful by putting extreme limitations on themselves. Want that fireball to have some real juice to it? Make it so you can only produce fireballs during odd days of the month when you’ve eaten at least 10 chili peppers first. Want to be able to fly really, really fast? Make it so you have to spend the rest of your time in a wheelchair and then first recite a 10-minute epic poem to the wind in a foreign language. (In case you’re wondering, neither of these are real examples from the series.)

Limitations on superpowers are essential in story-building, to make sure the superpowered don’t just smite their opposition out of existence. Just ask the creator of Superman’s Kryptonite. Or just ask whoever tried to write a storyline for Peter Petrelli in Heroes season 2. But there was something about the way Hunter X Hunter said outright that limitations equal power. As though it was a philosophical stance, not just a plot-writing necessity.

Which brings us to Twitter.

I have only a slight acquaintance with tweeting, but in my experience it’s hard. Banging out some one line response that boils down to either, “Haha, you’re so right!” or “Grrr, no, and now I dislike you!” is one thing. But actually crafting something that’s meaningful yet humorous, or poignant yet comprehensible, or incisive yet fair? And then fitting it into a 140-character post? Without using so many shortcuts that the post looks like a preschooler’s message in crayon crossed with the output of an Enigma machine?

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“…that make us sound illiterate and probably leave out important context.”

A good tweet is art, my friends. Half the time I find myself “liking” tweets more for their technical delivery than for their message. Anyone can explain themselves if you give them enough space; boiling essays down to the size of an aphorism is brilliant.

There are also other restricted writing modes. My library had a “Tiny Story Contest” a few months back, where entries were limited to 420 characters.  I wrote a few tiny stories, just for the hell of it, and had fun but found it challenging. How do you fit plot, characterization, and setting into 420 characters? It’s the same kind of challenge I have writing tweets; how do you lay out even the slightest complexity in 140 characters? Because I’m stubborn, and I refuse to give up on complexity.

One thing these limitations have taught me is that I use too many useless qualifying words that can be cut when something makes me. I also use a lot of long, complicated words and phrases that can be replaced with something shorter. The complicated words aren’t always the wrong ones; but often the writing becomes stronger with simplification because it’s cleaner and clearer.

Incidentally, this is an awareness I plan to apply to a book draft I’ve been working on … which might be too long.

So, just like eating broccoli is good for my health, I’m convinced that practicing tweets and other short forms would be good for my writing style. (Twitter itself might be less good for my blood pressure, but that’s another kettle of rotting fish heads to deal with.)

Seems I’ve come around to the idea that limitations can make you stronger, after all.

And, also incidentally, I like eating broccoli. Especially in teriyaki stir-fry. Yum.

Trajectory of a Horror-Fairy Tale Romance

Is this what a romance trajectory should look like?

Recently I plotted out the chapters for a new book idea I’ve been working on, trying to keep it down to a concise ten (and a prologue).  The book is a horror fairy tale with a romance central plot, which is a bit of a stretch for me–the romance center, not the horror fairy tale. Horror-fairy tale just sounds like fun.

So I threw a “romance trajectory” scale into my outline, trying to make sure it had some kind of natural buildup and that it wasn’t just an “Act of Author” bringing the romance into existence.

So is this what a romance trajectory should look like?

romance trajectoryThe two columns are the two characters. The warm colours are for fuzzy-feeling interactions and the cold colours are for relationship chill. Grey is neutral. Each subsequent colour becomes deeper because, hey, relationships are built up on the sum of all previous interactions; you don’t get to reset to the faded pastels just because something new happens. And I tried to make sure their impressions of each other were nicely mismatched during the buildup, mutually disastrous during the crisis, and mutually fuzzy during the climax. (Plot climax; clarification for the gutter minds out there.)

The darkest colours, not so coincidentally, happen to coincide with the most horror-filled of my horror fairy tale scenes.

Keeping it balancing throughout guaranteed that there were some believable evolutions on both sides. So now that the colourful little map in my chapter outline has convinced me I know what I’m doing, I’m eager to actually write the thing.

~ And yes, in case there is any remaining question about it, I am an outliner. A Mad Outliner. If I didn’t outline, I’m afraid my characters would have stream-of-consciousness conversations and walk in and out random doors like they were in particularly lame farces. Also, I might never reach the ending. ~

Beginning of the Bloggg

Who, what, and why.

This website represents the beginnings of a pursuit of a professional fiction writing career, or at least the social media aspect thereof.  However, as I am currently, ahem, “publication challenged,” I’m afraid I won’t have much professional news to share. (Yet. Of course. No overwhelming fear of failure here.)

So I plan to take this opportunity to talk about the works I already enjoy, as well as discussing the various tribulations of that career pursuit.  The former will be gathered under the heading of “Reviews”. Everything else, about the state of the writer, the writing, and the world at large, will be in the blog.

I hope to keep it light, keep it informative, keep it succinct, and keep it interesting. Feedback is very welcome (unless you’re a troll, in which case, I plan to feed you to my imaginary alligators.)

Welcome to the beginning of the blog. May it become a place you’ll want to visit frequently.

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Arbutus tree. Photograph taken by me in April 2015, and filtered to look more sunny than it actually was.