Friday, July 29, 2016

A Cheesy Romance

All right, let's talk about the mac and cheese scene. I wrote it days ago, but I haven’t really done anything interesting since then. I had zero intention of sharing it, because while it's completely innocent, it sounds like poorly written erotica. And that's how it was supposed to sound, so I don't know what my problem is.

Anyway, in a previous scene, Martin mentions his ability to make "a wicked macaroni and cheese," and there is talk about he should make it for Rachael at some point in the future. Where we're going to pick up is at the end of one scene and the beginning of another. The * * * denotes a scene change, like a chapter break for stories too short to have chapters.

“In the meantime, I think you owe me something.”

* * *

“Oh god, that’s good,” she moaned.

“You want more?” he asked from beside her on the bed.

“God, yes!”

He held the dish of macaroni closer to her so that she could take another spoonful. She took the entire dish and held it in her cross-legged lap. At the foot of the bed, some cheesy action movie from the 80’s played on basic cable.

In my mind, this is a whole mental movie, and this scene would be presented as only audio, perhaps from out in the hallway. Then it switches to the room and you realize nothing's actually going on. And by the way, I don't think the pun of the mac and cheese and the cheesy movie was intentional.

This scene immediately leads into a discussion about Buddhism, because, I don't know, these things happen. But it has some of my favorite lines in it, and I think perfectly conveys my attempt to be romantic.

“Well, they’ve got this whole thing were you should only do right and speak right, and fuck, I’m just no good at that. I don’t have that kind of self-control.”

She handed the macaroni bowl back to him. “I think you’re doing all right.”

“Well, I am making an attempt to be a gentleman. But that only goes so far. I can only say maybe three sentences without swearing. I’m a mess. A fucking weed in a garden of whatever.”

She tried to hold back a smile. “A garden?”

“Yeah. And you’re a rose… bush? I’m shit at all this.”

Honestly, I thought this whole trying to write a romantic subplot thing was going to be a mess, but I'm actually having a lot of fun with it. I am, however, concerned that now that I've broken the dam, so to speak, I'm going to put romance in everything. I'm fairly certain I don't want to do that.

What do you think, readers? Does romance ruin a perfectly good story? Or is a story only good if there's a potential for getting it on?

When we return next week, Camp NaNo will be over, but I have something in mind. A blast from the past, if you will. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Giving a Face to the Name

I was asked how I describe my characters without sounding like an episode of Cops, since I have them cast in my head. The short answer to that is that I don't. that's a super lame answer, I know.

I'm rubbish at descriptions. As a general rule, I'll only describe something if it's relevant. Like, I'll explain the layout of a room if it's going to affect the action in some way. When it comes to characters, well, how they look is rarely relevant.

I always thought that character descriptions should happen early on. In a novel length story, that would be in the first few pages, I guess. The idea being that you want to tell your readers how your characters look before something cements itself in their mind. But if you don't manage to fit it in, have you lost your chance? Is there a point where it's too late? I'm asking because I don't know.

Once upon a time, I actually did describe my characters. My second NaNo novel, from 2011, describes its main character, Zel Van Toren, thusly on page 3:

A few minutes later, she emerged, wearing black trousers and a dark grey short sleeved blouse. She carried the last item from the bundle, a thigh length black coat. Her hair, a murky dark red, was now clean and combed out. Years of neglect had left it tapering towards the ends, with the longest point reaching to a few inches above her knees.

It's a horrible, clunky description. Her companion, CiarĂ¡n MacClellan, on the other hand, is described on page 1 as being Irish, and on page 2 as having dark hair. And this is the sort of description I've started leaning toward. But why? Why couldn't I describe his bright blue eyes and crooked grin that remained despite all the shit he'd been through?

It's like I find something wrong with thinking about characters long enough to describe them. And so, unless it's somehow relevant to the plot, I just don't mention it. I've started realizing that basically no physical description is really relevant, so now no one gets described at all. In today's story, Rachael is implied to be about thirty, if you do the math, but gets no other description. At all. Martin is described as having tattoos on both arms, though the only one specifically mentioned is a bird on one hand. And these are only pointed out when Rachael notices them. The only thing we know about their height is that either he's tall enough or she's short enough that she stands on her toes to kiss him.

Would I like to provide a better picture of my characters? Absolutely. But I am by no means an expert in all this, and I have no idea how to do it with it sounding stupid. You either stop the story while you describe every detail of the character, or you try to work it in bit by bit. But there's always going to be something that will never fit in naturally.

Concerning things like a character's style of clothes, there is the above example where I described what she was wearing after bathing. When that character was introduced, she was in a prison, and so a big deal was made out of her getting new, clean clothes. But I hate doing that. I once read this really crappy story online somewhere where there was this girl, and everything she wore was explained in detail, down to the exact length of her skirt in inches. This happened any time she changed clothes. That's what I think of every time I consider describing what someone is wearing.

Long story short, I have no idea what I'm doing, so I just kill everyone before I have to describe them.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Look Who's Talking

I'm terrible at describing things. We've been over that. But that means that my stories are powered by action, murder, and dialogue. Lots and lots of dialogue.

The trick with that is that each character has to have their own unique voice, that somehow stands out from the others. But if I'm not careful, all the characters end up sounding like me, and that's no good. You have to think about each character's personality and background. How will that influence how they speak? Are they very upright and proper, or do they use a lot of slang? Is English their native language? How do they react when startled or hurt? Drop something on their head, and you'll see their true colors.

In my current story, my main character, Rachael, speaks in a pretty straightforward, yet casual manner. She doesn't use a lot of fillers (things like "um" and "you know"). She also tends to speak in short bursts. Just a few sentences, not much of a rambler.

Example: “I feel terrible about all this. Can I buy you a cup of coffee or something? There’s a place across the street…”

Martin, on the other hand, is made of fillers and rambling. It's like he wants to cram as many words into each sentence as possible. I have to actually hear it in my head before I can write it, but it's a lot of fun figuring out how he would say something.

Example: “Well, you know, really, it was just the once. I mean, there we are, back seat of her car, trying to get things in place for… you know. Anyway, things go a bit awry, I try to adjust, and next thing you know, she’s got a bloody nose. I tried to help as best I could but, well, she didn’t call me again after that.”

I think I've mentioned before that I mentally cast all my characters, like the story is a movie in my head. This helps me keep track of what they look like, but it's also super helpful in figuring out the voices. There is an actual person that I can hear. Several actual persons. And they sound different from each other. Is this cheating? Maybe. Maybe I'm taking the easy way out with character creation. But I've got a lot of people to kill. I don't have time to dream this all up from scratch.

And I'm not going to share these placeholder people, because I think the reader should be allowed to interpret things as they like, and not be forced to imagine things exactly the way I imagine them. That would be an exercise in futility anyway.

I'm still way behind on word count. Wish me luck, and I'll see you Tuesday.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

When Stories Go Rogue

In a completely unforeseen turn of events, my dreaded romantic subplot seems to have become my main plot. Also, I've still managed to refrain from killing anyone. Except Great Uncle What's-His-Name. He vanished into a plot hole fifty years ago, and is almost certainly dead. But he doesn't really count.

I think the desk is working its way back into the main plot, and we're maybe about to learn some things about it. That is, once I get back to writing. I am currently writing this post on Monday night, and I haven't novelled at all today. I'm considering going to bed early and trying to catch up later. I've been saying that a lot lately.

There are so many great things the story has yet to reveal. Now, this is a problem for me a lot. I come up with all this great information, and all these great secrets, and I totally screw up the reveal. By which I mean, half the time I forget to reveal it at all.

The main thing to uncover is the true nature of the desk. The things it does. The places it sends people and things. Already I have brought up eleven teacup saucers that have vanished. They were swallowed up by the desk, and I hope I don't forget about them later.

The other thing to reveal is that our charming rogue, Martin, is in fact working for some nefarious organization. Also, the fact that the nefarious organization exists. Also, and this is a minor thing, but I'm going to put a weird amount of importance on it, there's the fact that Martin is actually his last name, and we have yet to be told his first. Even our female protagonist is unaware of this. Why does that matter at all? I don't know. But it does. I'm strange. You know this.

Basically, I know a few things that need to happen in the future of this tale. One of them involves mac and cheese (because of course). However, the path that we take to get to those things, well, shit, I should have brought a Sherpa. Because I have really no idea where we're going.

See you Friday.

Friday, July 15, 2016

A Flagrant Misuse of Free Time

So this is my 50th post. Yay?

I got really behind on my word count last week, because I was doing things and being social (unheard of, right?). At any rate, I started to catch up this week. See, to stay on track, I have to write about 320 words per day. Monday and Tuesday, I wrote about 540 each day. Wednesday I went to bed early and wrote nothing. So now I'm falling behind again.

I'm not super certain what's happening in the plot right now. Things got a little romantic, but I put a stop to that, knocked some stuff over, and exploded a lightbulb in someone's face. Because that's what I do. I have a couple of ideas for the future. A future piece of romantic subplot involves mac and cheese. That'll be fun. Also, I have introduced The Typewriter (the aforementioned stuff I knocked over) to go with The Desk. I'm not sure if it still just misspelled "flagrant." I like how random that is, but how often is someone going to type "flagrant"? Not very often. Unless you're me. I use it twice in one paragraph, apparently.

Does anyone else have an ideas about what the typewriter might do? I'm open to suggestions at this point.

I don't have much else to report on right now. I am getting a little more okay with this romantic subplot. There seems to be a running gag starting where it looks like they're about to get it on, and then they just… don't. I have every intention of continuing this.

See you all Tuesday.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Love in the Time of Awkward

I think I got the accent thing figured out, but more importantly, the romantic subplot is well underway. I wrote one meeting between these two characters, but didn't really like it, so I wrote another version. A better version. Anyway, these two seem to really like each other, because things started getting interesting. But then they when interrupted before it got too far, because I'm a dick.

Before they were interrupted, the scene was pretty PG. But it was a damn good scene. That will never be read by human eyes. I know that makes me seem like a jerk, bringing it up and not sharing, but as it was, I had to go in the other room to write it, where no one could possibly read over my shoulder.

I know I've written about this before, but I'm super weird about this kind of thing. The sorts of things that most people wouldn't bat an eye at are incredibly scandalous to me. I don't know why that is. But I think this is an important first little baby step. First I get to the point where I can write romance. Then I get to the point where I can share it.

You know, I feel kind of like that kid in the frame story of The Princess Bride. He's all like, "Ew, no, is this a kissing book?" But he sits through it because of the swordfights and what not. I only hope that I, like him, will reach the end and say, "I don't mind the kissing so much anymore." My story doesn't even have swordfights. So hopefully there will be enough to sustain both me and reader to keep us from getting bogged down by this one romantic scene.

Well, readers, what do you like in a romance? What do you expect from a romantic scene or story? I know my version is super tame, except by maybe Amish standards. Hopefully I'll get the guts to share it with you eventually. But not today.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Touring the Regions

I'm lagging a little behind on my writing, but that's not important right now. What is important is that I have run into a peculiar issue. Accents.

I don't often have characters with accents. My very first novel featured Serbian inventor Nikola Tesla, and my second involved a guy from Northern Ireland. And now there's this chap from Lancashire (that’s in north west England, by the way).

The trouble I have found is trying to convey the accent in text, short of spelling things out phonetically. And that just seems… I don't know… hokey? So the dialogue itself doesn't read any different from the American dialogue. So the casual reader isn't even going to pick up on that, especially if they skip over the bit that mentions the accent in the first place. Sure, I can try to use appropriate British terminology, but that would just seem out of place if you're not reading it with the right voice in your head.

When writing for Nikola Tesla, I tended to cut out most of the contractions (which also boosts word count), and throw in a smattering of Serbian words and phrases. Also, it was Tesla, so the accent was kind of expected.

So this is a bit of a challenge that I've run into. On the one hand, it's not critical to the story, but on the other hand, it matters to me. I supposed that's true of most elements in my story. I can picture all my settings and characters perfectly, but I for some reason can't describe them at all. But does it matter? Does it matter that you don't imagine my world and its inhabitants the same way I do? It probably doesn't, but I wish you could see it the way I do.

That's really all I have for today, since I haven't written much lately (I'm a slacker, I know). What do you think about all this? What would help you imagine a character with an accent?

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

I've Got Style

I apologize for the late post, but I got a little distracted on the 4th, so I never got around to writing it. Anyway, we're going to talk about formats today. That sounds super lame, right? No! It's the most exciting thing ever!

When I first started writing stories, I used your typical straightforward style. Single-spaced walls of text. Or the essay inspired double-spaced. But then I started writing fan fiction and posting it on a site, and for it to post properly, you had to single-space it, and put an extra space between each paragraph. I started to write all my stories like that, because I liked how it broke up the walls of text into easily digestible chunks. Nowadays I have a style in Word labeled "Novel" that puts extra space between paragraphs. I've been using this basic style for years now. Years.

Compare them. Compare!
So then recently (by which I mean last November), I realized I could change it up a little. I could play with formatting. A Conspiracy of Ravens was the first story in which some used the internet, and the first in which someone sent a text message. I'm not sure how it took me that long. I was writing a lot of steampunk stuff set around 1900. That's my excuse.

Anyway, I developed a format for text messages, and one for the posts made by my blogger character. I've used the latter in my current tale when my protagonist posts on a forum.
It might seem like unimportant stuff, but I think it might help the reader get into the story by making things look how they would actually look. You don't have to imagine that the conversation people are having is via text, because you can see it.

Let me know what you think of varying formats and styles within a book. It is distracting or beneficial?

See you Friday!

Friday, July 1, 2016

Another Camping Trip

So Camp NaNo July is upon us. By the time this posts, it will have already begun. At the moment, I have a few hours left. And I have little to no idea what happens in this story.

I can tell you that there's a girl. A woman. Whatever. She's inherited an old house from some relative. In the house is an attic. In the attic is a desk. The desk. Also, some great uncle or something once disappeared without a trace. The last anyone saw of him, he was headed up to the attic.

Then there's the dude. The Rogue. He's a bit of a wild card. I know that he's not who he claims to be. I don't know who that is, though. My notes are literally just a bunch of question marks. I'm pretty sure he's from Lancashire, so that's something. And he works for some shadowy antagonist.

I really think I should be more concerned over the fact that I have no clue what's going on. But I'm pretty chill. This is what we call "pantsing," as in writing by the seat of your pants. Most of the time, this is how I write. Usually I have a little more to go on, but we work with what we have.

I'm still accepting challenges for things to include. Partly because I don't know what’s going on. It's been suggested to me that maybe everything that the desk makes disappear just falls into plot holes. So maybe I’ll just build a story out of plot holes I’ll start storylines and then just drop them without explanation.

By Tuesday I should have an inkling, at least. Though, seeing as Monday is the 4th of July, and I have to work, Tuesday's post might be even more harried than usual. I just don't know. Anything. About anything.