January 2015 (writing) recap

I figured I’d better put something up here so folks haven’t think I’ve died or otherwise slipped off the planet. While it may seem – from the non-existence of posts on this blog since the end of 2014 – that I haven’t been doing any writing, I’ve actually been doing a fair share of it, over on my other blog, The Highs, the Lows, and the In-Betweens, my ongoing chronicle of my 2014 NaNoWriMo story universe. Here are the post updates to prove it:

Jan 2015 Writing UpdatesI’m one of those fools who gets anxious when I haven’t updated a particular social media outlet or blog in a while, someone who thinks that makes me less of a person writer. But, seventeen story updates for January isn’t too shabby. (One of them doesn’t count, as it’s just a music video link.) It’s not a popular journey in terms of audience size, but I’m having too much fun with this story and these mostly-new characters to care much about that part of it.

Over the course of the last several weeks, I’ve also been working on a massive edit/rewrite of my homo-erotic space western opera story, From Hell: A Love Story. It’s been both interesting and enlightening to see this one evolve from a mishmash of sci-fi and romance ideas designed to cater to a fan fiction audience, to a tighter story of love and acceptance that satisfies my own inner reader. Through this process, I’ve come closer to understanding what my tastes really are, and where my stronger skills lie. I’m sure it will also affect my edits for my waiting-in-the-wings stories, “Finding Mister Wright” and Fearless, both of which I’d like to put through the same wringer starting this year. But, first, I’m working with Scrivener (finally!) to put From Hell: A Love Story together as a real book (courtesy CreateSpace, which awarded two free hardcopies of a book to each NaNo 2014 winner).

Of course, no writer – even a self-proclaimed one – should go too many days without reading something for the fun of it. I continue to enjoy Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer series of classic detective novels, in the hopes of someday writing my own detective story. But, that’s a post for another day.

Twitter friend Moyabomb asked if I’d share my experiences with my publishing exercise as regards Scrivener, CreateSpace, editing, and artistry, so I’ll have to do a post about that coming up. In the meantime, I hope you are enjoying your own reading and writing journeys!

The chicken or the egg?

The title of today’s post comes from the age-old question: which came first? But, it’s not what came first that concerns me this time around, but what’s coming next. For me, it’s…NaNoWriMo 2014!

I know, I know: NaNoWriMo – or, National Novel Writing Month, that month-long free-write extravaganza, for those of you unfamiliar with that strange pseudo-acronym – isn’t really a test of my ability, as I’ve competed and “won” this not-competition five times, now. But, I just came off a few finished stories, and I want to give my brain a bit of a rest for a month. I still want to write, though, because I love the rush that comes with putting new ideas to paper. Since my proposed murder mystery/police procedural/love triangle story demands a more precise plot than my free-wheeling NaNo ways, I’ve decided to shelve ex-Detective-Sergeant Stenhall and the rest for a little while and instead write a yippee-kai-yay loosey-goosey continuation (of sorts) of my recently-completed Borderlands story. It focuses mostly on a group of original misfit characters that I’ve been itching to use for a long time, now, and even just my story prep has gotten me excited about writing this one.

So, for the next five weekly updates, I’ll likely be talking about word count and progress and stress-writing crap, as that’s usually what takes over my brain during NaNo. If you are participating this year, as well, why don’t you join me? Feel free to list your NaNoWriMo user ID in the comments section, here. I’m happy to have a friend in NaNo madness! My username is bonusparts.

For those of you not interested at all in my NaNo endeavors, I’ll leave you with this collage of photos from my recent trip to Japan, where I road lots of trains, ate lots of sushi, got sunburnt at my little nephews’ undoukai, visited the Suntory brewery factory, drank some great Japanese craft beer, and watched some little ninjas chase after a samurai at Toei Film Studios.

Japan2014What are your plans – writing or otherwise – for the rest of 2014?

That whispering in my ear….

I got a question about my writing the other day:

Do you picture your characters in your head, do you hear their voices? Do they flesh out the more you entertain them and actually write about them? … Do you even start out with distinct picture of a character/situation that grabs your attention?

Generally speaking, I do have voices for all my characters. They often don’t change, either. And, it helps for me to speak out a conversation when it’s still in the plotting stages as well as after it goes down on paper. If something doesn’t sound natural to me, I spend a lot of time reworking it. Unless it’s plot exposition, though I still prefer that to have a spontaneous rhythm to it. 🙂

My sister has an uncanny audio memory. She’ll hear something once and remember it for years. Even inflections! I’m not that good, but I do think that reworking fiction conversations in my head over and over until they become second nature has helped my character voices a lot. One thing a few recent readers have commented on is that my dialogue flows really well, so I’m proud of that.

Characters become more real for me the more I work with them. I think that probably happens with all writers, though. And, it makes sense. We spend so much time in the heads and hearts of these people, we come to know them better than we know the physical people around us. Likely because we are privy to all the inside thoughts and turmoils. Personally, I project a lot into my characters, though I try to keep some of them to specific boundaries, because they all have different conflicts. (It’s hard to articulate.)

My inspiration often can be traced back to a single face/moment/voice, and, as time goes on, characters develop into their own people. For instance, Daniel (“Finding Mister Wright”) evolved from Hal (“From Hell”) by way of Aral (“Anywhere but Here”), who was a different side of Ross (“Fearless”). But, they share similarities in look, manners, and voice, which unites them in my head, and allows me to jump into their shoes with much more ease than I might be able to do otherwise. Fresh characters, as it were, take much more time for me to grasp. One thing that my husband mentioned to me when he read “Finding Mister Wright” was that the first two acts work really well, but the third needed more time with one of the late-intro’d characters. As it stands, she feels like a plot device, not a person, as the other characters do. I see his point, and I think it’s because when she was originally written, she was still one of those “new” characters. Of course, since then, I’ve written more with her, so, now, it’s a matter of going back and growing her into a person as fully-fleshed as the others.

Do you hear your characters’ voices in your head?

The Other Man [and another “Finding Mister Wright” Free-Write: “Romance in the Dark”]

My main writing project at the moment has a fair amount of deep-and-dark in it, and when I fear I’m becoming a bit too mired in that sort of thing, I need to take a step back with something a bit more light and flighty. Lately, that’s been the cast of misfit characters from “Finding Mister Wright,” my short story/novella from this past winter holiday break.

I usually write for Marshall’s life when I take up these characters again, but, this time, it was Rob who commandeered my brain. What’s funny is that the original story idea I had for these characters centered around Rob, Paige, and Daniel. In my earliest notes, Marshall barely played a role beyond counterpoint to Daniel. Of course, that changed when I finally started putting voices together in my head, and I found Marshall had a (rather significant) story all his own. The relationship story between Rob and his own family took a backseat to that of the Wright brothers, and Marshall and his loves in particular. But, Rob’s story has remained important, at least to me. He’s just as complicated as Marshall proved to be, but in a way that’s somehow more relaxed.

After my husband read “FMW,” he made the comment that he thought all the characters worked for their own reasons, but Rob was his favorite. “At first,” he told me, “you think he’s just one thing. Then, you learn a little more, and he becomes more than that. And then, there’s [a conversation], and you realize, oh, this guy really has three dimensions to him.” While it might have offered me a greater ego boost to hear my main protagonist was my husband’s favorite character, a part of me was really happy that Rob’s original story shone through in his few scenes, to the point where he made an impression on a reader.

A moment of weakness led to this six-pager (it clocks in at around 2,900 words), which I wrote over three commuter train rides and a lunch hour. It’s rough and a bit scattered, but that’s one of the reasons I find free writing so…well, free. No worries over themes, scope, flow, or any of the important parts of a mature work. It’s just my fingers translating for my brain.

Romance-in-the-Dark” (PDF, 314KB)
I hate to have to offer a warning about this, but be aware: the principal romantic relationship depicted in this particular free-write is about two men. There’s nothing explicit herein, but if you’re uncomfortable with the idea, just skip it and watch the lovely lady in the video below, instead.

The whole thing – Rob’s story, the original idea for “Finding Mister Wright,” as well as this free-write – is heavily inspired by the lovely and awesomely talented Catherine Russell’s rendition of Lil Greene’s jazz standard, “Romance in the Dark,” which you can listen to and watch below. It’s a mainstay in my FMW writing playlist, and I usually hit repeat at least once when it comes up in rotation.

Before we get to Ms. Russell, here’s my question for this week: Have you ever had a minor character hijack a story for his or her own? If so, how did the story turn out?


Lost Endings

No deep thoughts this week. I’m working hard on the ending of my sci-fi western, so I’ll offer this recent conversation with Twitter buddy George McNeese:

Beginnings-and-Endings

(click to enlarge)

George is one of my favorite Twitter users because he always has thoughtful things to say, often about his own writing journey. That usually leads me to think more deeply about my journey, too, even when I’m in a tough place, as I am right now, re-crafting the ending of my current story. Especially when I’m in a tough place.

I write sequentially, which I enjoy doing because the story feels like it has more natural rises and dips that way. It also pre-empts issues like my current one, where the ending I wrote a year ago – the initial impetus for the story entire – doesn’t fit with the story that’s been built to come before it. It’s not the worst place to be, of course: the characters have grown a lot from that initial writing, too far into themselves to make that ending work. I think that’s a good thing. But it also means creating an almost entirely new ending moment that has the same emotional resonance as the one I first wrote 400 days or so ago.

A story needs to be strong on all counts: beginning, middle, and end. Finding that right (write?) balance for us is the tricky bit. What’s your favorite part of the story to write?

Flipping the coin

Last time, I talked about writing villains. Everybody had great comments, but Vanessa’s sparked a new idea in me. In my head (sometimes on paper), I have backstories for every character who walks onto my pages for any more than a sentence or two. Most of these backstories are rather simple, because I don’t see the point in spending too much time on a character who is basically just a spaceholder. But for anyone with any significance to the story, they have their own story. But Vanessa’s insight offered me a different perspective: basically, that we storytellers should remember that every good villain is the hero of his or her own story.

Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean that your villain needs to have heroic traits. But, their motivations and characterization should come from a place of realism. The best villains are often ones with whom a reader can personally identify. I don’t know if I managed that with the villains illustrated in last week’s post (actually, I doubt it), but it’s a good characterization technique to remember. So, this morning, I drafted up a couple of would-be storylines for each of those principal antagonists, posted below. If nothing else, it was fun to look at them from a new angle. I’d recommend doing something similar for your own antagonists – you never know when you might be struck with new inspiration.

The Red Widow

It’s a man’s galaxy. That’s what they say. Certainly, it seems that way to a girl sold into slavery for men’s pleasure. But this is no ordinary slave girl. This is one who learns from her so-called “masters”: how greedy, vain, and susceptible men are. Especially to a woman’s charms. Justiciar, pirate, or politician: no matter the insignia on their collar or the banner on their ship, men have their weaknesses, and she knows them all. Her marks have called her many names: Anya, Elsbeth, Illia, Una. But the galaxy knows her better as a woman as smart as any justiciar, as savvy as any pirate, as sly as any politician. It knows her as Red Widow. And she’s going to turn this man’s galaxy upside-down.

Into the Light (Lohengrin, the Swan Knight)

Abram had a son, once. A bright, beautiful boy full of possibilities. A gentle boy cherished for his kindness and skill with a tanner’s knife. The air would sing with the strokes of that knife, and wealthy women and men would come from across all districts to watch and buy his work. Abram loved his boy. But the Darkness loved him, too.

One day, that Darkness came for him, in the form of another smooth-faced boy, and lured Abram’s son away. Away, into the Darkness. What choice for a father but to save his only son? And the only way to save him from the dark was to lead him back into the light. With fire.

The Darkness has taken other boys. The Lost Boys, they are. But he will save them. He will take up arms and become their knight, to set them free, body and soul. He will be Lohengrin, the Swan Knight, their savior.

The Body Electric (Reilly)

The Dahl Army gave Reilly everything: a job, a purpose, even something like a family. For twelve fine years, he fought, laughed, caroused, and conquered by the sides of his fellow commandoes and their skilful sergeant. But on what is supposed to be a routine grab-and-go mission on Artemisia, the unthinkable happens: the op goes sour. An explosion and fire burns away half his soldierly body. And what does Dahl do? They dump him like scrap.

When the Hyperion salvage team finds him rotting in an Artemisian infirmary, they see his potential, and make him an offer: Become part of the Body Electric, a soldier enhanced for the technological wars. Of course, a soldier with potential needs a purpose, but Reilly has a purpose: hunt down his old teammates who left him to die, starting with his glory-hungry sergeant, the man responsible for it all.

Every Shot a Kill (Strenk)

Walking around the galaxy with the S&S munitions manufacturer family name stenciled on his uniform has never meant much to Lukas Strenk. Guns are just tools, only as good as the man who holds ‘em. And he is a great man, the best in the Inner Ring. Every shot from Strenk’s Orion rifle is a kill. But even the simplest kills can go wrong. When Galactic Defense redacts his latest target assignment after knowing the job’s already been done, they blame Strenk, of course, never mind his 100% success rate and the value of his name. “Get yourself gone or get yourself dead,” the GD Justiciar tells him. Strenk’s only answer is a bullet.

To hell with the shifting, shifty so-called rules of the Inner Ring. When the galaxy gives you lemons, you shove ‘em straight up its gaping *** and lick the residue from your fingers.


Once again, I think Strenk came out on top as my favorite of these, though I enjoyed the exercise for all. Have you ever flipped the coin on your antagonists? Have you ever found you identify more with a villain than a hero in a story? Let me know!