Stop Talking About NaNo

…and get writing already!

There are Tina Fey GIFs everywhere in this because Tina Fey is my lady-hero and that’s just something we all have to live with.

Okay, so I know NaNo isn’t for me, but I don’t think it’s wrong for others.

At least, I didn’t think it was wrong for others. Like, hey, if motivation is something you struggle with a lot—and for me, it’s all about the extrinsic rewards, the firm conviction that I can produce publishable work—then why not jump on the community support and get yourself revved up that way? Continue reading

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Writers’ Digest: 15 things a writer should never do

As much as I think a list of things writers should do is useless, I think a list of things writers shouldn’t do is great. It’s a lost less constricting, you see.

The biggest one, personally, is the one about taking criticism. The truth is, I have plenty of opinions on how you can make your work better, but I don’t want to share them when I think I’ll get yelled at. a) it’s a waste of my time, and b) it’s not really encouraging.

Anyway, I see so many of these things online, I just want to repost this everywhere. (A friend on one of those sites showed it to me first, so we’re actually mostly covered…oh well.)

Microsoft Word is Ruining My Typing

No, seriously.

I spend a fair bit amount of time on chat (and, of course, writing things here or on Goodreads) and the amount of errors I make has gone crazy high. It’s most obvious on chat because I don’t bother correcting (real time communication > fancy conventions), though. Continue reading

Lessons from Bollywood: why censorship is bad

(Disclaimer: it’s technically not Bollywood, at least not the whole Mumbai giant machine industry, but eh. Sounded good in the title.) Continue reading

Why ‘not a Mary Sue’ is a terrible approach to character creation

For you lucky people who’ve never heard this term, it comes from fanfiction and is used to…wait, why am I wasting time laying this all out for you? Here, skim the TvTropes article. Quite frankly I don’t think this is a concern for writers who’ve either never bothered with roleplyaing or fanfiction, but since the term does show up all over the place and points to a more fundamental flaw in the way people approach characters, I figured I’d roll it out for the opener.

So anyway, my real issue is with people who think of characters in terms of flaws, strengths, and quirks.

And okay, yes, if you’re new to writing then you should start there. We all have to start there. But if you’ve been doing it for more than like a month, the rest of this post is for you. Continue reading

How to write 70,000 words in 15 days

Okay, whew. This has been a long time coming. I originally meant to put it up after January 15th so we would have an objective idea of how successful something like this is, but Harper Voyager has put out an update so I’ve no idea when they will get back to me. Although it is nice to know they will be getting back eventually. (I like that they feel bad about a two-month response time to something like 4500 manuscripts. One of my friends has been waiting on poetry for almost a year.)

 

Before I get any further with this, though, I’d like to note something pretty important: I had no interfering commitments. After finishing up work, I’d just moved back in with the parents, plus I’m not in a relationship. If you want to spend this much time all in a chunk, you’d better not need to play with your kids or make ends meet, etc. Let’s face it, for the overwhelming majority of us, writing will never be the primary breadwinner. It’s a nice dream and there’s nothing wrong with working towards it, but don’t bet on it at the cost of everything else.

 

As you can see from this, it took me 14 actual days of writing and 17 days to push out 70,004 words, which then got edited into 80,000 words that I threw at Harper Voyager in the hopes they’ll think this business is saleable. YA sci-fi with all the themes and a socioeconomic minority lead? Let’s see how that goes. (And yes, there was an actual reason the main character is urban poor. I don’t do that for the sake of doing it.)

 

So anyway, once you’ve decided you won’t be breaking any hearts or getting tossed out on the street by doing something like this:

  • Have a real motivation. I find the chance to be published by one of the big six without first getting an agent very, very motivating. Since this kind of thing doesn’t happen every day, you need to figure out what will make you do it. Is it the fact that you’re finally on break and this is all the time you have? The fact that you’ve had this story idea for a long time and now you think you’re ready to make it happen? Internal or external, make sure you have a reason to keep going that you won’t argue yourself out of.
  • Be efficient. I took a break when I realized that sitting in front of a computer and trying to push words out was just getting things deleted. I needed to plan where things should go and reassess the middle of the story, and honestly I just needed a break from the damn thing. Once I got back to it, I did much better.
  • Don’t write just for the sake of writing. It’s one thing to do it during NaNo when the whole point is to get those words out, but in this case I was writing to show other people. I’m not a long-winded person (I used to be, and the results depressed me too much to keep doing it), and the first thing I always ask myself when writing is ‘why would anyone want to read this?’ I will say now that I don’t think the results came out badly. Voice is one of my strong points, though, so the plot is likely weaker than I think it is.
  • PLAN. I can’t say that much about good planning because, frankly, I’m awful at it, but I had the idea for this last year. So I knew exactly what I wanted from the setting, I knew the beginning and the end of the story down to the wording I wanted, I knew the characters and the voice I was going to write this with (although I did waver between past and present tense for an entire page). Where this will totally screw you over is when you get to 35,000 words and realize that you are out of ideas for where things should go in order to hit that all-important word count. Ooooops. Seriously, don’t just figure out point A to B, figure out what needs to happen in-between.
  • Take care of yourself. Take walks, exercise, eat regularly: all these basic things. If you get a headache, get off the computer. If your wrists starting hurting, go do something else. I set Word so I’m writing light text on a dark background, which does help with the eyestrain, but it still took me around five hours to write 7,000 words because I took breaks every thirty minutes. Also, F.lux is awesome. I mentioned the mental side of it above, but yeah: health matters.
  • Have fun! Okay, so it totally borders on tedious at times and that’s why that external motivation was so necessary for me, but still. This is your story, you’re doing it because you want to, you should enjoy it.

 

As always, discussion welcome.

What is Voice? (Also: how to have it and why it matters.)

Someone recently pointed out that the Google results for a search on ‘voice’ yield ambiguous and contradictory results. Not to mention a whole category of stuff that just has me going ‘wtf’. With the single exception of this wonderful blog post from All Write – Fiction Advice, which honestly you could just read instead.

And yeah, I know this stuff is subjective. The thing is, though, I can define my terms and back them up. You may call it something different, but for me, voice is the single required element for a story to be interesting and original. Everything else helps, but without voice, you will just not hold my attention.

game of thrones joffrey clapping

Okay, so the million-dollar question: what is voice?

Voice is the ‘personality’ of the book.

Third person omniscient narrators have voice, too.

Oh my gods, that’s not useful at all, is it? Let me do this with an example. Imagine a passage about a person peeing on a statue of Jesus. From the perspective of a devout, militant atheist, the person peeing will be praised and the Jesus figurine will be painted in a ridiculous light. A Christian might praise Jesus for loving this person despite his stupidity. (None of this has to be direct. It’s a matter of word choice.)

And yes, I went with something people get emotional about on purpose.

1. George whipped it out and released a lovely yellow stream on the glassy-eyed face opposite him. Jesus had his hands up and his mouth open, and before long he was all decked out, his gown like lemon meringue pie. As the steam blew off his face, George noted he was smiling like he enjoyed it.

2. George struggled to get his zipper open and started urinating right away, unable to hold it back. Jesus met the water with outstretched arms, his forgiving smile unchanged as the steam rose heavenward. George could sense the benevolence.

Please note that neither case mentions what George’s intentions were–this is relevant.

What makes two voices different?

Intention and perspective. Even third-person omniscient isn’t just some objective, disinterested narration of events (why do you think textbooks are so boring?), it’s a person with some kind of personality telling a story. As far as nonfiction goes, you do see this in historical works because the author always has a thesis (aka ‘opinion’) they’re trying to further. For instance, I’m reading a book where the author is arguing that double-entry bookkeeping defined the modern world, so stuff is going to be biased in favor of making double-entry bookkeeping look good, the way #2 above will do its best to make Jesus look good in a bad situation.

Okay, but how do I actually make this happen?

  • Style. I consider style to be the use of grammatical conventions–stuff like fragments, run-ons, even details like dash use (especially in a historical context). The result tends to convey the speaker’s background or state of mind. Action scenes will be more agitated, so short sentences instead of longer, complex ones; a strict adherence to the formal rules of grammar from a Victorian-age schoolmarm.
  • Word choice. If the examples above aren’t clear, you can ask for details. But, dude, people have opinions not just based on what they’ve learned but how they’ve grown up. A scientist is more likely to say ‘I think’ and a devout person is more likely to say ‘I believe’–it can be that simple. (Obviously, this doesn’t mean that the former never uses the word ‘belief’ and the latter never thinks.)
  • Information. What does the narrator want to tell the readers? Why?
  • Subjectivity. The above are how you get the ideas across to the reader, but how do you get there yourself? By sinking into the skin of whomever you’re writing as. To me, this doesn’t mean imagining a character standing right in front of you yelling stuff (I don’t do imagination), it’s more of an asking myself ‘how would a person of this demographic information with these biases describe this event?’

 
 
That’s all I have for today. Would something on ‘finding your voice’ be useful?