Tag Archives: writing

Writing: Thoughts on Love Squares and Other Shapes

Maybe it’s because I was sucked into Miraculous Ladybug Season 1 like the sappy nerd I am, maybe it’s the fact that Caley (through no fault of her own) ends up in a love-shape drama. But I’ve been pondering on this trope, and why it is awesome and yet awful all at once (because it can be both!).

Why are these things so friggin’ popular? Well, some of it is that I believe we (both the writers and the audience) like to see the characters suffer before they get their chance at happiness. Otherwise, there isn’t much investment in what happens in the end. There is also the fact that no matter how well you do your job to convey the characters, they are still moderately malleable to the reader, who may see the protag better with Love Interest A or Love Interest B or the random character in the diner in chapter three–which is how shipping wars are born. It is the reader’s prerogative and can’t really be argued with (George Lucas tried).

The hardest part about writing a love-shape comes in two parts. On one hand, you have to keep the feelings conveyed as being sincere. If the reader/audience stops believing the love interest really cares for and about the protag, the ship is sunk. This can, however, be a useful tool for the second part–resolving all sides of the love-shape-of-choice. No one can be left hanging alone and heartbroken, but it has to be done in a way that makes sense. You also have to either ease the audience into getting in the same OTP boat (fat chance) or use a shocking event to drive a big wedge between participants.

I am very cautious about the shocking event part of the trope. It can be a good plot point, or it can come out of left field entirely. A good example of the latter is the original Star Wars trilogy, thus my digs at Lucas. The shippers weren’t letting Luke/Leia go, so she was turned into his twin sister (and the writer has since tried to retcon this as being his original intent, which makes it worse really). Did it make Han/Leia easier? Yes. Did it make a  lot of sense? No, but it’s Lucas. Lucas can’t keep any of his shit straight.

As much as it kills me to give the series any good press, the sparkle-vampire series actually did a better job of the surprising event. The wedding put a nail in the werewolf-shippers’ coffin, and while its way of resolving all the sides was full of ick, she did resolve them. This doesn’t comment on any of the other numerous problems, but the writer knew how to manage the relationships to milk the drama. I will say her stand alone book (last I checked it was stand alone, anyway), The Host, actually handled the resolving the sides a lot neater, and in a way that was both sad and satisfying.

This gives shows like Miraculous an interesting twist. One of the sides is suddenly two, and makes things so much more complicated. But this can quickly go from humerous and cute to stressful and frustrating for the characters and audience members alike. I think ending the love-shape is a clear sign the series is ending as a whole, because it resolves a plot-line and eases some of the tension. But you could phase it into new drama, depending on the situation, making it more of a season-ender than series as a whole.

Now we get to the worst example of that. Comic books. I don’t care if it’s DC or Marvel, they are notoriously bad about breaking up characters in established relationships on a whim, whether it’s by killing characters for emotional impact, moving the survivor on, and then bringing the victim back to life, or just causing really dumb out of character responses to drama, it’s a vicious cycle. Now, I will say that some of the characters, they make it actually work–Remy and Rogue have never exactly been “easy to handle” in terms of personality, and both are hot-heads. Them going hot-and-cold makes sense. And if the Bartons had divorced much earlier (rather than the shitty timing of it, especially with Bobbi coming off of a form of PTSD and the list is a mile long on the bad set up here), they also would have made sense–they got married within days! Obviously that didn’t happen, but you know, benefit of the doubt here this once.

But others are just flash fiction for no reason. Why? Because some writers just don’t know how to keep the tension going if they are in a long-running series. And that’s fine! If you don’t know how to handle them, you don’t know. But that’s what blogs like this for, and others who are more knowledgeable than me. My biggest advice is this: remember that love squares are tricky to manage, so plan accordingly. Know how it’s resolving, and when and in what way/fallout if you can. If you get an unexpected extension, evaluate what happened previously with your love square. Are there still underlying trust issues? Did someone go from attracted to one person to another, because that’s grounds for serious jealousy problems. Does someone have bad habits or experiences that are coloring the relationship? Falling in love and winning their affections in return isn’t the solution to your problems–it’s only the beginning.

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Writing: Unicorns Need a Publicist

…Okay, stay with me on this one.

While I spent the last weekend sick, I had time to do some musing on my novel getting type-casted as being middle-grade, despite knowing my prose is at 9th grade reading level, my main characters are seventeen (if sometimes decidedly immature, but…teenagers), and while the goblins are ridiculous, the hobgoblin is a real threat. I also knew most of the elements I used in my query/first 10 appear in other YA and even adult fiction books, so it couldn’t be them. What did that leave me with?

Unicorns.

Now, I don’t know about all of you, but I grew up watching The Last Unicorn on repeat from the ages of 6 or 7 till…present. I love that movie. I can quote that movie from memory, and I’m due for a rewatch. And I can quote most of the Butterfly’s speech at that. Around 10, I found Bruce Coville’s A Glory of Unicorns and then his Unicorn Chronicles series. (I discovered The Unicorns of Balinor too young for it to click with me, the shortness started driving me nuts.) As a teenager, I kept hoping unicorns would feature more prominently in the Harry Potter series or in Tamora Pierce’s Tortall books since they keep getting name-dropped along with the werewolves. I read the Acorna series by McCaffery, but it wasn’t the best thing ever since it was very much sci-fi and that isn’t my cup of cocoa most of the time (plus I got bored about the time the lead got a girl and gave up).

And now as an adult writer who keeps getting told her YA book is too MG in sheer concept, I have to wonder. At one point was it decided that after the age of 12, we no longer like unicorns? That they are meant to be cutsey and wootsey and pretty, but we have to grow up and start liking “serious” books that talk about the world around us, or that if we must do fantasy, shouldn’t we read about dragons, who can be both good or bad or neither and be beasts or companion?*

When I googled unicorns, I didn’t pull up images of Amalthea. I didn’t pull up pictures of fantasy artwork featuring them, like the poster that was in my childhood bedroom up until my mother sold her house four years ago. I didn’t even pull up pictures from old medieval texts, where they were trying to hash together what a unicorn looked like, and boy, were those a mess.

I pulled up My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic characters. I pulled up cute, stout little chibi figures. I pulled up rainbow and glitter silhouettes. I even pull up a couple of collections of Unicornos, a collection of figurines big out of Asia with different crazy designs that reminds me of MLP in a lot of ways. Or I pull up the horn with a smile and big eyelashes underneath, which is the latest fad, particularly for these “unicorn” cakes. Worse, I pull up super cheap figurines and stuffed toys that are fine for those about age 9 and younger, but any older and you will get some funny looks.

This strikes me as odd. Now, I liked the first two seasons of MLP, but let me tell you, I’d have never admitted to that in high school. (Especially since the show got increasingly juvenile after Faust left.) And as for what I did have… Amalthea faced hardship, and had to change the fundamental core of what she was in order to save the others. Lightfoot and his people went to war, so people could continue to be happy, could continue to have art and music and joy to their lives, for without them, humans were a sad, miserable lot. I wasn’t embarrassed about enjoying those characters, because I knew that they could withstand the scrutiny. Yes, I was able to immerse myself in a fantasy about unicorns, about creatures called to young girls mostly, but they weren’t these one-dimensional ideas, they were actually people with personalities and flaws and growth.

So that now leaves me with a question. Has the world changed? Have teenagers decided they are too old for unicorns, that they don’t need the ideals but instead need the dark and the gritty reality of their world, or only knights and dragons? Or have we, the adults, just decided that they don’t need it anymore? That it’s just a security blanket of childhood, and that there is no depth to be found there?

I hope it’s the latter, and that we can change it. Because I don’t know about you all, but I still need unicorns. I still need to believe in something fundamentally good…even if some of them are jerks, like Moonshine, or a little too interested in fighting, like Sunny will grow up to be.


Writing: My Thoughts on Twitter Pitch Events

I am not a huge social media person. If I tweet more than once or twice a day, it’s a weird day, and my Facebook is even worse, both personal and for the blog. I am slowly getting into it, but you know, I also am crazy busy with a crazy level of commitments. Including query, which hasn’t been going well. Lots of, “Not right for my list,” not a lot of feedback, though some have said that my writing is good.

Thankfully, Ginny is much more active than I am trying to engage as she promotes her own books.. She clued me into two different pitch events–#pitmad, which is open to all genres of fiction, and #sffpit, which is specifically for science fiction and fantasy.

What are these? Basically, you including the hashtag in your tweet along with specific tags for your genres and give a short description of your current book that you are trying to get representation for. The book has to be finished and fit in the specified genres. If an agent likes your tweet, they usually previously tweeted special instructions to help jump your query to the front of the slush pile. There are a ton more types, though, but I stuck with what was relevant to Sun’s Guard: Ten.

Now, both are pretty upfront. Mostly this is getting your book out there, and the odds of getting a like by an agent aren’t very high. It’s more of a community exposure sort of thing, and a roll of the dice. But I figured it couldn’t hurt, right? The answer is no, it didn’t hurt, but it did show me how these events tend to run.

Pitch events are very dependent on what agents are showing up, how interested are they, and what events have recently happened in the publishing world. Example, right now the big thing in publishing is “own voices.” They want minority writers, of race or sexuality, telling stories about similar people. This is…awkward for me. Yes, I’m a girl and plus-sized and one form demisexual…but even with Caley being also white and demisexual (all the way down to asexual at the moment), it wouldn’t count as own voices. They are very specific about what they want, and I am not it. Until that rush of wants fades a little in the pitch events, I’m fighting up river.

The other side of it is it’s possible for some people to get forty or thirty likes…and almost everyone else gets nothing. That irks the part of me that considers fairness important. Like, I’d understand being in the teens or twenties, because sometimes, you think you’ll like a book and then you don’t. But it is very hard and discouraging for other people to receive nothing and someone else is just swamped in requests to be queried, especially with how competitive this industry is and how hundreds of writers are shouting to be heard at all.

Which really got me to examine how I felt about these events. I thought about all of the queries I’ve sent out, and how some of them took months for me to get a response on, and I wondered how many times my query had been skipped over because a pitch event query had just come in, and those get priorities. And it just felt weird. On one hand, you want to take every advantage you can in this industry to try and get an agent. But on the other, that feels crappy and doesn’t seem fair to me.

Will I do any more pitch events? I don’t know. I didn’t get much feedback (though hey, my follower count on Twitter doubled and I got a few small publishers reach out to me), and no likes from any agents because I am not currently in the fad. It also rankles against what I consider fair, and I know that there are plenty of agents who don’t even participate in such events. I’m also nearing the end of the agent list on Query Tracker, soooo… I don’t know. I’ll probably play it by ear, decide what I want to do as I go.

Would I recommend it? Again, I don’t know. I haven’t had an intensely positive experience. I haven’t had an intensely awful experience either. I just had very little experience at all, which is the chance you run, and like flipping a coin, it resets with every event, there is no increase of chances of being noticed each time. So I say if you are going to do it, be prepared, have everything set up, and try it. But I also wouldn’t pin your hopes on being one of the few success stories either.


News: Ten’s Future, Feedback, and Fair!

Hey everyone, I promise you’ll get some RP shenanigan-type posts this weekend, with fair rehearsal over with, I should be able to start posting then again, when it’s easier for me to post something without being completely brain dead. Speaking of fair, I survived! There are like no decent pictures (at least that I have found yet), but I’ll try to post a couple when I can. It was hard, because this year was butt-ugly cold. We made chessboard history of the unpleasant kind, our stage froze solid Friday night/Saturday morning! Thankfully, we still managed to put on a good show when fair was open.

Sun’s Guard: Ten is still being queried. I’ve got about 25 still outstanding queries, though some of those are about to hit their four-to-six-week, you  haven’t heard from us it’s a rejection, notice. Of course, some of those have please follow up at four-to-six-weeks, so I may be poking people, wee! I’ve also got a bunch of open tabs right this second in my browser to screen for more queries. I’m on page 4 of 12 lists in Query Tracker, so hopefully I’ll hit the end of possible people to query by the end of this month or next, so then I’ll finally either have rejection from all possible sources or an agent.

What happened with the full manuscript offer? Well, after six months of nudging, I finally got a response. It was just a feedback letter, no notes on my manuscript and obviously no request for a revise and resubmit. That right there makes me…leery, considering how long she had the full book. The things inside the letter also confused me, but I won’t debate them in-depth here. I did double-check my readability levels (which are at 9th-10th grade per the Dale-Chell readability scale, at least the first chapter and the last which tells me the middle will be about the same), and considering none of my professors ever said anything sounded too young, I’m going to ignore that critique for right now. I also think the market is over-saturated in first-person POV, which is causing some perception issues of third-person. So at this point, I’m not going to do a bunch of edits. I might change my mind if I get more critiques in the same theme.

…and I feel better having written that all out, huh.

Anywho, like I said, I’m going to continue to query. If I run out of agents, I do have a very tentative self-publishing plan in place, or at least the basic framework. I don’t think I’d go down that road until I have a buffer in place though, so I’d write the second and third books and then start it. Maybe my friend Melissa Storm and I could share  booth space at SoonerCon, she’s an artist and I’d be pushing the books. Hell, maybe I’ll push Ginny’s too, maybe that will just be my thing. (I’m joking, please don’t let this become a thing, oh please…)

In the meantime, I’m still working on the game between me and Ginny. Right now I’m getting the story-script written for the demo week in different starting areas, which is also forcing us to make some final character decisions, yay, and we are always finalizing little details in mechanics. Once those are done, I need to do some town-lay-out mapping and plotting. I’m also getting rough drafts for potential blog posts scribbled down, since we’ve got the idea to stir up interest with a blog, have a tip-jar for funds to commission artwork for the pitch while I’m finishing up story, probably after I get the initial version done and am working on the alternate versions.

As for the blog, I’m going to do something exciting. I’m going to go buy three or four traditionally published books, and grab some indie published things, and those will be what I review, alternating around. I’ll probably honestly get everything on my Kindle unless I fall in love with it and want a physical copy to lug around. So you know, indie writers, if you want a review, let me know! I will be cross posting to both here and Amazon to make sure it’s fair with those, since I know indie books really could use the reviews. (I’m also working on making my reviews nicer.)

Update: Oh look, someone managed to snag a good photo on Friday before it became so cold I had to huddle under my cloak or wear a turtleneck and the smoke irritated my eyes to where glasses were required! BEHOLD THE MAGNIFICENT MOON HAT!

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Writing: Thoughts on Querying…

I feel like preemptively labeling this part one, I’m sure I’ll have more as the process continues for me. For those curious, yes, I am still querying. I sent my full draft to an interested agent, but seeing as how staying in contact with her over the last six months became…difficult…I am actively seeking other options. Query Tracker, btw, is a great tool. I was reluctant to use it because I wasn’t sure it was verifying the agents, but nope! It’s safe!

So some funny (or annoying) things that have happened or I’ve seen, and my reactions.

One agent actually had a note on submissions: “No more vampires, sorry.” That made me laugh, and it also made sense? I wish more agents did that. Like rather than giving us broad genres, they specifically said, “I am sick of seeing this, I want to see this.” And no, telling me you want “strong storytelling” and “books I can’t put down” doesn’t tell me anything. That’s super subjective. If you are sick of first person narratives, say so.

I ran into two rather curious things, too, that gave me an amused rant to put on Twitter if no where else. I saw a lot of agents listing interest in LGBT fiction. And my immediate thought is, “Errr, you’re missing a letter?” A is important, especially for my books. In addition, romance tended to run through extremes–either EPIC or don’t bring it to me, it has cooties! Which all of that makes me laugh, since my main character is so far down the gray scale of demi-sexuality she is almost ace. (Which is the A.) It definitely shows room for growth, at least in my opinion.

Another thing I’ve noticed is there’s a mixed situation to the flooding of inboxes that agents get. There’s basically three things going on, and all of them have their pros and cons. Though to be honest, one super annoys me more than any of the others.

One solution is the no response means no. Ugh, that’s harrowing. Because of their work schedules, agents can’t guarantee when they will get to a book outside of a pretty long time frame. I get just wanting to hit the delete button and move on to the next, but I wish they would at least have a form they sent back to end the misery. But again, that takes time, and it’s time they may not even have. Others do have a form response that they send, and they guarantee replies within a certain window. Obviously as a writer, I love that, but I wonder how much it pulls away from the writer’s work.

The third solution is the one that cheeses me off if it’s not handled properly. Having an intern help with the slush pile of new submissions. On one hand, if it’s used as a tool, I feel like it’s the perfect solution here. The agent can go through the queries while giving notes out loud to the intern who is keeping track themselves, and then the intern can go generate the responses while the agent moves on. My issue is when its the intern who is going through the slush pile themselves and determining what the agent even sees. (What I have dubbed “intern-gating.”) I know one agent who does it of the ones I’ve done so far and even stuff that she has requested in a contest or conference to see gets turned back. Thankfully those people email her directly and get told to send it to her, but ugh, what a waste of people’s time.

The amounts of material requested also run the friggin’ gambit. Could we not come to a consensus, particularly one that doesn’t handicap the writers involved? The more pages there are, the more the agents have to read, I get that. I just think five pages isn’t enough. Ten, at a minimum, can at least get you to the action…or if it doesn’t, the writer has bigger problems. (There is a reason Sun’s Guard: Ten went through so many drafts, I was desperately trying to get to Moonshine faster.) I mean, I’d prefer the first three chapters, but I know that’s a lot for some to get through too.

I’m on the fence about a synopsis. On one hand, I think it is a handy tool for agents. On the other, I think it also can be very misleading? I tried to keep mine focused, but that was hard. Ginny had to hold me in from going down some of my subplots, partly to save space and partly to keep agents from getting distracted by seeing what isn’t there. I can’t imagine the trouble that other people went through. My professors weren’t much help, I remembered talking to Chester about not knowing what I was doing, and she said no one does when it comes to synopsis.

So there are my funny stories/observations. If you’ve got anything of your own you’d like to share, give a shout. As it stands now, I’m going to keep poking away at things. Hopefully someone will take the bait…


NaNo 17: Final Thoughts

Technically, I could write till I’m brain dead tonight and try to make 50,000 words. However, I have some final thoughts on NaNoWriMo that I want to write instead. (Plus, I’ve been fighting a sinus infection for the last week and lost miserably.) So, there’s the “official” goal of NaNoWriMo, which is…a lot more complex than it sounds, and then there are personal goals that you might have within the context of the challenge. Here’s my stance on this year.

The official goal is to write a complete, original book of at least 50,000 words. Well, this has always been problematic for me. Why? Because I am, as Professor Davis put it, a put-er-in-er. What he means is I get my basic framework out of the way in a rough draft, and then I spend the next couple of drafts adding to it to flesh out characters and scenes that might need it, fix my stimulus and response, and if there are any “blank spots” in terms of background or character descriptions, fill those in. Even then, my original books tend to run around around 40,000 for the first draft, and how much it gains varies considerably. I’m not a door-stopper writer, probably because I hate reading those. (Exception being Ginny’s stuff, which I get in nice bite-sized snippets for the actual story, and then when I’m editing the big book, I couldn’t care less.)

The second problem with this goal is that… I already know I can do it if pushed. If I absolutely have to, I will almost kill myself to turn out 50,000 words. But I will then suffer through three months or so of burnout trying to recover my health and motivation to write anything other than RP posts and the occasional fanfic. Not good, especially when I have an agent interested in Sun’s Guard: Ten, and I might be working on future books for that series soon… *crosses fingers*

This is where personal goals come into play. I realized that I was still in the same sort of “brain” as I had in college/grad school. Short bursts of turning out a ton of work, and then long breaks. The problem is without a set deadline, it’s harder to get the bursts going. I also work full time now, I am stepping up in my medieval group, I have a house to keep up with and no spouse to help, plus all my RPs (most of which I paused this year) and other things I do for fun. Add in the neglect I’ve been showing Ginny’s and my MMO concept, putting far too much work on her shoulders, and my crappy health lately? Yeah, writing hasn’t been happening.

Which just makes me more exhausted. Writing is my outlet. I enjoy it, it lets me create a world and people who have an important part to play. But God, it is exhausting to the old brain pan as much as it’s refreshing. And I have forgotten (if I ever knew) how to pace myself when I don’t have anything other than self-applied deadlines, and now that I’m out of school, I don’t know what is considered reasonable for me to do without causing burnout.

So my personal goal for NaNo was, while not to write every day because I knew that was impossible, but to write more and when I got tired, stop. If my head was hurting, or I had an anxiety attack, I was allowed to take the day off. Since it was Thanksgiving during this month, I made time for my family. And at the end of the month, evaluate what I learned.

The end results are pretty satisfying. In a rehearsal month (because yes, I have medieval fair rehearsal in November) when there is a major holiday where I am expected to see my family, and with not only a major anxiety attack one weekend and fighting a sinus infection, I turned out 33,000 words. That is at least half if not more of a novel. I also averaged anywhere from 1700 to 2500 a day on days where I could write, though the 2500 I could tell was me pushing a little harder than I should have. That’s about one chapter for me. It’s definitely a blog post, as you all can tell.

Right now, Heir to the Sky is at a good stopping place, so I’m going to call this the end of “arc 1,” even though I only gained one badge. Next year, unless I’m stupid behind on a deadline for a publisher, I’ll pick it up again for November 2018 and see if I can get us to the Mega Evolution. I’m still going to play the game (once I buy a new charger for the DS, Kari wrecked my only one) and get all my notes done so all I have to do is write… I might even do super-prep and get all my art graphics done instead of doing it as I go, just to save time.

While I may not have met the official goal of NaNoWriMo, I definitely met my personal goal. I know my pacing now, and I have a plan for the next few months. December is gift writing, January is working on Ginny’s and my game and querying Ten some more, since the agent hasn’t given me yes or no yet and isn’t exclusive yet either. February is actually going to be dedicated to some first-arc plotting for both Bree’s first book, Truth of Justice: Touched and Caley’s second book, Sun’s Guard: Page, and then I might start writing Touched if there’s time. March is going to be a “rest month” where I focus on fanfiction and catching up any RPs I’ve let slide, giving my brain a break, mostly because it’s the last month before medieval fair and that’s going to be eating me alive.

And of course, you can return here for your expected blog post once a week. ^_^ I’m not sure what next week’s is going to be, I have a couple half-started, so we’ll see!


Writing: Comfort Food (okay, and some real food)

Most writers have things they are super comfortable writing. Whether its because that’s what they preferred reading before the writing bug hit, or it’s just where their interests lie, it’s a comfort food for the brain that makes you feel better, or can help you get unstuck. Especially if you’ve otherwise been stepping out of your comfort zone with your current works.

Now, what exactly this means for different writers…varies considerably. For example, high fantasy is always going to be my comfort food. If I’m feeling exhausted, I always reach for the Valdemar series to reread in hopes that reading other people’s work will tire me out enough to sleep (or keep me awake!). If my brain is too tired to work on my current original works, I turn to random fanfic ideas that will never see the light of day, but let me dive back into medieval/high fantasy ideas for just a little while. (My current projects are all urban fantasy, or not fantasy at all, which you can guess is a real challenge for me.)

For some writers, comfort isn’t even necessarily found in fiction at all. For example, Ginny has been fashion designing to give herself breaks from the monotony of typing. I have another friend who finds comfort food in the form of doing cellphone games whenever she gets stuck. Maybe you marathon Barbie movies, or play some Pokemon. Either way, comfort food-type writing, reading, and tasking gives your brain a little bit of relaxation, especially from the hard work of learning new tasks or trying new things. I always encourage writers to improve and to try new things and genres, but you can bring those things back to your old favorites too, and it’s important to take breaks or you’ll burn yourself out.

And sometimes, it even unsticks you! We all have moments where we need to walk away from a project for a while. Having several projects going at the same time can be an utter headache, speaking from experience here. But as long as you stay very casual about it, working on something that qualifies as “comfort food for the brain,” can give you a chance to stew about what is blocking you. (Sometimes you won’t like the answer to your stewing, but it’s there.) Of course, if you’re comfort zone is starting new things, then you might end up in a different sort of problem.

Okay, I promised food in here too. So here’s something that is apparently either a Horner family thing, or a very eccentric Southwest thing. I’ve made it to where it’s a little better quality than what I grew up with, and proportions are a bit to taste.

Ingredients:
Rotisserie Chicken, bite sized pieces (I buy one at the store and debone it, I’m lazy)
Spaghetti Noodles (1 box)
Mushrooms, rough chop (I just buy a carton of pre-sliced ones and break the pieces down with my fingers)
Bell peppers, diced (1 or 2 peppers is enough)
Garlic, 2 cloves diced
Butter, 1/2 tablespoon
Can of Cream of Chicken
Can of Cream of Mushrooms x2
Shredded Mild Cheddar (this is an eyeball it till it looks right situation)
Salt and Cracked Black Pepper (to taste)

Get your noodles going in salted boiling water. You want them just under al dente, meaning undercooked (it will finish cooking later, you just want to avoid the pasta turning to mush). While the pasta is going, get a hot pan and melt the butter, then add the garlic, mushrooms, and bell peppers, with a pinch of salt and pepper. Give the ‘shrooms a chance to get toasty on the outside, but don’t get too concerned if they don’t finish completely, they will also get a chance to finish cooking later.

In a REALLY BIG pot (I use the biggest stew pot I got), mix all three cans of soup to heat it up. Once it’s bubbling, start whisking in handfuls of cheese until it’s a pale yellow in color and tastes alright to you. Add the chicken meat first to warm it back up, then the mushrooms/pepper mixture. Taste your seasoning now, it may need a little more pepper (I doubt it will need more salt, but you never know). Then turn off the heat and add your pasta. It should be a little too heavy on the sauce, a lot of that is going to dry up. If you want, you can stop here, just add more pasta and chicken to soak up the extra sauce.

Alternatively, you can pour everything into casserole pans, top with a layer of leftover cheddar cheese, and pop it into the oven at 350 to melt the cheese and finish everything off.


Writing: Music as Inspiration

Okay, so when it comes to music and writing, there are a lot of different “camps” as it were. Some people listen to music as they write because it helps them focus, while others find it to be a distraction. Some writers make playlists for their stories, either before they start writing or after. Some only touch music if they have a dancer or singer or whatever as part of the story and need music for that reason.

I’m sort of in an odd camp. I can’t listen to music as I write most of the time, because it inevitably distracts me. I do have to have some sort of noise, which is why I have YouTube or the TV on with some sort of background nonsense, be it a series that I have seen almost all of the episodes of multiple times (Criminal Minds or Law and Order: SVU), or a movie I’ve also watched several times (with exceptions, Marvel movies don’t work), or video game let’s plays. But I do use music for writing.

See, sometimes when I listen to a song, I will peg it as a background song or an inspiration song for a scene, and listening to it always reminds me of how the song will go. This was particularly prominent in writing Ten, because several of the scenes (some of which got cut) came to exist because of listening to particular songs. I even ended up using songs as chapter titles as a result. When I got stuck writing something because it was giving me issues for whatever reason, I’d go listen to the song I’d assigned to that chapter to help my brain get in the mood and emotions of that particular scene. In my case, I built my play list both before and as I was writing, because I plotted an arc, wrote it, and then plotted the next arc. It helped the story shape itself organically, and the music helped me set the tone for each chapter and the book as a whole.

The trick with using music as inspiration is to not to be extremely literal with it. Problem one with that is because if you are literally including lyrics as dialogue in the text, you are going to run into copyright issues. Problem two, most music has the same topic, they just have different phrases and tones. For me, I listen to what the rhythm and words are telling me. Songs of defiance or even upset at an ex turn into fight music for me, because of the speed and the anger that they emote. Break up songs can sometimes be about families or friends rather than loved ones. Love songs can apply to someone that the main character is interacting with that doesn’t necessarily mean romance between them, just wanting a relationship, platonic or otherwise.

Music appeals to people on different levels, and you really have to figure out which camp you belong to on your own. I can’t tell you to turn off the music if it helps you put words to a page, and really if someone tries to tell you how to handle music with your writing and acts like they know it all, well, they are lying. To paraphrase Mercedes Lackey books, there is no one true way. I will say, don’t get stuck in a rut with it. If you are struggling, the first thing I would suggest changing up is your sound environment. If you listen to music, stop for a while and see if it helps, or do what I do and change to a non-music sort of background noise. As you age, your preference will probably change, so just keep an open mind to trying different things to see if they help you when you get stuck.


Writing: Stimulus/Response

Okay, I am going to be frank here. I suck at this aspect of writing. Fanfiction ruined me. So poor Chester had to try and fix the mess I’d made of my own writing style. I’ve gotten to where I catch it as I’m writing half the time, and the other time I catch it during edits. I figure I had better explain a bit about what it is so it helps other people who might have the same problem.

Stimulus response is making sure that for every action, there is a reaction from the characters impacted by it. It doesn’t have to be a big thing, just a sign to show that the other character heard. Eye rolls, nods, shakes of the head, all count as a reaction, as does a character saying something in response (which in turn requires another response). It’s a giant game of tag, in a way.

There are a few cues that can tell you if you have a stimulus and response problem. For example, if you’ve got two characters present and you haven’t written any sort of action or dialogue from the second in two or three paragraphs, you’ve got an issue. Too much time has passed, they had to have had some sort of reaction to whatever the main character just did or said. Huge swatches of dialogue can also show you an issue. Think about how long you can stand to listen to one person yammer at you before you interrupt, and then time how long it takes you to say whatever the huge bit of dialogue is. If it goes beyond that time limit, guess what? You’ve missed a reaction.

There are also a set of keywords to keep in mind. If you use once, before, after, and some uses of as, then you’ve got an issue with your order. A reader wants to read things in the order that they happened. (Or so I’m told.) Sometimes those words are fine. But I recommend running a search for those words, so you can look at those paragraphs and making sure that things are going in the right order. Even though I think that I’ve caught myself using them, I know I’ve had times when either I’m tired, just trying to force the scene out, or putting words to the page to get unstuck where I slip back into the habit of mixing things around in an attempt to keep from sounding repetitive. There are better ways of doing it than just restructuring the sentence so you’re going backwards.

Another part of stimulus/response is the order of the reaction. The way I was taught was it goes emotion, thought, action, dialogue. You’re going to feel something from a stimulus, first and foremost. Sometimes a character will completely skip the thought step because the emotional response is so strong, and that’s fine. There are exceptions to this order, but if you think of it all in terms of a response, it helps make more sense. When a characters cuts their own dialogue off with an action such as throwing their  hands up in the air or huffing their breath, it’s their response to their own words which is frustrating them. (I know this seems like nonsense, but it does help your scenes flow better.)

Most writers don’t pay attention to their structure, and there’s two reasons behind it. One is writers are under the assumption that their agent and their editor at the publishing house is going to fix everything for them. This is a lie. It used to be yes, they were there to help you out. But at this point in the business, most agents are retired editors who left the publishing houses to make better money, and while they’ll put in some work for you, they aren’t going to help you out that much. And when they lost those editors, the publishing houses didn’t replace them. So what editors they do have are overworked and overwhelmed. They are going to do a pure spelling and grammar check on your work, and that’s it. The second reason why people don’t worry about their structure is they don’t believe it’s important anymore. Stories and how to tell them are always evolving, and for many writers, stimulus/response and reaction order are old-school tools that aren’t needed anymore.

I’m sort of an inbetween on the second one. On one hand, I am not going to kill myself to structure a story in a particular way, and I am certainly not going to follow old pulp-fiction tropes about how my stories are supposed to go. On the other hand, I respect that keeping these old-fashioned structure rules in mind does two things for your story. The first, it helps cut down on your word count. You would not believe the number of words it takes you to mess the order up. While you do add words with missed responses, if you need to keep that scene below a certain order, you can eliminate some fluff wording elsewhere to make room for five words. The second, it helps the flow of the story and the scene. While you know what order actions take, your reader only has the words on the page to go off of. It can be a nightmare to keep track of what happened when with the stimulus response order all out of whack.

It’s helpful sometimes to think of things like a movie, in my experience. Trying to play a scene out like a film in your head can help keep the order straight, and keep track of the various responses. Focus on one-on-one situations first, since group settings can be a b-word in my experience, and build on them with more characters to practice. And if you flub it up, don’t sweat it too much. It takes work and practice to write, and we’re all works-in-progress.


Writing: Genres Part 3

Coming back from being lost in illnesses/fair induced stress and then injuries/wrapping up the print version of Ten with an update to my genre writing series. Now, this one is considered the easiest genre to write and break into as a new writer…I could argue about it being easy to write, but it is easier to get into but for different reasons than people think: Romance.

Romance books have their cliche images: the bodice ripper, sex scene heavy books with half-naked characters on the cover that is sold for about six bucks at the grocery store. However, if you go into the actual romance section at a book store, you’ll find a little more variance on the price, but the bodice rippers will be accompanied by some less provocative look books that still center around a romance, just with another genre as a side dish. Usually fantasy or action/thriller, some are also mysteries or something in that vein.

Here’s the reason why these books are the easiest to get published…if you do your homework. These publishing houses have contracts and lists where they send out so many new titles a month–more than any other genre. They make their money through quantity, not quality, and by appealing to a very specific formula. By keeping things within a certain parameter, they are able to produce the books cheaply, keeping actual costs down so they can sneak into as many sellers as possible. They don’t pay as well as other genres, but you also have a higher chance of paying back your advance and getting royalties. And if you can pick up the rhythm, there are writers who make their living just by turning out a new book every month or so.

These books have to be within a certain range of word count/print pages (varying a bit by publisher, so be prepared to add fluff or cut it away if you have to bounce between them), they have to have a certain number of beats to them, and obviously need to focus on the romance and have a happy ending for the couple involved. Most create a common enemy to bring these two people together, others just put two people into a situation where they have to work together to achieve a goal–whether or not its a common goal is up to the writer, but either way they have to work together to achieve it. There is a heavy focus on the characters being in their twenties to thirties–rarely do they cross over any older than that, despite the main readership for these books being in their forties and fifties, but I digress.

The really tricky part when it comes to writing romances is what you have to keep in mind–no matter what, your primary antagonists…are your protagonists. I know this is weird, so hear me out. The formulas mean that publishers are looking for the main conflict to be between the hero and the heroine. Whether its because they are constantly fighting with each other, one side of the equation is trying to fight the urge to be together, or there are circumstances keeping them apart a la Romeo and Juliet, the central conflict needs to be what is keeping your couple apart.

That said, your characters still have to be likeable. Ever wonder why the characters are so simple, cardboard cut out like? It’s because this way, the writer can easily flip them from being a jerk to being the nicest guy ever without seeming to contradict themselves. The girl can go from a whiny crybaby to the bravest woman in the world, and its waved away as character growth. There are some writers who are good at making this work for them, for creating a strong character and showing real growth. But those who are milking the system for money only, well, they use the formula and go with it.

There are a few beats that are particularly important for a story. You’re going to have to write a sex scene, unless you are in a subset aimed for younger readers or ultra-conservatives. Sometimes you’ll end up writing more than one, if your plot goes that way. There’s going to be a big-bad-break-up fight at least once. Sometimes there are multiples, but if so each one is bigger and worse than the one before it. (I never said this genre showed healthy relationships, did I? Cause it really doesn’t.) And then the last one is going to depend on what sort of story you are dealing with. If you are writing something with outside forces, this is where they seem to get the upper hand and the two have to come together to finally overcome it/solve the problem/whatever. If you are focused purely on internal conflicts between the couple, whoever was the biggest butt is going to “see the light” and save the other character from their misery without their other half.

If you want to write just for making money, don’t turn your nose up at romance novels. They are the easiest to make money and live off of, and they do pay well in the long run if that’s what you are after. However, if this happens to be the genre that you just want to write it, stay away from the ones who are famous for publishing in romance because you aren’t likely to fit their patterns. Really work on fleshing out your characters, and if you play with what the audience wants from the tropes and give them a good story besides, you’ll appeal to both the long-standing members and those like me who just browse the section of the book store occasionally.

Recommended romance novels (because I actually read these things): The Goddess Rising series by PC Cast, The Accidental Werewolf by Dakota Cassidy