inasmuch as it concerns Building Character:
Protagonists. Antagonists. Second-string chorus members. Meeting them, getting to know them, telling them what I want them to do, and finding out they don't want to do it, the bastards.
speaking of fool archetypes, there was this raccoon
- 7,208 wds. long
Hello, world. I am just back from watching Guardians of the Galaxy! It was a lot of fun. It was even more fun because of watching it at the Cinebarre, which is the new dinner-and-a-movie joint in Boulder County. Cinebarre's website says it's the Boulder location, but it's actually in Louisville where the Colony Square Cinema used to be. John and I decided that, compared to other dinner cinemas, it's not quite up to the standard of the Alamo Drafthouse, but there's a lot to be said for not having to drive an hour in terrible, soul-crushing traffic to get there. I always have a headache by the time we get home from the Alamo. The combination of beer and eye-strain and the hot drive there and the long drive back, it does a number on me.
By contrast, we walked to Cinabarre from our hotel. It was a lovely walk, especially on our way back. The sun had gone to bed, the night air was cool, and the waning gibbous moon was rising all orange and dramatic ahead of us. I still got a bit of a headache though. Even without the drive, beer and eyestrain remain. But it was a fun movie, and look! You still get a blog post outta me.
On the short story front, I'm still pecking away at the ending--and I only have until the 15th to finish this thing if I want to give it the chance I have in mind for it, so let's hurry up there, Muse, OK?--but I uncovered a whole new angle on an important flashback, so that's something. Also, today's CTC29 prompt got me thinking about the third-wheel character, Katie of the "he's totally into you, don't deny it" foolishness, in a different way. The assignment was to write a scene in which a Fool archetype utters some unexpected wisdom or otherwise shakes up the main character's perceptions. As things stand, Katie is a little shallow and immature. And she can be that, but she can't be just that. I think I need to let her show a little Foolish wisdom of her own, maybe notice something that the main character is missing and say something thoughtless and insightful about it. Look, I don't know what precisely. But it'll have that basic shape, if that makes any sense.
(As though this story didn't already have enough problems to fix by Friday. Like an entire missing ending.)
On the Patreon front, I'm working away on its text and details. I've mentioned a couple of times a plan to launch the page on September 1, yes? Well, I've created the first of the story-like objects that will launch with it. (To be fair, its rough draft was already written before I chose it as the launch date offering. That's the whole point. But about this, more later.) Preparing it turned out to be a much easier task than writing the page's main text. "Tell your patrons why they should pledge to you," the text field says. And my brain goes, "Well, if you put it that way..." Then it sort of wibbles uselessly in a corner. My brain is much less threatened by the text field's subtitle instructions, "Talk about what you do and how you'll be using your Patrons' support to keep creating interesting content."
As exciting and fun as that sounds, I'm only allowing myself some 25 minutes a day to work on it, at least until "Snowflakes" is safely in the mail. Because priorities!
Tomorrow has both a drive to the airport and roller derby practice in it. On top of that, it's a Wednesday, which means volunteer reading for AINC. I have no idea how I'll manage to also get a solid day of writing in. Probably the first step is a solid night's sleep. Which starts... now. Er. Good night?
activate the program and run behind the scenes
- 6,779 wds. long
Got a good hour in on the story today, despite my Wednesday exploding with a certain percentage of leftover Tuesday. But in between boxing things up and talking to insurance agents, I did manage to check in with "Snowflakes." Sad thing is, I've gone back to the beginning again. It still doesn't feel like wasted effort--I'm smoothing out more lumps and seeding a bit more foreshadowing--but I'm so sick of not having finished!
My main difficulty with the ending is how to portray Ashley's emotional reaction to The Big Reveal. It's tricky. First she gets news to which the natural reaction should be shock and grief. A breath later, she gets a revelation that provokes righteous indignant anger. This is a complex moment which is hard to faithfully render. It's too easy to let one thing overwhelm the other. If the anger overwhelms the grief, she looks callous. But the grief and shock can't overwhelm the anger, either. That was a huge problem with the previous draft: She was pretty much robbed of her agency, both in the present and retroactively over the course of her entire life, and she was fine with this. That's not her. What's more, that's not any character I ever want to write--especially, for obviously reasons, when they're women.
I'm leaning towards a partial solution of having the anger not so much overwhelm the grief and shock as redirect them. But finding the words is tricky.
Another change I'm making is that, unlike in the previous draft, where Josh tells her, "I chose you" (Ew. No), in this draft he says, "I recognized you." Which will additionally help to keep readers from attributing too much of the story to Josh's choices, I hope. There was a lot of confusion expressed on this account in critiques of the previous draft.
Gah. One reason I keep this blog is, I like sharing peeks behind the scenes. But it's tricky with short stories. There's "a backstage pass" and then there's "total spoiler before it's even in print! Nice going, stupid." Novels run the same risk, I suppose, but they have bigger backstages. You've got more room to explore, examine the costumes and the props, without prematurely running into a dramatic reveal or important plot twist.
Speaking of novels and peeks behind the scenes, here's another of my Codex colleagues on Patreon: William Hertling is creating science fiction novels.
William Hertling is the author of the Singularity series, comprising Avogadro Corp., A.I. Apocalypse, and The Last Firewall. He is currently at work on the fourth book in the series as well as an entirely separate stand-alone novel. He's using Patreon via the per-month model in order to raise funds towards the cost of producing a novel, like copyediting, cover design, layout, proof-reading, and also writing the darn thing.
I'm intrigued by the way Hertling fits the whole "backstage pass" idea into his pledge tiers rewards. The exclusive material offered as a thank-you to Patrons who pledge $1.50 a month (I was wrong--apparently pledges needn't be in whole dollar amounts) includes the occasional bonus unused scene, or bits of worldbuilding that never made it onto the page (I assume that's what "descriptions of future technology" means). That's really neat.
I would love to do something like that. But, again, it strikes me as easier to do with a larger work, be it a novel or a series of shorts in a shared world. When I'm working more persistently on Iron Wheels I could totally see myself creating bonus material out of all the thousands of words I spend talking to myself on the page about exactly how my Land of Faerie works, about other changeling/baby swaps and other jobs that Old Mack has been assigned over the centuries. But there's less potential for that when what I'm working on is a 6,000-word short about a summer solstice snowpocalypse. What little I can do in that arena, I already do right here at tiresome length, free for the world to read. See above. Still, it's something to think about.
Something else to think about: Should at least twenty Patrons pledge at the $10/month level, Hertling's gift to those Patrons will be a special bonus book, just for them, full of surprises. Maybe an anthology of short fiction, maybe a parallel work to the Singularity novels taking place in an alternate universe or featuring an alternate ending. "Whatever the final form," he writes, "it will be fun and unique, handcrafted for my biggest supporters as a thank you."
Now, when John and I talked about Patreon and its possibilities the other day, he put a lot of emphasis on using it to help create and deepen a connection between the creator and the supporters. "If, as an artist, all you're doing is selling a product," he said, "you're wasting your time. You should be building a relationship." This strikes me as exactly the sort of thing he was talking about. I'd love to be able to do something like that. Not, perhaps, to the scale of an entire book, considering how slow I am at putting out the ones I already want to write. But certainly something shorter might be possible. Flash fiction written to prompts of supporters' choosing, maybe. Again, stuff for me to think about.
I intend to keep highlighting Patreon pages this week as a sort of show-and-tell, sharing my discoveries as I explore and get excited about what's already being done. I hope you will visit their pages and consider supporting these authors. That would be cool. They're friends of mine, after all, so I want to see them do well. But, more importantly to y'all-out-there, they write some pretty amazing stuff that more people ought to read. I hope you'll take a look-see and then, if you like what you see, get your friends to take a look as well.
a drabble where you can read it; also, revising away some story problems
I'm pleased to announce that as of today you can read my drabble, "Priesthood Has Its Privileges," on SpeckLit. The other drabble that SpeckLit acquired will appear on the site in September, so stay tuned for that announcement then.
A drabble is a work of fiction that is exactly 100 words long. They are compact and easy to digest, a nutritious part of your daily breakfast. Bookmark SpeckLit to add a new drabble to your diet every other day.
I'm less than pleased to announce that today I was... not as respectful, shall we say, as one should be, of the sharpness of the edge of the scissors blade I was cleaning off. The result is merely a flesh-wound, but there is nothing "merely" about that when it's across your index fingertip and you're trying to type. You ever heard a typo referred to as a "fat finger" incident? Bandaged fingertips are literal fat fingers, hitting two keys where one will do and generally wrecking one's wpms.
Thankfully, this flesh-wound came after a solid session of story revision today. It was solid not only as measured by the formula "butt + chair x time," but also from the standpoint of story problems solved, or at least brought closer to solved. To wit:
1) Raise the stakes. The story has an "OMG shit just got real" moment about halfway through, but I think the draft my friends read suffered from a bit of stall-out after that. The narrator gets home from encountering the "OMG" moment--and almost immediately forgets about it, or at least stops mentioning it, while she listens to some voice mail from her chatty and insufficiently worried friend. So with this revision I'm trying to keep the tension high by correcting both of those oversights. If I've done my job right, I've corrected them both in a single edit to do with what's in the phone message and how the narrator reacts to it.
Wow. That paragraph is a great example of why talking about writing is sometimes not the greatest idea. Trying to discuss a particular edit in generalities rather than specific detail results in hella confusion cum circumlocution. Well, I'm-a leave it up there, let it fend for itself, 'cause I know what I mean, and one day, publishers willing and the markets don't flop, you will too.
2) Everyone's got a story. There is a character in this story more talked about than talking, and it finally occurred to me I have to give him something to do. He's away in a ski resort with the chatty friend, which is to say, they're in what's basically a fancy hotel suite. I visualize it as a kitchen/living room, a bedroom, and a bathroom. That's it. Yet the chatty friend manages to leave our narrator phone messages that this other character in the room is not overhearing. How did I solve that problem in recent drafts? Well, apparently I had him taking a lot of naps. This... is not ideal. He is not meant to be the Amazing Hibernating Man. So with this draft I tried to figure out, well, what does he do while they're in the resort? Especially considering the special role he plays in the development of the plot? And how can I then reveal what he's doing such that it lays groundwork for later revelations?
So now he spends a lot of time sitting on the balcony out in the snow, oblivious to the cold, staring out into the storm. Which doesn't sound like much of an improvement, but in my head there is a reason. I just have to figure out how to make that reason more clear.
This blog post has been brought to you by a somewhat out of date bottle of New-Skin (R) Antiseptic Liquid Bandage. Protects small cuts without all that bandaged fingertip awkwardness! I think I'll go put on a second coat now. And buy a new, not-out-of-date bottle tomorrow.
got it written. next: get it right
- 6,434 wds. long
My goal was to finish this draft of "Caroline's Wake" by the end of the working week, i.e. Friday evening. I'm pleased to say I have achieved my goal. It involved less stress than anticipated, too. I got to the end of the scene that was driving me nuts yesterday; the final scene fell into place today easily and naturally, as a denouement should. Ta-da!
To be painstakingly honest, I did not meet my entire goal, which was the have the draft done and ready for critique. As I worked on it yesterday and today, as I babbled to myself about it in today's edition of the Morning Pages, I discovered some small slight issues I'd like to clean up before letting other people's eyes take a gander. The "hot and heavy" part of the seduction scene needs some cleaning up, as the same energy that made it effective and effortless to write has undoubtedly also weighted it a little on the self-indulgent side. (Please feel free to insert whatever innuendo you want there. Far be it from me to spoil your fun and tell you to get your mind out of the gutter. You're obviously having a lot of fun down there.) And given that the story plays around the edges of some taboo/squick boundaries, it's important that the reader realize, or at least suspect, that the main characters are Goddesses. I need to make the hints about that a lot less subtle. Oh, it sounds unsubtle here on the blog where I'm all THIS IS A PERSEPHONE AND DEMETER STORY, GET IT, GET IT? But things are more ambiguous on the page. Which means that certain things a reader would kind of let fly because Oh, We're In Mythology Headspace, It's OK might instead make the reader go What? No. Just NO.
So there's still a lot of "get it right" work to do next week. But that's OK, because the "get it written" part is solidly done. And that's a huge relief.
Meanwhile--hooray weekend! And it's a weekend with no roller derby practice, because the league observes Father's Day as a holiday. Much as I love derby, it's nice to get a Sunday off and relax. But it will not be an entirely non-skating weekend, because I'll be rolling around during the G'Knight Ride festivities. Wanna come eat good food, drink a beer, jam to some great local music, and watch a roller derby mini-bout? It'll be in Roosevelt Park, in Longmont, 900 Longs Peak Avenue. The demo bout will be at 4 PM, Saturday the 14th, on the Roosevelt Pavillion. See you there!
when in doubt, do the dishes
- 5,877 wds. long
Well, that was easy. All I had to do was have Andy wash some dishes.
That's a little glib, admittedly. There's a bit more to it than that. What it really came down to was remembering that he's a character, not a stereotype. And, despite my best intentions, I was alternately writing him as a stereotypically sloppy drunk or a stereotypically sleazy pick-up artist. But the initial detail I changed that turned him from a stereotype back into a character, was having Demi come back upstairs and find him not lounging around suggestively on the couch but instead cleaning up the mess left from the party. Hey, he genuinely wants to help. He's got entitlement complexes out the wazoo which have led him to do something very horrible indeed, but his conscience won't let him leave Demi to clean up dirty dishes and broken glass alone. Characters are complex, y'all.
This required rewriting all the stage directions in the beginning of that scene. In doing so, I realized another mistake I'd been making. In the second scene, Bobbie Mae gets drunk and climbs up on the kitchen counter, which results in a lot of broken glass and punch on the ground. In this scene, all that debris... has just disappeared? I certainly never mentioned it again, despite Demi surely having to walk through it to prepare their late-night dinner. Whoops. So now they're cleaning up that stuff together like a comfortable, domestic couple. Awww.
A comfortable, domestic couple who are, separately and simultaneously, playing very deeply in the Land of Creepy and Problematic Consent Issues, but still. Just for those five minutes of story time, before things get morally icky again, we can say "awww."
Once again, two problems in search of the same solution. Nothing there "just because." Previously unrelated things becoming related. Story getting tighter. My short story theory is invincible!
So this time through the draft I hit the steam-powered locomotive tipping point where it becomes effortless to type through to the end of the scene because now I know how to get there. It'll need some tightening up, but that's OK. I can do that tomorrow, after I write the final scene, which will be
easy a hell of a lot easier than this scene was. Yayyyy.
Exit author, in the direction of beer and popcorn and that pint of mango chili margarita sorbet from Glacier.
it is kind of the opposite of easy
- 3,071 wds. long
I'm finally beginning to peck away at the third scene of "Caroline's Wake." It is an entirely different order of difficult than the previous scene was. I believe that in a previous blog post I might have optimistically suggested that it would be easy? Ha! Ha-ha-ha. Ha-ha-ha-HA. It is not easy. It is not even within shouting distance of easy.
The problem is pacing and revelation. Also character development that feels natural but happens over a frightingly short space of text. This is the scene where We Find Out Important Things. The problem is, these Important Things are not things that the character revealing them is likely to reveal ever. So I have to make it believable that he'd blurt this shit out and expect the POV character to find it acceptable.
I do not consider "Well, he's really, really drunk" to be sufficient reason for him to spill the beans. They are very important beans. They are beans of devastation. They are the sort of beans you don't ever, ever cook for company.
On the other hand, one only has to page back through some Captain Awkward posts (with particular attention to this one) to realize that, out in the wide and very real world, there are men who will say absolutely ridiculous things, things that are multiple levels of wrong and bad and ew, and somehow expect these things to evoke appreciation and attraction or at the very least acceptance from the women they're trying to seduce. I can't count the number of times a man (or a woman!) has told me an appallingly sexist joke, and has then been flabbergasted and offended that, far from finding the joke funny, I experienced it as a rhetorically vicious attack upon my own self and person. Or men who unconsciously assume that the women they're trying to seduce have no wants or needs that fail to intersect conveniently with their (the men's) own desires. So I guess "He's really drunk, and he's also That Guy" can be enough of a reason, if executed correctly.
Except, if I didn't know better, there's plenty Captain Awkward examples I wouldn't find believable either.
So this will be the week I pick at it here, and pick at it there, and freewrite on it, and make lists about it, and experiment with pacing, and just up and splat some truly awful dialog onto the page. And then chip away at the "marble" thus created until what's left is a believable and emotionally satisfying scene that climaxes the story.
Hello, this week. You are daunting. Nevertheless, you and I must come to terms. So let's get on with it.
agency is for other people's characters
- 3,400 wds. long
I'm a lot better at spotting mistakes in others' fiction than in my own. That's why I participate in critique workshops. It means that while I'm pointing out the motes in my colleagues' eyes, I'm putting the ginormous vision-occluding planks of my own right where they can see 'em and tell me about 'em.
None of this should be a surprise. And yet.
I remember once telling a fellow workshop member that his story didn't ultimately work for me because his protagonist's emotionally satisfying ending came at the cost of the supporting character's agency. "I don't buy that she just accepts what he did to her and falls into his arms like that. I'd expect her to be angry. The romantic moment you're aiming for doesn't strike me as earned."
That critique session predated the first draft of "The Impact of Snowflakes."
You would think--well, I would think--that, having spotted in another author's manuscript this de-agentifying of a supporting female character to provide a touching denouement for a male protagonist--that having discussed it not only in terms of his story but also that of the larger unfortunate media trends it slots neatly into--well. I'd have expected myself to be alert to this sort of thing when writing stories of my own.
But what happens in my story? The female protagonists slowly learns the true situation (which is not a good one), comes to realize it was either caused by or at least known about far in advance by the male supporting character, and reacts to this realization by saying, and I quote, "The last man alive in my world is coming to meet me... I think I'd like to meet him halfway."
A close friend and one of my story's recent workshop critics gently pointed out that the ending was, well, kind of more gendered than what she'd come to expect of me. And also she wanted to know if the last woman alive in this world had a name?
I had not even given the protagonist a name, y'all. All the *facepalm.*
OK, so, now it goes like this. Her name is Ashley. She's been isolated much of her life because the male supporting character has been subtly and with the best of intentions manipulating her since her early years. By the end of the story she knows this, and she's kind of pissed off.
(She is also, seriously, I promise you, not into him that way. But that's the jumping-off point for a whole separate rant which I will save for later. Later!)
accidental literary conversations
- 267 wds. long
Writing at Fuse again today, which makes it three times this week. I think we've finally succeeded in making it a routine, John and I. Either that, or the prospect of a free beer during "Friday happy hour" is sufficient temptation to overcome all resistance.
I'm liking our Fuse workdays, but I find I like them best when we get there before ten o'clock. When we get there later than ten, then we have breakfast upstairs, there there's the inevitable settling-in period downstairs, and what with one thing and another I don't get to my first "real writing" task until about eleven-thirty. Momentum is lost and never truly regained.
But today John had a 9:30 AM meeting to "go" to, which is to say to be present on the phone for, so we made sure to be there by then. Suddenly the day stretched long and full of possibility, and I was able to do all the things with teeny breaks for Puzzle Pirates in between and still not feel I'd left anything undone by the time beer-o'clock rolled around.
One thing I had time for was a lunch-hour walk to the library, just three blocks away, for some short story research. Here's the thing: I'm beginning to realize that "Other Theories of Relativity" appears to have entered into a three-way conversation with Katherine Paterson's novel Jacob Have I Loved and Ray Bradbury's short story "The Kaleidoscope" on the other. So I've checked them out of the library to refresh my memory because these sorts of conversations should be held deliberately.
The Bradbury connection became obvious rather quickly. I mean, you've got some number of astronauts stranded in space and contemplating their inevitable demise--how do you miss that? Unless you hadn't read the story, of course. I had, and it stuck with me in the same menacing, unpleasant way as "A Sound of Thunder" and (I think) "The Rocket Man." Only I couldn't remember which collection it was in nor its name, so I spent some time in the library flipping to each story's first page and reading the first line.
"The first concussion cut the rocket ship up the side with a giant can opener." Yep. That's the one. And on an unrelated note, a story critique note: A line like that, I'm expecting the next line to start with something about the second concussion. But no, Bradbury left me hanging. I also find the story's ending to be slightly off-pitch and missing its rhythm; the little boy's line should be "cried," not "screamed"; and the mother only needs to say her line once.
Why yes I am critiquing a Ray Bradbury story. There's no chutzpa about it. I critique everything to do with story. I critique movies, and video games, and occasionally friends' conversations. It's a writer thing. (At least, it's this writer's thing.) Deal with it.
The nod to the Paterson novel only became clear to me once I'd got some vague idea of the sisters' relationship. The reflection isn't exact, but it falls along similar lines. The main character is very clearly the Louise of this pair, all her life resenting her sister's successes even as she's proud of them; yearning for a deeper connection and, in scrambling after her sister to try to regain it, constantly stepping into emotional bear-traps.
I'm really not looking forward to rereading Jacob Have I Loved. I remember it as being a beautiful, haunting novel, but I also remember how angry it made me. Every injustice visited upon Louise, every callousness committed by Caroline, every circumstance that made utter futility out of Louise's attempts to be her own person--argh. And there's no use being angry on behalf of a fictional character! There is nothing constructive to do with that anger! So I go through my days grumpy and cranky and I take it out on people and then I realize why and I feel stupid!
I think the only book that has come close to having that effect on me since has been Jane Eyre. I was not pleasant to be around while I was reading Jane Eyre.
For now, I might not so much reread Jacob Have I Loved as simply open it to random pages and see if I get an "a-ha!" out of it. I may save actually rereading that book for when John goes out of town in May. Then there'll be no danger of the book making me inappropriately cranky at him.
one of the other stories
- 897 wds. long
Wait, what did I say? That I'd get any work done at all--on a Sunday? After roller derby? On the same day as the Superbowl?
Well, I did have one of those 25-minute commute talk-to-myself "freewriting" sessions. Trying to figure out what version of my story idea I wanted to actually accomplish here in 250 words. The idea has to do with locking souls in specially created security vaults for safekeeping, and what the failure state for that looks like. But is it one person--a mother protecting her child, like the infancy stories of Baldur or Achilles? Or is it a whole societal movement? When it goes wrong, is it like Wall Street crashing or like a prisoner breaking free? What's the narrative point of view--omniscient? close third? first? (It could even be second. I do second a lot. A lot of my colleagues say they can't stand second person, but I seem to be able to pull it off now and again.)
At 250 words, one is almost composing poetry. There are stanzas. I sort of wrote a draft of it out loud on my drive home. And along the way I discovered that this isn't random social commentary--this is a Meff story.
Remember Meff? He of the evil toaster (and other stories) and the skeptical roommate? Meff of the "Ooh, Lookit Inscrutible Me" persona? (I got his last name today. He came up with it himself: Underwood. He was going for some sort of "forest of the dead" theme, and it disappoints him that it only puts people in mind of typewriters.)
So apparently Meff is all "Let's go try it out! For science!" and his roommate is more like "Um, how 'bout not? Seriously, when have your ideas ever made my life better?" But he goes along anyway, if only as a witness.
This means I'm having second thoughts about whether the roommate--a Watsonesque figure to Mephisto's Holmes--did in fact "never see Meff again" after the toaster incident. Maybe that's just the last story in the collection, and this came earlier. In any case, the idea of a temporarily soul-less Meff is both intriguing and baffling, and I should like to find out more.
the house in conversation
- 303 wds. long
Still no complete draft. But today I babbled to myself on the page about the layout and contents of Nena Santiago's house. I'm a firm believer in setting as character, for one thing. For another, if the entire story comprises a single conversation held in a single location, then that location better be able to contribute to the conversation.
Mostly, what the location has to say is how triumphant its inhabitant feels at having outlived an abusive marriage. It also has a few things to say about the lives she could have lived, and has not yet given up on living.
I was surprised to discover that Nena makes collages out of her junk mail and her magazine subscriptions. Her table is covered in evocative photography on glossy stock, letters urging her to accept life insurance policies and energy efficiency inspections, coupons for chuck roast, fancy card stock in all colors, and glue sticks. It's sort of like the way my paternal grandmother always had a jigsaw puzzle on the table, only this is messier. There's slivers of paper all over the floor.
Her house is a cluttered mess, not because she buys crap and hoards it but because she doesn't have to hide things away neatly anymore. It's clutter as ongoing celebration.
She's the most interesting person in the story, and she's never even on stage. That's why her house needs to be a real, living, breathing character in this story. It's her surrogate. It's her representative on the page.
Well, that and her journal, of course. Which Lucita (and, therefore, the rest of us) will be reading in backwards chronological order. Hey, her mother's up and vanished, she finds her mother's journal lying out on the desk in the bedroom--she's going to start with the most recent entry and work her way back, isn't she?
A draft tomorrow for sure. Because I want time to sleep on it and edit it before sending it in on Saturday.