Thursday, December 1, 2011

SUPER AWESOME BIG TIME REWRITE: Stop! Think About It…

Or better yet, just stop thinking about it.

I’m not one to stick too tightly to outlines. I do like having a plan of action, and that plan will be pretty specific - though not always followed - for the first half the book. But by the second half, I’m freeee. Free faaalliiiing. I might have my outline, but I forget to look at it. Probably because at this point all I have jotted down for the last few chapters is something like:

· Awesome stuff happens

and

· Even more awesomer stuff happens

I’m only half kidding.

So there I was in the murkiest part of my outline, the climax of the story, with one and a half chapters left to write. Just one. And a half. Friggin.’ More. Chapters! I knew basically what should happen (even more awesomer stuff) and in my mind, I could kinda generate a little bit of a picture of what that should like. And it’s the climax so it has to be better than EVERYTHING that has come before (as Michael pointed out in the comments section of my last post). And I’d given myself one week to finish this draft OR ELSE (though I don’t think I bought my threat. I know I’m a softy).

But mostly, all I was doing was banging my head against the wall and given myself brain damage. The ending was dragging itself out worse than a vampire Pee-wee Herman death scene.


Thusly, I decided to stop thinking about it.

I thought about a different story for a little bit. I read a bunch of excellent graphic novels. I worked on the skirt I’m sewing as a Christmas gift for my niece. I watched way too many episodes of The Millionaire Matchmaker and Cheaters.

Then one morning as I was brushing my teeth, I got it. I understood exactly how to resolve my conflict.

And it was so simple. Instead of trying to push forward into a new chapter, I needed to go back a couple of chapters and follow through on the action already in place. So obvious! Additionally, because of this change in my projected order of events, it meant I had my last two chapters already (basically) written.

Triple super awesome!

I couldn’t get over the incredible simplicity of my solution. So freakin’ simple that I couldn’t see it, and maybe never would have seen it if I hadn’t taken a step back and let the story spring forward at its own time.

Sometimes you have you have to do that butt-in-chair thing. If you never make yourself write when things get difficult you’ll never learn how to push yourself past your own expectations.

But sometimes it’s just as important to get up and go watch some reality TV.

So…yeah. I finished my rewrite.

Woot-woot!

(On to the revision!)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

SUPER AWESOME BIG TIME REWRITE: In Which Funny Pictures Of Children Help Me Express My Angst

Aaaaarg!!! I'm so READY to be done with with this draft and move on to my revision...yeah, my revision of my rewrite. (Well you know, this rewrite feels much more like a "draft 1" one than a "draft 10" or whatever.)

Maybe
I'm feeling all warm and fuzzy about the revision part of novel writing because I'm currently at the part of the writing process where I'm really angry at my manuscript for not writing itself for me. Like it's waaaay more fun to revise a draft than to write a first draft. Don't get me wrong, I do love revising. But I think I'm supposed to like just plain writing too. I mean, I must like just plain writing some of the time. Right?

Can't be too sure about that at the moment though (doubty face emoticon).


I know that there are times in writing when you can't or shouldn't rushing things, but goodness gracious, I feel like I should be done already! I've been just one or two chapters from finishing this rewrite for about...I don't know...a lifetime? And then when I finish a chapter, I realize that I'm going to have to add one more
chapter than I thought I was going to need. So I'm STILL one or two chapters from the end. It's like trying to walk up a down escalator, except less fun. It's maddening!


Why would you do this to me, my manuscript? Don't you know I love you? I love you soooo muuuchboohoohooohooohooo!


(sniff, sniff)


The cool thing about revising a completed draft is that you've already made all your most basic decisions, you have your ending, and your characters have already done all the junk they need to do to get to said ending. The first draft may not be perfect, but since everything is basically already there, writing becomes akin to molding a figure from a chunk of clay. You're taking bits out and adding bits in and shaping details and bringing forth the figure that's already in the clay, waiting to be dug out. And
making the decisions that accomplish that is a great (and fun) challenge.

It's decided.

I give myself another week. I can finish a chapter or two in a week, right? Well, I'd better.


Or else!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Zombies and Psychos and Ghosts, Oh My! Ten Comics Fit for Halloween Reading

I've stopped by YA Cafe many times before, but this time when the book club topic of scary reading was announced, I was like “Heck yeah! I’m doing this.” (Despite having confessed to being a big wimp.) I just so happened to have some graphic novels that met this criteria out from the library.

Since I opted to go the comics route, I read a few titles instead of just one…and then because I got carried away I decided to extend the list to some of my favorite scary graphic novels that I’ve read over the past couple of years. (And okay, some aren’t so much “scary” as “funny” but they’re about creatures of the night and such, so I figure it counts.)


Before I get on to my picks, a few words on comics and YA. While some comics publishers print a suggested age on the back of their books, I feel there isn’t as clear a line between adult and YA comics as there is with traditional books, where YA gets its own section in bookstores. Many folks who don’t read comics assume, erroneously, that just because it’s a comic it's kid’s stuff. So very not true. So so sooooo very not true. Some of these comics I wouldn’t want my mom reading, let alone a fourteen-year-old. Sometimes the only way to know the age appropriateness of a comic is to read it.


All this is to say that the graphic novels I chose aren’t specifically YA, but they aren’t specifically not YA either. For my additional list of “spooky” reads, though, I tried to stick with titles that could be considered YA.

Anyways, let’s get on to…


The Reading I Dun:

(Click on the pics of the books for the descriptions.)


Blackest Night by Ceoff Johns (writer), Ivan Reiss, Oclair Albert, and Joe Prado


Oh, yeah. Zombie superheroes. That's what I'm talking about. I had bunches of fun reading this one and it even managed to have some creepy moments in there. I mean, an undead Elongated Man i.e. a zombie with super stretch powers? That’s just all kinds of wrong.


Unlike some mainstream superhero graphic novels, I’d consider this story accessible to people who haven’t been reading DC comics from their first day out the womb. I’m not super familiar with the DC universe but never felt lost reading Blackest Night. If you’ve watched the occasional episode of a DC animated series, that helps. If not, there’s a quick conversation at the beginning that fills you in on the people-slash-history you need to know, and then it’s on to the undead superheroes. What I really appreciated about this book is that it takes the often-abused device of dead superheroes never staying dead and spins a story around it to explain exactly why that it so. Good times!


Locke and Key – Vol.1: Welcome to Lovecraft by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez


After losing their father, three siblings move into the old, New England family mansion. The mansion is in a town called Lovecraft. Yeah…this is going to work out well for them. On top of that, the psychopath who killed their father is very interested in unlocking the secrets of their new home.


So this one is definitely NOT for our younger YA readers due to the tendency toward bloody murders and a certain *ahem* adult situation/conversation. (Yeah, yeah. I know teens know all about everything concerning violence and sex and all that, but some parents probably still want a heads up about these things). The beginning was a little confusing because the time jumps and flashback weren’t clearly conveyed, but the ending left me intrigued. I look forward to continuing this series.



Tenken by Yumiko Shirai


A big giant snake looking for wifey in a post-apocalyptic Japan.


Of the three graphic novels I read, this one most successfully and consistently conveyed a dark, creepy tone throughout. Though there were unfortunately a lot of typos and it was sometimes confusing (both because of the differences in some of the ways the Japanese do comics and because of the way information is unveiled in the story), I still liked this. I just had to read the ending twice to understand what had happened. But that’s okay. Some things are meant to be read twice.


Some Favorite Past “Scary” Reads (click on pics for descriptions):


Creepy


Children of the Sea by Daisuke Igarashi

As far as I’m concerned, the ocean is scary anyway. I really had no business reading a series that sets out to make the ocean even more of a strange and mysterious place. I think I’m still traumatized from the events of one of these volumes. (I won't sat which one.)


Elk’s Run by Joshua Hale Failkov

This graphic novel made me feel claustrophobic at times. But you just know there are people like the man character’s dad out there, and that’s what earns this book a place in the creepy section of this list.

Cool


Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol

I loved Anya as a character. She came across as a real teenaged girl, not a hero or a saint, often selfish and surly, but also funny and smart.


Courtney Crumrin series and associated titles by Ted Naifeh

All ages can enjoy this one. What I love about it is that things don’t always turn out as you'd expect. Not everyone gets to have a happy ending.

Funny


Hipsters vs. Vampires by Adrian von Baur

It’s about dagone time somebody put these two together. Click hier to read this webcomic from the beginning. Hilarity ensues.

Life Sucks by Jessica Abel, Gabe Soria and Warren Pleece

I’ll admit. The ending was kinda anti-climatic, but the rest of the book made me laugh so much I don’t even care. I love this graphic novel. As a matter of fact, I'ma go read it now.


Death Jr. by Gary Whitta and Ted Naifeh

He may be the son of the Grim Reaper, but that doesn't stop him from having an optimistic outlook and a go-getter attitude.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

SUPER AWESOME BIG TIME REWRITE: Constructing Chapters

Here’s what I think about novel writing. You can read about it, you can talk about it, and you can think about it, and all that helps. Especially if you’re in a dialogue with other writers (whether in person or across the interwebs). But it’s the doing it that really teaches you how to make it happen.



Even writing and workshopping short stories, while educational when it comes to learning many of the mechanics of storytelling, doesn’t fully prepare you for the monumental undertaking of completing a novel. At least this has been my experience.


Chapters are one of those things I had to learn by doing. As I made my first attempts at writing a book, questions cluttered my head. What are chapters really? How long should they be? How much should happen in them? How do I know when I’ve done enough to end the chapter? None of these questions have one answer. If I pick up five books from my shelf at random, I’d find five different approaches to building chapters.



And that’s why we have to learn by doing. It’s the only real way to figure out what works for each of us and what works for each of the many stories we all have in us to tell.


With my SUPER AWESOME BIG TIME REWRITE, I’m approaching my chapters with a brand new philosophy. My previous approach was to keep putting stuff in until it looked like I had enough stuff in there to close that chapter, leaving enough stuff unresolved to warrant starting a new chapter. I didn’t always think about chapter goals or what I was accomplishing. The only rule I held myself accountable to was keeping in mind that it had to lead somewhere.


It was very scientific, and I even think that method worked pretty okay (for a first draft if nothing else).



This time around, just to shake things up, I'm thinking about each chapter as encapsulating a specific idea, concern or event and the actions and reactions surrounding that element. Interestingly, doing things this way has made for longer chapters with several section breaks in each and less chapters in the manuscript as a whole.


I’m really liking doing it this way. It’s put me in the mindset of not dragging things out for the sake of dragging things out, which maybe I might have perhaps have been guilty of once or possibly twice. That was back when I associated dragging things out with infusing a story with tension.


I’m not saying that there aren’t times when it’s necessary to delay gratification or a big climax. But it’s important to remember that by going ahead and throwing that big thing at your characters, it gives you the opportunity to raise the stakes, escalate the action, and throw your characters into an even bigger, more crazy climax that you might have never thought of otherwise.



So I guess what I’m saying is that my SUPER AWESOME BIG TIME REWRITE is going awesome (even though progress has slowed to a crawl these past few weeks because I’ve had to sluggishly and painfully chisel out these last few chapters with an ice pick) and I’m learning stuff from the process.


Yea, learning!


I’m curious. How do vous approach putting a chapter together and how did vous come to doing it that way?


Monday, September 19, 2011

SUPER AWESOME BIG TIME REWRITE: For realsies!

After my summer of arting it up, I return to writing! Okay, so I didn’t really stop writing this summer. More like I scaled backed my time commitment to it for a bit. But like Die Hard, I return with a vengeance. Four weeks ago, I started a SUPER AWESOME BIG TIME REWRITE (always all caps).


I'm talking a revamp as drastic as that DC Comics’ New 52 re-launch what got fan boys and girls all riled up this summer. (I’m mostly neutral in regards to all that, but I do think the new Harley Quinn costume sets a new bar for truly and gut-wrenchingly dreadful. Hopefully, in my rewrite, I’m making better changes than this.)


She used to be so adorably psychotic.


But I digress. Allow me to return to the point.


Contrary to the seemingly popular sentiment, I like rewriting. But this is my biggest rewrite yet (hence the all caps and use of the words “super” and “awesome” and “big time” to describe it). I thought I’d pulled off some major rewrites in the past. A couple of years ago I decided to switch a WIP from third person to first. Last year—or was it this year? It blurs!—I cut 26,000 words from another manuscript. And I thought, “Hey, that’s what I call some super awesome big time rewriting! Go, Cacy!”



Oh, how young and naive I was then.


Now I realize that I had no right to call snipping a few “just”s and “that”s from a manuscript a rewrite because this thing I’ve been working on is a stripped down, start from scratch, forget-everything-you’ve-already-written-and-re-written-(and-re-written-again), forget-that-full-length-manuscript-you-slaved-over-for-like-two-years-or-something-because-it’s-all-going-out-the-window type of rewrite.


Everything must go and anything that remains must change! The setting, the starting point, the relationships, shifting personal histories, adding a new major character, changing the sex of another. It’s chaos, chaos, chaos I’m telling you.



Chaos that has been mulled over and reasoned out before being implemented, that is.


It took me a long time to come to the point where I’m able to do this. I had to not look at and barely think about this particular story for five months. The changes I’m making come from ideas I’d had for good a long while, but I had been too close to the previous version. After all the work I had put into it, how could I entertain the idea of starting the whole process all over again. For the SAME story!



Do I look like a glutton for punishment?


What it really came down to was the fact that I love this story.


And no else one did. None of my readers. Not even my mom and she’s maternally obligated to love everything I write. The people I asked to read it liked it… Basically… In that, “Yeeeah…it was good” sort of way. But “Yeeeah…it was good” is not what I’m aiming for here. In fact, I’m pretty sure one reader didn’t even finish it.


I can take a hint.


Yes, I know. Opinions are subjective and they’re like armpits and all that, but when I really examined what I had completed (after not looking at it for months), I had to admit that it fell short for me too.


Dagnabit.



I remember one of my writing teachers saying, “Don’t be that guy who drags the same manuscript around to every conference for seven years trying to make it work. When it doesn’t work, let it go.”


That’s sound advice, but I just can’t let it go. Something about this manuscript compels me to keep at it. I return to it time after time. I really believe in these characters, I believe this story can be exciting and engaging, and I can’t give up on it.


And hey, if this rewrite turns out terribly, I still have all my old drafts on a flash drive.


Saturday, September 3, 2011

SUPER AWESOME BIG TIME REWRITE: Do You Ever Get Freaked Out By What You're Writing?

I don't write horror. I barely read horror and probably only watch a horror movie every five years. I'm not a wimp. It's just that certain images, usually the unwanted ones, seem to stay in my head for. ev .er.


After watching The Ring (Yes, I know it's not as scary as the original Japanese version. That's why I haven't watched the original Japanese version) I didn't want to sleep in my own dorm room because my TV always glowed in the dark. (Seriously! It glowed!) So I spent the night at a friend's.


I don't think the scenes that I was working on at the end of last week are particularly scary. Mostly likely its a combination of the fact that A) when I write I often stay up into the wee small hours when the house and neighborhood are at its darkest and quietest and B) I recently read this creepy-ass Korean webcomic. (Crap! I just refreshed my memory of it when I looked up the link. I hope to appreciate the things I do for you! Also, read it at your own risk. Seriously.)

The first two nights after reading it, I stayed up until sunrise writing. I was really hungry but didn't go into the dark kitchen for food. I claim its because I was so very into those pages, but I know the truth. I didn't want the scary lady from the creepy-ass Korean webcomic sneaking up on me in the dark.


Kamsamnida, creepy-ass Korean webcomic creators. Kam-freaking-samnida.

But on the plus side, I wrote a combined 6,000 words those nights so maybe I really should thank whoever made that webcomic happen, and read/watch scary things more often whilst I'm at it.

Anyway, back to the scene was working on the other night. In it, my character deals with something really scary happening to her. As I writing, it's approaching 2 in the AM and I'm trying to get across how much the incident affected her (i.e. I'm writing about being scared) and I start remembering all the (few) creepy stuff I've read/seen in the last few years including the manga series featuring this subtle yet creepy tale. (Click on pic to read whole tale. P.S. Read it right to left, top to bottom.)


And pretty soon I'm too freaked to even read the words I'm writing. And let me tell you something, it's hard to type a scene with your eyes closed.

I was even freaked out by the cover of the Robert Johnson CD cover laying on my desk.

(Robert Johnson was an iconic blues man who, according to legend,
sold his soul to the devil in order to become an excellent musician.
This manga is a pretty excellent fictionalized account of his life.)

I decided to quit for the night and watch a slapstick 90s sitcom before I going to bed. Better to continue writing when the sun and people were up.

Maybe it's a sign of the writer doing something right when she's freaked out by her own words...or maybe I'm just a big wimp.

Probably the latter.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Power Is Don Cheadle's and Why I Love Meg Cabot

If you were ever a fan of Captain Planet or even if you've watched an episode in passing or if you've just seen a clip out the corner of your eye, you really have to watch Funny or Die's live action adaptation featuring Oscar-nominated, Don Cheadle. (Psst...click on pic.)


Head's up: You might not want to watch this around the kiddies.

I'm going to go watch the first episode of the cartoon now. In the meanwhile, take Meg Cabot's "Which 80s Film Heroine Are You?" quiz.

Turns out I'm the blond one in this poster:


"Congratulations! You are a TOMBOY TEMPTRESS. The 80s teen film heroine you are most like is MARY STUART MASTERSON from SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL. True to yourself and loyal to those you love, you don’t have time for makeup and high heels. "

I can't deny that this is my archetype, and the MC from my current WIP - as a reflection of me - totally proves the point.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

When You Can't Retreat, Vacation!


I found myself on an impromptu mini-vacation this weekend. Naturally there are certain items I never leave town without. At minimum, it’s several books, a couple of notebooks, a couple of sketchbooks, and – last, but not least – my computer.


Because for me, the word “vacation” is synonymous with “writer’s retreat.”


Since this was just going to be a weekend trip with only one full day actually spent out of town and because it was a big group of people going, making this - in theory – a social vacation, I didn’t really think I’d get any writing done.



Surprisingly (or maybe not so surprising considering I’m me), I did manage to get in a few hours of alone time with my computer. My borderline-reclusive leanings helped in this regards. But seriously, watching a movie together doesn’t really count as a social activity, right? So it was okay to skip out on that. And I played a round of dominoes on Friday night so I didn’t need to join in on a game of cards on Saturday.


I’m happy that I went back to my room, slipped on my earphones and commenced to writing because I had a pretty exciting character revelation as I tipity-tapped away on my keyboard. This thing that I realized fits right in with the other dynamics already on the table for these characters and the back story that’s already been established, and while it doesn’t change the events I foresee writing in future chapters, it adds to everything an undercurrent so awesome that it makes me want to hug myself and squeal with glee whilst I do a little happy dance.





I’ve been working on this story for what feels like a lot longer than what should have been necessary, and it has been a pain in the butt to write, I mean really. It. Has. Sucked. But now I’m thinking, maybe I’m glad I didn’t finish it sooner. If it took me this long to come to this wonderful, wonderful realization, maybe it’s better I didn’t finish it months ago…but if I had finished it months ago, would I have come to this realization anyway?….or maybe the story would have been completely different because I would have never hit upon other slow-to-come realizations and therefore I would have never reached this weekend’s awesome insight? And oh, the circles of thought continue to go round.




It’s the same thing I wondered when I used to wait to the very last minute to write what turned out to be an excellent paper in college. Did it turn out brilliant because I waited until 2am to write something due for my 8am class? Would I have been able to string these same thoughts together if I did it slowly over the course of the several weeks I was given?


Inspiration, when it comes to putting together a story, is a series of thoughts falling into each other like dominoes, except that it isn’t a single, predetermined line of dominoes but a journey with many forks in the road that could lead you anywhere. At least that's how it seems to me; and sometimes, they’re slow to fall.



I don’t exactly advocate waiting for the muse to hit you upside the head with inspiration, but I do believe that there are times when you just can’t – or shouldn’t – push a story that isn’t ready to go anywhere. Like so many things, it’s about learning to balance between the two, getting a feel for when to push on through to the other side or when to take a break.


I’ll tell you one thing. When the dominoes are consistently slow to fall, when you have to stop pushing and take a break for no other reason but for the sake of your sanity, it really makes you appreciate every page, every little line of dialogue, every period at the end of a sentence, every space between two words.


Image by Justina Kochansky/articulatematter.com


There has been many a day that I’ve hated this particular story. Capital H-A-T-E-D, HATED with a deep-seeded passion that sat in the core of my being like a lump of dry, stale bread stuck in my throat, but on the other hand, by the time I get to the end of it - if I ever get to the end of it – I think I’ll really feel like I’ve earned this story. That this story decided that I was going to work for and, boy, have I—like a dog works for his tail.


…I just hope it doesn’t suck.



Webcomic Update: Preview of First Completed Page Posted! (Click on image for larger version)



Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Where Chaos Reigns Supreme! (Inside This Writer’s Notebook)

I originally posted this post on my process of writing a comic book script on that other blog o' mine, but I thought it a good idea to re-post it here. (I am not being lazy! Shh!) There are lots of ways to write a comic book script and a lot of different types of writer-artist relationships. Sketching out page layouts are a part of my writing process, but I think of it as presenting the vision floating around in my head with the artist I'm working. It's not set in stone. Once the artist has my sketches, he'll use his own artistic acumen to improve the visual storytelling. Go, collaboration!

When starting something, I usually at some point come up with a very rough, bullet-point outline.



You have to write ideas down on whatever is available. Even if it means scribbling on the back of receipt paper because you were at the registers at work when genius struck.

I may flesh out the outline or go right into sketching out scenes. Often times I go back a forth between the two because as I begin to write scenes I get a better idea of where things are headed, or should head. And of course, as I begin to get some scenes down I also begin sketching out thumbnails so tiny and indecipherable that sometimes I barely know what they represent.


As I mentioned in my post about thumbnails, I’ve been writing dialogue and doing the thumbnails at the same time. This worked for several scenes as I wrote chapters two and three, but somewhere along the line my notes got a little crazy, and it’s hard to sketch out thumbnails for a scene when you can’t track the dialogue because it jumps around three different pages in ten different ways.

It was time to sit down at my computer and so I could turn the chaos of my notes into an orderly and easily read pseudo-script. (It’s not really a script at this point. I don’t even have all the page and panel breaks written in, let alone scene description). I’ve learned from experience that I should put a slash through the sections of my notes I’ve already typed up. I can’t tell you how much confusion that simple practice has saved me from.

I printed out the pages with a wide left margin so I'd have plenty of space for working out thumbnails and then turned the nice, neat, orderly typed-up pseudo-script into this.


Good times.

Translating text into visual beats is one of my favorite things about storytelling through comics, but like any aspect of any creative process, it can be frustration at times. When I got stuck, I found myself sketching different panel layouts. I basically knew what I wanted to happen in this particular sequence, but the ideas were slow to fully form. (This by no means was the toughest spot I found myself in when it came to writing this story.)

Sketching out the different ways the panels could interact with the story kept my brain churning until I finally figured out what I wanted to do.

Another useful trick was to work backwards from a place in the dialogue a few beats ahead of the section that was causing my indecision. This worked for me because I knew what I wanted the bottom of this particular page to look like. Once I sketched the arrangement of those panels, figuring out what to do with all the stuff written before that point pretty much fell into place.

Eventually, I have to incorporate all the chaos I’ve written on the typed page into the script I started on my computer...if I can make any sense of it.

Continuing in this vain, the first draft of chapter two really came together.

So...what does your process look like?

(A brief note on the names: these are characters who - for the most part - only appear in this chapter. Since they're minor characters, I didn't bother to give them real names, but I had to call them something. So, no - in case you looked closely at the scripts or notes and are now wondering - there aren't really characters named Gidget or Moondoggy in this story.


Thursday, June 30, 2011

I Buy Picture Books For Myself....

But then I give them to my niece and nephews because I figure they might like them too. Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggie is currently my favorite series and the last time I walked through the picture book section of a book store and noticed a E & P book I hadn't read before, I got ridiculously excited.


I'm sure this book will make its way onto the list of the greatest meta-fictive work of our age.


But I mean, hello! Gerald and Piggie are awesome! Look at his little glasses! And you’ve got to love her confidence.



The illustrations in the books are so simple and stripped-down that they really prove the old adage: less is more. More room for funny that is! (Okay, forgive me for that last sentence and I’ll forgive you for that... thing. You know what I’m talking about.)


Oh, and just as a side note, last summer I read Willem's Leonardo the Terrible Monster to my nephew so many times that I could probably still recite that entire book from memory.