Friday, October 30, 2009

The Joy of Index Cards

Index cards are one of the best inventions ever! Let me tell you why.

1. You can use them to jot down ideas and even whole paragraphs when you don't have time or space to expand them in your ms, for example, if you're in a meeting or at a stoplight. Then when you go back to writing, there's your idea waiting for you.

2. You can do quick character profiles that you can use later when you hit a plot snag and can't remember exactly what trait would cause your character to say... stick someone into the attic rather than the freezer. Instead of pulling up a file, grab the index card with the attributes.

3. Portability. A desktop is heavy, a laptop can be heavy, and there may be too many people sardined next to you on the train for a notebook. Index cards can be held in one hand and written on by the other hand, then slipped into a pocket.

I've given three reasons why I love to have index cards to hand. Are you a fan? Tell us why they are a staple. Are you not a fan at all? Tell us why you eschew them.

...Did you catch it? Hope not. :)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

NaNoWriMo Resources

NaNo begins at Midnight Saturday evening. That means if you haven't gotten geared up yet, it's time to get your trackers together! In this post I've collected a handful of my most common favorite resources for NaNo, as well as a handful of 2009-specific resources.

The 2009 Report Card
My favorite goodie is this modded spreadsheet by Cameron Matthews (based on the report card by Eric Benson). It features space for you to enter your word count and helps you calculate all kinds of statistics about your noveling experience such as your overall mood, best writing location, and how long it'll take you to meet your goal based on how many words per hour you've put in so far. Handy graphs, too! This version is for Office 2007 but you can run it in compatibility mode with 2003 with no problem.

I was also able to track down two new Open Office versions of this spreadsheet here courtesy of NaNoWriMo participant laebrye and here courtesy of NaNoWriMo participant Atalanta. Keep in mind that's available through the NaNoWriMo forum.

(And if you use these, folks, don't forget to say thank you!!)

The Novel Worksheet
New this year from Cameron Matthews, this workbook takes you through the whole process to publication: From NaNo draft to Final draft. The spreadsheet workbook is configured to allow you to set your own deadlines and anticipated page counts for each phase of your process. Everyone's process is different so it won't work for all, but I can tell you one thing: it will work for me!

(Note: This is only for Office 2007. You can use it in compatibility mode with Office 2003 - but it's looks like some things won't reference correctly.)

Official NaNoWriMo Workbooks
Available in PDF downloads from the Young Writer's Program website, the geniuses over at NaNoWriMo have put together awesome workbooks for elementary, middle, and high school students. But you know what? They're terrific for adults too! So share with your favorite creative young person or use them yourself. Each workbook talks about storytelling elements and provides exercises to stoke your brain engine.

Word Count Widgets and Meters
Aside from the official NaNoWriMo widgets designed for your blogs and other webpages, you can customize status bars at these fine sites:
HTML Meters
Language is a Virus NaNoWriMo Word Meters

There are probably others, but since servers get so slammed during November, I try to steer away from anything offering updated images with hosting. A simple coded slider works wonders.

Write or Die
Yes, I know that I've already talked about this wonderful tool of reckoning. But Dr. Wicked has recently released a new DESKTOP version. It's $10. Go buy it and crank your productivity!

(self-quoted endorsement: You can achieve similar results without Write or Die by procuring a monkey/little sibling/ever-supportive significant other, setting an egg timer offline and scribbling in a frenzied haze of glory. When you get stuck during your time limit, your previously procured moral support device/person/creature must mock you until you begin writing again. Kamikaze mode for the pen and paper edition should also involve a cattle prod. A little electroshock encouragement never hurt anyone. Right? Beuller?)

Seventh Sanctum
THIS is the place to go when you're stuck. I don't recommend it for figuring out the nitty gritty of your novel, but I highly recommend it for a brain boost (and a good chuckle). Find a generator that suits you (Mecha Namer? CatGirl Generator?) and click the button to douse your brain in a bizarre idea that just might point you in the right direction. Just looking at all the generator names is enough to get my fingers moving sometimes.

Happy writing, everyone! And for the Daylight Savings Time crowd: Go ahead, rejoice that November 1st has an extra hour of writing time. Use those precious minutes wisely, and aim high! You can do it!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Do you NaNoWriMo? A contest and Prizes!

NaNoWriMo is right around the corner. This will be my fifth year participating in the challenge, and this time, I've decided to do something a little different. This year, I want to invite everyone out in the blogsphere to NaNo with me. As a good hostess, I'm giving out prizes to those who join me in the challenge. These prizes include free books and a mention in the acknowledgments of my upcoming release, TWICE DEAD.

Interested in learning more? Check it out over at MY BLOG

I hope to see you there! Write with abandon!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Character Interview -- Gerrit

For some reason I thought that Gerrit would have chosen an out of the way spot, perhaps a dingy hole in the wall with bad lighting and people looking around furtively. Instead he chooses a quick-eats place, with lots of light and lots of people; I guess he's taking advantage of group cover. We get our trays and food and sit at a table against the wall.

I pull out my recorder, but he stops me.

"It's less conspicuous if you just use a mic attachment." From a jacket pocket, Gerrit pulls out a small black cylinder attached to a long wire. "I'd have used wireless, but somehow I don't think you are quite there yet."

He's mocking me, but the mockery isn't malicious, at least I don't think it is.

"Okay, it looks like you should be set. Start the interview, except you can skip the name and place of origin questions, if you don't mind."

Obediently, I click on the recorder. The break in the ritual discomfits me; maybe that's why he did it. "How many scams were you running?" I figure to get right to the heart of the questions, and hopefully get a point back in my favor.

Gerrit looks up and then back to me. "Good start. Let's see..." His voice trails off as he thinks. "Zero. I wasn't running any scams."

"Well, you certainly weren't on official business for all of the jobs." I allow myself a direct stare and a raised eyebrow.

He holds up a finger. "True. I had 3 jobs running, besides the 9 to 5. Jobs, mind you, not scams." The finger wags at me for emphasis and then he takes a bite of his salad. He fills his mouth yet manages to chew without looking like a 2 year old. While he eats, his gaze meanders around the room and comes back to me.

"Can you tell me what the ... jobs were?"

Gerrit shrugs. "Why not? They're over and done with aren't they?" He eats another forkful of greens and reds. "I was running papers from the Tenir embassy, I was trying to catch Donovan with his pants down, and I was committing planetary treason. It's a great game out there; you should try it."

"And at the same time you were working as an intelligence agent for the interplanetary government?"

"I know!" The glee takes his voice up a couple notes.

"What would have happened if you had gotten caught?"

"But there's the rub;" He leans towards me. "I didn't."

"But you got caught in the end, though, didn't you." I force myself to keep the accusation inside. No sense in opening that particular can of worms. "Okay, granted you didn't get caught. However, in the event you did, let's just speculate, what would have happened?"

Another long look around the quick-eats. "Peons." He gives me his full attention. "If the first, then nothing more than a slight reprimand. For the second, perhaps a short suspension." A pause. "But if I had gotten caught with Reynor, it would have depended on the spin. I think I could have gotten away with it." A shrug, tossing the thought out as if it didn't matter. "And if I couldn't work the crowd, they would have killed me."

"Isn't that a bit harsh of a punishment?"

"_I_ think so. _They_ consider it a necessary example making, a refining of the workforce, if you will." He waves his hands in large slow arcs. "It's all about control."

"And you don't like being controlled?"

"They can't control me." His hands are still. "I've given them opportunities, but they don't even see them! It's no wonder that they couldn't," He stops short, and I'm glad to see there are some things he takes seriously.

"Back to something you mentioned before, this being a 'great game.' Is it all just a game?"

"Not just a game. The only game worth playing."

He gives me the first smile that I've seen on his face so far. It drifts over his face, and is so open that I find myself blushing.

"Then why did you call Thytira?"

The smile is gone. "I wanted to turn the game and needed help to do it. Thytira's a straight shooter, a good one to have as back-up."

"You felt you needed back-up?" This was getting interesting all of a sudden.

"Normally no, but in this case, yes. I'm not straight enough to turn a game like this on my own." He shrugs, acknowledging the truth. "It's one of my flaws."

There is a soft beeping from the inside of Gerrit's jacket. He pulls out a slim rectangle. "I have to go. But thanks for taking the time to talk to me." He stops me when I reach to unhook the mic attachment. "Keep it, it may come in handy another time."

A very different sort of man. I'm almost sorry he's dead.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The IMAX experience, RE: Phoning It In Or Watching It All Unfold

Nikki posed a great discussion Monday, and as a writer on the opposite side as her experience, I thought I'd expand on it.

Unlike Nikki, who is a listener, I am one of the 'watching the action unfold' type of writers. (Which, considering I'm also a painter, probably isn't all that surprising.) I visualize my scenes, watch them play out, and then try to match words to what is there. When I'm lucky, these scenes take place on a full 3d IMAX screen in my brain. When I'm not so lucky, it's more like watching reflections in a recently churned mud puddle. My mind's camera pulls in and out (often discarding details I'm not paying attention to) and can jump right into the character's head and see the scene through her eyes (though in all honestly, even though I write first person, I usually see most scenes--especially action scenes--in 3rd.)

While I can push my camera into my characters' heads, and even hear their thoughts, I can't question them the way Nikki describes. A character interview is an exercise in futility for me. Imagine myself sitting across from a character and them answering questions? HA!

If I want to know anything about my characters beyond (or usually in the past) of the here and now, I have to crawl around the cutting room floor and watch the clips of forgotten footage detailing their pasts so I can understand their current motivations. While this can be highly entertaining, sometimes I do wish I could just scream "WHY??" and get an answer.

My characters are blithely ignorant of me (or perhaps they just ignore me.) When a new main character appears (not one who walks onto the screen of an already playing story, but a shiny new idea) it is often like being only half awake. Maybe I'll hear snatches of dialogue or get a couple second long images of something really cool, but everything is fuzzy around the edges, and it takes time to tune in. For me, there is never a grand entrance where a character walks into my mind and just tells me her story (though that sounds terribly nice). No, the characters move into my brain, paint their setting on the walls, and then act out their story without breaking the fourth wall.

I've said before that this or that character 'isn't talking to me', but after reading Nikki's post, I realize that means something slightly different to me from her definition (though the end result for both of us is the same.) What I mean is that the curtain call has gone out, but the character has not shown up on stage, or he does show up but has pulled a prima donna and is leaning against the backdrop, pouting. Nikki, I get the feeling, really does mean her character stopped talking. Again, same result, different experience.

I'll wrap up with that, but I also want to expand on Nikki's questions: When character's make a first appearance in your mind, how does that initial introduction tend to go? Do your characters talk to you? Or are you only an observer? Also, I'd love to hear more people chime in on if they are listeners or watchers. Anyone out there both? Maybe you see some scenes and are told others. Something else entirely?

Happy Hump day everyone!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Phoning It In Or Watching It All Unfold

I've always been kind of fascinated with how other writers come up with their stories. Not the incredibly impossible "where do you get your ideas?" question, which I don't think anyone can actually answer with anything other than "everywhere". More, once you have the idea, "how does a story take shape in your head?" How does it go from the random light bulb flicked on by the muse to something coherent and beautiful filling up the pages?

In my experience, there are two types of writers. Those who have the story told to them by a character (or sometimes by a few characters) and those who watch it like a movie playing in their head and just scramble to get it all down on paper.

I am a listener. A character moves into my head, plunks down on a squashy old sofa, and then proceeds to ramble endlessly about their life. They call me up, chatting away until the cell battery dies about random, sometimes incomprehensible things (which will sound familiar to any of you who've ever talked to me on the phone) and I struggle to take dictation, snatching at every word in case it turns out to be important later.

As with anything else, there are plusses and minuses to being a listener.

On the positive side of things, I never have to worry about what a character was thinking when something went down. I don't usually struggle to figure out what a character would say or do in a certain situation. (If I am struggling with that, I know I'm really blocked and it's time to break out the meditation.) I don't have to worry about figuring out their backstory or analyzing their wants and needs. They're there, in my head. I just have to ask them.

Oh, yeah, the character interview is my best friend.

On the other hand though, characters tend to be very self-absorbed. They don't notice what other people are doing unless it directly impacts them. They also don't stop to smell the roses very often. Or notice what's out the window next to them. Or pay much attention to the scenery at all. If you're familiar with the EDITS system, this means that I get a lot of yellow, and struggle to find even the vaguest hint of green.

At times when I'm begging for green and despairing my overabundance of yellow, I'm jealous, horribly, irrationally jealous, of the watchers.

Watchers see the scenes in their head like a movie. A couple of my critique partners are watchers and when I listen to them talk about the way they work through a scene, I am struck by that crazy the-grass-is-always-greener (oh, no pun intended there!) kind of envy. Their stories don't come in as a monologue over a sometimes crackly connection. They see it all in full-color, high-action cinema form.

Again, there are plusses and minuses though.

Setting? Check! Action and stage direction? Check! Dialogue? Check! Internalization and motivation? Um. . . not so much. Unless they're lucky enough to be watching a movie with a voiceover at the time. (Those are kind of annoying in real movies, but I imagine must be very much appreciated in muse-movies.) Watchers have to work at the whys. They have to look at the reactions and puzzle out the backstory to find out what's really going on. "What were you thinking?" is a popular question, I imagine, in the character interview.

I say that to my characters a lot too, but usually shouted in a frustrated, you're-killing-my-plot-with-your-damn-antics! kind of a way. The watchers probably sound more curious and interested when they say it.

So what are you? A listener? A watcher? Something else entirely that I just haven't had the benefit of encountering yet?

Friday, October 2, 2009

Dialoguing It Out

I am a solitary type of writer. A hermit writer, if you will. And yet, even hermits need to go trading goatskins for matches and toilet paper (this hermit has a delicate bum, thank you very much).

Away from the metaphor a bit, and moving to reality, there are times when I need to talk about my various attempts at scribbling to other people not already in my head. Those are some of the most difficult conversations!

A lot of the difficulty stems from the fact that they aren't in my head. The people I'm talking to have no idea of the chunks of backstory I'm dealing with, and they don't immediately understand the motivations of my characters. But why should they?

I'm asking them to talk about characters who don't exist outside of my grey matter. When I think of Taliesin, I know exactly how she puts her hand on her hip, and the tilt of her head. I know which of Absinthe's jokes made Dace laugh even when he is angry enough to ask for his key back. How can people _know_ what I'm talking about?

Part of me concludes that I just shouldn't dialogue about these things with the uninitiated. The more sense-filled part of me admits that if I can't dialogue about these things with the uninitiated, and make them understand where my characters are coming from, if I can't get them to love Simon and his complaining as much as I do, then do I really know my characters as much as I think I do?

What do you think? Let's chat.