Friday, December 25, 2015

Friday Fiction Feed - HAPPY CHRISTMAS!!!

It's my favourite day of the year. :D


So what is your character's favorite holiday? The favorite holiday memory? A bad memory? Share it in your writing. Let the holidays go into your novel, too. Tell the story!

Friday, December 4, 2015

Friday Fiction Feed - Understanding

You know people who can understand each other just with a look? Usually you know that person for a while. But you understand what a wince means in a certain situation or know, without looking at them, that they are unbearably excited. I sometimes get that way with my brothers (although they aren't exactly an excitable bunch; normally they are the ones confused by my excitement. But never mind).

Do you have any characters that are excited or confused? How can they communicate, and who can they communicate to, where the will know the situation immediately without even trying? Who will know, immediately, what that little wince means? Who does your character understand? Try and show that understanding this week.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Friday Fiction Feed - The Spiraling Shame

Whenever something happens, I always think (usually within the first ten seconds), what if?

What if I had decided to floss that morning? I would be ten seconds later the rest of the day, and that could have changed everything. What if I had woken up when my alarm rang? I would have had my coffee earlier and more awake now. Or I might have needed a second cup of coffee and thus be more awake now. What if I had turned right at the traffic lights? What if I had continued the conversation? What if, what if, what if.

What if-ing can be a valuable tool if you let it, and a wordy tool at that (perfect for the end of NaNoWriMo!).

So let your character think "what if" today. You don't know what they will end up thinking up!

Friday, October 23, 2015

Friday Fiction Feed - Weather Woes

Disclosure: this is my favorite time of year. I love the cooler weather, the wind, pumpkin goodies, and the promise of the holidays coming. I love that tons of books come out and new television seasons start and good movies are around the corner. It's just all so wonderfully exciting.

But the weather is a big part of that. I love windy days. I love the first few drops of rain. There's a taste about autumn weather that's just so satisfying. Autumn days seem to satisfy a craving that every other season ignores.

So, I've been thinking about weather. Weather can be a great plot device. It can force characters to pause, bring them together, cause them stress, force them into action. Weather is beyond everyone's control, which means that it is purely at the discretion of the writer.

So change up the weather in your story. Have a sudden storm or drought. Create a tornado. Have a hurricane hit. See what happens when something uncontrollable happens.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Friday Fiction Feed - Freudian Slip

Something fun this week!

You've probably heard of a Freudian slip--when someone accidentally says something that they didn't mean to say. These are usually sexual in nature (I mean, it's Freud here), but they don't always have to be.

So what happens when a character slips? DRAMA. That's like free, fun character times! So have a character slip something out about how they really feel, or what they really want--or, maybe, what they don't want to want. Create a little bit of drama for your weekend writing.

Slip out!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Monday Musings - Carry On by Rainbow Rowell Review

Two on-time book review in a row, what what!

This week, we finally got to read Carry On by Rainbow Rowell. Fangirl, the original book that this is essentially a spinoff of, is probably now in my top ten favorite fictional books ever. I loved it; I loved everything it made me remember, regarding my freshman year of college and Harry Potter. I loved the characters. I loved the story. So when I heard that Carry On was coming, I was excited to rekindle that love.

In retrospect, the cover should have been a clue.
Make no mistake, I've enjoyed other Rainbow Rowell books. I thought Eleanor & Park was cute and heartbreaking, although Landline was merely okay (I still haven't got around to her debut work, Attachments). But Fangirl was my favorite by a long shot, and I was hoping that we might get back to it through Carry On.

The book itself, though, is more akin to Eleanor & Park in terms of structure, with multiple points-of-view that would change sometimes in the middle of a chapter. While there are definitely nods to other Chosen One narratives, notably Harry Potter, there's also nods to fanfiction, which makes sense given what Carry On was born out of. But what was missing in the book was that natural sense of whimsy and awe that you get from a fantasy book.

Good fantasy is grounded; it might replace or add some things from our society, but it's still our society at its core. Harry Potter might have magic, but the society is still going through the same struggles Muggle society is. Buffy may kill vampires, but she's also a teenaged girl dealing with teenaged problems. Frodo is going on a journey, but the Shire still seems familiar. But the World of Magick (ugh, I hate it when people add a k) doesn't seem familiar or realistic at all; it feels fake. I didn't get the feeling that Rowell knew what every building looked like and what the usual foods were or any of that. The World of Magick felt small, and not at all a World.

Perhaps that's what happens when you are only reading the final book of the series. Carry On pretends to be the eighth book of the series, and all of the flashbacks to previous books take time away from world building. That's the other flaw of the series; while the backstory ultimately wasn't needed, the constant references to it got boring after a while. We get that Simon had lots of adventures. We get that there were other books. But when you spend so much time on the past, the book is going to lag.

And it did. The plot is slow and clunky most of the time. Characters seemed to disappear until we needed them. There was really just a main plot (will Simon defeat the humdrum?) with the romantic subplot, with the majority of the emphasis going towards the romance than the plot itself. This wouldn't be a problem if the book was a romance, but it definitely was trying to be plot-driven, and it didn't work. There was not a good balance between the two.

At the end, then, Carry On is really just a romance novel about two wizards. It isn't a novel that takes place in a huge world, or a story about a Chosen One--it's a story about choosing one. Many people are going to love that, but for those who were excited for the fantasy aspect and immersion, it's going to be a little disappointing.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Friday Fiction Feed - Clean Up! Clean Up!

I hate cleaning. Have I mentioned this? I probably have. I hate cleaning. It takes so much energy, and yes, it's nice to be in a clean room, but if I spend that energy writing, then I have something forever! The room will get messy again.

(And yes, I spend a lot of my time just playing Candy Crush or Angry Birds or whatever. But I'm thinking when that happens! Cleaning means I can't think.)

But cleaning helps me find lost things. Money is always nice, but sometimes a television remote, a receipt...a checkbook...there's always something. Sometimes what I find gives me something to do, like a gift card lets me plan an adventure, or a memento reminds me of something I want to do.

Have a character clean up, but have them find something to do through it. Go on a side quest! Find something new, something fun. So what if it all ends up on the editing room floor? It'll help you learn more about the character too.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Weekly Writing Wrambling - NaNoPrepMo, Week Two!

We're getting close to NaNoWriMo 2015--yay! NaNoPrepMo is now in full swing, and after discussing ideas last week, I wanted to turn my attention to logistics.

NaNoWriMo is not an easy thing--never call it easy! It can be fun, wild, hectic, stressful, silly, lonely, social, and over-caffeinated, but I would never call it easy. The reward is well worth the investment, but it is important to accept that there will be an investment, and to take that investment seriously. Because of this, some preparation might be needed to stay on track. A few tips:

1. Figure out your Word Count strategy

The backbone of NaNo is that word count. Most people suggest 1,667 words per day, which will definitely get you there, but there might be other things to take into account. Are you going to be super busy on Thanksgiving? Is there no chance that you are going to be able to write on Tuesdays? You don't want to be into November and realizing this; you want to prepare now.

One way that I've done NaNoWriMo is to write 2000 words a day, and get one day off a week; this helped me take a day off for Thanksgiving (always busy!) and my birthday. If you're a commuter who is planning on writing on the train or in the carpool, perhaps it would be easier to do 2000 words each weekday and 1000 words each weekend. Perhaps you need to start off each morning by writing 600 words before work, so you only have to write 1000 when you get home.

One benefit of NaNoWriMo is that it gets you into the practice of sitting down on a regular basis and writing. Prepare for that new habit now!

2. Write-Ins and other social NaNo events

I used to never go to write-ins because I was too shy, but as I am now an ML I have to attend several a week, and I love them. One of the huge perks of write-ins are that they are times solely for working on your novel, with no distractions from your home. Use that time!

Most regions have their write-ins scheduled by this time of year--look them up and see if you can attend. If not, perhaps it would be a good idea to get on the forums and plan your own write-ins. They don't have to be anything formal; a simple "I'll be writing at Starbucks on Wednesday nights; feel free to join" can suffice. Once there, you can use @NaNoWordSprints on Twitter for some help if you need it. But put some writing time on your calendar now--you'll appreciate knowing that you have those blocks of times already set aside come November 1st!

3. Outline

I'm not going to get into outlining much since I just did a series on it, but now is the time to work on an outline if you feel you are going to need it. Figure out what you are going to be writing, and if you're really feeling ambitious, make a list of what you want to do each day. Maybe something like:

Day 1: Introduce dragonstone
Day 2: Amy finds the dragonstone
Day 3: Amy turns into a dragon
Day 4: Amy terrorizes the village as a dragon, and kills her horse on accident.

Et cetera. The month will be a lot less daunting if you know what you are going to be writing each day.

4. Fun preparation!

It's not all boring logistics--you can have some fun preparing as well. If you've got an idea, maybe you can start working on a playlist for your novel that gets you in a wordy mood. Perhaps you want to choose a type of gum and make it your "Novel Gum" for the month--the one you only chew when you are writing. Do you want to bedazzle your computer so you can show it off in public?

If there's anything you need to do to make you excited to write, then start it now. You'll appreciate it later.

5. Read More

Writers need to read. Read a book this month--maybe of the genre you're planning on writing. Get into the reading and writing mood ahead of November!

And remember--have fun!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Monday Musings - The Epic Adventures of Lydia Bennet by Kate Rorick and Rachel Kiley

Hey, look! A book review that is somewhat timely! Go me.

I loved the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, and really enjoyed the novelization, so I was quite eager to get my hands on The Epic Adventures of Lydia Bennet. More Lydia! Would that mean more Lizzie? More Jing? Will I hear about weddings and babies? I WANT BABIES AND WEDDINGS, PEOPLE.

So, perhaps because the Lizzie Bennet Diaries focused quite a bit on the lives of Jane, Lydia, and Charlotte, I assumed that The Epic Adventures of Lydia Bennet would focus on the other characters as well. Perhaps the focus would be on Lydia, but there would be a good chunk on the others. However,  Lizzie is in maybe three scenes, Jane is in maybe six scenes, and Darcy, Fitz, Mr. Collins, and Charlotte don't even appear. We do get a good bit more of Mary, and some nice bits with Mrs. Bennet, but this really is Lydia's story.

The author's discussion at the end of the novel mentions that Lydia's story never really finished on the vlogs, but I never thought that was the case. I thought that Lydia had more healing to do, yes, but that she really was beginning something good in her life. It made sense that it would take place offline and that we wouldn't get to see it. So the book's arc really feels a little unnecessary, as we follow Lydia around during the summer after the vlogs end. She's taking classes, she's trying to figure out life, and she's healing.

But while that make sense from a plot standpoint, it isn't the most interesting thing to read. The title promises adventures, but Lydia's adventures are much more internal than anything else. She's learning how to be the "new Lydia" instead of the "old Lydia", but reading about she isn't enjoying drinking and how she's falling for jerks isn't that compelling. The end of the book promises an adventure, much like how the end of Lizzie's blogs promised adventures for Lizzie and Jane, so perhaps we are brought full circle with new adventures for Lydia. But her getting there isn't as interesting as Lizzie and Jane's growth. While reading the book, I just sort of wanted it to end so Lydia could get her adventures.

I think part of it might be the format. The savior for Lydia, really, is the actress Mary Kate Wiles, who just makes Lydia so lovable despite her difficult portrayal in the source material. The authors of Lydia's vlog and who assisted on LBD are back, but their script definitely falls flat without Wiles to make it buoyant and effervescent. Lydia's trials were heartbreaking with Wiles' portrayal; her recovery without it just seems so flat and listless.

Now, Wiles narrates the audiobook, so I wonder if that is any better. But the book is (unfortunately) a bit of bore, which is quite disappointing for our beloved Ly-di-ah.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Friday Fiction Feed - Description Time

Hair is a funny thing. It's slightly different for everyone; the colour, the texture, the smell. After that, it's styled, dyed, chopped, and changed again. Hair is always changing for a person.

Because of that, it can be useful to use hair to describe character growth. A sporty person will tie their hair back or chop it off, and might have a greasier, sweatier texture. A popular person will load their hair with product and maybe iron it straight. Everyone is going to treat their hair slightly different.

What is your protagonist's hair like? Your antagonist? The best friend? The love interest? Describe some hair--either what it is, or what the character wants it to be. Hair can be revealing.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Weekly Writing Wrambling - NaNoPrepMo, Week One!

It's October first! NaNoPrepMo is finally upon us! Let the bells ring, let people dance in the streets, and let me dust off my chicken hat.

(Well, I wear my chicken hat year-round. But it is especially important during NaNo season. Ooooh, should I let my hat sprint during NaNoWordSprints?)

While I have been discussing plotting versus freestyling for the past few weeks on this blog, this next series is going to be particularly about preparing for NaNo. Maybe it will be more pertinent to those who like outlining, but I would still suggest that you have an idea of what you want to write about, particularly if this is your first NaNo. This week, I'm going to discuss the idea process, so that should help for you no matter what camp you are in.

Day one can be daunting, or exciting, depending on what sort of idea you have. As such, I have a few proposed guidelines for you about your idea. I should add, while I'm putting the NaNo lens on this idea, it's a good checklist for when you start a book regardless.

1. Am I Excited About This Topic?

If you aren't excited about your book, your next month is going to be miserable. If you can't stop thinking about your book idea, if you keep on coming up with subplot ideas, if you want to start writing now, then you're fine. If you have an idea, but sitting down and making an outline sounds like a chore, then you might not have the best idea. Remember: it doesn't matter if the idea has been in your head forever. It matters whether you want to write it now.

And that means this book. If you are excited about future books, about future subplots, about becoming the new George R. R. Martin...that's not excitement about this idea. Maybe you're close to the idea. Maybe you should think about writing the sequel first, a la Star Wars. But make sure you are eager about this upcoming month and this book, first and foremost.

2. Is This A Big Enough Idea?

Writing about a picnic on Mars might sound like fun, but that is really only one scene. You want to make sure that your idea is big enough to take up a whole book. Writing about how two characters ended up have a picnic on Mars will take a while; writing about how an innocent couple are suddenly transported to Mars during a picnic will take a while. But that actual picnic? Unless you're being really existential about things, that's not going to take 50,000 words.

Sure, if you're freestyling, maybe you want to just know your first scene to start off. But make sure there are avenues to continue exploring. Colonization on Mars, earthling invasions...just start thinking about some places to go after day one. If you only have an idea that will take a few days, you need to start expanding your idea.

3. Is It A Small Enough Idea?

This was the issue my first year. I wanted to write about a girl disguising herself as a man and fighting in tournaments in the Middle Ages, but the problem was that it didn't take too long to get to that first tournament, and then I had no idea where to go. Winning tournaments? Taking over a country? What happens next?

If I had shrunk my idea to a girl preparing to fight in tournaments, that would have worked. If I had shrunk my idea to just one tournament, that would have worked. But I had bitten off more than I could chew, and had no idea where to go. Take some time to make sure your idea has a clear progression. You want to talk about earthling invasions on Mars? What happens after the first invasion? Once you can answer a few of those questions, your story is big enough.

4. Do I Know What I Need To Know?

Research if you need to. I could have (and should have) done more research into tournaments before I tried to write a book about it. Maybe you need to write the Martian Bill of Rights (as long as that isn't part of your novel, that's fine!). Maybe you need to come up with character names. Maybe you need to double-check whether surgeons go to the same schools as doctors. But if you have any questions about your topic, start looking into things now.

If you can say yes to all of these questions, you're in good shape for NaNo. If any of these are no? You might still be okay, but you're going to have a harder time unless some sudden inspiration hits. Once I took my tournament team time travelling into modern-day Europe, I was able to write and love it--I just needed to tweak my idea. That's what NaNoPrepMo is for: to prep! Start thinking about your idea, and how it is going to become a story.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Tuesday Travels - No. 28 - Try Ravioli from Bertucelli's La Villa Gourmet

Back on track for Tuesday Travels, and working on my BABL! A few weeks ago, I had brunch in Willow Glen with Estelle of my San Francisco Adventure fame, and so I decided to finally stop at Bertucelli's La Villa Gourmet, an Italian delicatessen in the neighbourhood, to buy some ravioli to cook.
With special guest star, Christine's Feet
I don't know when I first heard of the place, but the reputation preceded it, and after reading a few newspaper articles about the business that raved about their ravioli, I knew I wanted to give it a try!

First thing: yes, it was a Saturday lunchtime, but the place was insanely busy. I ordered ahead and still had to wait a good twenty minutes to be served. Most people were buying Italian sandwiches and food from a hot food counter. I couldn't see the hot food section, but the sandwiches looked good; they were cutting all of the meat fresh from long salamis and sausages, which is something you don't normally see. No Oscar Meyer Bologna here!

I went for a basic cheese ravioli with a meat tomato sauce (Bolognese? Marinara? I'm not entirely sure of the difference), but they also have lobster, feta, chicken, and beef raviolis, plus sometimes seasonal flavors. I could see more sauces, including alfredo, vodka, and pesto--and I'm fairly certain more were hiding from me. However, they were already almost sold out of ravioli, so ordering ahead is definitely the way to go.

Christine's Feet are still making cameos.
The ravioli came in one big square! I wasn't expecting that; I assumed it would already be broken apart, but the instructions on the box were quite specific about not breaking them. I just dumped them in a large pot of boiling water for a few minutes, and presto! Ravioli. Throw in some sauce, and dinner was served.
This was definitely some of the best pasta I've had, particularly out of my own kitchen. The ravioli were so tender, and the cheese was soft but not mushy. The pasta was slightly thinner than expected, but it tasted stronger than I am used to. My experience with fresh pasta has been limited to the refrigerator section of Safeway, which isn't really that fresh. But this pasta was still firm, not floppy; al dente, and with the flavor that normal dried spaghetti lacks. It was like a real carb. Spaghetti noodles don't taste like bread; this almost did. It had that wheaty, carby deliciousness.

The sauce was a bit of a let down. Originally, I tried some cold and it just tasted like Ragu, but once it was heated up it tasted much better. It was also somewhat sweet, which worked well with the cheesy ravioli, but I think I would have liked something a little more tart. Also, I didn't see or taste any meat, so I think I got the wrong sauce. C'est la vie.

But was it good? Yes. Usually I hate leftovers, but I really looked forward to reheating my ravioli, and it kept shape and tasted fine a few days later. Would I go again? Yes! But I might want to try a different sauce (mmm, pesto), and I'd love to try some other pastas as well as their other raviolis. Given how amazing the pasta part of the ravioli is, the noodles but be amazing. There was also some butternut squash gnocchi that sounded delicious. And I wonder if they make a spumoni? And the sandwiches seemed yummy too. I think I will wander back down again!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Monday Musings - Royal Wedding by Meg Cabot Review

Another Monday Musings, another book review! This time, we are (once again) doing a book that came out several months ago, Royal Wedding by Meg Cabot.

When this was first announced, I was kind of blown away. I thought that the Princess Diaries series ended well; I loved the final book, and it was a satisfying finale. However, since this jumps eight years into the future, it doesn't exactly feel like a sequel. It isn't Princess Diaries: The College Years. It's an adult book, with a very frank discussion of sex and adult relationships, and not as much of whimsy that a bildungsroman can provide.

So some of the logical plotlines from the original series are gone, as well as some of the characters. However, most the main characters are back in Manhattan and friends with each other (and still dating the same characters, for the most part). I can't say that it picks up where Forever Princess ends, but there's definitely no major changes that will confuse readers. That's somewhat unrealistic, but it is lampshaded, so at least the book acknowledges the problem.

But the major problem with the book goes unacknowledged. Royal Wedding is the big, happy bow on top of everything. Forever Princess gave most of the characters a happy ending--this is supposed to be a bit of a fairy tale, so you expect a happily ever after--but the endings were all true to the characters and the future wasn't guaranteed to be amazing. Mia had her dream boyfriend, but she was about to move away for college. Her dad had a new woman, but she clearly wasn't an enamored. All the friends were splitting up. It was a happy ending, but it was still realistic.

Now? Mia's been handed a sister, her parents together, her dream husband, the crown, and kids in the time period of about two weeks. She didn't have to work for it; it was all handed to her. The character development from the previous series is gone. Mia's parents are brought back together with the disappearance of Ms. Martinez and the offscreen death of Mr. G. Despite Mia's Dad's alleged infertility, he has another love child that he never mentioned. Mia's birth control just happened to stop working. Everyone (except Lilly) is in love with their high school sweetheart. There's a happily ever after, but then there's just a cliché ending, and this falls firmly into the latter category.

Royal Wedding the book equivalent of cotton candy. Fun, yes, but also somewhat frustrating, because you were hungry and the cotton candy is just saccharine and not filling. It came back for one final swing, and it almost turned into a parody of itself, and the series as a whole. Everything that was worked for in the past books--Mia's relationships with Lilly and Tina, Phillipe's growth, everything--has turned into a joke. The book was fun, yes, but it was also frustrating.

Will I buy the future Olivia Grace books? Probably. But I hope they go back to the original Princess Diaries way: realistic and yet fantastic, happily ever after and still true to life.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Friday Fiction Feed - ((Quiet))

Writing is a busy thing. Books are a busy thing. I suppose nobody is really interested in reading a book about silence and calmness; that would be boring.

But I think it is important for characters to get a breather every now and then, partly because it bring issues to the surface (hopefully issues with other characters, which create further issues, which create new plotlines...). If we cram something in every minute of our character's lives, they don't have a chance to think about everything.

And maybe you'll delete those moments once you're editing, but at least you gave the characters a chance to do something.

So let a character reflect this weekend. Think. Be quiet. See what trouble they will get into when there's nothing but themselves to trouble them.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Weekly Writing Wrambling - Plotting vs. Freestyle, Part Four

For the past few weeks, I have been posting my thoughts about writing a novel with an outline, without an outline, and with a loose outline. These are all very valid techniques. But what happens after the novel is written? I propose: reverse outlining!

(Or first outlining, if you freestyled originally.)

Back in my former life as a Writing Tutor, this was my favorite technique to teach students who were editing essays, and it's still my favorite technique to edit novels today. Looking at hundreds of pages is a very daunting task; I think it is much easier to distill what you have, and then start moving things around from there. You will still need to look at the whole, but this is much easier for when you are starting off.

What sort of outline you use is up to you. For longer works, I find a chart is easiest, while I prefer a traditional layout for essays and the like. In any case, the first thing I do is make a list of all of the scenes in the novel. This is not a list of chapters; chapters can include many scenes. Similarly, a scene might change within the same location. If there is a chapter break, I generally like to call it a new scene, but the choice is yours.

Once you have a list of scenes, list what is happening in the scene in as short a sentence as possible. "Bob feeds Kitty" is a valid description, as is "Bob and Jill almost kiss before Jill is shot in the gut and dies" is also valid. After that, list why the scene is important and what it does for the characters. For example:
Bob feeds Kitty
Bob remembers he is in this for Kitty
Bob remembers he is in this for Kitty
Kitty finally starts liking Bob
Bob and Jill almost kiss before Jill is shot in the gut and dies
Jill realizes Bob’s telling truth; Bob gets in trouble; Kitty runs away
Bob realizes Jill isn’t involved with the mob
Kitty runs away and is now in hiding
Jill now realizes that something is going on
Bob is questioned by police
Bob finally learns about Big Eddy
Bob becomes a suspect
Bob realizes the police are against him

Sometimes I also like to include highlighting, so I can easily view the distribution of action scenes to characters scenes to discovery scenes (when the characters follow a clue). Obviously, if you're in a more character-driven novel, you might prefer highlighting how the character feels or something like that. Highlighting can help when you start figuring out pace and potential pacing issues, such as if you have too many deliberation scenes in a row and not enough action. Color is helpful because you can see everything at a glance.

Now you are also able to look at the character arc, as it is written, and figure out if the characters are behaving logically. Is Bob is angry at Jill in once scene and then okay with her in the next? Did Kitty get sick, and then she was fine, and then she was sick again? Again, once everything is distilled into an outline, you are able to look at what you have done and if there are issues with the characters. Now you know you want to make Kitty sick in the middle scene, or have Bob mention that he has cooled down towards Jill.

 This also works for when you need to start--gulp--taking words out. Maybe you figure out that hey, scene 35 really isn't necessary and can be taken out. Maybe you figure out that hey, scene 36 should really be split into two so Bob and Jill have a greater connection. This is particularly important when you freestyled the first time around--you need to make sure that everything flows in a logical manner. It's easier to figure this out in a chart than it is when you are dealing with pages and pages of manuscript.

So: are you editing? Try reverse outlining. It helps--a lot!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Monday Musings - Recent Trends in Fiction, The Redux

Has anyone else noticed how many allegedly "finished" series are getting new books as of late? I'm not talking about a movie adaptation or a rerelease. I mean a brand new book, coming out with the same characters. In the past while we've had:

*New Goosebumps books (children's), released starting in 2009
*A new Babysitters Club book (prequel, children's), released April 2010
*A new Sweet Valley High book (adult), released March 2011
*A new Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants book (adult), released June 2011
*A new series by Lemony Snicket, starting in October 2012
*A new Face on the Milk Carton book (YA), released January 2014
*A new Princess Diaries book (adult), released May 2015
*A new To Kill A Mockingbird Book, if that counts, released July 2015

Now, I could probably add more to that book, but I think that there is a trend going on here. Books that were largely popular in the nineties and early 2000s are getting...well, more books. Maybe that has always been going on, but I think we're definitely entering a renaissance for this.

When the new Goosebumps and Babysitters Club books came out, Scholastic said what was a fairly realistic philosophy: kids, who had read those book series while growing up, were now having kids and wanted something they could safely pass on to their kids. Goosebumps may have had some (mild) horror aspects, but those were both safe brand names; if kids were reading that, then they couldn't get too corrupted.

But sometime after that, the idea shifted. If so many adults are now reading YA, and the relatively new NA genre, then wouldn't they pick up books about the characters as adults? I think it makes a lot of sense that the first two Adult Reboots, Sweet Valley High and Traveling Pants, both came from series that were somewhat ghostwritten (Ann Brashares was hired to write the Traveling Pants series, from what I understand, so while she doesn't exactly count as a ghostwriter there's still an aspect of it being a job). They same authors could be hired again, this time to write a book that focused on the adult lives of the main characters.

Once those two books started selling--I admittedly purchased the Traveling Pants one, although I was never into Sweet Valley High and thus didn't care about the new one--more established authors started jumping on board. Daniel Handler (alias of Lemony Snicket), Caroline B. Cooney, and Meg Cabot had all written books in the past, but they were all still writing other words in the present. They got to return to those original worlds once it was proven to be financially successful to do so, but years after the original series was allegedly "finished".

Now, I've enjoyed these books. I'm not disappointed that this is going on. But I guess I'm curious at where the buck stops. There's not really a "big" series being published right now. From Goosebumps and Babysitters Club back in the nineties, we went into Harry Potter, and then into Twilight, and then into The Hunger Games. Some of the excitement was recaptured for other series, like A Song of Ice and Fire, or Divergent, or The Maze Runner. But by and large, there hasn't been a midnight release party for ages. Publishers had a successful run, and now that success is gone, so they need something new. That seems to be Adult Reboots.

But I don't think I want to read the adventures of the kids on the Traveling Pants farm. I don't want to read about Janie Johnson continuing to be an immature brat. I want to read something new--something exciting! Can we please get that instead? Adult Reboots are fine and dandy, but give me something new to read, please.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Friday Fiction Feed - Procrastination Station

I, like many of you, love to procrastinate. (Hence the state of this blog.) There are things I put off as much as possible because I loathe doing them. I hate laundry. I hate cleaning the bathtub. I hate shaving. I hate, I hate...

But these things have to be done. And that's especially true with a book. Remember: if you're bored, the reader would be bored too. Don't wait around for a certain page count or action before you get to the real meat of your story. Go ahead! Write it now!

So stop those characters from putting off that kiss. Stop the villains from waiting for May 19th to rob a bank. Stop waiting, and start doing!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Weekly Writing Wrambling - Plotting vs. Freestyle, Part Three

For the past two weeks, I have talked about the joys and sorrows of freestyle writing and outlining. There are problems with both of these methods that can be solved by the other, but if you ever need to divert to the other method, you are in trouble. If you go from freestyle to an outline, you've lost all that wonderful freestyling. If characters start doing their own thing, your outline is useless. Similarly, if you have an outline and decide to go off on your own, so much time that you spent plotting has been wasted, and you are soon not going to have a clue what you are supposed to be writing.

Because of that, I prefer a looser form of outlining that I like to call hybrid outlining. That way, I can easily edit it and change it if I want to, but I have some idea of where I am going. I was particularly fond of this method back in hgh school, because I did want to freestyle--I just wanted to control my freestyling a bit more. So while I wrote huge, complicated charts and outlines last week, this week's example is much smaller:

Chapter 4
Bob looks into, and then steals, Jill’s car

There is way less detail. This means your going to start your chapter mostly free (like we discussed the other week), but also means you know what you are supposed to do. The specifics are up to you. I haven't created guidelines about why Bob steals the car, whether Jill sees Bob, where Jill is, and how many cars are in the parking lot. I'm free to let the scene unfold exactly as I see fit. That's pretty nice.
Of course, we run into some issues. Like freestyling, if I have a complicated plot I might forget to do something important. Like outlining, I still am in trouble if I decide to make a major plot change. But these are more easily controlled. If I want to make a major plot change, not much work is lost--and it doesn't cause a lot of work to make a new outline. To negate forgetting something, I can still add more information to my chart, but keep it tiny:

Plot point
Chapter 4
Bob looks into, and then steals, Jill’s car
·         Three identical cars
·         Jill sorta sees Bob

BOOM. Now you know what you need to know, you've still got freedom, and it didn't take much time. Huzzah!
But now it comes to the writing--and things always start changing. Next week I'll discuss post-writing outlining, which is one of my favorite editing techniques.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Friday Fiction Feed - A New Character!

Sometimes, your current character list can get stale. At times like that, I like to add a new character to the mix. Now, normally adding more doesn't work--for instance, if your chocolate is all clumpy, you don't want to add more chocolate--but characters are a different type of thing. A new character can be bothersome and get the characters out of a rut. They can cause romantic tension, drama, an evil counterpart. They can even be used as a tradeout--add a character, and then take one of the old ones out. (And then there is death, mwahahah.)

So this week, try adding a new character to the mix. Get someone new in there! Are they funny? Serious? Kind? Melancholy? Verbose? Mysterious? Make them interesting. It can get your characters moving again, and moving characters are interesting ones.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Weekly Writing Wrambling - Plotting vs. Freestyle, Part Two

Last week, I discussed what it is like to write without an outline. This week, I will be discussing outlining.

Outlining is a pretty diverse term. Some outlines are essentially the book in outline form, while others are just some notes to help you remember what you need to do. This week I want to focus on the stricter, more detailed outline. For example, one person might have:

1.      Bob decides to steal a car
a.       He wants to steal the car because he can sell it
                                                              i.      Bob is starving
                                                            ii.      Bob’s kitty is starving
b.      Bob also wants revenge on his boss
                                                              i.      He has to research boss’s car’s whereabouts
2.      Bob searches for Jill's car
a.       He finds it in the Lucky's parking lot
                                                              i.      He's worried that Jill will see him
                                                            ii.      He sees three different Nissan Sentra's and has to inspect each one carefully
b.    Bob almost runs into Jill
c.    He does find out which one is hers, but has to flee the scene
  i.    Jill thinks she sees someone who looks like Bob
For the more detailed version, you're going to remember what you need to do, the motivation, and who is involved. You can almost copy and paste the outline, and then just create a paragraph (or sentence) for every line item. This was how I liked to write essays in college, because it was good at keeping me on track. If I had a really strong outline, I knew that what I was writing would support my thesis. 

What I have found best is to create a new outline for each chapter, and to try and divide things up from there. The 1’s and 2’s are scenes—in the case of this outline, scene one is more internal dialog on Bob’s part, while scene two is an action scene. The a’s and b’s are the supporting factors. In an internal scene, this is motivation, while for an external scene, this is actions. It’s the reverse for the i’s and ii’s—in an internal scene, that is actions, while for an external scene, that is internal. Note that internal doesn’t necessarily mean thoughts, but rather something that the protagonist doesn’t necessarily know—for example, what Jill knows.

The format I've used above has some constraints, though. For one, it can be hard to track your character's progression if it is displayed so linearly. For reasons like that, I would recommend--if you are doing something of any length, where you need to keep track of many moving parts--to use something similar, but in chart form. For example:

Plot point
Chapter 4
Bob decides to steal a car
Bob is starving
·         Kitty is hungry.
·         Bob wants to feed Kitty
Bob wants revenge on his boss
Bob researches for Jill’s car, finds it at Lucky’s
·         Worried that Jill will see him.
·         He sees three different Nissan Sentra's and has to inspect each one carefully
Shopping at Lucky’s
Jill exits Lucky’s
Bob has to flee
Jill thinks she sees someone who looks like Bob

This one looks a little bit more complicated, but it is easy to track of all three characters. At a glance, I know who is going to be in what scene, what is going on, who is doing what, and what each person is thinking. It actually makes things easier to work through while writing, especially if you need to assess where a character is at and what they are doing. However, you can’t just copy and paste and work off of it like you can with the other version. This one helps you think things through, but maybe not write things through.

So which is best? It honestly depends. Not every way works for every writer. The key—with all of this—is to come up with a technique that works best for YOU and for your specific work. If you’re going with something complicated, though, you probably need some sort of outline to go off of. Both of these work, but they both have different uses; one makes the writing itself easier, while the other makes the plotting easier. They’re two of many viable techniques.

I’ll talk about a more hybrid form of freestyle writing and outlining next week.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Monday Musings - Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee Review

This is apparently my second Monday Musings of the year. My chickens, I need to get back into the swing of blogging.

Anyway, this week I am (finally!) posting my review of Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee. I remember the day this was announced very clearly: I saw that Harper Lee was trending on Twitter, and immediately thought that she must have finally died. So imagine my relief when I saw that not only was she still alive, but a new book was coming out!

Thus, one of the easiest book buying decisions of my life.

I knew, coming into it, that the book wasn't finished. It was just set among Lee's things, and so it was never truly finished and prepared for publication. I knew that it had inconsistencies from what happened in To Kill A Mockingbird, notably the result of the Tom Robinson trial. I opened the book and was half expecting a note from the editor about all of that, but there wasn't one. I also expected some clunky dialogue or misspelled words, but there weren't, so clearly someone touched it up before publication.

What it is, though, is a continuation of the original bildungsroman and Scout's (or now Jean Louise's) continuing growth into an adult. Scout still idolizes Atticus, still keeps to many presumptions about people, and still remains as finicky as ever--all endearing qualities, I should add. But they are all slightly immature, and Go Set A Watchman is Scout's final journey into adulthood, by her realizing the truth about Atticus.

And, indeed, we all learn the truth about Atticus. Atticus is possibly the most beloved figure in American literature; he is certainly one of the best fathers. He was always good, honorable, and ready to fight for what was right, regardless of the chances of success or his own personal cost. He was always willing to help Scout and Jem on their adventures, and always wanting to do his best to everyone. If we were going to make a list of the least corrupt characters of all-time, Atticus would probably have been near the top.

So his fall from grace in Go Set A Watchman gives Scout a shock, as well as the reader. How could Atticus, the ever-so-good and wonderful man, suddenly be a racist? Well, the answer is that it wasn't sudden--it was there all along. Scout, and the reader, is forced to struggle with the idea that he wonderful father has some major flaws, and isn't the hero she always pictures him to be. We always saw Atticus through the wondering, adoring eyes of eight-year-old Scout; now twenty-six, we're forced to see the grey in our interpretations of him.

Of course, that is the point of Go Set A Watchman: that a person has to develop their own conscience, and their own sense of right and wrong. We cannot rely on another to choose our moral ground. I would say that this is an accurate lesson, and one many people need to hear. People don't tend to make up their own decisions regarding right and wrong, and then continue to be disappointed when their heroes don't follow their ethics. But is that a valid reason to sully the character of Atticus Finch?
"Atticus, he was real nice."
"Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them."
But if our original Atticus isn't nice anymore, I do wonder whether we can really consider this Atticus the same Atticus Finch? This book was written before To Kill A Mockingbird and Atticus' character was finalized. I'm entirely sure if it counts, because it isn't building off of the character we've read and loved; it is, instead, the character he was first conceived as. Lee had faith in humanity, then. She didn't want our version of Atticus to be shattered; rather, she saw it as entirely possible for a man to truly be good and honorable, as much as Atticus can be.

So this original Atticus, the flawed one, becomes the idealized. But in Go Set A Watchman, the idealized becomes flawed. Perhaps the only thing you can really get from this book is that people change.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Friday Fiction Feed - Setting Upheaval

This week's Friday Fiction Feed goes out to everyone who is currently stuck with their book, and don't know what to write next.

If you are stuck, it can be good to go to a new location. This can be a big change--going on vacation to Barbados, or moving from California to Wisconsin. But this can be a small move, like changing the scene to school or work or home (see my recent posts about Settings for some ideas!). People change in a new setting, and those changes can start screwing things loose and get the plot moving again.

So take that scene you're stuck in and set it somewhere else. Change to Mars! To a friend's house! But go somewhere else, and see if that helps.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Weekly Writing Wrambling - State of the Novel, Part Two

It is beyond time for another State of the Novel address, because some interesting things have been happening as of late.

Unfortunately, the SUPER interesting thing (getting published) has not happened yet, but I have been continuing to send out queries and search for agents and publishers and send out more queries. It is a rather exhausting process. Imagine applying to colleges, but instead of applying to the college you can only apply to someone who will help you apply to the college, and 75% of the time you won't hear back from them. That is what it is like to query.

(And that remaining 25%, thus far, have been nos.)

With that, it can be difficult to remain optimistic, but every now and then I return to the novel itself (still titled The Demon Hunter's Inheritance), and I'm always struck by the fact that it isn't bad. It's actually okay. Sometimes I might even think it's good. And since I'm my own worst critic, I know it's a little bit better than that, too. So I continue to query, and query, and query.

But there have been other developments as well. Right now, as you are probably aware, I have been on a contest over at the amazing Adventures in YA Publishing blog, and I'm happy to announce that I am a finalist! That saga has been pretty interesting as well. This isn't my first contest with this book--it's my fourth, IIRC--but so far, what's happened:

1. First contest is being run by some erotica writers. I don't advance. Perhaps because I don't write erotica.
2. Second contest (which was also run by Adventures in YA Publishing--it was Pitch Plus Five) was about a year ago, and in order to compete you had to be one of the first 50 people to send in your pitch and first five pages by 9:00. The first 9:00, I had everything as an attachment, which I found out disqualified me. The second 9:00, I wasn't one of the top fifty. So that never happened.
3. Finally, I going into an Adventures in YA Publishing contest--all about pitches! The first round was solely done by blogger judges on your mini-pitch. I didn't advance.
4. The Red Light, Green Light contest that I'm currently in. Once again, I have to be the first fifty to send in my sentence by 9:00. I get everything set up, but I'm nervous about the sending, since I'll actually be on a plane (not taken off, but on a plane) when 9:00 hits, and planes typically have poor 4G. But it somehow goes through, and I'm in the contest!

After that, it was three rounds of voting, with some of the vote being popular vote and some of the vote being expert judges. And I'm still around! I think this proves that I am an okay novel-writing writer, but a poor pitch-writing writer. I'm just not good at condensing my novel into a short piece to wow someone, because it sounds like boasting and there are all these wonderful parts of my novel (Character development! Mystery! Romantic tension!) that I have worked really hard on, and can't properly show. It's difficult to let those things go in a pitch.

But this is being judged by the work itself, and so far, so good. Yay!

Next week, our 30-word pitch (ugh....I hope I did okay) and first 100 words (I like my first 100 words) will be revealed, and a week after that we'll find out the winners. Here's to hoping my first 100 words are sort of dazzle-y!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Weekly Writing Wrambling - Plotting vs. Freestyle, Part One

So I'm starting another series, this time about planning a story--or not. Both can be effective tools in different ways. I've used both, and sometimes switched halfway during the book. So as a ground rule, I should say that everything I'm talking about should be fluid. Don't feel constrained into following your plan. Don't feel like you aren't able to start planning ahead if you need to. These are tools, which mean that you should use them when you need to--and not planning is just as much of a tool as planning.

This week, I am going to be discussing working without a plan, or as I think of it, Freestyle Writing. Generally speaking, most writers start off that way, and many ideas start that way. It is simply writing what comes to your mind. I wouldn't say that it means you don't know WHERE you are going; you might still have an idea of the plot. But you don't have a specific to-do list that you are working off of.

There are many advantages to this. For one, it is very freeing. If you get bored of the story, you can change it, and you don't have to worry about hours or plotting and planning lost, or not knowing where you're going. You can go as the plot go, as the characters go, and stop writing when you're bored. You don't have to focus on the boring parts. That's pretty awesome! No boring parts? I wish my first drafts were free of boring parts. It’s just like taking a road trip. If you don’t have any stops planned, you can go exactly where you want when you want to. Mel Gibson would have a field day.

But, like being free, that freedom is the main disadvantage. If you don't know where you are going, then you don’t really know what you are doing. What happens when the idea runs out? You haven’t worked out how to get from Plot Point A to Plot Point D. If you’re trying to plant clues, you might forget to plant one. Again, this is just like a road trip. If you’ve got no plan, then it can be difficult to feel like you have a purpose, and then it is hard to get going.

My piece of advice for when this happens is to use your freedom! This is when something like a genre change, a point-of-view change, a protagonist change can all come in handy. Remember, this is your first draft—you can keep the point-of-view or protagonist consistent later. Right now, your job is to get words on the page, and go from Plot Point A to Plot Point Z. Whatever you can do to make that happen is a valid technique. Change the novel as much as you can while still keeping the same general story. If nothing else, those changes  are going to create new problems and new situations for your characters, and that is going to start shaking things up and causing problems—and problems are the blood of a story.

Be free, writing friends. Write free!

I’ll discuss strict outlining next week.