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Jan 27, 2009

Clever New Outlining Trick

I need to write faster -- no, not faster but more efficiently, and with greater discipline.

Doing a performance analysis of my writing, I noticed I waste a lot of time in re-writes. Although I write from a general outline, I often find when I actually come to write a scene, what I thought would work, won't. So I have to re-write, not only that scene, but all the early parts of the book which now no longer mesh with my scene, and I also have come up withh a new outline for the future parts of the book yet to be written. This sometimes takes me weeks, even months.

Margaret Fisk has a link on her site to Lazette Gifford's Phase Outline system. In this, you write what almost amounts to a draft of your novel, without the pretty writing, in order to make certain the plot works before you commit to polishing the scenes. This should help prevent those massive backtracks and constant re-writing which drain so much time from finishing the book.

I am trying it. I haven't quite gotten used to it so far -- my phrases aren't detailed enough, and I find just a bunch of numbered phrases in a row difficult to keep track of, since I'm a visual thinker. I would prefer a way to have them in different colors or in different boxes. Mabye if I put it on Excel? I've done that before, but the problem is that Excel doesn't encourage long sentences, and my phrases already tend to be too short. They don't convey enough information to prevent scenes from taking me by surprise when I go to write them.

I finished my re-writes of Dindi Book 1 on Friday. I printed it Monday and gave it to a Beta reader. The ending, in particular, is a bit too sparse. But while I let it gell a bit and let the Beta reader finish it, I'm working on a detailed Outline for the rest of the series. Because this series originally was one book, and the plot in Book 1 has to be absolutely consistant with the conclusion in Book 7, I think it is a good idea to have the rest of the books mapped out as clearly as possible. In fact, it would be terrific if I could actually finishe the entire series by the end of the school year (i.e. August).

By the phrase method, I need a 500 phrase outline for a 100,000 phrase book. (I did an outline for Book Two and only came up with 186 phrases, and that's not from lack of plot points. Rather, my problem is that my "phrases" aren't finely grained enough.

For six books in all, I ought to have a 3000 phrase outline. About 50 pages? I'm working on it.

Jan 26, 2009

What if you had only one year left to write?

What if you knew FOR CERTAIN you had only a year left to write?

When I was single, I -- perhaps morbidly -- often spurred myself to write by thinking, "What if were to die young, having never written any of the stories I want to write?" Then I would try to write them down first, before my tragically early death. Once you have family, this no longer works quite the same way. If I only had a year to live, I would owe my every minute to my children, and to imagine missing them grow up is not inspiring, it's so depressing it cripples further thought.

But suppose that each writer has an actual Muse, and you Muse informed you, "Due to budget cuts on Mount Olympus, starting in September 2009, you will no longer be my client -- You will not able to write, and I will no longer be willing to help you."

Or, the sf equivalent: The Department of Normality Enforcement tells you that your hyperlexia -- whether it is a congenital condition or acquired through a CTD -- will, with the help of government-mandated medication, be "totally cured by the end of a year."

Either way. You have that long to write down everything you've wanted to write, or at least as much as you can squeeze into a few months.

It's one thing to feel one "should" write, or "would like to write" if only one had time. But suppose someone were to take it from you by force. Suppose you really only had a year left to write whatever it was in your life you were ever going to write. This puts things in a different light, doesn't it? What would you do?

Jan 23, 2009

Projects, Premise and Status of

I often refer to my projects, which don't have set titles, because they haven't been named formally yet. Here they are, including my temporary titles or nicknames:


1. Dindi

Aliases: "The Initiate", "The Corn Maiden", "The Rainbow Dancer", "The Windwheel and the Maze."

Premise: In order to become a magic dancer, a young woman bargains with faeries to solve a riddle which holds the key to saving the rainbow faeries from extinction.

Status: Originally one 200,000 word book, now broken up into a 7 book series. Book One complete (except for revisions), parts of other books, including series conclusion, also already written, with the expectation of some revision.

Inspiration: I used to belong to a dance team, but because I wore a back brace for scoliosis, I was never allowed to perform. Instead, I was only allowed to put the props on the stage for the dancers, and leave when the dance began. Naturally, I fantasized about becoming the star of the show, the best dancer of all. I put my heroine in the same situation -- she is not allowed to dance because she has no magic -- and granted her my own wish, to discover her magic and become the best dancer in the whole world. So there! (Thumbs nose)

Then, having given her so much, I had to make her problems equal to her gifts.

I found the perfect foil in an ancient and little known Polynesian legend about battling Death itself.

Quirky Things I Love About It: Dancing, rainbows, the good boy/bad boy love triangle with the predicatable but ever-delicious twist. I started this story with the intention of making it full of sweetness and light and color -- the very opposite of the kind of cynical, dark fantasy and anti-heroes now so popular. I wanted pixies and rainbows!

Somehow it ended up being about genocide, torture and death, with a dark hero. It does still have pixies and rainbows. And humor, I hope.

2. Palem

Aliases: "The Games of Dragon Island", "The Champion of Demaitria", "The Avatars of the Archons".

Premise: Every hundred years, two rival maritime nations send their champions to fight in an arena to determine which nation will rule for the next century. Palem and Jaxel meet when they are still young, never realizing they are fated to face one another as enemies in the arena.

Status: Intended to be a 5-book series. Unlike my other series, however, the storyline is not completely blocked out for all five books. I have only a vague idea of the ending and an even vaguer idea of the middle.

I wrote the first 800 page draft of this behometh just out of High School. This was going to be my Big Fantasy Epic. I mailed the full doorstop of a mss directly to publishers with the worst, most amateur query letters (I included a drawing of my characters) and a spelling error on page one. Dear God. (Smacks head.) After it came back with a polite rejection, I set it aside and didn't look at it for another ten years.

Finally, I took a look at it recently. The writing sucked. 3-page infodumps about floor mosaics alternated with white room scenes, PoV head-hopped all over the place, a lot of other rube mistakes. But I found I still loved the characters and the plot had a lot of tension and action.

I first wondered if merely tightening the writing could cut the 400,000 words to 100,000, but that proved unreasonable. So I split this book, as I had split Dindi. For NaNoWriMo, I completely re-wrote the first section of a new Book One.

Inspiration: The Marriage of the Sun and Moon, an ancient symbol of uniting opposites; Tibetian and Indian mythology; Kung Fu movies.

Quirky Things I Love About It: It's like Romeo and Juliette if they had become magic weilding gladiotors and tried to kill each other instead of themselves.


3. Haplad
Aliases: No aliases, I've always had in mind the same names. It's a trilogy: Monad, Haplad, Polyad.

Premise: A sf trilogy set millions of years into the future, which explores the evolution of the human race over immense distances of time and space.

Status: I have the theme and premise, but haven't found the perfect characters to make the stories personal. Part of the problem is that the stories, as I originally conceived them, take place millions of years apart. I have about a hundred different "Chapter One"s for this, none quite right.

Inspiration: Microbiology. Specifically, one day I was reading an awesome book called "Animals Without Backbones." It inspired this story. Really. I am a science geek and I especially love biology. I whiddle away long hours speculating about the evolution of the human race. One thing that depressed me was the thought that we would almost certainly go extinct within a few more million years. Most species only have a lifespan of 10 million years or so.

There are, however, some species, or at least taxa, with much longer lifespans. Ants have been around for 80 million years. Coral reefs for much longer. Could humans achieve such longevity? And if we did, would human kinds would we find in 80 million years?

Quirky Things I Love About It: I set aside all the usual toys of sf -- FLT, wormholes, aliens, AI, timetravel, even artificial gravity. In this future, none of that works out. Just to travel to another solar system will take us hundreds, thousands of years. All I allowed for was Time itself, and human survival into that far future, with the attendent slow workings of natural selection. This is very much an Idea story, which is probably why I think about it often, and fondly, but haven't gotten anywhere with it yet.

4. Xenophile
Premise: A story about a band of humans who make their living by changing their physical form into alien bodies in order to infiltrate alien societies and learn and/or steal from them. This has a lot more space opera than my other sf projects.

Status: I have a number of short stories written, but they aren't very short. I may give up on making them shorts and just go with my strength and combine them into a novel. This could easily be an open-ended series of stand-alone novels.

Inspiration: It's always struck me that most aliens in sf stories are more similiar to humans than Great Danes are to Poodles. And then there are the truly alien aliens crafted by a few masters of sf. Those are awesome, and I wanted my aliens to be a strange, and yet scientifically thought out as possible.

Every Xenophile story features an alien species. These aren't your usual Federation aliens -- basically humans with funny heads. These aliens, to the frustration of the humans, remain elusive and incomprehensible -- most don't have language in the sense we understand it, or religion or culture or other things we take for granted. The humans have to actually become alien themselves to try to understand them -- at the risk of losing their own humanity.

Quirky Things I Love About It: I am a Xenophile. I love designing the alien species and trying to wrap my mind around a completley alien way of sensing, feeling, thinking.

5. Quarklings
Aliases: A Thousand Blossoms With the Day

Premise: A story which speculates about lifeforms made from exotic free quarks in the first 3 seconds of the Big Bang, alternating with human scientists who find their frozen microscopic "spaceship" in a particle accelerator. I'm also playing with the idea of throwing Omar Khayyam, author of the famous Rubiyat, in the mix. (I have an unhealthy facination with medieval Iran.) This would make it another story with three story lines.

Status: I have one strand of the book already written, from the PoV of the Quarklings themselves. It was originally meant to be a stand alone story. It's about 7,000 words, with a great deal of info dumping, necessary to understand what's going on, but awkward. I think if I added humans, they could provide the info in a more easily digestable format, and the Quarklings could be enjoyed in smaller doeses, sprinkled throughout the book.

This is the only one of my projects which could never become a series. It stands alone.

Inspiration: I wanted to write about aliens, really cool, totally different aliens, as different from humans as I could imagine. This is another Idea story. What if aliens aren't separated from us by space alone, but by eons and energy levels?

Quirky Things I Love About It: I combined the Rubiyat of Omar Khayyam, the medieval cult of the original Assassins and a sub-particle love story. C'mon, that's just cool.


I'm working hard on final revisions to the Dindi mss, so I can meet my deadline. I'm down to the last three chapters that need serious re-writes. The tricky part is trying to tighten the pace. The ending now is a bit rambling, I think.

Evrey book in this series ends on a cliffhanger. This is ironic, because I originally started Dindi to be a single title book (as opposed to my Palem mss) to *not* end on a cliffhanger, so I could sell it as the perfect stand-alone first book. Ha.

The original draft was too long, even after I combined characters, limited travel, cut 40,000 words....I just couldn't cut any more without gutting the heart of the story, so I decided to go in the opposite direction, and expand it into a series. I've worked hard to keep the new books as close to 100,000 words I as I could. (Book One, at present, looks like about 114,000 words.)

The original book had 7 sections, and I just made each section a book. I put the characters, travels and battles back in which I had cut before. The main story arc is exactly the same, and the ending is the same.

This is why I can't really change the fact that each book ends on a cliffhanger. The books of the series can't stand alone because they're all part of a single story arc. The heart of the story is a faery riddle, the riddle of the Windwheel and the Maze, which the heroine needs to save a faery race from extinction. In each book, she gets a little closer to her goal; there are also peripheral characters who appear in each book.

Two characters, Brena and Rthan, appear in Book One, and their romance is resolved at the end of the book. There's also another side story woven into the narrative, about the attempts of Vessia the Corn Maiden and her companions to overthrow a tyrant called the Bone Whistler twenty years before. That story also reaches a climax and conclusion in Book One. I'm hoping this is enough to give the readers a sense of resolution and satisfaction, even as they are also eager (I hope) to read on to find out what happens to Dindi and Kavio, the heroine and hero.

Jan 20, 2009

Setting and Theme

As I finalize revisions on my novel, I am using tools from a Setting seminar in my writer's group to touch up some "white room" scenes I've found in the novel. The Setting seminar also inspired me to think more deeply about thematic symbols.

The magic in my Dindi series revolves around colors, with each book focusing on a particular color. So re-enforcing the color theme is one obvious approach. To add to that, and also appeal to more than one sense, I've added a taste to each color. The taste and color reflect an emotion and action, theme wise. So, for Book One, the symbols are Healing (action), Joy (emotion), yellow/gold (color) and sweetness (taste). The landscape style is "Beautiful".

In most scenes, I try to keep it subtle, but in one particular scene, a grand banquet, I lay it on thick:

In the cooking courtyard behind the High Table, out of sight of the guests, Dindi could hear Hertio introducing his guest of honor, but she resisted the urge to join the other giggling handmaidens who tried to peek at him. Instead she concentrated on her task, decorously arranging sugar loaves on a large terracotta platter. By the time she had placed the last hard, bronze-brown sugar loaf into position on top of a pyramid of similar loaves, the other handmaidens were already busy serving the guests dishes of acorn honey purée, yellowtail cutlets in saffron sauce, honey-coated walnuts and popped corn, caramelized baby onions and roasted squash slathered with butter, cinnamon and sugar.

The original version of this scene had different foods at the banquet. In this version, every dish in the meal is either sweet in taste or yellow in color.

Thinking about the theme also helped me with a scene in which the heroine contemplates suicide. I was having a hard time showing her as either depressed or despairing. I realized the reason is that (1) she is not a depressed or despairing character, so it doesn't fit, (2) she is still too young and innocent at this point in the story to really take suicide seriously, even as she melodramatically contemplates it. So I changed her motive to kill herself (by joining a faery circle and dancing to death) from despair to bliss -- she's a sort of joy junkie:

At just that moment, the morning cloud cover parted and the sky opened up over the river like a giant sunflower. The wind crooned in the pale gold reeds. She could taste the sweet dust off the cane. Despite everything, Dindi could no more hold on to her despair than she could hold water in a sieve. Her sadness, her sense of failure, did not evaporate, it simply couldn’t compete with the beauty overwhelming her. She had too much joy in her, she realized glumly – she always had. Could one die of gladness? How could one bear to taste such lovliness and not burst into dance?

It's a little tricky having a whole book themed on Sweetness & Light -- some contrast is needed to prevent cloying and boredom. The counterpoint color/taste/emotion combo is Blue/Salty/Grief, represented by the nautical enemies of the Yellow tribe. One character, grieving for his dead family, represents this stream in particular.

The following books will have other combos, such as Green/Minty, Orange/Sour, Red/Spicy, etc.

Jan 16, 2009

Agent Search Ongoing

On my list of writing goals for 2009 is to send out my other mss to an agent who requested it an embarressing length of time ago. I don't know if she'll be interested after all this time, but I have to give it a try. I certainly owe her the right of first refusal if nothing else.

Expecting to be rebuffed, I'm drawing up a list of further agents to query. A friend of mine from OWW just landed an agent who was not on my list before because I didn't have enough information about her. (There are too many poor agents out there to just send your mss to anybody.) A recommendation makes a difference in both directions.

There are a few other agents I've never written to before, names I've found through a variety of sources, including Publisher's Lunch. I want to find ten new but reputable agents and then send out my Rainbow Dancer query package.

I hope to complete the new book so I can start from the top of my agent list again, re-sending to agents who previously turned down the first mss.

How many times should one send out the same book before one gives up on it? The rule of thumb I've heard is to hit triple digits before abandoning ship. So I need to compile a list of 99 good agents. On my previous send-out, I had a list of 31. I don't know if there *are* 99 agents out there with whom I would be equally happy. Yes, writing is always an agents' market, because there are more good writers than good agents. But I don't think it behooves me to settle for a poor agent. I think it's better to re-write and send to the same agents over again, until something clicks, than to get accepted by an agent you can't live with.

Actually, I speak from experience. I did have one agent accept me. But I had sent to her without doing proper research first. I only researched her afterward, when I was actually faced with the the decision to sign on. I discovered her "agency" was opearated by three nice ladies out of the midwest. Now, I'm not snobbish. K Nelson does just fine operating out of Denver. But these nice ladies had no publishing experience, and not a single book credit to their agency's name. They were former librarians and would-be authors turned agents, probably in an attempt to sell their own books while they were at it. I realized I was not likely to be well-represented.

By the way, this was several years ago and their agency no longer exists.

I've made a lot of newbie mistakes, and am likely to make many more, but at least I try not to repeat the same mistake twice. Now I will respect myself and the agents I query more than that. I promised myself after that, I will only query agents I respect, agents I would be giddy to sign on with if they offered me a contract.

I do wonder if I could get myself in trouble sending out MSS 2 and MSS 1 at the same time. Suppose Agent A offers on MSS 2 (having already rejected MsS 1) at the same time Agent B offers on MSS 1 (knowing nothing about MSS2)? I want to do everything professionally and not be a rube.

In Between

My son is sick, so I can't work much. It's ok -- I'm in a between state anyhoo. I've finished Part I of my wip, and I'm not sure yet how to move on with Part II.

Meanwhile, I've read the four books of the Twilight series. My sister-in-law (and according to comments on my My Space page, quite a few of my other female friends and relations) are reading it or just completed it also. Naturally, as a writer, I'm reading it half admiringly, half-jealously, trying to figure out what Sephenie Meyer did right. I have to admit, this is my least favorite part of being a writer, this sense of jealousy which creeps into what would have been a totally innocent pleasure in my younger years.

Jan 13, 2009

Delicious Library

I have a new toy -- a program called Delicious Library to index all my books. All I have to do is hold the bar code in front of my computer camera, and the program pops up an adorable miniture picture of the book cover and places it on a lovely screen book shelf. The program automatically supplies all sorts of information about the book, including its' present value if one were to sell it used on Amazon. I could make a lot of money if I sold off my library. But I could never bear to part with them. I hoard books like a dragon hoards jewels.

So far, I've scanned in about 100 books, a mere sliver of my collection. It will be fun to scan them in over the several weeks -- or months, depending on how long it takes. Now if only my house had enough real bookshelves to hold all my gems. We have a very tiny house, and my husband, completely unreasonably, doesn't want every single wall lined with books. Most unfair...

Jan 9, 2009

Beautiful Thinking

My loved ones all know to gift me with books, and I have many delicious new ones.

One is called "Eunoia." It means "Beautiful Thinking." It's neither fiction nor nonfiction. Here's a taste, in which the book explains itself:

Enfettered, these sentences repress free speech. These sentences repress free speech. The text deletes selected letters. We see the revered exegete reject metred verse: the sestet, the tercet -- even les scenes elevees en grec. He rebels. He sets new precedents. He lets cleverness exceed decent levels. He eschews the esteemed genres, the expected themes -- even les belles lettres en vers. He prefers the perverse French esthetes: Verne, Peret, Genet, Perec -- hence, he pens fervent screeds, then enteres the street, where he sells these letterpress newsletters, three cents per sheet. He engenders perfect newness wherever we need fresh terms.

It sounds a bit odd doesn't it? The only vowel used in the paragraph above is the letter "e". Eunoia is the shortest word in the English language which uses all five letters. The book has five chapters, A, E, I, O and U, and in each chapter, only one vowel is permitted. It reads quite strangely, but it's a wonderful book for a writer to read, because it forces you to reflect deeply on words, their sounds and relationships and meanings. Also, it's a wicked ass vocabulary builder.

Eunoia is a univocal lipogram, in which each chapter restricts itself to the use of a single vowel. Eunoia is directly inspired by the exploits of Oulipo (l'Ouvroir de Litterature Potentielle) -- the avant-garde coterie renowned for its literar experimentation with extreme formalistic constraints....

Eunoia abides by many subsidiary rules. All chapters must allude to the art of writing. All chapters must describe a culinary banquet, a prurient debauch, a pastoral tableau and a nautical voyage. All sentences accent internal rhyme thrrough the use of syntactical parallelism. The text must exhaust the lexicon for each vowel, citing at least 98% of the available repertoire... [and] must minimize repetition of substantive vocabulary (so that, ideally, no word appears more than once). The letter Y is suppressed.

It makes more sense once one realizes that Eunoia is more poetry than prose. Twentieth Century poetry freed poets from all contraints of "the sestet, the tercet" and all metred verse, but this anarchy proved deadly to beauty and creativity. So the poets re-imposed rules upon themselves, sometimes queer rules.

Christian Bok spent seven years writing Eunoia. I don't think I could do that. As much as I enjoy word play, the words remain, for me, stepping stones to stories.

However, I do employ some deliberate contraints on the formal structure of my stories. Not so much at the sentence or word level -- usually in the chaptering. I used to have great difficulty with outlining, and in particular, with restraining my stories from overflowing into excessive length. So I would decide ahead of time how many chapters I wanted, how many words each chapter could take to itself, and I would try to stick by that. I found that having the chapters in front of me, like empty boxes, both helped me to fill and at the same time, not overflow

Of course, it also makes re-writes a bitch.

The structure of my present epic is quite strict. I have two protaganists, Palem and Jaxel. One is from Demaitria and one from Thedros, two warring nations. They are destined to meet in gladorial combat in a contest which will determine which of their nations shall be ascendent for the next hundred years.

Chapters each begin with an epigram, a salutation to one of the patheneon of story's universe. There are 5 sections to each book, with twelve chapters each - sixty chapters in all. The chapters alternate between the PoV of the two progatanists. Later, when other PoV characters are introduced, they must all appear on either "Palem's Side" or "Jaxel's Side", reflecting the deepening division of the world into two opposing and antagonistic camps. Furthermore, subsidiary characters must go in the right spot, so I can't put two members of Palem's camp in a row. Each book is allowed to have a Prologue which doesn't have to be clearly on one side or the other, or can violate the order of alternating chapters.

This is all very well, but it makes it hard, when I suddenly realize I need to add a scene in between two others, to figure out where the scene should go. The story also needs to move forward in approximately chronological order, so I prefer not to have a Jaxel scene take place in 9991 if the Palem scene following it takes place back in 9987. I had this very problem on my recent revisions. Nonetheless, I have successfully revised Section One, after suffering a bit of writer's block over the holiday.