Today is the last day of my vacation. Yes, I took a vacation because the low-level but persistent stress of 2020 gets tough to deal with, and fortunately, I’m in a position to actually have and use some of that accrued time.
I kicked off my vacation with the #FCPLBookBall, a virtual library fundraiser where you make a monetary donation to the library to “attend” and then just sit and read all day. It was, in a word, glorious. I highly recommend curling up someplace quiet and comfy with one of those “10 hours of ocean waves” tracks from YouTube running in the background. Since I can’t go to the beach this year, this was the closest equivalent, and it actually worked very well:
I’m going to have to try to do something like this once a month or something, a dedicated “Read & Relaxation” day. It worked wonders to help calm and recenter myself. (Also, Saturday August 22nd was the Ray Bradbury Centennial, and there’s a Read-a-Thon of Fahrenheit 451 available to stream until September 5th if you want to check it out!)
If I learned anything from the agonizing months spent editing Courting the Moon, it’s that by the end of it you’ll have tossed out pretty much everything from the original draft (or two…) and have essentially started over from scratch. And it seems that I have to do the same thing with my YA fantasy novel Faylinn… only much earlier in the process.
“I do not play this instrument so well as I should wish to, but I have always supposed that to be my own fault because I would not take the trouble of practicing.”
— Elizabeth Bennett, from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Math is a language. It’s often referred to as the “universal language,” and many science fiction stories use math as the primary means of communication between humans and an alien intelligence. Stephen Spielberg’s film Close Encounters of the Third Kind uses music as the mathematical medium of communication. The number “3” plays an important role in the novel Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke and the film Mission to Mars. The right angles of geometry cause grand-mal seizures in the brilliant novel Blindsight, a story of first contact by Peter Watts. While sapient beings may have developed different linguistic concepts, counting and other mathematical concepts remain more or less the same. (At least with humans on Earth. Turns out the entire idea of using math to communicate with aliens is actually far more complicated.)
Characters who are good at math are usually stereotyped as cold, analytical thinking machines with poor social skills, hyperfocus towards their given subject of interest, and a lack of empathy or connection with fellow human beings. Sometimes this is played for laughs like in the TV show The Big Bang Theory. Sometimes it is played for sympathy, with the implication that they live lonely, unfulfilled lives because of their obsession with numbers and logic. Or it is portrayed as sinister. Math is used by evil geniuses to create weapons of destruction like Lex Luthor, or creates sentient killer robots who consider emotion an abomination like Skynet and its Terminators. Usually these math-centric characters are male; if a woman gets into the role, she is portrayed as unfeeling and unfeminine who needs to be softened by the sweet madness of romantic love. It’s rare to see a character who likes or who is good at math presented as a real, normal, functional human being. Continue reading “The Neglected Language”→
Imagine that you have a lump of stone. It may be a very pretty stone. It may have fascinating gradations in texture or color. It may have an interesting suggestion of shape or form. But ultimately it’s still just a lump of stone. You have to sand and grind and chip away at it until it becomes something recognizable without destroying the whole thing in the process.
I’m finding that this is rather what editing a book is like. This is the first time in my life that I’ve gotten this deep into the process of Writing (with a capital W), so this is all new to me. Of course, I’ve got several books on how to edit, but as usual I just plowed ahead and tried figuring out how to do it on my own without reading any of them. I suppose that’s not entirely unexpected; each writer has their own way of doing things after all. So I wanted share how I’ve personally proceeded with the writing process on this book. Obviously my way isn’t the only way and I doubt it’s the best or most efficient way. But at least it’s an example of one possible path that you can take.
So, this is how the last 16 months spent with All’s Fair have gone:
They say that timing is everything. While it may vary in prominence and importance for a story, it’s always a good idea for a writer to know how long it takes for things to happen. Having the ages of characters and timeline of events written down and referenced periodically during the rewriting process will help you maintain both continuity and pacing.
Note that I said, “during the rewriting process.” Timelines and continuity checks are part of the many cycles of editing. Unless you are one of those ultra-detailed planners who lays all of the groundwork before picking up a pen, a timeline isn’t something you should be using until after at least the first draft is complete.
For example, when I write, I usually have a month or so of planning where I pull together a basic plot line, character descriptions, and overall tone of the work. In the character descriptions, I put at least an estimate of how old they are supposed to be. This can fluctuate later, but usually only within a few years of the initial age-setting. As I write my first draft, I have a rough idea of how much time passes between events. It’s a day or two from their initial meeting to their first fight, a week until their marriage, a few hours until that important breakfast, and they spend two or three months in this locale. These aren’t set in stone, nor do they have to be 100% accurate at this stage. In Draft 1, it doesn’t matter so much if I say it only took a week to travel 200 miles on foot or something like that. All I need are estimates, if that, to give a basic temporal framework. Continue reading “Temporal Frameworks”→
“But people don’t act like that.” [W. Somerset] Maugham pointed to the grave dangers coiled in that treacherous phrase. Our demand for probability grows more and more stringent. We balk at coincidence and accident. We invariably expect the characters who are presented to act like ourselves. “People don’t act like that?” True enough — MOST people don’t act like that. Your story is not ABOUT most people. The true enemy of your fiction is not improbability but imaginative unbelief.
— Stephen Koch, The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop: A Guide to the Craft of Fiction, (page 185)
As I’ve been working through my current draft of All’s Fair, there’s a certain element that keeps coming up that I think needs to be addressed: contrivance and coincidence.
We’ve all see or read stories where characters end up in exactly the right place at exactly the right time. Or they find what they need to beat the bad guy minutes before facing off in the final fight. Or they are about to die and rescue arrives just in the nick of time with no explanation of where they were and how they got there so fast. It’s more blatant in some stories than in others. When done badly, it can destroy the suspension of disbelief necessary to maintain a story. No writer wants that to happen to their story. Events are supposed to be seamless, flawless, inevitable. We want to present them in the most effective, realistic, and logical manner possible. We don’t want anything to seem contrived.
Well, I’ve some bad news for you: all stories are contrived.
Wow. I… haven’t written an entry in a while. In fact, I haven’t really posted anything online for at least a month. No blog entries, no Audio Editions, no #ThrowbackThursdays, no new fanfic chapters… I regret that last one, especially since I’d made a point to say I wouldn’t make my readers wait years for the completion of a fanfic.
But, obviously, I haven’t kept up with much of anything online. Because reasons:
The good news is, I have definitely reached the point with my novel, Ravens and Roses, where I have very little writing left to do. There are still a few missing scenes, some background information that needs to be hammered out, and a bunch of scene revisions… but for the most part, it’s ready for the next step. I have a manuscript ready to be edited. Go me!
It’s hard to believe that this is my 100th post for The Cat’s Cradle. So, after some consideration, I decided to make a special announcement:
I am now offering editing services! I’ve always liked editing. It’s like polishing a gem, smoothing rough edges and cutting the facets. And I love taking a rough work and helping another writer improve upon it. Taking an unbiased view of your own work can be difficult, especially if you’ve been immersed in its world for months, even years. I am posting a list of the services I will offer below. I will also create an “Editing Services” page for easy future reference.
I have a Bachelor’s of Arts in English and have been an amateur editor for the better part of ten years. I am also a reader, a fantasy writer, and librarian. I can guarantee high-quality, detail-oriented results delivered in a timely and courteous fashion. Any questions or points to be negotiated? Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Developmental Editing (big picture review on pacing, flow, strengths and weaknesses of the work as a whole, major structural changes suggested)
Line Editing (points out specific places where the manuscript is particularly strong or weak and suggests changes)
Proofreading/Copyediting (punctuation, spelling, grammar, word choice, sentence structure, continuity errors)
I edit fiction novels, novellas, and short stories, specializing in science fiction and fantasy. Movie or stage scripts will be considered on a case-by-case basis. Nonfiction and technical submissions will not be accepted. I retain the right to decline any project.
** Unless otherwise specified by the client, I focus on Developmental and Line editing when I receive an assignment. If a manuscript has few large flaws, then proofreading/copyediting may be included.
…there’s always another Star Destroyer. The battle is never-ending. A victory for the Rebel Alliance, no matter how epic, doesn’t mean the end of the war. That’s a bit how I feel right now after finishing my 10,000-word submission for the Jim Henson Dark Crystal Author Quest. I feel like those cheering Rebels on Hoth right after they hear the announcement: “The first transport is away! The first transport is away!”
Yes, the first one made it through. And that feeling of victory when facing impossible odds is euphoric. But they have to try to get the rest through the blockade as well. And even if they make it off Hoth, the rest of the Empire is still out there, waiting for them.
This might not seem like a victory. After all, I’m just one among many. I have no idea what is going to happen next. Will my entry be considered? Accepted? Ultimately win or be rejected? I have no way of knowing. But I started writing my Dark Crystal entry 5 months ago. July 1, 2013, I used Camp NaNoWriMo to pound out half the novel. I kept writing all the way through September. October was sporadic writing followed by editing, then November was dedicated to my wonderful beta readers. Their feedback helped me chose what portion of the novel to send as my submission. I hit the “Submit Your Entry” button on November 30, exactly five months after starting this project.