Sunday, May 29, 2011

Inner vs Outer Life

After concentrating very hard on the LodeStar Series for over a fortnight, I've got a week of Landcare and social events coming up. Knowing that, I let myself get distracted even in times I could spend an hour here and there.

So I ended up spending my usual writing period this morning on something totally different. Such as cogitating on what I could say if I joined the Twittering community.

With a bit of figuring, dividing (4 letters and 1 space equals 5 keystrokes as the average size of words) into 140 keystrokes, came up with the personal formula of about 28 words or less.

Then I wondered what I would want to say.

And I wondered what isn't being said by hundreds of other people already.

Then I wondered how I could keep it going. Daily tweets! How long would I last. And coming to the conclusion that I'd have to start writing tweets well before I start tweeting. Like have a good swag, more than a hundred, written out to be going on with.

This as a result of my experience with a story blog I did a couple of years ago -- Kosi Lionhair -- not online anymore -- when, because of what was happening in my "outer" life I couldn't think straight enough to keep the story going.

And then writing this, and before you know it, it's time to gulp down a bit of lunch and off I go to the first of my meetings.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Plot + Narrative = Story

It took me the longest time to work my way through the above three elements and come up with an understanding I can work with. The formula is my shorthand for that understanding.

Story is the knife edge at the top of a dune. Narrative is the particles of sand, the molecules of water if your story is a fast mover. Plot is the power moving it all along. Wind usually. The drag of the Earth's turning on the ocean. Or the Moon.

I read an excellent article yesterday, Against Story by Nick Mamatas on Book Life, discussing the propensity of readers who are addicted to plot. How a lot of people want 'a good story' and mean by that the same old same plot. The build-up, the problems, the crisis and the post-coital aftermath.

Where would the wave, the dune, the story be without their narrative? Just the wind roiling in eternal storms, probably. No place for life. All show and no spell. Even movies need their narratives. Look at Pandora, the amount of narrative that enriches Avatar.

Then there are novels such as The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. A fabulous fabulous read. But lots of narrative. I mean, don't go there if you can't bear detail. Or read it once for the story, then again for the detail. It works. The multiple endings would be another problem to readers who don't want anything but an uplifting denouement. Most of the human characters are left with ashes in their mouths, but after what living!

The dogs make it out. Most of them, anyway.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Pantser Plotting

Streamlining the second half of the Srese-Kerr-plot was a four-stage operation that began with my realisation that I was giving a secondary character, Youk, some of the most powerful scenes.

Mark that I didn’t want to kill him off altogether. I may want to retrieve him one day as he’s a strong enough character to carry a plot on his own.

The first stage was going through the second part of the work-in-progress and cutting his scenes, and being left with a morass of stuff, the only word for it, that didn’t hang together anywhere.

Yes, I’d let myself get seriously off track. But one good thing, I realised that I am after all a seat-of-my-pants plotter, or was when I wrote this the first time. Not that I didn’t edit it at the time. I just didn’t know enough to do a structural edit.

For stage two I wrote out a rough new chapter-and-scenes list with page numbers referring to whatever I had ever written about this section (including notes on serviettes and things), filing the pages in order of mention, and tossing the pages not required.

Tossing is a discipline in itself. Every project I work on has its own grocery box for tossing. Many are the times that I’ve sorted through the tossed box for something I decided to retrieve and couldn’t remember what file where on the computer. 

At stage three I attended to the threads connecting the Srese Kerr instalment to the third, which will probably be named Sard, Remaindered Avatar. At this point all instalment titles are still working titles.

So, I was attending to what happens after. Poor Ahni. I left her dangling again, in good hands in the short term, she is soon kidnapped by Sard. But don’t worry, Kes is riding to the rescue.

Originally, Ahni was rescued almost straightaway, but I realised the story needed an amount of time in which the implant-Gammy combo could work on the Life Suits. Both Sard and Kes are wearing them and it is through his that Kes is finally able to discover Ahni’s whereabouts and the danger she is in. He discovers this in the ring, during combat, on the other side of the country. He can’t be there instantly. It was one of my time-line deficiencies.

Finally, I listed Chapters 10 – 14 with new chapter names and a short description of their scenes. Lastly highlighting a couple of scenes between Greg and Srese. These two don’t get a resolution until much later in the series, but must get their courting done now.

However, in writing novels as I understand it, nothing is cast in concrete until a way into the publishing process. Already, writing in Chapter 10, I’m realising that I have too many disparate scenes for Chapter 11. Therefore I may put in a short chapter called The Side Plot, where Srese is being Ferd’s messenger because the Gammy computer isn’t operational.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Names in the Lodestar Universe

Among the SkinGifters, female children that are to be kept are named their family name, such as Kira. When the girl became a mother, she was renamed KiraMah. Her mother at the same time would've become a Sister and be named KiraSister. Boy's names were derived from their mother's names. Kira's baby boy was called Kiral. Kira's brother was called Kip.

While they were babies and little children, Srese and Sard Kerr of the Cave habitat, were called by pet names such as sweetling and honeybear. As soon as they can read they can choose their personal names from the Name Book. Srese and Sard chose their twin names for their colours. Srese for the colour Cerise, and Sard for the colour of the semi precious stone, Sardonyx, a yellow. The twins before them were Ferd and Federica.

Kes for Kestrel was the name chosen for him by his parents. The six families of the herders/ traders/ hunters -- to keep the upper hand, they keep themselves differently mysterious for each of the different peoples that do business with -- have names starting with a particular letter.  Kes's mother is Kuri. His brothers are Kyle and Kier. His father is Jenk.

Scrim? It's too soon to talk about him.

Penippa's name is made up of the sounds of the dolphin language. She is of the dolphinate.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Pain Scale, for Writers

A pain scale used by a writer can structurally be the same as one used as an aid of understanding between a patient and a doctor. The following is one I down loaded from, though there are probably more descriptive ones available, that are better for medical use. 
Pain Scale  designed by Andrea Mankoski, ©1995,  

0 - Pain free1 - Very minor annoyance - occasional minor twinges.
2 - Minor annoyance - occasional strong twinges.
3 - Annoying enough to be distracting.
4 - Can be ignored if you are really involved in your work, but still distracting.
5 - Can't be ignored for more than 30 minutes.
6 - Can't be ignored for any length of time, but you can still go to work and participate in social activities.
7 - Makes it difficult to concentrate, interferes with sleep You can still function with effort.
8 - Physical activity severely limited. You can read and converse with effort. Nausea and dizziness set in as factors of pain.
9 - Unable to speak. Crying out or moaning uncontrollably - near delirium.
10 - Unconscious. Pain makes you pass out

Then we writers fill in the categories with synonyms. For example

1 - Very minor annoyance - occasional minor twinges.

I went to my old thesaurus, 377: physical pain, and found: pang, smart, nip, pinch, tingle. Then I thought of: itch, tweak, gripe, discomfort, tightness, swelling, sting, bunchedness (eg of muscles before they cramp)

Next you could do metaphors and similes, though in my experience they are easier to think up during the actual writing, when you have the context in front of you.

I'm not going to do more than that here. I believe that a chart you do yourself will suit your own writing style. Secondly, doing one yourself you'll have a better memory of what is in it and that it exists  somewhere in your notes.

It's very worth while doing up a chart, as you'll probably use it quite a bit if you're having characters getting themselves into physical, and mental, troubles.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A Pain Scale

Last week I was regretfully interrupted by Blogger's troubles and lost that post. Should be a lesson to me, I suspect. Probably I should first type the blog entry in Word and cut and paste it into the blog. How many bloggers do that, I wonder? One of these days I'll work out how many linkages there are nowadays in the chain that is the online blog-reading experience.

Here goes, trying to retrieve what I said.

We've all read thrillers where the authors don't allow their protagonists either to feel or express the pain of their many and varied breakages. Or we read something so fantastical the characters don't have any nerves with which to feel.

Yet we can all relate to pain. Cut your finger off chopping veges and you feel pain. Slam a car door on your hand and you feel pain. Break a leg and you know how it goes.

Why this now, you ask? Am I planning to dish out murder and mayhem soon? That too. But I had just visited one of my elderly ladies and realised again the effects of gravity. In the next couple of days the plot of a short story presented itself, beginning middle and end. You can be sure I wrote down the details. Usually the end has to be worked at.

It's a story featuring pain. But that's all right. We all feel pain, so there should be some resonances set up here and there. I realised to do it justice, I'd need to find the pain scale for modern day humans I did a couple of years ago, as well as decide what the character can feel and express in his non human state.

Next post I'll get you started on constructing a pain scale. It's useful as a writing tool as well as a bit of self knowledge. If you've ever felt pain or expect to be in pain one day, it's an interesting exercise.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Letting Go

Rewriting often involves letting go big chunks of material. Part II of what is now the Lodestar Series was one of the first sections I wrote, many years ago.

Srese in the meantime has grown older, from a young teen to older teen. As well as the facts that she has more experience, is more her own person and hopefully a bit wiser, she now has a mission and the attitude to achieve it.

Meaning any scene that doesn't support those character traits is being let go. Last week I was having great trouble with chapters 2 and 3, trying to convince both Srese and myself of her new status as go-getting hero girl. And not getting anywhere until I honed in on a particular scene.

She was in it by herself. With no antagonist to bounce off to build up her strength. No dialogue to carry the story on. Just her solitary thinking and experiencing. Dangerous territory for her writer (me) in this point in her, that is, my development.

The point of the scene was to establish the geography of the inside of the habitat compared to the outside. It seemed a complex idea that would need a scene. How confronting it was to realise that Srese was a smart cookie who will work all that out in about one sentence in the next chapter, when she does get outside.

Her first task, though, is to keep her readers on tenterhooks by settling into a confrontational relationship with Ferd, the previous avatar, who is to guide her through the Game Master's requirements. Chapter 4, The Game Begins, here we come.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Border between Sleep and Waking

Alarm clocks are not conducive to getting ideas from that time/space. Or even lying awake waiting for the alarm to ring.

But you lie there still half asleep and you think, funny how I've never had linguine but plenty of spaghetti.

Next you get an image of a bird pulling a grub from the bark of a tree.

Think of the light bulb that needs changing.

Cold rain today. I'll twirl my rainbow umbrella to make it go away.

The horses at the wedding were restless, nervy, their coal black heads near the carriage were like a scene of impending doom. At the least a disaster.

Zebe will have to die. The image of the alien taking her as it jumps into the sea, is too good. It runs along the bottom of the sea like a ghostly white orang utan. Probably it doesn't realise she can't breathe under water.

You see how the border gets wider and becomes thinking about a story plot in a completely different series, most of it to be written sometime in the future. Zebe is the MC's partner, And he must be left without anybody finally, to come to grips with what he becomes.

I'm doing this before I go off to choir. The time between posts is ever my worry. I must go now.