myaru: (Dragon Age - Alistair)
Brought to you by the mystery novel formula, although the post isn't about mysteries of that sort.

In the end, I had to give my Tales of Zestiria obsession a little outlet. Not too much, because the last thing I need is an epic on my hands, but something. I found out I'm pretty rusty when it comes to fan fiction. I also noticed a few other things.

1. It took approximately 0.05 seconds for me to slip right back into the Pairing Fanfic Formula.

2. I hit the same story/characterization triggers every other Zestiria author does, though I didn't know that until I looked at the AO3 archive afterward.

3. Gasp, this... is not actually a bad formula.


I also realized that I open original stories differently, but that's another topic. Short stories - at least as I write them - involve more plot, and therefore need more precise openings... not that I always manage to make that happen.

The formula I default into isn't a bad formula by itself. It has setting, buildup, and payoff, which is why it can be satisfying to read; it can, and often does, have some kind of "emotional turn" that makes the scene feel complete-- like something happened. (I don't recall which writer gave me the phrase "emotional turn," but it has served me well every time I've bothered to use the concept while writing.) It just so happens that in pairing fic these elements are focused on cuddling instead of something else. It's actually not a bad basic structure for individual scenes.

I think this would still be true if the content is entirely fluff. You can still have a transformation of mood and/or emotion in the scene, which satisfies the requirement for "change" in fiction, which I know people loooove to argue with. Stories don't necessarily need conflict! Shit doesn't have to change! It can still be interesting! And I guess that's all true in fan fiction, when a reader might want to just wallow in their obsession with Mikleo Sebastian Maglor a character they love, and see some stream-of-consciousness contemplation on a canon event. I don't think that's very interesting, but whatever. Some people do. Point is, it's more interesting if something changes, even if that change means we're just moving from contemplation to happiness, or giddiness to contentedness, or some other minuscule difference. The formula can do that.

Which isn't to say I think I should write it all the time. It IS a formula, and if I write ten things according to this formula, they're all going to sound the same, since those ten things will definitely all be pairing fic. Somehow this doesn't happen if I use it for the basis of my scene structure in a longer story, because there are other things happening (and how exactly is a Sorey/Mikleo makeout session not something happening, I mean really) and the formula becomes a vehicle for other elements of craft.

So yeah. I haven't come up with an excuse for #2 (automatically falling into all the cliches) yet. Give me a few more hours for that one.
myaru: (Default)
"The problem with writing is writing. The discoveries in writing will be made in writing. The solutions to story problems - structural, motivational, existential - will be found in writing. ... Your middle will not arrive through thinking, and while it may arrive in dreaming, dreaming is more likely to produce results if you fall asleep while writing."

The Portable MFA in Creative Writing, p.30



My own creative process drives me crazy. This problem probably isn't unique to me.

For as long as I've been writing, I've been what people call a "pantser" - when I've got an idea for a story, I skip the outlining and development parts and jump right in, figuring that it'll take care of itself. Who needs a plot to start with when it'll just grow out of the process on its own like a slimy, scary-looking mushroom? And I thought that's how it was done. I didn't take writing classes until much later, and it never occurred to me - apparently - to pick up a book on how to write fiction when I was younger.

By 'younger,' I mean seventeen or so, which is when I first attempted to write seriously. Prior to that I had written "novels" and storybooks and stuff, but not with any intent. I did it to get ideas out of my head, or sometimes to entertain my friends. Plot isn't really necessary when you're pandering to your own group and their in-jokes.

But this is still the way I work, and knowing how important plot is, thanks to my overpriced degree and experience (I guess), I keep feeling like I should grow up and start plotting before I write. Have an outline. Actually develop characters before I try to write them! No doubt that would make them slightly more interesting.

Have I tried to do this? Yes.

Has it worked? No.

I understand the concept. I could write an essay on it, or pass a test. I can diagnose the problems in novels, short stories, fan fiction. I can even (apparently) give good advice on improving plot and addressing related problems when I'm asked to give someone a thorough critique on their work. But sit me down with my own outline, which I will have spent quite a bit of time on, by the way, and I think I might be able to follow it for two chapters before I run off the rails and end up somewhere completely different. Part of me feels that sticking to that narrow path will stunt the creative growth of the story, but the real problem seems to come down to characterization. Like: I think Character A will do these things and make these decisions, but after writing her for two chapters I realize she'd rather do something different. I might've spent hours working on her backstory, her details (e.g. profile stuff like who her extended family is, or what her education is), and think I developed her personality, but I always find out I'm wrong.

So the character isn't going to do that in chapter three, and because she doesn't, chapter four is a wash. And we probably can't get to Point C on time; there'll need to be eight extra chapters. Maybe. Who's counting? And I can't say she won't change her mind in chapter five, because I just decided that such-and-such must've happened to her when she was a kid - it sounded good when I wrote it down just now, anyway! - and so Point C might be a no go. Oops.

This is both more fun (because I can do whatever the fuck I want and just have fun with it) and more irritating because it means I'm always going to have to waste a first draft on exploration.

Or it means I don't know what I'm doing.

Or it means I'm doing it wrong. Fuckit, then; who cares.

I like exploration. That's more than half the fun when I write fan fiction, after all. But I've never been comfortable or happy with the idea that I can't get something right on the first draft, so the suspicion that I'm always going to have to "waste" the first one makes me angry. There's no way I can get the first round right, because I don't know what it's going to throw at me, and yet that's the way I feel most comfortable in the development phase... you know, when it's actually going on. After I'm done for the day, though, I sit here and think I shouldn't do it this way. I should know better. Or do it better.

That quote at the top of the entry is something I found recently, which seemed fitting. But what made me think about all of this again - I don't normally dwell on it - was Terry Pratchett. He said two things that hit me as true-- for me.

How do you write stories? You make it up as you go along. This is a terrible thing to have to tell people.

[...]

But it's what I call "The Valley Filled with Clouds" technique. You're at the edge of the valley, and there is a church steeple, and there is a tree, and there is a rocky outcrop, but the rest of it is mist. But you know that because they exist, there must be ways of getting from one to the other that you cannot see. And so you start the journey. And when I write, I write a draft entirely for myself, just to walk the valley and find out what the book is going to be all about.

A Slip of the Keyboard, p.58-60


He goes on to compare his style of drafting with what he knows of Larry Niven, who's fond of index cards. He's "sure true writers do not work like this." Me too, except that apparently isn't the case.

So I read this, maybe two months ago, and thought if he could do it, I should give it another try. Try to embrace it. I did just say it was fun, somewhere up there. The process of discovery really can be. And when I try to change it, I clearly meet resistance on the inside, even if I think I'm trying to do the right thing. I tend to abandon stories that I start the other way, with outlines; I never abandon the ones that happen more organically. (Excluding some of the really long ones that I decide aren't working. If we're talking short stories, it's true.)

It's hard to embrace. However, it seems to me that kicking the plot into shape after might work better for me, because there's something to shape, whereas doing it at the beginning means trying to work with very little. And it's no wonder that it's so difficult when I'm trying to build a recognizable house with only a quarter of the materials when, if I wait, the others will show up later.

It might be less profitable to fight the process than it will be to fight the issue with multiple drafts. Which I've made progress on, but I still feel deep down like I shouldn't have to. Acceptance is hard.
myaru: (VP - Shiho)
When I think of writer's block (that thing which supposedly doesn't exist), I imagine what I went through in 2010: a complete lack of motivation to write, an inability to string five words together in a way I thought was decent, and a trend in which everything I managed to finish was awful. This sort of thing understandably makes me stop writing for a while. It's miserable. I've learned not to hate everything I write as a rule, so when my mental state starts backtracking into that territory, I know something is wrong. It took me a while, but I figured out that stopping was the only way to get past this for me, personally.

There's also the sort of block that involves not knowing what to do next. That one sucks too, but I think it's the easiest to break through, because the problem can be solved by continuing to work on the story-- just in a different way. Researching, reading, discussing with friends (if you're not as paranoid as I am, see the last entry), and all that.

The one that gets me every time is probably a type of fear. Not fear of doing badly, or of what people will think, or of failure, or of success... but of thinking. At all. And then of putting that thing on paper.

Years ago, Arcana and I decided to co-write on a story about angels. I love angel lore. He had just read some related material. In addition, some weird combination of Star Ocean II, Angel Sanctuary, and Vagrant Story had me itching to write some Lucifer/Gabriel fic, which may (or may not?) sound strange to you, but it worked wonders in my head, I assure you. (This was a long time ago. A REALLY long time ago, mmkay. It's a bit embarrassing to talk about, or at least this particular fixation is. :P)

We both eventually stopped working on the project. Only, I would revisit the universe sometimes and write new snippets, because my obsession with angel lore hadn't ended, and I liked the characters we had created. I think we had a really good plot hook, too. So one day, probably for some daily writing challenge, I came up with this story about Raziel asking Metatron to go down to earth and be human with her for a while so she could do some research, and this turned into a thing where she really liked him, which turned into a, well, a THING, and then my brain shut down.

If you don't know, the body of legends involving angels makes clear that sex is a Very Bad Thing for them to do, and they're not supposed to have desires of any kind. Yet while Lucifer (Samael, in our story) and Gabriel didn't bother me, Metatron and Raziel did. Does Samael's status as a fallen angel make it "okay" to be in love and have sex and all that, even though Gabriel's stint as fallen isn't very long or serious, and therefore shouldn't make it more "okay" for her than any other angel? Metatron was originally Enoch, according to legend - a human. So he knows more about being human - and being in love, theoretically - than Raziel every could; is it the disparity of experience that made me uncomfortable? (Clearly not, considering some of the pairings I got into with later fandoms.)

What I'm getting at with this anecdote is that I still run into a block when I try to imagine this story. For whatever reason, I do not want to go there: I don't want to transgress on some imaginary moral ground and write about angels doing it together. It's like I'm afraid of what they'll think when they find out, even though I'm not 100% sold on their existence as independent beings. Even if they did exist, I suppose they wouldn't give a shit. Maybe I've just been indoctrinated by years of listening to my grandmother watch television evangelists, and some part of me is afraid of committing a mortal sin by writing two angels boinking. I lol just thinking of it that way.

It may sound stupid, but this is the strongest block I've ever run into. Nothing else is stopping me; I have the plot, I know the characters at least as well as the game characters I used to write about, I have the history of the world mapped out in all the ways that matter for writing this little story, and all I have to do is start typing.

If you asked me, I'd say no: I'm not religious. I don't think the Bible is true, any more than I think the myths about Greek gods are true. I believe in God because I want to, and because my family, brought up Catholic, put that little bit of fear in me that says I'm damned if I don't. But if that tiny fear is the source of my block, it's no wonder I have such a problem getting over myself. That runs back pretty far.

Some people are afraid of what their readers will think of them because they write from the POV of a murderer or pedophile. Me? I'm afraid of what imaginary beings will think of me for writing them into what is essentially fanfic.

I'm laughing, even though it's kinda sad.
myaru: (Default)
By 'creative community' I mean something like what we used to have here on LJ - a group of friends all writing about the same thing (Fire Emblem, Suikoden, whatever) and talking about the source material, inspiration, blah blah. Fandom was my writing community for twelve years. Without it, I find I write less often, with less devotion, and in general have a harder time finding motivation for anything.

I thought when I left that I didn't need fandom to drive my work. I've always written my originals alone, usually without showing them to anybody, so why would I need other people to egg me on? It's worth noting, at this point, that even when I was still involved in fandom, all it inspired me to write was fan fiction; original work didn't benefit by that sense of community at all. Measuring and I tried to jump start our original writing with the gauntlet challenge, but at the time I think we both pretty much ignored the orig-fic prompts (or at least didn't talk about what we were working on in response), and focused on the fanfic lists. It's what I wanted to write; it's what I felt inspired for. It's all I thought about.

Part of my motivation problem is obvious: I don't spend as much time thinking about my own stories as I did about the games I wrote fic for. The epic Summer Chronicle lasted as long as it did because the story was almost all I thought about. My pairing obsessions lasted as long as they did for the same reasons. When I walked to the bus stop, I thought about the Chronicle plot. When I stared out the train window, on the way to school, I thought about new ways to make a pairing work. When I sat around in the doctor's office waiting for my appointments (and there were a lot of those), I wondered what Tellius steampunk would look like and immediately tried to convert the game plot to the new universe.

I don't do that with original work, so it's no wonder I'm not burning to finish stories or write new scenes. No mystery here.

But: would I have thought so much about Fire Emblem and my related fics if I hadn't talked about them every night on AIM? Maybe for a while. Four years, though? Would I have pursued Summer Chronicle for years, tried to make it work even when I knew I had made a wrong turn at chapter fifteen-- all if I hadn't had someone to bounce ideas off of and encourage me? Considering the fate of my Elrond fic (not dead, but unlikely to move), I think the answer is 'no.'

Communication keeps me interested in my own stories. Or, at least, it helps me over the difficult areas of the process, where I might otherwise be tempted to abandon the project, or put it off. Talking to someone about what I'm working on keeps me thinking and moving. And you'd think this wouldn't be a big deal, that everybody knows this, that I should have known this... but it's difficult for me to trust people with my work, so for a long time I haven't bothered. This post isn't about "realizing" that I need a community; that has been clear to me for some time. Writing is a lonely process without one. You do need other eyes to examine your work and help you see what you missed. I even knew, without really thinking about it, that it was always easier to write with other people. The problem that needs solving isn't just finding that company; it's being able to trust them.

Yes, I do have that cliche fear that someone will rip off my work. I'm not the only one. I frankly don't care how realistic it is; fear isn't reasonable. But I have such a hard time trusting people at all. Take away the possibility of being ripped off and I still won't trust you! There are so many ways you can cause damage once you have the story: you can be the sort of reader/critic that tries to change everything based on what you like, instead of what the story needs; you might be the type to give only praise (which is no help, since I want so badly to believe you), or go the other way and cut everything down, under the erroneous assumption that the only useful feedback is the sort that finds problems without trying to solve them. You could be that poisonous friend who seems like she's rooting for you on the surface, but who actually harbors some negative feelings for you, and often only gives feedback that supplies unfavorable comparisons to herself; i.e. "Well, I made it, so you should be able to if you work hard! Do let me know if you need my advice, because I'm so far ahead of you I should know how to answer all of your beginner questions..." The only kind of praise I get from my family is backhanded, when I get it at all, so I'm pretty good at detecting that bullshit.

Don't even get me started on how people deliver their critiques. Or on the very important things people always seem to miss-- that stuff I actually need to know, since I think I've got the typos covered, thanks.

In short: I don't trust you. And if I don't trust you, how do I build - or find - a community?

My trust issues are epic, and in horrible need of therapy. Believe me, I know. But it's a chicken-and-egg problem, since, in order to get those taken care of, I need to start out with a bit of trust for the person who's going to do the fixing...

.

I'm really sorry I've missed replying to so many comments. I always intend to, and then time passes, and it seems too late. :/
myaru: (VP - Not Lenneth!)
Lately I've been trying to write a bit every day-- again. I can do this for months, but I eventually fall off the horse, and then? No more daily prose for like, a year. I still write, of course, but not every day, and the supposed holy grail of breaking through blocks and finding words when the well has run dry... that's supposed to be habitual daily writing. (I don't believe it; some blocks are harder to break. They're real. Writer's block isn't always avoidance or resistance, or whatever the current popular term is. But this entry isn't about the agony of being stuck! If you want a post about writing blocks, I ran into a spectacular wall a couple of years ago, and talked about it... at length.)

Since the usual sources of writing prompts haven't been working for me lately I came up with a new one: a weekly theme (e.g. "angel stories") and a list of prompts for each day. They're not always very creative because every time I need a word it disappears. But, for example, this week's set:
#006: Valkyrie stories*
Monday - tassels, straw, feather
Tuesday - hearth, aggression, iron
Wednesday - (five senses) red, bell, sweet, silk, fish
Thursday - alarm, waves, pan
Friday - reflect, irony, elusive
Saturday - (five senses) tessellation, voices, fire, metal, rose
Sunday - the long defeat


My policy is to use these as a jumping-off point. If they all appear in the story, fine, but if they don't, oh well. The idea is to see if they'll inspire some kind of thought process that I can turn into a scene. These aren't full stories either - just snippets. Terrible, embarrassing snippets.

My second week was "Persephone stories." This exercise requires that I come up with something different every day, even if it's just a different scene in the same universe, so I sat down and thought about this myth in a way I apparently didn't, before. Earlier attempts to write Persephone myths - or rewrite them - focused on what happens: Hades grabs Persephone, Demeter is pissed, winter ensues. The primary purpose of this myth has always seemed to be about explaining the natural order: why does winter exist? Why does spring come when it does? In addition, I guess you can also pull out a threefold goddess explanation (Persephone, Demeter, Hekate - maiden, mother, crone). You can see a lesson in it: don't steal women, hell hath no fury. Etc. I'm sure there are others.

For some reason it never occurred to me to look past these events or explanations to see the fruit of this union between Hades and Persephone, and it's so obvious it burns.
Persephone was the queen of the Erinyes, underworld daimones who punished the crimes of filial betrayal, impiety and murder. She despatched them from the Underworld when curses were invoked in her name. (source

In some versions of the story, the Erinyes are Persephone's children. When you're wronged so spectacularly that you have no other recourse, you pound your fists on the ground and cry to the Furies for revenge, and they deliver. In other versions they're only servants, but I liked the former because it clarified what I had to have noticed when writing Wild Mint: Persephone is angry, and she never gets justice or vengeance. However, one can call on her, hoping to be avenged - dead or alive, I think - and your wish may be granted.

Not to say Persephone doesn't do things simply because she's angry, or has been manipulated by others. There are dozens of competing stories and traditions; I haven't even read the entirety of the page I linked to because it exhausts me. (I'd rather read the full texts, I mean. Snips and quotes aren't the same, and I get tired of scrolling through them. /shame) But this little sliver of an idea fueled a week of story snippets, and I think I like it much better than whatever I was working with before-- which wasn't much.

Anyway, I can't be too hopeful. We're talking about ancient Greece; I doubt Persephone's feelings or motivations were the important part.


* not stories about Valkyrie Profile; original fic bits about valkyries in myth and literature.
myaru: (Miang - I want to be myself)
You go to meet your friend for lunch, sit down at the table, look at the menu. You're looking forward to talking about this or that, about trying that new sandwich, hearing about your friend's life. But she doesn't show up. It turns out she's just really late - and she never has been punctual as far as you know, but punctuality isn't everything! - and in the meantime you get tired of sitting around. Your mind moves to other things - things to write, things you could be doing. You're bored. You order lunch and start eating, and you're mostly done by the time your friend gets there. When she does, it all goes mostly as planned.

When I try to write a story, the characters do not tell me what they're going to do, as I've seen other writers describe. They don't "talk" to me. Those are metaphors, yes, but what they are metaphors for - that doesn't happen. I start a story, waiting to go along for the ride and watch what these strange people will do, and-- they do nothing. Sometimes they're not even really there until much later, after I've abandoned the story - because nothing was happening, and it bored me - and have left it to sit for years.

There's obviously an element of one's own creativity that has to drive this phase of development, something that happens beneath your awareness and inspires you to type "and then he pulled the trigger" or whatever, even if you're not consciously planning for that to happen. There's something you want to write about, maybe, or something you want to examine. For a long time I thought I lacked that. I still do a bit, because the things I want to examine, as it turns out, are a little too lofty for fiction, probably more suited to... you know, I don't think there's a genre for it, even in non-fiction. It's closest to the creative essay, I suppose. And maybe I'm in denial, and that's really what I want to write anyway, since I seem to enjoy posting here far more than I enjoy working on new stories.

But anyway, characters. Stories. Revelations! They're few and far between, and not for lack of freewriting. I start a story; nothing happens. I get bored waiting for my characters to really show up, so to speak, and start thinking about other things which look more interesting. By the time an idea comes to me, I'm not willing to follow it; I jot it down and then ditch the story, because I don't feel it can work. It has no soul, or event, or conflict, or whatever you want to call the element that gives it life. It barely has a mouthpiece. More like a stick figure.

I asked myself why this happens, and there are two potential answers that have merit. Both are probably right to some extent.

First, I'm not willing to wait. Patience is not one of my virtues. When I'm confronted with this situation - say, my character is sitting at a table waiting for her friend - and there's an opportunity for her to do something, I sometimes take it... and sometimes don't. This might be the perfect time to... see, I don't know what I'd do if I were sitting in a coffee shop, waiting for someone to show up. I'd write, I guess. (Hilarious.) I wouldn't strike up a conversation with anyone or do anything interesting. I think staging a sudden robbery would be kind of stupid, and I'm not really interested in that kind of event in a story, sooooo... lack of things to do. But--

Secondly, I guess I have a harder time moving outside of myself than I thought. It's not that I always think only of what I would do (which is incredibly limited), but that when I try to imagine what someone like my mom would do, I still draw a blank. She'd talk to the barista, I guess, or to another customer. What else? Just now I thought maybe a certain kind of character would try to steal something, slip a granola bar in her purse when she's distracting the employees with an amusing story... but it took this entire entry for me to think of that, which takes me back to the first point: patience.

You know what's nice about fan fiction? You know what the characters will and will not do. If you take Sanaki to a coffee shop, you know (or can guess) what will happen, and who she would go with. You take a new character in, whom you've never met before, and... suddenly you have to sit there for an hour and figure it out.

This is just one of the ways fan fiction has spoiled me, I guess. But it isn't true across the board that you'll know; this post was inspired by sitting here and wondering what an existing character might do in a situation I set him in, and I actually don't know; I know nothing about his past to this point, and I still have to make all of that up. Patience.

It turns out that being anti-social most of my life is now a bit of a problem. I don't know what real people do. I need to overcome that hurdle (hopefully that won't involve talking to anyone), but sitting down and thinking long enough will probably help a lot. But I've had bad experiences in social contexts. There's some fear in the idea of talking to and getting to know strangers, but there's also a barrier created by years of having to look inward for understanding or even entertainment. When I meet someone, and do not immediately see something we have in common, something I would want to talk about for more than five minutes, I dismiss the entire idea of getting to know them. It won't be worth it, I think; what would we talk about? And why would we do it?

It's funny; while I'm not dismissing people as worthless - just as individuals I probably have nothing in common with - the fact that I do that mental turning-away probably does give the impression that I think they're not worth knowing. And sometimes, even if I think a person is worth knowing, I'm just not able or willing to overcome whatever hurdles there are between us. If you think I'm going to hobble around San Francisco on crutches, with no idea which bus line goes where, just for a study session with someone I barely know? You expect too much from me.

That situation is in the past, but I remember it well.

.

I do like non-fiction now that I've tried it seriously a few times. Maybe it's because I have this erroneous idea that my opinion on something matters, or is at least interesting. My life is boring now, but things happened in my childhood, and in my recent history, that are perhaps worth talking about. In addition, things like bullying/being bullied are incredibly relevant right now, and I have always felt strongly about issues like school violence for that reason. I try to avoid these topics because I feel like I'd just be wallowing in old angst, but maybe feeling my experiences aren't valid is a hurdle I have to overcome as well, for both fiction and non-fiction. Certainly, there are topics I don't think I can write reasonably about in a fictional world, because I find it so easy to slip into angsty, inactive characters. While it might be worth the exercise to resist that urge, I also think the creative essay medium might be more appropriate for some of them.

So... what would you do while waiting in a coffee shop for someone to show up? Besides getting a drink-- though that could be an adventure too, I guess? Or an opportunity for a monologue on the quality of coffee beans and roasting techniques.
myaru: (Saiunkoku - Shuurei talks a lot)
It's funny how, once I started to write by hand in spiral-bound notebooks, I realized that typing stories directly into Notepad felt like working on a final draft. For years now I've written with the assumption that what I type will be my final product because I believed I shouldn't need more than one draft to get something right. This was helped along by my relative success with posting first drafts, but for years I seriously believed (and still feel) that if I need to write more than one draft of a story, it isn't good enough and neither am I.

(I do know better, or at least pretend I do. Feelings and logic are not always friends.)

Another contributing factor is probably HTML. Since I do my own formatting and just cut-paste everything into the LJ/DW editors for posting, I type everything with tags as I go. Something about that feels final - like I'm doing my last run through a piece and adding all the fancy stuff to an otherwise finished story. And since that's all done the moment I stop typing, it IS very easy to slap the story online without any further thought and get that wonderful feeling of instant gratification.

Writing on paper introduces a mandatory drafting process if I want to put anything online. It gives me a chance to think a little more. That doesn't always help with stress (which usually starts with doubt, and doubt always starts with thinking), but it does hold the worst back long enough for some writing to happen first. Instant gratification is absent from this new formula, but this is balanced by how much less pressure I put on myself to get everything done perfectly the first time.

Since this is a complete 180 from what I used to feel, I thought it'd be interesting to note here and look back on it later, once I'm done with this challenge. Because sure, I did start working in notebooks to get myself away from the computer and all its distractions, but I didn't expect that to a) turn into a habit, or b) replace typing almost completely.

.

Semi-related, this warm-up exercise using different notebooks for different subjects is a marginal success. I don't work in these notebooks consistently, so sometimes a month will go by in which I don't even look at them (like now, cough), but when I'm stuck, or not in the mood to work on my primary project, they gave me an easy, guiltless way to explore other ideas I have hanging around. And since they're warm ups, and not obligated to be good in the slightest, I feel okay exploring characters or scenes more than once, and stuff. I don't always want to do that in my primary notebook because I've got a lot of note-taking and other stuff interspersed between actual prose, and that makes it hard to keep track of changes.

I added a notebook for fic too, which is what spurred the above revelation re: feeling like typing = writing a final draft. Unfortunately, my original project(s) are a long way away from the typing stage; the short story I was working on needs to sit (and now is the time to do research, if that's going to happen at all), and the new story I'm working on in the meantime is still in the early stages of development. Notebooks are currently the only thing keeping me writing actual prose.
myaru: (Avatar - Lin Beifong)
For the record, Sansa made me think about this topic, but it's actually something a commenter said via PM that reminded me of this little problem of mine.

Awhile ago I took a look at my original stories and realized that a lot of my protagonists were character types I hated. While writing them I was very sympathetic and totally into it, and thought they were great characters because I could relate to them so much! (That should've been warning sign #1.) And then, of course, I would take a look at them at the end of their respective stories and miss the problem with this, because I was too invested in them. These characters were useless: they never did anything to change their lives or fix their problems if they could whine about them instead, and they only acted when circumstances or other cast members pushed them so hard they had no choice but to react. They were, in short, whiny damsels in distress with no agency whatsoever.

I hate that when I read it in books or stories written by others. I will put a book down if the main character angsts too much, never mind being completely useless. Why would I write so many characters like this? Most of the cases I was looking at were old - one was written when I was seventeen - but I can't comfort myself with that because, when looking at a more recent story, I realized I was doing the same thing, and was just slightly better at hiding it.

I would say I wrote that character type over and over again because it was in my experience. I was like that. I let things happen to me and thought I was a victim, and let depression and inertia keep me from doing anything about it until someone grabbed me by the arm and threw an opportunity in my face. I hate that kind of character because I hate that I did that to myself, and I hate that I still have to fight the urge to sit in a corner and curl up until someone fixes things for me. But unlike a real experience of that sort, in which you or I may not be able to see the situation from the outside and come up with better decisions, a novel allows us a better view of what's happening. A character like this appears to be wasting their opportunities, being stubborn, stupid, being whiny. Who wants to read about a character angsting for thirty chapters when the solution is right there, in reach? Besides, characters are supposed to do things.

Now... this happens, of course, and I myself am an example in full living color. People behave like this, and I don't want to say it's stupid or annoying to be depressed or exhibit this behavior for some other reason. I know people who are doing this right now (and wow, is it frustrating!). And realistically, you can't always just do something about yoru situation, or fix it, or suck it up and deal with it. It's fair that characters exist who will not or cannot do those things. An article on characterization might even admit that characters who do nothing are also making a valid choice. Characters change-- unless the point is that they don't. But should every character be like that? I'm thinking... probably not.

I mentioned Sansa because she's another character type that annoys me, and I think the same reasons apply to a point. Near her age I was a lot like that. It bothers me, because reality was driven home pretty harshly at around that time, and it's sad to look back at myself when I was nine and realize how naive I was about how people work. It's only natural-- I was a child. Fictional Sansa was also a child. You can't blame a child for not understanding that a lot of people are assholes under their smiling faces, but Sansa frustrated me terribly because I wished she'd figure it out.

(Now it's Catelyn that frustrates me, and for different reasons. I would so NOT do that, my god. *head in hands*)

I'd really love to write a badass. Can I write a Toph or a Lin Beifong? I know the answer is 'yes.' Write what you want to read, and all that. How is it I ended up writing what I didn't want to read? >_>
myaru: (Miang: The Emperess)
I wonder: if I keep telling myself to get to work, will it eventually happen? I'm flipping my schedule, more by accident than intent, so my odd hours are throwing everything off. It makes me curious about how we're wired to respond to cues like sunrise, sunset, and waking up to sunlight instead of darkness and streetlights. Is that social conditioning, or biological? Or a bit of both?

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There's an old meme that goes around the f-list occasionally, asking people to list the influences that shaped their writing, artwork, or whatever it is they do. The easy, cop-out answer is, of course, "everything!" When you read interviews with writers and see the inevitable question, "where do you get your ideas?" the answer is always 'everywhere,' because life provides the experiences we draw from - and we probably unintentionally store the good ideas we see in shows we watch, books we read, or in visual art. I can only assume the meme is asking for the things you come back to again and again, or the things you fell in love with at age five, which are still with you today in some way.

I never do this meme because I have a hard time nailing down what my influences are. I know they must exist, but when I sit down and think about it, there are few names or titles I can say, definitively, had a huge influence on me. All I can give you is a list of things I really liked, obsessively:

1. Sleeping Beauty (the Disney version - shut up, I was a kid and their visual style is amazing)
2. Egyptian and Greek mythology
3. Star Wars (original trilogy)
4. Wheel of Time
5. Xenogears

Which means I am doomed to write cliches. So apparently I really like Joseph Campbell's breakdown of the hero's journey (i.e. a very basic plot), and I'm partial to arguably unnecessary integration of religious symbolism, specifically Kabbalah, in my stories.

Ouch. Maybe I have nailed down my influences.

We had a discussion about this with some friends, who were talking about Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon. You can see a bit about it here. Basically, it's an expensive collection of motivational tips for artists, with an emphasis on allowing yourself to draw ideas and influences from other sources in order to grow and create your own work. I'm familiar with the concept, but how far you can take it is really up in the air as far as I'm concerned. I often find myself doing it accidentally, which drives me crazy, because the internet has placed a stigma on this practice - too much influence from another fan writer is copying. There are lines you shouldn't cross (for example, copying a scene point-for-point), and of course plagiarism, which I consider different from copying, since it involves pasting entire passages of someone else's work into your file, and 'copying' is more akin to reading a scene, and then trying to rewrite it in your own words.

But Kleon does have a point. In class, we were often told to copy classic or favorite writers to learn. You're supposed to "copy your heroes and their styles is so that you might somehow get a glimpse into their minds" to "internalize their way of looking at the world" (36) Need to get a feel for pacing or dialogue? Copy someone else's paragraphs. Need to analyze a piece of fiction for class tomorrow? Write a fictional response to it - a sequel, you might say. In other words, write some fan fiction. I wonder sometimes why this is frowned on for writers; maybe because reading and digesting a text is more cerebral?

In any case, this caught my attention, because ages ago a friend made a post about the same thing:
Every other creative field you can name (art, theatre, music, dance) not only encourages but REQUIRES you to practice with other people’s technique and style. It’s accepted without question. No one even thinks to tell a new piano student that they can’t learn Chopsticks because they didn’t write it, or that they have to compose their own music so they can learn their craft. In art, we study other paintings and then try and replicate their style. How many beginning art students have painted from a photo? Or by using a grid over a well-known piece of art? (see the original post)


Writing is a strange art. People alternate between believing writers are magicians and thinking that it can't be that hard, because you can talk, can't you? If you can talk, surely you can write. I mean, everyone knows how to write. We do it every day. We know our own language. (Or do we.) Anyone can write a book!

And that book should be a completely new idea. You're a magician, aren't you?

YES.

The more I think about it, the more obvious Takahashi's influence is in my work - and that dovetails nicely with #2 on my list. He taught me how to draw inspiration from the mythologies I liked so much. In fact, he taught me that it was okay to look there at all, and inspired me to look at canons I had ignored until I experienced his work.

And I suppose I can blame Robert Jordan for making me think it was a good idea to have a large cast of characters and a thirteen book cycle. I drew a lot of early world-building inspiration from him when I was younger, though. Hm.

I guess I'll think about this some more. I suppose everyone else has done this multiple times, but feel free to do it again? I do like learning about what people find inspiring.
myaru: (VP - Shiho)
I'm done with Lord of the Rings and well into the Appendices, but I may as well finish them before posting. The sections on the line of kings and stewards are pretty relevant.

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At about this time last year, I read Jeff VanderMeer's Booklife (with comments here, if you care), and found it pretty helpful for thinking about the parts of being a professional writer that don't involve fiction, per se. Blogging (without being a jerk about it, which is hard!), scheduling, setting goals, managing your work and handling administrative tasks, all things I'm pretty bad at! Guidance is good, or even just the beginning of guidance. I wouldn't know where to begin, especially with the 'blog nicely' part.

Since I'm not published or in the process of, most of these have nothing to do with me, excepting as an educational look at things I will have to think about later. The one thing I can do anything about up there is making goals.

many of my colleagues have daily, weekly, or monthly “to do” lists that help keep them focused but also keep them stuck in a tactical mode, which makes it hard to engage in strategic thinking. Yes, you know what you want or need to do for the next thirty days, but what about for the year? What about for the next five years? How do your daily/weekly/monthly tasks feed into short-term goals, and how do your short-term goals feed into your long-term goals?


He asks this question, and I'm like... oh, huh. Goals. You mean like "getting published?" Yeah, that's kind of the only one on my list.

To be honest, while I would like to write novels and have people read them, I'm not sure if that's a thing I will ever accomplish. Not because I can't or won't, but because the more I learn about the process of making a book, the more I want to cower over here at my desk and just write stories for whatever reason, and who cares if anybody reads them. It's a lot of work to make people care about what you're doing. Consider some occasion you may have presented your original fiction to your fanfic friends; they like your writing already, right? And they're interested in you, and your ideas. But how many of them are interested in reading anything you do at length? Have you ever put any original fiction up on your blog and heard the crickets cheeping, because nobody gives a shit? I have! Many times! And these are people who are already invested in you to some extent. So if it's hard to make them fans, how about everyone else?

So anyway, planning my professional career from here seems silly. But I can try to plan my practice, story schedule, etc. up to the point where I might have something to send out, so that's what I did. Vandermeer talked about having several plans; keeping the monthly and weekly to-do lists, but also planning year-long, two year, and five year plans. My one year plan started in October 2011 and ended this year, today. Here's what I learned!

I really, really suck at meeting goals. It burns. Year-long is too long.

My priorities changed significantly over the course of the year, and I didn't modify them along the way like I was supposed to, because I forgot I had written it down. (One of my goals for the next year should be get all that shit off your desk and keep it off.) But my biggest mistake was probably to write my plan down like this:

a. send Youth story out to a few magazines (And I fail at this, instantly, because it's too terrifying to put in writing.)
b. write Eve--Lilith story.
c. write librarian story.
d. write steampunk dragon story.
e. write automaton story.
f. write the Meiji diplomat story.


I can write this many stories in a year if all I care about is getting them down. For a while I was writing one a month by doing only basic research and planning, and then just hacking it all out in one go. But if I'm making an effort to fully develop anything? Well then, suddenly having a plan like this dooms me to being derailed over and over, because having that many stories on my plate in one sitting means that I can't work on just one - I have to taste all of it, and I WILL, because the moment B gets hard to deal with I'll move to C, and when that gets hard... you get the idea. Also, this list is underestimating how many drafts I have to write of anything before I can leave it alone. At least three of those require significant research, which I can't do on a schedule of a story every two months.

GOOD JOB. I failed at that pretty hard. But I do finally see what a bad idea it is to allow myself to work on more than one story at a time, even if I'm only actively writing one, while only picking at details for the other.

New Goal #1: do not put specific stories in the plan unless we are already writing them. (I can win this one instantly!)
New Goal #2: you're only allowed to work on one story at a time.

But we can't just set down goals, oh no. No, we have to have high level and low-level goals, apparently-- can you tell how thrilled I am about this? I suppose polish Story A could be considered a high-level goal, which has tons of lower-level ones that feed into it, like one: outline new scenes; two: write the first new scene, etc.. I'm still not sure I like thinking about it this way. It's much easier to think of the "low-level" as a to-do list, which I have a better chance of finishing during any given week, and the "higher level" as real goals. Plan as far as a month in advance and it's touch-and-go.

So... not sure how this is working out for me, because I screwed it up the first time. But I guess it does help to have goals. Saying to myself that I have to have a draft of Novel #1 at the end of five years is infinitely easier to deal with than thinking I have to do it now - but eventually, five years in the future will be now, and it'll be terrifying again unless I can dredge up some confidence from where I left it back in 2008.

I'm starting to think it'll take me ten years to get published just because I can't keep a schedule or set of goals to save my life. I have no idea why that's so hard for me.
myaru: (HnG - Fujuwara no Sai love~)
While I hate to disappoint, this isn't going to be image porn of awesome notebooks. I figured I'd get that warning out of the way right up front. Not that a post like that wouldn't be the best thing ever and probably about as useful as anything else I write here. It's just, you know: bad lighting right now, and I need the instant gratification of hitting the 'post' button as soon as I finish, etc. etc.

So, warm ups. A year or two ago I stumbled across a discussion via Metafandom (and why don't I ever save those links? Whyyyy?) about how to 'warm up' to a writing session, which I thought was pretty interesting. Freewrites are what I usually associate with warming up: spend fifteen minutes writing about bug-eyed sunglasses, or something that makes you angry, or someone you saw on your commute today. These were a staple of my creative writing program. I hated them all, across the board, not least because we always had to read aloud to the class afterward. The only thing I hate as much as public speaking is its close cousin, reading out loud from whatever is in front of you.

The OP came from a different background though: music. She said that a serious musician would practice four hours a day, and spend the first hour warming up with scales, the second hour doing something I don't recall, on and on until you get to the piece you're supposed to practice for a performance. (I may be getting this slightly wrong, but I don't have a link to go back to and check, sorry.) I do recall following a similar model when I was in music, but truncated, because I was not a professional and did not have the patience for four hours a day. Couldn't that model be adapted to writing? she asked, and went on to discuss what kinds of exercises or writing projects might constitute 'warming up' as compared to whatever your real project is.

Good question. For a while I was giving myself prompts inspired by the five things meme I've posted here a few times, in which I ask for a song quote, book title, color, emotion, and animal. It yields something like this:

1. I chased while I was young / Singing sweetly and faintly / A sadness of bright green / My fairytale
2. Eye of the Heron
3. slate
4. bitterness
5. Siamese cat


I keep a text file of these, and make new ones on occasion. Sticking to a theme is a huge challenge for me. I can usually use these two or three times and come up with completely different stories. Ideally, I should work on something like this for fifteen or twenty minutes, and then, once I'm over the hurdle of starting (which can be extremely hard some days), I can get to my real work.

That never happens. I spend so much time on the warm up that it becomes my project. And this isn't a bad thing, exactly; it means I have more stories to work with, refine, squish together, and play with. It also means I never get back to what I was supposed to be doing in the first place. The project I'm supposedly working on these days is on draft six, but it's been a while since I looked at the thing because I became obsessed with a dragon story spawned during one of these warmup, and then another idea after that, and another one. So I tried going back to old assignments. That's always a winner, right? You get to practice specific skills and stuff! But that gets boring fast - or it's just time-consuming, because most of those exercises involve taking the time to read something twice before even starting to write. I have to be in the mood for that. Or desperate.

Then, magically, I was reminded of something: notebooks! Natalie Goldberg sings their praises throughout Writing Down the Bones. Most of my stories are typed, so I didn't give it much thought.

However, about two weeks ago, an old college friend stayed with us, and this topic came up. He's an artist, trained in animation and illustration in the same program my husband attended. Naturally, he had sketchbooks with him. But the interesting thing was, he'd decided to designate topics to his sketchbooks: this one is for mermaids, that one is for aliens, the green one is for animal sketches. He had a stack of them in his luggage - Moleskines, if you're interested, all clearly labeled and stacked in a crate.

For some reason, I never thought about doing this for writing warm-ups. Writing by hand takes longer and eventually makes my hand hurt, so I prefer to type instead. But wouldn't that be perfect for warming up? Writing by hand involves bending over the table (or a pillow, or the nightstand) and generally doing things bad for my back or neck. I can't work too long if I don't want something to start aching, because I'm old and decrepit. Built-in time limit, woo!

The date at the front of my current notebook is 08.11.09. I've been jotting down notes, outlines, and ideas in the same spiral-bound notebook for three years - an SF State 2-subject notebook that I probably purchased just after I graduated. That's a long time to be hanging around the same stack of paper. Maybe I should try to go through at least four between now and next September. At least. Apart from this project, I mean.

Right now I'm debating how to theme my notebooks, because I like that idea. Picking one up and realizing I can only write about mermaids today cuts down on time wasted making decisions about what to write, which is stupid to linger on when you're supposed to be warming up. You know what you want to write: Real Project #3. This freewrite nonsense is supposed to loosen you up so the white space on the page doesn't scare you, or something.

I usually don't have problems with blank pages or text files. My issues start way before that stage of the process. :P

Anyway, I don't know how I want to split it up. Genre, in the fanfic sense? (eg. action/adventure, romance, historical.) Or maybe type of inspiration - Japanese mythology, Jewish tales, Norse mythology? Or types of subjects, like our friend did: angels, elves, and all that, in my case. Or SF/ fantasy / steampunk / myth-based. I CAN'T DECIDE. I think the first set might not work very well because "genre" is too big to be encompassed in a fifteen minute scribble, but the effectiveness of the others depends on how much I want to restrict my choices when it's time to write.

I'm thinking either the mythology or sub-genre sets. Maybe I can set aside a folder for each sub-genre (SF, fantasy, steampunk, myth) and then keep the different mythological inspirations as secondary prompts? Write a steampunk ficlet with a side of Norse gods! Or something.

Well, at least I've narrowed it down.
myaru: (VP - Silmeria kicks your ass)
That is, I'm wondering if there is a difference. And I believe the answer is 'yes,' but you also can't copyright ideas, as they say, and it's perfectly possible for two writers on opposite sides of the country, who have no connection to each other, to send the same kind of story to the same magazine. So where do you draw the line between using something as inspiration, and lifting a story concept from someone else?

What inspired the question was the use of picture prompts in one of my creative writing classes. The ones we were given were probably screenshots from movies, or something - I didn't recognize them, but they looked produced - but I've done this as an exercise for myself also, at home. My first real attempt at a novel, fifteen years ago, was inspired by a painting I liked from my calendar for that year: a pale-as-death woman in bone armor. As the story has evolved, the resemblance has been completely lost. I'm not worried about that one. What I borrowed was purely visual.

More recently, I came across The Cartographer by IISKetchII (via the Daily Deviation feature, so late last year) and thought, that's an excellent idea. Or it could be, at least, and it looks really neat. Not only that, I've been looking for different professions for my characters, because nobody really needs more mercenaries or farmer girls/boys, or mage/priest characters. Guy Gavriel Kay centered a few books on a guy who builds mosaics, another on traveling musicians (who have a real reason to travel and cause trouble, what a concept!), and so forth. I'm not the only one to come up with a naturalist (in the Victorian sense) by far. Mainspring, for all its flaws, had an interesting idea in giving us a horologist for a main character.

I forgot about this eventually, but it must have been haunting the back of my mind. Two days ago I came across The Cartographer's Guild (which looks pretty awesome, but I haven't checked their material out yet) and DeviantArt's World-Builder's Guild, and I started thinking again about making maps for some of my stories. I don't do that very often, but having layouts of rooms, houses, towns, and things like that would probably be a huge help. A map of X countryside would be a huge help in plotting a journey. And then I thought-- oh hey, I could totally write a cartographer of some kind, and use my map research to serve both purposes! Brilliant! And should this be a conventional cartographer, I wonder, or a mystical cartographer of some kind?

And then I remembered the DA piece I linked up above.

Now, I suppose if my mystical cartographer isn't plotting the paths to heaven and hell, it's not the same thing. Except it is. Isn't it?

If I look at a painting of a blond girl in bone armor, and decide to make up a character who would wear bone armor and look as traumatized as the girl in the painting, I don't feel I'm stealing a concept, because the image doesn't lend itself to one. If I look at a painting of a mystic cartographer who plots paths to heaven and hell, and decide I want to write about a mystic cartographer who does that, that's a lot more questionable to me. And what else WILL s/he plot paths to, if not heaven and hell? Other dimensions? Fairy land? There are other choices, but the original destinations jive a lot more closely with my usual interests.

You can't copyright ideas, maybe, but isn't a little restraint in order when you're browsing someone else's stuff? Or am I overreacting? I will admit that when I see a fic pop up in my fandom that is uncomfortably close to something I previously wrote, I am, well, uncomfortable. Maybe I'm unusual in that regard. Other people might feel flattered that they influenced other authors or came up with ideas that everyone else wanted to grab, but I'm still not sure how I feel about that when it happens.

Opinions? What would you do? How would you feel as the artist inadvertently providing inspiration?
myaru: (Utena - Juri in thought)
There's this bit of advice I've been thinking about. I can't remember where I found it or heard it; could've been in a conversation with my husband, in one of the many books on writing I clamp down and read when I'm feeling rudderless-- who knows. But it goes like this:

Ask yourself what you write; not what you want to write, or what you think you should write, but what you actually put on the page when you start working. Be brutally honest. What you enjoy reading and what you enjoy writing - or what you're good at writing, if you can separate the two - might be two different things. And when you find the answer to this question, you know what kind of a writer you are.

Being honest is hard. Not only can it suck to realize you don't live up to your own ideals, but being truthful and not cutting yourself down can also be hard if you're doing this exercise in a state of mind that's, ah, less than confident. It can be really easy to say, "I suck so much - I'm only good at (insert least-favorite genre here)" instead of looking objectively and solving the puzzle.

My puzzle was hard for me. I have varying taste in what I read, and I happen to be interested in some very academic topics which, when I consider them, seem impossible to write about. But I want to write the things I love, so I'm left with a dilemma you can measure by the space between the literary genre ("respectable") and the kind of fiction these interests lend themselves to ("not respectable"). And this is a dilemma because it seems the best way to honor these topics, so to speak, is to write something respectable. I'm coming to realize that is... not impossible, but extremely difficult. I went through my writing program grinding my teeth and refusing to bow down to the literary standard. (I question this literary standard, but oh wow, that's a long entry's worth of axe-grinding.) The assumption that genre work was inherently worth less irritated me, from close-range, for two years. Still, I internalized this notion that my work has to "mean something" and "be respectable," and have never asked myself what I want.

I like meaningful stories. I like fancy metaphors. I like commentary if it's on a topic I'm interested in.

I like to read these things. But do I like to write them?

No.

I like reading super-complicated political fantasy epics. Can I write them? ... I am actually not sure, but I think I would enjoy it.

I like a good romance as long as it isn't about a damsel-in-distress, or, god forbid, a highlander. (No offense, just... I do not find that attractive. At all.) Can I write a good romance? Well now... I would have to ask someone else about the "good" part of the equation, but I certainly did end up writing a lot of romance, and I even enjoyed doing it. In fact, I seem to be unable to write or even conceive of a story that doesn't involve some kind of romance.

I like reading historical fiction because it examines the character of the people who moved the world in their time and place. Not sure if I can write that, because I haven't tried. This genre takes a lot of research, obviously. But it sounds like something I would like to do because it gives me the excuse to study something interesting and, if I love it, write about it!

I like mythology. I like rewriting myths, or basing stories on them, or writing sequels to them. The ultimate form of fan fiction, maybe.

Most of my stories, but not all, fall into the last three categories-- sort of. For example, the story about two angels who go down to earth to hunt down fragments of the Book of Raziel (as it appears in myths, that is) before their human opponents can find them and cause some damage; I started that story three times, and eventually ditched it each time because it's... what? Sort of an adventure, sort of paranormal, based on mythology nobody has ever heard of. It's silly fantasy fiction. And in my head, each time I try to write it, is this insistent desire to write something meaningful, to make it a good representation of the legend and the beliefs that inspired it. I'm not sure I can do that if I follow the opposite urge, which would be to explore the potential I see in these two angels that makes them seem more human. And, well, angels experimenting with human vice has precedent in legends too! And also in stories like Angel Sanctuary, which I kind of hate. Probably a series like Supernatural too, if I had to guess.

I don't want to write Angel Sanctuary, but I'm damned if my brain isn't determined to do it anyway. And if I'm brutally honest with myself, it would probably be fun if I could get over this kneejerk disgust at myself for not "taking the topic seriously." What that really means, I think, is that I have a loathing of not taking myself seriously and making myself look smart.

I've been told before I should just embrace this story and write it, and maybe I should. But I'm not in a place where I can appreciate the experience, because I still feel like I should be writing the next great literary novel. I have to cut that expectation out of my life. It's not what I want. Nothing - no fiction - I have written to date indicates a desire to be one of the literary greats, no matter what I say on my journal. But how do you get rid of that? How do you shut that voice up and square with the idea that you do not, in fact, want that, and it's okay? If it were as easy as "just don't listen to that voice anymore!" then I'd be done. The so-called inner editor might be a form of resistance, but it's an unconscious one; resisting your own resistance is hard.

So is writing what I want to write. I thought I was doing that already, but as it turns out, I wasn't.

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This isn't to say I won't take my topic seriously in the sense of trying to represent it correctly. If I try to write a story set in ancient Japan, I will do my best to research thoroughly and write characters who are Japanese, with Japanese values, not white people with Japanese names. If I can find Japanese beta readers I will try to listen and correct myself when I get it wrong.

The angel story is a little harder. History has blurred the lines between the legends which were sourced in Jewish writings like Midrash or Talmud, and what was appropriated for use by the Catholic Church. I'm not really educated on that topic. The stories I'm using are Jewish sources, and I frankly have no idea how to represent that correctly while my storyline blatantly contradicts a few basic values. Have the characters maintain the traditions I can, maybe, in a good light.

I guess that's an entry in itself.

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A long time ago, I thought about majoring in history. The programs available to me focused entirely on European topics, so I gave up on the idea and decided to take offerings for other parts of the world, as they appeared. San Francisco State had enough classes to allow people to fulfill their Segment 3 requirements, which offered sections like Islamic Societies and Cultures, Women of Color in the U.S., and other options for other cultures; the semester before I left they finally created a minor for Southeast Asian Studies, but there was no such thing as a major for that field. I would've had to spend my time studying places mostly irrelevant to the cultures I was actually interested in if I decided to take the major anyway.

For a while, there, I thought I could be a researcher anyway, that there had to be a way. Maybe I could have figured it out. But I think I have to leave that idea behind too, because I'm no historian. Once I've done that it might be easier to leave behind the idea of writing something of literary merit - so to speak - and just try to write good stories instead.

It's hard to give up on things you have emotional attachment to. I haven't been harboring a secret hope that I'd magically get to start writing history papers, but it was there in the back of my mind, poking at me. It's more respectable to be a scholar than to be a writer. Too bad I'm not.

Funny, to look back and see how indecisive I was in college, even though I knew deep down what I wanted to do.
myaru: (Fire Emblem - Caeda)
Reading led to writing, for me. After reading stories I wanted to write my own. The most obvious consequence of this was fan fiction; whenever I like something enough, I want to write about it, and if what I like happens to be someone else's story, that's my (mis)fortune. I mentioned in the last entry that I used to write blatant ripoffs when I was twelve or so, and that was the first form this habit took - things I thought were original, but of course were not. After that came the age of cliches, so to speak: I copied all the genre cliches I was familiar with (in this case fantasy and space opera), because what ultimately rendered me able to write in the first place was reading. What I know of grammar, I absorbed through reading. What I know about plot or character, or what makes a good fantasy story, I absorbed from reading.

Reading was difficult for me for a variety of reasons when I was young. It costs money if you want to buy your books (we were poor), or takes a good library if you want to borrow them (Cathedral City Public Library sucked horribly for the first ten years or so of my life in that area), and I had neither. I thought I was rich if I got $2 for my allowance until I met friends in middle school who got as much as $20. (Twenty bucks? When you're ten? :/) But my mother believed in reading and getting kids to read, so when we had extra, she took me to the bookstore and I grabbed books: The Baby-Sitter's Club, Nancy Drew, and sometimes Sweet Valley High when I was younger, maybe third or fifth grade; modern fantasy when I was in middle school, because by then our little Waldenbooks had run out of young adult fiction and I had to move on to adult books. I started with the Xanth series, never got into Sword of Shannara, and started in on the David Eddings books. The bookstore became my favorite place. I used to haunt Waldenbooks for the next Robert Jordan book (I had to wait for those to come out in paperback too, ugh), and when we finally got a Barnes&Noble - a tiny one not much bigger than the Waldenbooks in the mall - I wanted to go there practically every day to either buy a book or just look at them, and be around them.

Without books, I'm not sure I would've learned to write fiction. I don't think I'm one of those writers with the mysterious "spark" Ursula K. LeGuin spoke of, or the kind of person who has a lot to say and absolutely must say it; my urge to write always comes out of the desire to go, "hey, look at this awesome thing I love, don't you love it too?" Or, "look at this new idea I had about how to interpret the book," and I think I might've been better suited to the English major, to just reading and not writing. I came up with stories when I was a kid, just like everyone, but deciding to pick up this skill and try to use it to make my own? I'm not sure why I did that. I can't say it would've happened anyway, without so much exposure to books, because I'm not sure what made me do it to begin with.

When our Borders closed its doors, I was pretty down about it. My hangout place of choice is always a bookstore. I love browsing, reading, finding new books. I love talking about them, speculating about them. I like holding them in my hands. The store had a nice open floorplan, too, and nice chairs, and I liked the staff at the cafe. Why wouldn't I go there and spend money? But they closed, and we thought, at least we've still got Barnse&Noble across the street - a big one, too.

Then Barnes&Noble closed their Fremont location a month later, and we were left with nothing but a tiny used bookstore - which is awesome, by the way, but it's not quite the same. I can't go there for new releases, or to browse what's new; nothing is new, really, unless you're lucky. I buy stuff there all the time, but having this as my only option is slightly disappointing. And Fremont's library, while nice, has two flaws: increasingly short and inaccessible hours, and it frankly has nothing on my university library anyway. I'd go there if I could, but that's a $14 round trip. I'm not poor anymore, but I still can't buy $14 train tickets like candy.

This week the used bookstore closed to move to a new building. Without a bookstore to visit within a half-hour drive or more, I realized that browsing books is a form of inspiration for me. You don't always have to read them to catch a snip of a good idea. Sometimes just knowing what's out there can give me a kickstart, and I'm not going to argue with retail therapy as a motivating factor in getting myself to work, either. I tend to scoff at people who shun ebooks because they don't have a tactile factor, but I will admit that's something special. Not necessary to make me want to read, maybe, but it's nice. And being able to pick up and fan the pages of a book, especially a book that isn't already mine and that happens to be shiny and new, that maybe has a sense of mystery to it precisely because it isn't mine, is a special sort of feeling that makes me want to create.

I miss that feeling. I want it back, but I don't think I'm going to get it.

The funny thing is, when I look back at what life was like before that Barnes&Noble moved into our city, I realize the demand to have a local bookstore (or two) is a little spoiled - maybe a little unrealistic. Most places probably can't support that many stores or books. How many people read as compulsively as I used to? Online it seems like everyone I know reads regularly, but most of the people I knew in real life didn't read at all. Even now, very few of my friends have apartments overflowing with books. (Maybe they just organize better? :D;)

I've always known that reading and writing hold hands, but until now I didn't realize how much I associated with simply holding and looking at books. I didn't know the little mystery of a book that isn't mine had such an impact on me. And I'm kinda not sure what I can do about it now than I do now. Continue to miss it, I guess.

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Well, this settles it: my lifelong goal is clearly to have a huge private library that occasionally gets restocked when I'm not paying attention, so I can get that little thrill. We'll call this Lifelong Goal #2. And if the library is my house, or even most of my house, with a few square feet set aside to sleep on the floor, I'm okay with that.

Lifelong Goal #1 is, of course, to be my neighborhood's only crazy cat lady.
myaru: (Cereus House)
This is a weird, sort of embarrassing post. I almost never show my outlines or story notes because they're an awful mess. Also, the ideas I start with aren't often the ones I end up putting on paper, even in my crappier stories; whatever you see in print on the fic journal was preceded by a more cliche/hackneyed idea that even I couldn't stand to use. So, I have no idea what you (general) consider my skill-level in something like dialogue, but whatever is in my notes will be worse than what you expect from the finished product. Fair warning.

As an example I'll use a fanfic that's been up for a while. I don't feel comfortable using original work in public, and the only story I've outlined to hell and back is an older one I worked on a couple of years ago.

Anyway! This isn't a lesson post or anything. I wrote about outlines earlier, and thought it would be interesting to look at the different ways I use them, and maybe remind myself in the process that hey, you can use these for original fiction too, self. Why don't you?

(Really. Why don't you? :/)

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When writing a story, I tend to outline for two reasons - to know where I'm going, or to get over a rough spot that's been hanging me up. And lately: plot. Some people may not be surprised to hear that until I read a book that outlined the details of what plot really was, I pretty much didn't bother. If I ended up with a cohesive plot after finishing a story, it was completely by accident. That doesn't mean I didn't outline, just that the purpose of my outlines was to remember stuff, not to arrange it in any kind of order. I had a general "plot" outline of what I wanted to happen in the story I'll be using as my example (The Summer Chronicle), but that was completely inadequate for actually writing a chapter. Sure, X and Y need to happen, but how do I get there from W?

Well, as it turns out, that's what the chapter-level outline is for. These got a little ambitious:

Examples. Hopefully unfamiliarity with the fandom won't make them incomprehensible. )

Detailed outlining didn't save this story, but it did help me keep track of what was going on over about 120.000 words, and kept me writing a hell of a lot longer than I would have otherwise, I think. This story in particular started with no plot and ended up with a very complicated one that I had to break down into manageable bits every time I sat down to write. It got me thinking that the Summer Chronicle process would be a good way to approach a real novel. I still don't know why I didn't bother to use it. But lately I've been working so hard to keep "fan" and "original" separate in my head that I may be unconsciously neglecting skills I developed for fanfic that would serve me pretty well in original work if I'd only use them.

My method for fic characterization and world-building is another one of these neglected processes. That's not outlining, though, so it has to wait.
myaru: (Utena - Juri in thought)
I need a break from considering weighty matters like my complete lack of skill in basic areas of craft, so I bring to you: peculiarities. Mine specifically, but you're welcome to comment with yours.

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When I want to work, there are certain conditions I have to meet before I'm ready. I need some motivation to sit my ass down in my chair. My mind just refuses to shut up, otherwise. I see it's time to work on Story #3, but my brain really wants to think about this article I read the other day, about a woman who had to sit next to a corpse for most of her plane flight. Or, I don't know, Silmarillion stuff. So I walk around if I have to, collapse into my chair when I'm too tired to walk anymore, and try very hard to focus.

I know every writer has to deal with something like this. My strategies are pretty conventional so far. If I'm having a lot of trouble facing something (example: the story I talked about revising in the first 100 Things entry), and I can't overcome that here at home, I take a copy of the story, a notebook and pens, and walk down to the nearest coffeeshop to make myself work. When all I have is the folder and my favorite pens, I have no choice: it's writing or boredom.

As a result, I have associations with most types of work I need to get done.

Writing:
Coffee, specifically mochas, or hot chocolate when it's too late for coffee. Before I had to go gluten-free, pastries were sometimes on this list. I think "chocolate" is the key ingredient, but I'm usually not a fan of just plain chocolate; it needs to be tempered with something.

Translation:
Grape soda. I don't care how awful it is; I started drinking it for some reason while doing my 2007 translations, and now I can't do one without thinking of the other.

Essays:
Veggie sticks - the chip, not actual vegetables. I only ever allowed myself to buy chips during finals or midterms. If I'm going to waste my night writing essays, I may as well get a treat out of it.

Drawing:
Green tea - or black, but I prefer green. I tend to associate an audio reading of Milton with Photoshop, because I listened to a lot of Paradise Lost while making icons. That counts as doing homework, right?

The association game isn't confined to work. When I first played Star Ocean 2, I was munching from a bag of rosemary-olive oil potato chips that Trader Joe's has since discontinued, but I still remember the taste every time I turn the game on - or read fanfic for it, or listen to the music. I associate Rahxephon with Nutella mug cakes and NyQuil. I associate Xenogears with my ass hurting because I sat on the floor playing the game three hours longer than I intended. Whenever I start these activities I'm reminded of my associations (especially Xenogears), so sitting down with a mocha will make me more inclined to write.

I wish I could have healthier associations. :/

But being who I am, I also insist on writing in certain kinds of folders, with very specific pens: Cut for a photo. )

The cute cat notebooks came from Kinokuniya. I still see Nyanko around, so the character hasn't been discontinued yet (phew!) like the poor Mushy/nagomimakuri that we all thought was so cute. (I miss Mushy. ;_;) My stationary has to be cute and/or pretty because I insist. I just do. I don't care if the paper inside is plain, but I want a damned cat on my binder, okay. Or at the very least some kind of floral motif. Or hearts.

(The Sentimental Circus line is pretty freaking adorable. If it wasn't so expensive, I'd have a collection of those binders too.)

With that, I always have to have three pens: dark pink, purple, and light blue. There's some history behind this: a good friend and I took several math classes together at community college, and when it became clear to both of us that we sucked and weren't getting anywhere by listening, we started writing notes to each other on a pad of graph paper we kept between us on the table, and we used alternating colors to keep track of who wrote what. (I kept some of these pages. They're awesome.) Somehow, we ended up settling on these three colors. We hand-wrote quite a few stories that way. Now, these are just the colors I write in. I can use a black pen just fine, but I prefer these because they come with a little hint of nostalgia - and they're pretty.

So hey, in a way, math encouraged my creativity! (Hahahahaokayno.)

In No Plot? No Problem!, Chris Baty talks about writing totems - those special objects or articles of clothing you might keep around to get yourself into a writing mood. Quoting from the wiki, since it's more concise:

Creator of NaNoWriMo, Chris Baty, urges WriMos to invest in a "writing totem," which is an item (or several items) that helps inspire, get one in a writer-like state of mind and help's battle writer's block. A writing totem can be anything; it could be an item of clothing (like Baty's viking helmet), a stuffed animal, a picture, a chotchke item, anything! Totems are most often around a WriMo's computer (or on the WriMo) and stick by the WriMo in all of his or her creative endeavors.

[source]


If you type "writing totem" into Google, you'll get a bunch of blog results for this. Instant Human, Just Add Coffee had a goat that I thought was pretty cute. I can get behind that! :D But if I have any such thing - since I tend to rely on chocolate, apparently - then it would be my creepy dolls:

Cut for image of two ball-jointed dolls. )

Some people find these to be creepy. They don't bother me, and in fact, I think they're pretty in just the way I like. I also get to customize them according to my mood, so this is a win/win situation. When I need to think, I stare at them. Every once in a while I spend a small fortune on nice clothes for them, because I like pretty things and find them inspiring. However, considering the cost, I wouldn't recommend Asian ball-jointed dolls as a totem to someone who doesn't already have one. :P

So in a nutshell, I find chocolate, grape soda, and dolls to be inspiring. Oh, and cute Japanese stationary. Believe it or not, these will all get me into a mood to write.

Which... I should be doing right now, come to think of it. This is way longer than it needed to be.
myaru: (Saiunkoku - Shuurei talks a lot)
So, theme. Cutting the last post off here sort of inflated expectations for the theme post, so prepare to be disappointed. I only have a few things to say about it and none of them are particularly awesome. In fact, I can summarize everything I want to say in one sentence: I believe theme is an equal but separate force to elements of craft like characterization, plot, and setting.

Like I mentioned in the last entry, I often find myself having to choose a theme, or at least a thematic idea of sorts, to direct my choices for a story I'm building from the ground up. The elderly female naturalist studying that alien world will grow differently based on which direction I choose - environmental, feminist, and so on. The conflicts she's confronted with may not be quite the same between one theme and the next, and the audience might be vastly different. (How many average male SF/F fans are concerned about feminist issues? Maybe more than I think, but that wouldn't be too hard.) So in the beginning, theme has a part to play, and functions sort of like a stage for everything else to take place on. But it doesn't end there, because as you write a story, it changes, and the theme you start out with might not be the one you finish with.

In school, we were encouraged to start with characters and plot points, and leave messy problems like theme for the revision stage, after we had analyzed our stories a couple of times and figured out what we were trying to say. But it often seemed to me that other writers already had a set of themes they were interested in, which tended to show up in their stories regardless of what they thought they were writing about. For example, I'm very attached to the idea that what society calls "evil" is the result of being human, a manifestation of our least-admirable traits and desires, not a nebulous, spiritual source of evil. When I look at my most developed original stories, I see this coming up in every one of them. Characters like Krelian, Lehran, or Maglor probably appeal to me so much because of this personal theme, so it shows up in my reading preferences too. While I rarely start with this theme in mind, it's safe to assume it'll pop up in a certain percentage of them and dictate choices I make, and thus be there for me to polish up later.

My original beef with the statement that Miyazaki wrote theme-driven stories was rooted in this: stories often suggest themes (which is why you can find so many to argue when you're writing for a lit class), and part of the process of refining your work is choosing that theme and playing it up in all aspects of the work (character, plot, setting, dialogue) so it seems that single idea drives everything. He may or may not have started out with a theme in his pocket, but he definitely ended with one, so it directed the content of the final product. Maybe it's a sign of more skill than I possess that he can choose a theme from the beginning, write his story, and play the same theme up in the final draft, but if he did that, if his theme directed all of his character choices, all of his setting and dialogue decisions - does that make it any less a character-driven story? Because when I watched Spirited Away, I did not see a theme-driven story; I saw Chihiro's story. Because the theme was so pervasive, it became more than a motor to drive the story. Rather, it was the frame of the car, which contained all the other parts and mechanisms, while Chihiro was at the wheel. (Yikes.)

I said in a comment to someone that I believe Miyazaki is awesome enough to start with a theme and sneeze out an entire story, complete with characters and what they say and do, all in the space of an hour - but if he can do that, it's experience that makes it possible. Starting with theme does often produce stories that are boring as hell when you read them at the workshop level, but I also doubt the stories I read in college workshops were anywhere close to being finished. Who's to say the boring-ass, theme-driven story you just read for class won't turn into a character-driven, seriously theme-y piece in two more drafts? Nothing.

This is probably very different from what I would've said two years ago. I should go back and look.

Anyway, a theme has no story or personality, and is therefore useless by itself. Without other elements in play (say, a character already made), it can't suggest a story to you, and the characters you might create based on a theme like "there's no such thing as evil, only humanity" are probably not immediately compelling. This is why, when I started thinking about it seriously - and that wasn't too long ago, so my views will probably change a lot as I go - I saw theme as a frame or a stage, something that influences the production (you don't want to walk off into the wings when you're still saying your lines), and not something that might drive a story to the exclusion of the other elements.

.

Maybe that sounds like an easy answer. The rote, proper answer, straight out of the writing program, is that you can't have a successful story without any of these things, but there are writers out there proving that wrong all over the place. If you're good enough, you can make a story happen without all the other baggage, I'm sure, and make people grateful for it, too. But that harkens back to another thing they love to say in class: you have to master the rules before you break them.

I can see how that might be a problem. It is for me! All the time.

As for theme, and whether it can drive a story by itself, maybe it's just how you think about it. That'll never happen in my conception of story elements as it is right now, because I just don't view it that way. And if I'm completely honest, I almost never consider theme at all - but it keeps showing up, even when I don't want it there.
myaru: (Utena - Juri)
Some time ago [personal profile] queenlua wrote about different approaches to writing, in which she outlines the three main elements that might drive a story: character, plot, and theme. "If plot is what's driving a story, the first thing the author thought of while writing the story was probably, "Wouldn't it be interesting if X happened?" [...] If character is what's driving a story, then the character, or the dynamic between some set of characters, is what the author was probably thinking of..." - these two lines caught my attention at first. I wanted to respond at the time, but was still stuck in my LJ-adverse phase, and in any case we barely know each other. I'm fine when people I barely know reply in my journal with something that spans four comments because it means I wrote something worthy of discussion, but I'm also a hypocrite, and am not fine with doing that myself in someone else's journal.

Then, somewhat more recently (for me, a noob to her journal) [personal profile] dawn_felagund wrote on a similar topic: plot arising from character, and conversely, characters arising from plot. As she notes, the word "story" is usually defined as a sequence of events, while things like character motivation are extra, and therefore absent from the basic definition.

I'm going to hit on the plot-writer vs. character-writer bit first, because theme is a different beast.

When I read the first post, my first thought was, "I'm both, it just depends on the context." As I've tried to get away from fanfic the last six months or so, I've noticed huge differences in how I approach my original work compared to fan work. When I'm approaching a fanfic, I primarily take the tack of, "What would happen if X and Y were locked in a prison cell together?" and run with that inspiration. Sometimes I start with plot ("How would Tellius end up in a world war and awaken the goddess if the Serenes Massacre never happened?" - which is not the plot of the Chronicle, but could be), but most of the time I'm interested in character interaction.

With no established characters ready, I can't do this with original fiction. With no fully established setting to work with, in addition, I can't even start with more than a bare-bones plot. "An elderly naturalist is pulled out of retirement to study flora on an alien world." It has potential. There's a character - sort of - and a setting-- sort of. But I came up with this to fit the requirements of a call for anthology submissions, so the character isn't even really my idea. They asked for older protagonists, and the setting has to be fantasy or SF; I could've gone anywhere with those guidelines, but the story prompt above (because that's what it is, a prodding to go further and come up with real ideas) is not very creative. They might get five stories with the same premise.

I didn't have much to go on until I considered what kind of story I wanted. You might say I started thinking about theme: is this going to reflect environmental concerns? Should I try to address the issue of colonization, how it can destroy ecosystems? Or will this be a story about age discrimination, or about trying and failing to enact change? Consider writing a fanfic AU for a minute - when you throw a character you know into a different setting or situation, part of the interest (for me, anyway) is to see how they react to different decisions, or explore what changes will happen if you throw them into an environment that would shape them differently. In the same way, it seems to be that this elderly female naturalist will become a different character depending on which situation I throw her into, so at some point - usually the beginning - I need this basic idea, this theme, to direct my characterization and setting details, even if the story ends up changing and suggesting a different one later.

Digression: I see a huge appeal in creating a world and set of characters, and then writing a million books about them - even if the stories end up repeating themselves eventually. That would be a huge advantage when sitting down to do the actual writing. I wouldn't run into the above problem at all. That, I feel, would be the sure way to maintaining one's income. And if the series becomes self-referential and starts fan-pandering, well, you do want to maintain your fanbase, don't you?

Anyway, as I kept thinking about the question of what drives a story, and how that affects its appeal, I came to the conclusion that for me, in my jumbled-up opinion, it all eventually comes out to the same thing. You may be a character writer, but characters create plot-- they have to, in most cases, or people lose interest. If your character sits and stares out a window and does nothing, and doesn't think about much, nobody gives a damn. If she does something-- plot. Instantly. Bam. She does something, and there's going to be motivation in there somewhere, which is created by history, which in turn creates the present situation, and plot. I was told over and over that conflict makes plot, but I think it's more accurate to say character makes plot, and most characters, like most people, are going to be conflicted about something. People create conflict, and the rest is just nature.

Likewise, plot can't happen without a character. You can take a plot-based approach, but it seems to me that in the course of writing your story, you'll take that character you created to fill a role and make him evolve almost by accident. In my experience, one can create a thoroughly thought-out character, fill in all the blanks on the personality and history sheet, and still not know anything about them until you start writing, at which point they take on a life of their own. You never (well, I never) end up with the same character you started out with. And presumably, as you write and get to know these people, you will care about them at least as much as the plot.

So I guess to me, the idea of being a plot or character writer doesn't make sense, because to me they are exactly the same thing. My bare-bones plot up there suggests a character by default. If you cut it in half and pretend that "to study flora on an alien world" was the only idea I had, well, I need someone to enact the plot. No getting around it. But even if I have a whole plot mapped out, and start with that driving my process, the character will eventually become the most important part of the story, and therefore be the driving force. I think this is a matter of layers - the first draft, or first layer, is driven by one thing; the next one might end up driven by something else. But the finished product will probably be moved by each in equal measure.

That's all idealism up there. And I can't lie and say I've never come across a plot writer, because Arthur C. Clarke is one such, and Tolkien didn't spend too much time on individual characterization as I recall. It's there, but clearly is not the focus, especially in something like The Silmarillion. I may love Maglor, but if I'm going to write a story about him, I have to make shit up right and left. All Tolkien gave me were events and some indicators of feeling. If I work only with that, I'll write a cliche.

I'd say more about theme, which was the whole point of writing this entry, but that'll take another six or seven paragraphs, and this is already too long.
myaru: (VP - Mystina)
I wish I could say I've been doing tons of work, but really, I've been doing some work (not the work I should be doing), sometimes the minimum, and not always because of backaches. But! At least for once LOTRO wasn't the cause of my slacking.

For a while now I've been trying to figure out whether I'm the kind of writer that works well with an outline, or better without one. After a dozen or so stories I still can't tell.

The problem is, while I tend to stay more focused if I start with an outline written out, I almost always wander off before the end of chapter one. One chapter is enough for me to realize the structure of my story - as represented in that outline - might be correct, but is still completely inadequate for actually guiding what I write. I still stare at the most recent scene break and wonder what the hell I'm supposed to write next to bridge the gap between point A and point B, even if A and B are in the same chapter and I know exactly what they're supposed to be. As I get farther into the story, this gets worse; most of the content ends up being completely off-the-cuff, though it still ends up hitting all the proper points laid out in my outline, just not the way I originally envisioned it.

The outline, I guess, ends up showing me how much I don't know about what's going to happen, when initially I thought it was supposed to do the opposite. Was this a problem with the way I was looking at outlining as a tool, or is this just one of those things that happens to writers - what they call "the story taking on a life of its own," even though I consider that a completely different phenomenon? Because I'm not talking about the plot changing on me, per se, or characterization changing, which is how I've always interpreted that phrase; I'm saying none of that was in the outline to begin with, even though my page of bullet points covers all of those things that are supposed to be Plot. And they are the plot. But they're apparently not the meat of the story.

It's possible I still do not understand what a plot is. I wouldn't be surprised.

However, there have been stories where, when faced with this problem, I created scene-by-scene outlines as I went along, so I knew were I was going to achieve my chapter goals. That helped me a lot when I was still writing the Summer Chronicle, which grew a sprawling plot I was completely unprepared for. There were so many things I wanted to do, so many events and conversations to cover, that I started each chapter with a mini outline.

Maybe I should do that more often. That would indicate I work well with thorough, even exhaustive, outlining.

On the other hand, I have also experienced that awful feeling of dead inspiration after writing an outline - I realize I don't really need to write the story once it's done, because I got it out on paper. (Or-- is it that the story never needed to be written and wouldn't have worked, and that dying inspiration is actually my subconscious editor telling me it can't work? Who knows. I've gotten used to not listening to that editor because she's a bitch. You really have no idea. If I said half the things I think, about my own stuff and other people... :D)

The Summer Chronicle is an interesting example for me, actually, because it's a work of fan fiction that forced me to create a lot, and so in a way I feel it straddles the line between purely fic and original, simply because it made me work as hard as I believe I should for every story - which I don't often do for fan fiction. I was so motivated to work on it, though; I still haven't figured out how to replicate that motivation for anything else. What made me want to think about it so much, so hard, so often? I don't feel motivated to think about other stories 24/7, which really is how often and deeply I thought about SC for most of its life, and so when I work on my outlines or start my chapters, I just... do not have the level of detail mentally worked out that I require for writing scene-by-scene outlines.

I think this may be a by-product of my tendency to create character types I like, but neglect to actually develop them before I write. So in short, it's still a characterization problem. I look at something like Rule Number One, realize I actually put some effort into creating a voice for Marcia, and see that I do not often do the same for original characters. Having that voice is a big step toward knowing how said character will react, which is kinda sorta key in deciding how a scene will play out, am I right?

Hahahasigh. But thankfully I can't blame it all on not knowing anything about characterization - when I'm starting a new story I haven't hammered out setting either, sometimes. The answer is probably that I need to do more of that preliminary work than I have actually been doing, and it makes sense I wouldn't realize that at first when fan fiction doesn't require that step most of the time.

So, what do the rest of you do? Do you like outlines? Need them? Hate them? I used to consider them a stupid restriction, and now writing without them makes me cry.
myaru: (Miang - I want to be myself)
"One Hundred Essays on the Creative Process" is just a really pretentious way of saying, "I'm going to write a bunch of posts about my attempts to become a better writer." If there's one thing I write about all the time, it's, well, writing. (And me, and myself.) And sometimes the best way to work out a dilemma is to talk about it. I run into writing-related dilemmas practically every day.

Also, before we get ahead of ourselves: these are not going to be real essays. I loathe essays! I'm not going to write formally. In fact, the writing might not be great or even good, because the things I'm trying to write about are hard to even think about, in some cases, never mind putting them up in text. I will, however, attempt to keep angst to a minimum.

Anyway, the words "creative process" can cover a lot of interesting things besides craft or advancement concerns - like, oh, how the Silmarillion is an awesome example of world-building (which is really about someone else's creative process)! Or how video games like Persona 4 have inspired more interesting characterization exercises than anything I ever had to do for my classes. (Whether they work or not is another story, but that's worth posting about once I've tried.) How about Aragorn and movie adaptation? Fun can be had with these topics. All of them can be spun to apply to my writing process. Story analysis is super-important when it comes to learning craft, after all. Victory!

Yeah, it took me a week to come up with this idea. Titles: they still evade me.

For reference: the 100 Things blogging challenge that inspired this project.

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Critique is on my mind because I have to take the original project I'm supposed to be working on and start editing in changes, some of which were suggested or inspired by critique. Once that's done, I'll probably have to put it up again for another reading, because this is draft seven, and I am way too close to this story to see it clearly, at least in my opinion. As my "vision" has gotten clearer to me, the perspective of the reader has gotten away. I think this must happen with every long project I work on. I vaguely remember the same thing happening with my Summer Chronicle fic.

School got me used to critique. At the very least, I'm not a complete prima donna when I get the criticism I signed up for, and I try to thank my critics when that option is available. I try not to argue. I try not to give in to the urge to explain what I really meant by this passage, etc., because that always, always turns into, "this is why I'm right and you're completely wrong, and I just wanted you to know that." But critique is still really hard for me to deal with: I have to take a day or two after getting one to let the immediate, emotional reaction die down, because it has never stopped feeling like "there are problems with your story" equals "there are problems with you," just like story rejections can also feel like a rejection of oneself. It isn't like that. I know it isn't. Every time I've had the opportunity to play editor for something, my rejections have had nothing to do with who the writers are or what their worth as people is supposed to be. It was always just that the story didn't fit my needs.

Emotion and logic just don't get along. My emotions say there's something wrong with me every time a story of mine is imperfect, and lately I've started to realize that this feeling isn't quite the same as getting rejected / being a reject; it's more like the feeling of being wrong. It's like having proof that you're wrong dropped in your lap, in front of a bunch of people who expected you to be right, and their respect for you as a person is directly related to how right you are - or aren't, now. You should know this, the feeling says. You've been studying this for ten years and you still can't do it? You're a failure.

Every single story. Every single critique! No wonder I'm depressed all the time, right? I've never written it down quite like this before, and looking at the feeling in plain text makes me want to wince. But my preference for critique from people I don't know (eg. fellow students) makes more sense now; I don't care as much about the opinions of strangers, so I can look at their critiques with a clearer mind.

I hate being wrong. I hate hate hate it. This probably has its roots in family drama I won't mention here, but I mean, nobody really likes being wrong that I know of. It sucks to realize you made a mistake, and people aren't nice when they let you know it. Being told I'm wrong, especially about something I'm supposed to know or be good at, is like a punch to my Shadow-of-the-Colossus weak spot. All my life I've placed too much emphasis on my work as a representation of self-worth, and not enough on qualities I might have as a person. (Your guess is as good as mine, actually; I can't think of any good ones.) I have no idea how to combat that, so I have to try the secondary problem: why am I looking at a flawed draft like it means I've done "writing" wrong? No matter how often I see other writers talk about how flawed their early drafts are, I feel like my flawed, early drafts are just not the same thing and therefore not okay.

So with all of this in mind, my writing problem at the moment is this: I'm afraid to look at the last draft of the story I mentioned earlier because I know I'm going to see I'm wrong, and I don't want to. I'm afraid to see I've done it wrong. Really, I'm just afraid to see it. At all.

I can't edit this story and make it not-wrong unless I look at it.

It took me a month to figure out "fear of being wrong" is what was really bothering me-- to which I say, fuck that. Fuck that.

Except I still haven't looked at it yet.

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Goals for fixing this:
1. stop thinking of being critiqued as being wrong.
2. look at the goddamned story and swallow "being wrong" if I have to so I can get it done.
3. I might want to look into the psychological issues associated with fear of being wrong someday, when it won't cost me $135 per appointment. lol insurance!

This is harder than it sounds. We all have our different perspectives and problems; for some people being critiqued (or being wrong) is no big deal, and I only wish I could be one of those people right now.

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