Definitions for the modern author
The Author Business
Written by Sofie
Wednesday, 04 December 2013 09:24
Yeeeah I'm late on my post again. This past weekend was an awesome writing retreat where I managed to a) relax a little, b) get a short story submitted to an invited market and c) get an actual plot, with plottitude down for my novel. My romantic interest character still refuses to name himself (and his conversations with my MC are consequently getting increasingly awkward and antagonistic), though I have some leads thanks to Twitter. But Monday was a five-hour drive, thanks to random traffic jams on my last leg, and that killed my brain for the rest of that afternoon, and Tuesday was an adventure in Who's To Blame For The Lack Of Internet (I loved Internode's subtly-phrased recorded support message that translated to "We know everything is down, will everyone please stop calling us"), and then there was Real Work that had to be done.
But, this made me smile. I especially like their definition for Platform, Self-Publishing Authors and Crazy Ranting People.
From the NYTimes: Helpful definitions for the modern author.
Spectacle over story
Reading and Reviews
Written by Sofie
Monday, 25 November 2013 10:07
Whoops there was supposed to be a blog post. Was there supposed to be a blog post? Yes, there was supposed to be a blog post where I pretend to have a brain.
I took a little time out this weekend to watch the Dr Who 50th anniversary special.
Warning: This blog post will almost certainly have if not outright spoilers, then very spoilery-feeling things for the end of season 7 and the 50th Anniversary special. But probably actual spoilers, because I have some complaining to do, and it's a bit pathetic to be vague when you're complaining.
I'll admit, I'd been looking forward to it, because Tennant's still my favourite doctor, and I enjoyed Billy Piper's more "mature" return in his later seasons.
And the episode delivered on many levels--I adored the banter, even though it probably was a little overdone for the pacing. I adored Billie's role in it, and the facts and the execution of the climactic solution (never mind my personal philosophy that their solution is, broadly speaking, not much less-awful from the original, OR the fact that Eleven already has the knowledge from The End of Time of what Rassilon had planned, which renders things a bit, well, awkward for the rest of the universe, to say the least.)
Big, wonderful, emotional scenes, heart-stirring stuff. So big, in fact, the actual plot of the episode rather fell by the wayside. We had Queen Elizabeth, played by an unfortunately forgettable actress with zero screen chemistry with her supposed beau, who just couldn't hold her own in the face of three doctors and the genocide of billions, and the Zygons, whose plan is a) never especially enumerated beyond DOWN DOWN DOWN GO GO GO MINE MINE MINE and b) is foiled on several occasions by the baddies being downright boringly stupid, and c) is never actually resolved.
There's a fantastic philosophical moment about its resolution that gets announced as if it immediately resolves the entire plotline, but we never see that resolution.
Some may argue: do we need to see it, to know that it happened? Sometimes not. Sometimes, if it's a foregone conclusion, we can fill in the blanks and we're happy to. But in this situation, they were negotiating over the whole planet. The negotiation is framed as being fair to both parties, so presumably it's not unimaginable that Zygons may have a stake on the planet, potentially changing the entire backdrop of the series if the Earth is no longer exclusively human-sentient.
Yeah, we kinda needed to see how that one played out.
This isn't the only time plot gets completely overridden for spectacle. Consider the end of the previous episode, with Clara stuck in the timestream ("where she'll be torn apart and scattered") and the Doctor entering his own timestream, "the one place he must never, ever go", to rescue her, and them both being in there, which apparently just causes a bit of shakey-wakiness in the timey-wimey stream (that's it? Things just get a bit bumpy? The whole universe was in peril a moment ago...), and then....
Nothing. Cut to Clara (which Clara? Another copy? Nobody cares, apparently) teaching in a school (why?) being summoned by the doctor (why were they apart?) for some randomness.
This is all just fun-intro with absolutely no bearing on the story. Other than wanting that first-ever-episode callout-scene, they could have done anything. They could have used it to actually resolve some stuff from last episode. Did they? No. They went for random cheeky banter and lots of shots of probably-not-Jenna Coleman on a motorcycle.
How did they get out of the time stream? Don't ask difficult questions, just put your brain back in the cupboard. The MacGuffin of the previous episode, set up as the Eater of Characters, this huge powerful force that just--nope, nevermind, we're over that, now. Look! Shiny. This has been really bugging me for some time with Who--it's becoming an increasingly frequeny get-out-of-plot free device. They set up the rules to add drama and spectacle and then just totally ignore them so they can add more, different spectacle. It's lazy storytelling.
On the whole, I still had fun with the emotional spectacle of Who. But I think they could have done that and had an actual, functional story, and it bugs me that they didn't.
I have plenty of management I just don't have any time
The Writer's Life
Written by Sofie
Tuesday, 19 November 2013 08:44
Yeah, I missed my usual update day, sorry. My life has pretty much whittled down to one job, the other job, and basic human functions like sleeping. And stealing time from somewhere (let's be honest, from the sleeping) to try to polish up a short story due at the end of this month. I've managed to write, I think, about 300 words of my Nano, in a week. Mostly in a five-minute "oh crap I have to go to Job A and I haven't written anything" scrabble of a few sentences in the morning.
Not all of it is lack of time. I had set aside Sunday afternoon to do story work. I'd been looking forward to it all weekend. But by the time it rolled around, I was in the most uncreative mood imaginable, and the last thing I wanted to do was look at critique feedback of all the ways my story wasn't working. Sometimes you're just not in a receptive, problem-solving mood, and all you're going to see is "this story sucks and you suck and you should just go make catbeds for a living in a tree". For all we say "you gotta learn to write no matter what", you also gotta learn to pay attention to what your head's doing. Sometimes the energy you need to work just isn't there. Provided you're not making a habit of that, then it's no harm to listen to it. It's like laying off the gym weights when you've just injured yourself.
So I did more work on Job B instead, to purchase a little more time later, and I ended up not really getting to the writing, other than my scraps of sentences.
Meh. I'm okay with that, frankly. I know what my brain is trying to do right now, and I'm gonna cut it some slack. And I still wrote every day. Even if it was a sentence. I haven't given up on the project, even though my mini-retreat is drawing ever nearer and I still only have scraps of ideas. It's okay.
December is going to kick arse.
Managing an absence of time: Nano update
The Writer's Life
Written by Sofie
Monday, 11 November 2013 05:53
When I conceived yesterday what this post could be about, I had awesome plans. I was going to smash though 6000 words of my Nano in the one afternoon I had off this week, hit 10k which, while still behind, isn't too shabby, and then be decidedly smug about how I'd done it. Because life is pretty much insane right now, and I managed to do the word thing anyway.
That rather fell to pieces when I managed only 1300 words yesterday before other things took over. So I'm still sitting on 6k. 6000 words in eleven days. But you know? I'm okay with that.
You see, I have a new job. I've gone freelance, I'm really excited by it, I have a new contract lined up. I've resigned my current job, but I'm still working there until the end of November. However, due to some happy-fun-lawyer-times (pro-tip: asking a lawyer for anything immediately quintuples that amount of time you think it will take. It took me five weeks to get a simple ten-page contractor agreement together, 70% of which is boilerplate and 20% of which is directly copied from the directions I emailed them.) the start date for my new contract came around before I could resign. So I'm working both jobs, at the same time. The contract is work-from-home, so I can fit it around my office hours, but it still eats every spare moment I have. The only writing time I have is my morning moments (and I lost most of those last week to the "five more minutes" monster, because you know what? Resigning from small companies is stressful. Stress makes me want to sleep in. Go figure.)
But I'm working two jobs at once, while trying to do Nano, and I still managed to write every day, even though some days it was only a few hundred words. I wrote every day. Suddenly 6k is not so bad.
My next trick will be not giving up on it now that it's almost certain I can't reach my 50k psychological carrot - especially when for the rest of November my writing-attention will actually be finishing up a short story for a submission deadline I have. I only started writing this because of Nano. I have no idea what's going on - the characters have long since disobeyed my scrappy plotting, and keep gluing guns to mantelpieces like it's christmas, and I've no idea when or where I can pull all those shots off. But if I'm still actively working on this by the end of November, even if I don't hit anywhere near 50k, I'll be pretty happy.
It's all about reasonable expectations, really.
Cultivating good critique partners
Written by Sofie
Monday, 04 November 2013 00:54
I've been writing a few blog posts and articles around the place about my experience at Odyssey, several of which focussed on the extraordinary depth of critique that we learned to apply to both others' work and our own. Someone asked me a really good question about that, which kinda stumped me.
(Paraphrased): How do you find critique partners of that calibre outside of those kinds of courses, especially for genres which may not have these kinds of workshops?
The short answer is: um, I don't really know. I can't even tell you to find people who've done these kinds of workshops, because most intensives aren't run by an editor, and probably don't have as much of an emphasis in that department. Other than the common-sense approach of "try to meet people and experimentally trade crits and see what you think of them", I don't think there's any secret handshake. Former-editors can be good bets, but they can just as easily be terrible critiquers. Other writers are very often terrible at doing more than line edits, especially if they tend to go with their own instinct when they write, or aren't naturally analytical people.
Critiquing is one of those skills where, because it's really just asking for someone's interpretation and opinion, it's very difficult to a) find out someone's skill beforehand and b) give them constructive feedback on that skill. There aren't really established ways you should critique a story (although Jeanne Cavelos, who runs Odyssey and taught me the secrets of useful critiquing, really should consider running it as an online course, or at least selling a book on the subject), so people take it a bit amiss if you tell them they're not doing it well. And a crit partner is like any kind of relationship--someone who works for me isn't necessarily going to work for you, which makes recommendation boards or similar somewhat tricky.
So it's trial and error. And that's a time-consuming, inefficient, nerve-wracking process. And really not a useful answer to the person who took the time to ask me. So I thought about an alternative:
Instead of trying to find someone who already knows how to critique well, find someone whose opinion you respect* (preferably another writer, for reasons that will become obvious) and then agree that you'll both work together to improve your critiquing of each other's stuff. Don't knock the process of critiquing someone else's work, either: you learn a hell of a lot by spotting where, how and why someone else's work is or isn't working, particularly when you're forced to justify and explain it.
So, when you have your Respected Person:
Make an active, concerted, identified effort to improve your knowledge as if it were an actual course or workshop you were doing. Build your knowledgebase and skills as you go. Agree on an outline of points that a critique should address - plot structure, pacing, scenes, characters, POV, psychic distance, causal chain, etc, etc, etc. It helps to start with very specific questions to address ("What is the character's goal, how does it change? What act structure is this story using, and does it suit what the story is trying to do? How is the setting contributing to the theme or atmosphere of the story?") or consider, that'll help you isolate where you have actually learned concrete things to analyse in a critique and where you're just waffling your gut feeling.
This is not a week-long process, this is something that you both (or more of you, if there's a group--why not a group?) commit to, to improve both your writing and your critiquing. This is why it helps if your crit partner is also a writer, because you can really only expect the level of comittment required from someone who is also going to see the benefits to their craft.
If what you need is someone to critique your work right now, without putting in all that effort, then honestly you need to pay for it, through an assessment service or an editor's service. Go to your genre association or your local writer's association and see whose services they recommend, see if you can get signed up for a mentoring program of some sort. Because the problem with awesome courses that produce great critique partners is that everyone who goes through them pretty much comes out with a pre-built list of crit partners they already trust and know are good; they're not really on the market.
* And again, that's trial and error. Writer's forums, networking, all that guff, at some point this does still come back to finding the damn person in the first place. Writer's associations, particularly if you work in genre, often have crit partner/mentoring programs if you join, and NaNoWriMo is another good place to find people to try out in your genre.
Don't feel you have to restrict yourself to genre, either. Other than a knowledge of genre-tropes and cliches, there's no real difference between critiquing romance than critiquing historical fiction or murder-mystery. Story craft is the same. Your critique partner must, of course, be someone who reads in the genre you're writing, so they don't try to make your hard-boiled detective novel a sweet romance, but they don't necessarily have to write in it. Good story craft transcends genre categories.