Musings

[Blog] Looks Like I’m a Planner

So! The first takeaway I have from the grand experiment that was me actually planning the project I worked on this past November is: I must be a planner after all. My friends. I cannot overstate just how much easier it was for me to write throughout the month. I didn’t get stuck. I didn’t waste time wondering where I needed to take the story next. It just didn’t happen, and that was weird and wonderful and I’m never going back.

That being said, it wasn’t without its hitches, which is why I’m not actually sitting here with a complete first draft of my new novel. In fact, if I’d had to go past 50k this past month, I almost certainly would have gotten stuck. And despite the wordcount I reached, I didn’t get all that far into the story. (That, at least, is normal: my first runs through new stories always run long as I figure out what I’m doing.) The difference being that I know why I got stuck. I didn’t have a clear vision of the weird, wacky world I was throwing my poor character into, which, naturally, made it difficult to write about.

And the other half of knowing why is knowing how to fix it. Roughly speaking. It’s meant that I made the decision to step back and return to the structuring/outlining phase, and I may or may not be able to repurpose the stuff I wrote during November, so in some ways I’m sure it doesn’t look all that different from previous years with regards to what I actually managed to take away from the event. But instead of having a huge mess of words and no clear idea of where to go with it, I have a huge mess of words and a much stronger idea of where my planning went wrong and what I need to do to fix it. If nothing else, I’d call that progress.

Additionally, it’s made it clear that all my other projects could benefit from the same treatment. Specifically, Tanner and Miranda. I’m not gonna like, I’m currently in the thrall of this shiny new plotting/planning thing, so there’s absolutely a huge part of me that wants to say that this is exactly what I needed in order to finally finish the darn thing. And who knows– maybe it is going to make all the difference, and I’m not just making like James Garner in Support Your Local Sheriff (I refuse to let this story become my own personal Australia).

In short, I’m excited. So excited. I write better when I plan like this, and reaching the “end” of a project seems like it’s within reach as opposed to just being some mystical, theoretical state of existence that my projects have no real hope of ever reaching. I suspect I’m going to have to learn how to balance some elements of both– half of the excitement of writing comes from the times the characters take over and decide to do their own thing (this November his name was Locksley and my sister got all kinds of texts of me complaining about his hijacking of the story)– but I think this is another one of those “you have to know the rules in order to know how to break them” cases. And it’s really, really cool to be getting a better handle on the rules of my craft.

Musings

[Blog] Hey look it’s December

Hey guys! Apparently it’s December now. 2021 is all but over. Weird.

Anyway! So, NaNo is over and I hit the 50k goal on the day before Thanksgiving (yay!) despite work busyness and such. The whole planning thing went remarkably well, to the point where I’m pretty sure it’s going to affect how I write novel-length things from here on out. More on that next week!

I hope all of you are well as we head into the holidays, and that you get to spend good time with friends and family. Merry Christmas!


((Technically, this is not something I wrote last month. However! It’s currently the first three paragraphs from that project, so I thought I’d share them here with you.))

Complexity Jones must have slept, because the soft green numbers on the bedside clock read 6:12 AM. It had been just after three-thirty the last time she had looked and given up hope of getting any rest, but maybe that had been what did it. Besides, these days two and a half hours was the best she could hope to get. Even so, her body ached. Whether that was because of the physical work she had thrown herself into the day before or just the wages of however many months of lost sleep she couldn’t say. And it didn’t matter. Either way, the result was the same.

On the other side of the bed, Kemp still slept, his breathing slow and even, a comfort in the quiet morning. She’d given up envying him for it. Better that one of them get a little rest than for both of them to exist in this miserable, exhausted haze. And she was used to it. The nightmares had started shortly after the Distortion had first appeared, and she hadn’t slept well since then. Five years, give or take. No wonder the dark circles under her eyes made it look like she’d lost a fist fight. No wonder her body rebelled when she had a day off and she spent twelve hours in dreamless blackout.

But this wasn’t her day off. And there was no reason to try to beg and borrow and steal another useless moment with her eyes shut and her mind spinning and awake when it wouldn’t do her any good. Better to start the process of coaxing her body back to something functional.

Musings

[Blog] Here we go!

Last blog before NaNo! Now, if I was really organized and professional and all that, I would have built up a buffer to get through November so that I didn’t have to worry about it while aggressively noveling.

However.

I am not. And so I didn’t.

And if I’m honest, even this one is more me rambling than writing anything structured enough that I could generously describe as an essay. Which, to be clear, is fine by me. Mostly, I’m really excited for next month. Which I think I’ve been saying on and off for the last two. Oh well. It’s still the truth.

This will be my twelfth time participating in NaNoWriMo. (Get a hobby, you say. I already have one, I reply.) I’ve reached fifty thousand words eleven times. The one time I didn’t, it was the year my college campus got hit by one of those infamous California wildfires, so I’d argue that I had a good excuse. Now, here’s where the numbers get a little less ideal: of those eleven manuscripts, I have… one that qualifies as a proper draft. Three if you count the two that gave me the skeletons for the various Tanner and Miranda stories.

Like I said: less ideal.

That’s not to say I consider those other eight (or nine, counting the unfinished one) to be failures. If nothing else, they greased the gears and got me writing. So what if none of it is much good? You can’t edit words that never made it to the page, and you don’t get better without practice. And considering that I participated in my first NaNo when I was sixteen, that counts as a lot of practice. And a lot of encouragement from an exuberant writing community. And a lot of exposure to all kinds of different writing advice and methods. Enough that I had a lot to work with when figuring out my own.

So here I am. 2021. Doing it again and trying to take it a step further. We’ll see how it goes.

What about the rest of you? Anyone doing NaNo this November? How are you feeling here, standing on the brink? Ha!

Musings

[Blog] The Art of Writing

In the process of outlining next month’s novel, I’ve been paying a huge amount of attention to the basics of structure. By which I mean I’ve been working my way through my copy of Jessica Brody’s Save the Cat Writes a Novel, which is itself a rendition of Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat which was written specifically on how to structure a screenplay. Both books are utterly brilliant and thoroughly helpful, and are basically expansions on the best writing advice I’ve ever received: “The three most important things in writing are structure, structure, structure.”

First off, I’d like to say that I’m a little embarrassed at how long it took me to start figuring out even the most basic structure. And by that, yes, I do mean grade school beginning, middle, end type structure. Oh, sure, I could have told you that stories needed all three, but beyond that… not much. And I was (and am still more often than I’d like) categorically bad at actually including all three of those oh-so-important parts.

Look, I said I was embarrassed about it.

But! I’m also getting better. Way better! And following a proper beat sheet is a part of that, which is part of why I’m so excited about this upcoming month. It’ll be the first time I go in with a complete plan instead of trying to implant structure afterwards. Which might– might— mean I come out of this with a usable first draft, instead of the glorified planning phase I usually end up with. And I have nothing against the glorified planning phase! It’s fun! It’s often helpful! It’s part of why I’ve been doing NaNo for so many years. But I think going in with an outline is the next step. And I think I’m ready to take it.

Musings

[Blog] The Winds

The Santa Anas have returned to Southern California. At the moment, they’re not particularly warm. Or they aren’t where I am. I’m grateful for that; it’s still eerily windy, but it isn’t miserably hot at the same time. Maybe that means that fire danger is a hair lower, too. Maybe.

Despite the potential trouble they bring with them, I’ve always loved these windy days. They make me restless, as if I need to join them. As if I need to leap and climb and run. Sometimes, the feeling would come even before I consciously realized it was windy, and everything would make a sort of sudden sense as soon as I saw the flailing tree branches through the window. In college, I spent a lot of those nights running all over campus.

It makes sense, then, that winds in literature are harbingers of change. Mary Poppins arrives when “the wind’s in the east”. In Greek myth, the Anemoi were the four gods of the four winds: north, south, east, and west, and they brought the change of seasons. And then there’s that whole phrase: the winds of change.

Maybe that’s why I like those windy days so much. Ironic, given how uncomfortable I am with change in general. But when the winds are high and the breezes playful, it makes one imagine that something is about to happen. A story is about to begin. Someone is about to go on an adventure. Maybe it’s you or me.

Musings

[Blog] NaNo Prep, and all the excitement that comes with.

It’s that time of year! Already! National Novel Writing Month is right around the corner, somehow, which means that the planners are busy planning and the pantsters are (maybe) coming up with a launchpad idea to take them through. Normally, I’m one of the latter. Like, hardcore. I’ll have a vague idea of the story I want to write, and if I’m lucky it’ll include helpful things like important characters and a potential ending.

If I’m lucky.

And while I’ve thoroughly enjoyed myself for my past few NaNos, I’ve also recognized that there are some distinct weaknesses to that style. Especially for someone like me who has Way Too Many Projects going at the same time, meaning that I don’t really spend the time to fix the chaotic tangle I end up with on December 1.

So, this year, I’m doing something different. This year, I’m planning. GASP.

And this isn’t like all my half-hearted attempts in years past where I tell myself I’ll plan, and all of a sudden it’s Halloween night and I definitely haven’t planned. In fact, I’ve been actively outlining and organizing since the beginning of September, and even if November were to start tomorrow I’d already be way more prepared than I’ve ever been before.

Right now, I’m slowly fleshing it all out in Scrivener, starting with chapter titles (which I’m really liking) and all the way down to decent summaries of each scene. Basically, it means I’m spending all the time wracking my brain to figure out where the story is going now instead of when I’ve already started writing the prose. Frontloading the delays, if you will.

Or I hope so, at any rate; this is all a massive experiment, and while it seems right now like I’ve been a planner in denial all this time, it’s also possible that I’ll decide that I’m a free spirit after all and fly off the rails as soon as I start typing. But I hope not.

But anyway! Take a look below for a sneak peak! Or, if you’ve got a project of your own, swing by the comments and let me know!

(And yes, I’m still working on Tanner and Miranda. Both projects are up right next to each other. Because I can’t do anything the easy way.)


What if… things could be better? What if this wasn’t the end?

When a shattered world starts crumbling faster, a woman must be willing to lose everything she loves for a chance to do the impossible and save it all.

Musings

[Blog] Imitation and Flattery

Sometimes, you find a story that lodges itself somewhere deep in your soul. Maybe you know why, or maybe you just can’t figure it out. Either way, whether it’s something you watch or something you read, something about it resonates with you and grips you and won’t let go. And then, if you’re like me, you want to figure out what it is so that you can make your own stories do the same thing. Which then leads to the fear that you’re going to accidentally just rewrite the thing that inspired you in the first place.

Now, first. I know. There’s nothing new under the sun. So-called “originality” is an impossible dream. But that’s not what I’m talking about here; there’s a huge difference between writing a story that involves elves and halflings and an evil world, and writing one about a halfling called Fauxdo and his loyal friend Hamwise saving the world by throwing an amulet of power into a river lava. And unfortunately, when trying to capture the same sort of excitement that is caused by a specific work of fiction, it can be far too easy to fall back on the specific scenes that were your favorites. Or the specific characters who captured your imagination.

Then again, they say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. So maybe there’s a middle ground.

At the moment, my best answer is this: try to figure out what it is that captured your imagination in the first place, and why it is that this particular story seems to resonate with you the way it does. I know. That’s hard. REALLY hard. Because to do that, you have to get through to the heart of the story, past all the shiny stuff on the outside that you might also really like. But if you can do that, if you can figure what the story is actually about, at its core, then it becomes easier to tell a story about that same theme. For example: Fringe. Fundamentally, it’s a story about family, and how a family has to face truly terrible odds and dangers together. Yes, I’m still talking about Fringe. Because that’s the latest thing that’s lodged itself in my mind.

So if, to continue the example, you enjoy a particular story because it’s about a family and how they have to survive insurmountable odds, if you were to write a story about a different family and their own insurmountable odds, then perhaps it will create the same sort of soul-nourishing yearning that the other story created. And yet, it won’t be the other story. It will be your own, because you are answer the same question in your own words, colored by your own experiences and knowledge. And unless I miss my guess, that’s what writing is all about.

Musings

[Blog] Scavenger

Writers are scavengers. We ought to be, at any rate. We pick out pieces of the world we live in and leave them in the words we put on the page like a magpie stealing shiny trinkets. Maybe it’s a word we like, one that means the same thing as two or three others but has the perfect connotation– such as exasperated; it’s like annoyed, and even more like vexed, but if your character is exasperated there’s a lighter note to it that’s missing from the others.

Or maybe it’s the emotions that well up inside us when we are reunited with a dear friend we haven’t seen in years. I imagine they’re the same feelings that surge in our characters’ bellies when they finally, finally return to their loved ones after the chaos of their story.

Or it’s the cold gust of autumn wind that chills a warm day, reminding us that summer is over and winter is coming, and it’s the smell of wood smoke and fallen leaves beckoning us homeward before the early darkness shrouds our way.

Or it’s the aching exhaustion that clings to your bones after a long day of hard work.

Or the way you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you can trust your closest friends.

Or maybe it’s just the last story you read, or watched, or listened to. The one that wrapped the vines of its tale around your heart, sharing with you some truth about being human in a broken world that resonated like a rung bell.

In some ways, even the best writers are anything but original, and the best pieces of their stories are made up of truth, and not whole cloth. Because that’s why we can connect with them the way we do. And that’s what makes them so important.

Musings

[Blog] Weird Things Happen on Planes

If you’ve watched a certain type of science fiction, you’ve probably noticed something: weird things happen on planes. I recently started watching the show Manifest, the premise of which is that a plane goes missing and then reappears years later, to everyone’s surprise and consternation. Fringe had at least three episodes dedicated to bizarre happenings on planes. I’ve never seen it, but I imagine the accurately titled Snakes on a Plane fits this mold as well, as I understand the title is an accurate description of the entire movie.

So the question is: why?

The simplest answer is that planes are a convenient box to put your characters in. No way on. No way off. If something happens, no help is coming. You have to try to deal with it by yourself. It’s the perfect setting for a Blake Snyder style Monster in the House story.

Another answer is that we recognize the madness inherent in climbing inside a metal tube and hurling ourselves across the world at ridiculous speeds. The fact that we do it so often that it has become normal doesn’t change that. Telling ourselves stories about strange things happening while undertaking this wild endeavor is its own sort of catharsis: an acknowledgement, perhaps, that this is a far cry from walking, or running, or even climbing on the back of an animal five times our size and riding it to get from place to place.

Or maybe it’s because of the opposite. Most of us have ridden in planes frequently enough that it is commonplace and accepted as safe. Having something strange, dangerous, or bizarre happen in such a familiar space immediately draws us in and heightens the tension. After all, if it can happen on that plane ride, why can’t it happen on the next one we take?

Whatever the reason, it appears often enough that I’ve noticed it while just casually watching. Out of blatant curiosity, I did a quick search over at TV Tropes (yes, yes, foolhardy, I know) and discovered that I had just barely scratched the surface. This is unsurprising thanks to the aforementioned casual watching. Which speaks to my point. If we write enough stories about things happening on planes that there is an entire list of them, then clearly there is something about it that catches the human imagination. Or. You know. Several somethings.

Musings

[Blog] Hurting Each Other

If you interact with other humans, chances are you’ll end up either hurting someone else or being hurt by them. Most likely, it’s both. Maybe it’s accidental. Maybe it’s not. Most of us try not to, but that doesn’t stop it from happening. And naturally, we are more likely to hurt those we interact with more often, meaning that when we do wrong someone else, it’s more likely to be a friend or a family member than the stranger we pass in the grocery store.

As with so many things in life, in part because of its inevitability, the most important thing ends up being not whether or not we hurt or are hurt, but how we respond when it happens. Does a harsh word or a thoughtless comment destroy a relationship? Or do we find a way to work through it and forgive? Do we accept that some friendships are not worth saving? Do we decide that this one is, no matter how hard you have to fight for it? There isn’t a single right answer that fits every situation. As a Christian, I am called to love my enemies–not to mention friends or annoying coworkers–and forgiveness heals much.

But that’s a topic for another time. Today, I want to talk about what hurting each other has meant in some of the relationships I value most. And then about how my writer-brain connects that to good storytelling, because we all knew that was going to happen.

Perhaps it’s counterintuitive, but my closest friendships are the ones where we have hurt each other. More than once. Often deeply. We’ve said things, or made assumptions, or lashed out, or… the list goes on. I don’t have to continue it, because I know anyone reading this will have a list of their own, with specific events and particular people. And, I hope, anyone reading this will also know that the story doesn’t end there with the argument, or the silent treatment, or the unexpected ghosting.

Or it doesn’t have to.

Those same friendships I was talking about have thrived because when we did hurt each other we also forgave each other, and we worked through it. Love covers a multitude of sins. And thank God for that.

(A quick note: this, of course, does not meant that there is never a time to end things. David didn’t keep hanging out in King Saul’s court after a certain number of thrown spears; he left. He also straight up refused to hurt Saul, even when given multiple chances, which says plenty as well.)

As for how this applies to storytelling, if working through mutual injury in real life relationships can end up strengthening them, then the same is true in good writing, which aims to be an accurate reflection of the real world. Your characters, even your heroes, will not always agree. They might betray each other, or their values, or do any of another thousand things that create a rift between them. And they might realize it, or they might think they were in the right the entire time. Either way, it’s those moments that create the most compelling story: the ones where the characters end up going head to head in a conflict that can’t just be explained away, where it can’t be resolved unless something fundamentally changes.

Unsurprisingly, I noticed a particularly good example of this during my most recent rewatch of Fringe (shush, everyone’s allowed to be a fangirl every once in a while). There are a few episodes near the middle of the third season where a couple of the characters have to work through some things. The sort of things that only apply when you’re a character in a dramatic science fiction setting that involves alternate universes, but the point remains. And it hurts to watch. Because you understand both of their points of view. And you know that they both have completely valid points. And you also know that the harm done is real, and it’s not just going to vanish on its own.

And it’s resolved! The characters talk through it, work through it, and find a way to move on. They don’t just let their relationship float in whatever direction it wants, they choose to put the effort in to make it work. This could be it’s own blog post, but I can’t give enough praise for mature, intelligent characters. Conflict is so much more compelling when it’s not caused by one or both parties being idiots.

Now, I’m not going to lie. Despite knowing all this, it’s still incredibly difficult for me to work that into my writing. If several of my favorite characters aren’t getting along and are actually at odds, it make me sad. I don’t like it. I want it to stop. And it’s a lot easier to make it stop by not writing it in the first place than by putting in the work to figure out how those characters are going to have to get through it. I need to fix that. Because once I do, it’s going to make me a better writer.