Pull out and enhance physical descriptions of the people I already have from both books 1 and 2
Write up description of the mashup/remade character
Consider the scenes that need to be added – figure out what the goal will be and about what they need to be and then let them noodle around in my brain
Set up time to write – create a real plan (either first thing in the morning, later in the day, weekends, etc)
Plan more backstory weaving in
Jenna’s novel is the first in an urban fantasy trilogy. A young woman who is struggling to regain her life after a long absence from the world is finally feeling settled. Now she’s finally gotten a job offer, she’s meeting new people. And she’s got a shiny little necklace.
The second book is written and I’m feeling pretty good about it, but the first needs to come in line with it. I know basically where the third will go for the big arc on it.
I’ve been seeing another round of smack talk about things. Because of course there is. This time it seems to be Romance. (You will recognize YA, paranormal romance, and many other genres/things in this, romance just happens to have it’s turn in the spotlight right now.)
There is a lot of desire in these conversations to say “These are my people!” or to scream it from the rooftops. A lot of this is trying to create in-group identifiers, but these are often created through out-grouping others.
“Romance people aren’t my people and if romance people aren’t my people then you are my people.” That’s not actually that bad. Where it gets really bad is when someone goes on a screed to outgroup, to exclude some group of people so that they can show you that they are …whatever they are trying to demonstrate they are.
I think this is a very cynical and self protective way to go about things. Declaring your unabashed love for something requires being more revealing. A loudly declarative statement of affection is like stripping down and saying I’m vulnerable here and here, please don’t kick me there.
And yes, wonderfully, much of the time those declarations get hugs and support. But even a few kicks can really hurt. Sure you get 50 hugs (if you are lucky) but just 5 kicks will take you way, way down.
So why would you do that when you can declare how something is bad. Not even that you personally dislike it, but that it is “objectively” (which is nearly always how these things are set up) bad or wrong. That is basically putting up a coat of armor. Even if someone kicks you, you are wearing armor. You are ok. You won’t be hurt.
Often when these things come up they are for groups it is easy to take potshots at. Who reads romance? Who reads YA? Who watches rom coms? I’ll give you a hint. Not people with all the power. I believe the fancy term for this if it was a joke would be punching down.
It is really easy to go, “Oh those – people who aren’t like me or you – and their – thing I don’t like!” Now you and me? We belong together. Look at us all buddying up. But I didn’t have to take a swing at someone with giant mech boots, I only took a swing at someone who wouldn’t hurt when they tried to kick me with my armor.
But I have the right to hate things!
Good for you. So do I. We all do. But why would you spend more time talking about the things you hate than the things you love. I know I’ve done it, and I will do it again in the future. I’m so far from perfect I can’t even see it’s shadow. But I do try.
But…I still want to be a part of an in group. As much as I’d like to believe it, I’m not immune to wanting to be loved. To wanting to be a part of a group. Wanting people to include me. I get the same little rush everyone else does when someone says that they like me, that I’m like them (if I like them of course!), that I belong with their group.
So yea, I’ll still say I don’t like things. I’ll still bash things. But I’m trying to be better, and I hope other people are too.
Scribophile is much more of a writing community. Which, I could use a little of…even if sometimes I wish writing was really the solitary pursuit we are lied to and told it is.
So much more modern. Omg the website…it feels current. It feels like it isn’t 10,000 internet years old. (Sorry Critters, but it is true.) There are some cool tricks along with this, like inline editing tool. This tool is amazing. Just drop your comment right into the line of the content it goes with. Done! (The potential downside to this would be a focus on line edits when someone is looking for something more developmental.)
It is a community. Like there are groups and forums and it is far more interactive. This is both a plus and a minus for me. Having a community to talk about things like marketing and using tools and the rest? Could be seriously helpful.
Karma (like the credits from critters) doesn’t expire. This is the biggest pro for me and why I am trying it. I don’t want to go back and do all the math, but my rough guestimate would be if the points were the same I’d have way, way over 200 Karma sitting around unused. With Critters, I just stop for a month because I’m busy and it all goes away. So I don’t use it like I should. From everything I can see, Karma doesn’t expire. Having that giant number there mocking me would be an incentive and pressure to use it. I need that. This is entirely personal. I need a giant number mocking me.
There are so many rules and feelings. Don’t critique unless you ask someone first, don’t critique if they are in this or that thing, don’t critique when it is a blue moon on a Tuesday. Aren’t you a critique site!? Don’t you want people to critique?
Seriously, I did one critique and now I feel bad. Don’t get me wrong, I think the critique itself was good and valuable, but I don’t know if I followed the magical unseen rules or not. So much bullshit. I don’t know if I want to, or currently have the capacity to, climb bullshit mountain to figure out if I can critique things or not.
YOU ARE A CRITIQUE SITE! No one should get pissy about a decent critique. Sure, one that is brutally bad? I get being upset. But so many rules. So much demand to talk to people. I don’t want to be your friend. I want to give you good feedback on your work and go to the next. A fucking blood pact that we super swear that we will read and critique each others work, not what I signed up for. This is like a store saying they don’t want to sell you anything.
None of that seems to be official site policy. The actual site makes critiquing really nice and easy. It is like HERE have a thing to read! Nice, simple, straight forward. But I read a few posts from the forums and now I’m feeling very much like I should take my ball and go home.
I don’t know. I really don’t know. Anyone know of any other good critique sites that combine the best of these two. I really want to give Scribophile a good try. I want to push myself harder to talk about my work and myself. That might sound crazy because I’ve put out several things this year plus the podcast… Is that crazy? Do I do enough marketing? (No.) Do I get enough feedback? (No.)
And now I’m going to contribute to this noise with my post! Late! Wee!
I also listened to The Reality Check about the dream jobs recently. There are a lot of jobs in the world we don’t talk about. If you narrow it to legal jobs even fewer. I would be most interested to see a list of jobs that people think about when they are about 14-15. When we think that people (kids, really) are supposed to start deciding what to do with their entire lives.
Is there any surprise that we discard a lot of jobs as not real work?
Real work is stuff like police, doctor, teacher. If you asked my niece and nephew what the job titles of everyone I work with are? I’d bet they’d be totally baffled. (Heck, I bet half the people I work with would be baffled by what those titles really mean.)
I work with people who write. Heck part of my job is writing. (It is a pretty small part at this job, but at previous jobs it was a larger part, at one, the whole part.)
But they don’t count
This is a weirdly common refrain. The people who write and survive are dismissed.
Well that isn’t writing fiction. So we are only saying fiction writing can’t be a job? And then there is this implication that fiction is like writing or sports or dance or acting. It is one of these “jobs” where a few people make ALL THE MONEY! And everyone else does it because they love it.
There are people who get by or are even *gasp* successful at writing who you haven’t heard of. There are also people in all those other categories doing the same. And not just because you don’t like sports or x music genre or ballet. People actually can do that as work.
Back to the hidden jobs, I think a lot of these are hidden jobs. Out of sight out of mind. And unless you are interacting with project managers or writers or cellists every day they might as well not exist. So you think that no one can make a living making power points or writing romance or playing the cello. But they do.
So I should quit my job!
NO! The throwing out the job because one single book did well? That’s like going well I got this one gig so I’m going to quit my job. Don’t…
Yeah she was lucky enough to have a husband to support her during this time. And if you have the resources to do these things, sure. Though I’d argue that having a job has a lot of other psychological benefits so if you don’t treat your writing like a job then you will suffer those things.
I do think you can, and there are people who do, treat writing like a job. But that means you can’t get precious about it. Just like you shouldn’t get precious about any job.
Once you start to get precious about things you get fired. (I hope. I wish.)
I read something a while ago that has been bubbling around in the back of my brain. I’ve read a lot about flash fiction and I’ve read a lot of flash fiction. I read something that said the person who wrote it assumed all flash fiction main characters were stand-ins for the authors.
I was stunned and confused. Was this person reading the same flash fiction I was?
I’ve read flash fiction with characters that have more depth than some of the epic novels I’ve read.
Writing flash fiction can feel like a way to just dash something off quickly. But great flash fiction evokes a lot of things in just a tiny little space. You are basically creating a world from white space.
I will say that I far prefer flash that is sci-fi and fantasy because it opens the world wide. The contemporary flash I’ve read does feel a little different, so maybe the person who thinks that all flash fiction main characters are author stand-ins.
Finding a way to develop a world with brush strokes that all draw your eye far beyond the edges of the canvas is the magic of flash fiction.
Thinking specifically about those main characters and how I build them.
Sometimes they are characters from larger stories. (An Axe is a great example of this in my work since I’ve been working on putting some more polish on the novella about that character.) Those stories are often small bites, more information of the character, side stories that didn’t belong in the book. I love doing these, they are fun, they let me explore other sides of a primary character. They give that character the chance to show other sides of themselves.
I don’t often run between a ton of POVs. My novels tend toward a single POV. Doing a flash fiction lets me explore what other characters are seeing. I often write these just as I’m doing planning work for the novels, I’ll write a handful of these for each of the characters to see what I’m thinking about them, most of these never make it past my drive, but sometimes I’ll really like one and clean it up well enough to send it off into the world. A Meditation was very much that. Jana was a character who was sort of a mash of things and I had done a couple of scenes with her separately. This flash came out of that. It was significantly rewritten, but it was partly about me learning who Jana was in the first round, and showing a little more of her in the final.
I listen to a lot of podcasts. I will often find bits of inspiration, a situation, a story, a news article. I’ll pause and let this play around in my head until I’ve got characters and situation developed. Most of the time this sort of dies on the vine. But sometimes these become stories.
Thinking back to writing my first stories, I’ve sort of always been a shorter fiction writer. At least I don’t recall a time I was a tome writer. So, I’m sure there was a time when I was doing a lot of that. I hope these days I don’t do that nearly so much. I think of parts of myself in some characters. But some are clearly someone else. The Thing About the Future? That’s a mash of a handful of people I know plus a few stereo types carved into an actual character. On Fire? That’s a few characters from books and a few heartbreaking true stories I read all mashed together and then carved and molded. But Relics? Yeah, there are shades of me in there I suppose. Discovery? Not really, but I had a couple of people I know in mind, if you take this from that person and this from that person and yeah that person hates science (don’t ask me, I don’t get it) but that part.
So maybe sometimes there is shades of the author, but I think that good flash fiction is like all other fiction. Sometimes there will be shades of an author just like there are shades of people they know or celebrities or the personality test they took for a character. It is always a mash, carved and molded to be a unique character.
I’ve read flash fiction that doesn’t have people/aliens/monsters/ghosts as characters at all. Environment only. Or beautiful descriptions of ships. Or processes. I suppose you would argue that the author as the person who decides what to show you is the main character. But then you’re really saying that the author is always the main character in a way that is sort of no longer worth talking about. You literally can’t create anything without being the main character in that way. So it doesn’t really seem relevant. So sometimes there is no main character.
This all makes me want to read more flash fiction though.
Lots of good things! A book (a novella really) comes out on Friday and I got my iPad Pro.
I love it. Oh it is so nice. I have a few small things to work out still. But I can do all the updates for what happens after an episode goes live on the iPad Pro. This means I don’t have to be at home every single Friday night. I have to be at a connection to do all the “It’s Now Live!” stuff. The keyboard is great. The pencil is super natural. I keep sticking it in my hair and grabbing it out which it does well. It is smooth and a great weight.
It has all the features that I wanted, I’ve got a lot of things installed. I really feel like I’ve got it set up well. I still might have to reorganize the screens a bit to make it feel natural for what each screen is for. It works well to write in the spots I need to write. I can post and social media and all the things.
I still of course need the workhorse to record and edit the podcasts, but I can manage the rest from the iPad Pro.
And I got a fancy decal and case with the 600 Second Saga logo!
Book: Oak Stream Hollow
It officially releases on Friday, and there will be a podcast episode as well. But it is out early in audiobook so you can check it out on Audible now. If you’d prefer ebook format your usual purveyors like Amazon should all have it for preorder now.
Heather lost her job, her house is in foreclosure. All she needs now is a huge medical bill. But when Heather finds herself transforming, will she find anything in the world worth keeping?
This urban fantasy novella was a lot of fun to write. It is a single stand alone novella. Not one of a series (which I also enjoy and will have some of coming out next year) or something that will be a novella companion to a novel (which I’m going to hopefully have in an anthology later this year). But just a story. I like stories. I like telling a wide range of them and sometimes that means letting a story be over. Sometimes that means digging deeper and deeper into the world. I hope if you pick up Oak Stream Hollow you enjoy reading (or listening!) as much as I enjoyed writing.
I’m currently kind of unbothered by Mary Sue and I have thoughts about how much is that really a problem in the way that we hate the character, and how much is it a problem in the way we talk about women being all over badass in society. Especially looking at some of the characters who get lambasted for being Mary Sue, but they have problems and they aren’t flawless.
I also think there is a bit of learning curve. It’s ok to write Mary Sue as you are learning. Or if you feel like you have very little agency and feel shitty about your life? Write all the Mary Sue you need. Go for it. Live your life. Share with others. Not all writing is about being a giant big name author. Some of it is about learning about yourself, or escaping into a fantasy world of your own creation. I think that’s ok.
If I don’t like it I won’t read it. But that doesn’t mean people should write it.
The words the words
Grammar and spelling bug me when I can’t understand what the author mean. But right now that concern is way down the list. I care if it sounds good. If it is perfect grammar and spelling but it is stumbly and confusing to hear? I don’t care that it is perfect. I’d much rather have “ok” or even “eh” grammar and good flow. I would say writing that spends more time and focus on “correctness” than how it sounds and flows is my biggest pet peeve right now.
That could be a little bit because I have a podcast and I do audiobook narration. When I’m recording and something makes me fumble over and over? That is frustrating.
Even when you read silently to yourself you are subvocalizing (unless you are speed reading and you’ve worked specifically to try to get rid of that, but if you are doing that with fiction I don’t know why you are reading this post, seriously, I have nothing of value for you, move along) which means you are making those sounds. You are reading aloud. So having something that reads smoothly is really valuable.
Overpunctuate if you need, if it will make your sentence flow better. Throw in more commas and whatever else. I would also put things that are unintentionally alliterative in this words peeve. One or two instances can be cool and can give it a boost. But there is a big space between that and something that starts to arrive at Seussianly cool on the other side where entire blocks of text are alliterative.
I feel like this might be the peeviest peeve on my list. I’ve been reading a lot of things lately that play fast and loose with the POV. One minute you can hear what Sally thinks and the next John. Even though it isn’t an omniscient narrator. Scene breaks. Expressions. Something. But stop cheating! Stop dipping into someone’s brain when it is convenient and then moving on. I have no idea why this bugs me so much but it does really crawl under my skin in an irrational way.
I make all of these errors. Frequently I’m sure. When I’m recording audio for my own work and I stumble, I have a good swear fest at myself. (Releases the frustration and – bonus – gets the wrong way of whatever was happening out of my head.) Then I rewrite it. But even though I am the one who read it, I will still listen later sometimes and get frustrated with how clunky it sounds.
I’m sure I’ve screwed up POV.
And I know I’ve both written Mary Sueier characters and bashed them.
I’m trying to be better on all the things.
Having an arc ship or a rebuild society plan with nearly all dudes and no uterine replicators. MATH PEOPLE! 9 men + 1 woman = 10 babies in 10 years, maybe maybe. Try 9 women + 1 man… Seriously. Before you fill your apocolypse with dudes who can’t carry babies, check out the numbers for the next 100 years and how many babies you can make. I know you want something like well over 10K to not have it be a horrible disaster of inbreeding, but I’ll let you hand wave that with science. But either say you have a tech that lets you make babies outside of the female body or bring more bodies that can have babies.
One of the things they very specifically call out to not do, is make your break like your work. I think this applies especially to writing. Taking a break from writing to do a blog post? Not actually a break. Taking a break from editing to go and do social media promotion? Not a break.
At my day job I try to take actual breaks in the am and pm and when I’m stuck. I go for a walk, a few blocks, about 10 minutes. It is awesome for steps on my fitbit. But is is also awesome for getting into the right head space. I know that people sometimes get the side eye for this, especially when things are busy. There can be pressure to work through lunch (which the article talks about specifically too) or skip breaks. But taking them makes such an enormous difference in the quality of my work. I’m not making widgets, it isn’t just tab a into slot b, but even that needs breaks. To come up with creative solutions to problems (which is my job) requires a lot of effort. A walk makes a huge difference, I put on headphones and listen to a podcast and try to stop thinking about work. I may look at my phone too much during my breaks and I’m going to try to cut back on that a bit again.
I find myself running into the same thing with writing. I’ll come home from work and try to get a little writing done but my brain is still stuck, I had a short walk home, but I haven’t really taken a solid break. I know I always do better if I stop and make dinner first, like actual cooking seems to help. Clears my head, creates space for my brain to shift gears.
On the weekends where I write the most I try to actively build in get out of the house breaks. A walk to the coffee shop, a walk to get groceries, a walk along the river. I’ve got lots of parks and things nearby. I need to take even more advantage of them than I do. Just stuff my phone with my podcasts in my pocket, and head out the door.
I feel like I can still sometimes think about writing (and I’ve had to quite often stop the walk to take some notes on my phone) but I don’t always do that, sometimes I try to shift out of that mode entirely. When I’m having a writing problem I try to specifically not listen to fiction podcasts or audiobooks but instead trying for something else, usually science because I love science. It helps to clear my brain so that the problem can work away at the back of my brain.
Future me: Take a break! Get off the computer, get off the phone, get away from screens, don’t even pick up a book. Take a short 5-10 minute break. Your work will thank you.
Jocelyn at 52 Letters wrote a great post about the Top Ten Parts of High School she wishes YA authors talked about more. Really good to think about, but fantastic if you write YA. I don’t write a lot of YA at least nothing that happens in high school.
Finding things that are missing seems slightly harder than I expected. Part of it is that I don’t really want my fiction to really reflect real life. No one wants to read “And then she slept moderately well for a couple hours and then woke up to use the bathroom and then went back to bed and tossed and turned before finally falling back asleep.”
All of this kind of comes back to the voice thing as well. We don’t want a real voice, we don’t always want reality in fiction. There are some elements though that are valuable, or at least could be more interesting or dramatic.
Real financial trouble
I feel like financial trouble in books (and tv) is weird and fake. People will go from having trouble eating one day (and they never have to eat the last bag of rice that might be old at the back of the pantry, just don’t have anything) to taking a fabulous trip the next day. This seems a bit better in books, but there are still a lot of times where I roll my eyes. If you want to hand wave and make someone obscenely wealthy, fine. But don’t pretend someone is super poor and then have them never have actual consequences from that.
It also seems to reinforce this idea that poor people are poor because they want to be. Not that there are situations that make it hard, like not having enough gas money to get to work and losing your job. That’s drama.
Not exactly drama, but even with siblings you hate (which is common in fiction) or who you are fighting with (also common) you share a great bit of history. You knew the same people, have the same reference points. Like it or not, you probably even have in-jokes with those siblings or family members. Why don’t more of them use it? Having moments of shared points leading up to something, not just, “We are from the same blood.” but more like, “Remember the time when mom was super tired and washed the red shirt in with the whites and you had to wear pink shirts to school for a week.”
Giant drama over tiny things
Fiction often has giant drama over giant world-ending things. People create drama over tiny things. People scream and fight like crazy over the remote or dinner or other things that mean nothing. Usually, because there is something else giant and stressful in their lives. These moments can be such a good way to show so much about a person. It can make a person look petty, but I don’t think it has to, it’s about how you tell that story.
Does the person break into tears because they forgot the sourdough bread and the sourdough was their daughter’s favorite and she’s sick and all the stress of dealing with that is just overwhelming? It can be touching.
What other things could be done more/better in fiction? What do you feel is missing from the things you read?
Jacquelyn Lorin has a fantastic post about voice and branding. I’ve been thinking about this. She talks about branding and platform and does a brilliant job so I’d recommend just reading that.
It is something I struggle with. Unsurprisingly. I think most people have when they start writing. At least there is a lot of stuff out there you can read about finding it and I don’t really get any of it.
Oddly I have (I think) a very strong voice in my day to day life. My coworkers could hear a paragraph of my speech patterns coming from someone else and they’d know it was wrong right away. My mom can pick out my sentences on a website I had nothing to do with. Voice is something that comes pretty easy to me. But that voice isn’t appropriate for novels. It doesn’t work in writing stories. I mean it can, but it would be confusing and derivative and run oney.
This is one of those things where we say we want real things, but we don’t lace our novels with ums, ahs, because that would be boring and frustrating. We don’t have people walk away from conversations and come right back to say, what was I going to get from the kitchen again? Unless we are trying to make a point. But everyone does it. (It’s a door thing!)
We don’t really want real life in our books. It’s ugly and messy. No plot lines. Rarely complete sentences. People are stupid, all the time. They are just the worst really. But the world doesn’t punish bad people and reward good people. We want books to do that. (And movies and tv and whatever else.)
So it’s sort of the same thing with your voice, or at least my voice. I totally find words and cling to them for a while, over use them, misuse them. And then I move on to the next. And I do shit like starting every single god damn sentence with and or but. And I way over use both and, and but. And whooboy! None of my grammar checkers like that last paragraph, I’m giving them conniptions. But that’s the thing. We don’t really talk grammatically correct. People who always do are weird. Sorry, it’s true. Partial sentences everywhere.
Sorry what was I saying? I got distracted by a shiny thing.
So I can’t use my day to day voice in my writing. Even though I’ve been perfecting it for a handful of decades now. No, I have to come up with a whole new voice that is unique, and me, and grammatical soundish.
I over punctuate. I put commas in where pauses go, but that’s not right. But is that my voice? Or is that just me not being good at writing?
I rarely use “said” or “says” or any variant. When writing dialogue I usually write a sentence, end it, write dialogue, write an action thing which has a name that I can’t think of off the top of my head and I’m sort of trying to write this like I actually talk so I’m not looking it up. (And yes, for the record, stopping to google that door thing is entirely something I would and do in real life, and yes, yes it does frustrate the people around me, I’m trying to cut back but it’s so hard.)
This is a voice. But this isn’t the voice we want to see when writing. This voice is exhausting to be around.
Voice is hard.
I’m not sure any of this made sense. Because sometimes when we say shit in our day to day lives, it doesn’t really come around to a perfectly sensible thing. Sometimes the people in your life just go, “uh huh,” to shut you up and move onto the next thing that is interesting to them.