Monday, February 28, 2011

The Return of Character Month

Last year I decided to make March Character Month simply because fellow writerlies were beginning to follow the blog and it seemed like an easy way to shift the paradigm away from eccentric ramblings to writing (yeah, because that lasted).

The original Character Month fell off the rails quickly and although I tried to get back to it towards the end of the month it never quite recovered. Still, Character Month is a concept I like, so we're going to try again this year.

Character Month is essentially exactly what it says on the tin. The primary focus of posts for the month of March is to be characters. Interviews, overviews, analysis of archetypes, whether it involves your character's or a mate's or, again, is just a discussion of a type of character, it's fair game. If it involves characters, you're good to go.

For my own part we're going to take a lesson from last year and rather than try to make every single post character-centric, we're going to strive for a minimum one Character Month post per week. So that's at least five Character Month posts. Anything extra will be rewarded with tea and cookies. As with last year, you're more than welcome, nay, I encourage you to join in on the Character Month fun on your own blog.

Hopefully this year we can keep things running a bit more smoothly.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Writerly Types

Dwayne McDuffie died recently. Very recently. In an interview he gave not too long ago, he was quoted as saying, "Usually, when we adapt things, there's a really good hook, but there's not really a clear storyline. Or there's a really good story, but then no hook. We have to change it to make it work."

And this reminded me of something I was thinking about the other day.

It seems to me there are two kinds of writers: Those with insane imaginations, and those with an absurd gift for words. There are advantages and disadvantages to being each but I don't think one is necessarily better than the other. And sure, there's probably a bit of overlap sometimes.

But I've been thinking lately about books I've read, and fellow writers I know, and myself as I thought about imaginer v wordsmith. And, perhaps more importantly, how to cope. Because ultimately it doesn't matter how amazing your idea is if your writing falls flat, but equally you could be the next Shakespeare/Tolstoy/Joyce (okay, maybe not that last one) but if you can't come up with a good hook no one's going to want your book.

Of course, revisions can help take care of that, but it's not as simple as fixing a few sentences. It takes careful, thoughtful revision.

But beyond that, my mind has little to nothing, so let's turn this over to you. Which do you think you're better at: The idea or the execution? How do you compensate for it, if at all?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Sex is so last century

Not like that. Honestly, you people.

I don't want to say there's an obsession, because that would be untrue, but I think there is still a decent degree of focus placed on the sex* of a protagonist. A lot of focus placed on what's more popular, what sells more, why there's so much of male heroes in Story Type A and females in Type B and so on and so forth. And then I also see people stressing about writing protagonists of their opposite sex.

It's something I myself was guilty of. Over the summer, when I first started working on one of my two current WIPs, I would stress about whether or not I was writing females accurately. My concern was more about the protagonist's friend than the protagonist herself, and I thought by observing my female friends (who far, far outnumber my male friends (make of that what you will)) that I could get a better idea of things.

And I don't want to say this didn't help, because it did. In fact two of my friends formed the entire base from which I worked to construct Ashley's best friend. But as I tried to work on the first chapter stressing about this, I realised something.

It's pointless to worry about the sex of your hero.

A character is a character. Media is full of tropes and assumptions about both sexes and genders, and yes it would be lying to say there are no differences at all, but at the end of the day what do those differences amount to? Nothing of any significant capacity. One wears a bra and one doesn't. I know men who act radically different from some women I know, and I know women who behave radically differently from other women I know.

There are no hard and fast rules for how a man or a woman should act or think. For every five examples of a rule you can find, I can probably find five people who subvert it.

Lately my protagonists have been female. My most recent one is also a (closeted) lesbian. Had I tried this most recent one back in June, or had I just been trying to write two stories with heroines back in June, I would be wigging out of my skull right now. But anymore, I just don't care what they are. At the end of the day, all the matters is that you have an amazing character.

*Yes, I mean sex and not gender. Sex is physical, gender is psychological/identity. Although how much fiction is there with a transgender hero?

Thursday, February 17, 2011


I find that lately my third person narrative is lengthier than my first person narrative. Not that it's necessarily more verbose (although I concede in some places it might be), but that I wind up using words I wouldn't use in first person narrative. On the one hand this is understandable because first person narrative is, well, first person. If the character whose viewpoint it's meant to be is unfamiliar with a word or wouldn't regularly use a word, it probably will not turn up in their writing. And yet something about third person makes me decide to use those words.

I also find that my third person writing tends to have more description while still being not very descriptive at all. Again, this could be down to differences of style between the two, but all of this strikes me as odd.

Like, why is there a greater disparity between my first and third person narratives than seems normal?

It's weird. But then, I'm a weird dude.

On a semi-related note: The opening sentence of this idea is driving me up a wall with my inability to decide how to phrase it.

On a completely unrelated note: What is it about marred place names that stick in the mind? I was reading an article which, correctly, says "...from Ukraine" but my mind wants to call it the Ukraine.

Friday, February 11, 2011

We happy few

I’ve been thinking lately about a lot of things pertaining to writing – things which could stay in my head or find their way here – but there was a thought I had the other night which was today reinforced.

It snowed quite heavily recently and although the snow is mostly melted there is still a lot, and it looks as though it will snow again soon. Even before the big snow there was a lot of ice. As a result of the weather, I haven’t ridden my horse in quite some time. Even longer when one considers I was on holiday in Scotland, and before that it was Christmas. So today I decided to make the trip up to the barn and see what things were like, and at the very least pay some attention to the old boy if I couldn’t ride him.

It can be difficult to explain to someone who’s never ridden a horse long enough to forge a genuine relationship, so I’m not even going to try. However, the day’s activities did make me remember what I was thinking about the other night, and I think really they help me to express my thoughts a bit better.

In addition to being rather overjoyed to see me again, he was more than eager to go after having been cooped up for a while (he had gotten out before the snow, and I’m told they turned them out briefly since the snow started melting away but the pasture was still too icy), so much so that he didn’t even protest the thought of having to go out with someone his back, which he usually does for the first few feet – understandable, really, if you think about it for more than half a second. Unfortunately, he wanted to go which was something conditions didn’t really allow for. But I felt sorry for him, having been confined to the stable for so long and then not being able to move at pace.

I knew the other end of a nearby river (officially it is a creek, but it is very wide and in places the water is up to my chest so you cannot tell me that is not a river), tended to be hit less hard whenever we got big snowstorms, so I decided to try heading over there. For many horses this can be a non-issue, but my horse takes to water like a kitten, so even being near it was not a particularly pleasing event for him. We couldn’t go around because that means going a long way out, and although I tried to find a place that wasn’t too deep with the snow and ice melting recently it was going to be fairly deep anywhere. And much as he may have disliked it, we forded it.

Unfortunately there was too much snow and ice on the other side as well, so we were confined to a walk, but it was while we were crossing back a few hours later that I specifically remembered my thoughts the other night. Never once on our walk did I have to tell him to slow down or hold steady. I could tell he wanted to move, in fact he probably wanted to move a lot faster than I would have liked to, but he never tried to quicken his walk or burst into a trot or canter. He stayed at a good pace the entire time. Even though he hates water, he crossed the river twice with no real complaints. He did these things not because he was told to, but because I told him to. If a friend had hopped up and tried to cross the river, my friend would be lying on a rock in agony and my horse would be back away from the embankment.

And I think it’s important for us to find people like that. A friend upon whom we may rely thoroughly. Someone who, no matter how much we may dislike what they are saying, we know we can trust their judgment. Someone who will not let us just blindly do whatever we want, but do their best to make sure it is safe. Someone who we know will always be there to offer support when we need it and criticism even when we may not wish to hear it.

This person doesn’t need to be your beta. They don’t need to be a fellow writerly. They just need to be that person, and you in turn must be that for them.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


We interrupt your regularly scheduled my-incoherent-sort-of-writing-related-ramblings for some new, off the cuff thoughts.

So as I've stated numerous times I have plenty of friends from Scotland. I say from because a few of them are now living in England or, in the case of one friend, Belgium*. Anyway I have a plethora of friends in Scotland and this morning I have been speaking to some of them. Well, actually, I woke up to an email from a friend teasing me because the weather here is less-than-pleasant and it's 8 (46F) and sunny there today which lead to me calling her and us talking for a while.

Then just a very short while ago I received a call from one of my friends who attends the University of Glasgow. And that call is why I am writing this post while my brain is still processing things.

Okay, so a little background.

Last spring you will recall I was following the British news a lot more closely than I do on a normal basis (which is very closely) because there was an upcoming general election, which occurred in May. No party won a sufficient number of seats to command a majority of Parliament (a hung Parliament) but because the Conservatives held the most seats they were given first run at forming government, which has produced the current Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition.

I won't go into reasons why because this can turn into some very muddy waters, but suffice it to say that as you would expect from the Conservatives there have been cuts. One of the many places to see budget cuts is higher education. Understandably, programmes must be cut and some courses will face closure because they simply cannot maintain costs with a lesser budget. This is fine.

However, one has to wonder just what the logic is behind the cuts here. According to the friend who called me** nursing, adult education, social work, and anthropology are getting scrapped. The first one seems a bit excessive but may be understandable IF there isn't big enough market. It still seems stupid to drop nursing altogether, but if you only have like two dozen nursing students I could understand it. History, classics, and archaeology will merge. Okay.

What angers me more, and actually what prompted this, is their slashing of modern languages and cultures. German, Russian, Polish, Czech, Italian, comparative literature, Slavonic studies, and basically all other similar courses (the friend who called said that they're basically getting rid of everything but French). And it's...why? What purpose does this possibly serve?

Yes, the budget has been cut and they need to compensate. Yes, the degree of cuts all schools are facing is beyond crazy. I get that.

But why the language/culture studies? Glasgow has actually seen a rise in the number of students taking those courses. Surely this would be the first department or among the first you try to save? There's not much more important than foreign language and culture studies.

Oh well. Nothing to be done but keep in the loop and hope things turn out for the best.

*Also is it me or is Belgium borderline an inherently funny word?
**I intend to call another friend who attends the same school shortly, to see if I can't find out more. 

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Like a chemistry major only less cool

I'm not one for keeping schedules. Schedules and I are like Remus and Romulus, Cain and Abel. Oh sure, I get things done. They usually even get done in a timely manner, but adhering to an actual schedule is not something I can do.

Still, I feel like this place needs some sense of rhythm. So I'm going to launch a little experiment.

Since I'm going to post every Friday next month as part of something I have planned, I'm going to start trying to post every Friday for the rest of this month as well. I'll still probably end up posting at other times, but I'm aiming for at the very least one post every Friday.

Pending the results of this experiment, things may be lengthened into, say, M/W/F or T/Th/F or just M/F or it may just stay Friday, or I may do away with a schedule altogether.

But, please, do remember to wear your safety glasses.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Thoughts ahead of class

As you can probably tell from just a quick glance at the past year of my blog I probably spend more time thinking about why my writing sucks and coming up with excuses not to write than I do actually writing, and even though recently I went on a roll I've since stumbled into some sort of middle ground between my usual and being on a roll – that is, I don’t write often but when I do write I churn out a lot more than I normally do. I find this amusingly ironic given the advice in my newly minted FAQ section; advice which I have been spouting for at least two months yet I am myself unable to adhere to for any considerable length of time.

I think more than anything it’s simply that I allow myself to get distracted, to stay a coward.

We all have a magical monster called Life that likes to intervene from time to time, with varying amounts of frequency from person to person, but really that’s no excuse to not write. “I have to go to class in two hours” or “I wonder what Alice/Phil/Lucy is up to?” are not excuses to keep from writing, not really, but I make them excuses.

They’re weak excuses at that too. “I can’t write now. I’m in math” is valid enough, except ninety percent of the time I’m not paying attention to my math class. I’m thinking about stuff or on twitter or reading, so clearly I could be writing.

And I think the reason I find things to intervene is because I’m afraid to keep on writing, afraid to move on to everything that comes after. It’s no secret I think of my writing as awful. In fact, my writing is awful. But by not writing, I never have to move on to anything that comes after, and by never having to move on to finding a beta or querying, I never have someone to absolutely confirm that which I already know.

But it’s a fear I’m going to have to get over.

Late last month I promised myself I would write at least 2 pages per day, not really expecting to reach that limit but under the thinking that if I say I will set out to do two pages per day, even if I can only achieve half the goal that is still excellent progress. It’s a goal I haven’t been living up to because I’ve been finding things to intervene.

I’ve done about three quarters of a page today. Probably a bit more actually. Math is not my strong suit. Unfortunately I really, legitimately do have to leave for class very shortly, but instead of just pretending to pay attention while thinking about other things, I’m going to work towards the rest of those 2 pages. And even though I hate writing in the evening, I’m going to work towards those two pages.

Sure, life tries to throw caltrops every now and again, but there’s no reason to go throwing caltrops for yourself. If there’s time, there’s time to write. No excuses.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Things I have been doing instead of writing

1. Watching PBS/Harry Potter/Skins

2. Finding things to keep both myself and friend busy while the rather unpleasant weather keeps us shut up in the house

3. Reading comics

4. Plugging in my lava lamp and being far too fascinated by the movements

5. Talking to certain people way too much

6. Digging up the N64 (see #2)

7. Reading books

8. Using the weather as an excuse to put off mailing things

9. Screaming at my inability to think up ideas for an upcoming blog thing

10. Not writing.

Le sigh. You know like halfway through January I said to myself, "Self, we need to get back on that roll we were on before Christmas. So from now on you're not allowed to go to sleep until you've done at least two new pages every day." And then we go ahead and don't write for nine days, then barely write for two, and are back to not writing. Way to go self. Way. To. Go.

**Actual posts to come in the near future I swear**

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Are you willing to die for your art?

There's a concept in literary criticism called death of the author. Nowadays it's often used to reject a statement from the author (word of god) that a reader disagrees with, but in the essay in which it originally appeared, Roland Barthes argued that the author's life should not be taken into account when interpreting a story. In either sense, the author's intent is equally ignored. In a nutshell, death of the author is carte blanche for the reader. Your interpretations are the only things which count.

Of course, death of the author may not seem applicable to what a lot of us write. I would say most people aren't setting out to write a satire of the military-industrial complex. And yeah, excessive analysis of a story can get really, really obnoxious (and is often a fatal flaw of secondary school English courses). This doesn't mean, though, there aren't things which can't be read into a story. Shippers wouldn't exist if there wasn't something, somewhere they saw as giving basis to their preferred couple. Maybe you mean for your hero to have Motivation X, but to Reader A it seems like Motivation L and Reader B sees Motivation Q.

I've been thinking about death of the author recently for three reasons.

1. It's almost 1.30 in the morning and I'm staying up to see if a sick friend is feeling better when they wake up and so I need to find ways to amuse myself lest I start to get sleepy

2. I saw John Green recently state, paraphrasing due to shoddy memory here, "once a book is published it belongs to the readers and not the author". He is like the living embodiment of this concept apparently.

3. I am a bit of a control freak when it comes to my writing. Not that I would be some belligerent god whose word is law, but I am extremely self-conscious with regards to everything, and so for me it is vitally important that a story be 100% flawless before I share it with someone. If it isn't, the moment they find something wrong all hell will break loose. So I feel like my mind might see any interpretations people have which run contra to my intent as a flaw with my writing.

Of course, different authors over the years have had different opinions with regards to the concept. Tolkien himself, while never outright stating it, said things which suggest he was a supporter of the notion. Margaret Atwood, on the other hand, very much wasn't.

Ultimately, I find myself largely apathetic to the concept, at least right now. This may be because I do view myself as writing nothing more than modern pulps, it may be genuine apathy, or it may be because I have no rabid fangirls to present their insane theories to me.

Of course, this is just a simplistic overview. More info may be found on wiki and via googling the term, if you feel you want more.

What about you? Would you embrace the concept, reject it, or just generally not care?