Tell Me Why . . .

My science fiction shelf

Terminally Curious here after a long hiatus. 😛 Here’s what I’m wondering–

W-H-Y????

Three little letters but a great big word–a constant in a writer’s life. Plotting. Scene and sequence. Make up stories.

  • WHY does your character do what s/he does?
  • WHY does this or that happen just when it should/shouldn’t?
  • WHY does this turning point take place as/when it does?
  • WHY are you writing this particular story?

There are lots of rules. Your story can’t sound contrived or make no sense. And there’s no such thing as a coincidence. Everything must connect to everything else, kind of like the way a chain works. Everything interlocking, but changing, building, without giant leaps in logic. (Yep, I’m writing about my writing here.)

But the most import thing, the WHY I’ve heard since the very first conference I attended . . .

  • WHY do you write?

Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t a ploy to whittle down my competition. I’m convinced that if I write a book that’s good enough, a publisher will make a place for it.

I just think it’s a wise woman who knows what she does and WHY she does it. And a wiser woman who knows when it’s time to stop doing what she doesn’t enjoy or finds something she likes more.

So . . .  WHY do you write?

Here are a few of the answers I’ve heard.

  • For the big bucks. (Not many people can say that, but some can.)
  • To turn the world into the place you want it to be.
  • Because you can’t not write. (I’m not sure what that means. Hope someone can explain it.)

So how about it? Writers . . . ?

WHY DO YOU WRITE? 

 

 

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IF IT AIN’T BROKE, DON’T FIX IT!

I had a different blog planned for today. I usually post my blog from my iPad, but because my app doesn’t let me insert pictures, I logged on through my PC. Holy Moley! Word Press changed their programing again. Despite several attempts, I just couldn’t get my picture to show and since the picture was crucial, I can’t post what I want to today. Hopefully, I’ll be able to figure out the “new” Word Press and post the blog next week.

Meanwhile, why did they do that? Are you as tired of software engineers changing stuff all the time like I am. Oh, there is a history in America of “New and Improved” from Wall Street. But that usually meant a change in packaging and hype. You know, like marking pasta as “Now low-fat” when pasta has ALWAYS been low-fat. Occasionally, there might be an actual change in the product, especially when the old one was dangerous and it was made safer.

But , it seems from Day One, software from operating systems to games are changed at least yearly. Okay, I understand why for stuff you buy. How is the company supposed to make money if the program lasts forever. But puh-leese! Why would you mess with something that millions of people are using daily and doing just fine?

Maybe they get a complaint or two and decide to change it. Or the engineers have WAY too much time on their hands. Whatever! The rule should be until there is a massive protest (like MS Vista) against something or usage in the program decreases drastically…

DON’T FIX IT IF IT AIN’T BROKE!

Now back to this new Word Press to see if I can figure out what I need.

A Return to Productivity by Karina Cooper

I believe I mentioned my hobby last week called, “Learn to plot a book.” I thought I’d found the solution. The end of the road. The Way to plot, and I could give up the hunt forever.

Then I came across a mention of this blog on Facebook, and my eyes perked up. My ears sparkled! I couldn’t NOT read it.

Karina Cooper has some great suggestions for plotting (a great writing blog!) so I thought, What the heck. Why not share Karina’s post? So I asked her and she very sweetly agreed to let us repost.

Here it is. (You can thank me later.)

Today’s blog post is late because I ended up waking up and getting—gasp—right to work. For reasons that will be detailed in another post somewhere down the way, I am totally surprised and also totally not surprised to find my heretofore empty plate filled to overflowing with deadlines.

So! Let’s get right to it, shall we? Because some of you are asking me about my process, I figured I’d use that as this week’s You Better Work Monday.

Ready? Then you know what’s next…

Author, You Better Work

In previous posts somewhere that I am too lazy and/or burned out from working out to take the time to find, I mentioned Cathy Yardley’s Rock Your Plot. Up until just recently, I had a homebrew way of developing my characters, and it was light on the introductory work.

What I’ve done is taken elements of Cathy’s prep work, bits of what Cherry Adair taught me, bits of what I developed on my own, wrapped them all together, cut out the bits that didn’t work, and developed a kind of mish-mash that works exactly the way I want it to.

What I learned, first and foremost, is that I can’t dodge the prep work. Not if I want a clear understanding of who my characters are and what they want. I write too fast and too cleanly to mess around with a thousand revisions, and though I’d love to be like the really great authors—the ones who don’t outline or do much exploratory work because they think it ruins some of the exploration for them—I’m not that gifted.

Like many of us, I have to work a whole other rhythm to tease out what I need.

Talking Character

There are four things I must have before I start anything else on a project. In no particular order, they are:

  1. Name.
  2. Birthday/Astrology Sign
  3. Picture
  4. Character Traits

Name and picture are self-explanatory. I can’t start until I have the perfect name; it’s something about the way I link up personalities to names. Once I’ve used one, I’m extremely loathe to use it again.

As for a picture, it’s a rare case when anyone but me sees it. Sometimes, I won’t know what hair or eye color I’m looking for until I see it. Sometimes, it’s all in a specific expression, an intensity, a smile. I comb places like Pinterest or Model Mayhem for good pictures, and I save them to a file every time I find one. This gives me a pretty solid bunch of photos to rifle through when I need one.

I also don’t just collect the hot ones. I never know when I’m going to need a guy whose features are strange and compelling, or a woman who isn’t pretty but has that something-something that translates into a kinetic force of personality.

Once I have those two, I see to the rest.

It’s All in the Stars

I happen to be a believer in astrological signs. As a Virgo/Libra paired with an Aries, I’d have to be blind, deaf and dumb as a post not to see all the many and varied ways we aren’t compatible. (Ah, the power of the love…)

However, you don’t have to be. What this becomes, then, is a tool, rather than a belief system.

Let’s use Naomi West from Lure of the Wicked, the second in the Dark Mission series.

I decided, using a random number generator, that her birthday was January 15th. That’s right, our aggressive missionary was going to be an Aquarius. “But why should that matter?” you ask, clearly disbelieving. It matters, delicious one, for this reason:

Every astrological sign as a list of adjectives and traits that they like and are, and don’t like.

Cherry Adair put it best when she said, “Pick ones that describe the sign. Decide if your character is like that. If she isn’t, then you need to decide why.” Boom. Immediate character background hints.

For example, I’m a Virgo/Libra, born on the cusp. Both Virgos and Libras don’t like clutter, they tend to be neat. I, however, am the farthest thing from neat and organized. Why? Because my mother was a neatfreak, and one too many episodes that ended with me losing my stuff—or forced to put it all away from a pile in the middle of the floor—pretty much guaranteed that I’d go the exact opposite way.

If we were writing me, we’d jot that note down as “mother issues”. Because, let’s face it, everything is bigger when writing about it.

Aquarius folk tend to treat obstacles like things to saunter around and avoid. (Check!…Waste energy on a problem? Pfft.) They tend to want to make the world better. (Check!—even if she’s doing it one dead witch at a time.) They are good with social networks and tend to have a lot of contacts and friend. (Erm… No. Why not? Because the people she trusted most abandoned her. Boom. Backstory.)

You see what I’m doing?

A google search on any of these can help you find astrological traits, but you can also pick up a copy of Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs. Although the language is a little dated, the concepts are sound, and you can ignore all that fluff about ladies doing what they can to snag a man. It was written in the ’70s.

Pick a Few: Character Traits

The last thing I do is pick four traits that describe or suit the character best. Cherry also taught me this, and it’s something I write down and keep close at hand as I plot.

These traits don’t have to be adjectives. For example, you could write down a trait that says “stubborn”. It’s perfectly justifiable—if a little too easy. That’s an adjective. She is stubborn.

You could also have a trait that says “cop”. That’s it. Just cop. Why is that legit?

Because cops will act and react to different circumstances differently than everybody else. If I write down “cop”, that tells me immediately how quickly, efficiently, and instinctually a character will react to a sudden gunshot, for example. Or how he or she will process information. How they’ll deal with an aggressive person, or a person who needs help. Are they likely to condone breaking the law? No, there’ll be all kinds of pathos if it comes up.

That single trait defines that character from top to bottom.

You need four of these. because, after all, even a cop has other things that shape him. A one-trick pony is about as fun as gnawing on a cardboard cutout—and trust me, about the third time you get papercuts on your gums, you stop thinking it’s fun.

Let’s go back to Naomi. Her four traits are:

  • scared of intimacy” (a fact she’d rather die than ever admit, but which explains most of her choices regarding the hero),
  • trust issues” (colored by her background, and also explains every decision she ever makes),
  • thorough” (which can also double as stubborn because she refuses to leave a job half-assed, no matter the toll it takes on her), and
  • psychological breakdown” (which fills in everything else).

Every decision, every choice, every reaction, everything Naomi does should be colored by one or more of these. Either it holds her back, or it pushes her forward. Either she makes the deliberate choice to overcome, or to wallow. If Phin, our dashing hero, wants to get closer, Naomi’s reactions are colored by “scared of intimacy”, and of course “trust issues” as she falls for him. Then again, “thorough” also comes into play, because his facility is under investigation by the Mission. She can’t leave the job undone, no matter how badly it’s affecting her calm.

It’s a labyrinthine puzzle, if you get too sucked into the intricate details, so for now, just make those traits and make sure that you are choosing the phrase or word that most encapsulates what you’re trying to convey. The word needs to trigger understanding in you, so that when you see the word “cop”, you can think of all the ways your hero/ine is going to handle X, Y and Z. All those delicious problems you foist on their laps.

Once they’re written down and settled on, you’ll find they naturally enter into your plot choices, and are there primarily for a reminder if you get stuck.

Naomi’s template looked like this:

character template for Naomi West

You can use whatever format you like. This is the one I appropriated from Cherry’s teachings, and now always fill it out and print it off. It gets pinned to my wall or plot board, wherever I can see it, for quick referencing later.

Homework Time

Next week, we’ll start working into GMC. Not the car. No car for you. It stands for Goal, Motivation, and Conflict.

Don’t worry, it’s not nearly as tough as it sounds.

Your homework, if you choose to accept it, is to go and get a copy of Cathy’s Rock Your Plot. At $2.99, it’s well worth the price, and I will not be transcribing the contents for you. However, it really is an integral part of my plot-making process, so if you’re really interested in how to tighten up those plots, you’ll take the dive.

While you can read it all—I found parts of it super helpful, most of it encouraging, and bits of it completely not my jam—we’ll be looking at the chapters on GMC specifically, and later on, at Plot Points.

In the meantime, consider compiling a character template for your characters. Protagonist(s), Antagonist (because villains have depth, too!), and any Supporting Cast that are more involved than your average walk-on scenes.

Questions? Specifics?

If you have any questions, feel confused or unsure, send me an email or leave a comment. I’ll answer them in the next blog posts, here in the comments if it fits, and in other ways.

Last, and Not Least

Go have a glass of something delicious. Always reward yourself for a hard day’s work.

 

Wow, I enjoyed that. Thanks for sharing with us, Karina!

A WEEKEND OF FRIENDSHIP

This has been a very busy weekend for me…what I call my “writers’ weekend”. On Friday night, I meet with the Oklahoma Science Fiction Writers group. About half of these people are/or were old friends I knew back in the days when I was very active in SF conventions. Lately, I’ve re-gained my love for SF and met the rest of the group. No doubt among this group is our generation’s next Robert Heinlein. After about an half hour of gossiping about general happenings in the SF/Fantasy world and noshing, we critiqued one of our writers.

Then on Saturday, I met with my romance writing friends. I’ve known most them for more years than any of us want to admit. We shared a potluck lunch and gossiped about general things in the romance world. One of the things we discussed is doing an anthology for charity with me as the editor. And this one thing connected both of my groups since I once edited a ST/SF fanzine. Then we helped one of our members restructure her first chapter.

Sunday, I met with my “soul” group. We’ve been friends over 30 years, and though they aren’t actively writing now, they were the people who read my first efforts and supported my dreams. We shared brunch and figured out how to fix the world. They also connect with my other two groups because my earliest writings were ST short stories and, while none of them really reads romance, they believe in me.

When I got home,I had a text session with my oldest friend. We used to play four deck Canasta, drink ice tea in the original 32 ounce glasses, and cheated on Latin homework. When I admitted I still wasn’t writing as much as I should be, she reminded me of my FIRST short story, written back in high school English. OMG! That old chestnut!? We couldn’t share food, but I was nibbling on chips. And she gave me some possible story ideas (like I need more!).

Didn’t I have great weekend? Friends, food, and writing. So what do you think of a story about a bunny becoming friends with a baby dinosaur?

Saving Cats

Save a cat or dog

So I have this hobby. It’s called, “Learn to plot a book.” Yeah, I know. I’ve had three books published, the third of which is about to come out. (No pub date yet, boys and girls. Sorry.)

So for the last month, I haven’t been writing. (Gasp!) Instead, I’ve spent my limited writing time working on the above mentioned hobby by making my way through a book called, “Save the Cat” by Blake Snyder.

I had to check the book cover and make sure I had that right. Usually I call it Hang the Cat. (Don’t ask. I’m weird.)

This is a great (GREAT!) book. (I know, every other writer under the sun read it eight years ago. What can I say? I’m a slow learner.) It’s so good, I’m giving back the book I borrowed and buying my own.

BTW: I don’t write screen plays.

But screen plays are pretty darn close to being books, and he has a great plotting system, suggestions and how-tos. The only problem I see is if a writer tries to use math to translate what he’s saying to use for a book.

What works on the screen won’t work math-wise in a book.

Here’s what I mean: If he says you must have the Jabberwobby happen on page 10 of the screen play and your book is 5 times longer than the screen play, you can’t put the Jabberwobby on page 50 and expect it to work. (10 x 5 = 50.)

Why? Because, reading something in print and seeing it on the big screen is two different things. In a good book, when we’re in a person’s POV, we get to crawl inside a their skin, learn what scares them, what makes them happy, what cheers them and so on. We hear their thoughts, understand their reasoning, even if it’s bad reasoning.

In a movie, we don’t get all that. You have to understand the characters through seeing what they do and hearing what they say. So naturally, the timing is going to be different.

But even though it doesn’t translate exactly page number wise, everything Mr. Blake has to say about writing/plotting/selling is excellent. I might not take everything he suggests in his book as my exact style, but it has certainly mapped out a path for me to take.

I might just have to find a new hobby. 😛

 

MEA CULPA

I apologize for missing my past few times blogging. At this time of year, I tend to get depressed with the continuing winter season. There is some little primal instinct that goes off when the “real” spring has arrived. I’ve been doing little more than watching re-runs of Law& Order, SVU. And you know when I”m not reading, I’m really “blahhed.”

Fortunately, my spring instinct went off this week. I’m getting up at a reasonable time. I’m all excited about doing stuff, especially writing. I’ve dug out an unfinished short story and finished up stuff I have put off for two months.

What better time to be “reborn” than spring? Oh, there will be days when there is more stumbling than running, but spring has always a good time for me. When I worked at the hospital, I was so exhausted from the heavy winter census that I didn’t always get a lot done. But this first spring of retirement, I think things are going to be great.

I see more robins. The spring breezes feel softer. I love the way sunbeams dance into my newly cleaned front window. Yep, spring is officially here.