Thursday, March 29, 2012

Go big or go novella?

I'm finding myself in a bit of a bind as of late with the story. Thankfully it has nothing to do with the writing. I'm still putting up my 2k/day. I just finished my bit for today and I think my biggest problem is simply bringing it all together. I have written from the perspective of 6 different people in this future-Earth I've created. Two have been fleshed out really well, two have been catching fire and two are good characters with little to do at first. So I like what I'm writing, and in their own contexts, my characters are making good sense. And I DO know how I want to connect one character with two others, but aside from that it just seems like everyone's gotta do their own thing and get out of their own battles before they can all matter to each other. It makes me wonder if it wouldn't all be easier to write if I just took a novella approach to each character.

I like this idea for a couple reasons. 1) It allows me to write unfettered from trying to connect everyone. Again, I liked this idea as a novel, but I only had started 2 characters when I had that thought. Now that the world has gotten MUCH bigger, I feel the novella approach allows me to crawl around in the dingy corners more before hitting the limelight. 2) It gives me a sense of completion and the confidence in completing projects that I'm not sure I have right now. I feel like a lot of my doubt related to this story stems from the fact that I've never really finished anything comparable. I've had ideas and I've written some novellas and short stories, but never a novel and never like this. To finish three or four novellas ranging from 20-50k words might be a boost. 3) If I really want it all to be a novel, I can find a way to blend the novellas together after I've actually taken these people places.

So yeah, I think I just convinced myself that this thing will broken up a bit more. Which is cool because I can release things a lot sooner and you guys can actually see what I'm talking about. Then the drinking will commence. I'm gonna stew on this a night or two, but I feel like as long as I keep writing it ultimately isn't going to be a huge decision. The story is what truly matters here, no matter how I present it.

Monday, March 26, 2012

"There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed." -Ernest Hemingway

Why The Hunger Games Gets a Bad Rap While Making a Billion Dollars

I'm not a Twilight fan. I don't pretend to be. I'm also not a Twilight hater. That would take energy and I'm often tired or busy. The fact is, I haven't read a single word of the Twilight saga nor seen a single second of the cinematic adaptation. I am a Twilight nothing-er. I don't care one way or another what people spend their money on for entertainment. I hear the books are written in simple fashion and aren't all that complex. That makes sense. You can't be as popular as those books unless you're wonderfully simple.

The only time I've found myself even contemplating the Twilight series is when I hear people compare the recent Hunger Games phenomenon to its vampiric brethren. On the surface, the comparisons seem apt enough. Both feature teenage female protagonists who are meant to appeal to teenage female readers. Both have a twist of the nether in them, whether it be the plague of the nosferatu or the plague of dystopia. Yet based on everything I've heard about Twilight and everything I read in the first book of the Hunger Games Trilogy (aptly named The Hunter Games), these comparisons seem, well, baseless, and mostly they come from men. So fellas, I'm directing this review at you and I want the ladies to nod and read along because, as usual, they already know all this. 1) This series is nothing like Twilight. Do not compare it to Twilight. 2) Men should dig this series a LOT more than Twilight. Again, at the end of the day I am relying on the trusted word of dedicated readers I know whose reactions have ranged from fanatic love (my youngest sister) to disgust and contempt (the less young sister). Fellas, if you take nothing else from this, take this much: Take your lady to go see the Hunger Games. You will not regret it.

First of all ladies, I need you to forgive your guy for hating Hunger Games without a second look. Again, this is the Twilight effect. You shoved what is, by all accounts, a completely guy-unfriendly movie down their throats. You insisted that there were "cool vampires and demons" when really it was just a horribly done love story. Let's kill the misconception while we're here: Guys don't hate love stories. No really, we don't. What we hate is contrivance. We hate the all-too-convenient idea of "love at first sight". It demeans a lot of effort on our part and your part. Love is work. It's easy to fall in love, sure, but if you want it to last you have to accept each other's deepest flaws as if they're qualities and you have to do it all with a smile. You have to sacrifice and you have to care about things you never thought you would care about. And you have to be lucky enough to meet someone who will reciprocate all of the above AND deal with the fact that you're not going to clean up after yourself. The work goes greatly underappreciated in these movies and ladies, I know you don't like being underappreciated.

Contrived love stories assume men are sheepish, perfectly groomed dogs waiting for that one woman to dote over and worship. Sure, in a way, I worship my girlfriend. I do pretty much whatever she wants because making her happy makes me happy. And she's the same way regarding me. But I also fart A LOT. Without restraint, without hesitation and without apology. I watch and care about sports to a level she will never understand. I am an aggressive driver and I get surly when I haven't written in a few days and I never express as much when I am in my surly moods. And she takes it all with a smile. But you know what? She does stuff that drives me crazy too. We deal.

None of this is captured in movies like Twilight so when a guy sees sparkly vampires hitting 1,000 foot home runs then whisking off breathless women without passing gas, we get skeptical. Once you introduce two shirtless guys and create a marketing campaign about choosing one or the other, well we feel a bit left out and decide that stuff's just not for us. We don't like phony dudes, not on the screen, not in person. We want the real deal.

The Hunger Games gives you the real deal without the romantic frills to lean on. In a fictional vision of post-apocalyptic America, Suzanne Collins gives us a world where 24 teens between the ages of 12 and 18 are annually chosen to fight to the death for public amusement. However, the real focus is unraveling how a society that promotes such a brutal ritual can thrive without constant rebellion? The stark contrast between the high tech government that sports hovercrafts and handheld devices that read one's DNA as quickly as a cashier scans a box of cereal and the living conditions of an impoverished mining colony like the one our protagonists hails from is one of the crowning achievements of this series. I suspect this was the director's goal, too. They wanted to make people feel HARD as the setting revealed itself to the viewer. It does all of this without an overriding love story that trumps everything else the characters are about.

The most powerful scene of the movie comes during the Reaping, the ritual where names of participants in the Hunger Games are picked from a large glass bowl. Teenagers are herded into a pen like farmstock while a bubbly Effie Trinket wishes them all the best of luck in the movie's token fashion and then reaches in for a name of someone who's likely going to be dead in a week and everyone knows it. When Katniss Everdeen steps up to take her little sister's place (trust me, I'm not spoiling anything with that revelation) I felt legitimate chills. That five minutes sold me on the entire trilogy as a cinematic expression of a really cool trilogy of books.

If you're a fan of the books, you'll love the movie because it's so faithful to the settings and characters. If you're new to the movie and you have an open mind, I think you'll enjoy it as well. The books are notoriously brutal, but the movie is PG-13 and it waters down the violence. For this long ass review, I'm simply calling on my homies. All the good guys who have finally taken a stand because you were drug to three Twilight movies already and you've simply had enough. Fellas, this is not worth taking a stand against. She'll love it and frankly you will probably love it too. There is a small dose of romance, but it's part of a greater plot and it isn't the focus of the story by any means. Instead, the focus is the raw reaction of people getting penned in and treated like cattle by a burgeoning government that jumps at its own shadow. Come for the hot, hot Katniss Everdeen and stay for an original storyline brought to life by excellent directing and costume design (seriously spot on with what I imagined the Capital was like).

In short, don't buy the hater hype that catches up with everything that's popular nowadays. Go with your gut and realize that movies about mega brawls in the wilderness are actually pretty fucking awesome. I look forward to first reading, then watching, the sequel unfold. I hope you don't let the mistakes of our lit-to-screen past hamper the possibilities for the future.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Great Fiction Writing Article

Love, love, love this article. Ten succinct rules for telling a story that go beyond the "follow your heart" BS you find most places, while still finding time to make some great points. My favorite quotes:

"The best writers are the ones who can cover the most distance with the fewest words."

"Write something that can feel like a memory, that, five or ten years from now, the reader might wonder if this was something they lived or something they read."

"Really, any scene that’s only getting across what’s happening on the surface of that scene—two guys loading boxes into a truck, say—then that scene’s dead. Instead, let those two men load boxes, but only one of them knows the other’s tranquilized pet is in one of the boxes. It changes everything, for the better."

And so on. Give it a read. It's a good 'un. Have a great weekend.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Highlight of my week

Finding a half hour between rushes while working on a busy campus to jot down a casual thousand words was a thrill for me. I am so bad about distractions and when you put me in the center of a bustling college campus full of loud students revelling in the best weather of the year, I wouldn't expect to put one word down, let alone 1,000. It's the little things.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

2k a day or the story goes away

I'm a big believer in following the advice that great success stories often share. If you're interested in writing on a level to where every word of yours is consumed or judged as either a story or a part of you, I can't recommend Stephen King's On Writing enough. Being an English major in college who took every creative writing class available, no other How-to book in the field of writing had a more profound impact on my desire and approach to being a writer. He doesn't do it the way a lot of the college-book geeks tell you to do it, but then again the college-book geeks are being referred to as such because the only thing they ever wrote that anyone read was their advice book. Does that seem as silly as it sounds?

My favorite bit, and it's something you'll hear a lot from me, is that King firmly believes in the 2,000 words/day rule. He says come hell or high water, every single day he must get his 2k. Some days it's easy, some days it isn't. If he doesn't visit his characters and his story every day, he says the story 'feels foreign' to him. I've tried to do just that. I keep a calendar above my desk and mark whether I wrote or not and how much I wrote that day. It's a way of keeping yourself in check and forcing yourself to face your own inconsistencies. Trust me, writing a big fat zero on the calendar is a heart breaker after going a couple weeks straight with good numbers.

Well I had to take two days off in a row and writing in on my calendar, in short, blew ass. For the first time since I started this work, I completely understand what King meant when he said his stories feel foreign after taking time off. I had to take Sunday off because I had promises to keep (and something about miles to go and blah blah), but Sunday became such a shit show (think slumped Cory on the curb arguing with passing dogs) that Monday got absolutely ruined. Try as I might I couldn't peck a word out on Monday, which is the first time that's happened in a month.

Despite my unproductivity, I felt good because when I realized my brain was simply too starved for sleep, I indulged and closed my eyes. Instead of sleep, I found my little world. I saw one strand, the one I need to write today, the one I've been avoiding for a week. I saw my characters right they were last I saw them, holding their unlit torches, waiting for a match. Knowing that my mind couldn't possibly handle constructing well-made sentences that moved the plot, I wrote what I saw from afar. A general outline. I plotted my character's fate with the icy chill of a CEO trimming budget in the form of a dozen secretaries and a mail boy. And you know what? It felt great. I woke up today and it all made sense. I sneaked out of work early and got back to my laptop and kept the work alive.

Yes, after two days of inactivity, my invisible friends had become blurry, but they didn't leave. And sometimes even if you can't give them the full treatment of love that you want to every day, a simple stroke here and there can be enough to get you from one day to the next. Or a bunch of strokes combined if you're getting a happy ending. GET IT, STROKE!? Aw whatever. Screw you guys.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

My biggest fear right now is that I've bitten off more than I can chew. I've tried to rush through this first draft, following the light at the end of the tunnel without taking time to note the scenery. I'm leaving out a lot of descriptive language for now because that's fluff and while it can bring a story down if it's bad, it doesn't necessarily make a story great if it's good.

But now I've found that every time I sit down to write it turns into a session of half writing and half charting. The process is going as such:

I downloaded WriteRoom, which is amazing. It's the only way I can write for long periods of time without distraction. Simply the sight of that devlish Firefox logo is enough to send me on a ten minute time-wasting session on the Twitter circuit. More importantly it kills the momentum of the story. When I'm in the WriteRoom, it's just me and the story. Even if I'm not typing, the only thing I'm seeing is my story.

So I write everything in there, then copy it to a Word document that has all the chapters. But now I also have a document titled Notes and that has to be open at all times it seems. My 2-3 thousand word days take a little longer to accomplish thanks to that, but it feels like necessary progress. For the most part I want to be able to get to the end of the tunnel before I lose the light, but if I have to stop along the way to make sure I don't trip on something, well that's fine and dandy too.

Friday, March 16, 2012

An Underwhelming Return for an Overwhelming Reason

Calling this a 'return' at all seems silly given that I have as many updates to this blog in the last year as Peyton Manning does passing TDs, but ya know what? I'm gonna do it anyway.

The return of this blog is a product of a bigger shift in my life that I'm trying to press upon myself. I've written more in the last two weeks than I probably did in the previous year. I'm working hard on a new novel and frankly logging on to the web and writing that out feels as comfortable as pissing in the pool. I've been trying to sneak this one by, keeping my face unreadable so no one sees me relieve myself, but in my mind it's pure ecstacy. Also I hope that little girl doesn't jump where I think she's about to...

I say this because writing, to me, has always been a lonely endeavor, something I do in my worst and loneliest of times. It plays like soft candlelight in my darkness, picking me and brushing me off so I'm never truly alone. But to share that feeling? Perish the thought. Not my style. Except now that's all different. I won't bore you with the why today, but know that the 'what' is real.

I don't know why I've held back the way I have in writing, but I suspect it has a lot to do with a lifelong fear of failure. I hate losing, I hate falling short and most of all I hate not finishing something I'm excited to begin. Every time I sit down to an empty Word document, I think of all the past beginnings saved as wimpy like 10-20 page documents in a sad folder titled 'Stories' on my computer. Stories. As if, I would say. Then I'd sigh and close the folder and look up porn for a while.

I don't want to knock porn here, but no one's interested in me cranking it. Trust me, there is court-signed documentation attesting to as much. Rather, I want to be honest. I want to tell people in my life what I'm really doing instead of hiding my (admittedly lofty) dreams and aspirations of finishing, revising, publishing and selling a novel, then doing it all over again. I want to tell people, or at least this piece of real e-state, what I'm truly thinking and what I'm really doing to get there. Porn aside that is.

I think another reason I never really talk about this stuff is because if you never tell anyone about side projects you're working on -- whether it be writing a story, writing a music album or training for a marathon -- then you feel no pressure to reach that finish line outside of your own means. Let's face it, while I don't want to disappoint myself per se, I am the master of self-justification. "Well, it's kinda early to write yet today, perhaps I should play videogames for three hours and think about what I'd like to write." Or "Well that's enough for today, I think I'll play 'Stone the Crone' outside." Do I really need to explain Stone the Crone to you? Bitches need to walk faster. But in truth, none of this crap helps. "Thinking" about writing is the dumbest thing I've ever justified. You don't 'think' about achievements. You work your ass off until you knock them out of the park. It's the only way. Now I'm finally ready to work my ass off and, frankly, it's a revolution.

So I'm inviting you, intrepid reader, to join me on what I hope will be a candid look at my mind's process as I get from where I am to where I ultimately want to be, if I ever do at all. As for the novel, I'm excited because it's the farthest I've ever gone into the annals of Microsoft Word. Right now it sits on my computer a beautiful, jumbled 55,000 word mess. It feels about halfway done. The arc is suggesting as much from my point of view, but frankly I've never done this before so it's all guesswork.

Important question: why should you find this even remotely interesting? Well, you probably shouldn't unless you're a good friend, in which case you're just reading things I've probably rambled at you in a drunken stupor, or you're my mom and you think I'm the best writer in the world. That's fair either way. I'm not one to break Mother's spell.

This is interesting, at least to me, because I have never tried this before. I don't know who has, but I'm sure there are plenty out there who have. I don't know them and they aren't me. Their process will undoubtedly be different from mine. I do know it's taken a dick load of discipline just to get this far. When I go out for the St. Patty's Day Parade on Sunday, it will be the first time I've willingly gone out since I started this book. You have no idea how much it kills me to admit I probably won't write a word on Sunday.

And that's why I feel confident I can share all this with you. Ever since the vision for this novel came to me, I've felt a powerful change. Videogames, TV, media, Stone the Crone, all of it feels dry and dull compared to the words and humanity just sitting in my head, waiting for me to unleash my newest friends in a world I'm trying to learn. In short, I think this time it's the real deal and I think it would be very cool, at least for me, to track my progress from the moment I looked in the mirror and said, "You can really do it this time." I think it would be neat if in a year I could look back at all the updates and see how I went from a half-formed idea to something real and complete that no one could ever take away from me, regardless of what comes from the effort. Ya know, if it ever becomes real and complete.

I will post snippets of the novel as they get revised once the first copy is done (and I'll probably put some early bits on here even before that), but I'll also treat this like any other blog, taking the time to rue the media, post good songs from Youtube and over-analyze Buffalo sports. I want to have fun here. I want you to have fun here too. So comment. Let me know what you think. I'm on twitter @TheBuckMopsHere. Follow me, I'll follow you, etc. The change starts today and I hope you'll join me. If not, at least forgive my shameless self-promotion.

Now then, back to it.