Thursday, March 7, 2013

Road Trip Wednesday # 171



Quarterly Check In!

I had plans... once.  And perhaps they were silly plans.  Especially for Winter Break which involves not only travel, but Christmas, and birthdays and Memorial services and sundry other events that are full of crazy.  But I had hope!

I have two novels that are currently: UNDER CONSTRUCTION: HARD HATS ONLY.

And I was planning, I suppose, to finish both.  One just needed to be finished, and the other needed to be refinished, since I had to cut the last 7 chapters and reformulate them.

I managed to get neither goals accomplished... during break.

But just last weekend I scribbled down the final scene for novel #2, and wrote a short epilogue.  DONE!  (Then, of course, I looked back at the beginning and was like - oh god.  This needs a lot of work.  As well as needing to be cut by 1/3.)

Novel #1 is still not quite complete, but I'm hoping that Friday/Saturday this week will give me a few solid hours to bang out some words.  I have been progressing, and I really think there's only a few more scenes before I hit the end, less than 10k even.

And then CPs!  Be ready!


(And at some point I need to find the time to sort out my thesis, but one thing at a time, eh?)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Road Trip Wednesday #168: What Do You Love About Writing?

What do I love about writing?

The power.

It's really as simple as that.  When I'm writing I have complete control - over the world, the events, the characters' destinies, and I can create a world that is thrilling and wild and absurd and beautiful if I want.  And I can live there.  Maybe it's only for an hour at a time, but I can live and feel and experience so many things, just by using my brain.

And it's not just the power over myself and my characters, but the power over my readers.  This isn't a vicious, vindictive sort of power, it's just love.  I want to take them and shake them up and make them laugh and make them feel, and then, in the end, make them feel satisfied, whether it's a happy satisfied or a sad one.

So, yeah, if I didn't have writing I'd probably be a megalomaniac of some kind.  :D

Friday, January 18, 2013

Book Troubles...

Here's the thing.  I've forgotten how my book should end.

Usually, when I'm getting so close that I can SEE it, caltrops couldn't stop me from finishing this thing. But this has been a LONG SLOG.  And I let myself get distracted with a side project.  And then there's the project that I should actually be working on.  (And school - but forget school).  So, essentially... I've got problems.  But this book, now THIS BOOK.  It should be beautiful, and it's a mess.
I went and found my love list for this book - or my list of themes or something:

Gothic
Romantic
Erotic
Bloody
Cruel

Think Howl, by Florence + the Machine.  Think dark fairies and werewolves and evil science.  Think Cinderella + Little Red Riding Hood all smashed together, where the prince is actually the wolf.
Only that's the problem, you see.  Because my wolf-prince is being PATHETIC.
Cinderella's doing well.  Her life's falling apart.  She's nearly dying for like the sixteenth time.  She is completely miserable.

Wolf-prince, however, she's not so desperate.  Technically, her brother/father/lover figure has just told her that he was planning on using her body and sticking someone else's mind in there.  She's lost her home, has decided to challenge someone way more powerful than her for lordship of the fief.  Her brother is burning everything of hers that he can find.  So she's upset and scared and off balance and angry - and then goes and drinks tea with a nice lady.

WRONG!  WRONG I SAY!

This isn't good enough.  I keep on making sure she has baths and enough to eat when she should be RUNNING FOR HER LIFE.  She should go get Cinderella because there's no one else - even though it's drawing her brother to them.  

THIS IS THE LAST PART OF THE BOOK.

If wolf-prince isn't miserable now, when is she going to be?  If she's chirpy and happy, meeting her mom, making out with people, being kind of annoyed - it isn't good enough!  And the thing is, Cinderella NEVER CATCHES A BREAK.  She's always losing people, upsetting her dad, breaking her ex-boyfriend's heart. Wolf-prince doesn't have a lot to lose, except her life, and yet her life is never in danger.  Where is evil brother?  Why hasn't he tried to attack her directly?

She needs to get hurt.  She needs to escape by the skin of her teeth.  She needs to KNOW DESPAIR.

So that when she says, "No," to Cinderella, "I'm not using you.  You need to go and stay gone.  Stay out of here.  I might die, but I won't drag you down with me." and lets her go, saying 'don't bring me that one thing that might actually let me defeat my brother' it rings true.  And then when she turns around and says, to her evil brother, "No, I'm ready now.  Take me and put your dead girlfriend in my mind, take me and don't go after her.  You win." it sounds right - and sad.  But like something she would do.  "I've nearly lost you enough times, you need your own life, that doesn't involve people who are after me trying to kill you."

Wolf-prince - you need to be there.  And I know your girl is a woobie, but you don't have enough woobie cred.  You get angry.  But you've been a victim your whole life, and now the people you had just started to trust are turning on you - not just turning on you, hunting you.  What are you going to do about that?

Cry?

Go for it.

Then get scared, bleed, and run.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Voice & Style

I've been wondering about voice for a while. Being a linguist, I know a lot about language, and teaching writing I've started to figure out what makes writing effective. But voice has always been unquantifiable. People say everyone has voice. What that means, I think, on a basic level, is that everyone has a certain set of words that are their go-to words, they have a certain idea of what makes a sentence flow. It often reflects the way they speak - where they put adverbs, whether they use lots of rhetorical questions. But there are three pits you can fall into with voice.

1) An inconsistent voice.
2) A sloppily executed voice
3) The wrong voice for the story.

If voice is something that everyone has naturally and everyone has only one, then how can there be a wrong voice? Am I saying that some people can't write certain types of books because they have the wrong voice? No.

 When we speak we frequently exploit varying registers. If you're speaking to your little brother, you're not going to speak to him in the same way you would speak to your boss, right? (Unless your little brother is your boss, in which case, I'm sorry.) And if you do speak to your boss in the same way you spoke to your little brother, you might get fired. These registers are basically systems of preferences. 

Little brother: Prefer 'hey you!' Imperative voice. Casual language. Slang. 'or else!' Short sentences. 

Boss: Prefer 'please' Subjunctives like 'would, could, might.' Formal language. No slang. 'do you think...?' Longer sentences.

 We can switch between them easily!

In writing, though, register becomes more complex and tentative. You don't have a person that you're directing it to, so it's harder to make choices. And often you're writing in a certain style.

Style in essay writing is a lot like register. You consider who your audience is. You ask, do we want to impress them or to befriend them? You write.

It's harder to figure out what's right for a novel. An MG voice isn't the same as an adult voice, but a comedic voice isn't the same as a mythic voice either. Choosing a style is not just choosing an audience, but figuring out the feel that you want your writing to have.

The problem comes when you actually try to write it. We all have registers for friends vs. teachers, but we don't necessarily have a particular register ready to address the emperor, or to talk to baby ducklings. We don't all have a gothic style at our fingertips, or even a comedic style. And if we can't control the style we're writing in, things start to fall apart.

When agents and editors say voice, what they mean is this:
Voice - The consistent and correct exploitation of a style.

The way your style will come out is directly linked to your experience of language. That's why reading a lot of the type of voice you want to master can be helpful. You learn and then you make generalizations. "Use long sentences." "Use creepy words like 'lacework' and 'groan.'" But unless you only read those books and words from the age of two and never speak to anyone else, you're not going to mimic it exactly. It's going to build another layer onto your own language. Your own language is the source, is the bricks. Your language will merge with this new style to create a voice.

But that's not enough to create Voice. It has to be consistent. Part of that is controlling the style (rather than letting the style control you). Part of that is controlling the perspective, making sure that you know who you're talking to and what your relative positions are (social positions, but also physical and temporal positions.) Languages take note of who is speaking, who they're speaking to, when they're speaking, when what they're speaking about occurred in relation to the speaking, and where they are in regards to the action, as well as tons of other things. Controlling the perspective (a lot of this goes into the POV) is part of controlling your style.

If you can't control the style we often end up with sloppy execution. Sloppy execution suggests not paying attention to the details. And there are a lot of details! Are you referring to your reader as 'you' or 'one?' Are you referring to your reader at all? Have you forgotten what perspective your narrator is relating the narrative from? Slipping in a modern slangy term into a historical, slipping in an old-fashioned word into a modern story. Using the same structures repetitively without any clear reason. Readers have to get used to writing styles. A sudden shift in syntax can be jarring. If you just got used to having post verbal parenthetical adverbs to suggest contrast, "John went, surprisingly, to the store." and then suddenly you shift to 'but' clauses instead, it's going to give the reader whiplash. "John went to the store, but it was unexpected."

Styles don't have to be dramatic. You might say, simply, I'm going to write in a colloquial style, as if I were telling this story to a friend. But which friend, when, for what purpose? All of these things go into your voice. Every day, we speak in many registers. We have the ability to write in many styles. But we choose register based on context. Choosing a style is conscious - and often, a whole lot more fun. But pulling off the style - that's voice.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Thursday, September 13, 2012

My Unedited Bookshelves




N.B. One bookshelf is never enough.  Of course I use them for lots of other things as well. :D

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Apologies for Ranting

So here's the thing, politics makes me unhappy, especially because when any politician speaks, and I mean ANY politician, I can't help but think "where are your sources?  Why am I supposed to believe you when you're not an expert on this?  You don't have a PhD, you haven't done any empirical work, you've decided that there is 'a way to solve this problem' without asking what the problem actually is."  These are all signs of bad scholarship, and it doesn't matter how wonderful your theory is, if your methodology is flawed: bad data, incomplete data, non-realistic approach to the question, no research into related issues, etc; your solution is going to be flawed.

But when the issue turns to women's health, I get scared.  The reason is simple.  When do we think it is reasonable to make decisions for other people?  Generally, there are two cases, when we think that they are not mentally competent enough to make decisions for themselves, and when we think that they are a threat to our society.  For example - dotty old people and children often need other people to make decisions for them, and we want those people to be trustworthy so that they don't abuse the fact that they have power over these people, because, essentially, these people are no longer citizens, they no longer have the rights and protections due to citizens.  Terrorists, murderers, pyramid schemers, they fall under the other definition.  They are actively attempting to destroy our social stability.  (Most of the time people of one party think that members of the opposing party also fall under this definition: 'lefty pinko commie,' 'militant right-wing fascist.' etc.)  But under which definition do women fall?

When we make decisions for other people, take away their choices - whether to buy health insurance or to decide what to do with their own bodies - we are saying that they are not competent enough to make decisions for themselves.  It's a slippery slope.  Telling someone that their decision is wrong is not the same as taking away their right to make decisions for themselves.  Everyone makes mistakes, and some of those have dire consequences, but have we banned SUVs because it's easy to run over children in them?  Or skiing because you're lucky to get out of it with only two broken legs?

In a lot of YA dystopians the main idea is that someone else makes decisions for you, like whether or not you can love, or other odd things, but where it gets scary is not when they whole society is being controlled like this, but when one subset of the society is being told that they are not smart enough to make decisions for themselves.  That's when things turn bad quickly.  Us and them, chains and ovens.  So be careful when you think it's alright to tell someone else that they don't get to choose.  Be careful that it doesn't end up turning around and biting you in the butt.