So, I’ve Been Thinking . . .

Thinking is dangerous. Thinking causes other bad things, like ideas.

“But how is an idea a bad thing?” you’re no doubt asking right now. And to everyone’s utter lack of surprise, I’m going to explain. (That’s how my blog works. I imagine your questions and answer them. It’s my schtick.) But first, there is background. (Also my schtick.)

A writer friend sold me her Kindle DX (the magazine-sized one) because she got an iPad and hasn’t used the DX in months. Her loss is my gain. Before I purchased it from her, I borrowed it for a few weeks to get the feel of it. and I was able to read some of her books.

Several of those books were on writing by Holly Lisle. In them, she talks about methods she uses to “trick” her subconscious (she called it her “muse”) to help her come up with story ideas. A couple of these involve boring, repetitive tasks — thus forcing the muse to come out to play — and asking oblique, open questions. Not, “What does my antagonist want, exactly?” but more like, “What does my antagonist like to do? What are his passions?” The answer to the first question is going to be a metaphorical shrug and an “I don’t know. You tell me. You’re the ‘writer.'”1 But the answer to the second one might be a veritable stream of useful goodness.

Because ideas can pop up at any time, not just when it’s convenient to write them down, I always surround myself with either note-taking material or something else, just in case. In the car, I have a digital voice recorder. I use it to take down thoughts and ideas as I’m driving. Every few days I transcribe the notes into Evernote and label them so I’ll know which stories they relate to, etc.

I’ve also been struggling trying to figure out what my urban fantasy novel has that makes it different than all the other urban fantasy novels out there. What about my universe would entice people to read it instead of one of the others. It’s been weighing heavily on my mind. The fact that magic is “out”? The ensemble cast (at least three POV characters). The magic itself? (For those keeping score, the question put to my ‘muse’ was “What’s special about my world?”)

August 13th was a Tuesday. As I do almost every Tuesday night, I left work and drove (a boring, repetitive task) to the Barnes & Noble at The Forum in Norcross, wherein meets The Forum Writers, a critique group that’s been around as a coherent entity for nearly eleven years. I’ve been going for just a bit over five of those years.

On the way, at 5:32 PM, I recorded this2 on my DVR.

It seems like most urban fantasy involves some other realm. The Gray [Kat Richardson‘s Greywalker series]. The Nevernever [Jim butcher‘s The Dresden Files series]. Alternate, parallel dimensions [Katharine Kerr‘s Nola O’Grady series]. Etc. In my Dummies book, I wrote a little thing about astral projection and kind of picked up on Kerr’s [Deverry Series concept of the] silver thread that connects the body to the consciousness. Well, that could be my ‘other world.’ An alternate Atlanta inside the mental space, but existing externally, created communally by all the minds inhabiting it.

Four minutes later:

What if this alternate Atlanta exists alongside and on top of the real Atlanta, and it’s similar to but not exactly like the real one? And maybe people who have the ability to do magic stand out in some way. Ooh, and every crime the MCU investigates would then have to be investigated both in the real Atlanta and over in that other Atlanta?

Fourteen minutes after that:

Maybe one of the characteristics of the stasis spell [on the crime scenes in the novel] — the thing that makes them really stand out — is that the stasis also extends into the other place as well as the real Atlanta.

Then I made it to the book store and we did our critique thing, and then I had dinner. And then, on the way home at 11:08:

And now we come full circle. What if this alternate place is the source of magic? I was trying to stay more ‘scientific,’ but I’m not sure I can.

A minute later:

So this other place is built from the subconscious or unconscious of all the people who have magic. It therefore only exists as long as there are people who can perform magic. For a while, it was almost gone3, but now it’s back, because of breeding. But if that’s the case, then I can foresee a future book where gifted people are dying — being killed — and it’s weakening the other place. But why do some people get more power and others less? Why is it disproportionate?

And I think maybe — just maybe — my subconscious might have — out of sheer boredom — provided me with something that will give me a little more oomph to play with. Maybe these notes are my first steps into a rediscovery of my world and a re-invigoration of my desire to write in it.

Oh, and I’ve since tentatively decided to call that other place “the Flux.” I hope it hasn’t been used other than the one place (Jack Chalker‘s Soul Rider series) I absolutely know it has, which is kind of where the idea came from.


Group Blogging Exchange 2

Today’s post is inspired by GBE2 (Group Blogging Experience)’s Week 116 prompt: First Steps

  1. I wonder exactly what it says about me that my subconscious and any alter-egos I personify are always assholes? Hmm.
  2. These aren’t direct transcriptions. I left out all the repetitions, cursing, hedging, speech disfluencies (uh, um, er, ah . . .) and edited it to make it look like I wish I talked to myself instead of like a crazy person, which is how it actually sounds.
  3. A small bit of world-building I’m not sure I’ll ever use, but it’s there if I need it. There was a time in the past during which science and religion nearly killed magic, but thanks to a brave few people, it survived.


Expect the Unexpected

Last week at work, I was scheduled for a professional training class. SOA (Service-Oriented Architecture, if anyone is interested). It wasn’t all that difficult, but it was mentally exhausting to be in a room for five straight days, eight hours per day, in lecture. I gave that up in 1991 when I left grad school to start my first job.

Luckily, the end of the week had a bonus. Two of my Viable Paradise friends — Alison and Debra — were in town for the Romance Writers of America‘s 33rd annual conference, held here in Atlanta last weekend. The three of us plus our other classmate, Scott, who lives here in the Atlanta area, agreed to meet for dinner and catching up.

Another bonus was that Alison brought along her conference roommate Diana, another VP alum from 2006 (VPX). It was great seeing them again and meeting Diana. And dinner was awesome. (If you get the chance to try the lamb lollipops at Sear, do so.)

But the big fun of the evening was being with other writers and discussing our writing. Yes, I do that weekly, but the added bonus here was that Debra, Alison, and Diana were at RWA to pitch their ideas to publishers/agents (and each of them got multiple requests for either full or partial submissions, so yay!). So the inevitable, “So, what are you writing? Pitch it to me,” question came up. :)

Now, I have never done a pitch. Not seriously. But these are my tribe, so I said, “OK, my one-sentence version is this: It’s like Fringe with magic.” That’s not quite right, but it’s what I have. I tried to do an “It’s <this thing> meets <this other thing>” one, but I can’t ever find two things to put there. X-Files is too . . . something. And The Dresden Files is, as well. I thought of Criminal Minds meets . . . something with magic that isn’t The Dresden Files. But my mind refuses to fill in that second blank. (Everyone agrees, by the way, that comparing anything to The Dresden Files is a bad idea. I can’t really explain it, but . . . it’s like, it would be the kiss of death to compare your YA story to Harry Potter because it’s too big. Too popular. Claiming a similarity would be tantamount to saying ‘I think I’m as good as { Jim Butcher | J. K. Rowling }.’)

Anyway, they encouraged me to do the longer one, so I said something like this:

It’s an urban fantasy series that takes place in and around modern-day Atlanta, only magic works. There are no sexy vampires or sexy werewolves, and nothing ever sparkles. Magic is ‘out’ but not accepted. Nick Damon and Javier Ellis are FBI agents with magical powers who work with the local cops to solve cases involving magic.”

In the first book, Death Scene, bodies are discovered, each brutally murdered, and each scene is frozen in time at the moment of the victim’s death. Nick and Javier, along with Atlanta detectives Charlotte “Chuck” Norris and Derek Meads, are put on the case and have to move fast as more bodies are discovered.

They liked that (I know it still needs work), and asked for some clarifying information, then offered some suggestions. When they summarized Scott’s back to him, he liked it so much, he made them text it to his phone so he’d remember it. :)

We sat in the restaurant and talked for a while, then moved to the bar for a while, then found comfortable chairs in an out-of-the-way, quiet niche and talked some more until very late. Then we all had to leave because of that whole ‘becoming a pumpkin’ thing. (Read: We’re no longer spring chickens and staying up until all hours means Bad Things™ the next day.)

And it was somewhere during the ‘talked for a long time’ part that the serendipity happened. Someone asked what else I was writing, and I said, “It’s fairy tale noir. A detective solves the case of where Cinderella’s husband is going at night when he leaves the castle.” They chuckled, and we went on.

But apparently, something clicked in the back of my head. On the drive home (about 30 to 40 minutes from downtown to my suburb), the new story — discarding most of what I thought was the good stuff from my existing story — popped into my head, and I quickly grabbed my digital voice recorder and made sure I wouldn’t forget it.

The story clocked in at a hefty 11,300 words to begin with. With help from a couple of my friends and the judicious use of figurative shearing scissors, I got it down to about 8400 words, but it was still too big. I needed a way to cut it. But I couldn’t figure out what to lose and what to keep. I liked every scene. As it turns out, I will toss almost all of it except the beginning and the final scene, and rewrite all the sticky middle part. I think. I haven’t actually written it, yet, but it’s in the queue.

So, thank you, Alison, Scott, Debra, and Diana, for helping me fix a problem, even if you didn’t know you were doing it. :)


Group Blogging Exchange 2

Today’s post is inspired by GBE2 (Group Blogging Experience)’s Week 114 prompt: Serendipity


Wrong Way, Go Back

Photo credit: wallyir from morguefile.com

I’m what they call a “discovery writer.” Or, more colloquially, a “pantser.” As in, I write by the seat of my pants. No outline. No clear end in sight, sometimes. Just a cool idea that popped into my head and a vague notion of “thattaway” when it comes to where the story is going. That’s how a lot of my stories start.

That’s also — uncoincidentally — why so many of my stories either don’t end or don’t end satisfactorily. Because I get to some point in the writing when I realize that either I have no earthly clue where the ending is or that I missed the exit some while back, and I’m going to need to turn around, backtrack, and take a different route.

While driving, that’s easy enough. You get off at exit 250 and go back to exit 248. You lost a couple of miles, a few tablespoons of gasoline, and maybe a few minutes. The air turns a little blue from the curses. Possibly, your GPS announces “Recalculating” in that mechanical ‘I’m judging you even though I have no inflection in my robot voice’ tone that adds, “idiot” or “loser” to the end of every statement. Recalculating, loser.

In writing, though, you lose words. Maybe good words. But they’re just not the right words for this story at this time. A writer and podcaster I follow religiously (Mur Lafferty) has said that she has lost thousands of words — as in twenty or thirty thousand words — because of one of these “wrong exit” mistakes.

They can be costly. But I think maybe the work is the better for it.

Mike Stackpole in his wonderful “21 Days to a Novel” workshop has said that if you reach a point in your writing when you’re blocked and you don’t know what comes next, go back about 300 words (a page or so) and look. There’s probably a decision your character made that’s out of character. Because it needed to happen for the plot. Easy enough to rewrite 300 words. And since the new words will begin with the character actually in character, they’ll be better words, and you can continue writing. And I have had this happen, and it’s usually true.

But what if you realize 50,000 or 60,000 words in that your entire design of the setting or the way magic works or something else fundamental to the work as a whole . . . is just wrong? Is anything salvageable? Is there any reason to continue writing, or should you just jettison everything and either move on to another project or start over from scratch?

I’ve done both of those, as well. And as much as losing 300 or 10,000 words might hurt, realizing that most of a novel is just spew . . . is rather frustrating.1

This is where I’ve been at recently. I’ve explained this before, but briefly: I had an idea for what I thought was a short story, then became a novella, then a novel, and finally a series of urban fantasy novels. I called book one Perdition’s Flames. I wrote roughly 40,000 words of it. In the midst of that, NaNoWriMo came around and since I by then had an idea for book two, I wrote 50,000 words of Death Scene. I had vague notions that book three would be called Eye of the Beholder, but . . . something was off. The story wouldn’t coalesce. The arc wasn’t right. The biggest climax and revelation was in book one, not book three.

Then, it occurred to me that the reason I couldn’t come up with anything for book three was that book one had the end of the arc. So Perdition’s Flames had to be book three. That moved Death Scene to book one, and Eye of the Beholder to book two. That fixed a lot. I mean a lot. I now had a very cool scene for the introduction into my series and a satisfying arc that crossed all three books, with new ideas for books four and five based on the end of book three. Even better, I knew what book two was about, now, because it could revolve around something I set up in book one, and introduce a character that will be important in book three! I was very excited.

For NaNoWriMo 2012, I wrote a 50,000-word+ book called Magic for Normals, a ‘for-dummies’ style book that was basically just a place for me to write down all my ideas about how magic works in my world, and do it in a fun format where I could just expound at length and be as pedantic as I wanted.

And then, on the heels of this, I set out to restart the series, this time beginning with Death Scene. A book I had already written more than 50,000 words of. But now, as the first book, all the characters had to be introduced and their relationships established. Again. And the world had to be introduced. Again. And certain plot points for books two and three had to be set up in advance. And secondary conflicts had to be added. Each character needed a motivation. A background. An arc. My villain character actually had to have a reason he was doing what he was doing, other than just being evil.

And every time I’d write a few thousand words, I’d think of something else I needed to add. “Oh, it’s not Bob that’s the villain. It’s really Fred! And this is why: . . .” Or, “Wait. Nick isn’t Jacob’s younger brother, he’s the older brother, because it makes [plot point 1] and [plot point 2] actually make sense. And gives Bob Fred a motivation!”

So, I’m blocked for several reasons:

  • Idea paralysis – Since I’ve moved the books around, so many new ideas are occurring to me that I can barely write a couple of hundred words before a new idea sparks. It’s a good thing, I think, but it means never being sure whether what I’m writing is on exit 248 or 250.
  • Already written syndrome – A huge part of my brain is saying, “You already wrote this. You told this story. Stop trying to retell it. Move on.” Silly brain. (This is also why I have a hard time with outlining and writing synopses.)
  • Wrong Way, Turn Back – Another part of my brain insists that all those ideas I’m getting are wrong because I get new ideas that invalidate the old ones . . . Does anyone other than me get the impression that I’m my own worst enemy? :) Either that or I need a week in a very large room with whiteboards on all four walls and no Internet.2

So, that’s where I’m at right now, if anyone’s wondering. I’m working on other writing in order to keep the writing gears lubricated. I have a “short” story (Haha! It’s at 12,000 words and shows no sign of ending soon.) to submit for my writing group by midnight tonight. I’m a blogging fool, lately. And every time my mind isn’t otherwise occupied, I’m planning plot for books one, two, three, or four. Yes, four. <shakes head in disgust> In the shower, driving, eating lunch at work, just as I’m about to drop off into sleep. I have five days of boring training classes at work next week. I have a feeling my notes are going to look . . . a bit schizophrenic. :)


Group Blogging Exchange 2

Today’s post is inspired by GBE2 (Group Blogging Experience)’s Week 113 prompt: Photo Prompt (see associated photo at top of post)

  1. An example of litotes.
  2. No, not padded walls. I see what you did, there. Very funny. Ha ha. No, really.

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