Following the leader:

August 7, 2010 at 5:44 am (drafting) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

This is mostly in response to Carol Kilgore’s post earlier in the week on the blinking cursor.  Afterward I was having trouble typing without staring at the cursor on the screen and that was seriously derailing my ability to type. It really does just sit and blink at you when your fingers hesitate on the keys. It is almost as if it is angry and impatient, dying to get moving and hating you because you need to stop and think.

I probably shouldn’t personify computer blips but there we have it.

As I mentioned in the comments, I don’t sit in front of my screen when I’m thinking. I either move or turn the screen off. The glare and the blinking and just the hum of the computer is all very impersonal and it all feels very demanding. As if you have to get things done right now and that kind of pressure is never good for my creative process. I move away and find more pleasant surrounds, or at least different surrounds.

That said, I like the cursor when I’m on a roll. I see it gliding effortlessly across the screen, a straight and powerful line driving before the flock of words that follow in its wake – and there is probably a mangled metaphor if ever there was one. I see it as a guide and as encouragement. I see the words play out behind it and feel that something is being accomplished. When the story is flowing, the cursor can be your very best of friends and one of your greatest supporters.

Is it that the cursor is in fact two faced or is it that when things go well we see the positive in things but when they go poorly…

Maybe its just the fact that it blinks. Blinking lights always seem impatient and angry. Or alarmed. Concerned. None of these things are what you emotionally want when trying to write so why won’t the cursor stop blinking.

As I hesitated before writing this line I watched the cursor sit and blink at me. Maybe it is just reminding us it is there and trying to keep us from falling asleep at the screen.

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On Motivation

June 3, 2010 at 8:16 am (drafting, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

I’d be the first to admit that I sometimes don’t write every day. In fact, I can go for weeks at times without writing. But then I’ll suddenly start and the words will flow and stopping becomes quite difficult. Even when I’m superbly busy and should be doing other things.

Those spaces in between aren’t procrastination. Merely a different part of my process. I am planning, thinking, wondering. I am turning ideas around inside my head and waiting to know which one is worth pursuing. And once I know, I begin and I write with certainty.

What keeps me writing? I love it. It is a part of me. Every word given life upon the page and worked over and over again.

Yes, it is tiring. Yes, it is distracting from all the other things I could be doing. Yes, sometimes it keeps me away from things I want to do. But clearly I don’t want sleep or to do any of those other things as much as writing. And for as long as that is true, I will write.

Right now, I haven’t had the time to write properly (without distraction) for two days. My MC was left hanging underneath a rock ledge, fighting for grip on slippery rock in a scene that will undoubtably be cut from the next draft. I am currently pursuing a random thought that crossed my mind earlier in the week and I shoved the MC over the edge just to see what would happen. It is entertaining but really unhelpful to the plot so in the next rewrite she might be saved the effort of rescuing herself.

If I don’t write, she’ll hang there forever. I’ll always wonder what she would have done next. I’ll never see the story through and I’ll never get to the rewrite where I remove the useless scene (or find a use for it). Maybe that isn’t such a bad thing. It isn’t as if this story that I’m working on will ever change the world. But I want to write it.

That is my motivation.

What is yours?

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How Do You Research That?

December 15, 2009 at 5:15 am (drafting) (, , , , )

Research is one of the essential tools of any writer, regardless of what they are writing.  Direct observation of people and places is one form of research that we all undertake every day but for most of us, this is only the beginning of the lengthy researching process.

I write fantasy and I don’t actually mind too much when someone tells me that fantasy isn’t real writing.  Mostly because when someone tells me that it tells me more about the person than about what I am writing.  I do mind when people tell me that fantasy writing must be easy because ‘you can just make stuff up’.  I can just make stuff up?  Why didn’t someone tell me that sooner?

Admittedly I do have a lot of leeway with facts and even after the research process if I haven’t come across something suitable I can create something new, but I have to do it in such a way that people believe it.  That means there are basic rules and preconceptions that have to be met or the reader is just going to roll their eyes.  How do I know what rules and preconceptions there are? I research.

My reference collection is a bit on the odd side but it has steadily been growing over the years.  Lots of books on mythology, all kinds of mythology.  The latest addition was a book on Japanese fairy tales.  This gives me a chance to look at similarities between mythical creatures across the world as well as the differences.  Dragons turn up in every single mythology but the differences are extraordinary.  So, when I say there is a dragon in front of my protagonist, people instantly get the image they are most familiar with, unless I give them more information to go on and I best not say it is a wyrm if it isn’t (learnt that lesson the hard way – one critique of a short story ended up being a five page list of types of dragons and why mine didn’t fit into any of them).

Mythological creatures however is only a tiny fraction of the research.  The online research is generally extensive.  If you have a knight carrying a sword, what kind of sword is he carrying?  Does he swing it? Thrust with it? Stab?  Could he chop through a log with it or would that just dent the blade?  Some readers are extremely picky about their swords.  To me, a sword is a long shiny thing you hit stuff with.  I don’t focus on sword fights in my stories but being fantasy, it is fairly inevitable that swords will come into them, even if just in passing.  I don’t want to make a passing comment and have a reader throw the book down in disgust and then send me a lengthy email explaining why I haven’t got a clue.

Then we have styles of dress and construction and various landscapes and on and on and on the research goes. It is a good thing I am curious by nature and that I like keeping trivia files of random facts.  It means that usually I have some information on a given topic close at hand but other times I need to go a little further in my research.

How do you go about your research and how much do you do before writing the story?

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Notes From The Past

November 24, 2009 at 5:11 am (drafting, Planning) (, , )

At the moment I have seven notebooks on my desk – and many bits of paper with various things scribbled on them.  Beside my bed I know I have at least three notebooks and on the table and fridge I have several more.  Most of them are old and tattered with pages falling out because I’ve torn so many pages free.  One of those pages is now floating loose across my desk and has quite a good outline for a new writing project on it.

I possibly should file these things but strangely enough things put in my filing cabinet tend to stay there and they never actually get acted upon.  Bits of paper floating across my desk are far more likely to float to the surface and should they do that just when I’m ready for an idea…  More importantly, I know when I’m looking for something it is on my desk and I will find it if I just turn over enough pages.

One of these notes that floated to the surface today has a couple of things written on it.  On one side I have a list of names, some with meanings attached to them.  Beside that, but written upside down, I have a list of rankings that I was thinking of using in a story.  Turn the paper over and I have another list of names, most of which are crossed out and underneath that I have the very useful note:  Arrives, Fights, Flash-back, End of Fight, Move on.  Fantastically useful.

Actually it is a fairly important bit of paper and now that I have found it again I’m going stick it in my dictionary so I don’t lose it.  The notes were written over a two day period as I was working on other things and I just pulled the paper out of my pocket and scribbled down the ideas as they came to mind. They all relate to one of my WIP’s that wasn’t really working the way I needed it to.  I was mulling things over in my mind and random ideas kept popping out so I was just adding them wherever there was space on the paper.

Should I have all my notes for one project together?  Probably but I’d rather spend my time writing the draft then filling the paperwork and if I desperately need one of my notes I know I will find it sooner or later.  Besides, just by writing it down I tend to remember the most important parts.

Question to the writer’s out there:  Do you organise your notes or do you let them float across the desk?

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Magic in Fantasy

November 16, 2009 at 4:58 am (drafting, Work In Progress) (, , , , )

I love magic.

I love it when reading.  Barbara Hambly’s ‘Sorcerer’s Ward’ completely captivated me and pretty much any book that involves witches, wizards, mages, sorcerers, etc will be read eagerly.

When I play an RPG I almost always choose a magic user rather than a warrior.  I usually regret this about halfway through the first area as the magic users usually start out as extremely weak characters and you tend to die a lot until you develop some strong magic, but I still do it.  As much fun as having my video character hit things with an axe might be, I’d rather set fire to things with my mind.  Or cause them to disintegrate.  And once your character has levelled up some, the warrior doesn’t stand a chance against the magic user.

As a teenager I followed all the appropriate television shows (Buffy, Angel, Charmed, etc).  Magic works for me.

That said, my first MS doesn’t really use magic.  There are gods and a few powers floating around, but not really magic.  I had to rectify this situation.

Cue the draft from hell that has been sitting in printed form on my desk for the better part of the year and is still mostly terrible.  I have mentioned it on my previous blog but as I get through editing my first MS and getting it ready for publishing, this second one is really starting to annoy me.

There is an abundance of magic.  It is set in a world run by Mages and they are as arrogant and horrible as you would expect a group of people who can kill all non-magic users with a look to be.  Hence we have a setting and conflict already exists and it doesn’t take much imagination to build a central problem from this.

I have an ensemble of characters ranging in strength and position within the society.  Each has backstory (some of it scribbled in notebooks as it never made the draft) and a goal and they are all provided with motivation and the relationships are established between them, etc, etc.

The setting works.  The characters work.  The plot works.  The draft stinks.  While magic is present within my draft, there is very little that is magical about it.

Obviously I’ve worked on other projects but I keep coming back to this one because I want it to work.  I love the ideas and I spent a lot of time on it.  However I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to just break it all down into its basic components and start over.  The thought makes me appreciate editing again.

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