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Another Star Trek novel, in which Dr. McCoy has to take over command of the Enterprise. The best thing about this book is the conversations, the tone, and the characterization of McCoy. The plot is a little weak -- there's a Klingon plot that I didn't really find compelling at all, and then there's a time travel plot that didn't seem entirely thought through -- if things go wrong due to time travel and then you fix them at the last minute by time travel...why not fix them before the last minute by time travel?

But this book got me thinking about the writing advice "Show, don't tell," and how it might relate to that style of writing that's elaborate and out of order and really not straightforward at all, mostly because this book was so very straightforward and I wasn't sure it really served it well. Some of what it was doing might have been well served by writing a bit more elaborately.

Which is mostly interesting to me because I've liked that elaborate sort of stuff before (I'm thinking Kelly Link, though maybe not quite to that extent, or even The Man with the Knives, which is not completely in order). But I've never really understood why these things are written that way. And I'm still groping toward it, and I could be wrong, but it seems like it has to do with the idea of show, don't tell in that there's a certain amount of the reader figuring out things without being told or even being shown in an entirely straightforward manner. But the figuring out is part of the story somehow, so it has to be shown too. It wouldn't be the same story if you just said what happened, the experience would lack some of the complexity, and complexity is part of the story.

Or something. I don't think I've quite got it yet.

1st draft!

Jan. 1st, 2011 05:46 pm
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I've declared the first draft of the novel I've been writing all year to be finished. Everything from now on is part of the second draft. This is rather arbitrary, since the first few chapters are pretty much completely done and polished and probably won't change much if it all while the last chapters are basically outlines, but I figure if I know what happens at a pretty detailed level then that counts as a first draft.

I'm planning on writing the second draft backwards, from the end to the beginning. That way, as I go along I can rediscover and later insert all the things that have to happen in early chapters for the whole thing to make sense. I left out most of these thing when writing the first draft because I was writing it from the beginning to the end and I didn't realize I was going to need certain things until I got to the point where they should have already happened.

I'm really looking forward to the second draft.
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Happy New Year!

My new year's resolution is to write a novel this year.

That is all.
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Don't explain things because they're cool, explain things because they're necessary to understand the events of the story.

Yes? No? Sometimes? Depends on the story? Yes, but don't worry about it in the first draft or it'll drive you crazy? Are you mad, you'll make the world seem awfully contrived that way? You can get away with explaining cool things just because you want to if and only if the reader thinks the same things are cool as you do?
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Often, when reading fiction, I read to find out what happens, and how. This causes me to read things from the start through to the end.

If I were to write to find out what happens, I would enjoy roleplaying, because the input of others keeps me from knowing what happens, so I have to keep going to find out. But when writing things of my own, I would stop before the end, because I'd already know what happens, because even if what I had planned didn't pan out, whatever happened would have to come from inside me -- and I know me.

But sometimes, I read to enjoy a journey I already know. To find out the little things I've forgotten, not the big sweep that I remember from having read something before. To enjoy the way the words fit together.

Sometimes, I write that way too. But maybe I should try thinking about it that way more often.
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And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate--but there is no competition--
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.
     --T. S. Eliot
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In the Cool Stuff Theory, you put in more cool stuff. In the Mary Sue Theory you take it out, because if you give your character too much cool stuff, obviously that character must be a Mary Sue.

(I know, it's about balance, or possibly parity. The problem with the concept of Mary Sue is me, not it. But I still dislike the way every time I think of something especially cool I have this can't do that counter-reaction, mostly because of Mary Sue.)
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Sarah Monette: How to Hack the System

On measuring writing progress by wordcount -- that is so true for me too. I figured out a while ago that wordcount didn't work for me, though I think of it from what I believe is a system engineering perspective: what you measure is what will be improved. So if you measure wordcount...and it's so easy to fake wordcount. Just write nonsense! Which might be helpful in some situations, to just get going for example, but...

Too bad I don't think the "task" measurement is quite my solution. I sit down thinking I have to do one thing, and then I realize that before I do that I really need to establish this, and if I do that I can slip in this other bit too, and...I never get the gratification, because I rarely start out knowing what I need to do. But a task is helpful anyway, because at least that way I'm working toward something.

I've been trying measuring by scenes, which can take more than a day, but are usually short enough that I can expect to complete them within a few days if I keep at it. The jury is out on that so far...
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Down the garden path, or, the (possible) problem with too much meta, with vague examples from Angel


The horse raced past the barn fell.
The old man the boat.

Garden path sentences -- on first reading they don't tend to parse right. They lead you down the garden path, and then oops, your original parse was wrong and you have to look back and figure out that it's the horse that was raced past the barn that fell, or that man is a verb.

You can do the same thing with story, and it's not necessarily a bad thing. But I think I just figured out one thing that I really didn't like about Angel, and it's garden path storytelling. What happened a couple of times was that what looked like a world rule turned out to be a misconception which was carefully fostered by the storytellers.

One thing that I really liked about Buffy/Angel is that it generally knew what it was doing, and sometimes the story commented on the story. That's cool.

However, when the story only exists to be commented on by the story, that's not so cool.

Read more... )
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When I'm roleplaying in a fantasy setting, a lot of the time all the answers I think of depend on magic. Sometimes, even in a fantasy setting, it's good to remember that solutions can be mechanical, biological, social, etc. And should be, because magic probably isn't the easiest solution for the character most of the time.

Interestingly, this came up most recently in tabletop. Interesting, because now that I think about it, things are much less likely to be magical in tabletop because you can't just make things up, there's a shelf full of books you'd have to look through to find something that does what you want, and the character may not have the specifically defined skills, and...
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(This is another bit of something I found while cleaning out my computer. I'm not sure why I didn't put it here when I wrote it, except maybe it wasn't done? I'm not sure what else I had to say, though.)



I made the writing exercise where I did the season plot for my imaginary tv show private, because it was too spoilery. That doesn't make any sense, really. My imaginary tv show doesn't actually exist. I may never get to the point where I actually write the part I'm thinking of as spoilers. I'm almost certainly not going to write everything relating to the tv show (that, and the fact that I'm writing about a visual medium, is why it's imaginary). So how do I know that it's a spoiler? (And why does it matter?)

On the same subject, I recently read Shevraeth in Marloven Hess (which was a Pixel-Stained Technopeasant offering, and very very very good, IMO) before reading Crown Duel and Court Duel by Sherwood Smith. Shevraeth in Marloven Hess takes place before the events of the Duel books, and yet it definitely has spoilers for the Duel books. I knew about Shevraeth -- what kind of person he was -- before I was supposed to. I had no idea what was going to happen, but I did know some things that weren't going to happen, because I knew something about one of the characters. I've seen the idea that spoilers are only about plot -- I don't think that's true.

So what is a spoiler?

I think a spoiler is anything that changes the shape of a story. As I read a story, I'm building up a model in my mind of what has happened and what could happen in the future. Presumably, the author of the story had a certain kind of model in mind that they wanted me to create, and that's why they gave me the details that they did. A spoiler, in my opinion, is something that skews that model (in a way I don't like).

Of course, I can't tell what's going to skew in a way I don't like, so I try to avoid things that skew the model at all, if it's something I know I'm going to read/watch.

And I have to admit, just about anything skews the model. You could tell me some very very minor detail, and I would be watching to see how that detail fits in, which would skew my experience of the story -- because it's a minor detail and I shouldn't be watching for it.

Okay, I take it back. There's another kind of spoiler. Take [livejournal.com profile] papersky's spearpoint example, and then imagine someone telling you about the spearpoint without telling you any of the construction of the spear. The point falls flat. That's a non-subjective spoiler.

On the other hand, there are some details that skew the story in a way I do like. If I think something's going to be simplistic and someone tells me No, the first pages are just a set up of the character being simplistic and the rest of the story is more nuanced, is that a spoiler? Not for me. If I didn't know, I wouldn't have read on. But it might annoy someone else to be told that.

And there are also some details that would keep me from reading the wrong story (trying to read a story that isn't there) if I knew them ahead of time. I can go into a story with the wrong kinds of expectations, and I might end up misinterpreting things because of that, overlooking the things I should be paying attention to, etc. Maybe I would have liked it better if I knew what to look for and appreciate, instead of trying to make it into something it wasn't.

Or maybe knowing would have skewed things some other way. It's basically impossible to know what details would mess up the experience, and what would enhance, or what would intrigue enough to get someone to read something they otherwise might have skipped. That's why I mark everything that seems slightly iffy as a spoiler, and -- if I can -- I only read spoilers for things I'm not already planning to read/watch. I may be missing out on some enhanced readings, but wherever there's a choice there's a price. I can always reread/rewatch.

(Incidentally, suddenly being interested in tv after years of being solely a reader -- there has to be a better way to say things so as to include tv/movies. Re-experience?)
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I suppose I've always know that there are sorts of things I like to read that I have no interest in writing. Though usually that's because I'm aware that I couldn't write some things... For example, take Tolkien. There's a lot of little details in the Lord of the Rings about land and landscape and little assumptions about how things work in relation to that that I noticed the last time I was reading it. And I couldn't write that. I suppose that's a way of saying I'm not interested enough to learn to write that.

Then today I was looking through a role-playing book for the tabletop game I'm going to be in, and I realized that although I hate reading roleplaying books -- and I really do hate them, because either I'm bored half to death reading them, or everything that is critical in me kicks in as soon as I start reading and I end up thinking everything they say is the stupidest thing I've ever heard and it would never work that way. (And there's no story to distract me from being critical.)

Anyway, I hate reading roleplaying books, but I think I might enjoy writing one. It would be fun. And half the reason I hate reading them, I'm starting to understand, is because that's the stuff I want to make up for myself and they've taken most of my fun away from me and done it themselves.

But it's just weird. How could I like writing something that I wouldn't want to read? It seems wrong, though I'm not entirely sure why. I suppose it's because mostly when I create things, I'm happy with the thing I've created. But perhaps the fun of worldbuilding is not in having an attractive world (because how boring is that, all by itself?) The fun is in the process of creation, not in the end result.

Hmm.
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Aghhhhh! I might or might not have finished the Jennie Hart story today if things had gone as expected (meeting my goal from last week), but now I'm not going to, because things didn't go as expected. I thought I knew what I was writing, but suddenly as I was writing another whole chunk of plot and character motivation fell into place, messing up everything all over again. I think it's messing up in a good way, and it really makes sense on a high level, but on a detail level nothing quite works any more.

This story had better sell when I'm done with it, because the amount of work I'm going to have put into it by the end is going to be utterly absurd, considering that I don't think it's getting much longer with all these revelations and revisions, just more dense.

Writing

Mar. 26th, 2006 04:42 pm
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I recently found out that someone I didn't really know in college (friend of a friend) is having a book published sometime soon, by a reputable small press. A speculative fiction book, at that. I am jealous. I have also started working on Watching Jennie Hart (née Clark) again, possibly as a direct result of being jealous or just of being reminded that I really want to write and even be published. I must start work on my novel again soon as well, but my current goal is to finish Jennie Hart this week. I did a lot of revisions on it after VP, and then I stopped working on it for a reason I can't recall. But it's in a state where finishing it by the end of this week is a very reasonable goal.
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I so want to write Narnia fanfic.

I thought, without really thinking, that it must be out of copyright because Tolkien was out of copyright--but I think I was wrong about Tolkien too. I had the misconception because the old copy of The Lord of the Rings that I used to have said something about those that respect living authors buying this copy and no other, which seems to suggest that there were others that didn't have the approval of the author, which could surely only happen if it were out of copyright? I'm still not exactly sure what the story was with that, but research suggests that neither is public domain yet.

And since I am a stickler for rules, clearly I must do it the hard way and extract the bits I need for my stories and leave the rest behind. Unfortunately, I seem to need quite a bit of it, which makes things somewhat difficult, because I'm not really interested in writing the bits that are already there in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe--I'm interested in reacting to them.

And at some point as I was mulling over this problem I fastened on to the idea of writing my fanfic as a story pretending to be a fanfic for a work of children's fantasy, similar to Narnia, which was written by someone living on the planet in my NaNoWriMo novel. This would be good because instead of haring off to work on some other project I would be still working on the NaNoWriMo novel, in a way. It's an interesting way to do world-building, and imposes some constraints on an aspect of the world which wasn't actually constrained by the plot of the novel itself, but which is important to know about for the novel. And I really am determined to finish that NaNoWriMo novel--if only for the sake of finishing something--so it would be counter-productive to start working on something else, except that by doing this I can work on something else and advance the NaNoWriMo novel at the same time. It's so nice when I can rationalize indulging my whims.

It's also an interesting question: what kind of children's fantasy would be written by someone--some human--who lives in a world where contact with multiple alien species is normal? The other differences between that planet and Earth are interesting too, but that is the difference that seems most interesting to me. How much less wonderful is a centaur, or a talking animal, or a faun, if you know--or even just know of--non-human intelligences? What is fantastic then?

The only problem is, I am fairly sure I could write semi-decent Narnia fanfic. That would be relatively easy--it's already there, and all I have to do is react. I am not at all sure I can do this other thing. It's an exciting idea, but also very challenging. I'm not sure how to do it. I'm not sure there's any way to actually make it work.

Sometimes (not often, luckily) I feel like all my ideas are beyond my capabilities. Even the things that start off seeming easy always turn complicated. But I guess this is what comes of writing science fiction and fantasy--there's always another question. (And actually, the thought of writing in the real world is even more intimidating--if there's a question, the answer might actually exist, so you have to try to find it instead of just making something up. I hate being wrong.)
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I declare this experiment ended. I am at 43,082 words, the story is finished, and I just can't persuade myself that filling in is anything but a waste of time at this point. I know what I need to do next, and it doesn't involve adding more words to what I have now. It involves sitting down and figuring out what I have and how it ought to be put together, and making models so when I write it for real I'll have something sensible to work from.

As an experiment, I think NaNoWriMo was a success. It forced me to try something new--writing with much less continuity than I usually do (and much, much faster). The result is that in my mind I have an entire book. On paper, I have a mess, but it's a mess I feel I can work with. I am satisfied with the result.

As an exercise in reaching a predefined goal (50,000 words), I think NaNoWriMo just proves that deep down I'm very lazy (I already knew that). Sure, it would be cool to win NaNoWriMo, and it's only another 7000 words--but no, I'm not doing it. The real goal is to write a novel, and this was just a step on the way, and it has done its job.

So, what's next? December is not for writing, at least not on this project. I want to do outlines, and character profiles, and fill in about a million details about the world. I want to read some books I have on cities and on the history of law. I want to go through what I've written and pick out all the little things that suggest big things about how everything works, and work out all the implications.

I might manage some fraction of that in December--this is why I get stuck whenever I do too much worldbuilding. There's so much I could do...which is why my plan is to limit this to December.

On January 1, I want to start over, and write this book for real, start to finish, at a reasonable pace, with my normal requirements for decent prose and continuity and that sort of thing. I'm a bit less sure about how that should work, since I've never managed to write a novel and I won't have a convenient daily word count goal as I did this month, but hopefully it will all work out. I think the fact that I can still get excited about this project after spending a rather crazy month on it bodes well. We shall see.
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I'm behind again, but I'm close enough to being on schedule that I'm sure I'll be able to make it to 50,000 words by the end of the month if I care enough to put a little extra effort into it, which I probably will.

I feel like there's not very far to go in terms of ending the story--but I'll need more than that to get the correct word count. Perhaps tomorrow I'll just do whatever it takes to end the story, which will take one kind of pressure off, and then after that I can just fill in and write more words 'til the end. There are a bunch of places that still need to be filled in, which means that even if I finish the story and make it to 50,000 words it won't really be complete--but I'm not sure that I care. I'm really looking forward to the end of November so I can quit writing 1667 words every day so that I can start working out all the stuff that doesn't really make sense yet, but which I haven't had time to work out while writing so much every day.

Lately, it's been harder writing--even writing junk--than it was at the beginning of the month. I feel like I should be wrapping things up and not going off on wild tangents, and even if I do go off on wild tangents there's more stuff to try to be consistent with, which limits the tangents.

The rule remains: all attempts to convince myself that it wouldn't really matter if I stopped now and had fun world-building or figuring out characters or whatever are to be taken as indications of a deep underlying laziness, and ignored.
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The next time I do something like this, I'm going to plan for a couple of days off every now and then. I always end up doing it, and catching up is annoying.

But I haven't hit the wall yet. I didn't stop because there was no where to go, I stopped because I had other things I wanted to do more, and I knew the weekend was coming and I could catch up (and I think I actually will, mostly). Things are still coming fairly easily. It is mostly junk, but it's junk that I think I'll be able to do something with next month, which is obviously national novel revising month (that might take longer than a month, especially December, which is sort of crazy, but at the moment I'm planning to play with structure and outlines and scene planning in December and see what happens).

I think what I'm doing is writing out the stuff that I usually hold close and work out in my head--and this is probably a good thing, because I have noticed before it's easier to work things out when some version is down and captured, however wrong it may be. It's something to work against.

Even so, it is sort of strange that I'm perfectly happy with having a beginning that isn't right, that I know isn't right, that has whole chunks I skipped writing because I wanted to write the next bit more. The last time I tried something like this, I stopped because the beginning wasn't right and I couldn't stand it. Of course, this time I really have decided that any level of wrongness is okay so long as I finish, which I've never done before.

It probably helps that I know how this ends, both in terms of plot and in terms of character. I'm still worried about some middle plot bits, but the beauty of writing a mystery is that the ending is easy. They figure out who did it, and all is well.

Actually, I think the level of revisions I'm going to have to do on my VP stuff helped with the concept of writing quick junk, because it sort of hurts to go messing with my VP stuff; I know now that there is a lot I can do to make it much better, but I hate adding imperfect writing onto polished prose. I don't mind cutting, but adding the rest of the story is hard because it has to get worse before it will get better. The new writing doesn't match the rest of the writing, and won't without a lot of work.

Better start out writing junk and do all the story level changes, and then make the writing all nice and pretty. Theoretically. I'm sure it won't actually work out that neatly, but it's a nice theory at the moment.

NaNoWriMo

Nov. 4th, 2005 09:06 pm
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I have often thought that NaNoWriMo was unreasonable and slightly crazy. I wasn't going to sign up--I wasn't even thinking about it till a random (non-writing) acquaintance mentioned it on October 31. Then, on November 1 I had a brilliant (or so it seemed) idea for a novel that seemed ideal for NaNoWriMo--it was something interesting and fun, but which I wouldn't want to spend a lot of time on, it came with a certain amount of pre-defined plot, it was something I wouldn't mind coming out at 50,000 words (not really a novel, you know), and it was a type of story for which solving writer's block by spacing down a few lines and typing "Suddenly, a shot rang out" wouldn't be as absurd as it would be in most of the things I write.

So I signed up (annoyingly, 'aryllian' was taken so I had to use 'extrapolating' -- it was what occurred at the time) and started writing. It has been surprisingly easy so far. Once I figured out that if I really paid attention to what I was writing, achieving my daily word count would take more time than I have, I started writing more quickly, and it's--well, it's much more of a first draft than I usually write, but I shall accept it in the spirit of experimentation. I'm sort of worried that at some point I'm going to run out of easy things to say, and I won't have the patience for figuring out difficult things when I have to write 1667 words each day. In related worries, I wonder if it will be more difficult when I reach the point where I have to start tying things together, instead of being able to jump to the next high point when I'm not sure what the next immediate event should be. But that's still a while off. Sufficient unto the day...
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At VP someone suggested that I might write speculative poetry, and I wasn't too enthusiastic because...well, I like (some) poetry, but only some, and writing poetry is fun, but only every now and then. And quite frankly I'm not sure what speculative/science fiction/fantasy poetry is. It seems that genre limits, already a tricky subject, must be much more tricky when it comes to poetry. Also, it's probably a mistake to try to write something that I don't read.

But all the same, I was curious, and this is what resulted:


Sixteen, alone, and determined to show no weakness,
The space-born child saw her first planet today.
She gave no sign, no tribute to its uniqueness;
Not so much as a smile would she betray.
She has known the harshness of space, the unending vastness.
She has been alone four years since her parents died.
In this trading ship she has crafted a flawless fastness
Alone in her pride.
Tomorrow she'll shuttle down to a surface city.
She'll see more people than ever before she has seen.
Will she stare and grin, or wrap herself in pity,
World-weary at only sixteen?
Or will she do neither, but keep her thoughts within
And stay as she has been?


Which only serves to confirm that for me, a serious attempt to write poetry within the limits of a genre is probably misguided. It might make an interesting story, though, if I could figure out the worldbuilding that causes this situation. Fantasy is so much nicer than science fiction when it comes to worldbuilding--I might have to make everything up, but it's harder to get anything horribly wrong when I mostly just have to be consistent with things I made up myself, not the laws of physics (plus improbable FTL gizmo which I can define for myself).
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