Thursday, November 21, 2013

Thursday Thoughts

I've occasionally contemplated rewriting old projects.  They have fascination and appeal for me still.  I'm never sure if it's because I lucked upon - and let's face it, especially with the oldest, it probably was luck; I had no idea what I was doing as a writer - something particularly powerful or compelling, or ... just pure nostalgia.  The new is never quite as good as the old.  I've gained a lot of experience and technique, but I've lost some craziness.  I "know better" and so I've stopped making rash decisions that may turn out to be gems in the end.

Here's a few old projects I've considered rewriting:

The Cats of Mordue:  my first real novel, it was five "books," the first two of which were novella length, and the rest of which were novel length.  It was a run of cliches:  a rebellious tomboy princess, a wise old mentor, and a shadowy dark one.  But then there were the telepathic cats - I always had a soft spot for them - and the plot revolved around the mentor figure (the Mordue of the title) being kidnapped.  Later on, we find out that she and the evil overlord are siblings.  I've actually rethought the magic system and the main character's history a bit (making her an actual gladiator first), and I'm intrigued by the possibilities.

Unnamed:  This was "Nelia.doc" and it was also cliche-ridden - another tomboy, sword-wielding heroine, this one refusing to acknowledge her powers, a wise old mentor and a shadowy dark one, with no explanation of his motives or why people were opposing him.  Where it diverges is an order of warriors bonded to intelligent swords - though I'll confess that I was unduly influenced by Craig Shaw Gardner, and Paquel was something of a coward.  I added a secondary nemesis with goals that, in theory, opposed the dark one.  I did attempt (horribly) to give the dark one some motive by having him use magic surveillance, but I'd definitely ditch that.  And more family dysfunction:  one of Nelia's allies was the son of the dark one.  I really think this is a rich area for exploration, but it does lead me to considering that the resulting story should be more his than hers.  The difficult decisions end up being his.

The Sintellyn Medallion:  Here's the first time I deliberately tried to invert some cliches.  My main character is the "chosen one" ... but it's years after the pivotal events, he's become a young king due to them, and has ended up the figurehead of a political mastermind.  There is a second plotline that weaves in and out of the main plot before they converge.  There also a lot of other elements I like:  unrequited love stories, someone who chooses their life's work over romance, and - of course - political conspiracy.  But the specifics of the plot and the ultimate solution need overhaul, and with two storylines intertwined and timing interdependent, that would take a lot of work.

This post is getting long, so I'll probably post a few more later.  But you can see where I'm dealing with some sticky elements ... and why I've generally chosen to move on into the future.  Still, there's valuable and possibility to be mined from all of these.  And certainly, I've learned what not to do from the final product.

Or at least, *some* of what not to do ...

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Let Me Digress ...

In my management and supervision course, it discusses two types of people when it comes to problems on the job:  opportunity thinkers, who focus on finding ways to solve the problem; and obstacle thinkers, who simply accept difficulties as the end of the story and give up.  As I thought about this concept, I decided there was an additional way to look at it.  There are two types of people:  external-problem people and internal-problem people.

When external-problem people are confronted with a problem, they attribute it to the circumstances.  In school, the class is too hard or the teacher is unfair; on the job, the boss is out to get me or the equipment is subpar.  When internal-problem people are confronted with a problem, they attribute it to themselves.  I need to try harder, come up with memory hooks, or treat the equipment more gently.

Internal-problem people are generally more likely to come up with a solution, because they believe the situation is in their hands.  They have taken responsibility for their circumstances and improving them.  It doesn't necessarily matter if their perspective is correct; a sunny disposition might just turn the unfair boss around.

However, being an internal-problem person isn't always positive, and being an external-problem person isn't always negative.  Sometimes, the equipment really does need to be replaced, and all the gentle treatment in the world only delays the inevitable breakage.  An internal-problem person may beat themselves up trying to be something else when the true solution lies elsewhere.

Probably the best compromise is to first consider if the problem is internal:  is it something that you are doing, or something in your outlook?  If an honest assessment tells you that you're doing everything you can for the problem, then it is time to look outward.  And starting with a positive attitude - and opportunity thinking - will improve your odds of solving any problem.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Thursday Thoughts

As I've been working on Unnatural Causes (the working, and probably final, title of my novel in progress), I came to a realization:  almost all of the suspects in the murder are male, whereas the detective, sidekick and victim are female.  I was instantly concerned about generalizing the genders, making the men "villains" and the women "heroes."  I considered changing the gender of one of the suspects to help balance this, and then decided not to.  I had several reasons:

The character I contemplated inverting had a history that specifically connected to his gender.  To give him a sex-change would require a complete rewrite of backstory, which also is integral to his personality and personal motives, which ... certainly, I could come up with an equivalent storyline, but it would require a fair amount of consideration and note revision.

Second, while there is gender inequality, it isn't completely black and white.  There are female suspects, and the queen is the one who ordered the investigation suppressed (forcing our heroes to step in).  I decided to emphasize this a bit by changing the motives of the guard captain, too.  There are other male characters who are allies and sympathetic.

And finally - and ultimately, what I thought was most important - is that the story isn't about "a man who" or "a woman who" - it's about "a person who" ... and I feel that to arbitrarily flip the gender of a character would subvert that.

Or maybe I'm just lazy.  Take your pick.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Thursday Thoughts

So as mentioned in a previous post, I knew from the beginning that I (likely) wouldn't finish the requisite number of words for Nanowrimo, but thought it was a valuable experience for the camaraderie and the "excuse" to focus solely on one project for a month.  With going to school full-time and working (almost) full-time, my writing time is necessarily limited, so I'm not putting must-finish pressure on myself.

Another reason I don't have my eyes fixed on the word count is because I want to do it right.  I am some cross between a plotser and a pantser; I don't plan out my plot in advance (in fact, at this point in the mystery, I don't know who the murderer will turn out to be), but I do plan the characters and world in extensive detail.  So one of my goals as I write is to trickle the information out in a way that orients the reader, sets up the personalities, introduces the victim in a way that will hopefully build sympathy for her, intimates the politics, and develops potential motives for murder, without heavy info-dumping ...

All within the first four thousand words.

Why four thousand words?  I've read in guides for mystery writing that the victim should be dead within twenty pages - which typically assumes 250 words a page.  I decided to use this as my standard, my first goal post to keep the plot on track.

And I'm almost there ...

Yes, I have a long way to go.