Posts Tagged ‘my methods’
Saturday, July 9th, 2011
In the American Civil War, many soldiers referred in their writing to “seeing the elephant” – going into battle. The idea comes from an old concept of experiencing the rare and exotic first hand, and of never really understanding a thing until one has experienced it. It’s a phrase that’s always held a certain appeal for me, and never more than now.
I’m off to see the elephant, you see.
At this year’s RWA Nationals, author Candace Havens presented a workshop on “Fast Drafting.” The object is to get the brilliant story you’ve locked away in your head out on paper before your brain has a chance to muck it up. It’s a grueling and arduous attempt, that makes NaNoWriMo seem an absolutely sane pace by comparison, but it also sounds like exactly what I need.
I’ve joined up with some other like minded authors, so we can support each other as we dive into this strange and crazy thing. And when it’s all said and done, we will surface together, accomplished, exhausted, and proud parents of a (admittedly mistake ridden) first draft. But it will be on the page, and sometimes that’s the hardest part.
I don’t know what it looks like, but I will definitely see the elephant before we’re done. And it’s as exhilarating and terrifying all at once as I would expect it to be. I look at my outlines and scene cards (I’m still a plotter after all). The dear C.A. Young has helped me hammer out the kinks (or at least smooth the rough spots) to get it as ready as I can be. So now all that’s left to do is take the plunge. And let me tell you, I can’t wait.
See you on the other side, Ray.
Monday, April 4th, 2011
Oh how the time flies. Hockey is preparing to start its Second Season (the playoffs, which can carry us into June). All across America, bats are swinging and fantasy baseball owners are looking at their freshly drafted teams with a mix of hazy regret and wishful “this year”-ing (or maybe that’s just me)and I’m far enough along on my current Work-in-Progress that I’m already thinking about the next.
Actually, sometimes that happens pretty early. Not because I don’t love my WIP (I do – the Heroine is one of my favorites since Syna Davout), but because I am fighting issues with my magpie mind something terrible. It’s very much a case of “Ooh shiny!” and “Do this!” that can be a bit of rough trade to bring under control as I’m going. And of course that’s what I’m going to talk about today.
I love to knit (after all, practically a third of this blog is dedicated to my knitting), and a lot of times that’s all I need to do to still the magpie mind. It’s a form of meditation, and it doesn’t take more than 20-30 minutes before I’m focused and calm and ready to shift over from the day to my writing.
But that’s not good for everyone, and even for me it can be rough. That’s why I really like what Holly Lisle refers to as “Candy Bar Scenes” – those scenes you just can’t wait to write. I find that if I can tweak a scene, adding a conflict or an element I hadn’t thought about originally, it can often switch my mindset from “work” to “treat”. I get excited about writing the scene, and when that happens I know that some of my excitement gets transferred to the readers.
So that’s my method, for when the Magpie Mind wants to do something – anything else. If I’m not excited about the scene, I try to step back and decide why. I ask myself if it really needs to be in the story, or if I can move the plot along better by putting the important elements of the scene in another place and dropping the scene. I ask myself if there’s something I can add to up the stakes for the character. I work myself towards excitement, and excitement follows.
How about yourselves, dear (loyal, patient) readers? Any particular methods that you fall back on again and again to keep your mind on the right track?
Monday, December 20th, 2010
The long night of Winter Solstice is almost upon us, occurring for the first time in over 400 years in conjunction with a lunar eclipse. There’s a lot to be said for that sort thing. It just feels momentous. The majority of writers I know personally are a superstitious lot – with writing in favorite rooms, or with certain brands of pens, or after observing certain rituals. Over and over I’ve heard tell of the nightmares of trying to produce new words while Mercury is in retrograde, or how good or bad someone’s relationship with their muse might be.
One of the things I try to think about when I create a character is their little superstitions. Whether it’s a common “wives tale” in a fantasy setting, or simply a particular habit of an individual, it’s the little superstitions that make characters feel more rounded. It sometimes also makes them come off a bit eccentric, but that’s the point.
I’ve been working on a new story, with limited success (no doubt to the aforementioned Mercury in retrograde) but one of the things I’ve tried very hard to do is throw away some of my superstitious crutches. I write in other places than my office. I push myself out of my comfort zone, partly to remind myself that I don’t need those other things. Partly, I am reinforcing the belief in my mind that “A writer writes. No matter what.”
I encourage each of you to stretch yourself in some way, as the days stretch out once again. Write with joy and write with abandon. Most of all, just write.
Happy holidays, whatever your holiday of choice may be.
Wednesday, October 27th, 2010
I’ve mentioned before that the 4e version of Dark Sun is out and is awesome. It’s cool enough that I’ve even decided to overlook the fact that the Dark Sun files still aren’t available for the Character Builder software – mostly because I know how much of a wrench the new themes must have thrown into the system.
My players have agreed, and are coming together to produce a campaign that they can put a lot of claim into on their own, and it makes me pretty pleased to watch them come up with characters for this new (to many of them) world. While I know it won’t be a big deal to many of my readers, I would expect to see a couple more posts about the birth of this campaign, as a large part of the techniques I use for world-building when I write are also used when I plan campaigns out.
For this campaign – I sat down and thought about the themes I wanted to explore. First and foremost, I wanted to see a lot of political maneuvering between noble houses. I’m a big fan of Dune, Song of Ice and Fire, and Legend of the Five Rings – I’ve always been a fan of politics in fantasy and science fiction. I also wanted to include one of the all-powerful Sorcerer-Kings to serve as a foil to the players (or give them something to aspire towards). Once I’d decided on those two things, my choice of locations for the start of my campaign became clear – Raam.
Raam fit most all my needs. The sorcerer-queen is disinterested in governing the people, the nobility are at each other’s throats as they vie for the apparent power vacuum, and it’s a relatively unexplored city in the terms of published Dark Sun stuff. This meant I could put my own stamp on it freely, and could reshape the world around the city as I saw fit.
The players have taking up roles as members of a single merchant house, eager to carve out a place for their family against the broad background. All they needed was a suitable opponent, and plenty of morally gray choices. I’ll talk more about those the next time.
Monday, October 25th, 2010
Two Months? More? Let me check the dates… Looks like my last post was September 8th, so not quite two months. Close enough for horseshoes, certainly. When last I wrote, Hockey Season had not yet started, and now the Habs are off to a surprisingly good start (despite trading the greatest netminder in the game today to St. Louis, which I’ll never understand). So yeah, it’s been a while.
Suffice to say, I’m trying to make amends by getting some news posted, and by getting the blog back to regular posts once again. Since I’ve been lax in updating, I figure a post about writing posts is in order.
Bluntly, I’m not always sure what I should right about here. For me, writing isn’t some mystical process where characters talk to me or tell me how they want the story to proceed. My Outlines don’t change significantly from first draft to final (unless I reduce characters to make the story tighter, which happens frequently in the first rewrite). I sit down at the desk and I write. Words get added to words, sometimes slowly and sometimes quickly, but the process itself doesn’t change much. Some nights it’s fiction, some (like tonight) it’s a blog post.
With blog posts, my biggest difficulty is coming up with topics. I don’t always know what people would like to read. In that respect, by all means, let me know what you’d like to see. I’ve got several posts planned now, but certainly if someone has a better idea I’ll be happy to go with that instead. Want more world-building? Just the day-to-day insight into my process? More waxing poetic on the nature of Romance in Science Fiction? Leave a comment, I’ll add it to my queue.
Wednesday, September 8th, 2010
I’ll admit something about gaming – as much as I plan my novels to obsessive detail (down to POV for each scene) before I write them, I can be a bit of a pantser when it comes to running my games. Actually, I’m a lot of a pantser.
I have a couple of reasons for this. Primarily I have had the privilege of gaming with and running for some really great groups in my day. These are folks who define the concept of making their own gravy. I could quite literally sit down at the table and say “It’s a post-apocalyptic game, you’re all survivors from a hospital, go!” and we would have four or five good hours of game-play. But having great players who get into character and have lots of interplay at the table has its downsides too – specifically, they tend to go off on tangents, chase leads I never intended as significant, and generally go any direction that I hadn’t particularly planned for them to go.
So I started looking at things differently. I started making a list of things I wanted to happen, both over the course of the campaign and from game session to game session. For a Pulp Adventure game, this might look like:
- Players get attacked by dinosaurs.
- Players find crashed plane (German equipment?)
- Players find primitive tribe. (Enslaved? Need help?)
- Nazis Riding Dinosaurs!
In the book Save the Cat (which is about script-writing and a great resource) – Blake Snyder calls these the “Set Pieces” – the beats that drive the story forward. For me it’s more like a grocery list of things I have to include. I don’t worry about how to get from one to the other; I just keep track of what’s next and let the players give the direction of the story. If it’s a game that requires more organized encounter planning (like 4th edition D&D) I put down some possible encounters on cards and mix-n-match to make an appropriate encounter for the situation as it arises.
Obviously, this runs counter to everything I do in novel writing, but at the same time, it takes advantage of the creative power I have around my table. If the players try to get the plane working again I’m just as ready for what happens next as if they decide to ride the dinosaurs a la Valley of Gwangi. So, Gamer-writers (and writer-gamers) any differences between how you work on your fiction versus how you craft a game session?
Monday, August 30th, 2010
I’m terrible with names. I’ll come out and say that up front. If I meet you every day for a week, I’ll probably remember your name by the end of that time, assuming I’m not meeting a hundred other people at the same time. I may get close, and I may even get it right, but if I do, assume it’s a fluke rather than some particular skill on my part. Needless to say, this makes networking at conventions, where I’ll meet dozens of people in the course of three or four days, a bit difficult.
I’ve come up with some tricks over the years to make up for my shortcoming in the name-association department. First, I participate aggressively in what a friend once called the ‘almost Japanese obsession with business cards’ at conferences. I swap business cards with anyone I exchanged more than ten minutes with at a conference.
I can’t stop there though – If I do, I’ll come home with a stack of business cards that I won’t know as anything but names on cards. It’s tough for me to send a thank you to the people I met at conference, if I cannot remember the circumstances of our meeting. I have a trick, however that helps me keep this from happening. As soon as I get the chance (sometimes even sitting at the table with the person with whom I’ve swapped cards, but typically in my room before bed) I go through the business cards I’ve received. On the back of each one, I write where I met the person and the circumstances of our introduction. If we talked about something in particular, I write that on the card as well. When I come home from the conference, and it’s time to send e-mails to the people I’ve met, I have all the information needed to jog my memory written on the back of each business card.
Of course, saying this, I realized in the middle of RWA10 that I had prevented anyone from doing the same for me. My cards were black, and the back of the card was emblazoned with the cover for Hearts and Minds, making it impossible to take notes anywhere on the card. Ah, well. Point for me to remember in the future.
So, there’s my trick. Do you have any particular tricks you use to remember the people you meet in the swarm of conference faces? I’d love to hear about them. I’m never too old to learn new tricks.
Wednesday, August 18th, 2010
With my apologies to Robert Burns, it’s time for another knitting post. Today I need to talk about my terrible addiction to that most notorious drug of sweater and sock knitters – the cable.
I love cables. They are fun to knit, they look really impressive when you’ve done a long chain of them, and most importantly, they aren’t half as tricky as the rest of the knitting world would have you believe. (Actually that last secret is true of knitting as a whole. I shall have to do a post on breaking the great secret of knitting – that’s it’s all easy – open for all of you.) It’s not even math, like some elements of knitting, it’s just counting. I don’t even do the counting in my head – I have a stitch counter on my iPhone that I can set to count for me. I color code my cables on the needle, then label a row on my counter for each cable. When I increment the whole project one row, each of the cables increments on their own counting system, so I always know where I am. Easy Peasy, Lemon Squeezy.
There’s a problem to loving cables, though. Once you realize how easy they are, the tendency is to start putting them on everything. Like a flame paint-job on a car, cables work best with a little restraint. A thin line down the side of a kilt stocking is okay. A twenty-stitch wide knotwork probably doesn’t belong on a footie-slipper. It’s the knitting equivalent of getting a sweet flame paint scheme on your ’82 Omni. You can do it, but even ironically it looks a little off.
Okay, back to trying to figure out how to put triangular knotwork on the earflaps of a hat.
Monday, August 9th, 2010
“Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are.” – Brillat-Savarin
I will be the first to admit that I have odd hobbies, but chief among them is my love for culinary history. Fortunately, this also provides a near-limitless opportunity to get into the heads of my characters and really begin to understand how they think and (as Brillat-Savarin states) who they are. And why shouldn’t it? Taste and smell and some of the most powerful triggers of memory – who doesn’t sigh at the whiff of baking cookies or have a particular comfort food they turn to in times of stress.
Food features in almost every story I’ve ever written, whether it’s the lichen infused vodka of Hearts and Minds or the eponymous banquet in Feast of Fools. Knowing the flavors and tastes that are common to a character’s palate helps to understand them, and in terms of world-building, provides a great opportunity to express information about the world or the character without resorting to ‘telling’.
For example, if your character has only ever been accustomed to polished white rice, what would she think if presented with unpolished rice mixed with millet (a far more common meal than she would be used to)? Would she be offended? Would she be curious about the new taste? Would she pity the people who only have such rough fare to eat? Each choice tells us something different both about the character and the world around her.
Thanks to the internet, and the growing popularity of culinary history, it’s possible to find recipes from all through Earth’s timeline. If you write fantasy, consider picking up a copy of “The Medieval Kitchen.” For Edwardian writers, “Last Dinner on the Titanic” offers recipes from all three dining rooms on the night of the disaster. It’s worth looking through for the differences in meals between First and Third Class alone. Are you a Science Fiction writer? Well, there it gets a little trickier, but think about the influences on your future society and extrapolate from there. For me, Pan-pacific fusion is the cuisine of cyberpunk novels, but it could just as easily be based on Parisian haute cuisine or Taco Bell (I’m looking at you, Demolition Man).
Regardless of what you write, nearly all characters eat. Food, thus, becomes an important part of the research in world- and character-development for any story. More than ever before it’s possible to cook some of the food your characters have a particular fondness for, and even if you don’t include it in your story, it can help you get inside the skin of your characters. Even if it’s only a moment, the experience is worth it.
Besides, you might find a new favorite dish.
Wednesday, August 4th, 2010
This past weekend, Debbie Macomber received the Nora Roberts lifetime achievement award for her contributions to the Romance genre. In addition to her wonderful stories, Ms. Macomber also has a number of knit-along books where the patterns from her Blossom Street stories come to life in exciting new dimensions. I have always loved the idea of people inspired to craft by their connection to a story, whether it’s dedicated propmakers replicating Dr. Jones’ Grail Diary or items from the ill-fated Dyer expedition to Antarctica to the wide assortment of musicians and makers that flocked to Catherynne Valente’s Palimpsest and added their own touches to its wonder and magic.
It taught me why I continue to knit whenever I get the chance – as I’ve said, it keeps me calm in difficult situations (like surrounding an introvert with 2500 new people). Even better, it provides an instant connection with other people who knit or do other crafts. No matter where we may be with our projects, there we suddenly had a common ground as Makers of Things discussing our passions.
These thoughts spawned an unusual thought in my head – for too long, my knitting has been the unwinding act that I use to step back from my job or my writing and immerse myself in something else for a while. Instead, I wonder if I should use it to draw myself deeper into my craft. I’ve new ideas in the wake of RWA, and plenty of things that make me more excited about my craft (and my crafting) than I’ve been in ages.
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