My Noveling Magna Cartas

So in NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty’s No Plot, No Problem!, he brings up an exercise in which you make two lists. The first consists of what you believe makes a good novel. The second is what bores and depresses you about a novel. I usually remake mine every October, but I figured I would post this year’s magna cartas.

Magna Carta I, Good Novel

  • Ambiguity between the perceptions of the narrator and the reader. I kick myself regularly for allowing another’s opinion on first-person perspective to influence how I write. I’ve only started experimenting with first person for the first time in years and this has been my favorite aspect of it. If the reader is unquestionably following the narrator’s perception and opinions on events and others, you can really have fun with setting up twists and character growth. There’s also that whole “narrator is innately sympathetic due to intimacy with the reader” part that also is prime for toying with. Basically, I’ve fallen in love with the first-person perspective and wish I had done it sooner.
  • Diverse characters. Not everyone is white, middle-class, twenty-something, straight, cis-gendered, neurotypical. In fact, that character is a distinct minority. I admit, I struggle with racial and spiritual diversity (most of my characters end up agnostic or atheist), but the learning journey is innately worthwhile and I seek to improve all elements of this to better reflect the diversity of the world.
  • Complicated relationships. Nothing is simple and straightforward. Characters love each other with great caveats. Enemies find common ground and argue with themselves over why they hate each other. Families that love each other but are haunted by pain they caused each other in the past. Give me relationships rife with potential conflicts, giving way to…
  • Character centered plots. Basically, the complicated relationships and conflicts between characters, as well as a character’s personal motivation and wants, drive the plot. Often, this means the plot is a bit floaty and indistinct, especially at the beginning, but when the dominoes fall, it’s the characters that pushed them.
  • White-haired guys chucking wrenches into the plot. Bonus points if they have an intense and complicated relationship with the narrator. Anime and video games have given me an unfortunate preference for the hair color. Funny enough, my Nano 16 project has a complete lack-of white-haired guys. This year’s wrench tosser has black hair.
  • Modern settings with touches of Something Different. I like slight tweaks to the nature of reality, especially if the narrator perceives the Something Different as completely mundane. A seemingly contemporary United States is plagued by prolific cults both doomsday and saccharine. Magical realism with a very light touch, basically.
  • Description. Lots of it. Give me your poetic turns of phrase, your purple prose, your long strings of alliteration that would make an English professor swoon. As long as it builds the setting, characters, mood, and tone (and isn’t meaningless) I will adore it.

Magna Carta II, Not a Fan Of

  • Historical settings that go out of the way to show off the author’s research. I could never write a historical piece due to the sheer amount of research, but I will read it. However, if the author goes off on nowhere tangents that serve only as a more wordy Works Cited page, I’ll fall asleep.
  • True love and its associated tropes. Unambiguous love at first sight. Sex and/or marriage being the endgame for the relationship, whereupon its achievement means the relationship is Perfect and all conflict between them falls away. In truth, I loathe romance being depicted as supernatural, transcendent, mythical, pedestals being erected under every person involved. When love is depicted like that, it seems unattainable. Give me your casual love stories where two equals come together. Give me your conflicts, even with establishing the couple has lots of sex (and that fact is treated as natural, even casual).
  • Needless description. I like seeing what a character wears…The first two, maybe three, times. It establishes their style (or lack thereof) and gives indications as to social and economic status. But if every day opens up with describing every article of clothing your character tosses on…Or there’s a bunch of description for settings that are irrelevant…I start to lose track and doubt what’s important to remember. And that’s when I start skimming.
  • I am x because I am x. X being good, evil, right, wrong…Whatever the dichotomy may be. No one goes out deciding they will be evil. All behaviors exhibited by a person are for a reason; even if that reason does not make sense to anyone but that person, there still is purpose behind it. Give me your villains who break down others and sway them to their cause, benevolent or otherwise, for that sake.
  • Symbolism for the sake of showing off. I’m blaming Nathaniel Hawthorne and the way his works are taught for this one. This isn’t the pinnacle of writing, but an option. If the symbolism you include ties into the overall mood and plot, great. If every little thing MEANS SOMETHING MORE, then all the little things are functionally meaningless in their sheer proliferation. And it drowns out the symbols you do want the reader to notice.
  • Trauma as shorthand for drama. This is my biggest problem with Margaret Atwood’s Madd Addam series and why I stopped reading after the second book. If you’re going to include graphic depictions of trauma, at least don’t brush it off and have the character act like it didn’t happen. Just a one-off description of something awful and then dropping it…It’s the literary equivalent of a jump scare and is just as gross. Note that I am not against trauma and characters inflicting it or suffering from it. If you are going to include something that is a horrific experience, do something with that character’s trajectory and influence on the plot as a result. For an example of this executed well, see Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak or Stephen Chbosky’s Perks of Being a Wallflower.
  • Stories about men and the younger women they want to sleep with. The market is saturated with this and, frankly, they were boring me back in college. You are allowed to break the “write what you know” rule, especially if you back that up with research.

Curious to see other people’s magna cartas!

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Skilled Characters

My dearest friend texted me yesterday about a character who is an aspiring author who adores libraries and books about as much as she enjoys origami, self-styling herself as a paper sculpture artist. She worried that it was “too much” for the character, perhaps on the basis that female characters who openly celebrate their talents and hobbies are more likely to be criticized than their male counterparts (see: accusations of writing a Mary Sue). For a character in a modern setting, however, it would make sense if she, perhaps, listened to audiobooks while keeping her hands busy with paper crafts. Especially since said-character, as my friend revealed later, lived with a very sensitive and severe case of asthma, thus barred from many outdoor and physical activities. These are reasonable skills for the character that complement her personality and capabilities without disturbing the harmony of her characterization.

It left me thinking on some old writing advice I read years ago: Each character should have three hobbies, at the very least. Now, ignoring the blanket aspect of that statement (let’s just say I have that opinion concerning a lot of writing advice, that anyone reading tips and tricks for any aspect of writing should carry a huge bag of salt and take those grains regularly), I was, at first, skeptical. Wasn’t three hobbies too much, especially for characters who were very young, had little time/energy/ability to devote to these hobbies, and/or their environment was not conductive to cultivating the skills that accompany these hobbies?

But then I considered myself and could think of those three minimum hobbies in a heartbeat. I enjoy writing, reading, and trying to break video games. I then considered my parents: my mother enjoys watching movies, gossiping on social media, and reading; my father enjoys reading, woodwork crafts, and trying to break operating systems. Look at enough people, at their skills, at what they enjoy, and you can see patterns emerge that complement who they are. My mother is sociable and enjoys a good story (and, from my observation, the trashier the better), while my father is inquisitive and contemplative. I struggle with activities beyond my room, especially if they involve other people and the outside world, and I like to think of myself as curious and intelligent.

As people, they make sense. For writers, characters that make sense, that don’t trigger the reader’s “oh, bullshit” reaction and shatter their connection with the story, are what we should aspire for.

Continue reading

8/1/2015 – Acceptance

Nearly a year since I started this space of screaming into the void, ostensibly as a daily exercise, but then my capacity to write anything I would ever feel comfortable with the thought of others seeing evaporated. Tears in a desert. I am not okay and I am not well, but I told someone important that I would keep writing, so here it is. Me, writing. Raging internally because the truth is a weapon that will slit my throat as surely as any act of self-destruction. If I must die, then I want to, at the very least, exercise control over the way in which I leave the world.

So maybe this is less a potential resource of writing things, or coping with neurodivergence, and maybe more shitposting akin to Tumblr, though I have to say, that particular medium scares the shit out of me. I won’t stress about writing “engaging material” or something that will make what I blather about more of interest to a usual audience. I don’t think I ever displayed myself as any sort-of authority on writing, or anything else, but I loathe the thought of it anyway. If I ever taught writing classes, it would be in a forum like the alleged philosophical trades of ancient Athens. Every writer has a fresh perspective on the medium. Yes, you too. If I insist that is true of all writers, then I must insist it is true for me, as well as for you, imagined reader. There are no teachers, no students, among writers seeking to learn. There is only experience and observation to be traded.

Well, beyond the groundwork of grammar and the mechanics of writing. To best break the rules, one must know what the rules are, and what is communicated in breaking those rules.

Anyway, this is more of a “I’m alive and will be trying to post daily, though those daily posts might be kind-of soft and silly” but hey. Maybe this is a living will. Maybe is just a way to immortalize my observations and insight so another may benefit from them, that other being someone like me, or a casual observer watching the flaming car crash with polite interest.

Today I will rest, read things I enjoy, and maybe start the process of making Baldur’s Gate playable on my machine. For, as ill as I’ve been lately, I have done things that are fun. And I thought about sharing my silly ruleset for the Sims 3, as well as my tips for people struggling with Nightmare mode for Inquisition. Maybe I’ll put those together and…Who knows.

So I’ll end this with something this important person tells me all the time, even though I can never make it true. But maybe you’ll have more luck?

Be kind to yourself.

First Day in the Trenches and My Desk is Covered in Sticky Notes

In case if it wasn’t readily apparent, prequel week turned into “four bits of varying quality” until I won the gold prize for feeling both sick and realizing that, if these pre-story events could be easily summed up in a sentence, trying to stretch them into a three-four page one-off that doesn’t completely suck is an incredible challenge. In fact, I can pretty much tell the stories that were missing Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Hold onto your butts because these were major doozies.

Wednesday: Rilke, with Ava’s support, challenged Uriel for the Emperor job. Rilke won. The denizens of the Court of the Moon barely reacted because they are pretty much a bunch of blank-faced apathetic jerkoffs with unspecified magic and awesome clothes. Seriously, that drabble was all about talking about how awesome the Court of the Moon dresses. I want black dresses with shifting rune symbols on them.

Thursday: Queen Artemis of the Court of Summer and Helena, High Druid of the Triune, bum out on some ramparts at Summerdawn Keep. They’re observing a patch of the Wald shifting about while also talking about Princess Lorraine and Lysander, Helena’s student. The Great Eclipse happens. We know from the letters on previous days that Queen Artemis is going to die during this, so this bit had all the narrative tension of cottage cheese. Next.

Friday: Lysander is running around the Dawn’s Rest while Wald rips it apart because, spoilers, the Great Eclipse made the Wald and Wastes extra pervasive and extra nasty. He finds Princess Lorraine, they spat out a bit, ends on a hang with them trying to evacuate the Dawn’s Rest while also getting their asses kicked. Of course, a previous day revealed that Lorraine survived the Great Eclipse. Not much of a cliffhanger when someone can just scroll back and go “Oh, yeah, she survived because she’s getting letters from Natanael.”

Basically I was unhappy with Monday and Tuesday’s entries, especially compared to Saturday and Sunday, because I was trying to stretch out little sentence summaries into actual stories. If there’s anything the spectators of the Internet can learn from my past week of flailing, it’s that trying to put a lot of extra wheels on a unicycle, especially if you want to keep it a unicycle, doesn’t really work.

On the plus side, Shadows in Summer is turning out to be a delightful romp and I’m sure I won’t keep to that thought past the end of this week. National Novel Writing Month is really just my self-loathing writing process in full-out overdrive where there are days where I can kick out thousands of words and they’re all as awesome as brownie lava cakes, and then there are the days where I stare at the screen while my eyes roll upward and I go, “Holy fuck this is really awful” and I find someplace to curl up and hide from Microsoft Word lest it decide that I really need to pay for the transgression of being awful by making my computer explode.

But I’m finding, in the craziness of these first dozen or so hours, that post-it notes are beautiful and miraculous things. Seriously, due to the amount of beloved relatives who decided to have birthdays on the first day of November, I have spent more time dotting out little snippets of dialogue (either overheard or happening in my own head) and little ideas to be tossed into the storm of nonsense as I work.

So I guess my newfound NaNoWriMo knowledge is to invest in a butt-ton of sticky notes. No joke, there’s a pad by my computer, a pad by my bed, a pad in the car, and a pad in the purse. The desk is all ready more pale-yellow than oak now.

Anyway, best of luck to all the other crazies out there and…I might get back to posting daily, now that I’m feeling less sick and less hatey towards stuff that I don’t have to force myself to write.

Hoorah.

Prequel Week

I’ve been super excited for this year’s NaNoWriMo, in case if that wasn’t evident in the week of worldbuilding and the little bits of the idea taking form. Given this is the week leading up to the first of November, I decided to take my ridiculous file of notes and images and start writing. Not the Shadows in Summer story itself, but of the events that lead to it. In essence, seven days of prequel freewriting.

I’m also giving myself the rule that I am not going to edit them at this time. I will sit down with the little bit of information and just write like the wind, like, you know, you’re supposed to be doing in November. The impulse to go back and edit is a powerful one for me and, in much of daily life, I’m encouraged to do so. So it’s getting the same treatment as the entries.

As such, they probably won’t be the best writing to ever drip from my fingers. But damn it, if I am not excited for this.

So excuse the mess, and excuse the meaningful entries until about, oh, December. I have not been as excited for NaNoWriMo since my first year in 2005 and it is showing.

Idle Thoughts on Naming

So, as I continue drawing the notes together for Shadows in Summer, I find myself reflecting further on worldbuilding.  Though I’ve written the most crucial points to the subject, or the points I name the most crucial, I still find myself examining the process upon which I give names to characters.  The trap of worldbuilding is realizing when you need to stop, for if you think too much on all the things that can be uniquely designed for your fictional culture, you drown yourself in the sheer weight of details.

Such as I am where gathering name pools for this story.  Typically I default to foreign names stemming from a superficial comparison drawn between the real-world entity and the fictional “sort-of but not really” counterpoint.  Or else I tap into the great portfolio of names assembled by authors who are resonant with a larger culture; the aesthetically-oriented Court of Spring taps into Shakespeare, with certain groups deriving from the same play (specifically, a trio named for Othello and a pair from Midsummer’s Night Dream).  Sometimes I break out my d10 and tables (such as this one) to try and create distinctive, unique names.  The majority of times, the names I create on my own sound like utter garbage.  I think Olmoro has the only name I’ve created that I actually enjoy; that stemmed from a lot of odd mouth movements while playing with the om utilized in meditation.

But is it laziness in worldbuilding to default to given names, rather than styling each process of naming individually into its culture?  Such that some may only have a syllable at birth, with others added through their life to reflect their accomplishments and deeds, or perhaps one where all children born in a certain year share the same name, where individual names are unofficial and traded between friends and family?

The hardest thing to do with fantasy worldbuilding is realizing that your humans do not, necessarily, need to be the same humans found in reality and, in fact, that they have the same naming schemes, the same marriage traditions, the same familiar structures, seems rather distracting in its laziness.

On the other end of the scale, of course, is overcomplication for the sake of overcomplication.  And there is the fact that humans in a fantasy setting are often a baseline, the bridge to connect the reader with the strange and otherworldly of the narrative.  Where would A New Hope be without Luke Skywalker, someone framed as so ordinary and human, to ease the movie viewers into a galaxy distinctly not our own?

So I will bite my tongue and fight the urge to scatter more deck chairs upon this ship.  I will have my queen named Artemis who, yes, should be connected to the real-world Greek goddess with her associations to women and the sport of hunting.  And she will have her daughter Lorraine, for the name is frivolous and sweet and prone to obnoxious nicknaming, which is certainly at the crux of Artemis’s motives for naming her child thus.

If a name works, a name works.  Don’t sweat the devil loitering in the details.

Interlude: Stylistic Woes

Just a brief bit of whining before getting to work. I have been utterly crushed to learn, recently, that my instruction to double space after a concluding mark of punctuation, is largely considered wrong and something only messily introduced in the age of the typewriter. I suspect the culpability of my parents, as I was using a word processor long before computers were a matter of instruction in class. But wherever the blame falls, I cannot help but look at my sentences, with their meek one space, and see them as anything other than a cluttered disaster. This is easily rectified, of course; double space as I write and then, after finishing, find-replace the “extra” space. But, as I look at this little block of words, I cannot help but feel a bit claustrophobic. It looks fundamentally wrong to my sensibilities and, moreover, it seems less like a string of independent sentences and more like a deluge of words, words, words.

God forbid they go after my beloved Oxford comma next. Where eliminating the space after concluding punctuation makes sense (one space is pretty standard, save for the two after the sentence, so I can get the wisdom in getting rid of that contradiction), the Oxford comma eliminates misreading concerning the sentence. Observe:

I prayed for salvation for the sake of my parents, our dog and the family cow.

Yeah, the omission of the Oxford comma there implies that your dog and the cow are your parents.

You don’t want to call your parents animals, do you?

OXFORD COMMA FOR LIFE.