Monday, March 27, 2017

Monday Meanderings

Some of you may already know that I'm a self-professed Comma Queen, and I love other forms of punctuation, too ... probably too much.  I love the flourish of a dash, an ellipsis, or stringing together sentences with semi-colons and colons.

To me, punctuation does more than simply inform the grammatical composition of the sentence; it alters the rhythm and flow.  As a musician, I feel these patterns even if I don't express them consciously.  It's in editing that I might go back and look logically at whether I want the effect in this spot or that, whether this sentence works better as a long, breathless string or short beats.

So think of a sentence, ended with a period, as a phrase in music.  The insertion of a dash is a sharp staccato note followed by a rest - an abrupt cessation of sound.  For a harp player, this is a significant distinction because the harp rarely falls completely silent:  unless muted, notes continue to ring.  To create a quick "burst" of silence requires laying your hands on the strings to stop them.

An ellipsis, on the other hand, is a rest without muted strings or the dot in a tied note:  a small marker that indicates to hold out the end of the thought, to suspend it before continuing to the conclusion.

Semi-colons almost work in reverse; they take two separate phrases and unify them.  In this case, it's compression rather than extension.  Musically, for the harp, I think of fingering.  Part of what makes a phrase unified on the harp is that the hand remains engaged; at any one time, there is at least one finger on the strings.  Coming off at the end of the phrase creates a break to the ear.  But there are times when it's necessary or appropriate to come off mid-phrase, and that ... is your semi-colon.

(It is not lost on me that I am using the punctuation I am rambling about sprinkled throughout the above.)

Another incidental music connection:  if you're familiar with notations for vocal music (and wind instruments as well, I'm told), there is a symbol that indicates where one can take a breath.  And ... what a coincidence ...

It looks like a comma.

Of course, like any other writing tool, phrase, etc, overuse reduces the impact.  I've become more sensitive to my (over)use of these punctuation marks, and I'm starting to take a hard look at when they are truly necessary as I edit.  To all those who have waded through my past pauses, either as reader or editor, I tend my sincere apologies.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Song Styles

My novel-in-editing, Unnatural Causes, is a murder mystery:  the death of a prominent and controversial mage by her apprentice and familiar.  The familiars in this world are extraplanar beings, and their status is uncertain:  indentured servants at best, slaves at worst.  I put two themesongs in my notes to play off their attitudes towards the world around them.  The first is hard, driving and rebellious:

Are We All We Are - P!nk
(Warning:  language)

It also has some relevance to narrator Vil, who personally is defiant and impatient.

The second is more aspirational, a hope for peace:

The War Is Over - Sarah Brightman

But with their future in doubt, their primary advocate murdered, what truly is in store for the familiars?

Monday, March 20, 2017

Monday Meanderings

Well, !@#$%^.

I've never used profanity much in my fiction, though at least in part, it's because I write a lot of secondary world fantasy and I don't feel all of our modern cursewords translate very well.  In a world with strong religious beliefs and where sex outside of marriage is social taboo, there are some that can make the transition (you know the ones I'm talking about), but oftentimes, it's better to use something more directly evocative.  Inventing unique profanity is tricky, and it's difficult to please everyone, so I tend to go for broader exclamatory phrases.

Even in my contemporary or SF stories, though, I tend to use it sparingly.  People who critiqued the opening chapters of Flow commented on Kit's tendency to use "Holy schnitzel," telling me that I didn't need to sanitize for a young audience, but that was never the idea:  it's simply a verbal quirk of hers.  Hadrian drops a few well-placed words, but even at that, they're few and far between ... and I just checked now, and there is quite literally *one* swearword in the entirety of Scylla and Charybdis.  (Unless my editor asks me to put in more cussing as we go.)

Am I prude?  Not hardly.  I work in a profession - culinary - where profanity is often seasoning as liberal as salt.  It's not even an expression of conflict:  it just speckles the dialogue, and when directional, it's almost invariably aimed at an inanimate object.  We talk to our equipment and our food, and it had better behave.

But I keep two separate rules in mind when it comes to profanity:

Every time you use a particular word or punctuation (exclamation points come to mind), you decrease its impact.  If every other sentence ends with ... ! then it becomes invisible.  This is part of why "said" vanishes so effectively in dialogue.  It's a word that you want to disappear, to be recognized as a handle but to stay out of the way.  I have an ongoing problem with the word "subtle."  It's such a fun modifier to use in unexpected places ... but in repeated use, it becomes expected.

The second rule applies more specifically to profanity:  it looks much dirtier on the page than it sounds in real-life dialogue (or even movie dialogue).  If rendered literally, real dialogue might be crowded out by the four-letter adjectives.  It would make a character seem incoherent, not impassioned.  To create the illusion of reality, you actually *need* less profanity.

The difference is, in part, that the spoken word flits quickly out of the brain within a few seconds, but the written word is visually on the page and at least in the reader's peripheral vision for however long it takes to read the full page.  It lingers longer and has a bigger impact.

I'm put in mind of listening to Orson Scott Card speak many years ago about his experience writing for comic books.  He had written a script that involved a character being tortured.  The artist pointed out that it would be too intense for readers because unlike a written description, the image would remain there, permanent, on the page.

In this case, of course, the "image" is the written word, carrying much stronger than the imagined reality.

So as far as efficacy and verisimilitude ... a little goes a long way.  Maren, the narrator of Surgeburnt, has something of a foul mouth, but I'm still watching to make sure that it doesn't weigh on the narrative.  When an expletive does come into play, it does exactly what it's supposed to.

Of course, this has the potential to get me into trouble as the majority of my writing is still clean or almost completely clean, so I have to remind myself to check it before I submit to a family-friendly market, just on the off-chance ...

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Song Styles

And now for something a little different ...

As mentioned in my bio and occasional passing in these posts, I also play the traditional lever harp - sometimes misnomered as the Celtic harp.  While most of my repertoire is in that realm (Scottish, Welsh, Irish, etc), I do also play some popular tunes, spanning everything from Andrew Lloyd Webber to a smattering of Disney tunes (courtesy of a princess event last year) to the Theme from Jurassic Park.

I've been thinking about adding another vocal to my repertoire in an of-the-moment vein.  Obviously, the possibilities are endless, but I'm trying to find something that might be recognizable to listeners, so more left-field ideas like Love Is A Camera have been shelved.  (Though an Angie Baby / Camera medley would be excellent, simply because I think of the two songs as describing the same woman ...)

I would love your opinions!  Personal favorites here?

So in no particular:

1.  Chasing The Sun - Sara Bareilles
Brave may be more famous, but for me, this is the stand-out track of The Blessed Unrest (though I Choose You comes a close second).  It's gorgeous lyrically and musically - that note at the end of the line, "sun," is unexpected and perfect. 

2.  Try - Colbie Caillat 
Admittedly, this is probably the most recognizable song on this part of the list.  I adore the message, and the vocals are very suited to my singing style.

3.  Close Your Eyes - Meghan Trainor
The grammatical quirks of this one make me wince a bit, but the lyrics overall are lovely and the melody is right in my vocal wheelhouse.  For whatever reason, I had the very clear idea to start a capella with the bridge ("Show the world the you inside, raise your voice and close your eyes ...").

4.  She Used To Be Mine - Sara Bareilles
Yes, I know, Sara again.  This particular tune is from the Waitress musical, it is almost perfect for harp, and if I can get through the darn thing without tearing up ... it gets me right in the gut.

5.  Grigio Girls - Lady Gaga
I'm quite fond of this one, and the main appeal is that I hope to be performing at wineries at some point, so ... of course!  There's a small issue of either editing or omitting the bridge because of profanity.

6.  The Writer - Ellie Goulding
Do I even have to explain part of the appeal here?  Heartbreakingly gorgeous.  Another one I'd be a little nervous about getting through without choking up.

Picking up the pace a bit with two ideas that are a bit more on the bratty, "how much can I get away with?" side ...

7.  No - Meghan Trainor
... seriously.  It's primarily composed of vocal cadence and beat, which is very easy to achieve on the harp.  I just want to make people sputter in surprise.  Is that so wrong?

8.  Black Horse and The Cherry Tree - K.T. Tunstall
You probably know this song, even if you think you don't.  The real key to this one is to keep it fast; the lyrics practically turn tongue-twister at tempo.  Again, though, the backdrop is mostly rhythmic, which would be (comparatively) easy to knock out with chord patterns.

That's all, folks.  The real problem, of course, is I keep thinking of new options - there are eight here, and that doesn't even include older pop tunes I love - so I can't seem to commit to one enough to dig in ...

Monday, March 13, 2017

Monday Meanderings

When it comes to my sensibilities as both a writer and a reader, I don't consider myself much of a romantic.  In fact, you might call me something of an anti-romantic.  I have trouble with a lot of common romance tropes, whether it be simple dislike or blank disbelief.  Personally:

I'm very suspicious of love at first sight.  I don't think it's a reliable foundation for a relationship.  Does it work out sometimes?  Absolutely, but for me, it's a matter of chance; that instant spark isn't some magical signal.  For me to be convinced, the first-sight attraction has to be followed up quickly by genuine signs of compatibility.

Obviously, as a fiction writer, sometimes I've had to fudge this, because it's very hard to write a short story with any kind of romance that isn't relatively rapid.  But I do like to play with the opposite:  when the "love at first sight" turns out to be built over quicksand, and one of the partners is something much darker than they seem.

I don't care much for Alpha heroes ... unless they're paired with equally Alpha females who don't take direction.  In fact, I had a long string of projects where the main romantic interest (male) was mild-mannered and quiet - the virtual opposite of the assertive heroine.

Does love conquer all?  Maybe.  Sometimes.  Should it?  Maybe not.  There's a point at which sacrificing for love becomes selfish, even destructive to the world around you.  In fact, in of one of my potential novel projects, one of the main plotlines is based around the villain's (very genuine) romance story, and how everything else starts going off the rails around it.

If there's one romantic plot point that makes me cringe every time, it's when one of the lovers has to give up a cherished career or even their whole world to be with their beloved.  (Portal fiction is particularly guilty of this.  Outlander, I'm looking at you.)  Maybe it's because I am a compulsively creative person, but if you told me that the only way I could be with a significant other was to give up writing, well ... there's plenty of fish in the sea, thank you.

When it comes to people who pine after an unrequited love, continuing to pursue your would-be love interest doesn't mean you're "not giving up."  It means you're stalking them.  And what if you succeed?  Do you really want to be loved by someone who had to be convinced?  To me, that's a really depressing thought.

But beyond all this doom and gloom, what do I like in a love story?

Friends whose long-term commitment and understanding deepens into something more.  I am a sucker for this kind of story, where the romance is based on a deep trust and connection between the characters ... where love is the very last piece of the puzzle.

Love that is truly selfless ... even beyond the love itself.  Characters who will walk away if that's what is needed to preserve the other person.  "I love you enough to let you go."

Banter.  Characters who battle wits and even might seem as if they're fighting from the outside ... but they do it from a position of deep security and trust in each other.

Characters who know that love means sharing secrets.  This may clue you into the fact that I hate the tired old romantic comedy trope of the hero/ine who has a secret she's afraid to share, causing strifle and turmoil when it comes out prematurely.  It's why I cheer every time I see a character steel his or her nerve and tell the object of their affection.  Can you really love a person without loving all of them?

So maybe I am a romantic, after all - just a very particular type of romantic.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Song Styles

As mentioned before, I have an old car with no capacity to pair with my phone, MP3 player, Pandora account, etc.  I don't like playing the radio because I don't know what I'm going to get, and for me, unfamiliar music while I'm driving is distracting.  So what do I do?  I put together themed CDs.

One theme I like to do every time is word association:  moving from the title / concept of a song to another, to another ... sometimes by a keyword, sometimes by related concepts, sometimes by opposites, and sometimes by something else entirely.

Here's my most recent sequence:

Sweet As Whole - Sara Bareilles (... if you look this song up, do not play it at work)
America's Sweetheart - Elle King
New Americana - Hasley
A New England - Kirsty MacColl
Wonder English - Eisley
It's Not The Things You Say - DJ Tiesto
Say Goodbye - Katharine McPhee
Don't Say Goodbye - Paulina Rubio
Bye Bye - Alana Davis
By Chance - Sophie Ellis Bextor (... okay, this one is weak.  Gimme a break, I really wanted this song on my list)
Lucky Me - Anne Murray
Trouble for Me - Britney Spears
Trouble - Leona Lewis
Queen of Peace - Florence + the Machine
Army - Ellie Goulding
Rangers - A Fine Frenzy
Warrior - Kimbra
Warpath - Ingrid Michaelson
The Road's My Middle Name - Bonnie Raitt
Last Name - Glee Cast version
Guitar String / Wedding Ring - Carly Rae Jepsen
Marry The Night - Lady Gaga
I Do - Idina Menzel
I Do What I Love - Ellie Goulding
I Do Not Hook Up - Kelly Clarkson
No - Meghan Trainor
I Don't Need A Man - The Pussycat Dolls
MANiCURE - Lady Gaga
Medicine - Shakira
Aftertaste - Ellie Goulding (... yes, I just got Delirium and I am deliberately trying to get a lot of it into this list)
Fade Away - Celine Dion
Disappear - Anna Sahlene
Already Gone - Kelly Clarkson
Lost Then Found - Leona Lewis
Find Me Here - Eisley
Here - Alessia Cara
Here With Me - Michelle Branch
Love is Here - Sophie Ellis-Bextor
Now Is Here - Clannad
By Now - Sarah Brightman
Right Now - The Pussycat Dolls
Wait It Out - Imogen Heap
Best For Last - Adele

Monday, March 06, 2017

Monday Meanderings

As a writer, I enjoy writing exercises, story sparkers, and fiddling around with structured forms.  They're a different way to come at the creation of a tale; they change up your routine; they even force you to do problem-solving when you're trying to fit disparate pieces together.  In sum:  they're good for your brain!

Here's a self-designed exercise I like to use.  Nothing too fancy, just a structure to eke out a plot:

The Wordhop - come up with a list of words through whatever means you like.  15 - 20 is a good starting point.  You could poll your friends for favorites (... some of you may have seen me do this).  You could an entire list of words that start with the same letter.  You could browse the various dictionary sites and grab their word of the day for a week, though see my caution below.  Jumble the list.

Then ... well ... you start writing.  In the first hundred words, incorporate the first word on your list.  The second hundred words should contain the second, and ... you get the idea.  The words don't have to be equally spaced out; that's a way to make yourself crazy.  My word processor has a running tally, so it's easy to keep track.

When you run out of words, keep writing as much as you need to finish the story at hand.  (You could try "expert mode" where the story has to end where the words do; being a long-winded sort, I've never done this.)

Tips on the words - you want them to be interesting enough to require some thought to incorporate, but not so weird that they stick out like a sore thumb.

Proof of concept:  Saplings (Mindflights, July 2011), in which the list of words was based on the letter H, as was the name of the protagonist; The Winter Queen (Golden Visions 2010).

Here's a couple more I've played with ...

Sentence String - this time, the starting fuel is a list of random sentences.  5-6 is a good number.  I've polled friends or chosen randomly from books / trunked stories.  Tense and pronouns can be changed, but otherwise, the sentence should remain intact.  Play with the sentences; shuffle them around until connective threads start to suggest themselves.

Proof of concept: ... nothing published to point to, because these invariably run untenably long for me.  Can't promise the same thing won't happen to you!

Picture String - using a randomizer on an image site, pick 5-6 pictures.  In this case, they stay in the order originally generated.  Now I admit, I had the most success with this when the art venue Elfwood was young:  it was relatively easy to get a sequence of good quality fantasy art.  Depending on your source, you may want to throw out things that just don't fit.  You have two options from here:  build the plot as a line from picture to picture or start with whatever concept / thought pops into your head with the first and dive in, changing pictures as the mood strikes.

Proof of concept:  my very first publication - The Dreamweaver's Dispute (Leading Edge).

Finally, a plug:  I love the book The 3 A.M. Epiphany by Brian Kiteley.  Besides being full of fun and engaging prompts, it's the only exercise book I've worked with where the majority of exercises can easily be worked in a secondary fantasy concept.  Too many exercise books have very contemporary prompts; they can be converted, but sometimes that takes the spark out of the prompt.