Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Straightforwardness

Monday, November 5th, 2012

Main characters in my finished and published stories, ranked in order of straightforwardness, starting with the most straightforward and ending with the least:

Rafe Dirisio — (Lone)
Paul Graham — (Paul’s Dream)
Joe Wilson — (A Picture’s Worth)
Kian Somers — (Paul’s Dream)
Zakai — (Paul’s Dream)
Joel Beckett — (Want Me)
Keith Taylor — (Chasing Winter)
Ace Donovan — (One Good Hand/One Good Year)
Riley Jameson — (One Shot)
Walker Cain — (Want Me)
Nick Carlyle — (One Shot)
Spade Hart — (One Good Hand/One Good Year)
Seth Anderson — (Lone)
Draven Donnor — (Just Perfect)
Mason Ripley — (A Picture’s Worth)
Asher Croft — (Paul’s Dream)
Jesse Winter — (Chasing Winter)
Dorian Burns — (Lone)
Cody West — (Just Perfect)

You might be thinking, “What?! How is Jesse so far down on the list, and how is WALKER square in the middle??” If you are thinking that, what follows is what passes for logic on my end:

First, this list only gauges straightforwardness, and does not take badassitude into account. Though, really, when you think about it, Jesse is plenty badass. Whenever Keith–who is gigantic and endowed with freaky super strength–steps out of line, Jesse never hesitates to knock him right back into it.

Second, the ranking is value-neutral. So whatever nefarious schemes a character might have going on (I’m looking at you, Draven), they don’t count for anything in this list.

Last, straightforwardness does not mean trustworthy. So, while Spade is arguably the most trustworthy character on the list, he waits till damned-near the end of the first book to tell Ace what he is, which Ace doesn’t take well. At all.

But anyway.

Jesse is in the bottom three because through most of Chasing Winter what he says and what he’s thinking are totally out of sync. For example:

“You always told me that willpower could accomplish anything.”

If I had known he’d remember every damned thing I said, I would have tried harder to stay away from such trite clichés. “Yes, I did say that.”

Or–

Keith grinned. “I’m making you uncomfortable, aren’t I?” He left the couch and searched out his briefs. “I’ll get out of your hair.”

I grabbed the top of the couch with my right arm and pulled myself up to watch him dress. Now that he wasn’t touching me, I felt…oh, God, I felt more alone than I ever had in my life. “Thank you.”

And he’s like that through most of the book. So now he’s on the bottom of a totally arbitrary, written-by-the-whim-of-the-author list on straightforwardness.

Jesse was fairly easy to place. If you’ve read Just Perfect, then you know why Cody ranks rock-bottom. No brainer. Same with Rafe and Paul. Rafe wears his heart on his sleeve and is always sure everyone around him knows where he stands. Paul’s heart is frozen solid for a while, but even then everything he does has a reason and he has no qualms about explaining those reasons to you.

Walker wasn’t so easy. Sure, he locks Joel to him in a horrifying spiral of magic that pretty much ruins both their lives, but remember–nefariousness has no weight on this list. He’s also a liar by nature, which would naturally rank him lower. But he doesn’t fuck around when it comes to his obsession with Joel. Never deviates. Never lets Joel forget that he’s never going to deviate. So, yeah, horrifying. But hey, straightforward.

You’re probably safer if you just don’t believe in anything Dorian does or says. Ever. I know it sort of worked out in Lone, but dude. Trust me on that one.

Riley was also hard to place. One Shot’s told from Nick’s point of view, and he’s royally freaked out through most of that story, so it’s hard to gauge how much of Riley’s actions are warped by that filter.

Seth was a pain in the ass. He’s got that crazy Ravager-magic-want-it-now-so-will-HAVE-IT-NOW thing going on. And first instinct is to rank him higher because even in human form he’s all “Look at my massive brown puppy eyes don’t you want to pet my hair?” But Seth doesn’t even know himself, so by default that cripples his ability to be straightforward with Rafe.

So that’s my logic, such as it is. I think it’s pretty easy to see why I put the others in their places on the list.

My question: Do you agree with me? Disagree? Where would you rank these guys, and why?


Interesting fact: I was not aware that “straightforwardness” was a legit word until I typed it up for the first time and didn’t get the red spell-fail squigglies. Prior to that I’d assumed I had made it up. “Squigglies,” however, is apparently fake, which feels wrong to me. >.>

Pressure

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

Writer’s block can be triggered by any number of things. Real life gets too busy, you get sick, you wrote yourself into a corner, you can’t get that freaking song out of your head and it’s ruining your scene.

Sometimes it’s pressure. With writers, there are three main sources:

  1. From your publisher
  • Although I’ve been lucky in this respect, some publishers take that wonderful book you wrote over the course of a year or two or five and want you to write three more just like it. By the end of the year.
  • From readers, real or perceived
    • This can be tricky. Most readers aren’t trying to pressure you when they’re asking when the next installment of this or that series will be out. You did your job as a writer, and now they’re a fan of the world you’ve created. This is a good thing. It’s a compliment.
    • Occasionally, though, I get a letter telling me to finish a particular storyline, and that generally has the opposite effect intended because I’m childish that way.
  • From yourself
    • This is the worst, by far. Writers by nature have overactive imaginations, and we can blow things all kinds of out of proportion. So everything listed above gets spun into your own psyche, along with:
      • If I don’t write three books a year the readers will forget me.
      • If I don’t write this freaking sequel the publisher will drop me.
      • What if this sequel isn’t as good as the first story in the series?
      • You’re only as good as your last book.
      • Nothing I write now will ever be as good as that one beautifully crafted book I wrote five years ago.
      • What if I never finish anything again?
      • I suck.

    Dealing with the first two sources is easy.

    1. If your publisher honestly expects you to write five books a year and that is not within your skill-set, tell them that. If they still expect the wordcount, then find a new publisher.
    2. Acknowledge that people love your world/characters enough to write you about them. Then take your time, and write a book that you love as much as the first one. Be good to your readers by being good to your story.

    See? Easy peasy. #3, though… There’s no simple way to lose all that baggage. But here are some of the things that I do:

    • Get a hobby that is not writing.
      • It clears my mind, relieves stress, and reminds me that there are other things in life.
      • I draw, fold origami, take pictures of toys and sometimes make animated .gifs of those toys, play soccer with my nieces and nephews (because apparently one little league season during kindergarten makes me the expert in my family).
      • I know other writers who sing, who cook. I’ve seen a lot of them knit during wait times at conventions.
    • Make friends with creators who are in the same fix.
      • Writers, artists, comic book creators. Talk about stuff. Vent that frustration we all get when we try to create a work of art only to have to market it as a product. Share that fear that we’re being pretentious when we refer to what we create as “art.”
      • This helps me realize I’m not alone. That these problems that seem so devastating are actually very common. Once the problems become common, they put a lot less pressure on me.
      • Note: Make friends. Don’t join a gang. The point is to get all those positive vibes flowing, which clears the air around you, which makes it easier to write.
    • Write under a secret identity for a while.
      • Hold on, hold on. I know this sounds mad sketchy. But it helps, especially given that I’m an established (am I being pretentious when I call myself “established”?) writer and the people around me tend to assure me that I could never write anything short of wonderful. Which is bullshit. Everyone will write a flop eventually. Most people will write several. But sometimes I get caught in one of two traps:
        • I get tied into knots because I’m terrified that the next book will suck and all these people who had faith in me will be disappointed.
        • I start to suspect my friends are lying to me.
      • I create a new username. I pick a forum or other such free story site that either aligns perfectly with my interests or falls way out of my comfort zone. I write. I get feedback from strangers who don’t know I’m Rowan McBride.
      • Rules:
        • Tell no one (not even my best friend who lives in another state and doesn’t like the internet) of my username. The primary point of this exercise is to see how I do when I have to “start from scratch” in a sea of people who do not know me.
        • If I’m writing in my comfort zone (frex: muscle growth) then go all out and write it, without all those invisible rules that come with being a published author tying me down.
        • If I’m writing out of my comfort zone, write it. Do my best to rock this strange new world.
        • Experiment.
        • If I fail, be glad. It won’t affect my writing career and I’m learning something.
        • If I rock it, be glad. I have proof that I am awesome.
    • Create long, rambling lists with bulleted points on how to relieve pressure. 😉
    • Read. Inside your genre. Outside your genre. Discover how absolutely fabulous you really are and realize with joy how much better you have the potential to be.
    • Listen to music.
    • Dance.
    • Breathe.
    • Write.


    Note: Thanks to Sherry on Goodreads for the suggestion of “breathe.” 🙂

    Writerly Things

    Friday, July 27th, 2012

    If you followed the link in my last post, you know I’ve lost my freaking mind on tumblr. There’s no organization to the stuff I post and that’s freeing for me, although I’m not sure how much fun it is for the people following me. It also somehow allows me to get a little more personal while simultaneously giving me more distance, which turns out is something I need.

    This is my writing blog full of mostly writing things, and I’ve been mulling over its direction. Been considering topics like:

    • The mechanics of writing, which would cover how I, personally, approach the craft.
    • Stuff that keeps writers up at night. Not all writers, obviously. Many writers sleep very well. But I’d talk about things I’ve noticed with me and my particular group of friends.
    • Inspiration for certain stories/characters, what I think of them, etc. Sometimes I get the urge to share, but then I remember reading “DeathNote v13: How to Read DeathNote,” and there was some stuff in there that I wish to this day I could unread.

    What do you guys think? Is there anything you’d like to see me blog about?

    Help a Fab Editor

    Friday, April 27th, 2012

    My editor at Loose Id, Raven McKnight, is ill and is currently trying to get her health insurance to do right by her.  She’s a total fighter, but fighting requires being able to sit up and breathe at the same time, and she can’t even get *those* meds.  So Katey Hawthorne got a bunch of us together in order to raise some money that will help her do just that.

    How can you help?  Go to http://www.indiegogo.com/for-raven. There’s different ways to donate, and each donation level gives you a chance to win a different prize.  They’re awesome prizes, for a very good cause.

    Raven edited “One Good Hand,” “One Good Year,” and “One Shot.”  She’s sharp, savvy, and not afraid to rip a manuscript apart in order to make it better.  She also keeps me from losing my damned mind at the height of edits and in those tense days just after a book release.  She’s a great editor and a credit to writing.

    Let’s help her out.

    A new way to think about creativity

    Saturday, March 24th, 2012

    I missed my usual Thursday post. But today’s post, although late, although not mine, is really, really good.

    This is a Ted Talks lecture given by Elizabeth Gilbert. Everyone who’s felt that spark of creativity should watch this twenty minute video. The viewpoint she shares is straight forward, poignant, funny, and inspirational.

    A Bit of Fluff

    Thursday, February 16th, 2012

    A couple of months ago, my editor at Torquere suggested I write a bit of bonus material for Just Perfect. Something from Cody’s point of view that showed what he might see in Draven. At first I had reservations, but when I started, I felt…good. So good that the piece came out 300 words over word count.

    click the pic if you'd like to learn more about Just PerfectIt reminded me how much I really do love the sweet and fluffy stories. I’ve been in a dark place lately and I think my stories have been reflecting that (in really fun and twisty ways), but this tiny little excerpt made me smile. The combination of my editor’s suggestion and the card my friend sent me a while back is probably what got me going on One Good Year. It’s funny how events sometimes come together in odd and perfect ways.

    Not that I have any plans to abandon my twisty stories. 😉

    We had to cut the word count down to 500 before posting it on the Torquere social group, but I got permission to post the original version on my site. You can read it here.

    I hope you like it.

    It’s simple math, really.

    Thursday, January 26th, 2012

    Sometimes I storyboard. I take a pack of index cards, write down all the scenes that are jumbled together in my mind (one scene per card), and lay them out on the carpet. This way, I can see if the storyline and character arc makes sense. I like storyboarding more than outlining because I feel as if I have more leeway to add scenes, delete scenes, and shuffle stuff around (this advantage, of course, is all in my head because cut & paste lets me do all of that on the computer). It’s a way of getting organized that works for me.

    Below is one of the cards from a novella I just finished:

    Recognize those names? 😉

    On heroes, villains, and what I can get away with.

    Friday, January 20th, 2012

    A while back I got a rejection letter (I know, shocker, right?). It was nice as far as rejection letters go. Said my writing skills were tight. The story itself was too dark, though. I know this because the word ‘dark’ was used five times in two paragraphs.

    It made me realize that I’m not so good at telling my heroes from my antiheroes from my villains, and that this could actually be a problem.

    click the pic to learn more about One ShotSometimes I don’t cross a line by much and an editor will tell me how to revise. In the original manuscript of One Shot, Riley was much scarier than he is in the published version. When I made him nicer I made the mistake of not toughening up Nick by a proportional amount, but Nick’s still a little hottie in my book so that’s okay.

    click the pic to learn more about Want MeWalker Cain from Want Me, however, didn’t get dialed down at all. For good or ill, it was one of the reasons I chose to self-publish. It meant I could go crazy with the storyline. I got to write a character who literally had no concept of right and wrong, not even as other people saw it. He wanted. He took. That was his life. Unfortunately what he wanted most was Joel, and the spiral they were thrown into as a result turned out to be razor sharp and painful for both of them.

    Ahh, how I loved that book.

    Still, there was an element of likability to Walker. Partly because he just didn’t know any better. Innocence born from madness.

    click the pic if you'd like to learn more about Just PerfectDraven Donnor is not mad. He knows exactly what he’s doing. And he knows that almost everything he does is not right by human standards. So that would make him a villain, yeah? Except that he’s not human. He has a moral code, but it’s a product of who he is, of a culture very different than ours. And when it comes to Cody, he’s all about loving, he’s all about protecting, he’s all about getting closer. So he’s got flaws, but he also has one really, really good trait. Maybe that makes him an antihero. But…

    When he becomes an assassin, he finds that he enjoys his job. That never changes. No angst. No crisis of conscience. Plus at the beginning of the story he steals from Cody. His best friend. Which brings us back into villain territory. On the other hand, from his perspective he is a natural, right being, rightly doing what comes naturally to him. Then again, most villains think the same thing about themselves, meaning Antihero Upgrade denied.

    As you can see, I’m not entirely certain how I should feel about my newest character. But I feel for him all the same. He is Draven and I love him. Just like I love Walker. Just like all those psychotic characters I adore so much in anime. (I’m looking at you, Akabane.)

    This says something serious about my psyche. I’ve yet to figure out what, exactly. As the writer of such stories, am I the hero or the villain? Maybe I’m trying to write the best story possible with a concept that’s always intrigued me, and maybe I hope Just Perfect catches on and its popularity will let me write more of it. Some of the stories I’d like to tell are cool and dark and possibly twisted. And I believe they belong on the shelf right next to my fluffy stories, because I love fluffy too.

    Perhaps my ultimate goal is to bring balance to my backlist. That’s a worthy aspiration, even if the road is five times as dark.

    Does that mean I’m the antihero?

    Or am I just a writer with wicked thoughts, trying to see what xe can get away with?

    Names and Master Plans

    Thursday, August 18th, 2011

    This post is probably going to be even more ramble-y than my usual, so there’s that.

    I started a story recently where I changed the name of the main character three times. That never happens to me. In a best case scenario, when I imagine a character for the first time he already has a name attached. In other, less desirable situations, I spend hours—sometimes days—going through my baby name book, name websites, and scrolling through my television menu for random actor names until I find something that fits, dammit. But something always does, even if I have to eventually make it up. The name captures the person.

    Until this new guy. He started out as a Dan, then as a Ray, and currently he is Neil. At the moment I’m not entirely sure I think his name is Neil. It’s really disconcerting. I can’t even start a story unless I know who the main characters are, and here I have one and I can’t pin down his name. I feel like I’m writing about a ghost. Which I’m not.

    Then come the repeats. I’m not sure what the writer etiquette is on that. I have a Michael in Michael Finally Grows Up (which was updated late last month—yeah!), but I also have a Michael you’ve never met, in a sequel that I promise I’m working on slowly but surely. In this case I don’t think it’s so bad because MFGU is a free serial and in a different category from the novel I’m working on. Separation challenge: Easy.

    Things get murkier when the stories are both books. Jesse Winter is still my favorite character I’ve created, but a few days ago this new idea popped up in my head, along with a brand new character whose name was…Jesse. I figured I had to change it, but Derek—the love interest—calls him Jess and how hot is that? Keith never called his Jesse Jess. Of course, Derek is the name of this guy I’d had planned for a fairy tale down the road…

    *headcramp*

    I’ve lost count of how many idea files I have on my hard drive. How many “chapter ones” I intend to spin out into fully realized tales. I also have a spreadsheet to keep track of all the names, to help keep my myriad of master plans and distinct worlds from colliding with each other. And yet I have two Michaels, two Jesses, and a dude who may or may not be a Neil.

    Sometimes I wonder why I put so much effort into names, anyway. Would the content of my stories be that much different if I named half my characters Bob? Then I take Jesse from Warm Rush, and try to imagine him as, oh I don’t know, a Duke or something, and that really doesn’t seem like it could work. But Duke from G.I. Joe? What other name could he have? Also—hot.

    This new Jesse? I’ve tried retro-fitting him with different names. Nothing works so far. I think about books I’ve read by authors I love and I have to admit, unless it’s the same universe, I don’t pay attention to names (or similarities, or repeats) from one series to another. But then I’m freakishly bad with names (hence the spreadsheet mentioned above to help me remember my own characters) so I’m most likely not the best sampling here.

    What do you think? Is it confusing when an author has two characters with similar names, even if the story worlds never overlap? Or does the fact that I have around 250 names used (as in seen in a published/posted story) or on reserve (as in featured in one of my many “chapter ones”) in my spreadsheet make it a big enough pool that I can use a couple of them more than once?

    And Neil, or whatever the hell his name’ll be by the end. Still no idea what to do about him. Maybe he’d work as a Bob…

    So much for master plans. >.<

    Pretty Words

    Friday, March 11th, 2011

    Two things happened in my writing life recently that were kind of interesting and kind of related. First—I finished a novella. I think I’m going to title it Just Perfect despite the fact that it’s one of my darker stories but we’ll see. It’s in a revision stage, after which I’ll submit it to a publisher, so keep your fingers crossed. The second is that I’m currently working on another story and I finished writing a sex scene that I started in…2009, I think. Yeah, I got stalled pretty badly there. It might have been a good stall though because when I look at the plotline it doesn’t seem believable to me anymore, and I think I’ve got a better direction now for the book. Silver lining and all that.

    The thing that kind of relates these two stories is language. When I was writing Just Perfect, I was afraid I’d lost the sense of lyricism I was so proud of in books like Lone and Paul’s Dream. Some might say I’m a little too in love with that sort of writing, but I’m really attached to pretty words, sentences that flow. The language in Just Perfect is hard, straightforward, and to the point. It wasn’t until I’d finished the story and read it all the way through for the first time that I realized this was Draven’s (the main character’s) voice, and that it fit. He’s an assassin, after all. And one who likes his job.

    The story I’m working on now has more of the pretty words I thought I’d lost, which makes sense. Both characters in this one are nicer, gentler, a lot more innocent. They think differently so they express themselves differently.

    I forget, sometimes, that it’s the characters who set the tone for a story, and that as long as you stay true to them, the words may not always be “pretty,” but they’ll always flow. And just because I’m stretching my writing muscles from time to time, doesn’t mean I’ve lost my touch.

    It might even mean I’ve gotten better. (This is me, trying to be more optimistic as per my New Year’s resolution.)

    😉