Bad lessons my brain teaches me

My brain is determined to teach me bad lessons about my body.

Last night, I had a caffeinated beverage at about 7.  I don’t usually, but I decided to risk it cuz I’ve been pretty tired lately, and I was at my writing group.  So, I didn’t end up leaving until after 11, and then had an hour-long drive home.  I put on some nice classical music* and set to pondering stories, both my own and those of my friends.  By the time I reached 92, I’d completely reworked the (new) beginning of my story so that it will be much more dramatical.  It was a totally visual experience, I could see all of the scenes that need to happen.  Once I can see them, they’re usually right–though my ability to transcribe them onto paper is often imperfect.  Then I had to pay attention to driving, because it was nearly midnight and very foggy and 92 is twisty.  When I got home I scribbled for another hour, completely wide awake and buzzing, totally jazzed about making my vampire more creepy and my MC’s problems more troubling.  (And I may have figured out a theme.)

Finally I went to bed, and as I tried to fall asleep, I figured out what will make the climactic scene with the new MC unique from the last version–and more powerful, I think**.

So apparently being tired and drinking caffeine when I should be winding at the end of the day is the right way to get breakthroughs.  Just as I’ve been fearing.  That needs a warning label with it: WARNING: USE DRASTIC MEASURES ONLY WHEN ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY, AS IT CAN CAUSE SLEEPINESS, POOR PERFORMANCE AT WORK, AND ALL OF YOUR FRIENDS AND ACQUAINTANCES TO CONCLUDE YOU ARE IRRESPONSIBLE OR DON’T LOVE THEM.  Or maybe it needs indications. USE ONLY AS DIRECTED. USE ONLY AS MUCH AS NECESSARY.  DO NOT USE MORE THAN ONCE EVERY 6 HOURS, AS IT CAN LEAD TO INTERNAL BLEEDING AND HALLUCINATIONS.  DO NOT OPERATE HEAVY MACHINERY [sic] WHILE USING DRASTIC MEASURES LIKE SLEEP DEP AND STARVATION TO INDUCE CREATIVITY.

Yeah.  Or as Ben said when I described the effect this morning–“Oh, you’re an artist.”  :-/

* Ax, Stoltzman, Ma : Brahms, Beethoven, Mozart : Trios for Piano, Clarinet, & Cello, which is currently one of my favorites.

** One of the nice things about not sharing the first draft^ with anyone is that no one will be able to gainsay me about whether the second draft is actually better than the first.  They’ll have to take it on its own merits.  :)

^ Or at least the ending of the first draft–I realize I did share a lot of the beginning with my writing group.  Fortunately, when I shared the new beginning with the group last night (not the one I re-envisioned while driving home, the first version of the new beginning with the new MC), everyone agreed the MC has a personality.  Yay for small victories!  Yay for main characters who aren’t wet blankets!

Welcome to Summer, and Second Draft-y

It’s a beautiful day!  Summer (sic) has finally arrived in Half Moon Bay!  The sun is warm, the breeze is mild, and I’m not leaving to go to work today!

Ben made a vegetarian chili last night, which I had for lunch today.  Om nom nom.  My favoritest co-worker ever brought me kefir* grains** this week, and I’ve started making kefir.  I put a few spoonsful on top of the chili, just like it was yogurt or sour cream or, you know, kefir, and I ate it, and it was delicious.  Mmm.

The other thing I did today was that I finally started the second draft of my vampire story, with a completely new main character.  I’ve been putting it off for weeks (since my last post), because I don’t really want to re-write the whole damn story.  But!  It worked out pretty well today, sitting outside in the sun (mmm, warm), I managed to see the first scene, and then I started writing.  It just kinda flowed.  The new MC has a voice, which the last one didn’t, and I’m unreasonably amused by her.  (Which makes me fear no one else will find her amusing… but that’s what third drafts are for!)  I think I wrote about 1000 words*** today, and felt much better about it than I would’ve about rewriting 1000 words of the first draft.

(Incidentally, 1000 words is about a fifth of the rough draft–which doesn’t seem likely for this second draft, because I’ve only just gotten to the point where the first draft “started” [after I hacked off the initial two scenes that sucked† and therefore weren’t counted].)

And yesterday I looked up who Mandelbrot was, and decided that I like him quite well as a namesake for my MC.  Who’s a girl.  I dunno, the name popped into my head, that she’s called Mandy, and it’s short for Mandelbrot.  And I couldn’t remember who Mandelbrot really was, so I was afraid he was a serial killer or something.  But no, he’s the guy who discovered fractals, which works for me, though I haven’t figured out why her parents picked it.

* It’s like yogurt, only runnier and different.  This morning’s batch was solid and wobbly just like yogurt would be, though it fell apart when I transferred it to a different container.

** Kefir, you see, is also a bacterial growth, just like yogurt, but the bacteria grow these gel-like modules around them, which are called grains.  It’s really strange, and looks a little like cottage cheese, and you strain them out before drinking the kefir (though you don’t have to), and then put them in a new container with new milk, and they keep growing.  Yum.  I’ll have to report more about this as I continue experimenting.

*** One of the troubles with writing long-hand is that you can’t give an actual number, without doing something dumb like counting.  Computers count for you.  Someday, maybe I’ll learn how to compose directly into a computer.  My recollection is that I usually fit about 150 words into a page of my notebooks, and I filled 6 pages.  But I seem to recall that sometimes the number was more like 200 or 250, and I don’t remember if that was in a different shape of notebook, or if it really varies that much depending on how big my words are.

† Ok, they didn’t so much suck as just not have a place in the story.  I did keep them, because some of the description was relevant.

A rough draft!

I now* declare the first draft of my vampire story to be complete!

I wrote an ending** and I printed it out–20 pages, double-spaced.  Very exciting!  And then I had to reprint parts of it, because the printer ran out of ink and was printing too faintly.  *sigh*

There’s a lot left to fix.  There’s one scene that needs to be rewritten, because the wrong things happen in it, and I didn’t figure that out until after I wrote it.  And all of the other scenes need things that I haven’t identified yet.

In fact, there are several things about this story that aren’t quite right, aside from basic prose.  The main character is about as interesting as a cardboard box***, and I can’t figure out how to fix her.  The situation is really interesting, but on some level it could be happening to anyone.  So why her?  The setting–a high-tech future hospital–is relevant and important, I know it.  But I haven’t figured out how.  Or rather, I haven’t figured out how to emphasize it.

So today at the gas station I had a thought–what if the MC is just in the wrong position?  She’s flat and dull because she’s not where she needs to be… or maybe she’s just not the MC.  I have an idea for someone in a better role to be the MC.  But of course, that would mean rewriting quite a lot of it.  Possibly all of it.  If she ends up having a personality that would be a really good thing.  But… rewriting the whole story, from a whole new perspective. :-/  That sounds more complicated than my last crazy idea.

I’m going to sleep on it, and see what I think tomorrow.

* Ok, I actually declared it last weekend.  I’m a little slow.

** I didn’t end up adding in the complications I was thinking of in my last post.  They didn’t make sense after all, and I decided to simplify and just finish the damn thing.  Also, I’m pretty certain it’s not the ending.  But … it’s better than no ending.

*** A friend in my writing group described her first version of a main character as having the personality of a coffee table.  Mine’s less solid than that.

Do I overcomplicate things?

Ok, my last post said half a scene from the end, and that’s true.  But I haven’t been able to write it.  I’m not convinced, somehow, and I can’t commit to picking an ending.  I’ve been struggling with the technology in my story.  It’s set in the future (sci-fi horror, you see), but the high-tech doesn’t feel like a crucial aspect of the plot.  If I could just as easily set it in the here-and-now, then there’s no point in setting it in the future.  But I’m convinced that setting it in the future is important to the story.  Therefore, my plot has been missing something, some element that could only happen in this time and place and none other.

Today I figured out how to do that, but it requires adding in a whole nother character, probably 2 more scenes, and reworking several of the others.  (But see, since I haven’t “finished” it yet, I haven’t rewritten those scenes yet, and they were going to need work anyway.  So, it wouldn’t exactly be a waste.)  But I’ve gotten rather attached to the parts of the ending that I’ve already written, and I’m afraid it wouldn’t happen quite this way with this extra plot point.  Which would mean that this great scene I wrote, that I totally love, may not make as much sense.  I might have to kill my darling*. *sniffle*

But would this plot addition overcomplicate things?  Can I accomplish the same thing–or something better–in a simpler way?  I’m also concerned that if I do add this plot point, it could change the tone pretty drastically, and by adding another character it would shift the balance of the story.

And furthermore, then I’d have to write two more scenes, and do the work to integrate that into the whole rest of the story–which isn’t very long.  This is major surgery, on a story this short.  Is it really worth it?

Maybe I’ll sleep on it, and come up with something even better tomorrow.  (“Speedy” hasn’t exactly been my name so far.  Have you noticed that it’s August already?)

* Good explanation of the phrase here: http://wendypalmer.com.au/2008/09/25/writing-rules-misapplied-kill-your-darlings/

Ending, not beginning

I’m half a scene from the end of my vampire story.  Why half?  Well, I think the rest of the story takes place right now, in the same place.  The ending should be relatively short and simple, a few paragraphs, maybe a whole page, but probably not two.

I haven’t written it yet.  I’ve been thinking about it for three weeks, since I managed to connect the chronological parts of the story up with the almost-last scene that I wrote two months ago.  (Yay! One chronological story!)

One of my goals in this story has been to end it with an ending.  Since I’m so bad at finishing things (not just stories), I figure that endings are the part of story-writing I need the most practice at.

The problem with endings is that they’re really beginnings.  “And they lived happily ever after” is the beginning of the whole rest of their lives.  I wrote a short story last year that was really a prologue to a possibly-novel-lengthed story about a human child who was stolen by fairies.  I wasn’t ready to write the novel yet, but I had this idea about the fairies taking the infant to a shop that sells wings, to have wings put on it.  The fairies want to make it seem that the child is a hybrid, not a full-human.  But the ending wasn’t satisfying–it was really the beginning of the rest of the novel.

I can’t decide how the vampire story should end.  It’s a short story, not a lot of mass to it, so there’s no one obvious direction it’s been going in for chapters.  The way it ends will determine the theme of the story.  The point.  Whatever ending I pick, it will translate into just one summarizing statement that will describe the whole story.  And I can’t decide which statement that should be.  What will be a powerful ending that won’t make the reader want to throw the story against a wall?  (For example, killing the MC* would definitely make my readers want to throw it against the wall.)  What will be the powerful ending that doesn’t obviously lead to a whole rest of the story?

To this end, I’ve limited how much back story is relevant, how many characters are involved, and the time span covered.  I’m now at the point where I know how long is left (about 10 minutes, I think), and I know several ways it can go.  I need to know which way its going before I can revise, so that I can make sure the ending feels surprising-but-inevitable… so I need to pick an ending.  No, I need to pick the ending.  The best one, which has high impact and translates into a theme that matters to me.  And doesn’t feel cheesy, or like a cheat.

And then I can call this draft done.

—-

* Main Character

Finally!

Ugh, I’ve been having serious issues figuring out what The Plan is to capture the vampire (there has to be a plan, right?).  I’ve known that whatever the plan is, I can foil it (cuz things never go according to plan, right?) and get to an interesting ending (to me, anyway).  But I couldn’t come up with any kind of plan that made sense.  Or at least one that wasn’t just completely dumb, in context.  I don’t believe in having dumb characters, so I refuse to have a dumb plan.  (Furthermore, I couldn’t break the dumb plans, they broke themselves, and generally in really useless ways.  Like, the vampire runs away and never comes back again.  Yawn.)

This problem has been sitting in the back of my mind for most of a month now, and I’d pull it out every so often and kick it around.  I tried to get Ben to brainstorm with me, but he thought my constraints were too limiting, or didn’t make sense.  (They make sense in the big picture, I swear.)  Last night I tried getting my writing group to help, but mostly they just said “watch halloween 2!”, which didn’t help me at all.

Today, I came up with a plan.  I’m not sure if it’s good, but it’s not dumb.

I think it was low blood sugar that finally jarred my brain into functioning.  I haven’t eaten much today, a piece of coffee cake, a bunch of chips and salsa, and a little bit of chocolate.  And caffeine, of course.  (Yeah, it’s nearly 6pm.  I know, I know.  You can kick me later.)  The last big breakthrough I had was in the middle of the night when I’d had too much caffeine and couldn’t sleep.  If my brain isn’t careful, it might just teach me that it functions better when I’m mean to it.

Sometime soon (when I’m not at work) I’m going to implement the plan on the page.  And sometime soon thereafter, I’m going to have a finished first draft.  Yay!!!

(You didn’t think I was going to tell you what the plan is, did you? ;) )

More Vampires!

I’ve continued writing the vampire story I started last month.  I’ve figured out how to make it a short story, I think, though of course I’ve also concluded there’s a much bigger story it fits into.  :-/  But since I never finish anything, I figure I’ll write the short story, make it the best I can, and then move on.  Either to something else, or to the next part of this story.  Whichever.

I’ve been really bad at sitting my Butt In the Chair.  I find good excuses—other things to do in the evening, too tired, home too late—but in aggregate they’re just excuses.  Today I decided I was going to sit down and finish this dranglefarbing story, so I sat down and spent several hours on it.  I decided to step back and look at the big picture.  Who are the characters, what’s important about them, how does it fit together.  Mostly these were things I knew, but I found a few important nuggets, without which I wasn’t going to have a coherent story*.  Of course, I didn’t finish it, but I deleted a scene, wrote a different one, and figured out what comes after that.  Unfortunately, now I don’t know how to get from that scene to the last scene.  :-/  I don’t expect there to be any other scenes in between so… I really need to get that figured out.

And once I’ve finished it, I have to go back and fix the beginning, which is a mishmash of PoVs and ideas because I didn’t know where the story was going yet.

And I want to get all this done by next Sunday.

* Of course, I still might not have a coherent story. ;)

Glorious day by the coast

I mean, uh, it’s horrible and cold and you wouldn’t like it.  Yeah.

Well, none of the tourists believe me, either, and all the attractions (Barbara’s Fish Trap, for example) are very crowded.

The sky is blue, the air is warm, I’m wearing a tank-top.  Ben and I went for a walk at the Point, and I took my fleecy off.  I *never* take my fleecy off while walking up there, it’s too cold.  So this, today, is one of the five beautiful days we get per year.  In a month it’ll be foggy and cold, but for now the flowers are amazing (we counted 30 different types of flower blooming in our backyard), the sun is warm, and it’s just like summer.

We had Ben’s family over for brunch today, and we had all different yummy food.  We decided to make all the food ourselves, not do a potluck, so we picked yummy simple things.  Homefries, a frittata* (gruyere, mushroom, and scallions), braised greens (chard** and kale), a fruit salad (strawberries, mango, orange, and grapefruit), a bean salad, and something Sunset Magazine calls an “apple oven cake”, which I’ve made several times now and is super yummy (butter and brown sugar, apples and a little cinnamon, with an egg/flour/milk mixture to hold it together).  It was all a big hit, but the apple stuff was the biggest hit, and was definitely the easiest to make.  :)  Oh yeah, and mimosas.  Except a bunch of us had orange juice-free mimosas, aka champagne.  Mmm, it was good.

We managed to prepare a lot of stuff last night, and get everything chopped and ready this morning, so we could just compile everything and cook it at the last minute when they were here.  The homefries took longer than we expected, and we were waiting for them to finish before starting everything else, but everything came together perfectly for us to sit down with all of the food ready (except the frittata, which was a little slow, so I guess it was only nearly-perfect).  It was so yummy.  And even though it seemed like a lot of food, everything was finished off except the homefries and bean salad. And the ingredients for a second apple oven cake.  So we’ll have those for breakfast tomorrow!

None of Ben’s family have been over since Ben finished my office, so I straightened it all up (no extra papers or boxes anywhere in sight!) and we showed it off.  It’s so nice and comfortable in there.  Everyone was very impressed with Ben’s handiwork.

Last night Ben and I thought to pull out the two of my mom’s paintings*** that I have, and we discovered that one of them looks wonderful in the room, so we’re going to hang it up.  The other is too dark (lots of black), so I think maybe I’ll trade it in for a different one, because there’s plenty of space for two on my wall.  And it’ll be nice to have Mommy art hanging in my office.  :)

Other than that… I started writing a vampire story the other day.  I don’t do vampires, but I had a title that included vampires, so it had to be about vampires.

Recently I’ve noticed that I have trouble distinguishing between “I must continue working on story x so that I’ll finish it some day” and “I must only work on story x, to the exclusion of all other stories or writing”–the latter of which is incredibly stifling to me.  And then I wonder why I don’t want to write.  So, I’m trying to ease up on myself and write whatever I want… while keeping in mind that I have Story X which I’d like to be working on if I’m so inspired.  In other words, I must write in order to write.  BIC.

* How do you spell that? Firefox doesn’t like fritata, frittata, or fritatta.  How about frittatta? No, that can’t be it.  Google + wikipedia tell me it’s frittata.

** I’ve discovered I really like braised chard, whereas kale tends to be more tough even when braised.

*** You can see her art at her website, but neither of the two I have are up there so I can’t show them to you specifically.  My mom is so prolific that the website doesn’t even contain a tenth of all of her art. If we included all of her drawings, it might not even be one percent.  So, the likelihood of me having one of those is pretty small.  :-/

† And with a new update, WordPress + LivePress will properly cross-post daggers (†) to LiveJournal, so my footnotes should go more smoothly.  Yay!

Things I want or need to do today

– Have my Muse show up with characters and a plot
– Sew Ben’s pj pants shut (long story…)
– add feedback comments to a friend’s manuscript
– blog about watching Star Wars
– go for a walk

Commitment vs. Realizing I’m Writing the Wrong Story

Is it giving up if I decide that this story that I’m telling isn’t the one I set out to write, and isn’t one that I want to write–at least not right now?

I started this story with the question: Why would a group of people (monsters, particularly) choose to remain enslaved?  And then I thought of my monster-soldiers, and Fen in particular–and then I wanted someone for contrast, someone who was enslaved but trying to escape.  Not literal slavery, but genetic slavery–I mean, she’s the daughter of the Lord of the Land, the Pater Familias*, absolute head of the household, who has the right to decide anything for anyone in the family (or in his land), up to and including ordering execution without justification.  Absolute power, over his daughter Allie, his soldier-slaves, and everyone else.  But in the society I created, this became all about arranged marriage, and how much it would suck for this one character.  To remain true to that society, Allie couldn’t become badass, at least not immediately and without extraordinarily unlikely things happening, and I want her to be badass.  I wanted her to be witty and capable, not angsty, choosing and acting.  But I’m giving her an impossible decision: accept the arranged marriage to this horrible guy, or run away and leave her younger sister to the same fate.  Or have her sister run away too, and have the whole land, their whole family, be overrun and brutally killed.  This is a dark, hard situation.  The time between the beginning of the story and the point at which she could become badass was too long, and I was getting too frustrated by her lack of action.  She’s not in a situation to have actions to make.  And the situation I started out putting her in was to be struggling against was her enslavement, not the future husband, not the attacking monster-army.  Those were incidental and extra–yet they would have to be central to the story for it to make sense.  So what story am I trying to tell?  I still want to tell that original story.

And do I really want to write a story about a woman being raped?  That was effectively where I was leading, and if she managed to escape it, it would be too pat.

So I got stuck at about 3000 words.**

And then I wrote a scene that was really dark, even darker than I’d been managing, which would’ve totally shortened the story, getting us straight into the dark and scary.  And dude, I write funny.  I’m most interesting when I’m funny.  Can I maintain a dark and scary tone?  Can I maintain a dark and scary tone while telling a story that isn’t the one I was trying to write?

I don’t think I’m just copping out… but I do feel like I’m copping out.

Last night I realized I could write a different part of the history of this world–unfortunately, also dark and dismal–this one in a place where I can just create badass women without feeling like I’m being untrue to historical accuracy or to the society I’ve established.  I know the ending of this story–it leads directly into the world of Allie & Fen–but I don’t know the beginning or the middle, and I don’t know who is involved.  I don’t know what happens, but I know where they end up.  I don’t think I’ve ever begun a story already knowing the ending.

I don’t even have any characters yet, or societies, or settings, and I haven’t really decided if it’s sci fi or fantasy.  Right now I’m leaning towards sci fi, because it feels more exciting with that tone, and anything that excites me is more likely to lead to an exciting story.  :)

How I feel today: “A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people” -T. Mann — quoted by Laura Anne Gilman (http://twitter.com/LAGilman/status/9394628190)

—-

* This is a Latin phrase from Ancient Rome^.  Wikipedia says this:

The pater familias (plural: patres familias) was the head of a Roman family. The term is Latin for “father of the family” or the “owner of the family estate”. The form is irregular and archaic in Latin, preserving the old genitive ending in -as (see Latin declension). The pater familias was always a Roman citizen.

Roman law and tradition (mos maiorum) established the power of the pater familias within the community of his own extended familia. He held legal privilege over the property of the familia, and varying levels of authority over his dependents: these included his wife and children, certain other relatives through blood or adoption, clients, freedmen and slaves. The same mos maiorum moderated his authority and determined his responsibilities to his own familia and to the broader community. He had a duty to father and raise healthy children as future citizens of Rome, to maintain the moral propriety and well-being of his household, to honour his clan and ancestral gods and to dutifully participate – and if possible, serve – in Rome’s political, religious and social life. In effect, the pater familias was expected to be a good citizen. In theory at least, he held powers of life and death over every member of his extended familia through ancient right but in practice, the extreme form of this right was seldom exercised. It was eventually limited by law.

My Pater Familias seldom uses his powers of death, either, but … he could.  And marriage?  Marriage is definitely controlled by him.  Usually arranged for political reasons, which was true for powerful men throughout much of European history and many (most?) other cultures in this world, too.

^ Studying Latin and history extensively give me all kinds of useful concepts to draw on.  Some more depressing than others…

** “So” implies causation, and I don’t know that this is actually the cause.  Here is the root of my concern.  Did I get stuck because I’m telling the wrong story, or did I get stuck because it’s hard and I don’t want to work this hard?  Or worse, did I get stuck because I committed to finishing this story, and committing makes me not want to work on the story anymore?