Monday, February 25, 2013

Open Mic Monday

Image by JF Sebastian

I'll admit it, I'm copping out today. I'm cranky and tired and suffering from a sore throat and less than stellar sleep last night, so rather than complaining about the Oscars last night (We Saw Your Boobs--really? That's how you honor the leading ladies?), or meandering off on some other tangent, I'll turn it over to you. Anything on your mind?

Friday, February 22, 2013

'Write the Story You Want to Read'

When I started 'head writing' my guest post for Bonnee last week, I thought I was going to end up with something different than what she asked for. It started shading from 'why I write' to 'why I write what I write', but once I started really writing the post, I worked my way back to the original question. Sometimes things work out the way they're supposed to. Still, the the proverbial pump had been primed, and I was thinking a lot about why I write what I write.

A long time ago, I wrote a post about how ideas for me are usually the result of not one instantaneous blast of inspiration, but of several smaller 'mini-blasts' that kind of build on each other and make something bigger. Some weeks back I was reading a query letter on AW's query letter hell (the 'be brave' post came out of that one). Something in an exchange I had with the author got filed away in my brain for later use. So did a couple of other queries I've come across recently. Add in the thinking over the guest post for Bonnee, and things were starting to happen in the back room. Finally, while reading Catching Fire this past weekend, it all came together, and I had a new found understanding of the writer's proverb (adage? Aphorism?), Write the story you want to read.

It's a little embarrassing to admit, but when I first started hearing this I often thought, "What the hell does that mean? I don't know what I want to write." I'm usually pretty good at sifting through all the advice thrown at writers. I've known from the get-go that 'start with action,' for example, doesn't mean car chases and explosions, that 'never use adverbs' really means 'use adverbs as needed,' and 'show don't tell' should be followed by 'when appropriate.' Yet 'write the story you want to read' kind of mystified me.

The problem, as I have now learned, is I was taking this advice far too literally. The truth is I don't think there is any particular story burning a hole in my head like cash in a gambler's pocket. I haven't been walking around for years thinking, "Damn, if only someone would write about an all-male burlesque show set on Saturn in 2145!" Nothing I've written so far is the result of yearning for *this* story or *that* one. Instead, I was fortunate enough to have a character or situation or scene kick open the door from the back room and say, "Here I am!" and that's been enough to start. The rest of the story comes along once I start writing. It doesn't always end up coming out the way I thought it might, but it comes out, and it's right—for me.
© Copyright Andy Beecroft. Licensed for reuse

But I digress. The 'aha moment'—the moment when the stuff from the back room kicked open the door and fused instantly with the stuff in the front room—occurred while I was 30 pages or so into Catching Fire and found myself at a fork in the road. In one direction was the story as written, though I didn't know what that was just yet (I didn't read any flap copy, I just grabbed the book). It turned out okay. I read the book in about a day, it kept me turning pages, yes, and I will read Mockingjay just to see how this finishes, but I wasn't thrilled. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't great, either. I think most of my disappointment was because of what I saw down that other fork.

Briefest of spoilers here, and I will say, this caught me by surprise in the book: Katniss and Peeta end up back in special edition Hunger Games, sort of like the Survivor All-Stars. As I said, it worked out pretty well as a book, but what I saw down that other fork was this: Katniss living in District 12, having to deal with the consequences of her actions from the first book (yes, true, going back in the games was a consequence of book 1, it was just a different consequence). Those consequences included things like dealing with her new-found fame and fortune, coping with the memories of her experience in the Games, having to deal with the way she is viewed by the people back home, which would likely be a mix of reverence, envy, and, possibly, fear (imagine seeing your friend legally kill several somebodies on live TV in brutal and clever ways, and then trying to have a normal conversation with them. Freaky, huh?). I wanted something that really dug into Katniss's character, that delved deep to examine the impact of the first book's events on her life and relationships to the people and world around her. I didn't get it, and I was disappointed, until I shifted my expectations a bit.

I found myself thinking a bit about what I might have done, the story I wanted to see, and that was when the notion of 'write the story you want to read' really hit me. For me, for now, it's about stuff that goes on sort of below the plot layer. It's about characters and why they do the things they do. Plot is important, yes, but I like fiction that really focuses on characters and how they grow and change (or don't) over the course of a book. That's what I want to read. That's what I like to write. It's funny that I never thought of it that way before.

Have a great weekend, all.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Monday Musing

Hey, all, not much on my mind today, still recovering from the whirlwind week of traveling. Thanks to Bonnee Crawford for hosting me on Thursday or Friday last week; my guest post--Why I Write--is still there for your viewing pleasure.

It's funny how ideas spawn ideas. When I first started head-drafting my guest post for Bonnee, I saw it going in a different direction than what Bonnee asked. I wasn't sure I could really answer her question. Why do I write? Who knows? But when I started going from 'head draft' to 'virtual paper draft' I found myself veering away from what I thought I was going to write and ending up more or less answering the question. I also left myself with a potential follow-up post, which this isn't, not exactly.

After finishing the post for Bonnee and basking in the glow of my First Guest Post Ever! I found myself reading Catching Fire, which is book 2 in The Hunger Games trilogy. I enjoyed The Hunger Games quite a bit back when I read it, but knew better than to devour all three books in too short a time period. Time got away from me, and here I was, more than a year later, finally getting back to it. During a point early in the book I found myself reading a passage and thinking, "Yes! Go there! That's what I want to see!" I could see the book developing in a particular way, and I really wanted it to happen. But Suzanne Collins did not 'go there.' She took the book in a different direction, one that was right for her. I'm not going to get into any review of the book. I enjoyed it well enough, though I definitely liked book 1 better.

But between reading Catching Fire, working on Bonnee's post, and some things I had seen in Absolute Write's Query Letter Hell section over the last couple of months, I had one of those "Ah ha!" moments, the golden moment where something suddenly becomes crystal clear to me. You ever see anyone say, "Write the story you want to read"? Yeah, it's one of those pieces of writing advice that's thrown around with great frequency, and it's one of the pieces of advice that has just never clicked into place for me. Until that moment.

This is not to say I haven't been following this advice over the last few years I've been seriously writing, but it came through in that moment with a clarity that it hadn't before. That's all I'm going to say on the topic for right now. I'm going to have to busy myself organizing my thoughts coherently enough to follow up on this on Friday, but that's my aim. In the meantime, have a pleasant week!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Off to Australia!

Hey, all, I'm breaking my normal Monday-Friday pattern to let you know I'm off in Australia, braving Tasmanian devils and horribly poisonous spiders (no, no pictures this time!) to guest post at Bonnee Crawford's today.

The Blogging of an Aspiring Writer: Guest Post - Why I Write

Bonnee asked me to do a post on why I write, and there it is.

And no, it's not because of the voices in my head, a la Bob Weir:

Go check it out, and read up on Bonnee's back posts, too! Have a great weekend, see you on Monday!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Musical Monday: End of the Line

Ah, the Traveling Wilburys: George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynne. Sadly, by the time they got around to making this video, Orbison had passed on from a heart attack. They got together again in 1990 for a follow-up, which had some good songs, but (wisely) decided not to tour, and not to record anymore albums. But The Traveling Wilburys, Volume 1, was one hell of an album.

Friday, February 8, 2013

A lot of time and analysis these days is spent on examining women in the media and rethinking how they are presented. We want—we need—to see more quality presentation of women and girls in movies and TV in particular (books are far better at presenting women who are not merely arm- or eye-candy, or there to be rescued).

But as much as we can bemoan the state of women in the media, when we see things like the following commercial, I have to wonder about men, and how we are presenting ourselves, and what we think of ourselves.

Labatt Blue Light is a repeat offender, and their latest offering is especially bad. Their new ad, called "Better Bus," (and not currently up on Youtube) features three 'men' who miss their bus on the way to the game. One opens a Blue Light and a bus magically appears before them. A bus full of women in skin-tight, two-piece cheerleader outfits, hanging out the windows, shaking what they've got. Driven by a woman who leans suggestively against the door and asks the boys if they're …coming.

I'm up for a joke, I'm up for humor, and yes, there's a certain degree of humor in these commercials. But guys, come on: aren't we a little better than this? As much as we can bemoan the messages we're sending to our daughters, what are we telling our sons?

More on this some other time. Have a great weekend!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Musical Monday: February 3, 1959

On this day in rock and roll history:

Which, of course, spawned this hit some thirteen years later:

Back in the Dark Ages, we had a record player, and we had American Pie on a 45. I know some of you know what that's all about. I remember the song would fade out after, I think the second verse, and you had to flip it over to hear the rest. The song fascinated me for some time, loved that catchy chorus, but seven- or eight-year-old me had no idea what the song was about.

On another note, it's going to be a pretty light week around here, posting-wise, so if anything gets posted at all, it will be pre-loaded, stuff, probably of a purely-musical variety, as I will be away from the home office for several days. So, keep an eye on this space, but don’t be surprised if you get nothing at all until a week from this Friday.

Meanwhile, thank you, Al Diaz, of Father Dragon Writes, for dropping the Liebster Award on me. I've received this one before (not that I'm not grateful, because I am. Thanks, Al!), and it seems to have changed a little bit from that first one (my Liebster went to 5, but this one goes to 11), but I'm going to hold off doing Liebstery things for right now.

I think that's going to be about it for me for now. Have a great week or so, see you!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Just Write It

There was a big brouhaha on Absolute Write a week or two ago over a piece of advice frequently handed out there. It's advice that is surely dispensed wherever writers gather, be it an internet forum, a conference, a book signing, or a café in Paris. The advice: Just Write It.

I've given this advice to people myself. Someone comes on the board and says they've been planning a project for months, and they had an idea for an opening scene, but now they're thinking it might be better to start somewhere else and that's throwing the whole thing off and I've been working on this plan for SO LONG and I really hate to start over what should I do?

Just Write It.

Another person has been writing a story in alternating points of view. They're at a critical scene and planned to write it from character A's point of view, but now they're thinking maybe it should be from character B's perspective, and they're not sure what to do.

Just Write It.

The brouhaha arose because someone felt that "Just Write It" is used too often as a panacea, and that, without knowing the real problems the person is having, it may not be helpful, and could even be harmful. They also object to the imperative nature of the advice. An inexperienced writer, they argue, may think it's the only solution, an absolute rule, and it could harm their development.

There may be some truth in this. Just Write It is not always the best solution. There are times when Just Write It is not the best option. It depends in part on what you're writing and what your process is. There are times when the best option is to walk away from the story for a little while. There are times when you really do need to no more about legal procedures, a particular medical condition, or the New York City sewer system before you can proceed with your writing. By all means do your research, make sure you're well-informed, but don't use the need for research as an excuse to come to a complete stop. Get it done and get back to writing. Far too often, when I read threads on AW from people who are spinning their wheels, I'm reminded of this bit from Monty Python's Life of Brian (40 seconds):

Substitute any and all of the following-- "outlining," "research," "character biographies,"—for the word "discussion" in the clip above, and you've got a group of writers, not pseudo-revolutionaries.

Just Write It is not always the right answer, but it's often the best one. If you find yourself saying, "I've got this great idea, but I don't know how to begin," Just Write It! Write what? Anything! Describe a character. Describe the room she's in. Write about what he's wearing, or what she sees from her window. Anything to get started. It doesn't have to be brilliant, it doesn't have to be perfect. Quite often, just writing something is enough to get the words flowing. In the case of the "which POV for this scene" question—Just Write It! Write them both. Sometimes that's the only way to figure out which one works best. Yes, it's extra work, but it's not wasted writing or wasted time.

Have you ever found a time where Just Write It wasn't the best solution for your problem? Tell me about it, and have a great weekend.