30 June 2008

A Flat-Iron, A Catch-22 and a Bit of Miscellanea

The Flat-Iron

This synopsis stuff is hard work. Not that I expected it to be easy, mind.

But yes, I’m still at it. I did a bit of homework on what a ‘real’ (to be submitted to somebody) synopsis should be, and what I did last week is not nearly as done as I thought it was. But – shockingly – I think it’s actually going pretty well.

It was a hectic weekend, so I wasn’t able to devote a lot of time to it – not as much as I wanted to by any means, but enough that I managed to have another Revelation.

Er, no, the Axe did not get happy and whack another hapless character from the plot (lucky characters). It wasn’t really a Plot Revelation so much as it was a Process Revelation.

See, I’m always struggling with the Big Picture. All my life, I’ve been climbing things – trees, mountains, cliffs, icefalls – in an attempt to gain some perspective. And my lack of perspective (or inability to gain any) when it comes to fiction is, I think, the main cause of the ginormous bowls of plot spaghetti I end up with upon finishing a first draft.

I’ve tried all kinds of things to get there. Index cards (one for each scene). Outlines (which get ignored by my characters). 3-D models (don’t ask).

These all sound like great ideas, and they probably work for a lot of people. But they haven’t clicked for me.

A synopsis, however, might be the thing that does.

Why? Well, for one thing, synopses have to be written according to certain rules. One of these rules is that they are always written in '3rd person omniscient POV'. So if I play by this rule, writing a synopsis forces my focus to stay at a certain level. In other words, I don’t get sucked into some devious little character’s head and hopelessly sidetracked, because for a change, I’m not in anybody's head but mine, the storyteller.

As I'm writing this synopsis, the plot spaghetti is actually starting to untangle, sub-plot threads are connecting to each other, places to foreshadow later events are appearing. The plot spaghetti is, in fact, looking less like an ugly snarl in unkempt hair and more like ultra-curly hair that's had a flat-iron taken to it - maybe a bit kinky here and there, but overall, much better behaved.

So, long-term, I can see my writing process developing into something like this: it starts with some kind of loose (very loose) outline-ish thing, then a rough draft, then some filling in of plot holes, then a sudden and wrenching recognition of plot spaghetti, followed by some despair - then application of the flat-iron in the form of a synopsis, a sigh of relief, and then… well, whatever comes after that. :-D

The Catch-22

Now this version of the synopsis that I’m working on right now is mainly just for my use. I’m not really writing it to please anyone but me.

Presumably, however, I’ll use it someday when I submit the (revised, polished, proofread) manuscript to a real, honest-to-goodness publisher or agent. And that leaves me with the amateur question (that only I can answer, I’m sure): how much detail is too much? Take the following passage, for example:

The next day, Luci travels as far as Chung-lon by way of the Temple’s Tower, a strange building that only women can enter. The floor of the Tower’s Map Room is a mosaic map of Imbue that, if used properly, can transport an adept from one location to another.

Something screams at me that this is way too much detail and wants it re-written so it goes something like:

Halfway on her journey South, Luci stops in the city of Chung-lon.

Which one is better? For clarity and simplicity and get-to-the-damn-point-already-ness, clearly the second one.

But.

I’m a fantasy writer. If I don’t show some of the nifty fantasy details I’ve created, what the hell’s the point? Plus, the Tower and what it can do are important story elements later on. So I'm inclined to stick with the first version, even when I submit it.

Not that it matters greatly for the purposes of this synopsis, but what would you do?

Miscellanea

We got a pool!!

Never, ever did I see myself purchasing a pool - too expensive and too much fuss. But hey, Wally-world has good-sized pools with filters for a hundred bucks and frankly, when you live this far south of the M-DL and don't have a pool, you live in the bowels of Hell. And since The Husband just adores futzing with chemicals and mechanical doo-dads, I said, "Eh, why not!"

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27 June 2008

Synops-oops

Synopsis.

Since I still felt like shit last night, that was my Revision Hell project. Try to come up with a synopsis of the story. To help keep me on track, yanno, and give me The Big Picture so I wouldn't get all dazed and confused by the details. Plus, I needed something I could stick bits of the hacked out character into. (My, that sounds sort of gruesome, if you think about it...)

Well.

Three failed attempts later (I kept coming up with back-of-the-book blurbs - not helpful), I finally got... something. I don't know that I can call it a synopsis, because honestly, I haven't done my homework on how to write a decent synopsis, but I think it'll do what I need it to do for now.

*sigh*

At least, I'm feeling better today. That really IS something.

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26 June 2008

Grinding the Axe

Must keep it sharp, doncha know...

So yesterday was something of a bust for Revision Hell, because - of course, story of my life whenever I start a writing project - I got sick. Again.

By the time the kids were in bed, all I wanted to do was go to bed myself. I did manage to chop out the several chapters that were in the axed character's POV, so I got the manuscript down to 64K. Then I pasted in a couple of scenes for one of the characters who will be shouldering part of the story in his place, so I'm up to 65K.

And then I called it a night, because my throat was sore, I had bodyaches, and my head was starting to feel distinctly balloon-like.

I'm still not feeling that great, so it's good it's a work-at-home day. If I really start feeling bad, I can lay on the couch and I won't be infecting co-workers with whatever-the-fuck this is. :-p

Anyway, the plan for this evening is to work out what other scenes I'm going to need to make up for the axed POV and, if I'm up for it, do some work on the character arc for my martial arts princess. That'll be occupying the back 40 of the brain for the day.

Unless I get knocked down for the count. Glory, but I hate germs.

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25 June 2008

The Axe of Hell

Day One of Revision Hell went surprisingly well. I am shocked, in fact, at how well.

Not only did I wield the Plot Spaghetti/Bullshit Pruning Axe with a ruthlessness I had no idea I possessed, but I had A Revelation. A sad revelation, but a revelation nonetheless.

But let me start at the beginning.

First, I discovered that I had already lopped off the last two-thirds of Novel #1 back in January when I had the original realization that the story was too big for one book. Yay! I was down to 86K already - yahoo!

Then, as I was thinking about the story (whilst making spaghetti for supper - how ironic is that?), some little bits of story drifted into some bits of things I've learned about writing in the last 6 months, there was a gentle collision and then BANG! - the Revelation exploded into my brain.

A major character has to be cut.

Ouch.

Double ouch, 'cuz he's one of my favorites. One of my darlings, in fact. And now I'm embarrassed, because I can't remember who said 'Kill your darlings'...

But anyway, he has to go. This isn't his story. It's his sister's story and while he's important to the overall saga, it isn't necessary to shift the focus to him at this point in it. The things that he does that are really important come later on -- in Book Two and Book Three.

So that was great, but left me with the problem of how to tell the parts of the story that are currently being told from his POV. There's a bunch of Important Stuff that needs to be planted about him in Book One - how do I do that, now that he's been pushed to the periphery of the story? By bedtime, I was frustrated by failing to figure this out and ready to give up on the whole idea.

At 3AM Ms. Baby came to the rescue.

Yes, Ms. Baby, who had conveniently refused to eat much of anything for supper; Ms. Baby who woke up hungry and demanded a "nack" (snack). As I was sitting there waiting patiently as she ate her string cheese, eyes closed so as not to interact and thereby, hopefully, ensure that she'd go back to sleep, I got it.

I can see the bits and pieces of Important Stuff that need to be woven in and I can see whose POV I'll need to use to do it. Yahoo.

So, all in all, Day One as the Mistress of my own Hell was pretty productive. And I'm actually looking forward to Day Two. Which is probably a mistake.

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24 June 2008

Welcome to Hell

Revision Hell, That Is

So Joely's hosting Revision Hell between now and July 31st... well, not "hosting" per se... but... well... yanno, it was her idea! So I'm nominating her as Hell's Hostess. :-D

Here are my personal Circles of Novel Hell:

Polish ('til it shines like the top of the Chrysler Building...)
Circle I Limbo

Add Details, Emotion and Other Pretty Things
Circle II Whirling in a Dark & Stormy Wind

Villian Boot Camp
Circle III Mud, Rain, Cold, Hail & Snow

Cardboard Cut-Out Characters
Circle IV Rolling Weights

I'll-Finish-It-Later Scenes
Circle V Stuck in Mud, Mangled

River Styx

Character Arcs That Don't
Circle VI Buried for Eternity

River Phlegyas

Pruning Dead Limbs
Circle VII Burning Sands

Plot Spaghetti
Circle IIX Immersed in Excrement

Plot Holes
Circle IX Frozen in Ice

Design your own hell



The Goal: Revise something. For me that'll be Novel #1. Why? Well, mostly because I can hardly make it worse. Eh-heh.

OK, I know, I know - I need to be more specific than that. Ahem. Let's try that again.

The Goal (Take 2): Take the 176,663 words/374 pages (single-spaced...yes, really) of plot spaghetti and hack it down to 100,000, whilst filling in the blanks and smoothing over the jagged edges.

The Plan: That's not as ambitious as it looks, actually, since I finally realized I'm going to need three books to tell the story and - lo and behold - once I realized that, the three parts fell into place with a very satisfactory whump!. So the cutting part should be easy, 'cuz I'm just gonna hack off the bits after the end of the first bit (the last two-thirds of what I have) and stick it in a new file called Books_Two_and_Three.

After that, the real work begins, the most crucial part of which will be getting that all important Character Arc established for my martial arts mistress of a Princess and her drug addict of a Prince Charming. And then I'll get all my little Villian ducks in a row and slap 'em.

I figure I can manage about 2 pages or about 1000 words of editing a day. That's not a lot, but I'm going to be realistic. We've got holidays. We've got grant deadlines. We've got vacations to The Homeland (which involves a 2-day car ride - one way, ouch - which might be good editing time - let's hope so).

So probably, I won't get all the way through a full edit. But I'll get a good start. And that'll be cool!

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19 June 2008

Coincidence? Probably.

So I'm reading this book: Genghis Kahn and the Making of the Modern World. It's fascinating, and somewhere in there is a discussion about the Mongol religion -- part of which involves a diety of sorts called the Eternal Blue Sky.

Cool, thinks I.

I mention to one of our postdocs, who happens to be from Mongolia, that I'm reading this book. We proceed to have this long discussion about the Mongol invasion and how everywhere she's worked over the years - Afganistan, Pakistan, Russia, Egypt - people still remember how their homeland was conquered by Genghis Kahn (or, as she says, Chingis Kahn).

And then she goes back to her cube, and I finish submitting the paper she came to ask me about in the first place. Then I email her to let her know and she emails back and says something to the effect of 'now we just have to pray to the Blue Sky Father (or the God) that it gets accepted'.

Now that may be a literal translation of the Christian 'God' or it may be that people in Mongolia still have the same dieties as Genghis Kahn. I don't know, but whatever.

That's pretty cool, thinks I.

Yesterday The Husband comes home and says, 'You probably won't let me, but can I go to Durango next week.'

Durango. As in Durango, Colorado. Home to a bit of the Great Big Sky, one of the things I miss most about living Way Out West.

For one brief, beautiful moment, I thought, 'Hey! I could go, too!'

That'd be So Cool!, thinks I.

And surely, it was all meant to be, given the other occurences of Big Beautiful Sky in the last week and the fact that I don't believe in coincidence - yahoo!

And then I remembered that I'm not 27 anymore and can't just take off at the drop of a hat for a road trip, 'cuz I have a job and kids and a house and a car payment and stuff.

So, yeah. Probably it's all just a coincidence.

Bummer, that.

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15 June 2008

Fruit and Fauna

Fruit

First, the fruit: check it out - I HAVE PLUMS!!!!


There are a bunch more getting close on the tree and evidence on the ground under the tree that a bunch more got ripe recently (the squirrels beat us to 'em ... damn squirrels). Hopefully, the ones I picked will ripen a bit more by themselves, otherwise we might be having a pucker-fest instead of a snack...

Fauna

Second, the fauna: The South has no shortage of Bugs of Gigantic Proportion.


Found this lovely early one morning - thankfully dead - on my doorstep. My ancient camera is not capable of the sort of close-up that would really give you nightmares, but you could see every last one of the thing's eyes.

He/She had one HECK of an abdomen (or thorax or whatever that bulbous, brownish bit is...).


I think it died because it came too close to the house -- an unintended consequence of having to spay the foundation for ants. This is why I don't like using pesticides. You never know what you're going to kill, and I'm normally fairly tolerant of excessively-legged creatures (especially ones that eat other excessively-legged creatures for breakfast) so long as they stay in their natural habitat (i.e., not the inside of my house).

Although I have to admit, I did very intentionally kill the black widow I found in the backyard a couple weeks ago. I don't know -- something in the hindbrain Did Not Like that particular collection of glossy black legs and I had squashed the motherfucker before I even knew what happened.

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14 June 2008

Excuses

I know. It's been an age in blog-time since I've put up a real post and I have a list - a long list - of obligations I have not fulfilled. But I have my reasons for blowing everybody off. I do!


First, I had a birthday party to orchestrate. It was a smashing success, even if I did question my sanity (repeatedly) for have nine - NINE - 6-year-olds in my house at one time and then stuffing them full of sugar. I mean, there was a spontaneous robot parade, fercrissake.

But.

Nothing got broken, there weren't too many tears shed, and there were no (permanent) injuries. And it was fun (in its own special way)!

Second, Ms. Baby insisted on bringing home more microscopic (and illness-causing) friends. So there was vomiting. And diarrhea. Oh, and then there was a case of sun poisoning (The Husband brought the sunscreen with him on the boat, but didn't use it - brilliant). Think subcutaneous blisters. It was fucking gross. 'Nuff said.

Third, ... well, shit. I've forgotten what was third. But I'm sure there was something...

Whatever.

Things appear to be back to normal, so I'm out of excuses and it's time to fess up, shut up, and sit down and get caught up. So in the hope that posting my To Do's here will motivate me to get my ass in gear, here's my list of obligations, in no particular order, but that I'm going to get done by the end of the month, even if it kills me:

  1. Medical editing stories for Lanie, which were promised an embarassingly long time ago.
  2. First draft of a 33 Mistakes e-book for Holly Lisle, which was committed to an embarassingly long time ago.
  3. Three reviews of books from Drollerie Press, which were sent to me - oh, you're so smart, you've guessed it already, haven't you - an embarassingly long time ago.
  4. Beta read for Joely, which wasn't sent all that long ago but that I had planned to finish last weekend and would have, had it not been for the vomiting and runs to the drug store for Benedryl and hydrocortizone cream for the lobster, I mean, Husband.
  5. Thank you cards for Ms. Six's birthday presents.
  6. Send out spring school photos of Ms. Six and Ms. Baby.
  7. Actually write some of the 17 blog posts taking up space in my brain.

Myeah. That should do it. For now.

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10 June 2008

Free Stuff! Free Stuff!

OK, check it out, y'all - Joely's got a huge GIVEAWAY going!

There are free books to be had and a $10 gift certificate to Drollerie Press, and all you have to do is post a comment on her blog between now and June 15, which is this coming Sunday, so don't delay - go check it out now!!

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