Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Nanoween!

I'm not ready for November. The noveling is careening into my world and all I want to do is take a breather. Not a good sign....

Anyway, I'm all dressed up in my bard queen outfit. I'm fighting the reality at work today! And His Highness, the King of High Maintenance is showering all the Office Slaves with chocolates. Yum yum yummy.

What costume are you wearing for Nanoween (or Halloween for the rest of the country)?

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Needle in the Haystack: Research

From the title, you probably think I'm going talk about searching out elusive information. Maybe even where I like to look or my favorite resources. Well, I hate to disappoint, but I'm not talking about finding the needle in the haystack. I'm talking about hiding the needle.

Okay, just to be clear, in this instance, the haystack is a manuscript, and the research is the needle. Why in the world would we hide our research?

Well, quite simply, writers learn everything they possibly can about a subject (especially if they have a tendency to get hooked on research--and it is a great procrastination tool if you are not careful) but the reader does not want the story to stop as the writer informs them of all the cool stuff learned during research. They want to absorb the necessary bits and move on.

So why the needle metaphor? Surely the reader needs to know more than that?

Sometimes, yes. Many times, no.

For instance, in Once Bitten the main character can pick locks. When I started writing this book I knew only the obvious about locks: that the ridges on the keys matched up with something inside the lock. Not so helpful. I spent many, many hours online reading wikis and "how to" guides about locks and lock picking. I learned about the pins inside locks (the average house lock has a double row of 6.) I learned about different picks, the obligatory tension wrench, and different methods for manipulating pins. I've never held lock picks, but, in theory, I have a pretty firm idea how to go about picking a lock. (I'm obviously hitting only general points here because well...this is not a paper on lockpicking. ^_^)

What happened to the information I gathered from my hours of research? I used it in about three lines of the manuscript. That's it. Just enough to establish credibility and be clear to the reader.

How much is too much, too little? That is a tough one, and one of the values of critique partners. If they get confused, you need more. If the scene drags, it's time to cut. After all, you don't want to throw an anvil in your haystack--an info dump will blend in about that well. So, dig in and do your research. Then refine it to the finest, sharpest needle, and hide it nice and deep in your manuscript. Your reader will thank you.

Have a good weekend everyone!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Tick tock, tick tock

Ahh the joys of October, that last month of sanity before the delightful madness of NaNoWriMo!

Today I shall report on one particular joy of October: realizing that you have no coherent plot to expand, that what you actually have is a collage of mental images and proto-characters floating around in a virtual cauldron, and that November is getting closer much faster than the rules of physics should allow.

This particular joy results in a high pitched, in concert, keening from the winged taloned ferrets who kicked the penguins out of your creativity center at the end of September. This keening makes it difficult to remember 1) how to tie your shoes and 2) what exact actions allow a banana to be eaten sans peel. Happily, banana peels are supposed to be good for you.

H'mmm... on reflection, perhaps that isn't quite what you thought of when you first read the word "joy." But consider the other option: a perfect plot appears in your head, complete with beginning, middle, and end. You have the main characters fully fleshed out; the rising action, the black moment, the revelation, the redemptive moment, the climax and the denouement. You even have sub-characters and sub-plots galore. And you CAN'T write until November begins. Now that really doesn't sound like joy, does it?

That's what I thought too.

Enjoy the keening. Let it form the backdrop of relaxing with in front of the fire over which the cauldron is hung. Stir your plot soup a bit more, take a sample out every couple of days, add a pinch of desperation and a smidgen of world destruction/ninjas/unrequited love/insert your choice here. You have 14 or so days left, and something is bound to coalesce by then.

I promise.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Bard Queen - Part 3

The doors opened to a dank hallway that smelled strongly of moldy socks. One of the dingy yellow florescent lights flickered from a bad connection. A tilted direction sign in front of the elevator showed a faded left arrow and the words "Incantation Technology."

Office Wench raced through the halls. The air seemed lighter in the dungeons, but she was still panting when she reached the Helpdesk. Reception Witch didn't look up when Office Wench gripped the edge of the desk and asked, "I need to see the Sage."

"The who?"

"The Sage. He's from Truth. I need his help to..." Office Wench stopped when Reception Witch glared at her over purple-rimmed reading glasses. "To look at my Mail Merge Magic. It's not working right."

"The Sage, huh?" She tapped a button on her phone, "Brown Noser, you know of any IT Guy called the Sage?"

"That's the crack pot in D875. He's a real piece of work! Always got his head in the clouds!"

Office Wench didn't stop to listen to the platitudes Brown Noser was venting. She knocked an IT Guy and his stack of laptops into the wall as she passed. Finally she reached the door to D875. She pushed open the door.

Office Wench expected the Sage's office to be filled with a glowing green haze and flashes of purple light. But instead, she found a clean, well-lit room with the lightest scent of vanilla latte.

"Hello." The Sage sat upright in his chair. "May I help you?"

Office Wench stared at her shoes. "Um, I need some help getting my Mail Merge right."

He backed away from his desk and stood."Sure, what's the problem?"

Office Wench looked up as he walked toward her. His deep brown eyes held her gaze firmly.

"I want to go to Truth."

He smiled. "You already in it."

Office Wench glanced around the room. It was true that the air felt a little fresher, a little lighter, in the room, but she couldn't see how this could be Truth.

"Not just here. We are all in Truth." Office Wench furrowed her brow and he continued, "Reality is only a country, Truth is the world. You need to get your head out of the clouds."

Office Wench moved for the door. "I should have known."

He grabbed her arm. "Wait. Listen to me. The clouds in Reality are what keep you here. The air is thick with enchantments. Wicked spells that keep you trapped inside your slavery, trapped inside your own head. Getting your head out of the clouds is exactly what you need to do. Then you will see Truth all around you."

Office Wench stared at his hand gripping her elbow. "How?"

"You have to remember." He looked wildly around the room. "You have to remember who you are. Let me see..." He walked over to a wall of bookshelves. "Have a seat. I need to find the right spell."

Office Wench positioned herself on the edge of the Sage's vinyl couch. He rifled through several books before carrying one as thick as a dictionary back to the couch. He sat next to her, their knees almost touching.

"All right. Close your eyes."

Office Wench obeyed. But as soon as she did a feeling came over her that Brown Noser or Reception Witch would burst through the open door at any moment and send her back to her cube. Why was she here? Why humiliate herself in front of this crazy dude with the deep eyes? She should go back.

"Repeat after me, 'Once upon a time...'"

Office Wench stood and moved toward the door. Her heart pulsed rapidly against her lungs.

"You have to fight it!" The Sage stood with her. "Reality is still in your lungs. You have to resist it."

"I'm not like you. I'm not strong!"

"Do you think that I don't feel it? That I don't gasp as my lungs close with the heaviness and despair. I'm as much a slave to Reality as you are. But I fight with everything that is in me to remember who I am."

Office Wench stood very still, her head hung low.

"You have to fight it, or you will never find freedom."

She lifted her eyes to his. "Once..." The haze before her seemed to melt in curling wisps before her breath. "Upon a time." She could see his clear, bright smile before her. No fog separated them now. "I was royalty. I was a story-weaver. My life was lived to speak counter-spells into the haze. My life was lived to free the slaves of Reality. I am a Bard Queen. "


Sunday, October 12, 2008

Clustering, Collaging, and storyboarding! Oh My!

Last weekend, I attended Moonlight and Magnolias. For more details on what I did there, visit my post on the Columbia Writers Workshop blog.

The most exciting part of my weekend was the Friday night workshop on plotting. You see, I'm in the process of plotting my NaNo (Yea! I love NaNoWriMo!) and I haven't completed the process yet. At the workshop, we learned three different methods that could be used for plotting our novels.

  1. Collaging - Collaging is easy and simple. Anyone with a stack of magazines, a pair of scissors, a bottle of Elmer's glue, and a piece of poster board can collage. I think this would be an excellent method to use when the idea well went dry. Basically, you look through the magazines and when you see something that interests you, you rip it out. Then when you're done mutilating the magazines, you create your collage. You put the pictures, the words, or whatever you're using (you can use three dimensional or other items not found in magazines as well) on the board in a way that makes sense to you. You use it to write your story.
  2. Clustering - Clustering uses even fewer materials than collaging. A large size piece of paper and a pen is all that you need to start clustering. You take your idea and you circle it in the middle of your page. From there, you web out, writing down whatever comes to your mind. NO EDITING!!! Just let your mind go and don't pick up the pen from the page. If you get stuck, keep making a circle around your words. The idea is that if your hand is still moving, your mind is still thinking. Eventually, you'll start thinking in a pattern and will be able to group like ideas together. I LOVE this method. I've been working on my current project using it since I got home from the conference. My book is being mapped out on a very large piece of butcher block paper. I have always used clustering (I called it spiderwebbing) when I created my characters. I never thought thought to use it when plotting. I've gotten so much done in less than a week. It is amazing.
  3. Storyboarding- Storyboarding is what filmmakers use when they're making a movie. They draw out key scenes (maybe even all the scenes) and then write a short blurb about what is happening underneath the scenes. I think this would be a method you would want to use when you're almost done plotting. It is a great visual for a writer to have. The writer can look at the picture and see if they've written the scene or not. I was intrigued by this method.
I loved this workshop and got so much out of it! I loved all of the workshops at the conference. I plan on using all of them when I'm writing and then editing my NaNo.

Here are a few pictures from the Moonlight and Magnolias conference

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Bard Queen - Part 2

Office Wench stopped by Keyer of Edits's cube on her way to her own. "It was just like you said. She didn't leave the office."

He squinted at her. "Huh?"

"Data Entry. She never made it to Truth."

"What's all this about?" A booming voice called through the haze behind her.

Office Wench stiffened. She hadn't noticed Boss Man coming their way.

"So, how is everything?" He put strong emphasis on the last word and made a half wink with his left eye. Boss Man positioned himself well within Office Wench's personal space. The scent of his pastrami sandwich hung in the air, staining the haze with a tinge of puce. "Is everything all right?"

Office Wench held up her mug. "I was just getting coffee before I..."

"Good, good, good." Boss man slapped his left hand with a thick stack of papers. "You know, our office brings out the best in its slaves. All our employees are loyal and dedicated to the company. They may have discontented slaves in other divisions, but I know for a fact, there aren't any here. Slaves here take their jobs seriously because the company takes their jobs seriously." He glared at her through another half-wink. "I know you're going to be with us for a long time."

Office Wench nodded. " Sir, I was just going to..."

"Good, good, good. I want you to type this." He slapped her full mug with a stack of yellow legal paper, spilling scalding coffee down her leg. "And when you're done with that I want you to find the addresses for all these slaves." He slapped it again with a stack of white computer paper, pouring the rest on her chest. "And when you're done with that I want you to mix it all together," He swirled the air in front of her nose with a stubby forefinger. "And do that Mail Merge Magic you're so well known for." He winked for real this time and stalked off, leaving the soggy papers on Keyer of Edits desk.

Office Wench turned on the spot and walked the other direction.

Keyer of Edits called after her, "Hey, I'm not going to do the Mail Merge for you! That's not my magic!"

Office Wench almost ran to the bank of elevators. Her lungs burned with the effort just to drag the semi-solid oxygen into her lungs.

She slapped the down button. Several slaves trudged past while she waited, but no one looked up. Finally, the elevator halted on her floor and opened. Data Entry Maiden stood in the doorway.

"Where is the Sage?" Office Wench asked.

"What?" She blinked several times as if to clear the fog from her eyes. "Oh, he's in the dungeons. That's all I know."

"Where in the dungeons?"

She shrugged her shoulders.

"I thought you talked to him about Truth."

"Get your head out of the clouds."

Office Wench pushed her way into the elevator. She remembered hearing that the IT guys were kept in one of the lowest levels of the dungeon, so she slapped D8 with her palm and watched the doors close.

Data Entry Maiden still spouted platitudes. "Reality is all there is. Suck it up and deal."


To be continued....