29 Things on Leap Day

leap day 

1.       My elementary school was down the block from the public library. After school I’d go there and “volunteer,” usually alphabetizing books in the children’s and YA section. I found Prince Caspian there one day and checked it out. From then on, Narnia has been my favorite children’s book.

2.       I took Typing as a senior in high school. My friend, Lisa, and I were the only two seniors in the class. When we’d finished our daily lessons, we started writing a serial based on our childhood nicknames – Petey and Pickles. I’m not telling you which one was me.

3.       I wrote a poem for my senior yearbook – an extremely angsty, pathos-ridden poem which only a melodramatic teen could write. Unfortunately, it’s preserved for all time. Oy.

4.       I won two tickets to a Pirates baseball game on my birthday. My good friend Linda – who shared my birthday – assumed I’d be taking her. Unfortunately, I was not allowed anywhere by myself, even in high school, so I went with my dad. Linda was not pleased. Neither was I.

5.       In college, I wrote another poem. I thought it was okay. Eventually, I showed it to my sister and she gave it to her husband, Mike, a musician and song-writer. He set it to music. It was one of the best gifts I’ve ever been given.

6.       Mike is a writer, too. He’s written fabulous stories, but the only published work – for now – is a Dungeons and Dragons module called “Journey to the Rock.” Yep, we’re a geeky family and proud of it.

7.       My first roommate, Pat, owned an electric typewriter – holy cow! Awesome! I “borrowed it” the first week of school to write my fantasy novel on and didn’t give it back for months. What homework?

8.       My then boyfriend – now husband – Rich and I took some classes together in college. One was Creative Writing. I found out he has a wicked sense of irony and I don’t like people critiquing my work. Nothing much has changed.

9.       Fan fic. Yes, I wrote it when I was a teen. Mostly Mod Squad and Star Trek. Some Dark Shadows. I remember the blue-lined notebook paper and how my hand would cramp. Good times.

10.   I was so happy when I was finally allowed to stay up until 11 PM in high school. Mostly because Starsky and Hutch was on at 10. Oh, how I loved that show. My love of bromances – strong male friendships – was born in that red Torino. More fan fic followed.

11.   Marriage is hard. We made a lot of mistakes. But we could always bond over watching Kolchak on Friday nights or B movies on Saturdays. Make that C movies. Or perhaps D. Anyone remember “Battle Beyond the Stars?” Fan fic usually happened before I fell asleep those nights.

12.   I kept writing, but, once my daughter was born, it turned into ABC coloring books. One English/Spanish coloring book. And I found out my husband could tell a great story sitting at the top of the stairs with our little girl beside him.

13.   Computers. Home computers. With a delete and insert key. You have no idea if you’ve grown up with them what they’ve done for writers.

14.   Seriously, I used to type my brother-in-law’s stories (on a typewriter). One little mistake and you had to start over. There was no “repagination” button.

15.   I still use journals, though. Now that the Internet is a thing, it can be distracting working on the computer. Facebook games keep calling me.

16.   I probably have 9-15 journals stashed around the house and in my purse. Few are completely filled. As a certain Tok’ra once said, I enjoy the sensory feel of writing.

17.   And I can do it during events a bit less obtrusively than it would be to pull out a big laptop. Like at baseball games. Or at church. Don’t tell anyone.

18.   We moved to Virginia in 1996. We started a Youth Group at our tiny little church. And I started writing Murder Mysteries. Rebecca, Elizabeth, Alicia – none of those would have been completed without you.

19.   If you ever try to write a Murder Mystery for 25 people with characters, plots, schemes, and clues, you’ll find out NOT to TRY IT. Especially when, once you’ve handed out the clues, you’re leaving it up to the others to make sure they reveal them.

20.   But the bunch of us sitting at Dairy Queen talking about which poison to use to murder the cheerleader was hilarious.

21.   I always thought they were way too easy. And then I found out my mind isn’t like others’. Hardly anyone ever got the right answer. I found that out when I wrote an actual mystery novel. I hope to revisit it someday and get it right.

22.   Fan fic found me again after I started teaching. There it was, glorious and welcoming, on the Internet. People liked the things I liked. Talked about the things I wanted to talk about. Fandom. It’s a beautiful thing.

23.   SAVE DANIEL JACKSON! Google it.

24.   I’ve gone back and deleted some of my first attempts. Bad. Very, very bad. But, boy, did I learn a lot. From those critiques I still cringe at. From others who drew me into their stories and taught me how to do it. From talking with other writers, some of whom I actually got to meet in person and not just as electrons on a screen.

25.   So, fan fic. It still happens. It’s like comfort food for my psyche when my original novel is breaking my heart. I love fan fic and I always will. You should try it. I hope to be reading and writing it forever.

26.   Writing is hard. Pulling words from thin air and putting them on paper isn’t always the hard part. Getting them to affect your readers the way you want them to? Yeah, that’s the ridiculously difficult part.

27.   I know what I want to say. What I want to reveal about characters, plots, events, schemes. I have it outlined and I know what my MC is about. I know his past and his future. I know the world he inhabits. That doesn’t mean my telling you about it is effective.

28.   Finishing my first draft was an accomplishment. Amazing. It felt like winning. So, when I heard my first readers’ feedback and went back to re-read it myself….

29.   …it also felt like losing. Like failure. Because it needs so much work. I’m dealing with that now. Revising. Adding. Deleting. Changing how the entire book is written. And it’s hard.

 

So, here we are, today, leap day, 2016. Time to take a leap – of faith. Of confidence. To keep trying.

Whatever you’re working on, I hope you can take that same leap, too.

Chris Carter Should Know Better

Show, don’t tell.

It’s one of the golden rules of writing. Every student has heard it. Every writer has had it said to them in a critique. Don’t ‘tell’ the reader what’s going on, let him experience it with the character, through sensory words, thoughts, and feelings. Don’t write, “He was angry.” “She felt so much love in her heart.” Don’t describe every step of the chef making his famous marinara sauce or every turn between JFK and the Empire State Building.

They call it lazy writing. Unprofessional. Immature.

Hemingway explained the concept as the “Iceberg Theory,” or the theory of omission. He described it like this:

“If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.”

It takes practice to balance description, dialogue, and actions so that the reader is drawn through the lens of the page, so he feels himself caught up in every incident, standing alongside heroes and villains, lovers and losers. It’s not automatic – this kind of writing doesn’t come naturally to anyone. Don’t let anyone tell you that it is not hard work. That this kind of writing simply flows from your pen or your fingers and appears, perfectly formed, on the blank page.

I wish.

Instead, what the new writer usually delivers is a lot of telling. This happened and then this happened and then that happened, and here’s a few (hundred) pages of exposition that explains it all. With a great beta, experience, and practice, it gets better. We read great writers and emulate them. We see how they do it. We listen to those who are telling us the truth. And then our stories begin to live and breathe, and our readers happily lose themselves in our prose.

We expect professional writers to do better than our fan fic writing friends. At least I do. They’re getting paid, after all. Some of them quite a lot. They get the front-and-center shelf space in every book store. They get advances and six-figured contracts. Their names are known and revered – people pay to pre-order their books, and rightfully so. Doesn’t cream rise to the top?

Some say the top these days is in Hollywood. That television and movie writing is the writing of the future. And, come on, ‘showing not telling’ should be a piece of cake with a visual medium, right? Actors and sets and action sequences? Tearful confessions and wild love scenes? Colors and sounds don’t have to be described, the way the hero’s eyes crinkle up at the corners when he smiles, the way the woman puts on her suit and her stilettoes like a suit of armor. It’s right there! Right in front of the viewer! So much easier, right?

Then please, dear reader, explain to me why the current crop of television/movie writers cannot stop telling instead of showing? Why are tens of minutes wasted on endless exposition, on anchor-like dialogue that drags down the pacing and suspense like lead weights? On backstory that is barely comprehensible and not the least bit interesting?

I give you, by way of example, the new X-Files. If bad writing, bad stories and fan fic and books are recognized by telling not showing, then, by the same scale, the X-Files were a disaster. Regardless of hyper ridiculous “plots,” what ailed this much vaunted re-boot was the repetitive use of conversations between Mulder, Scully, Einstein, the CSM, and others to try to explain to the viewers what was going on. (Which, we both know, was impossible because it didn’t make sense in any way. Really. Horrible.)

Mulder talks to Scully at the farm. Scully talks to Einstein at the hospital. The CSM talks to everyone in both flashbacks and real time. Talk talk talk talk talk. I’m sorry, Chris Carter, but if all of these discussions happened in fan fic, you would be pointing and laughing. Oh, silly fan fic writers. You don’t know what you’re doing, do you?

Unfortunately, Chris is not alone. Major Crimes – another favorite – is using up so much of its tiny five episode winter arc in telling the viewer about a ten-year-old crime and introducing characters who will drone on and on about it ad nauseum.

Criminal Minds. It’s always been a bit talky, what with explaining the profile every episode, but in the latest seasons, it has become talk talk talk assume assume assume talk talk assume conjecture idea! Eureka! He’s a florist who was raised in a cage as a monkey!

Lazy writing. That’s what we’re told. Book and fan fic writers are criticized and laughed at for being less than professional. For telling. For having too much exposition.

Let’s hold the so-called professionals to the same standards.

Sherlock Holmes – A History

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My husband and I are fan’s of Sherlock in any form and are delighted to help celebrate his birthday. Many happy returns!

Sherlocks Home

shahistory

6th January 1854 has long been held by Holmesians as the birth date of the Great Detective. Happy birthday, Sherlock Holmes! You don’t look a day over 260. To celebrate the occasion, we’re running through a timeline of Holmes’ incredible long life, from the birth of his creator Arthur Conan Doyle to today, where he stands as one of the most-beloved fictional characters ever.

1859: Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle is born in Edinburgh, Scotland.

1877: Now a medical student, Doyle first meets Dr Joseph Bell, renowned for his amazing powers of observation. He later admitted that Bell was the primary inspiration for Holmes.

1887: The first Sherlock Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet, is published.

1891: ‘A Scandal In Bohemia’, the first Sherlock Holmes short story, is published in The Strand Magazine. More so than the previous two novels, this properly makes Holmes and Watson household names.

1893: Wanting…

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My NaNoWriMo Start: Stay Calm

And it begins. In considering NaNoWriMo this year, take P.H. Solomon’s advice. Write. Stop. Rescue lost dogs. Kiss your kids. Live your life.

Archer's Aim

NanowrimoSo I got started writing a novel for NaNoWriMo yesterday. The White Arrow is underway! It exciting to have the third book of The Bow of Hart Saga in progress . How did I do, well look over to my sidebar and you’ll see that I wrote almost 1,800 words on the first day!

But that was not without some challenges from the start. I got up later than I wanted and we had an unexpected visitor for much of the day in the form of a dog wandering our busy street. We got a call about a German Shepherd being loose in the area since we have 2 and someone though it might be ours. We thought it was someone else’s but it wasn’t. So we took the dog and set out finding the owners. It turns out this young dog is a serial escape artist and eventually got…

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The Rudog Absurdity

rudogResearch. Fascinating, isn’t it? History, biography, geography, language, clothing, I could go on and on. In fact, I do go on and on. Sometimes I use up so much of my time researching that I lose the sense of my story; I follow link after link to site after site and take pages of notes on the cultures of our world that are paralleled in my new one.

It’s funny, I said as much to my husband last night and he smiled and replied, “Don’t forget, you’re not a historian, you’re a story-teller.”

My newly retired husband, my left-brained, linear thinker, brilliant manager, non-writer husband practically knocked me off my feet. Or at least off of my writer high-horse.

After he watched me pick up my jaw from the floor he lifted his latest copy of Medieval History magazine. “There’s an interview in here with Bernard Cornwell, the author of The Last Kingdom. When people asked him why his story isn’t perfectly historically accurate, that was his answer.”

My only response could be: “Of course. That is exactly right.”

Tell the story. Tell my story. Tell my characters’ stories. That is the essence of good writing. Be focused on serving the story, not on details like what shoes they wear or how the Greek islands influenced city-state development. In my tale, I must tell Matthias’ story. Simon’s story. The story of a broken child and a broken world and how he copes.

That is not to say that research is not important. It is. It’s vital that you understand the world your characters live in. That you know about their daily habits, family structure, means of transportation. That you understand it so well that you have no reason to spend pages and pages of your story on those things. Certainly Matthias understands how to go about life in his home of Iconia. He understands the religion, the culture, the language, the assumptions and expectations. It’s change that rocks him.

In preparation for next month’s NaNoWriMo, I’m closely and carefully re-reading Orson Scott Card’s How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy. His take on world-building is intriguing. And humbling. He speaks of idea nets which catch up all of his thoughts/ideas/hints about his fantasy world. About understanding the cost of magic, the evolution of culture, the need to make rules for your world that can underlay your story so solidly that they never have to be listed outright.

And he talks about the art and science of writing alien/foreign/utterly new languages. That’s where my ‘rudog’ comes in.

In my second draft of my novel, I inserted a scene where Matthias talks about how the sheep are reacting with terror. He’s supposed to feed them – that’s his morning chore – but they are being weird. As if, I say, a rudog is chasing them. Because, you know, Matthias’ world is our world, just a little sideways, with alternate history/geography. So, words would change. Some a lot. Some a little. Rudog. Get it?

My daughter, one of my extremely valued first readers, simply looked at me with one raised eyebrow. “Really? Rudog? You couldn’t just say wild dog? Because this is stupid.”

Ouch. But, fine, I changed it. Grudgingly. And then, surprise, surprise, in reading O. S. Card’s book, I find this:

“Nothing is more tacky than to have a bunch of foreign-sounding words thrown into a story for no better reason than to have something that sounds foreign. James Blish called such needlessly coined words ‘shmeerps.’ If it looks like a rabbit and acts like a rabbit, calling it a shmeerp doesn’t make it alien.”

“If mugubasala means bread, then say bread! Only use the made-up stuff when it is used for a concept for which there is no English word. If your viewpoint character thinks that mugubasala is nothing but bread, then later discovers that it is prepared through a special process that releases a drug from the native grain, and that drug turns out to be the source of the telepathic power that the natives are suspected of having, then you are fully justified in calling the bread mugubasala. It really is different, and deserved the added importance that a foreign name bestows.”

After I chuckled about the fact that Card must be a Stargate fan (Cassa! It’s addictive space corn!) I had to sit back and re-think my use of language. There are still some foreign words and phrases in Matthias’ world, but they are based on real Earth languages. This is where research shouldn’t be stinted – I must make the effort to use these foreign (to me) words and phrases correctly.

So, no more rudogs for me. No more half-hearted attempts to suddenly insert weirdness in the form of bizarre words. Bread is bread. Rabbits are rabbits. And wild dogs are wild dogs. No more panic about getting my twist on history exactly right. I mean, how could it be? It’s alternate history. If, at some point in the future I am blessed enough to have a best-selling book made into a TV show like Mr. Cornwell, and people care enough to ask me about my world-building and lack of historical accuracy, I’ll probably be so excited that I’ll be much less succinct and powerful in my reply than he was. Heck, I’ll be grinning. Dancing.

Why? Because I’m a story-teller. And other people would now be my story-readers and –sharers. And how exciting would that be?

NaNoWriMo Preparation with Scrivener Pt. 2: Try These 6 Organizing Tips

Fantastic advice by writer P.H. Solomon on preparing for next month’s NaNoWriMo with Scrivener. Right now is a great time to organize your mind and your project so that, when Nov 1st rolls around, you can start the important thing: WRITING!

Archer's Aim

Scriv New ProjectScrivener is a powerful writing tool. I write about it weekly with tips and usage ideas. To read more of my posts click the Scrivener tag or category at the end of the page.

As I wrote last week, I’m preparing for NaNoWriMo and suggested some features of Scrivener to think about using during next month’s writing scramble. But what should you be doing to prepare with Scrivener. Here are some tips to getting started:

1. Go ahead and create your project. If you haven’t created one, just click on File and then on New Project. Choose Fiction on the left and then Novel. Browse to the folder where you are going to save your book project and then give it a name. Why create the project now? Simple. You should use the project to work on your most, if not all, of your preparation. How will you do that?…

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5 Talking Points of the SFC

1. The SFC, the strong female character must be, first and foremost, a strong character. Gender aside, she must be interesting. Intelligent, courageous, and likeable. Sympathetic but not simpering. Give her darkness, yes. Give her stupid decisions and a weakness for liquor or fighting or pride, but give this character life. A heart. We want to be her. We want to know her. We are inspired by her. A unique being who carries the weight of the story, the plot, the universe on her shoulders.

This character is not a fill-in until the right man comes along. She is absolutely necessary to the story you are telling, and she is interesting enough for the reader/viewer to want to take this journey with her, to see where it will lead. To see how she is changed by her world, her trials, and her attempts at happiness. Man or woman, this main character must be compelling because the character is written that way, not because of gender

For a writer, developing our characters is difficult. It is painstaking and mind-numbing. It is joyful and uplifting when we feel like we get it right, when the character breathes and lives and acts almost without our pencil touching the paper. And it is heartbreaking when we get it wrong; when she lies there flat on the page, mumbling about sparkly vampire boys and the green-skinned man that got away.

2. A strong female character must be female. Note, this is a necessary parallel and partner to number 1. However female-ness is defined in your universe, you will find her. Notice I did not say “ladylikeness” or “properness” or “femininity.” I’m talking about women being different from men. Genetically. Intellectually. Motivationally. Similarities, yes. Parallels, yes. Shared goals and talents and desires, yes, yes, and yes.

Look around you. Look at the men and women you know. Now look closer. She does not think, talk, walk, move, eat, act or interact like a man. Her silences are not man’s silences. Her words may be the same words, but they are put together in her way.  And here’s where some of the problems occur: the strong, female character cannot ever be a cardboard cut-out with boobs and a cape. If, gender forgotten, her entire backstory, motivations, movements, and methods would fit into Superman’s suit (with a little modification), then she is not a strong character, she is a token female.

Can she break through stereotypes? Can a woman become a fighter in a world of washerwomen? Can a princess turn into a knight? Can she become the slayer of monsters rather than the damsel in distress? Well, of course. But, if she is written well, the princess is still a woman and a knight, and unashamed. Do we really want our women to become men? Why?

BTW, we’re hoping our strong male characters are busy breaking stereotypes and all that over in their stories, too.

3. She is strong. Mentally, physically, emotionally, or spiritually or some combination of them. She is not perfect because that would be boring.  Maybe she’s a fighter. Maybe she’s a wizard. Maybe she’s a hacker or an engineer, or believe it or not, a wife and mom. Something in her life has forged her spirit, has given her the wisdom or talent or mindset to take up the hero’s task, to strap on the sword or the book, to jump on the horse or in the minivan and DO IT. DO the THING.

That means this character is not “completed” by the men around her. She does not base her every wish, desire, goal, and purpose on her relationships. She has relationships. She has friends. She saves them or they save her. Sometimes she has to stand up to her “friends,” to walk away from them, to get the job done. And, sometimes, she loses them, too. To death, to anger, to change. And she’ll mourn. And cry. And grow. And go on.

She’ll survive. Because there is a greater calling that has its grip on her soul.

4. Emotions do not make her weak. This is something I’d like to drum into the heads of those who are writing male characters as well. If your character is a hero, a fighter, a righter of wrongs, you are allowed to paint them with more emotions than the standard two: anger and bitterness. And, you are also permitted to give them more motivations than vengeance and survival. People have emotions. They laugh, they cry, they punch you in the face. We each are equipped with the whole kit and kaboodle of the feels. Use them wisely.

Because, we are not Spock.

No woman (or man) can go into a battle without discipline and control. No professional athlete will allow emotions to blot out all of her training. But control and emotional emptiness are not the same thing. Tears do not weaken us when they are honest and spontaneous. Laughter doesn’t turn us into giggling Bieber fans. While we like our female heroes snarky and sarcastic, there is plenty of room for the women who are forthright and loving.

Two examples:

Willow Rosenberg. Sweet, funny, self-deprecating Willow is a total bad-ass with magic. She can flay a human with a thought or empower a whole bunch of slayer-wannabees. But she’s also loving. Caring. She gets hurt and she cries. She makes mistakes. She owns them, mourns them, and goes on. She is strong.

Winifred “Fred” Burkle. A graduate student in physics, Fred is sucked into an interdimensional portal and must survive on her own in Pylea for years. She’s enslaved. Beaten. But she survives. And, in her weakness, she saves the hero and his friends and gives them a way of escape. Fred is smart. She’s nervous. She gets excited and has self-confidence issues. She cries. But, in the last season, when Fred absorbs the soul of a godlike female and becomes uber-powerful, ridiculously strong, she becomes so much less interesting.

5. She is more than her emotions. More than her female-ness. A strong female character might be a mom, or a girlfriend, or a wife, a queen or a harlot, but that is not what defines her character. Her ability/proficiency at the sex or at having offspring does not make her strong. Her lack thereof does not make her weak. These are simply aspects of life, of her life, living among other people in whatever world she inhabits. She is the main character of her story and there will be other characters who show up along the way. Some may walk with her for a time as partners/lovers/spouses/children, but their very existence does not slam our hero into a box. These relationships round out her character, they enrich her world, they give her lessons to learn, but they are not to be used as labels, as slots to jam her into.

She’s not “the mom,” picking up after her weaker, clueless male colleagues. She’s not “the girlfriend,” perpetually worried about pairing up with someone. She’s not “the baby girl,” who must be catered to if she is not to fly apart. She’s not the “woeful barren one” who looks longingly at families with children because that will never be her.

BUT, she could be all these things at one time or another. If her story is a journey through life, one tiny aspect of it could be her internal sorrow over what she can’t have. If we see her moving, growing, becoming (ahem, I’m thinking ‘cookie dough’ here), especially from teen years when there are different motives and desires, and into a fully realized, fully baked adult, then these aspects of her character may surface. But they are not her whole story.

The SFC: Zoe Washburne. Lessa of Pern. Buffy Summers. Hermione Granger. Black Widow (before AoU). Sara Crewe. Matilda. Melinda May. Pippi Longstocking. Nancy Drew. Emma Peel.

These are my SFCs. Please, writers, creators, developers, and producers, may I have some more?