Archive for June, 2003

6/29/03: Off to critique

Word count: 20519 Added a couple hundred words on the state of the world and Jason’s reaction to it to chapter A, and gave the first chunk of chapters (not including the incomplete chapter 3) to my critique group. Also got all my crits done in time, huzzah. The changes are not really enough; I need to go through and really tune Jason up as a character, but that will come in the first editing pass after the first draft is finished. I already have a list of things I want to do for each chapter, plus global things like “play up echoes between the two plot threads”. But I’m going to keep drafting, because to go back and rewrite now would be to enter an endless cycle of revision that leads nowhere. At the last critique group meeting, Jim said (about someone else’s story) that “many beginning writers base characters on themselves, and they always suck because they don’t include their own flaws.” I suspect I may have done this, to some extent, with Jason. He isn’t me, but he’s a lot like me. I need to take a cold hard look at him and make sure I’m giving him enough flaws and hurting him enough. Just read a portion of a book called Portraits of “The Whiteman”: Linguistic Play and Cultural Symbols Among the Western Apache by Keith Basso (Kate picked up a copy for $1 at a used book store). This section discussed how Apaches may imitate and exaggerate Anglo behavior for humorous effect, and analyzed a long “whiteman joke” to show exactly how and why Anglos look stupid when viewed from an Apache cultural perspective. This made me realize that my aliens are not nearly alien enough, culturally. They come from another planet, for pity’s sake — they should be at least as different from Anglos as the Apaches are. Another thing to address in the next draft. I’m going to take a 3-week breather from the novel now, to work on a commissioned short story.

6/25/03: Changing the past

Word count: 20293 Spent the evening rewriting a few key early scenes rather than adding new text. I changed Clarity from “underappreciated princess who craves power” to “overworked princess who’d rather play with her small pet projects than accept the power that’s being forced on her.” It was suggested by Keith Vargo at Wiscon, but I take all the blame for the implementation. It was surprisingly easy to make the change… only two scenes were affected. For example, I changed a scene from her trying to talk her uncle into letting her do something to the uncle trying to talk her into doing it. Many of the words were the same but I moved them from him to her or vice versa. I also added more description of the aliens to a couple of early chapters, since some of the readers at Wiscon didn’t have a clear idea of what they looked like. Still to do (by Saturday!): make Jason angrier to make his actions more plausible, make the world more messed up to explain Jason’s anger, and explain the “F vs. S” thing. And finish chapter 3. And critique one novel segment and write up my critique on another. Whee!

6/24/03: In the hospital

Word count: 20127 500 or so new words tonight, an expansion of the post-funeral scene with Honor’s assistant and the beginning of a scene in which Clarity visits Reason, the doctor, in her sickbed. I’ve hit my word count target, huzzah, but I would really like to finish this chapter in time to send it to critique this weekend (which means finishing it Thursday night so I can make copies on Friday). That might be another thousand words or more. I may have to skip square dancing on Thursday. I also want to rewrite a few key paragraphs in the earlier chapters to change Clarity’s attitude toward power, make her start in a different place emotionally. And I have one more novel segment to critique before the meeting on Saturday. Meanwhile I have two major, major projects at work, either of which could easily occupy my entire time, so there’s no opportunity to sneak in a little writing or critiquing during slack periods. At least I finished off a third major project (which has been on my plate for months!) today. Now if only I could stop Microsoft Outlook from giving me the oh-so-informative error message “The operation failed.” I’m having fun, believe it or not. I feel like I’m making progress.

6/22/03: The plague begins to spread

Word count: 19649 Nearly a thousand words today, still on track to hit my target of 20,000 words by the end of this week (though I would really like to finish the current chapter this week, which would result in a total of around 21,000 or 22,000 words). Also critiqued two novel segments this week, and got a couple of short story ideas. All of my writing today has been in two transitional scenes following Vigor’s funeral. Not much happens in these scenes, but we learn about what has been happening while Clarity was busy with the funeral and following wake. I’m a little concerned that things are moving too rapidly, but paradoxically not enough is happening… specifically, that Clarity is not taking enough action. I have something in mind for her for later in this chapter, though. But first, there’ll be another scene of blood and pain to drive home just how bad the situation is becoming. I keep tweaking the body count. Dozens? Hundreds? The outline says thousands at this point, but that doesn’t feel appropriate now. I think this reduction is OK, because slowing the progress of the plague now may give Clarity more to do in later chapters where her outline is currently rather thin. No repercussions yet from Clarity’s outburst at the funeral. Maybe this is a mistake, or maybe it will increase the stress to keep that hanging over her head (she is, at least, keenly aware that it is there). I keep telling myself this is a first draft — in the words of someone I met at Wiscon, you have to make cookie dough before you can bake cookies, and you have to write a draft before you can edit it into a finished novel. So I’m making cookie dough, and it’s OK if it’s half-baked (or even unbaked).

6/15/03: Burnt offerings

Word count: 18776 A thousand words this weekend, right on target for my next goal. Finished the scene at Vigor’s funeral, and it turned out neither the way I’d originally planned it nor quite the way I’d intended it when I sat down to write: Clarity’s grief, under intense pressure not to express itself (which arose both from her current situation and from Kris Rusch’s advice not to let characters cry on stage) morphed into an intense and unexpected anger, which boiled out at a key and very public moment of the ritual. Made the scene interesting to write, to be sure, though it was rather gut-wrenching for me and I’m not sure what this will mean for her relationships with the people she has to work with now. Nothing good, I’m sure. (Which is good for the novel. Life as a character sucks.) In other writing news, I’ve been invited to participate as a “pro” at the Worldcon writers’ workshop, and I’ve been asked to write a story especially for the OryCon 25 souvenir book. Cool!

6/10/03: At the funeral

Word count: 17660 500 new words tonight, at Vigor’s funeral. I read an essay a while ago in a back issue of the fanzine Twink about religion in science fiction, which pointed out that in most SF and much fantasy the characters are all atheists or agnostics who follow only the forms of religion, if that (not to mention the standard Cynical Non-Believing Religious Leader villain). So I’m resisting the temptation to fall into that default and giving Clarity, at least, real faith. The funeral scene is the first place this has come out, and I’m not sure how successful it is. Note: I am an atheist, but I’ve been told there’s a lot of spirituality in my stories. Go figger. I read another essay recently, Jed Hartman’s Strange Horizons editorial The Future of Sex, which asks “Where are the gay (etc.) people in the future?” Well, the main characters in this SF book are a straight-identified polyamorous woman who has some history of bisexuality, a gay-identified polyamorous bisexual man who used to date a female alien, and the alien he used to date (who has a kink for a particular kind of sex with gay human males). Now all I have to do is finish it and get it published, and I’ll be able to point at it and say “see, here are some!”

6/9/03: Once more unto the breach

Word count: 17141 Since the last entry I attended my 20th(!) college reunion, spent a relaxing week driving through picturesque countryside from St. Louis to Madison (including a visit to the amazing House on the Rock, as seen in American Gods), and attended Wiscon, one of the best SF conventions for writers. To give you some idea of the flavor of the convention, one night I wound up going to dinner with some folks I had just met that day; of the 8 people at the table, at least 5 were published writers. The quality and intensity of the hall conversations, as well as the formal program, were outstanding. Spent a lot of time with old friends (some of whom I hadn’t seen in years) and made some excellent new ones. At Wiscon I also had the first 3 chapters and synopsis critiqued. The reaction was… interesting. The critiques were generally quite positive, though not outstandingly so, but the thing that makes me scratch my head is that there was absolutely no consensus about where the problem areas were. For every person who said they thought Sienna was the best character and Jason was flat, there was another who loved Clarity but found Sienna unoriginal. There were a few small details that several people mentioned (for example, why do the aliens consider Earth’s moon to be God’s Eye? This is something to which I knew the answer, but it wasn’t in this draft of these chapters), but those are easily fixed. I think this lack of consensus is, on the whole, a positive sign. It indicates that no single area or character stands out as desperately in need of help. (Now, just because critiquers disagree about which is the weakest character is not the same as saying they are all strong. But this is a first draft.) So I’ve decided to leave the characters fundamentally as they are (though I’m still waffling over Clarity’s attitude towards power — one of the people who critiqued me had some good suggestions about changing her) until I finish the first draft. When I reach the end of the story I hope to have a better understanding of the characters, including where they should have started, and I can go back to the beginning and rework them based on that understanding. With all this travel, plus a heavy dose of work and other Real Life upon returning, I didn’t write a lick in weeks. Bad writer. But in the last two days, in part thanks to nudging from Kate, I’ve gotten back to work. So far I’ve been incorporating the simpler review comments, which explains the slight decrease in word count, but I do plan to get back to generating new text this week. To keep myself on track I have decided to begin sending the novel through my critique group on a meeting-by-meeting basis. I had originally intended to finish the first draft and revise it once before showing any of it to them (so they can comment on it as a whole, which is how the readers will see it). But I seem to need regular deadlines to keep producing. So I have made myself a deal: if I don’t have at least 3000 new words at each tri-weekly meeting, I will buy everyone a drink or equivalent. This is derived from the “external pressure biscuit technique” related by Delia Sherman at Wiscon. Yoickth, and away!