Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Revenge of the Writing Desk

The quest to figure out the story about things that do stuff continues. Of course I've decided to throw myself into this totally new idea a week before Camp NaNo starts. We wouldn’t want time to plan or anything.

I have determined that the desk that makes things disappear should be central to this tale. All the other items should have come from that desk. Now, in an effort to reclaim its lost property, it slowly pulls in everything else. So the other items should be things you’d find in a desk. An antique fountain pen that only writes limericks (filthy ones!). A journal that snickers when you write in it. A typewriter that always misspells "flagrant." Whatever. Desk stuff.

So, where did this stuff come from? I had this idea the other day about hypnic jerks. That's when you're on the verge of sleep and you feel like you're slipping or falling and you do that twitch thing. But what if that was you almost slipping into another reality but catching yourself? I'm not sure if that's going to play a part in this story or if I’ll save it for later. Either way, I think the stuff must have come from some other reality. You just don't get stationery with attitude otherwise.

Then there's the question of characters. I want some kind of a roguish character that you don't know whose side they're on. I'm half considering having a female main character. I don't really have a reason not to other than "girls are lame." I always have a hard time writing female characters. You’d think it would be easier. Maybe I'll try it anyway. For the challenge or whatever.

And while we're issuing challenges, maybe I'll try for a *shudder* romantic subplot. As much as I hate the idea, I'm also kind of looking forward to it. What is happening to me?!

Well, shit, let's open this up to the public. Does anyone have a challenge for me for this story? I can't guarantee I'll do everything, but I can at least try. Leave a comment!

Friday, June 24, 2016

A Tale of Infinite Weirdness

On Tuesday, I proposed a story involving one or more mysterious items. The more I think about it, the more into the idea I get. It's this bizarre little pocket of sci-fi and fantasy, and it's something I need to explore.

Ten years ago, there was a miniseries on the Sci-Fi Channel (so much of my life revolves around these, apparently) called The Lost Room. In it, well, there's all the Objects from the titular room, and they do stuff. Like boil eggs, or rotate things, or send whoever touches it to a stretch of highway outside Gallup, New Mexico. Some of them do different things when combined with other objects. That's the kind of weird-ass story I want to write.

This is probably a good example of how the writing process can be for me. It's not always that I have a vague plot that needs to be filled out. Sometimes it can be as vague as "there's some things that do stuff." From here, I have to figure out what it going to happen with these things, and who they are going to happen to.

Do people want these items? Does someone not want them? What will people do obtain or get rid the things? What's the best and worst thing that could happen because of these things?

What sort of characters could be involved? Taking aside our protagonist for a moment, do they have a thing? Do they want a thing? Why? What about our antagonist?

These are the sort of questions I have to answer. Also, what sort of a world is this? I'm leaning towards an urban fantasy sort of deal, where fantastical elements are thrown into our modern world. Basically, our world, with some weird shit thrown in. A lot of the time, the weirdness exists under the surface, known only to a few.

The thing that I know for sure is that these weird items that may or may not do stuff are not common, and not known to the general public. The protagonist probably just stumbled upon one, maybe in their attic, maybe at a flea market, wherever. There may be some person or organization who wants the items. But what will they do to get them?

In times like this, when I need both a plot and characters, there's no clear answer for which to create first. It's possible that one will lead to the other. Maybe a plot will imply a certain sort of character. Maybe a character has a particular story that they want to play out. Right now it feels like the whole thing is right on the tip of my tongue, like it already exists in my head, I just have to pull it out.

Join me Tuesday, when I may have a clue as to what this story is about.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Look At This Stuff, Isn't It Neat?

After careful consideration, I have determined that I will not be rewriting The Midnight Circus for July's Camp NaNo, or possibly ever. The general consensus on that was "write an entirely different story." So I will. I'm not going to waste my time trying to fix a story that no one would ever want to read. So now I have to figure out what to write in its place.

I have a partial story about a guy who can see the future that I could finish. I could try to rewrite any number of my old novels. There's one currently on draft three that I could try to figure out.

On my quest through all my story ideas today, I came upon my list of McGuffins. A McGuffin is a thing, that you probably want. Maybe it’s a thing that does something. That's real clear, right? It's the One Ring. It’s Dorothy's ruby slippers. It's the Holy Grail, and that suitcase from Pulp Fiction. It's either the cause of, or the solution to, all your problems. Maybe both.

Anyway, I have some great McGuffins on the list I have assembled from the NaNo forums. I'd like to share some with you. Maybe one of them will play a vital role in my next story.

  • A desk that seems to swallow anything (or anyone) who spends too much time around it.
  • A map that shows the location of something that you want the least.
  • A tiny, metal puzzle box that is impossible to solve.
  • A large, old book that doesn't open, and occasionally drips salt water from between its pages.
  • A weather vane in the shape of a rooster that comes to life on the 14th of every month.
  • A broken music box, which plays distorted and ethereal notes to a nursery rhyme tune.

Can you imagine a story around one of these things? Or a story involving all of them? Maybe it's time for me to write a delightfully weird fantasy/supernatural type story. Maybe that's what I should do for July.

What do you think? Any of my McGuffins stand out to you? Or might you suggest some of your own? Let's get collaborative in here.

I think we might be on the right track with this. These particular items and their odd style evoke a feeling I'm not sure I can explain. It's like… sliding sideways into a sunny room. It’s summer, twenty years ago, maybe. There's no way in hell anyone's going to understand that. I've got a good feeling about it, is what I'm trying to say.

So please, comment and tell me what you think. I don’t care if it's on here, or on Facebook. I'd just really like to hear your thoughts. All of you.

See you Friday.

Friday, June 17, 2016

I'm Just a Kid and Life is a Nightmare

I apologize for not posting this earlier today. At about midnight last night, I realized I hadn’t written it yet, and still had no idea what it was about. Now, I kind of know. I'm going to share some things with you. I've been going on and on about how I'm going to revise The Midnight Carnival. Well, I thought I'd share some of the original draft with you, to see what you think.

This excerpt is the very beginning. Rereading it now, I can see where I was just going for word count. But here, judge for yourself.

Something broke downstairs. A lamp, I think. Too heavy to be a dish, and too fragile to be a chair. I turned up the volume on my music to drown out the screeching sound of my mother’s voice. I didn’t know what they were fighting about this time. I didn’t want to know. At seventeen, I was supposed to be worrying about passing classes and which boys were interested in me, not about trying to hold my parents’ crumbling marriage together.

Usually I’d lock myself in my room with the excuse that I had homework to do. On the weekends, I’d go hang with my friends for as long as possible, just to avoid coming home. But right now was a Tuesday in July, and neither was an option. Most of my friends were off on family vacations, anywhere but here.

Auburn was not a large city, and there wasn’t a lot to do for a lone teenager. Pretty much everything is boring when you’re alone. If I’d had a car, I probably could have gone into Roseville or Sacramento, but again, alone, what was the point?

Something else crashed in the living room. It was getting hard to drown out the yelling. Turning the music off, I pulled on my sneakers and grabbed my jacket. Sure, it was July, but it was also eleven fifteen at night. And who knew how long I’d be gone.

The window creaked as pushed it up. Not that they would hear. I used to worry about getting caught sneaking out, but now I’d come to realize I could land a helicopter on the roof and they wouldn’t notice. The roof outside my window extended over the front porch, and at the side was a lattice with some kind of half dead climbing vine on it. One of these days I was going to be too heavy for the flimsy wood to support me, but not today.

I crept across the front yard and made a left on High Street. No plan, no destination in mind. I just needed to get out of that house. And maybe they’d notice it got really quiet and figure out I’d left, but what were they going to do? Punishment would require them to give a damn about anything other than their endless squabbles.

When I’d come downstairs with new burgundy streaks in my hair, they said nothing. I doubt they even noticed. Just after my birthday the past October, I let my friend Lexi pierce my nose with a needle and not enough ice. When I got home from that sleepover, I expected a reprimanding “Addie!” or even an “Adelaide Louise!” if they were really mad. But I got nothing. Just a “Did you have fun?”

The issue here is that it's a YA novel. That's "young adult," if you're not in the know. But I'm concerned that I'm too far removed from the teen experience to convincingly write a relatable teenage character. I remember how I was at that age, but I don’t think my experience is relevant to teens of today. This opening scene really sets the stage and introduces the character. If I can't get her right in this scene, the rest of the story will be all blah.

So what would be super helpful is if anyone in my target age range could tell me what they think of this character as she is introduced. What kind of things would make her more relatable? What would you want to know about her? Where would you like to see her story go? She's going to end up in a mysterious circus, but the rest is up in the air.

Of course, I'd love anyone's opinion, but especially the teen crowd.

See you all Tuesday.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Dearly Departed

Today's Mad's Music Corner is going to depress the shit out of you. I've had this one percolating in the back of my mind for a while, but I wasn't sure when to break it out, since it's a bit of a downer compared to my usual fare. It just, I don't know, seemed like the right time. Today, we're going to talk about loss. Or rather, we're going to talk about songs that talk about loss.

Scarlet White - So Young

I first heard this in April of 2015. About two weeks before that, a friend of mine died, rather unexpectedly. This was someone I had worked with, whom I got into NaNoWriMo. After NaNo '14, we started talking about him becoming my co-ML for NaNo '15, and all the crazy things we would do. So one day, we had these plans brewing, and then all the sudden, he was gone. "Why Mad," you might say, "I didn't know that." No, you didn't. No one did. I didn't tell anyone all of this. This song actually made me cry the first time I heard it, and that’s not something I readily admit to. Even now, every time I hear it, it reminds me.

Escape the Fate - Picture Perfect

Overall, this one fits with our theme. But I want to draw your attention to a particular line. It’s a pretty generic line, but it's what stands out today. "Life goes on without you." It reminded me of something I heard in class once. I tried to find the notebook, in case I’d written it down, but I have a lot of old notebooks… so I'll have to go from memory. It was in Military History, probably back in '07 or '08, and the prof was talking about Jack Kipling (son of writer Rudyard Kipling), who was presumably killed in WWI. He said something along the lines of, "and then Jack Kipling was gone, and the world kept going." It's the most disheartening thing to realize that although a loss can destroy a limited group of people, the world at large doesn’t care, and just keeps on turning.

Noctura - Gone Away

This is a cover of an Offspring song, but I think it's worth sharing for its own merit. It's a much, I don't know, softer delivery than the original, what with the piano and the female vocals. It's a much more tragic sound. As a general rule, I don't really go for female vocalists. I'm not sure why. There's just not a lot of them in my music library. But I would (and have) listen to this on repeat. It’s just a fantastic song all around.

All right, that's all I have for today. Tune in Friday for something a little more upbeat. Probably. If there's anything you’d like me to write about, feel free to leave a comment, and I'll see what I can do.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Narrative Inevitability

There are certain, I don't know, rules of narrative. By which I mean, certain things have to happen because of, or leading to, other things. Well, they’re not really rules, more like, things that tend to happen. This is the worst explanation ever. I spend way too much time on TV Tropes, so I have to try to put these things in layman's terms. How about some examples?

Chekhov's Gun: If a gun is introduced in Chapter One, it should go off by Chapter Three. Otherwise, why is it there? Basically, if you're going to introduce some element, it should be relevant in the future. Each scene, each piece of dialogue, should be either furthering the plot or revealing something about the characters, setting, etc.

Redemption Equals Death: If a bad character turns good, they are probably going to die. And it will probably be in some valiant act of heroic sacrifice. If ever you find yourself rooting for a bad guy, you'd better pray that he doesn’t see the error of his ways.

Rule of Drama: The potential for conflict will never be passed over. Basically, if something could happen to cause drama, it will. If something can be misunderstood, it will. If someone could cheat on their significant other, they probably will.

The reason I brought all this up to begin with is that after a while, you start noticing these things. There you are, innocently watching a movie and suddenly you realize that guy's going to die, those two are going to sleep together, and that cool thing is going to be destroyed. Things become predictable.

This is true for things even as I write them. I've barely pondered the rewrites for The Midnight Circus and it occurred to me that one character is going to die. And it's not because I'm needlessly cruel. They're probably my favorite character in the story, and I'm pissed they're going to die. But they have to. That's just where the story goes, and who am I to argue?

I guess that raises the issue of fate versus free will in writing. Do we ever actually have control over the story, or are we just following a tale that already exists somewhere? Was it ever really our story?

Stay tuned for Tuesday when… something happens. I'm sure it will be great, whatever it is.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Through the Looking Glass

Well that was a super short weekend. Here we are on Tuesday again. I thought I'd be more prepared by now.

So I guess today I'm going to talk to you about a specific genre that I'm apparently fond of. I mentioned in a previous post that there are different types of fantasy stories. One is that a secondary world is entered through a portal.  And this is something I love.

It’s the plot of Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, MirrorMask, and The Chronicles of Narnia, to name only a few. Someone finds themselves in this other, potentially magical world, and they have to find a way home. It’s something I've used before on… several occasions. It's the basis of The Midnight Carnival. Our young protagonist gets trapped in this other world where nothing is what it seems. How will she find her way back home? And perhaps more importantly, who can she trust to help her?

I'm actually super excited to have another go at this story. But, the rewrites are going to require me to develop the secondary world of the circus, and figure out the rules that govern it. The issue I have with writing any kind of fantasy is that I can imagine the world, but not describe it. Why not? They’re just words, use them!

It’s not quite so easy, and I'll do my best to explain why. It's not just a matter of the physical space. "The room is set up like this and that. There's a wall here and a table there." While doing that effectively can be tricky, it’s not the problem. It's more that I can imagine the, I don’t know, aesthetic of the place. Like how it feels to be there. Maybe it feels like 6 in the morning in mid-July. Maybe it's like listening to a song you swear you've heard somewhere before. Maybe it’s like the sky is too big. I don’t know how to turn that into words that make sense to anyone else.

I don’t know. Maybe my weird-ass metaphors will fit in this fantasy world. Maybe that's what it needs, and the reason it never seems right is because I keep trying to normalize it. Maybe it's late (it's still Monday for me) and I need to go to bed. You decide.

Friday, June 3, 2016

A Plan of Attack

So let's get back to it. The writing, I mean. That's the point of all this.

When I was writing my "novel" last November, I decided to do something unprecedented: Plan. Usually I have a vague plot, a handful of characters, and a piece or two of witty dialogue, and then I just throw them together to see what happens (we call this "pantsing"). This time I tried to plan. And I think trying to adhere to a narrative outline made it harder. That was probably my worst attempt at a story.

But that doesn’t mean planning and outlining are inherently bad. So, I'm going to attempt to use some of those outlines for my revision I keep saying I'm going to do. One such outline uses eight story elements, which are basically what the protagonists wants and what stands in their way. We're going to try to do this for the 17 year old main character from The Midnight Carnival. She has a name, but I'm not going to disclose it at this point because I'm tired of people criticizing how I name my characters.

  1. Story Goal: What they are trying to achieve

To escape the circus and go home.

  1. Consequences: What disaster will occur if the goal is not reached

She could be trapped forever, sure, but I think we'll need a little more than that.

  1. Requirements: What they need to reach the goal

She must beat the demonic ringmaster and break the hold he has over his prisoners.

  1. Forewarnings: Events that show the consequences growing closer

Indications that time is passing in the outside world. Maybe she starts to forget things about her old life (Ooh, that's good!)

  1. Costs: What they are willing to give up to achieve the goal

Since I never did figure out how to end the story, I don’t yet know how far she might go to escape. Is she willing to betray the other captives, her newfound friends?

  1. Dividends: Rewards earned on the way to the goal

She makes some friends, and will probably learn a valuable lesson about something.

  1. Prerequisites: Events that must happen for requirements to be met

Well, she has to get around the ringmaster's henchmen (a trio of creepy-ass clowns). They're always around, always watching. She'll probably have to enlist some help. And she'll have to keep her wits about her enough to even make a plan.

  1. Preconditions: Small impediments to the plot

Well, there's those clowns. And this is an actual, functioning circus, so the captives have to perform, but can't tell anyone what's going on. Just… planning an escape is difficult under these circumstances. One never knows who they can trust.

So that's what I have so far. Bottom line is: I have only a vague idea of what happens in this story. And this is going to be a second draft! I have a lot still to figure out before July. That's when the next round of Camp NaNo is, if I didn't mention that.

See you Tuesday.