A to Z Challenge 2013

Friday, July 30, 2010

Friday Fun - The Right Word

One thing I mentioned yesterday was that I hate revising because it bugs me when I can't find the right word.  When you find the right word, everything flows and you feel it.  It's like an electric current running up your hands and arms from the tip of your pen.  Today's Friday though, so I'm not going to dive into a deep discussion about this.  Instead I'm going to share a song and video with you that completely personifies the idea of choosing the right word.

Can you imagine how much work had to go into crafting the lyrics for that song?  That would have seriously driven me crazy.  It's one of my favorite all time songs though.  If you've got any other examples of something like this, feel free to share in the comments.  And have a great weekend everyone.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Blog Chain - The Revisionist

Before I plunge into today's blog chain, I owe Abby Annis an apology.  She is holding her 200 Followers contest and I didn't post about it.  And it ends soon.   I'm sorry Abby, but here's me making up for it.  Don't take me off the Christmas card list.  I really am an avid follower of your blog.  Almost stalker-like even.  Oh, and thanks for changing the color of the drapes.  The old ones were really horrendous.

So for the rest of you, if you haven't popped in to Abby's blog lately, you need to hustle on over.  She has over 200 followers for a good reason, and she's celebrating by giving away some awesome stuff.  The winner will receive books, some awesome pens, and a journal to use them in.  Does it get much better than this?  Well okay, a publishing contract worth 2 million would be nice too, but let's not get greedy.  Get over there and enter the contest right this second.  The contest ends on the 31st, so you don't want to miss out.

Today's blog chain question is brought to us by the incredibly talented (and recently agented for her book Revenant) Sarah who asks:

How do you handle revisions? Do you revise as you're writing, or do you wait until you've gone through beta readers and crit partners to revise? How soon after you finish do you begin your revisions?

Okay, this is a question I have been dreading, as I watch all the others on the chain explain how they do it.  This is one of the problems with being the newbie.  It just sucks because everyone else seems so cool by comparison.  Sigh.  Yeah, I know I shouldn't do comparisons.  Hard habit to break, but I'm workin' on it.

Revisions are the devil.  They're a demonic gatekeeper, laughing as they toss the key to publication from hand to hand, knowing full well you'll never pass their test and be allowed into the light.  Wow, that's dark.  Sorry.

So how do I handle revisions?  As I write, I struggle with word after word, my brain refusing to acknowledge which one might be right.  I have really had to work hard to turn off my internal revisor (and sometimes I'm even successful at it) so that I don't revise on the fly.  When I catch myself going back over a sentence, I have to mentally smack myself.  Leave it alone for now, I tell myself.  Yes, it sucks right now, but leave it alone.  I'm not always able to shut it down, but I'm getting better.  The electro-shock therapy works wonders.  And no I haven't noticed any side effects.  Side effects.  Side effects.

Oh, where was I?  Revisions.  Right.  I recently took a short story class and I was the first person to submit my story for critique.  This was when I really got a taste of why revisions are necessary.  The class tore my story to shreds (virtually, not literally) and well they should have.  Let's face it.  My story was a first draft and it sucked.  Well, it didn't suck, but it was definitely not good.  I took everyone's advice though and put it (and the critique comments) to the side for a while.  I then helped critique everyone else's, learning all the while how the things I were finding in other people's story could help me improve my own.

Now I'm revising the short story and I'm glad I took the pause and let it sit for a few weeks.  I am seeing not only things I can do better, but I'm also seeing where I can add to the story to help flesh it out properly.  My revision process is still a work-in-progress, but I have learned alot just from the answers everyone else has given on the chain.  Like the practice of laying all the critiques out side by side as I revise.  Great idea.  I still have a bit of work to do before I can say I have a concrete revision process, but the one thing I can admit is that this question has given me some really good ideas (from the other blog chainers).

Wow, I made it through this one.  Why was I dreading answering it?  Who knows.  You should probably go check out how Kat handled it.  And make a note on your calendar to stop by Margie's blog for her take on the subject.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Dungeons And Dragons - Character Traits

Before I jump into today's topic, there's a bit of housekeeping stuff I need to attend to.  Alex J. Cavanaugh is celebrating 200 followers and he's holding a contest for it.  I only recently started following Alex, but I'm a big fan.  Check out this trailer for his book CassaStar:

If that doesn't get you excited about the book, I don't know what will.  I'm seriously hyped to pick this one up.

The reason for today's title isn't to show off my geek card (though I do have one, in solid gold no less).  One of the blogs I follow had a post a while back that got me thinking about character traits.  I tried to remember who it was, but I honestly don't know (so if it's you, please accept my most humble apology for not giving credit where credit is due).

Now for the uninitiated, here's a quick glimpse into what DnD involves. The Gamemaster (GM) is a storyteller, and he tells how the player characters got where they are. Each player has a character they have created (on paper), and they are usually focused in a specific direction. For example, there may be a party composed of a warrior, a bard, a priest, a mage, and a monk. The player characters (all sitting around a table) then listen as the GM unfolds the story and they walk their characters through the GM's world, fighting, saving people, obtaining treasure, and making choices. This is an extremely simplified view of things, but hopefully you get the idea. If you're a DnD vet or just interested in learning more, my friend Matt Conlon has a great DnD blog you should check out.

Back when I was an avid DnD gamer, I was part of a group that had an extremely talented (GM).  He was very creative, and he would challenge us to make the characters we played more realistic.  So before one session, he wrote random character traits (faults, actually) on note cards and had us pick one.  They were things like drug addiction, alcoholic, uncontrollable temper, easily seduced by women, etc.  We were then expected to incorporate these traits in how we managed and played our character.  Some of the players didn't like the change, probably because they just wanted to go kill stuff and loot treasure holds.  Looking back though, this was one of the most fun sessions I experienced.
I believe my particular character got the fault of being an alcoholic.  This meant I had to make sure he always had alcohol on him and that he was always drinking.  It also meant minor to severe negatives during combat, depending on his level of inebriation.  It was a lot more difficult to play, but it made my character that much more real.  And it challenged me to literally step into his shoes for a bit.
I am in the process of fixing a short story, and the biggest thing I have to fix is characterization.  On my first draft, my characters were flat.  I was using amateurish tricks to liven them up, but I recognize now (thanks to my critique partners in the short story class) how flat they are.  Thankfully a friend has offered to help me out a bit, since some of the characters are mythological and I need more knowledge in that area.
Remembering that DnD session though, has put me in the right frame of mind for this.  One thing that does make a character more real is quirks, traits, or faults.  Now I'm not saying I'm going to randomly assign my character to be a drunk, but I am trying to once more step into someone else's shoes.  Is my character rich?  Are they poor?  How does that affect their psyche?  What about my mythological immortals?  How does living forever change their outlook, and what habits have they picked up?  All of these questions (and more) are running through my mind, and I'm hoping my previous DnD experience will help me answer them. 
In your writing, are you asking questions about your characters?  Do they have traits you haven't yet identified?  And how will you include hints of them without stalling the story?

Monday, July 26, 2010

An Opportunity - Stepping Outside The Writing Circle

My 16 year old was sitting around Friday afternoon when his friend texted him and asked if he wanted to go to the mountains.  His first reaction was to say no, but it was mostly because he was occupied with playing a video game.  I poked and prodded him into going anyway though, because it turned out that his friend was going to be helping a grandma with burro races.  Yes, you read that right.  In the Colorado mountains, they hold lama and burro racing annually, for 13 and 26 miles respectively.

In any event, it was an entirely new experience for him and (despite sunburns) he had a great time.  He got up around 8 a.m., went down to the race grounds, and opened gates for the racers.  This continued over the course of three days, and by the time my son came home, he was beat.  But he had a smile on his face and stories to tell.

I thought about how happy I was to have forced my son to go because he had such a good time and got to experience something he would otherwise never have seen.  For one thing, I doubt he had ever seen a lama up close before, let alone seeing them racing.  There is also something great to be said about being away from your parents and hanging out with your friends.  While we missed him a bunch, this is the stuff memories are made of.  He'll hopefully not forget this anytime soon.

Tonight I was thinking over it again, and I realized how similar this situation is to writing.  We sit down every time to write and take ourselves down familiar paths.  Sure, we're writing different stories but how different are they?  Looking at my own writing, I can see places I haven't gone.  I have never challenged myself with romance, for example.  I've never written a western.  But I can envision how attempting such projects would help me become a better writer, even if it's nothing more than an exercise.

I'm going to try to do this more often, write something that is outside of my comfort zone.  A small romantic scene, a gunfight at the O.K. Corral, or maybe a steampunk adventure.  Something new and challenging.  When was the last time you wrote something like that?  Were you glad you stepped outside the comfort circle?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Friday Food For Thought - Celebrating Authors, Stealin' Links and Bad Writing

Yep, you read that right.  I'm being a thief today.  That's because Michelle McLean has all the links I need to properly celebrate my new favorite author - Shaun Hutchinson.  Her post today is timely, because I just finished reading The Deathday Letter myself last night and I knew I had to talk about it today.  It's just that good.

If you haven't picked up a copy of this book, you're doing yourself a huge disservice.  Shaun captures the tone and character of a 16 year old boy effortlessly.  The book is funny, it's heartwarming, and it should appeal to just about anyone even though it's in the YA genre.  I just can't say enough about this incredible book.  Okay, I better stop here or Shaun's going to worry that I'll start stalking him (which I won't do Shaun, even if a trip to Florida does sound nice).  And here are all the stolen links, may you visit them all (sorry Michelle, heh heh).

The DeathDay Letter

Shaun's Site

Twitter page (yeah, I know I'm not twittering yet, but anyway)

Facebook page (yep, I'm not doing this either, but Shaun is)


Barnes & Noble


Powell's Books

Simon & Schuster

Over at Holy Terrors, Michelle Scott linked to an award winning short story written by Kij Johnson.  Being the responsible writer-in-training that I am, I clicked over to read it.  Before you go there, understand that this story is not for the faint of heart.  Nor is it for anyone who is offended even a little bit by certain types of adult subject matter.  What I did learn from this story is what kind of story I know I would NEVER write.  It amazes me though that this thing was given awards.  This is a celebrated and published author, and yet this writing is (at least in my mind) a pile of unadulterated crap.  With lots of cuss words.  And kinky sex themes.  Hmmm, sounds like the crap Hollywood is putting out these days too.  A recurring theme maybe?

This made me stop and think about what stories are being published these days and what stories don't make the cut.  Is the publishing process really that subjective?  Does my writing need to be shocking in order to get awards?  God, I hope not.  I know I don't have it in me to write like that.  How do the rest of you feel about this (particularly for those of you brave enough to go read the story)?

Lastly, I started the story Butterfly's Curse and planned to continue it on Wednesday.  Unfortunately, my mind has imagined so many different ways for the story to go and I haven't decided yet which one is right.  Yes, I'm trying to do some rough plotting so I don't lose everyone.  Long story short, I'm working on the next section and should have it up next Wednesday.  For those of you who enjoyed the beginning, hang tight for me just a little longer.  I will do my best to make the wait worthwhile.

That's all I have for your Friday.  I hope everyone has a wonderful weekend, and make sure you go pick up The Deathday Letter.   That way you'll have an excuse for why the chores aren't getting done, because you'll be too wrapped up in Shaun's awesome story.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Monday, July 19, 2010

Story Ideas - Dreams And Nightmares

I woke this morning from a rather horrific nightmare.  It involved myself and my family, and it was so vivid that I couldn't shake the unnerving feelings for some time.  Being the writer that I am, I added it to the document I keep called "Story Ideas".  I figure if it creeped me out enough to leave me shaken long after I launched out of bed, I probably should write the story (but use somebody else's name and family, heh heh).

Ironically, I was sitting in the bathroom trying to shake off the intense feeling of dread from my dream and I had another idea.  What's funny is it starts out with a man in his bathroom at home.  Odd place to start perhaps, but it really does make sense.  I'll share it with anyone who wants to know what I'm thinking, but I'm just not going to post it here.  It's too good to waste on my blog, heh heh.  It deserves better than that.

This got me to thinking about dreams and nightmares.  I don't usually remember my dreams, so the times when I do are because the images were so vivid or affected myself and/or my family directly.  Dreams about my family are usually not the comforting type.  I find this odd too, because I'm very much a family man and love my family dearly.  I think the reason why though is because I consider myself the protector of my family and the dreams I have usually involve something that threatens them.

I do have other dreams though, bizarre things that leave me wondering "What the heck?"  Call it bad chicken the night before or whatever, but these can be great fodder for writing stories.  I didn't have the habit of writing things down until I started writing.  I would laugh at the absurdity of whatever I had dreamed and then let it slip away.  Nowadays however, I try to make sure I write down every insane dream or idea that pops into my head.  Because I don't usually write "normal" stories (i.e. I like the creepy or paranormal stuff), these opportunities are something I need to grab onto whenever they appear.

If you're interested in hearing what ideas I came up with, drop me a comment with an email address.  I love chatting story ideas with people (whether I'm telling mine or hearing others).   My question to you is whether you track your dreams and allow them to influence your story ideas?  Do you write them down right away or are you letting these opportunities pass you by?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Friday Fun - A Few Cool Things

First thing I ran into this morning was a neat post by the awesome Cole.  She talked about this website that will analyze your writing and tell you which successful writer your style is most like.  This is completely appropriate for a Friday, because it's silly, doesn't really mean anything, and is fun to do anyway.  I took a snippit of the short story I'm working on and out came this result:

I write like
Edgar Allan Poe
I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

This is too cool for a couple reasons.  For one, I am trying to learn to write creepy passages.  That's fun for me.  Yeah, I'm weird.  Secondly, I LOVE Edgar Allan Poe.  He was the master of "creep you out" writing.  Okay, Stephen King is too, but that's beside the point.   Anyway, thanks Cole.  This is awesome.

On another note, I've decided to join the fun of WriteOnCon.  Elana's post today convinced me that even though I am not a kidlit writer, I can learn a bunch from all the other great writers who will be in attendance.  If you haven't registered yet, I encourage you all to do so.  It's a FREE conference.  And there is already a ton of awesome people involved.  What are you waiting for?

Have a great Friday.  I hope everyone's weekend is filled with fun, writing, and laughs.

Note:  Did anyone notice that I managed to put up a post almost every day this week?  Woohoo.  This could be a disturbing trend  :)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Little Things

Today is a moment for celebration.  Not for me, but for my oldest son.  After a few years of torture, he is getting his braces off this morning.  The poor boy has had to go without peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  As I said, torture.

It's funny that though he is definitely enjoying this moment, so am I.  This is one of those little moments in my family's life that I'll remember.  And these are the moments that make me smile big time.  With all the rest of the things on my shoulders, these little moments are what make it all worthwhile.

So what will this moment  mean for him?  Well, I imagine he will feel a bit more confident because he doesn't have the metal train tracks running over his teeth.  And when he looks in the mirror, he'll get to see just how his now perfectly straight teeth enhances things.  He's already a good looking boy, but hopefully he'll see a little more of it (since so many of us hate how we look as teenagers).  All-in-all, this is going to be really good for him.

To bring this discussion around to writing, it occurred to me this morning that little moments like this are what make my family real and recognizable.  As I relate this story to everyone, enough of you out there can relate to it and maybe chuckle a bit.  This is a perfect opportunity to realize that our characters need little things like this to make them more realistic as well.

Obviously we don't want to derail the main storyline or go off on a tangent, but I do believe we can use little things to help round out the characterization and make our characters more real.  For example, if our main character smiles as he watches his own children accomplishing something, it shows a warmth of heart.  It may include a very small scene (and hopefully it doesn't derail the action), but it can give a deeper glimpse into the lives of our characters.

I'm blanking on some better examples, so I'm going to toss the question out to all of you.  What little things can you think of that enhance your character without detracting from the story?  Am I off here or is this a valid thing to think about as we write?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Butterfly's Curse

The steam rising from the engine fogged Peter's glasses.  He reached out to touch the radiator cap and regretted it, yanking his hand back.  The pain in his fingertips beat in time with his racing heart.  The cars racing down the highway passed without care, the wind buffeting Peter's lanky frame.  He bent his head down and backed away from the raised hood.  He'd been hoping this greying hunk of metal would last a bit longer, but it looked like the car's days were numbered - assuming he could find some way to get it fixed.

"Overheatin' on ya?"

The voice made Peter jump and he almost banged his head on the hood.  He turned around to see a barrel-chested man walking towards him.  The man was evidently a tow truck driver who'd stopped to see if he could pick up a quick buck.  He wore the same dirty coveralls issued to every tow truck driver, Peter thought.  Sporting a full grey beard and glasses with thick black frames, the man was dingy at best and discomforting at worst.

"I appreciate you stopping, but I don't think I'll need a tow", Peter said.  "It'll cool down in a bit and I'll be on my way."  He half smiled, trying to convince the man as much as himself.

"Nonsense.  No decent Christian can leave a man stranded on the side of the highway, especially with the light failing.   Name's Kelly.  Joe Kelly.  At least let me take a look.  If I can help you get on your way a bit quicker, I'll feel much better."  Without waiting for an answer, the burly man pushed past Peter to peer at the engine.

Peter wanted to get out of there.  Sweat began to bead on his forehead and bald scalp.  He hated confrontations, but he didn't know how he could politely tell this person to leave him be.  The man outweighed him by at least a hundred pounds.  Who knows what he'd do if Peter became rude?  Images of road rage on the news filled Peter's head.  Instead Peter chose to stand behind and to the side of the man, watching as Joe poked and prodded the engine.

Trying once more, Peter craned his head and said, "Really sir, it's quite alright.  This happens all the time.  I just have to wait for a bit, that's all.  I couldn't pay you for a tow anyway."  He regretted the words as soon as they were out of his mouth.  Maybe this Joe would pummel him for being a waste of time.  "I mean, I don't have any money on me right now."  That made him sound like a mugging victim.  Great.  And it was a lie.

Joe turned to look Peter over.  He took off the thick glasses and wiped them with what must be the only clean spot on an otherwise greasy rag he produced from a pocket.  His face split in a wide grin and he said, "Don't worry about that, bud.  Like I said, no decent Christian can leave a man stuck on the roadside.  What's your name, friend?"

"P..Peter.  Peter Hutchins, sir."

"No shit?  You THAT Peter Hutchins?  The writer?"  At Peter's cautious nod, Joe continued, "Well ain't that somethin'.  I just bought that new one you put out.  Butterfly's Curse or something.  I ain't started chewin' through it just yet.  Put her there, bud."

Peter glanced at the man's hand before shaking it with his own, very aware of the black grease rubbing between their palms.  He would have to use a whole box of handy wipes later, Peter thought as he looked at his now blackened fingers.

"Oh hell, I'm sorry.  I'm used to it, forget muh hands are dirty as a pig's belly."  Joe proffered the dingy rag, but Peter shook his head in negation.

"It's okay, really.  Thanks for being one of the few who bought that."  Peter resisted the urge to wipe his hand on a pant leg.  He also refrained from correcting Joe concerning the actual cleanliness of swine.

"Are you kidding?  You're one of the best authors ever, Petey.  I got every book you've wrote.  Now I gotta give you a tow.  Nobody will ever believe I towed Petey Hutchins."  Joe reached up and closed the hood, shaking his head.  Then he turned and walked towards the tow truck.

"Um...It's Peter.  And while I appreciate the offer, I couldn't take advantage of your generosity.  You need paying customers, and I can't afford it.  Really."  Peter hurried to catch up with the man, trying to convince him.

Joe turned on him, the smile gone and the eyes flashing.  "What the hell?  Oh, I get it.  You're the big author and us lowly peons ain't good 'nuff, huh?  Greasy hands and honest workers ain't got no place 'round you, huh? Is that it, ya son of a - "

"No no no" Peter backed away as he tried to placate the man.  "I didn't mean that at all.  I just meant..."

"What an egotistical bastard."  Joe was in the cab before Peter could continue.  The tow truck engine roared to life, making Peter jump once more.  He recoiled as the tow truck spit gravel at him and disappeared into the highway traffic.

"What the heck..."  Peter shook his head and turned back to his dead car.  As he walked back, something nudged at the edge of his mind.  Something wasn't quite right.  It took Peter a moment, but it finally hit him; his wallet was gone.


 - To be Continued (maybe)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Friday, July 9, 2010

Blog Chain - Where's My Special Place?

For those keeping count, I've been unplugged from the blog for a while again.  I'm deep in the throes of my Master's degree classes, and I've decided I must be a glutton for punishment - or seriously unhinged.  Only a crazy person would voluntarily subject themselves to this stuff!

Well, it's blog chain time and today's question is brought to us by the ever-impressive B.J. Anderson.  She asks:

Is there a place you like to write that's extra special? Have you carved out a writing niche? Is there a certain time of day (or night) when the words fall into place, and your brain is focused on nothing but writing?

This has been a fun question chain, particularly since we get a glimpse into the chainer's worlds.  I hope you'll forgive me a bit then, since I want to show off my own little world.  Gaze longingly (or with disgust) at your screen...

As you can see here, this (our dining room table) is laptop central.  During the school year, it's homework central.  It's not exactly peaceful nor easy to find focus here, but I do what I can.  A set of earphones and some appropriate music in the background (Thanks to Amanda for mentioning Pandora btw;  I really love it and it is so helpful) makes things a bit easier.  This is usually where I am writing though.  If you'll forgive me a bit of geek pride, here's a closeup of my writing implement.

For the uninitiated, this is an Alienware laptop.  It's a high performance (a.k.a. gaming) laptop that can handle just about anything I throw at it.  My loving wife lavished me with this gift a little while ago, and I absolutely love it.  Besides the obvious gaming fun I get out of it, I love typing on this thing.  I never thought I'd enjoy a laptop keyboard, but this one is truly responsive and can easily keep up with my speedy fingers.

The dining room table doesn't always cut it however (especially since it's next to the living room and a 55" LCD distraction masquerading as a TV), so if I find myself really struggling to concentrate, I can always go here: