In truth, I should have known better. Than to think I would manage even my reduced blog schedule while in the process of moving. Or, in other words, I did not intentionally skip posting for the entire month of July, yet here we are. In August.
Unsurprisingly, this also means I haven’t really managed much in the way of fiction writing, either, though I’m gearing back up with that (and even pumped out several hundred words for Tanner and Miranda just last week!) and am eagerly looking forward to settling into a stable writing schedule once again.
In the meantime, some highlights from the past month:
My first visit to Yosemite, complete with a hike up El Capitan
Spending over a week with my family back in my hometown
A grand roadtrip comprising of more than 4500 miles, epic scenery, and all the summer storms I’d forgotten about because they don’t happen in California
Opportunities to catch up with various friends I hadn’t seen in Way Too Long
At some point I’ll definitely upload some of the pictures I took in Yosemite before the smoke descended; with absolutely no exaggeration, that park is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. But that will have to come a different day. Today, I’m just going to have to be satisfied with a quick post to infuse a little life back into this blog– and the fact that I’ve actually got the energy to do some writing tonight.
In my last post I mentioned that I’m getting ready for a big move. By its nature, that of course means that I’m gearing up for some massive changes. (Insert quote here about the only constant in life being change yadda yadda yadda.) What I don’t think I said in that post, though, was the fact that while it’s hardly the first time I’ve dealt with big changes, it is the first time I can recall that I’ve left someplace while it would still be significantly more comfortable to stay…
… and I think that’s a good thing.
Let me try to explain that statement a little. For one thing, it’s important to say here that I don’t mean to say that it hasn’t been hard to leave a job before; I’ve been very blessed in my employment opportunities and between amazing coworkers and great workplace environments, moving on has always been a bittersweet experience, though often one tinged by the awareness that I may have stayed “too long”. To put it another way, I tend to prefer a cautious route through life, and that preference has most definitely been reflected in the way I’ve gone from job to job.
Which has its benefits! And frankly, of the two proverbial ditches on either side of this particular road, I’m inclined to think it’s better to crash into this one than the other. But that being said, it’s still a ditch. And if I can manage to avoid it, too, that would be even better.
And that, in part, is why I do think this move is a good thing. Terrifying. But good. Because it will force me to grow. And it opens up new doors. And has the potential to put me closer to where I want to be careerwise. If only because it’s going to cut out enough to allow for new things to grow. I can only hope it works as well for me as it does for the roses I used to take care of at another old job.
As of yesterday, I have officially read as many books this year as I did in the entirety of last year. Or in other words, having finished reading thirty five books by the end of May, I am well on my way (and ahead of pace!) for my overly ambitious goal of seventy five by the end of the year. Assuming I don’t get completely derailed when I go through a big move in a month or two. Heh.
On a definitely related note… I’m currently in awe of Connie Willis’s ability to plot out stories. And by “in awe” I mean “feeling marginally inadequate because wow she’s good”. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that her WWII time travel story Blackout/All Clear is flawless, it’s easily one of the best things I’ve read this year and a display of formidable skill. A very slow burn story, but once it gets going, boy does it. And the way she weaves a thousand different plot threads, themes, and references into a sudden and cohesive whole that appears out of nowhere and goes straight for your emotions…
…let’s just say I’m still recovering.
And trying to figure out how I can get that good. Or. You know. Anywhere close to it.
The answer, as much as there is one, is to keep writing and to keep reading. So I guess I should get on that. This next Tanner and Miranda scene that’s causing me so much trouble isn’t going to write itself, after all!
In the meantime, what about you guys? Read any good books lately?
In the never-ending quest to keep the writing-wheels rolling, I have found another tool. Or maybe I just remembered one of my old ones existed. Namely, journaling. Not the kind where you keep a diary of your thoughts and impressions of the day, though I understand that can help as well. Rather, the kind you put in a writing journal.
In high school, I had an amazing teacher who agreed to advise/supervise me while I spent two semesters writing fiction. (Best. Teacher. Ever. I even got school credit for doing NaNoWriMo that year and I’m still using the advice she gave me.) Required work was relatively limited from week to week– there was some reading and a final project each semester– but the one thing I had to turn in every week was a document with my journal entries from the week: five in total, whatever I happened to write over a ten or fifteen minute period, usually with nothing more than a single word as inspiration.
And she would read them all and give me feedback. Every week. Like I said. Best teacher.
So I’ve started journaling again. Sort of. At least, I’ve been putting the writing sprints I’ve been doing lately with my sister into a single document, labeled with the date, how long I wrote, and what the prompt was. If nothing else, it’s proving to be helpful in getting my (occasionally stagnant) creativity flowing. And now that I’m documenting it all in a single place instead of scattered across several different documents and strewn about my harddrive, I’m interested to see what sort of trends show up as I continue to do it more often. And what ideas coalesce out of the ether. And what strengths and weaknesses become easier to pick out.
And, most of all, I’m looking forward to seeing if an extra infusion of discipline to my writing habit makes it that much easier to avoid getting stuck.
And what about you, fellow writers? What are your tricks for convincing your brain and your fingers to do their writing on days when neither want to cooperate?
Several of the books I’ve read most recently have reminded me of something that I already knew– namely that I really enjoy stories with an interesting, creative setting. You know. In case my preoccupation with science fiction and fantasy hadn’t already given it away. I also can’t remember if I’ve written about this in the blog already or not, so please bear with me if it starts sounding like I’m just rewriting an earlier post.
Anyway! Consider this another entry in my continuing quest to figure out why certain stories grab me and refuse to let go. Because I’m pretty sure this is part of it.
To some extent, I suspect this is why most fans of sci-fi and fantasy enjoy it the way we do. There’s a reason those of us who grew up with it spent so many hours daydreaming of ways to get ourselves to Narnia. And also why we have discussions about which Hogwarts House we would belong to, and why those “who would you be in X fictional world” quizzes are so popular.
I imagine it also helps that when something is well-known, the fact that we can talk about them (giddily) with other like-minded fans only feeds our enjoyment. But then there’s the stories that are not as widely known, or with a less rabid fanbase, that– for me– result in the same level of borderline-obsessive focus.
Like, for instance, David Weber’s Honor Harrington series. The books are definitely fun, particularly the earlier ones, and though I know he’s written more in the same setting beyond the ones that focus around the titular character, I haven’t gotten to them yet. Unlike some of the other stories I’ll mention in this post, Weber does enjoy a pretty decent following. Probably because there’s a lot of us who think that “female Horatio Hornblower in space” is a whole lot of fun. That being said, the books, fun as they are, also aren’t the masterpieces that, say, The Lord of the Rings or Red Rising are. The stories and the characters are fun, but there’s a reason this little gem makes so many of Mr. Weber’s fans laughing.
Then you’ve got stories like Andrea K. Höst‘s brilliant Touchstone series, which I just reread and got a forcible reminder of why I should really look up more of her work. The writing is lovely, and while I know some people don’t particularly like the journal format that the books use, I think it works very well for the nerdy, comforting story she’s telling.
And for all these two series are very different, I found that they have something in common. They captured my imagination. Completely. It’s stuck. Not going anywhere. In Weber’s case, it means that I will happily read for hours on end about the technological advances of the Royal Manticoran Navy’s missiles, and how it changes the way their massive space battles play out. In Touchstone, it means I will read everything about Cassandra Devlin and the Setari and the spaces that I can get my hands on.
And in both cases, that is in large part thanks to the worldbuilding. These authors succeeded in creating worlds so compelling that I am happy to visit them again and again and that I think about them randomly even when I’m not reading their stories. J.S. Morin does a bit of the same, especially with the way magic works in his various Black Ocean series. Fringe does it in the way it creates a world so similar to our own, just with weird science causing all manner of mayhem.
Perhaps all of this is just outing me as an escapist, though even that’s hardly as damning a truth as some people make it out to be. But whatever way you want to slice it, the fact remains that some authors do a remarkably good job at creating strange, new worlds, and it’s a particular pleasure of mine to go exploring them for a while.
It is easy– so easy– for us writers to get bogged down in plot holes. Those funny, niggling realizations that something about our carefully crafted stories doesn’t quite make perfect sense. That our characters could have found a better way of doing things that would have greatly simplified everything and kept them out of a great deal of trouble. And to some extent, all that is good. If we find the holes we can plug them and make our stories tighter and more streamlined. Better. And that’s what most of us are trying to do, right?
And yet. What happens when filling those plot holes ends up burying our plot itself? Some plot holes absolutely need to be filled in, of course, and I don’t mean to argue against that. But sometimes when you do it, the choice is between making it all make sense logically and letting it keep that weird spark of magic that attracted you to your idea in the first place. And I think when it comes down to it, it’s better to keep the magic.
Or maybe I just need to get better at filling in my ok holes.
Just a quick check-in this week! After a stretch of time with the writing just coming slow and difficult, things are starting to move along a little more easily again, which is so nice.
Part of it, I think, was just the fact that I was changing gears to start the next story/chapter. I’m enjoying the very episodic nature of this particular project, but it definitely comes with some of its own special difficulties. Like finding a good way to work the pacing.
I also think it was working a lot better than I thought it was, because when I opened up a new document and essentially retyped the 1400 words or so I already had just to get back into the flow, it wasn’t half as bogged down as I thought it was. So yay!
Speaking as someone who rarely (if ever) writes without a soundtrack, there’s an undeniable connection between story and music. And I know I’m not alone– my sister and I regularly exchange writing music recommendations, and various other fellow writers and I have frequently discussed the best tracks to use for inspiration for a given scene.
Of course, it’s not just writing. Any form of storytelling seems able to reap some benefit from a good soundtrack. Exhibit A: movies. When done particularly well, the scene will stand on its own, but add in the perfect music to your thriller and what was only mildly nerve-wracking becomes wildly unsettling. And that’s not even mentioning what effect you can have by removing music at the right time, too.
Or how about video games? Sure, most of our favorite video game soundtracks are written specifically to be more or less ignored as you try to make your character look like they know what they’re doing, but the good ones are adding to the experience while they do just that. And how are you supposed to stay perfectly unaffected when the first epic chords of a boss battle track start playing?
Writing and music both aim to interact with our feelings. Our thoughts, too, of course, particularly in the case of writing. And while it’s a relatively recent thing that most anyone reading this post has easy access to both music on demand and writing materials, there’s a reason not so far removed from all this for why we still have ballads kicking around from hundreds of years ago.
Alright, friends. The time has come. I’m going to argue today in defense of why Tom Bombadil fulfills an important role in the saga of The Lord of the Rings (the books, not the movies), and how the hobbits’ encounter with him is more than a quirky side quest. Naturally, all the rest of this post is going to be full of various spoilers for the trilogy, so if you haven’t read it and don’t want it spoiled, you should avoid the rest of this one. Otherwise, read on!
So. Tom Bombadil. At a glance, it’s easy to see why he is a figure met with such confusion and so much shrugging. He’s a strange character who speaks in “nonsense” and weird rhymes, and he appears completely unconcerned by the fact that the rest of Middle Earth is in dire peril despite the fact that he seems to have strange powers that could help in the fight against Sauron. In fact, there’s a reason he almost feels more like a cameo than anything else.
And while I grant that he exists in the narrative for the reasons mentioned in the article above (tldr: Tolkien wrote him in when he still imagined LotR as an episodic children’s story much like The Hobbit, and Bombadil was a character who was well known by his own children), I would also argue that the finished narrative we all know and love benefits from his inclusion.
First, the fact that he was there to rescue the hobbits (twice!) is a way to show us readers how dangerous things are beyond the Shire while still having a way for our heroes to survive and continue their journey in one piece. Second– and I recognize that some might view this as an argument against his inclusion– having a character exist beyond Sauron’s influence the way Bombadil does makes a statement on the nature of evil itself without changing how important it is for the quest to succeed for the sake of Middle Earth. And finally, he is the first of three major encounters throughout the saga where an unfamiliar entity is found in the woods and proves to be a friend.
If you’ve read the books, you probably remember that the hobbits meet him almost immediately after leaving the Shire when they decide to go through the Old Forest instead of following the road in an attempt to avoid the Black Riders. The trouble with this, of course, is that they end up running into Old Man Willow who does his level best to end their journey right then and there, and would have succeeded if Tom Bombadil hadn’t come along at just the right moment to save them. From a storytelling perspective, this does two things: one, much like Bilbo and the Dwarves’ encounter with the trolls in the second chapter of The Hobbit, it shows the reader that the adventure has well and truly begun and the characters will need to be on their toes from here on out; and two, it shows that the characters are not alone. They might not have Gandalf with them, but there are people out there who can and will help them when trouble inevitably comes knocking.
It’s also a way to ease us into what will be an epic tale that takes the characters into great peril and darkness. The adventure might have started and the dangers might be entirely real, but we are still quite close to the Shire. And while we, like the hobbits, might have no idea that the Rangers are the ones responsible for keeping that delightful country safe, we do know that the Shire is a uniquely good location in Middle Earth. Doesn’t it make sense that even a half awake forest so near its borders would have a benevolent force like Tom Bombadil in it?
Putting that aside, let us come to the fact that the Ring seems to have no effect on Bombadil, and what that in itself means for the story. I can understand the argument that Tom’s apparent immunity to the powers of the Ring hurts the stakes of the story. After all, if anyone exists beyond the reach of this great evil, doesn’t that lessen the danger? The answer to that, of course, is that it doesn’t. Not for those who do have to contend with it, which is why Frodo’s quest is so important. But having Sauron and the Ring’s reach be something less that absolute is an important statement of Tolkien’s worldview: evil might be great and possessed of overwhelming power, but even at its worst its reach is not complete. Evil is not the greatest power in creation.
And finally, Tom Bombadil’s existence is the first example of help unlooked for appearing in the woods. Because while forests, particularly old forests, might not be safe in any way, neither are they beholden to Sauron. This is something that occurs again and again throughout the entire trilogy, starting with Bombadil and happening again when Merry and Pippin are found by Treebeard after escaping the Uruk-Hai. Given what they do to Isengard after being roused there’s no doubt that the Ents are incredibly dangerous– to their enemies. To the hobbits and those working against Sauron they are strong allies. And the pattern continues when Frodo, Sam, and Gollum meet Faramir in Ithilien, and even to a lesser extent when the Rohirrim are helped by Ghan-buri-Ghan and his people to reach Gondor in time. And with the exception of Faramir, the rest of these encounters, like Bombadil himself, are more or less contained to their smaller corner of the grander story. Yet, like Bombadil, they add to the story as a whole.
So, there you have it. My arguments for why Tom Bombadil is a worthy inclusion in the epic trilogy, and not just a strange leftover that somehow remained. Given the different pacing necessary in a film adaptation, I understand and agree with his exclusion from Peter Jackson’s movies. Movies are an entirely different medium with different pacing requirements. But in the novels? He is a perfect fit.
Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to do some text-based roleplaying* again, which has been amazing for a number of reasons. For one thing, it’s a return to my roots, as it’s absolutely the hobby that kept/started me writing throughout most of high school/college. For another, it’s phenomenal practice for writing character voice.
I think I’ve bemoaned the difficulty of that particular skill in the past, particularly when I’ve spent too long away from one story or another, and especially when the story in question is written in the first person. With this particular brand of roleplaying, it’s all done in third person, and I have four or five different characters that I write at various points, all of them with their own personalities, quirks, and feelings. Even in third person, they come across in wildly different ways, and getting into the habit of switching back and forth between them all rapidly is a skill in and of itself.
For example, there’s Shovar, the sensible and somewhat laid-back Admiral. To some extent, writing her is the easiest, because she’s more or less who I want to be like, and her values general line up with mine (she’s just way more patient). Then there’s Evva, the 14-year-old daughter of (essentially) a crime lord, who asks way too many questions, has no filter, and is, generally speaking, Trouble. Writing her is just fun. Then there’s her mom and the aforementioned crime lord, Thrinn, who also happens to be one of my oldest characters, as she was the one I was writing most often during high school. She’s gotten even sneakier in her old age.
If nothing else, the character practice has been more helpful than I’d realized or expected. Progress on Tanner and Miranda, while still slow, has been moving faster than before, and I’m more or less happy with what’s appearing on the page. The narrative sounds like Miranda, at least, and I’m happy to call that a win.
* On a little site called The Vulpine Imperium. Started out life as (more or less) a sort of Redwall fansite. Has taken on a life of its own (think PotC meets anachronistic Victorian-esque society, only it’s all anthropomorphic animals) and only recently come back from the dead, to my great surprise and joy.