18 February 2010

Pants on Fire

So my friend Jess passed on the Bald-Faced Liar Creative Writer Award to this here blog. THANKS, JESS!! Not just for the award but for another fun game to play along with.

Here are the rules:
  1. Thank the person who gave this to you. (see above)
  2. Copy the logo and place it on your blog. (see above)
  3. Link to the person who nominated you. (see above)
  4. Tell up to six outrageous lies about yourself, and at least one outrageous truth. (see below)
  5. Nominate seven “Creative Writers” who might have fun coming up with outrageous lies.
  6. Post links to the seven blogs you nominate. (Umm... well...)
  7. Leave a comment on each of the blogs letting them know you nominated them. (Uh, yeah...)
Anyway, let's start with the outrageous lies and the one outrageous truth. Can you guess which is which?
  1. Clevelanders are famous for lying about this, but I really was an extra in the parade scene in "A Christmas Story." I was one of the folks standing right in front of Soldiers & Sailors Monument.
  2. I once got a standing ovation singing "Sweet Transvestite" at a karaoke bar, embarassing another singer the way Huey Lewis did in the film Duets.
  3. I lost my left big toe in a childhood bicycle mishap, finding out the hard way why there are always supposed to be guards around the chain.
  4. I made it through two rounds of interviews for The Real World: San Francisco. Yes, the one with Puck. So glad I dodged that bullet.
  5. Fourteen years ago, I embarassed myself backstage at a Chicago concert by telling the trumpet player, Lee Loughnane, that he was my idol and I wanted to be just like him.
  6. When I was twenty, I once slept with a girl who would eventually become an actress who, until recently, co-starred in a famous network TV police procedural drama. She'd originally planned to be an engineer. (No, I won't tell you which show.)
  7. As I child, I had dreams of me being a sub in BDSM scenes before I even knew what BDSM was.
Anyway, the real truth is that while I occasionally break my rule of not spamming other people's blogs, I'm a little wiped to think of seven folks who might be kind enough to play along. How about, I pick... you? I'd only ask one thing, which is that you leave a comment with a link if you do play along.

08 February 2010

How Don Is About to Get His Groove Back

As I slogged through my horrendous backlog of Google Reader items last week, I read one of the best writing-related posts I'd ever seen from io9.com entitled "12 Secrets to Being a Super-Prolific Short-Story Writer." I actually know some of these...
  1. Know how your story ends before you begin it.
  2. Don't just write the same story over and over again, or you'll bore yourself.
  3. Start crude, then work on refining.
  4. Have a bunch of stories on the back burner, and keep rotating.
  5. Don't be afraid to stare at the blank screen for a few hours.
  6. Write a bunch of stories in a shared world.
  7. Some stories are just the turning point in the story, not the whole story from beginning to end.
  8. Try creating a character study, or a collection of potent images, instead of just a series of plot twists.
  9. If you're getting bogged down in a particular story, you probably haven't found what it's about yet.
  10. Try an exercise, like rewriting a well-known story from a different viewpoint.
  11. Don't be afraid to take crazy risks.
  12. Write for different markets.
It's no secret to anyone that I'm weeks overdue on delivering my Four Horsemen Contest story, for a number of reasons I won't go into here. But every inch of the teeth-pulling progress I've made on the damn thing thus far was made by re-learning these two pieces of advice.
5) Don't be afraid to stare at the blank screen for a few hours. Sometimes you gotta spend some time chewing over the turning point in your story. Sometimes the ending you thought was so crystal clear when you started out has turned mushy. Sometimes you have to throw out a thousand words of perfectly good story because it rang false and didn't feel like the direction the story should be going in. There's no substitute, on occasion, for sitting and sweating it out. Think about the characters, and what they're actually thinking and feeling in the situation you've set up. Think about the themes you've established and what sort of resolution they're leading to. Take the time to visualize the right ending for this story, or put it aside...

I've seriously forgotten how to just sit and sweat it out. I'd sit and get frustrated that nothing was coming. I'd make myself scribble some words down. Then I'd hit the backspace key and delete. Then I'd hit Ctrl-Z and put it all back. Rinse and repeat.

It's a life issue, really. I've never had any trouble bleeding, sweating, or crying to keep my momentum going. I've had stuff knock me down, and I've had to get back up. But when something just stalls? When I'm working and working, and I'm just spinning my wheels? That's often when I want to give up.

But I'm getting better.

9) If you're getting bogged down in a particular story, you probably haven't found what it's about yet. This is sort of an extension of tip #5, I guess. Maybe you're trying to make your characters care about what you want them to care about, instead of what it makes sense for them to care about. Maybe you're focusing on a supporting character, while your main character is wandering around just outside the frame. Maybe the real theme or idea of your story is something you've only touched on in passing. The power of storytelling is so great, that when you find what your story is actually about, you may feel it propelling you forward with its unstoppable logic. The characters will be motivated to move forward, the mysteries will feel more and more urgent until someone solves them, and the underlying themes will get clearer and clearer until they form into some kind of potent image. That's the idea, anyway.
And, I'm almost there.

Part of the problem (and no, I don't really count the hell my work life has been the past few weeks) is that my writing process has moved soooo far away from starting with an idea. There's absolutely nothing wrong with "First contact with mutual attraction between the species." But I had a hell of a time starting with that because that idea, in itself, said nothing to me at first. Given the right germ of a scene, maybe a character interaction or a piece of dialogue, that idea might've occurred to me.

But, I'm not bitching! It took a bit of struggle, but I've actually found something resembling a theme, related to the "First contact with mutual attraction between the species" idea, that I can sink my teeth into, based on the characters and situations that have already presented themselves in the puke draft. And that's what I've been working on, trying to hammer it into shape in the Forge of Vulcan (i.e. my netbook).

Yep, I can feel my groove coming back, slowly but surely.

01 February 2010

Tough Love

Wow, last week was a shitty one for writing. I'm not making excuses. Just stating the plain fact that between the crazy shit going on at my dayjob and life in general, I just couldn't pull the end of this story together like I'd planned. Of course, being fixated on the Australian Open didn't help, either. What can I say, I'm a sucker for Grand Slam tennis, plus it was my escape from dayjob hell.

I did manage to pull together Act II of my story, and that's what I brought to the biweekly crit group vivisection yesterday. Here's what they said:

For the Win
  • This section was "intriguing." (I get that a lot these days)
  • Good character details: e.g. being a member of MUFON; scene on the train ride in; what she wears to work
  • Apparently, the way I wrote a section showing "The Battle of the Moon" was 95% win, in terms of its description and most of the details of how my protagonist came upon it.
  • Good question on one reader's part: I never described wtf MUFON was.
  • I ended Act II with a confusing situation. Out of seven readers, only one verbalized what was going on, and even that was only a guess on his part.
  • One thing I apparently failed to fix from the last section I brought, my character still isn't showing enough of her alleged skepticism. She's still taking what's told to her at face value.
  • The 5% of "Battle of the Moon" fail had to do with exactly how the MC stumbled onto it.
I probably will not be bringing Act III to group. I'm behind, not only in terms of my personal goal of finishing and sending off one new story per month, but because the deadline to submit this story as the opening salvo in my contest with the other Four Horsemen is today. I did get some plotting help from the other members of my crit group, and I already have one of my trusty beta-readers on what I already have. The plan is to finish this bitch and fire it out to the rest of my beta readers today or tomorrow. Okay, Wednesday. After all, Mercedes has already drawn steel.