Plantser’s gambit…

Well dear reader, as of Monday this week I’ve announced my NANOWRIMO project for this year.

I’ve talked about NANO before (like a couple minutes ago in my other blog…). I’ve shared some thoughts about why I do NANO . And, I’m doing it again (both talking about NANO and taking part).

This time around I’m building on what I’ve learned over the past four years and once again using NANO as a sandbox to experiment with something new. I can do YA fiction. I can do fantasy. I’ve even successfully written cross gender. Now I’m shooting for a mid-grade fantasy featuring a female protagonist.

Trying this during NANO I know it’s a first draft. I know there’s a lot of work to be done on the back end. So, I’m not afraid to experiment. This is only the first draft, the sandbox model, not the final product. So, I can tell the internal editor to back off and get some real writing done.

NANOWRIMO is also my version of a vacation…

I’ll be talking about NANO again before November first, as a “plantser” there’s prep to do, even though I’m not doing a full “planner’s” outline… I would also love to see you join us (if you haven’t announced your project already (If you have… Great! I’ll see you there!). If you’ve been wanting to write a book (even if it isn’t a novel), or if you want to write another one… Check out the website and join us!

Think about it dear reader. And, I’ll see you next post.

POV and understanding

This week I finished the “1/2” portion of my 1 ½ pass editing pass for the Johnson Farm reedit and The Calm Inside the Storm. One of the biggest results is some serious thought about point of view.

Some scenes only get one point of view. Sometimes there’s only one character around to have a point of view. Sometimes only one character is trustworthy enough to give his/her point of view (and then unreliable narrators happen…), sometimes we’re trying to keep it simple and only use one POV throughout the work. But sometimes we can benefit from multiple points of view on a scene or situation, even if those points of view don’t all make it into the final work.

Multiple points of view can make for a complicated scene and a complicated story. But:

  • Sometimes multiple points of view are informative. The reader can learn more about the situation and the characters. If your hero describes the scene one way and the villain another, you can learn something about the story from the differences, the things not said and the things that conflict. As a writer, you can “show not tell” by allowing your reader to extrapolate from multiple accounts.
  • Sometimes one character might “have the angle” and can see something another character can’t. if this is true for only one character and the information is relevant, then you want that character’s point of view on the page. If it happens for two characters, you should consider ways to get both points of view onto the page.
  • Sometimes you learn something from writing from a different character’s point of view. I have a case of this in my current work. Both John and Jamie have accounts of a particular scene and those accounts will be in their respective stories. But, Jamie’s mom is also in the room and I’m having trouble wrapping my mind around decisions she’s making. Solution: rewrite the scene from the mother’s POV. It probably won’t make it into the book, but the finished scenes will be better because I know what the Q%$@#!!! is going on in mom’s head while the teens are being teens.
  • Sometimes those points of view that don’t make it into the main work can be used in other ways. I just mentioned rewriting a scene from Jamie’s mother’s perspective. How hard will it be to turn that scene into a promotional short story to help advertise the book? (I don’t know because I haven’t written it yet, but it’s a possibility)

Alternate points of view can be a resource sink. But, sometimes the reader and the author learn something worthwhile. Writing from multiple perspectives can help you and your readers understand things that would otherwise be missed or require a bunch of story-slowing exposition. Multiple perspective take more work (sometimes…), but if they make the story better, they’re worth considering.

These are my thoughts dear reader. What do you think? Are multiple points of view good? Bad? Over complicated? Enjoyable? Leave a comment if you’re so inclined, and… I’ll see you next post.

“Pure science” the biggest lie in science fiction

On the one hand, there’s an upswing in reported health issues associated with vaping, and news reporters feigning shock.

On the other hand, my wife asked me to read and discuss a book: Science Fiction Prototyping: Designing the Future with Science Fiction by David Johnson.

Somewhere between the two I hit upon a realization: “pure science” is the greatest fiction in science fiction.

Just for clarity and understanding (you can argue in the comments if you want to…), I define science fiction as fiction that examines the effects of science and technology on people’s lives.

Enders Game is science fiction; it looks at the lives of people fighting a high-tech war against aliens, that doesn’t happen without the tech. It’s a significant factor in the story. The Empire Strikes Back isn’t science fiction; you could do the same thing with horses, boats and pre-gunpowder weapons and have the same story. (Face it… The AT-ATs are discount elephants…)

Wargames can’t happen without the computers. The Terminator (the original one) can, you could omit the ‘sci fi’ trappings and tell the same main story with a couple stoners from Newark.

Note: I still like The Empire Strikes Back and The Terminator… They just don’t depend on the science and tech the way the others do… (And, like I said… If I’m wrong, leave a constructive comment)

Within science fiction (the kind where science matters to the story) we occasionally find a huge flaw called “pure science”. Somewhere, someone (I blame Star Trek) came up with the idea that scientists will “do” science for the pure and sacred sake of science, without all those silly little human traits, factors, and motives. It’s a great Utopian idea. But, like the rest of Utopia is doesn’t exist.

How could “pure science” exist? In some ways it would be nice. We could have unbiased information to work from. But, science doesn’t happen in a vacuum. There has to be some living being to “do” the science. And, since we don’t have super intelligent aliens to do it for us, that means humans are involved.

Coming from a psychology background and writing character driven fiction, in my world the characters have reasons for what they do. The “pure science” scientist is hiding from something. The scientist wanting to cure cancer “for the good of mankind” has seen a loved one die from cancer and never wants to see it again (so he/she sees it over and over while trying to cure cancer…)

Science takes time, effort, and money. People don’t invest any of those if there’s no return on investment. Companies (and companies pay for a lot of the research in real life…) don’t pay for science for science’ sake, they want something out of it.

People seek after scientific advances for a purpose.

If you argue they’re doing it for curiosity… I say, great but where’d they get the money and equipment?

If you say they’re doing it for a purpose (to win a war, cure a disease, rescue their beloved)… I’ll buy that.

If you suggest they’re doing it to see someone naked… Yeah… I’ve got to buy that one too (you’re reading this on the internet… click on enough links and you’ll find your way to porn whether you want to or not…)

The one argument I won’t buy is that scientist are conducting research and making discoveries for no benefit to themselves or someone they care about. The benefits may only be psychological/spiritual but the exist; that’s just basic human nature.

Humans and human desires are the driving forces behind human science and technology. Anyone claiming their science is ‘pure’ and untainted by human desires and motives is hiding his/her motives, or unaware of them (making her/him kind of clueless…). Understanding the human drives behind the science makes our science fiction better and more accurate (even if the underlying reasons never make it onto the finished page or into the final cut of our movie…)

It might be interesting to see ‘pure’ science, but I doubt I ever will. In reality the humans keep getting in the way.

Well, those are my thoughts dear reader. What do you think?

Think on it. Leave a comment if you’re so inclined. And, I’ll see you next post.

The short (and the long) of it…

Years ago a writer I really respect told me I should start with short stories before I go to long fiction, that there was nothing I could learn in long fiction that couldn’t be learned in a short story. Well, over the years I’ve found that there are a few things about long fiction that are hard to learn in a short story, and a few things about short stories you can’t learn in long fiction…

Long fiction is something I love, there are lots of things you can do with it. But, a 50,000-word story doesn’t teach you how to get to the point, or how to have a complete story arc in two pages. A 50,000-word story is about as helpful in learning to write efficiently, and short, as running marathons is for learning how to sprint.

On the other hand, a two-page short piece will never teach you how to tell the long story. You can’t practice what to do on page 158 if you end on page two; that’s like thinking you’re ready for the marathon because you sprinted twice. Sure, you can think of chapters as individual stories or story arcs (and in some ways you should). But, in novel the stuff that happened in chapter two matters in Chapter 14. The magic reset button isn’t something to press between chapters (if you press it at all!).

Even larger short stories, even the big 20-30 pagers, don’t have room for the cast of characters a novel needs. You just don’t have space for all of those characters in the shorter story. But your long story might have several of them in different places doing different things and expect all those lines to link up somewhere around page 250 (or 350, or 475, or…).

Long and short stories have different requirements and are useful for different things. You may not fully understand the differences until you’ve finished a few (or at least one) of each. That said, there are some valid reasons for starting with short stories (or doing short stories if you’re struggling with that first big story…).

There are many things in common between the story types. You (usually) need characters, settings, a plot, and the other ‘usual’ pieces of a story (you just have more space to play with them in the larger story (and (usually) more characters and locations to worry about)). Working on short stories allows you to practice working on these before you try to assemble the 50,000-piece set.

Short stories also have the advantage of being shorter to write (again usually). It’s just less work to write 2,500 words than it is to write 50,000. This means it’s easier to finish the whole writing process in a relatively short time. You will probably go through the whole process in less time than it would take to write a 50,000-word first draft. And, that overview of the whole process is helpful in finishing that big story (trust me, you can get lost in there if you don’t know where you’re going).

Short stories also make a great ‘experimental space’. In Statistics we learn about a t-test, a simple two group test that allows you to determine if there is a difference between groups. Short stories are like t-tests. They don’t handle the big complicated things very well, but as a ‘quick and dirty’ test for a writing technique or a character interaction they work pretty well. Short stories can be helpful in developing the characters, places and things you need for your big story. In model building/construction terms short stories can be a way of ‘dry fitting’ parts before you get into the more complicated work.

I think my teacher of years ago was wrong, there are things you can learn in long fiction that you can’t in a short story. But, that doesn’t mean that we should abandon the short story. Our short stories are useful for practicing a lot of things we need in our bigger stories. They give us a relatively cheap and easy place to experiment. They can serve as parts and models in the big picture. They give us ‘taster’ pieces we can hand out, put in our blogs, and enter contests with, without having to do the work necessary on that one big piece.

And, not every idea needs 50,000 words! There are some stories that just don’t need, and shouldn’t have, that much of our time.

Ultimately, I think we should write both long and short fiction. And, it’s probably worth starting with short stuff (maybe build a 1/700 scale kit before trying to build a full-scale, working aircraft carrier….).

That’s my thoughts. What do you say? If you disagree (or agree!) with me, leave a comment.

Either way, I’ll see you next post.

Office supplies and NANOWRIMO…

A lot can change in a week. In the last seven days: I got a novel to the publisher (toy/reward budget unlocked!), plans with my in-laws changed (three times…), and (at least in my area) School supply season is open!

Long time readers know that I’m one of those weird old-school writers who like to write things out long hand before using the computer. There are lots of reasons: I think at about the same speed as I write, my notebook never runs out of batteries, my handwriting is bad enough it counts a data encryption (sadly not a joke…), my notebook is lighter than my laptop… It’s a system that works for me (and as always I encourage you to find the system that works for you and use it).

The system works, but it means I spend a fair amount on office supplies.

I guess you could say office supplies are a two-stage motivator for me. Office supplies make me happy (no idea why), and when I have a bunch of them, I find myself thinking “Well, I have them, so I’d better use them!” which gets me to writing. And then the writing depletes the stock sending me back for more office supplies (is there such a thing as a positive vicious cycle?).

School supply season also reminds me that National Novel Writing Month (NANOWRIMO) is just around the corner. And, that means I will need a new box of pens and at least 5-6 purple notebooks for my nano project, and at least 4-5 yellow ones for those edits/rewrites that will definitely happen. And then, since I have the stuff, I can’t let myself back out on NANO. It’s both a productive writing time and my vacation of sorts.

But, NANOWRIMO the organization is more than just a bunch of writers flogging keyboards and using massive amounts of caffeine. They also promote reading and writing in our schools and libraries. NANOWRIMO is both a way to get that first draft out and a way to do some good in the world. (If you want two ways to do good and like office supplies, why not donate some to someone in need as well?)

As writers we’re a lucky bunch, we get to chase our dreams and obsessions and call it work! We get to learn, do, and create things we want to. Those are perks of the job (make that a career… life style…?).

But, it’s also good to help others while we’re helping ourselves. And, NANO is a great way to do that.

I’m sure I’ll be talking more about NANOWRIMO (and office supplies) in the months to come (I do every year). In the meantime, check out the organization , think about giving, and writing.

And, I’ll see you next post.

The middle of the pass… And facing the hard stuff…

Two weeks ago I talked about the “one and a half pass” editing pass. And, 345 manuscript pages (73,500 words) later I’ve dug through the reader feedback, made my notes, and found three things that need more than a one word fix or altered point of punctuation.

Two of the three are relatively easy. I need to move a little character description earlier in the story. There’s work involved, but it could be worse. The first fits in with my heroine’s natural way of going and the second is easily dropped into my ‘rather particular’ (aka anal) antagonist’s running commentary about the people around him.

As I think about it, it’s kind of weird I missed them in the first place… But that’s part of the challenge of writing fiction. You have to get the story in your head onto the page in a complete form that the readers will want to read. It takes practice and training, but if you’re willing to do the work, you can get there (And if you think you’re there… Check anyway).

The last change is big. It’s the hardest change to make. It means the most work. But, it will pay off in the long run.

Part of the stress on my heroine comes from two videos that show up in the middle of the story. Initially, I thought the same character shot and posted both. But, the videos need to be on two different accounts, and have different styles and kinds of content. It feels like more than the original perpetrator would do. Generally, things don’t feel right.

The videos are important. They help put pressure on the heroine and drive her toward making a mistake. They need to be there. But, the way they were initially conceived didn’t work. So, I borrowed some teens I know and had a talk about embarrassing videos. And yeah… I’m making some changes.

And, the changes are more than just inserting a different name. Two different characters are putting up the videos now. One of those characters is the original. His video was put up on a false account and the two characters didn’t get along well in the first place (and the account hasn’t been tied to him yet). So there’s not much change to be done.

But, the other video is now being put up by a female character that the heroine knows. It will change some interactions between those characters, which means I have to work through all the references to that video, all the interactions with that character, and stuff relating to that character and rework things to fit her being the video poster.

It’s a lot of work. But, it focuses and increases the pressure I wanted on my heroine. It gives my antagonist something to be mad about (in his mind he’s protecting the heroine). And it fits. It’s a lot of work; it means digging through, thinking, and reworking, but makes the story better. Making the story better matters.

I’ve already put in a lot of work. This is supposed to be the last go ground. And, I’m lucky; there’s only one significant change, and it’s a fairly manageable one.

Taking your story apart and reworking pieces can be a pain in the butt. It’s not something we like to do. But, if you want the story to work, sometimes you have to rework a piece or two. And, that work extends beyond just rewriting a sentence or two. It can mean making changes across the length and breadth of the story.

It’s not something you have to do; it’s something you have to do if you want the story to be right. It’s something we all need to do from time to time (Ask Steven King if you don’t believe me…). It’s rewarding. It makes your story right; it helps your readers love your work; it matters.

Telling a good story should be a goal for any fiction writer. And revision is part of that. It is worth the effort.

That’s it for this one dear reader. Do your revisions. Make your stories great. And, I’ll see you next post.