magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)

I mentioned this over at [community profile] allbingo, but I'm working on a bunch of challenges to get me thinking about short-form plot. Basically, I'm taking the following plot structures:

Four structures below the cut. )

...three of which I found discussed at Philip Brewer's blog, and one of which I put together after thinking about successful short stories on my own.

I'm trying to take these structures and write extremely short stories/synopses with them – using one sentence for each point in the list.

I'm also finding it surprisingly difficult.

But I figured that while I was striving and trying new things, I might as well put the results up for people to see (and quite possibly best :P ). Just to keep things organized in this post, the card I'm using is below, and I'll link my fills for the squares.

Card below the cut. )
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
One of the metrics I track in my little home-brewed submissions tracker is what draft a story is on when I submit it. It's been occasionally useful – noting when I do revision requests, for example – but recently, I've noticed that almost everything I've been submitting (and selling) is on its first draft. Which I think bears some investigation, because it ends up saying a lot more about how I conceptualize "drafts" than it does about my first-pass writing.

For one thing, "first draft" with me does not mean "unrevised". )
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
[personal profile] sholio and I are testing out an accountability buddies setup, where we meet to talk writing shop, discuss goals, and analyze how well we're meeting them. (We're still in the first week, so neither of us have any idea how well it will work. But one of the best pieces of advice I got last year was "Failures are just experiments that yield negative results," so even if we find that this format doesn't work well, that's useful information! And I'm hopeful that it will work, and be awesome for both of us.)

The theme I want to engage with this year is of productivity, and constant storytelling: I want to be creating and putting out a lot more work than I do currently. Getting back to my Clarion West levels of a short story per week would be amazing, and the fact that I'm making my living off freelance stuff which doesn't eat as much time as a full-time job tips it into the realm of possibility. (If I could transition to making my money off writing, that would be incredible. I am looking into ways to start on that path, specifically through Patreon, but my ability to write and produce complete works on a consistent schedule is something of a prerequisite for that, so that's where I'm starting.)

The two goals I had for this week, to support my theme of producing lots of fiction, were:

1) To take a look at how I choose stories to work on, and

2) To take a look at how I go about moving stories through to completion.

This is about how I work, which informs how I choose stuff to work on. )

This is about how I choose stuff to work on. )
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
I like to personify my brain, partially as an Elizabeth Gilbert-esque control on getting too much ego tied up in things but mostly because it makes it easier to blame things on an entity external to myself. Like this, for example: if there is a choice between buckling down and working on one of the many, many concepts/story scraps I have lying around or coming up with a shiny new concept – usually novel-length, but not always – then it will take the "shiny new concept" option 11 times out of 10.

Anyway, it tossed me what may or may not be an urban fantasy Noir about a freelance detective gal who gets commissioned for some enigmatic person named North, and ends up having to navigate her own undeath. As well as her life, one universe over. And the one may not be more complicated than the other.

Here's the beginning my brain handed me:

I knew I was digging myself into it when I signed the contract. It's not like I couldn't see it coming; on the highway of life, this was the lane with the orange cones and the lit-up roadside sign saying THE BRIDGE IS OUT and the police lights and the oily smoke coming up. But, you know, if I'd had another option, I wouldn't have taken this one.

That's the way it always is.


I've also worked more on Rust City. You know, when I started it, I was pretty sure it would be a novella – but then it just kept growing. I only have about 8k words in it now, but given the way I structure things and how the scope is expanding (the love-fascination-need-triangle is now more of a connect-the-dots), I'd be surprised if the finished draft clocked in under 70 or 80k. Y'know, if it ever fights its way through the shiny new upstarts.

It's a wonder I've ever finished anything.

He drew up beside her. She was framed in the gristle of the building, the rebar and wire and crumbled cement like a nest around her. Across the city blocks, the Moonlit moon was glowing. Its light was softened by the distance, and softened Sela's face.

"You smell like him," Sela said.

Ferro looked at her, then ducked his head. Hoped that what he was about to say would be permissible. "How do you know what he smells like?"

Sela glanced at him askance. "You have to remember which one of us is the dog," she said.


[Semi-boilerplate text: As always, I hope you'll check out and support the Clarion West Write-a-thon (and me in particular, if you feel so inclined). Your donation will help a workshop which failed to teach me the fine art of controlling my wordcounts, but which did teach me many and varied other valuable things.]
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
So let's talk about Rust City.

Rust City began as a thought experiment as to whether or not I could write something Bizarro. (The verdict is: I couldn't. The closest I've ever come is probably The Relative Densities of Seawater and Blood, and it's not very bizarre, compared to anything, say, Carlton Mellick III has ever written. I think that in order to write Bizarro, you have to have the abilites (1)Not to take yourself so damn seriously, and (2)Let go of the need to explain or at least justify everything, and I score pretty badly on those rubrics.)

The story follows Ferro, a man with a condition that's given him the primary sex characteristics of an standard XX physiology but a standard set of XY secondary sex characteristics. He falls in with a pair of cousins named Wolf and Sela, who may or may not be genetically-engineered remnants of the war that screwed up the entire planet, either decades or centuries ago.

The full title of the project is Rust City (a love story), though I remain unsure of what the love story actually is. (Wolf and Sela have an extremely broken familial relationship they both want fixed but don't know how to fix, Wolf and Ferro sleep together, Ferro is fascinated and stalked by Sela, and for all this time Ferro is crushing on a woman named Kyoto who has burn scars covering most of her chest. There's a lot of thematic body stuff going on here, and it's all kind of a mess.)

Also, there are molemen, which aren't actually molemen. They're more like some kind of cavefish-esque offshoot of Homo sapiens who live in the old (but expanded) sewer system beneath the city. (I'm not sure that's better.) They communicate with Ferro by exploiting a trick of his synaesthesia – yes, Ferro also has synaesthesia, as well as hypertactility and haptophilia – which also has a tinge of the supernatural to it.

It's resisting being written, for the most part, because I honestly have no idea where it's going or why half the stuff is happening. You know, conventional wisdom says that you should have your story worked out before you start writing it. At least you should know what the major players and motivations will be. Possibly have some understanding of the plot. That's just not how I roll; I tend to slap stuff that sounds pretty on a page and hope that eventually my brain will start supplying all the connective tissue, musculature, and skeletal structure. Sometimes in that order.

But I wrote a slim 655 words on it last night, and now I'm sharing an excerpt with you!

He felt himself sailing down, through the floor, drawn toward the molten center of the world, but before he could come anywhere near it he was caught in a noise like spidersilk. It wrapped around him, twining through his pores in a rhythm like words.

They were words. Maybe not in a classical sense, but something intelligible without being sound. Something like,

(intruder)

And then, by more voices, closer to his skin,

(brightseer, sunfucker)

(up him)

(yeah)

(up)


[Semi-boilerplate text: As always, I hope you'll check out and support the Clarion West Write-a-thon (and me in particular, if you feel so inclined). Your donation will help a workshop which has supported real live Bizarro authors! And many, many others.]
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
It's always an interesting feeling when you've been completely paralyzed by the sight of the blank (or unfinished, or finished but requiring revision) Word document for days, weeks, or months, only to discover when a deadline looms that yes, if it comes down to it, you still can pound out 2500 words in a single Sunday. When 100 words have been giving every indication of being a Sisyphean task, you have to wonder where the switch got flipped.

I have a feeling it's in the "deadline" part.

When I was taking classes at the University of Iowa, one of my major complaints was that their fiction writing courses were non-graduated. There was no beginning, intermediate, advanced path to take – everyone, including the people just looking for three easy credits and with no passion for writing, got tossed into the same courses, and with the added complication that a lot of them thought "science fiction and fantasy" meant "you can't say anything about it because it's all just made up and doesn't have to make sense" meant that, with the exception of classes run by a couple excellent people, I didn't often get a lot out of the critiquing parts of the workshops. But they were still invaluable to me.

Why?

Because sometimes, all you need is the magical combination of time to write, the expectation that you'll write, and a commitment to persons outside of yourself that you'll produce something, even if it isn't a lofty piece of literature which will stand the test of ages.

Which is why Clarion West is such an amazing place, to be honest. Well, one of the reasons. I can't ignore the chance to learn from six amazing teachers with six different strengths and styles, or the amazing families you can form there, but what makes it a truly mind-altering experience is the fact that for six weeks, your entire life can be writing. You can saturate yourself with your fiction. Set aside work, cares, feeding the cats (or the kids), making yourself dinner, all the niggling cares of the so-called real world. All that's expected of you is fiction. The world is built around your fiction. And for your fiction, you are welcomed, supported, honored.

There's a reason so many of us join the Write-a-thon every year, hoping to grab back some vestige of what the workshop experience is like.

Anyway, now that I've tricked my brain into admitting that it hasn't burnt out forever and ever and that it can still string words together into a somewhat coherent narrative and that all the rest is just whining, I'm going to see where I get by the end of this week. This Friday, I have the first meeting of my new job; immediately thereafter, I'm going to be helping to launch a company. It'll be an exciting and busy time, and pretty much the opposite of the workshop in terms of the precedence my immediate world accords my writing.

But, you know, it's okay. As ever, we'll see how it goes.

...

There aren't any really good Write-a-thon-quotable passages from the 2500 words of yesterday, so I'll give you a snatch of one of the next projects I'm going to be working on: the post-apocalyptic pseudo-moleman-infested extremely unromantic love story Rust City.

"Do people do that?"

"Look to sex for comfort?" Ferro asked. "It's a thing people do, yeah."


[Semi-boilerplate text: As always, I hope you'll check out and support the Clarion West Write-a-thon (and me in particular, if you feel so inclined). Your donation will help a workshop that makes it all but impossible for authors not to produce. And producing is half the battle.]
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
If you wanted to count the combined wordcounts of everything I've worked on since the start of the Write-a-thon, we'd be up to 624 now! If you wanted to count the actual words I've written since the start, we'd be at... something more like 87.

Neither of these are particularly inspiring numbers, but I'll take them, because they're greater than 0.

Today's 87 words went to The Angel at the Gate, a story inspired by a YouTube video of Silent Hill: Homecoming, the long-completed webcomic 1/0, and thinking about Biblical cherubs. Naturally, the story is about a group of friends who were tossed out of another world after fighting for and saving it as destined heroes, and who find themselves unable to leave the city they've been thrown into because there's a supernatural phenomenon which blocks their way out.

(They name the phenomenon Azrael. Who was not a cherub, if you were wondering.)

Long story short, my fiction rarely bears any resemblance to its inspiration, so I hope the preceding explanation made no sense to you.

...

...hey, who wants an excerpt!

I look up to see Zeph straddling the peak of the roof, nailing down siding, and the arc of the hammer in his hand takes my breath away. It doesn't take long for him to look down and see me, loitering in the middle of the road.

I sign, Remember the flight to the burning cathedral? Your sword scattered the sunlight and gave you wings.

Zeph grins and hefts the hammer, then sees something in my face and sets it down. And he signs back, with emphasis on every word:

Don't. Start. Crying. Here.


[Semi-boilerplate text: As always, I hope you'll check out and support the Clarion West Write-a-thon (and me in particular, if you feel so inclined). Your donation will help a workshop that allows its students to create quality work like mine! Except often better, and coherent.]

Stalling

Oct. 4th, 2011 06:57 pm
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
Around the end of August, I finished the first draft of the first novel I've ever felt confident enough about to start shopping out. (The last original novel I finished before that was... in sixth grade. I probably still have the completed draft on my flash drive or harddrive somewhere, but it very much reads like something a sixth-grader wrote. And we won't get into fanworks.)

Throughout September, I let it sit and didn't even open the file, and I threw all my effort into writing the sequel while a bunch of incredibly wonderful beta readers went through my story and gave me feedback covering a wide range of topics – conventions expected by the target audience, questions left unanswered, plot snarls, places where the prose or plot was unclear, places where they were hooked or lost, strengths and weaknesses.

Now, I've compiled all those responses into a document – a sort of menu of things to fix – and I've been ticking off each issue, one by one. Except that now I'm stalling.

It's strange. I remember this sort of hand-wringing and avoidance (because a part of this is that I know once I'm done with revisions, I'll have to send out the novel to agents, and whatever I've done or failed to do will have to stand on its own merits, and that's scary, yo) – I remember it from when I started submitting short stories. Now, approaching my 80th short story submission (I just got a response – a rejection – on my 78th submission of all time), I'm used to that process, and while there's still a flutter of anticipation every time I send a short story out or get a response back, for the most part, it's routine.

But shopping out a novel is a completely different beast.

Sort of. From what I've researched of the process, there are a lot of similarities, and even some of the differences (synopses, partials) just seem like short-form submissions' big sibling. There's a bit more weight to the process, which is understandable given the heft of the work you're submitting.

But there are palpable differences. For one thing, generally a relationship with an agent is a long-term one; a relationship with an editor can evolve to the point where they'll drop you a line once in a while and ask if you've got anything new, but the expectation is that every story is a new deal. For another, an agent takes a lot of the responsibility off your back, and that means trusting them with something precious to you, if you value your writing at all. They take stewardship of your work in a very real way. Even before you internalize the prevailing wisdom that a bad first book can torpedo you as a novelist, there's a lot at stake.

The writing style I use means a lot of revision and rework during the process of writing. After that, I did a first-pass revision. Then I got crits on it and I'm doing a second revision now. Once those edits are in place, I'm going to do a final readthrough to make sure I haven't introduced new problems or errors. When I send this out it's going to be polished, and even after that, I'm fairly sure my (eventual, hopeful) agent and/or editor will come back with yet more crits. Everything is going to be done to give my book the best chance it can have. I'm just dragging my feet because even the steps to move forward are scary.

Still. This is about how I felt when I started submitting short stories too, and that turned out all right. I'll just keep telling myself that, then taking a deep breath, and addressing the next challenge on the list.
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
Check out the new blog post on [personal profile] an_owomoyela for excerpts from and neepery about my second Write-a-Thon story, Redacted. It's the one with the oddly friendly church, and also memory loss and crime and disability and how to communicate stories. Sorta.
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
Check out the new blog post on [personal profile] an_owomoyela for excerpts from and neepery about my first Write-a-Thon story!

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