The Heart of the Story

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In the Character Module of DIY MFA 101, Gabriela postulates that, even if there are many characters of great importance, there is actually only one protagonist in a story. Of course there are exceptions, but this tends to be the rule. My first inclination was to reject this statement. After all, almost every one of my stories has a pair of central main characters: Ryn and Scion for Ravens and Roses; Samuel and Amaris for Seahawks and Storms; Nathaniel and Shakti for Courting the Moon; Asa and Tal for Faylinn; and Melyin and Ciar for Rinamathair.
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Crazy May

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Jorge Cham at PHD Comics (07/28/2014)

 

Maybe all this pollen in the air has addled my brain, but it seems like May 2018 has been the month for me to engage in some crazy writer shenanigans. Three, to be exact:

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New Film Review Site Is Live!

Thought is the parent of the deed.

— Thomas Carlyle

After mulling for a few days over the question of whether or not I should keep publishing film reviews on The Cat’s Cradle, I decided to go ahead and make a new, separate site for them.

I present to you:

(Heh, that didn’t take long for me to decide, now did it?)

I’ve been writing reviews about various topics and media that are obliquely related to noveling, but these have been spread over several sites from 2012 and on. I won’t be removing those reviews from their original sites, and I will probably continue to post some reviews (mostly for books) on The Cat’s Cradle. However, I want to keep my regular writing-related posts on The Cat’s Cradle, which will still be published every other Monday. Any reviews posted on or copied to Second Unit Reviews, and you can expect a post every Friday for the next few months as I collect, edit, and republish collected content. All previously published reviews will have a link to the original post and the date it was originally written. This will include reviews of the Star Wars and Marvel movies which up until now could only be found on my private Facebook, but will now be shared with all of you! Once I’ve caught up on the old content, then posts may become more sporadic since I can then write about whatever catches my fancy any time I choose. After all, the point of Second Unit Reviews is to have a fun, informal place to geek out. (I will do my best not to let this shiny new toy interfere with my regular writing responsibilities!)

So, if anyone is interested in my screen-rants and fangirling about movies, TV shows, comic books, anime, and video games, please be sure to check out, follow, like, share, and otherwise enjoy Second Unit Reviews!

Fluff and Fairies

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I’ve been feeling cold and unmotivated for quite a while, so today you folks get more of a fluff piece than anything really deep or serious.

For National Novel Editing Month in March and the April edition of Camp NaNoWriMo, I’ve been working on a Young Adult (YA) fantasy novel that I’m currently calling “Faylinn,” which is the name of the world in which the story is set. (Like with Rinamathair, the name of the world is the title of the work-in-progress until I find something better.) This is a different experience from my other writing projects because it’s a hybrid. It isn’t being written completely from scratch like Mariner Sequence, but it also isn’t a fan fiction outline that got revamped and then written from scratch. Faylinn is based on an already-complete piece of fan fiction, but I’m swapping out character names and adjusting the plot and world to be its own thing. I am also generating new content, but at the same time, I’m rereading a preexisting piece of work and doing major cuts and rewrites to it. Maybe that isn’t the best project to choose for Camp NaNoWriMo… but I just can’t do Mariner Sequence justice right now. I don’t want to spend all of my writing time on stories that aren’t as near and dear to my heart, but I also know when I’m not in a fit state for a particular story. So, fluff it is.
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The Power of Headcanon

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I recently went to see Black Panther with some friends, and if you haven’t gone yet, you need to reevaluate your priorities because it’s fantastic. *ahem* Anyway… as we were leaving the theater, one friend noted that during the very emotional scenes between T’Challa and his father T’Chaka on the Ancestral Plane, they noticed that T’Chaka had an old (but still very obvious) facial injury.** Since the characters were interacting in a spiritual realm, my friend wondered why this injury was still present since spirits don’t have physical bodies and therefore wouldn’t have those imperfections. Almost immediately, I commented that a person probably couldn’t spend years as King of Wakanda and the Black Panther without suffering some kind of accumulated spiritual damage, which then manifested in the Ancestral Plane. My friends just kind of stared at me and said that I had the strongest headcanon of anyone they’d met.

You see, while that explanation for T’Chaka’s appearance in the Ancestral Plane seemed perfectly reasonable to me, there was nothing in the movie itself to suggest that was the case. My internal headcanon and pulled from all my fictional sources and compiled them into an explanation. Actually, I’d come up with two possible explanations on the spot, one being the accumulated damage from a life of service and suffering. The other was that it was simply T’Challa’s perception of the spirit, giving it a familiar face. Kind of like how Anakin Skywalker’s Force-ghost appeared at the end of Return of the Jedi as a forty-something man rather than as his twenty-year-old self, who would have been completely unfamiliar to Luke. (No, I do not accept the insertion of Hayden Christensen into the remastered editions of Star Wars. There’s some headcanon for you!) Both of these plausible explanations occurred to me within seconds of my friend’s question, and I hadn’t even noticed until they pointed it out.
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The Problem with Paranormal Romance

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I like fantasy. I like paranormal stories. I like the Regency subset of romances. But when a romance is placed in a paranormal or fantastical setting with characters who are not human or only part human, it tends to fall apart. Not all the time, of course, but often enough to irritate me.  Too often the fantasy element becomes a short-handed excuse to get to the sex. Magical explanations cut through a lot of the natural uncertainty, trials, and discomfort that comes with forming and navigating a relationship. It’s an easy out. True love, impossibly orgasmic sex, lack of self control… magic is used to exacerbate romantic myths, justify a lot of shady behavior, and mask unhealthy relationships.

Let me be clear: I am not against having magical or paranormal elements in romances. I’m also not opposed to having romance or sex in fantasy stories. There are all kinds of interesting combinations one can create. I’m also aware that these are indeed fantasies; they are not going to reflect real life. Most don’t even come close. Escapism is nice, and erotica has its place on the bookshelves. The problem arises when magic is used to disguise lazy writing and perpetuate harmful myths.

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The Scrutiny of a Thousand Eyes

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I am not quite sure how to broach this topic. On the one hand, I think it is a legit concern. But on the other hand, it also sounds like privileged whining. I’ll leave it up to you to decide which it is, if the truth lies somewhere in between, with both, or with neither.

I’ve been having trouble working on Seahawks and Storms. I wrote the requisite 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo 2017, but most of it is poorly written garbage. I’m not feeling or hearing the characters like I should or have for other projects. And for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why. I know I haven’t spent as much time with Samuel and Amaris as I have with Ryn and Scion. But even then I had something to work with. Now I just sit and stare and pull them through motions that don’t feel real. As I wrote, they were becoming less and less fleshed out rather than more. At this point, I’ve pretty much shelved the project and moved on to another.

Then I remembered something I saw at WDC 2017. There was a project going on at the conference called “Vulnerability is Sexy.” There was a wall of black paper and a submission box. You could write a secret on a slip of paper, put it in the box, and then artists from the project wrote the secret on the wall in an artistic, illustrated way, kind of like an illuminated manuscript. When it was done, you could see all of these secrets without ever knowing who they belonged to. Many of the secrets resonated with me, but one in particular stood out:
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DIY MFA Book Club: Prompt #10-12

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The final round! This is the third installment of my  DIY MFA Book Club responses, containing Prompts 10 and 11, plus 12 (which is more of a celebratory note than a prompt, but whatevs.) As I mentioned last time, there was a Prompt #9, but I skipped it because it depends on reading Gabriela Pereira‘s book DIY MFAWhile I have posted answers to these prompts in DIY MFA’s Facebook group “Word Nerds Unite,” I’m also posting this last set of prompts and slightly more in-depth answers here on The Cat’s Cradle:

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DIY MFA Book Club: Prompt #5-8

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Welcome to the second installment of DIY MFA Book Club responses! This round contains Prompts 5-8. There was a Prompt #9 on January 26th, but because it depends on reading Gabriela Pereira‘s book DIY MFA (which I have not read) so I’m skipping that one. While I have posted answers to these prompts in DIY MFA’s Facebook group “Word Nerds Unite,” I’m also posting the second set of prompts and slightly more in-depth answers here on The Cat’s Cradle:

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DIY MFA Book Club: Prompt #1-4

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Being a hermit of the literary kind, I tend to not join things. But I’d enjoyed Gabriela Pereira’s panel “Rock Your Revisions” at the Writers Digest Annual Conference last August and joined the mailing the list for her online newsletter. So I got an email announcing the DIY MFA Book Club starting January 8th. I mulled it over for a while and decided, “Why not?” Get prompts to share stories about writing with other writers? Could be fun! I signed up and got the first prompt on the 8th, the second on January 10th, the third on January 12th, and the fourth on January 15th. While I have posted answers to these prompts in DIY MFA’s Facebook group “Word Nerds Unite,” I decided to include both the first set of prompts and slightly more in-depth answers here on The Cat’s Cradle:

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