“Ping!”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile I was patting myself on the back last week for having a Good Excuse ™ for not writing, and the resulting blog post hid the fact that I was a bit panicky about not writing, I was unaware my brain had sifted into a different mode.

Yes, I was right in the middle of a fight scene.  Yes, it was THAT fight scene: the one with the inappropriately erotic words snuck into it.  I was also working on the second draft of another short story, where I tackle the nearly illegible pen and paper scribbles and try to type them into a coherent story.  Both are highly creative forms of writing, at least for me.

And they fell flat.  Just gone, and hardly missed in the crazy prep for an anime con.  When they didn’t come back on my first normal day for writing, I panicked a bit.  Truthfully, a LOT.

I could feel them fizzing, or burbling, like a  warm pot on the back burner of a stove, waiting for the right time to have a last-minute ingredient added.  I’ve felt this sensation before, so I was soothed, because it comes back, the creative side of writing, when it is ready, and not a damn minute before.  But that still left me stuck in front of blank pages…

Until I realized I had done something unusual to the novel that I laughingly refer to as my Work-In-Progress, despite the fact that I haven’t been able to stand the sight of it in nearly a year.  I had been re-reading it in the evenings, to unwind, instead of my to-read pile.

And it’s rough, and I have made my usual mistakes, and I’ve made eighteen pages of notes for changes over the past year, but I still love the story, and I’m ready to work on it.

You know, being a writer would be a lot easier if we got some kind of notice when our brains sifted to another mode.  I didn’t realize I was IN editing/revision.  There should be some kind of “ping,” or spider-sense, or notice hammered to our front door.  Instead we are suddenly swimming against the current, and struggling.

I’m better prepared for the task, this time, due to research and time spent working on smaller projects.  It seems a less insurmountable mountain, shrouded in thick clouds.  I can at least SEE what I need to achieve.  My intention is to have a ready manuscript for either agent shopping or self publishing by the end of the year, if not sooner.  Time will tell if I am up to the task.

Happy writing, editing, revision, or whatever!

 

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The Low-Budget Writing Program: Part 4 When the Manuscript Goes in the Garbage…

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When the manuscript is going to the garbage can, what do you save?

I’ve been lucky enough to have writer friends who will loan me books they think will be helpful to me. It’s amazing how timely these incidents can be. My observations of synchronicity in my own life make me more aware when my instincts tell me to do things–random things–even when I don’t know why.  Even if I will never know why.

So, I am going to insert a passage from a book I’ve just read, and I’m not going to tell you who the author is, or what the title is, yet.  Just play along, as if it’s your manuscript…

On impulse, I held up her manuscript.  “Okay,” I said.  “We both know there’s a problem and we don’t know how to fix it.  Let’s pretend for a minute that I’m going to throw this manuscript into the garbage.”

She leaned forward in her seat, hands gripping the arms of her chair.  I dropped the manuscript onto the floor beside me.

“It’s gone.  Into the garbage.  You’re never going to be able to write it now.  You’ll never see the characters again.  I want you to think about that.”

I could feel her thinking.

“If you could reach in and pick out just one part of that story, just one thing you don’t want to let go of, what would it be?”

Did you come up with anything?  Instinctually, did you grab for something in your own WIP?  I sure did. Hold on to that thought.

The book I got that from?  “Writing Romance” (Self-Counsel Press, Bellingham, WA 1997) by Vanessa Grant.  It’s written in the workbook style and full of helpful information, and I have found it far more useful than I thought I should.  Since it is nearly twenty years old some of the information is outdated because publishing and the internet has changed, but the Romance genre still has a lot of the same expectations.  Vanessa Grant has a soothing but insightful way of picking apart what makes a good, satisfying story.  She cautions, throughout her book, that anything not working for the entire story must be cut.  (My Sci-fi Romance has some issues I can’t afford to ignore.)

But tucked into that genre specific writing book was THAT little gem.  The Vanessa Grant Garbage Can Test.  Brilliant.   There is a formal exercise included in the book, but I found the narrative  of the original incident far more helpful.  Since my blog is geared for newer writers, like myself, I couldn’t help but pass on that little bit of insight.

WHY are you writing your particular story?  You need to know.  If you lose what is important to you, how can you hope to make it important to a reader?  Anything that doesn’t serve the core of the story will be cut out (and filed away for another story).

Anyway, my own copy of this book will go into the permanent collection of my after-the-rough-draft revision guides.  The rest of the books in that helpful collection are in this article, safely tucked next to the rescued manuscripts that took part in the above nerve-wracking photo shoot.

Back to my revisions.  Good luck with your own WIP.

The Low-Budget Writing Program:

  1. Butt in Chair
  2. The Monster in My Manuscript
  3. Take Over the Literary World!
  4. When the Manuscript Goes in the Garbage…
  5. Fear is the Mind-Killer
  6. Grammar and Punctuation and Bears! Oh, My!

You Can Have The “Suprise Kiss” When You Pry It From My Cold, Dead Lips

I am very glad there are so many helpful articles about avoiding sexism and racism in our writing, but why do so many of them make my blood boil?

These articles are a mix of sensible thoughts, badly chosen examples, condescending attitude, and weirdly unhelpful tips for improving your work.  I’ve decided to no longer post those types of articles on Facebook or Twitter, even for the lively debates.  The most recent of these, an article about the harmful effects of sexist tropes applied to male characters, left me with a bad taste and these helpful impressions:

  1. We can only write about well-balanced characters.  No Fatally Flawed People!
  2. All characters must have a wholesome and fulfilling home life, with perfect parents.
  3. Everyone must be a winner, and nobody can be unattractive AND a bad person.
  4. No seducing anybody, male or female, ever.  No changing your mind.
  5. Don’t match negative qualities with stereotypes, or… something…  What?

I get it, writers are trying to help other writers.  I’m trying to pass along helpful tips, too.  But the sheer audacity to feel you can write down a set of rules to control what can or cannot be written about stuns and infuriates me. I will use anything and everything I need to tell the story.  If I get it wrong and readers don’t like it, fine.  I will dig my hole with my own damn shovel, not a borrowed one.

It is the suggestions about sexual assault and rape that really ball up my fists.  There are some very uncomfortable truths about these topics.  Yes, male rape exists.  No, you shouldn’t include rape in the story to make a character more interesting.  Seduction exists.  Changing your mind isn’t rape.  Men and women have the right to change their mind about a situation.  Someone can go from dislike or nervous trepidation to accepting sexual advances without losing consent, and can also reverse that decision.  Consent isn’t a fixed point.

But to suggest that no one should ever write about sexual situations that aren’t 100% consensual to all parties is ridiculous and unrealistic.  Yes, consent and rape are controversial subjects, but to silence writers and other storytellers is sweeping the subject under the rug.  As a writer and a survivor of rape, I Will Not Be Silenced! I will use the emotions, unflinchingly, to tell a story.  You live through it, or you die inside.  You can get professional or spiritual help, but it is the internal self that makes that decision.  Being told I can’t write about all of my experiences, whether in fiction or blogging, is my trigger.

Heart pounding, muscles tensed, skin tingling as my senses expand.  Weight shifting to my toes, ready to fight or take flight.  Hands clenched next to a keyboard as I read a damn article.  On a computer.  In my home.  That is what a f**king trigger is like.  It’s a visceral reaction I found–oddly enough–reading words meant to silence me, not words in some novel (with or without a trigger warning).

Trigger warnings are a nice idea, but unrealistic.  You can’t bubble wrap the world.  You learn to survive, just like with any other type of abuse.  You learn to cope.  To thrive.  In my case, to write.

I guess it’s not too surprising that my plots tend towards Romance (and because I don’t look away from the relationship once it ends up in a bedroom, shifts over to Erotica).  The edges of consent and seduction fascinate me.  The negotiation of ego verses vulnerability, and who you choose, and why.  Who pulls at you, opening your soul, giving you a safe place to simply exist?  Who becomes your bedrock, a stable place to stand and face the world?

Do I think surprise kisses are bad?  NO!  Look, if you misread a situation and go all “50 Shades” in an elevator, you deserve the sexual assault charges.  Attraction doesn’t happen in a vacuum.  Consent can be implied through action and reaction.  We are past the formal courtship rituals of bygone eras, and you don’t have to ask for permission and have a clearly stated “Yes” for every level of contact.  Body language exists, learn it.

All first contact, like a touch on the hand, is a risk.  Both the chance for outright rejection, and the chance for pushing a line too far because you misread the situation.  If no one ever took that risk, there will be a lot less love, happiness, and children in the world.  You might as well supply your genetic sample to a computer and let it make the next generation in sterile laboratories.  Personally, I don’t want to live in a world without good surprise kisses, even at the risk of bad surprise kisses.

Life isn’t sanitized for your protection.  Live, laugh, and get messy.  I hope you receive at least one steamy, decadent, toe-curling surprise kiss in your lifetime.  It is well worth the risks.

“What if?” Genre and the Storyteller

“What if?”

“What if dragons existed?”  If you are a writer, you have probably written Fantasy.  “What if we could genetically engineer dragons?” Now you’re edging to Sci-Fi.  “What if someone was secretly making dragons?” Sounds like a Mystery.  “What if they killed to protect that secret?” Ok, a Murder Mystery. “What if that dragon was also part human?”  Paranormal.  “What if the chip implanted in the dragon’s brain controlled the change?” Cyberpunk.  “What if it was funny how it was always the worst timing?”  Humor.  “What if I fell in love with that dragon-human?”  Romance.  “What if the sex was…”  Ok, now were looking at Erotica.  (Somehow, I always end up there.)

“What if?”  The great question every writer has the urge to answer.  I think most people have that question on their mind at times, but it is the storyteller who picks at it, explores it, turns it inside out and upside down. The medium may change; keyboard, paintbrush, instrument, or something completely different.  My current medium is words, and I am still learning the feel of them.  What words will help the reader understand the questions I am asking.

“What if?” is the question.  The only question.  Genre is just the flavoring; an easy handle to sort it, and to quickly find potential readers.  Genre is slippery, and constantly changing, from moment to moment, and person to person.  The words to describe stories have changed their meaning.  You can look them up in the Dictionary (and I have), but the battle to define genres is hot and messy and confusing.  Sub-genres have bread more sub-genres, like bacteria dividing. (How does that song go?)

“What if?” is the catalyst.  The Hero never leaves home without it.  It is the constant companion.  It is the writer’s companion, too.  The part of the mind that can’t resist banging things together to see what happens.  Did you make a hole, a mess, an ending?  Or did you make something new: an idea, an element, or start a brand new person?  “What if it was both?”  The results can be unexpected.  Proceed at your own risk.

“What if?” I could express my worldview in my writing?  It’s joys and sorrows, pain and pleasure, hope and despair.

“What if?”

Do’s and Dont’s of Writing Spell Casting Scenes

Nobody writes graphic descriptions in their spell casting scenes, and if you do you will look like a big stupid head.  Here’s an arbitrary list of rules; if you don’t pay attention your book will suck, you will suck, and you will get an award for Sucky Writing.

  1. Don’t be graphic.  Don’t use words like rod, staff or wand, or how it sparkles and vibrates.  It’s tacky, and we know you have that thing helping you make magic. Everybody has one.
  2. Don’t talk about the mechanics of magic.  We all know it’s swish and flick. Don’t go describing it.
  3. Don’t describe the results.  Don’t tell us how the character fell to the ground afterwards, gasping for breath, exhausted from expending so much energy.  Or how they are buzzed from the residue of making magic; it’s icky.
  4. Don’t focus on the magical act.  Tell me about the smell of dog across the street, or the way the light makes a pattern on the wall.
  5. Less is more.  You must make your reader struggle to understand that a magic spell is being cast, or what is the point of writing?  How else are you going to trick them into re-reading your wonderful words?

Does this look familiar?  Despite the excessive level of snark, it’s pretty close to the articles that keep crossing my Facebook and Twitter feed.  If you haven’t already figured it out, I’m tired of the “How to Write Sex Scenes” articles regurgitating the same tips.  Why do so many different article writers use the same phrases over and over?  Is there some master article that they are all paraphrasing?  Do you get paid a bonus if you re-write and re-post these sex scene shaming tips?

Why aren’t there just as many articles about how to properly write a spell casting scene, or a fight scene, or any other specific type of scene.  I don’t know how many badly written fistfights I’ve glossed over because it’s a list of moves, and not putting me in the moment.  However, I don’t decide the writer is worthless based on that scene.

Can’t we–as writers–judge for ourselves if we are using the right tone for our stories?  As a culture, we are trying to be more openminded about sexuality and gender.  Can’t our characters reflect that, unafraid to express their sexuality, or must they all be stuck in the morals of a past century?

I also have a real pet peeve about how sentences are excised from books, then held up as bad writing for all to see.  What about context?  Maybe it’s a bit purple, but was it a natural progression in the story?  What is purple for one book could be fine for the next, and too weak for the following book.  What one reader thinks is too purple could be acceptable for the next person.

I understand that a lot of people may not like my writing style, but I’m a proud member of the Order of the Occult Hand (although they haven’t told me what the current phrase is, the Bastards).  Euphuisms–and even clichés–are your friends, because they evoke an immediate reaction.

Sex can be a lot of things, good and bad.  Sometimes it makes you hyper-focused or feel your existence is exploding into everything.  Sometimes it’s badly awkward or happening for all the wrong reasons.  Sometimes it’s so intimate that you feel as if you are inside your partner’s soul.  I reserve the right to tell the story the way it wants to be told.  You reserve the right to not read it.

 

 

 

Genre in Fiction: A Writer’s Search for Clarity

Genre is on my mind a lot lately.  I have to make some hard decisions about my manuscript, and decide what path to take in the revision.  The decisions I make now will directly affect the promotion of the book when it is ready to self-publish.  I have to choose carefully so my  future readers will be able to find me, and so I don’t give potential readers the wrong impression about my book.  Lets take a walk through my mind…

Some genres have to do with the setting, like Science Fiction, Fantasy, Modern, and Historical.  Add the more recent sub-genres like Alternative History, Dystopian Future, Paranormal, Steampunk, Cyberpunk, & and you end up with a place for the story to take place.

Other genres have to do with the plot, like Mystery, Romance, Horror, and Adventure.  These can be subdivided into other genres like Crime or Epic, although Epic could have more to do with length than plot. This is the path the story takes, and each genre has certain expectations placed on it by the readers.

Still other genres seem to be about the voice or tone of the story, like Literary, Young Adult, or Erotica.  There are also descriptors that are less of a genre and more of a flavor, like Gritty, Hard, Military, Sport, Steamy, Cozy, or Warm Hearted.

These lists are by no means complete, just off the top of my head and hopefully enough for you to get my point.  Humans like to slot things into categories, but the single word genre is often woefully inadequate to describe most books.  So we play mix and match, and get things like Cozy Mystery, Paranormal Romance, and Young Adult Fantasy.  But we also get Gritty Fantasy, Steampunk Romance, and Literary Adventure; which could work, or be a total disaster, depending on the writer, and the reader.  (Has anyone tried Cozy Horror?)

My opinion of my own manuscript’s genre has shifted as I’ve written it, from Science Fiction Romance to Erotic Science Fiction Romance, simply because I can’t seem to ‘look’ away from the sex scenes.  It interests me, how the two characters navigate a new relationship, including the time they spend in bed, whether it’s talking, making love, exploring some aspect of their sexuality, or contrasting the way that their cultures and species are different.  They spend time outside of bed, of course.  They both have friends, family, and jobs.

To get a better handle on the expectations of the readers of Erotica, so I could mesh it with the other genres I’m using, I did research.  What I found was a lot of people equating Erotica with porn. I keep hearing “Erotica doesn’t need a plot,” or “Erotica is just sex,” or “I don’t read Erotica, it’s trash.”  And a lot of handcuffs, but not enough feathers.  I’ve been very confused, since I didn’t realize there was such a negative perception to the word Erotic.

Maybe it’s just me, but I thought erotic meant engaging the senses related to romantic desire and sexual love.  That’s what the dictionary says. I read things in most books that I consider erotic.  The description of a first kiss, depending on the author, could be erotic, along with the feeling of lying on a blanket with your love interest while stargazing.

So I look down at my 179,194 word manuscript, trying to figure out if I can cut the sex scenes, and revise the character arcs into less racy words, but that…

Makes me want to chunk the whole thing in the trash and go back into fiber arts.

I haven’t yet, but I’ve come close.  Then I look over at the notebooks full of my other stories, waiting their turn to be developed.  They have themes and words in common with my current project.  If I take out the intimacy, I lose interest in telling the story.  This issue isn’t going to go away for me, unless I give up on crafting stories out of words.  I don’t want to give up.  Writing has become my choice of hobby, vice, and meditation.

So, I’m back to figuring out my genre.  Steamy would be misleading about the graphic words I use.  Is there such a thing as Cozy Erotica, or Spiritual Erotica? Am I really going to try to market under “Warm Hearted Hard Core Erotica Science Fiction Romance”?  Shall I add “Strong Female Lead”? How about “Don’t Read This Because It’s Confusing and Mislabled”.

That Damn trash can is laughing at me.

Climbing the Next Step

I handed off my first manuscript to my first round of beta readers.  It was a leap of faith in myself, that I could someday tell a story well enough to publish it.  I’m not saying it was exactly like leaving the house without my infant for the first time, putting her care totally in hands other than mine, but it was.  I’m trying to not worry.  I worry.

I simply can’t afford an editor, and the time and money to find the right one (who will actually improve my work) aren’t resources I have at this point in my writing career.  So I educate myself as much as possible, learn the tools in the word program, and rely on a circle of close friends who also read/write.  They will guide me up the next step toward self-publishing.

Self-editing had become a round of avoiding the manuscript, not writing other projects because I was using my limited writing time to edit, and editing grammar in scenes I wasn’t sure should BE in the manuscript.  To re use the over used metaphor; I could see the forest, loved the trees, but suspected some of those trees need the axe.  I called in the beta-lumberjacks, because they’re ok.  Even if they wear suspenders and a bra.

I could see the non-vicious circle of self-editing becoming a comfortable home, and how so many writers live there.  Endlessly picking and adjusting, never showing their work to another person because “It’s not ready.”  I have new respect for the writers who have overcome that fear, and more empathy for those who haven’t (yet) taken that step.

To help distract myself from the counterproductive editing, I managed to pick up one of my other projects, and I’m trying to get it into the shape of a rough draft.  The feel of applying pen to paper, gliding across in loops and squiggles, is a productive effort and hugely creative.  Daily word count is so much more self-affirming. I remember this joy.

It’s crap.  But it’s glorious, visceral, and colorful crap.  Crap that can be useable, once refined.  This time, the estimated word count is manageable, something that could make the rounds for small publishers.  It’s also vampires.  Simultaneously popular AND overdone, but the story wants what it wants.  <shrug>  So, we make it fun, sexy vampire romance crap, rolling in modern cultural jokes and stereotypes, while picking apart the legends and applying science like a halogen lamp.

And my search history gets weirder…