Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Write Wednesday: The Difference Between Procrastination and Productive Brewing

Hi all,

Still working on my new website...I hope you all will love it!

Today, however, I'm going to be writing about something that's been forming in my brain for a while, which is the difference between procrastination and productive 'brewing' (not writing).

Over the last few weeks I've been working on two different stories.  They're two different formats, and are vastly different from each other.  Enough to keep me interested, or so I thought.

But I've stalled out on both of them.

One of them I'm blatantly procrastinating with...and the second, I'm productively brewing.

Here's the difference.

While I spent a huge amount of time on pre-planning the first story (in novel format), I really, really needed to solidify the world and I have some pretty big plot holes to fill in.  So, I took some time, re-thought it out, and dove back into writing last week.  And then stopped.  Because I'm afraid to go any further on this draft because I know it isn't going to be really good.  It'll be better than the first one, but it will still require fixing and there are still so many things I don't instead of just doing it, I've procrastinated, and my poor story has dwindled into a sad, weakly little thing.

While a lot of pre-planning is great, it still won't fix everything.  Those first few drafts, especially, are just going to have to be crappy and that's all there is to it.  Losing the fear of failure and taking the time to gently comb through my manuscript to untangle every snarl is a lot of work, work that I don't particularly feel like doing right now.  But to tell the story as best as I can, I need to go back in and keep writing, even if I'm unhappy with this draft already.

Now for the 'brewing' story.  I'm writing a short film (12-15 pages) and I'm in the third draft.  It's already tons better than the first draft, but I still have one plot hole that is giving me a terrible rash.  Seriously, it's bothering me.  But instead of bulldozing through it, I've taken the time to step back, sit quietly with my knitting (or crochet), watch some good TV, and really *think* about the problem.  Which is why the third draft is so much better than the first.

The difference is that I'm purposefully setting the second story aside to really work on the problems, instead of just avoiding the story altogether.  There's a way to balance thinking time and writing time and it tends to work very well, when you can do it.

So, now I need to spend some quality time with the first story (which I will be doing this weekend) in order to figure out where the major plot holes are and how much I need to fill in.  Lots of time knitting and perhaps reading some good books are in order.  Also I need to make a playlsit.  Wish me luck.

Are you stalled out on a manuscript?  Do you have any advice for me (particularly on how to avoid procrastinating)?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Update on The Move

Hi everyone!

I'll be reviewing The Fellowship of Alien Deduction later this week, along with the regular Wednesday/Friday posts, but I wanted to remind you that I am moving to a new blog next month, and I'll be writing about story in various formats -- film, television, books, graphic novels, etc.

I've got some fun things planned, so be sure and check out the new blog when it arrives.


Friday, February 22, 2013

First Line Friday No. 26

When I get the urge to kick myself and "be more productive" (a useless cycle which involves guilt, petulantly tapping keys and not so much progress as drivel) in my writing, it helps me to know that not every author is an overnight sensation (no one ever is -- all the work that goes into an 'overnight sensation' is done months, even years ahead of time).

Sometimes I study my favorite authors and glean a little patience or peace from their process, and sometimes I just take heart that some of them are, like me, late bloomers or slow movers.

Franny Billingsley has written four books since she began in the 1980's.  She worked at a bookstore for years while she wrote, and her first book took her seven years.  It isn't a long book.

The thing about Franny, however, is that she is dedicated.  Determined.  And an excellent writer.  She has won at least one award for each of her three novels and a fellowship to continue writing.  (Her author page said she started writing seriously in 1983 but was learning how to write so didn't submit a lot of manuscripts until the 1990's.  Since then, she's published in 1997, 1999, 2008 & 2011)

Her pacing, tight writing and fluid style are superb.  Her characters are interesting, unique and somehow still heartbreakingly real.  She is one of the best writers I've come across, and each of her books is a gem.

So today I'd like to share a bit of my favorite book of hers.


February 2 -- Candlemas

It is a day of yellow fog, and the Folk are hungry.  They ate the lamb I brought them, picking the bones clean and leaving them outside the Folk Door.

The lamb was meant for Matron's Sunday supper.  She'll know I took it, but she will not dare say anything.  She can keep her tapestries and silks and Sunday dinners.  Here in the Cellar, I control the Folk.  Here, I'm queen of the world.

-- From The Folk Keeper by Franny Billingsley

Isn't that curious?  In just one tiny journal entry we peek into another, perhaps more dangerous and frightening world...

Some reasons to keep reading:

1. Who (or what) are the Folk?
2. What is the Folk Door?  Are they kept in...or out?
3.  Who is Matron?  What is she Matron of?
4.  Who is our narrator?
5.  How does she control the Folk?

What I love so much about this book is that Franny has woven old myths and half-forgotten legends into a historical fiction narrative concerning the Folk Keeper, a tiny human being with more power than seen at first glance.  It's also a bit of a thriller, a romance, and a new, quite original fairy tale.

Let me know if you read (or have read) it, I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Also, an interesting tidbit -- I have an advance reading copy of a middle grade novel that I will be reviewing after it comes out (on the 26th).  So the review will be a bit late but on a brand new book!  How thrilling!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Write Wednesday: Advice from Miyazaki (and Feeding Your Creativity)

"The creation of a single world comes from a huge number of fragments and chaos." -- Hayao Miyazaki

I've only just scratched the surface of this succinct quote on world building and storytelling for myself.  I ran across it a few weeks ago and it has been quietly humming in my brain since then, picking up and putting down pieces of my stories, re-arranging them, re-organizing, drawing from life and art I've been enjoying, slowly putting together some things that sort of just clicked into place for me last night.

It's an odd feeling, to feel the hum of your subconscious.  You don't want to poke it too much for fear it will wake and go about its business, but you can't help staring at it, wanting to touch it, to understand what, exactly, it is.  (Mine is awfully  like a ship engine, or perhaps a cat)

But it remains a mystery.

I just know when mine's working.

a week or so ago, I'd been stuck on a short film script as well as revisions for my current novel-in-progress. Instead of forcing things to happen, I sat back and took up some knitting.  I've found knitting to be remarkably creativity-inducing, like taking a shower (except it's much more convenient and I get to do *two* things at once without wasting water, which makes the economical/productive side of me incredibly happy).

So there I was, working away on a scarf, concentrating on my novel and WHAM -- a flood of ideas.  I could barely scribble them down fast enough.  Pieces connected, drawing from recently viewed TV episodes, connections beneath the surface between my characters, and bits of scenes and sentences, plus the whole problem with the beginning of my novel.  It was mind-blowing.

Then, last night, I watched a few episodes of my current favorite TV show (for its tight writing and internal action, as well as character depth, emotional intensity and acting) and a light came on.  I knew what was wrong with my short film script (or at least one of the bigger problems that had been haunting me), I came up with a new title, I got a handle on my characters and one of their backstories, and more material started popping up that pulled the story into a more cohesive bundle.

I'm just realizing how much my subconscious has been working -- overtime!  But it's because I've been feeding it constantly, by knitting/crocheting (which can be a meditative state if you've got a repetitive stitch -- you could also cross stitch, doodle, fold laundry or run/walk) and watching and dissecting stories I love (I sit down in front of the TV with a notebook or keep one nearby in case I need to scribble something down during the commercials).  Studying the stories I enjoy and giving my brain time to file it all away has proved invaluable.

To sum all of that up, I've learned that a) stories are made up of bits and pieces of our lives, stories we connect with, and anything that inspires us and b) feeding your creativity carefully (healthily?) can lead to all sorts of breakthroughs, better story crafting and imaginative solutions to story problems.

 My advice to you?

Give yourself time. Give your subconscious time to put things together.  Give yourself time to study, breathe, relax.  Don't set a time for your creativity.  There's a time to sit down and write without inspiration, but there's also time to digest after imbibing a story.  Do a bit of both.

Get specific about what you enjoy in stories.  Because that's probably what you're interested in writing.  You love high school stories that talk about hard-hitting issues?  Time to watch some Freaks and Geeks, The Breakfast Club or Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Take notes on what you really like -- this personality trait in a character (I have a very, very specific type of character I gravitate towards in a wide range of TV shows), that issue and how they handled it, or maybe the theme that resonated with you.

Take a few minutes and scribble down the stories you read/watch over and over again and do some analysis.  Why do you like these stories?  What about them draws you in?

Once you have that figured out, take a look at your work -- does it contain the same themes, character types, issues?  If it doesn't, have you been slacking off because it's just not that interesting?  If so, time to change something up.  Take a walk and concentrate on your story. See if your brain can't make some connections from what you love to what you're writing.  You'll be surprised with the results (my brain tends to love a mixture of fairytale and sci-fi, highschool/early 20's identity crises, and dramedy), and it will be more fun to write (with the added bonus of giving you some idea of a direction to go -- you can draw on those stories you love so much!).

I'm not saying that you'll always write true to type -- authors write all sorts of different things, in different voices, about different subjects.  However, the author may have developed wider interests because of taking a chance on something outside their comfort zone -- by feeding their creativity with a variety of things in order to keep it alive and growing.

What do you think about Miyazaki's quote?  Has this proven true for you in the writing/creating process?  Have you got any advice for me about feeding creativity or world building or plotting?

See you on Friday for First Lines.

Monday, February 18, 2013

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (Idea by Siobahn Dowd)

A Monster Calls was not what I expected.

...but it was good.

I love Patrick Ness' ability to bring you close to the emotion the characters are feeling.  It's something I've noticed in his writing that I haven't picked up on in a lot of other stories.

(It's the British vs. American, very generalized thing about external vs. internal action that I've been blabbing about for the past few weeks)

A Monster Calls is about grief, anger, regret, and death.  It's also about hope, letting go/peace, and forgiving yourself.

In the story, a young boy is confronted by a monster who tells him three stories, all containing a twist.  Then the monster asks for the boy's story.

Between the stories, we read about this boy's life and the things that have happened to him that created a monster inside him.

It's a powerful story about how much of a monster we can be to ourselves, and how complex the emotions of loss can be.

I don't tend to read general fiction like The Faults In Our Stars (although it looks lovely) because I'm not interested in 'real life'.  I'm interested in communicating about real issues, couched in a fantasy or science fiction world.

Patrick Ness is a master and his stories are excellent study material for the writer wanting to bring more to the table than a general romp in fantasyland.

I'll be moving to a new blog in March -- I'll still be talking about stories, but I'll be widening the field to include film and television (and the occasional play).  Details to come.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Book Review On Hold

Sorry for the delay but I've been down and out for a while.  Still there, in fact.  Hopefully I'll have some time and ability to read this week so you can read a review by next Monday.


Friday, February 8, 2013

First Line Friday No. 25

Happy Friday, everyone!

You know how I keep fangirling over Patrick Ness and his amazing Chaos Walking Trilogy?  Well, I found out that my library has another book by him available on Kindle -- the book started out as an idea by another author but when she died, Patrick was asked to write the story.  He talks a little bit about it in the introduction -- he simply tried to write a story that she would like.  I'm a quarter of the way through and although it's very different from Chaos Walking, the same things I liked about CW are present in A Monster Calls: intimacy between story and reader, emotional intensity/internal action mixed with external action, and thought-provoking subject matter.


"The monster showed up just after midnight.  As they do.

Conor was awake when it came.

He'd had a nightmare.  Well, not a nightmare.  The nightmare.  The one he'd been having a lot lately.  The one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming.  The one with the hands slipping from his grasp, no matter how hard he tried to hold on.  The one that always ended with- "Go away," Conor whispered into the darkness of his bedroom, trying to push the nightmare back, not let it follow him into the world of waking.  "Go away now."

He glanced over at the clock his mum had put on his bedside table.  12:07.  Seven minutes past midnight.  Which was late for a school night, late for a Sunday, certainly.

He'd told no one about the nightmare.  Not his mum, obviously, but no one else either, not his dad in their fortnightly (or so) phone call, definitely not his grandma, and no one at school.  Absolutely not.  

What happened in the nightmare was something no one else ever needed to know."

-from A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (idea by Siobhan Dowd)

Reasons to Keep Reading:

1.  "As they do"...thrilling!
2.  What is "the" nightmare he's been having?
3.  Why won't he tell anyone about it?
4.  Where is the monster??
5.  Why is the monster there?

Sound like something you want to read?  It's only $4.99 on Kindle!  How exciting!  You could also borrow it from a library, if you are so inclined (or poor, like me).

Hope you have an absolutely brilliant weekend -- I'll be finishing up this book so I can review it on Monday!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Write Wednesday: Depth (Internal vs. External Action)

Welcome back to Write Wednesday!  I'm delving into somewhat of a complicated topic, so I can't promise extreme clarity or new revelations, but it's something I have been thinking about lately as I craft my own novels and see the product of others' writing.

I am going to cheat a little and talk about a TV show (GASP) *but* it's about the writing, so...give me a pass.

Having now consumed a large quantity of British telly (and some UK-inspired writing like The Chaos Walking Trilogy), there's an incredible depth to the writing that just doesn't make it over here.  Americans want to simplify *everything* -- most stories here are surface-only because we're so bent on getting more action packed in and I think that's rather sad (Not that there isn't a place for action -- I love me a good spy thriller or action movie.  It's just that I think there could be a mix).

Meanwhile, in the UK, we have layers upon layers of complex emotions, relationships, thoughts, beliefs, and choices.  The merest glint in a character's eyes changes the story.  There isn't so much external action as there is internal action.  I'm fascinated by this difference and I've decided that I much prefer the internal action.

For instance -- the show I'm watching right now, in the first sixteen episodes (two series), discusses morality, religion, relationships (familial, romantic and friend), addiction, chronic illness, rape/attempted rape/abuse, murder, the afterlife, having children, science, ethics, loneliness, anger, choices, consequences, history (on a large and small scale), gang violence, terrorism, small town attitudes, and philosophy (mostly nihilism/existentialism).  And it's not spelled out for you.  The lives of the characters are so entangled that in one episode you've probably got gang violence, terrorism, morality/philosophy/ethics and relationships plus choices and consequences and religious beliefs.  There's so much packed into one hour of television and the characters don't waste time with exposition.  It's all there in the action, facial expressions, physicality, and minimal dialogue.

One episode that really hit me hard was the one about a choice that one of the characters made and the consequences from it -- they struggled with an addiction, made a mistake and now have a permanent consequence that they have to live with.  He is trying so hard to do the right thing but he falls and it endangers his friends' lives.  And there's no easy answer.  It isn't simple.  He has to cope with helping someone else trying to shake an addiction and finally rejecting his help.  He has to carry the guilt of that forever.  At the same time, it reminds him why he keeps trying so hard to shake the addiction.  He tries to be better, and it is a day-by-day thing.  Without his friends, he wouldn't be able to stay strong for the long periods between his relapses.  It says something about the power of friendship, forgiveness, grace and redemption, and about the depravity of man, and something about hope.

But I haven't seen it done much like that in books -- excepting The Chaos Walking Trilogy, as I've mentioned above, and the Harry Potter books (and Rowling's latest, A Casual Vacancy).  Okay, I take that back -- I can think of Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, and Oscar Wilde, but I think I'm more talking about modern storytelling.

And the thing might be that I'm comparing novels, film and telly and you can't really compare the three.  They're so different stylistically and of course a novel doesn't have as much time to tell a story as a TV show.  Which is probably why I'm so keen on TV shows...serialized storytelling fascinates me.

I did read The Maximum Ride novels (8 books) and...yeah, they're more surface-y.  They do delve a bit but the emotions aren't what guide the story.  The depth, the before-the-story-starts character lives and the internal action just isn't there as much (But I still love Max).

So how can I include depth in my novels/screenplays?  How can I, an American, who is used to seeing bang-bang-shoot-em-ups (as my dad calls them) and action-packed 'cool' drama, insert the breadth and depth and width of human experience into that?  Can I even do that?  Is that why indie movies (who have small budgets) use *only* internal action to carry the story?  I really think you have to do both, which is what the TV show I talked about above does so well.

I think I *could* combine both elements (how well I could remains to be seen).

1.  I think it would have to be in a series (novel or TV), for starters.  There just isn't room to flesh everyone and everything out in one novel or film.

2.  This might say something about the type of writing I should start doing -- should I get into a screenwriting program somewhere?

3.  I think studying the TV shows I love show much will show me *what* to include, and watching stuff I don't care for as much will show me *what not* to include.  Taking lots of notes, processing (verbally or in writing), maybe reviewing...somehow turning that outside information inside.  Same goes for novels.

4.  Practicing writing and conversing with my beta readers will help me understand if I'm hitting the mark or not.

What do you think about the external vs. internal action?  Are there books/TV shows that have one or both of these that you love?  Got any suggestions for me?

See you Friday for First Lines!

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Hobbit

Over the weekend I finished reading The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien.  For the second time.  When I was in middle school I read The Hobbit for school but it was so difficult for me to get through that I'd tried and failed to read it twice since then.  (Compare that to my almost yearly reading of Harry Potter and Chronicles of Narnia)

Although I love J.R.R. Tolkien's stories, they are so dense that I feel like they drag on foreeeever.

So I figured out how to read Tolkien -- in chunks.

My problem is that I like to read a book in one sitting.

For some reason, I can't do that with Tolkien -- hence the chunks.

I really, really loved reading through this story again -- there were so may things that I didn't remember, and now that the movies are coming out I wanted to refresh my memory.

Although now I'm aware of the tragedy awaiting me in the third movie, which is *not* cool.  (RIP my favorite dwarf...)

I feel like this story is probably the most epic, most grand-scale fantasy I've read or seen in a long time.  The sheer size of the adventure (over a year) and the breadth of what happens is staggering.

You take a quiet little homebody and drag him through the woods, mountains, rivers, valleys and caves of a wild and almost always dangerous land and somehow he survives.  Somehow, he turns into a hero, albeit not a perfect one.

Insert a mysterious grey wizard (who pops up and appears at will), a gaggle of dwarves (with several different colored hoods, all different ages), and crazy creatures like Beorn, the necromancer and the Elven King of Murkwood, plus a DRAGON *and* eagles and you have one heck of an adventure story.

I also like that J.R.R. didn't pander to an audience.  For example -- a lot of publishers pay attention to how many male/female characters there are in books, but I don't feel J.R.R. was excluding women from this story.  There just simply wasn't a woman in this tale.  (There are epic women later on in Lord of the Rings, however)

I love the voice of this book -- sort of Bilbo re-telling his adventures to the young Took nieces and nephews, sort of Gandalf explaining it to someone (maybe the aforementioned nieces and nephews)...

My favorite parts were the Mirkwood episode, the Smaug/Bilbo conversation (Bilbo accidentally introducing himself in a really epic riddle), the Smeagol/Bilbo game of riddles, and the songs.

What are your favorite parts of The Hobbit?  Favorite quotes?  Favorite characters?

Friday, February 1, 2013

100+ Book GIveaway Month

Ok, so you know my crazy addiction to entering book giveaways?  It has reached ridiculous proportions.  I've entered three in the last three weeks.

And...there are some awesome peeps giving away over one hundred free books this month on ONE SITE.  You should go check it out.

For serious.  This is awesome.  And they have excellent prizes!!

Enter here: 100+ Book Giveaway Month

First Line Friday No. 24

Today's First Lines will be spent looking at the opening page of Oscar Wilde's most famous play, The Importance of Being Earnest.  I've been reading through it in preparation for my directorial debut at my alma mater.  Although An Ideal Husband is my favorite of Wilde's plays, The Importance of Being Earnest is perhaps the most memorable because most of the lines are famous zingers and brilliant satire.


Morning-room in Algernon’s flat in Half-Moon Street. The room is luxuriously and artistically furnished. The sound of a piano is heard in the adjoining room.

[Lane is arranging afternoon tea on the table, and after the music has ceased, Algernon enters.]

Algernon. Did you hear what I was playing, Lane?

Lane. I didn’t think it polite to listen, sir.

Algernon. I’m sorry for that, for your sake. I don’t play accurately—any one can play accurately—but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life.

Lane. Yes, sir.

Algernon. And, speaking of the science of Life, have you got the cucumber sandwiches cut for Lady Bracknell?

Lane. Yes, sir. [Hands them on a salver.]

Algernon. [Inspects them, takes two, and sits down on the sofa.] Oh!… by the way, Lane, I see from your book that on Thursday night, when Lord Shoreman and Mr. Worthing were dining with me, eight bottles of champagne are entered as having been consumed.

Lane. Yes, sir; eight bottles and a pint.

Algernon. Why is it that at a bachelor’s establishment the servants invariably drink the champagne? I ask merely for information.

Lane. I attribute it to the superior quality of the wine, sir. I have often observed that in married households the champagne is rarely of a first-rate brand.

Algernon. Good heavens! Is marriage so demoralising as that?

Lane. I believe it IS a very pleasant state, sir. I have had very little experience of it myself up to the present. I have only been married once. That was in consequence of a misunderstanding between myself and a young person.

Algernon. [Languidly.] I don’t know that I am much interested in your family life, Lane.

Lane. No, sir; it is not a very interesting subject. I never think of it myself.

Algernon. Very natural, I am sure. That will do, Lane, thank you.

Lane. Thank you, sir. [Lane goes out.]

Isn't that magnificent?  

Reasons to keep reading:

1.  Algernon.  He is my favorite character.
2.  Even the butler has hilarious lines!  "I didn't think it polite to listen, sir..."
3.  Who is Lady Bracknell?
4.  Is this play going to be about matrimony?
5.  What will happen next (with brilliant dialogue)??

Have you ever read a play?  Did you like the format, or was it harder to read?  Do you have a favorite play?  Have you ever read Oscar Wilde's novel (The Picture of Dorian Grey) or his stories for children?