Sunday, March 31, 2013

Jay's voice

Maybe it's okay that I find it hard to write 'angry' if I can still manage to catch bites of Jay's voice like these:

The class is a joke, full of stoners, slackers, and girls who think henna and nail art is hot shit.

Mr. Dreschner is at his easel, taking up in the only good patch of natural light in the entire room. He’s working on his own neo-modern-bullshit, which looks like a mass-produced IKEA print threw up on his canvas.

“Inspired?” The word sounds suggestive, or deviant the way she wraps her tongue around it, as though Mr. Dreschner had asked if I was watching porn or peeking at girls in the changing room.

I’m backed-up hard with the urge to paint.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Cat scratches

Remember this?

I picked away a little more at Project #6. Last time, I ended with a stunningly cynical view of Jay's private school, and his classmates.

You'd think, with all the crap going on in my personal life right now, that writing Jay would be easy. But he's not.

I'm not good at writing angry characters, because I don't get angry. Sure, I'll have momentary bursts of frustration, but holding onto bad things, letting them fester into grudges & bitterness... I'm just not that type. I think anger is self-destructive and inefficient. It never makes a bad situation better, it merely inflates it.

It's too exhausting to bother with.

So Jay is hard for me to write. Probably the hardest character type I've tried so far. There's not as much personality/voice in this section as I'd like, but that's a problem to be fixed at a later time.

Also, not happy with Kell's rhythm of speech. Too long/cluttery. EDIT: somewhat better now.

BUT, the bit about the cat scratches... based on a true story :) My scars are on my stomach though ;)

Anyways, here ya go. Proof that I actually am being somewhat productive. EDIT: finished the chapter.


Oh, and it's my dad's birthday today :)

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The art of war... I mean, critique groups

Hello readers, remember me? I have a blog... I used to post regularly, make fun of myself, and talk about strange things like raisins, brown M&M's, and pizza popsicles.

No, I haven't moved again, joined a cult which professes the evilness of the internet, or sewn my eyelids together,* thus making it impossible to use a computer.

I've just been emotionally bankrupt (which means no energy/creativity for writing) and hiding from the world.

BUT, as part of this most recent move, I tried out a new local writing group on Thursday.

And, since then, I've been thinking a lot about writing groups, CP's, beta-readers, etc.

See... I love talking about writing, analyzing writing, deconstructing writing... and all those other good things about having a community of writing buddies to talk to.

But some things really suck.

Connecting with good writing buddies (IRL) is hard.

When I was freshly new at exchanging work with other writers**, I was freaking terrified. I figured everyone knew better than I did, everyone else had more experience, more knowledge, and more natural talent. Who was I to say anything bad about something they wrote?

I figured the best thing to do was shut up and listen.

Then, after a while, I grew a little more confident. I started thinking, "hey, even though I mostly suck, some of what I'm writing seems to be okay!" ...and then I started noticing things that maybe could be improved in other writer's work. And actually voicing those thoughts.

Scary, yeah.

...and the reactions were really interesting.

Some people completely ignored my comments, talked down to me/dismissed me***, or got mad. Very few people actually said thank you, or recognized (in any small way) how much time and effort I had put into reading their work.

And sometimes that made me angry.

But, I'm not gonna lie, I wasn't the best partner either. I was a master of, "what I was trying to do..." and "what I really meant was..." (translation: I obviously suck at getting to/making my point).

Totally newbie errors, right?

I swear I've improved!

Now, I love(d?) my local writing group in Victoria. They really helped me grow/develop as a writer. I wouldn't be where I am today without their great comments, both ruthless and comical, and they also introduced me to many genres I don't normally read, and generally expanded my view of the whole reading/writing world.

BUT, I've also tried out some other writing groups, as well as exchanged work with many, many people online.

I've made some amazing buddies, been awed by other people's great writing, and had some wonderful conversations/connections, though that's pretty much only been with online exchanges.

So far, the in-person-writing-groups have been single-visits because I would not consider them 'a good fit'.


1) writers who seem to get off on tearing apart everyone else's stories, then actually yell (no exaggeration) when you point out errors in their own

2) writers who don't read in the genre they write in, so while they tell you they're writing MG, it actually comes off as adult fiction, 'cause there are very few 12 year olds who commonly use the word 'serendipitous' when describing a situation.

3) writers who tell their story (essentially) in point form

4) writers so busy being literary that they forget to actually tell a story

5) writers who are so concerned with being grammatical perfect, that they want to edit out every scrap of voice within your story, and theirs is about as interesting as reading the content label of a cereal box.

6) writers who say they're serious, but it's painfully obvious they haven't even done the most basic of research****

7) writers who say nothing other than, "that's really good", and who only want to hear the same thing about their own work.

Now, not all of those are things worth leaving a group for, since some are just newbie errors, which everyone is guilty of at some point, but a few of them are worth stepping back and saying, "no, this is not a good fit."

In the last few days of thinking about this, the conclusion I've come to is:

Writing groups work best when you're all at a similar level.

I don't mean writing level (but that helps), I mean level-of-seriousness. If half the members are simply writing as a hobby and don't really care about editing/improving/perfecting their work... then it's a waste of time for those who are serious. If some writers aren't even going to do a basic edit of their work, so when they hand it over you're tripping over obvious grammar mistakes (like half a sentence missing), then it's going to be frustrating for those who work hard to give the cleanest version possible for critique. If some members only want to hear, "this is awesome!" and who only say the same thing in return, then it's a waste of time for those who genuinely want to find mistakes and improve. Similarly, if some writers only care about tearing down the work of other members, it's not only a waste of time for everyone involved, it's destructive.

Almost everything else in a group is workable.

You work in different genres? No problem, it's all about crafting an interesting, comprehensive story!

You're of different ages/genders/religions/cultures? Awesome! Different perspectives!

You live on different sides of the globe? That's what the internet/email is for!

Like I've said before, I've really enjoyed most of the people I've swapped with online. It's unfortunate that finding compatible people in real life is so much harder... but I guess there's a way smaller pool of people to pull from when you're limited by geography.

I was replying to an email today from a writer buddy who lives on the east coast, and she said something that also made me think about CP', and this bit doesn't matter if it's IRL or online.

She said she sometimes feels useless when she doesn't have very many comments to make.

She's not the only one I've heard voice this perspective, it's just this example is the freshest in my brain.

Now, let me tell you, she just critiqued the newly re-tailored first chapter of 'The Rules of Riding Shotgun', despite her insanely busy schedule/life.

She made six comments in the chapter, which is about 2,100 words long, then a summary paragraph at the end.

Three of those comments corrected word usages, not in a, "you're stupid!" kind of way, but in a fully/easily comprehensive, useful manner*****, and each time, she didn't say, "fix this, you are doing it wrong". Instead, she offered the solution she thought would work best, then said (essentially), "you decide if that's right for you/your story/your character".

Two comments were straight-up compliments.

The last (well, actually the first) was a free-form-thought on how she processed the "Rules", which now are at the very beginning of the story. Which was exceedingly helpful, and also made me giddy with joy since by the end of the "thought", she nailed what I was trying to do with the format.

So, out of those 6 comments, 3 were helpful, and 3 made me feel good about what I had written, but they weren't in a "this is awesome!" patronizing sort of way.

The summary paragraph was equally split into thoughtful/helpful comments, and praise of things that I had done right. She also commented on personal preferences (thing she didn't like), but it was obvious she had gone back and re-read at least once to confirm her position.

Now, compliments generally make me suspicious.

I don't like them, because I don't trust them. I either think:

a) I'm being lied to
b) the reader didn't actually bother taking this seriously/reading critically.

But, there is a happy medium between 'problem-writer-#1' and 'problem-writer-#7'.

Compliments that show the reader is being genuine, has actually read the work properly, and isn't saying it just to be nice.

And that's exactly the kind of writing buddy she is.

Yes, having CP's/beta-readers point out errors is a wonderful thing, because how else do you make your writing stronger?

But hearing what you do well is, I think, the only way to truly gain confidence as a writer and develop your own style/voice.

And I think it's under-appeciated as well. I know I err on the side of not stressing the parts I liked in other writer's work. It's something I'm actively trying to improve upon, but I am wired-up to look for mistakes... heck, I've been neurotically seeking out errors in my own writing since I was 7 so others wouldn't suspect there was something 'wrong' with me.

Do you think her comments are useless?

I sure as hell don't!

SO, I really don't think the number of comments matters. As long as the other person took your writing seriously and put some thought into what they do/do not comment on, then it's all valuable :)

More doesn't always mean better.

How about everyone else? What are the best & worst writer-buddy exchanges that you've experienced? Do you have a list of criteria (mental, or written) that you adhere to when starting a relationship with a new/potential CP? What are the qualities you admire most in a CP/beta-reader?

...and sorry, I really should have split this post up into at least 2 separate ones... I didn't mean for it to get so freaking long :p

* Ewww, right? Yah, well, I'm pretty tired right now.
** mostly online at first, but later with a local writing group
*** my favourite was when someone told me I wasn't the target audience for her work because it was "for people who like to think", so it didn't matter if I "didn't understand her writing". FYI, we don't exchange work anymore.
****hello, word-count anyone? Should picture books meant for a 5-year-old be 1000+ words?
***** and seriously, teaching grammar to a dyslexic person is like trying to teach a hippo to dance. This girl has mad skillz... and yes, I'm aware I am the hippo in that example.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The horrific word: 'background'

Some followers already know how much I hate writing character backgrounds. When things are all spelled out too neatly, it's boring. When I'm reading, I like to make my own guesses/decisions about things, not be told every detail.

Which is why Justine Larbalestier's book "Liar" is one of my all-time favourite books.

When I first started writing "The Rules of Riding Shotgun", I wrote this post, and then clarified it with a second post, since I wasn't as eloquent as I could have been the first time...

Most of that first post no longer applies. By the time I finished writing the first draft, I did know a lot more about both the MC & Triss's histories. I even added a bunch of background stuff before handing it off to my first set of beta-readers.

But apparently, it wasn't enough.

I got chastised by every one of my readers :)

...and rightly so.

So, yesterday (and the last week or so) I've been picking away at the story. Most of what I'm doing is fleshing out Triss's character a little more so she seems like less of a sociopath, but I'm also specifically going in and adding snippets of their histories.

Like, Triss got into trouble and was held back a grade. She's the same age as Jackson & Spence, but she's a year behind them. Previously, it wasn't even mentioned that she was a sophomore. I haven't decided yet if I want to make it more obvious that her mom is Jewish...

Another history bit I've added/clarified, is the MC still lives at home with his/her father, and the father's girlfriend. There are also a few new lines about what happened to the MC's mom.

So far I've added about 2,000 words, and I'm on page 57 of 224. I've also deleted some redundant info/etc, and am working to make the 'rules' stronger.

I still don't like backgrounds, and don't worry, there are no new info-dumps about either of their histories, but hopefully I have added enough small bits that readers won't be trying to beat me over the head for more information.

'Cause that is one of my known-problems... I like subtlety too much, so while I think everything is screamingly-obvious, readers are like, "I have no idea what's going on, and this is driving me crazy!"

So, yeah, trying to fix that :)

Which is the purpose of editing, right? To make the story better :)

How much background do you know before writing? Do you develop it before, or during the story? Do you usually have to add more background in, or take some of it out during your first round of edits?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Fluid & beautiful

I'm sure many of you follow Janet Reid's blog, so if you've seen this already, good for you.

...I really can't put into words how much I want to pull my light table out of storage and start drawing/animating after viewing that short.

There's a magic and beauty in classical (hand drawn) animation that you just can't find in any other medium.

The short is about longing... and that's certainly what I'm feeling.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Eva and I did it!

We walked all the way around the Stanley Park portion of the Seawall, which we've been building up to.

Well, we actually walked farther because I missed the path from English Bay that cuts around Lost Lagoon and meets up at the off-leash dog park.

So, probably closer to 15-15.5 km, plus several stops on the beach, and two ball-throwing sessions at the dog park. We went out at 9:30am and got back just before 2:00pm.

Eva has been crashed on the sofa ever since. Poor little pooped pup.

I'll make sure walk #2 (in about half an hour) will be on the short side ;)

Oh, I've also been working a little on editing (the recently re-titled) "The Rules of Riding Shotgun".

The biggest problem with the MS, at this point, is the likability (or lack there of) of the two main characters. Well, Triss, mostly.

Which is very tricky editing.

The hardest thing about writing an unreliable narrator is showing what the other characters are *truly* like, despite being seen through the MC's warped lens.

...and while Triss' bravado is mostly just that, there seems to be a very fine line between what the MC believes is true, and what the reader believes is true.

Because there should be a difference.

One of the main components of the MC's growth is recognizing that s/he is viewing Triss through a warped lens, but the reader should clue into that much earlier than the MC.

So, I'm taking it piece by piece, scene by scene, and trying to create a little more dimension/wiggle-room.

...and I suppose I won't even know if I've succeeded until I pass it along to readers :)

This is one of those times where I curse my own brain for making me write something unnecessarily complicated... but at the same time, I know that if I actually manage to succeed, that I'm going to be so damn proud that I was able to pull this off.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Rules of Riding Shotgun

So, yes, as of today, I'm officially changing the title of "Brake Fluid & Body Bags" to something along the lines of:

"_ Rules of Riding Shotgun"

Notice the "_" in the title? That's 'cause I think I might put a number there, I just haven't decided on how many rules there are.

So far, I have six:

Don’t ask stupid questions
Don’t talk back
Always obey the driver
Always trust the driver
Never lie to the driver
Never assume you have the right to ride shotgun

...any other suggestions, or do you think this covers it?

...also, for those grammar nazis out there, should it be "rules OF riding" or "rules FOR riding"? My ear wants it to be 'for', but 'of' seems to be more correct? If it's 'of', my brain wants to add 'the' to the beginning.

Sorry if I'm being confusing... here are the two I'm flipping between:

"The Six Rules of Riding Shotgun"
"Six Rules for Riding Shotgun"

Personally, I like the second one better, I'm just not sure it's grammatically correct

Due to... a number of people suggesting it, the "Rules" are also going to carry through the story better. In my current draft, they were almost secondary, but for the MC, these aren't only the rules of riding shotgun, they are the rules as to how he/she understands relationships with the people around him/her.

Follow the rules, or you get discarded/thrown away.

So, duh. They're pretty important, and I'm an idiot for letting them lapse into the background.

Anyways, would love to hear what you guys think :)

Monday, March 4, 2013

Wow, brain = fried

I literally spent all day today completing that MS critique, and almost turned off the computer when I typed my last in-document-comment around 7:30pm... but then I thought of how nice it would be to send it tonight so the author can have it all with no (further) delay.

So, a little more than two hours later, my summarizing commentary (4 single-spaced pages) is done, and I have sent it off.

I am hoping my in-document-comments will not make her burn me in effigy, as I added somewhere between 20,000-25,000 words to her MS... of just comments.

Yes, I have been told my critiques are overwhelming, which is why I normally do not send that file to people, just my "summary", but she requested it this time... and she had fair warning.

...and that's why I don't often take on beta-reading/critiquing projects, as I am incredibly thorough and it takes a lot out of me. My brain doesn't have the same stamina than non-dyslexic brains have... even small things make it work harder, and I get tired easily. But I still enjoy it. I wouldn't do it if I didn't.

Hopefully my comments will be helpful, as hers (on Brake Fluid), will be helpful when I get back to that story. She was the... third? person to suggest a title change, and I've almost made up my mind to do just that. I don't have any particular sentimentality/attachment to the current one, that was just the first thing that popped into my brain, and the title suggested (by everyone) is so ridiculously obvious I kinda feel like slapping myself on the forehead and saying, "duh."

Funny how the dyslexic brain works (or doesn't work). I've been so focused all day, used every scrap of my incredible powers of singularly-chasing-that-ball, and now that *work* is done, I swear my eyes have been glazed with a thick coating of lime Jello. Typing anything more than email for a couple days will certainly be difficult.

My mind feels floppy.

Does your mind feel floppy after a day like that?

What are your thoughts on critiquing/beta-reading? How in-depth do you usually go? Do you stick with line edits, or go for more of the over-arching things like pacing, character development, etc? Do you like giving critiques, or do you find it a chore?

What do you consider a *good* critique? Have you ever felt overwhelmed by comments, or do you usually hunger for more?

I'm definitely in the "shred it up and feed it back to me in small pieces" camp :) But then, some of you should already know that, as I am a self-proclaimed-masochist when it comes to receiving feedback ;)

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Winding down on responsibilities, winding up on writing

I've been in Vancouver for 2.5 weeks, and I've pretty much settled into the place, made it my own, and developed a quiet routine with lots and lots of walking (I even broke a pair of shoes last week on the Seawall).

Because of my back, I was unable to drive out to see my sister on her birthday, so Friday I had lunch with her, our mom, and my nephew.

I've changed my cell phone to a local number, and blind cc'd my entire address book with my new contact information.

Now, the only responsibility hanging over my head is finishing up a MS critique I promised... oh, about 5 minutes before everything blew up in January. Normally I don't take this long. Normally, I can get through an entire MS in a week... but no matter what else is going on, I have pride in the quality of work I provide, and I had no intention of working on it when my brain was all over the place.

I've tried getting into a couple books (I brought a stack of physical books with me from Victoria), but keep putting them down after a couple pages.

...'cause what my brain is really wanting to get back to, is writing.

All the long walks with Eva have been great for mind, body & soul, but when my mind is recharged... it wants to work. Hard. Reading isn't enough. TV or movies aren't enough. I need to submerge myself under a dozen layers of miry character motivation, so when I roll over and look up through the conflicting chaos, I can see the direction of light and movement that makes everything fit together. The order of how it works.

Thankfully nothing has boiled over, to the point where it wakes me up at night, but it's on the edge... that stage where the surface of the water ripples, but doesn't yet bubble.

So far, it's also unfocused. I don't know whether I'll leap into writing or editing, or even into which story.

For now, I'm enjoying that pleasant anticipation of 'good things to come'.

It's a beautifully sunny here today... we've had something like 52 mm of rain in the past three days (someone told me that, so I have no idea if that measure is accurate at all), and every time I've taken Eva out, I've gotten soaked clean through.

I'm looking forward to taking her out on the Seawall today and soaking up some Vitamin D.

Maybe this change in the weather will also push my brain over to the boiling point.