Monday, October 31, 2011

The End! (of October Madness)

Tonight, I crossed the finish line of October Madness.  I didn't miss a single day, even through being sick and having a root canal.  (And that's saying something--dental work messes me up like there's no tomorrow.)

I now have thirty-one fresh, shiny story starts ready to be explored and expanded in November.  I've decided that I am doing NaNoWriMo, although it's more of a NaShoStoWriMo, for me, as I'll be writing my 50,000 words on short stories instead of a novel.  I'm energized and excited to dive in when tomorrow rolls around.

My word count for October came in at 19,585, less than half of what I intend to put out in November.  That's okay.  I can do it.  I have faith in myself and belief in my work.

What a word rush!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Importance of Voice

As I have been making my way through my October Madness, I've had some things I've suspected about myself as a writer clarified.  One, I deeply underestimate my ability to be creative and have allowed that to be a roadblock towards producing.  Two, voice is vitally important.

What is voice?  Voice is the language and cadence used when you tell a story.  In first-person or close third-person it is often the voice the viewpoint character.  The way voice is used can significantly add to the believability and realism of the character as well as letting the reader feel like they know this character.  They can hear the way they think.  If you do it right, they can begin to guess at what a character might say, or see, or notice.

There is also authorial voice.  I don't feel comfortable to address authorial voice, beyond saying that with some authors you can tell their writing any time, anywhere.  I do not believe that I have mastered authorial voice, nor am I entirely sure that I want to.  But character voice--narrative voice--is what makes the difference in my work between what is pedestrian and what is compelling.

When I am writing, if I can fall into a voice, it will draw me forward into the story in a way that straightforward telling does not.  It's almost like theater--the difference between performing the words of a script and becoming the person behind them.

I've done a decent amount of theater in my day, mostly musicals.  I have often had major roles, because I am a good singer.  When I've had those roles, I have certainly done my best.  I've tried to be the character, and I've done a good approximation of it.  What taught me the difference between that and what actually being a character can be was when I was in a non-musical play, cast into a small role that was on stage, not speaking, for nearly the entirety of an act.  What would this person do when standing around not really doing anything for half an hour?  What would she notice?  What would draw her eye?  What would she think about?

In that time, I was deeper inside my character than I ever was in a lead role.  I think that's what I need to transport to my writing.  The author is not the lead role.  The author doesn't need to twinkle and shine.  The author needs to step back and let the characters talk.  That's where the magic happens.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Check-In Number Two

October Madness is still going strong!  I haven't missed a day.  Some are harder than others, of course, but every time, I end up with new words and new ideas.  And the amazing thing is that if someone who wasn't there looked at all the words, I don't think they'd be able to tell which ones were difficult and which were easy.

That's a bit of a revelation.  Your readers can't see into your brain.  They don't care if you sweated blood or were awash in creative seas.  They just want good stories.  And you can provide them.

Here's another thing I've realized.  I need to treat writing as a job, with goals and deadlines.  I've always been very good at accomplishing what is necessary at work while letting things sort of drift in other aspects of my life.  If I want to make writing a part of my career--if I want to earn money--I can't just let it lie and hope that things happen.  I have to put forth the effort.

As of today, I have written 6,430 words of new material in the month of October.  That's more than I wrote in the last three month combined, I think.  I did create on story in that time that I felt very confident about, and there was a good deal of editing, but I'm still floored when I look at the number for the first ten days of October.

I'll check back in again in a few days.  Hoping for smooth sailing!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Check-In Number One

October Madness is off to a great start.  I was so excited to get going that I actually did my first exercise on September 30th.  520 words before the month even started!

Today, the official Day One, I've already written 1,272 words.  I got an image that resonated with me and fell into the beginning of what might be an actual story.  Excitement!  Not sure how much more I'll get done tonight, but I'm far enough in that I should be able to move on to Day Two, or even farther, and come back to pick up the thread again.

I'm excited to wake up in the morning and, let me assure you, that never happens.

I think I'm going to like this October.  Might need to do this more often!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Preparations Complete! Launching October Madness in 3 ... 2 ...1 ...

Today I took myself to Barnes & Noble and picked up my writing-prompt source for the month of October.  I know from experience that I work better with visual prompts than with word prompts, so I selected Spectrum 17: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art.

There are over 400 images inside, and I am exercising great restraint by not plowing right through.  The plan is this--each day I will open to a random page, select one image, and start writing.

The good news is that I am so excited to get going that I'm actually going to take a practice run today.  I've got the ammunition, might as well start shooting!

Again, I welcome anyone who would like to join in October Madness to jump right in.  You select whatever you want to write (no need to use visual prompts if they aren't your thing), and aim to write a minimum of 500 words each day.

October Madness, starting in 3 ... 2 ... 1 ...

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

October Madness

Usually at this time of year, I'm deep in planning out what I'm going to write for NaNoWriMo in November.  I haven't decided yet whether I'm going to play in that ballpark this year or not, but I don't want to let October vanish in a haze of thinking and no actual writing.  Hence, I've decided to set myself a challenge.

Every day in the month of October, I will find or create a writing prompt and write at least 500 words based on that prompt.  These may be stories, or they may be exercises on using setting to develop character, or creating a dynamic action scene.  I don't expect all of these exercises to create a story worth pursuing, but I do think that at least some of them will.

If I get very excited about something I've started, great!  I can work on it more ... after I've accomplished my 500 minimum new words for the day.

I'll check back in as the month goes along with updates on my progress.  Got to have a way to keep myself honest!

If anybody wants to join me in my October Madness, I'd welcome the company.  Drop me a line and let me know!

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Wonders of Microsoft Anna

So I've heard off and on for several years now that when you're editing, it really helps to read your work aloud.  For some reason, I am incredibly shy about hearing my own voice reading my own work.  I have no explanation for this, as I am a performer and love being on stage, but within the confines of my own room, I simply can't do it.  So, I never did.

Then, I heard about getting your computer to read it to you.  Odd concept, I thought.  Well, yesterday I tried it.  I downloaded a free program that gets this crazy lady called Microsoft Anna to read to me.  (There's probably a way to do this that's already on my computer, but I couldn't figure it out.)

She reads like, well, a computer.  It's not pretty.  There's no inflection.  Actually, worse, there's completely inappropriate inflection.  However, by listening with my eyes closed and not following on the screen, I found four separate places where my brain had simply either added a word it knew should be there, or ignored the extra word that shouldn't have been.

They were little words: the, to, her, but even though I'd read through the work numerous times, I never caught them.

I am totally sold.  I can't recommend either reading aloud yourself or getting your computer to do it for you enough.  I had no idea how much I was missing.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Six Sentence Sunday - "The Godstone"

For this foray into Six Sentence Sunday, I chose a scene from a fantasy work-in-progress, "The Godstone."  This scene shows the awakening of the heroine's hidden gift and takes place in the midst of a pitched battle on a city's ramparts.

Her amulet wanted something--needed something.  Tanwyn's eyes dropped shut.  Brilliant lines of dancing light flashed against her closed lids, swirling into a whirlwind of harmony.  Hardly aware of her body, she crawled forward, laid her hands against the sides of the wounded man's arrow-pierced flesh, and began to sing.  White fire seared from her hands.  The man moaned, but his breathing grew steady and the flow of blood stemmed.

You can find more information on Six Sentence Sunday here.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Six Sentence Sunday - "The Ciderman's Daughter"

It's week two of my Six Sentence Sunday adventure and I found it just as challenging to find six sentences this time.  These are from a work in progress tentatively titled, "The Ciderman's Daughter."

A little bit of background.  Rois is the daughter of a human and a shapeshifter.  She was raised by foster parents with no knowledge of her background.  As she reaches maturity, she begins to see other shifters in their animal forms, identifiable by a soft glow that surrounds them.  Once her own nature is discovered, she's forced to flee with Dray, a shapechanger whose other form is a wolf.  Dray has every reason to hate her--his bonded mate sacrificed her life to save Rois.  This scene happens as Rois tries to get Dray to tell her more about what he is and, in turn, what it means for her.

Between one step and the next Dray was back to his man-shape and striding across the space between them.  When he stood so close that she was forced to tilt her head at a sharp angle to look up at him, he said, "I am Aldred."

Rois knew he was trying to intimidate her, standing so close she barely had space to breathe without touching him.  "And what am I?"

"You," he said, touching her sternum with an outstretched finger, "Are a nightmare I'm cursed with.  Now hush and follow."

That's all for this week.  Next week I'll be at the Cascade Writers Workshop, so I won't be posting, but I'm looking forward to getting back the week after!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Six Sentence Sunday - "Moon Lantern"

Here it is--my first foray into the world of Six Sentence Sunday.  I found it challenging to find six sentences that I felt were enough to show character, setting, atmosphere and also not leave off in the middle of a thought.  It appears many of my paragraphs run five sentences.

For my first try, I dug into my short story, "Moon Lantern," which was published in 2004 by Abyss & Apex.  It felt safest to use something I already know worked for somebody.  Even so, as I look at it now, I see one place where I would cut were I editing it today.  Here you go!

Most nights I sleep behind the bar at The Moon Lantern. There’s a shadow there, away from the Lantern light. I can lie in that thin rectangle of darkness, safe from the light, and breathe the smell of the day’s customers. Some of the girls wear heavy perfume. Not the good stuff — the stuff that comes in little aerosol cans that say “just like Calvin Klein” on the labels. The smell lingers like something that died under the porch.

My inner editor twitches with the desire to excise the phrase, "safe from the light," but that's how it was published and how it shall stand.

Next time will be harder.  I'll have to dive into something untested.  Should be fun!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Review: "The 10% Solution: Self-editing for the Modern Writer" by Ken Rand

One of my most problematic tendencies as an author is to overwrite.  When I'm starting into a new piece, if there's a way to say something with four words instead of one, I'm likely to do it.  This is something I developed as a fledgling author back when I thought that if one adjective was good, then WOW, I could use EVEN MORE!!!  As I evolved--though practice, workshopping (both online and in-person), and study of how-to writing books--I learned the error of my ways.

Simply put, more is not better.  Precision is powerful.

Ken Rand's book, "The 10% Solution: Self-Editing for the Modern Writer," provides a framework to take your prose from verbose to streamlined in a direct, easy to follow format.  Let me be clear--this is not a book about plot, or characterization, or new ways to get in contact with your muse.  This is a book designed to clean up and polish your writing until it glows.

I wish I had found this book years ago.  I have learned, through lots of hitting and missing, many of the fundamentals, but seeing them laid out in front of me so clearly helped me to internalize them in a more concrete way than sort of hazily "knowing" them.

The title refers to the idea that your prose will be better if you can manage to cut 10% from your original draft.  It's not a specific goal, but an illustration of what you might achieve.  It also specifies that this is self-editing for the modern writer.  This is important, because the process involves using the "find" tool in your word processor so while it will work for the pen-and-paper types, it will be a lot more cumbersome.

There are a number of problem words that signal places where prose might not be strong.  This book helps you work through them in an organized fashion.  Mr. Rand also points out that it is up to the author to think through each instance, to be sure that changing the text will actually make things clearer, more immediate and active.

Another benefit of the 10% Solution is that it frees me up to be as overwrought as I want in my first draft.  I can write down many different images as I go and know that my editing process will allow me to go back and think about which is the right one to use in a given place.  Knowing that lets me move quickly without my internal editor shrieking obscenities as I go.  It will get its turn later.

I decided to try the 10% Solution on a piece of my own work from back when I was starting out.  I believe the piece is fatally flawed and unlikely to see the light of publication, but I wanted to see what happened when it had been edited using the 10% Solution.

The original piece was 5,000 words long.  When I was done, it clocked in at 3,400.  Obviously, 32% is a lot higher than the projected 10%, but, as I've previously mentioned, I'm quite wordy, especially my older work.

Below, I've included two examples of a scene section where the hero flees from an inn.  (Elia, for what it's worth, is the harp.)  The first version ran 126 words:

He quickly gathered what little was left of his supper: a crust of bread, a cube of pungent cheese, and an apple.  He laced Elia tightly into her case, grabbed up his sack, and slipped into the silent hallway.

With barely enough stealth as not to disturb the innkeeper, Bryon fled, down the stairs, through the common, and out to the stables.  Wingfala was awake, his eyes rolling, stamping at the muddy floor.  Bryon set the harp against the outside of the stall before entering to saddle the horse.
The darkness posed only small hindrance, for his hands knew their work, even without benefit of sight.  He moved quickly, and as he coaxed the bit between Wingfala's grinding teeth, he allowed himself a sigh of relief.
The edited version of the same scene is 71 words long.

He stuffed the remains of supper into his sack, laced Elia into her case and slipped into the silent hallway.

Bryon fled down the stairs, through the common room, to the stables.  Wingfala stamped at the muddy floor, eyes rolling.  Bryon set the harp outside the stall before entering to saddle the horse.

The darkness posed small hindrance.  His hands knew their work.  He coaxed the bit between Wingfala's grinding teeth.

I am convinced that Ken Rand's "The 10% Solution" is a tool that would be useful to anyone wanting to clean up their writing, if they are just beginning or have been receiving positive comments from editors without any sales--even if they are already selling.  It never hurts to revisit those things we "know" in a new way.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Into the Blogosphere

In Joseph Campbell's "Hero's Journey," there are twelve stages the hero will pass through, beginning with the "Call to Adventure" (which this blog almost got named,) and ending with the "Return with the Elixir."  As I looked for a title for this blog, I was drawn to "Crossing the Threshold" because it speaks to me as I begin my own journey into the daunting world of the blogosphere.

"Crossing the Threshold" is, in the most simplified sense, the point of no return as the hero sets out on the journey.  I've already crossed what I see as several of the major thresholds of being a writer.  I've written, edited, submitted and published.

Once upon a time, I'd just keep doing those things, hopefully with more successes on the publishing side as I gain experience, but part of being a writer in this modern age is developing an online presence.  Even the big name authors at big name houses do this.  It's a way to reach new readers and keep currents ones updated and invested in what you are producing.  Of all the parts of being a writer, this is the one in which I have the least confidence.  Still, if this is a part of my journey, it's time to accept the "Call to Adventure."  This first post is my "Crossing the Threshold."

This blog will contain thoughts on the craft of writing, stories of success and the lessons learned from failure.  First up will be a review of Ken Rand's "The 10% Solution: Self-editing for the Modern Writer."

I'm looking forward to the adventure!