Outside Eyes

Thursday, July 22, 2010

5 Chiming In
I think it's very easy to underestimate the importance of fresh eyes when you're writing, and I don't mean giving yourself a break and coming back to a set-aside project. I mean getting an outside opinion. Yes, beta readers can do this well, but I've also discovered that having someone read a section of an in-progress story has its own merits.

Yesterday, I got some feedback from a contest entry on one of my WIP. (Yes, the one that should have been finished 3 weeks ago. Life gets in the way of art sometimes, as do migraines./whinge.)
Most of the things the person who read it pointed out were *face/palm* moments, and thankfully, most of them I'd already caught, so I'm not a total loser. (I will, grudgingly admit to having missed some spell-check proof mispellings... GRRR.)

The thing that this person's insight did, was pinpoint something that was inherently wrong with a particular scene. It was something I couldn't find, no matter how many times I read it, even though I knew there was something slightly off with the presentation.

I tried fiddling with word choice and tone, but I liked those they way they were. I added dialogue, but that didn't help the awkwardness of the situation. It did help the characterization, so it stayed, but I was no closer to figuring out what I'd screwed up.

Then BINGO. The person who gave me feedback pounced on it straight off. There was a component of the scene itself that made absolutely no sense given the world building. I had a secure bunker (like a fallout shelter) without running water (for a reason). That worked, but the fact that none of the adults had ever thought to stock it with supplies didn't. THAT was the thing I snagging myself on. Everything, everywhere else, was so carefully planned and plotted that finding these kids in a bunker with no food or water (One night only, don't flay me.) was totally out of character for the entire cast of characters.

I probably would have sat in front of my computer for another month before figuring that out on my own.

When we read our own work, we often read intent. Others read results. If you want to better your results, then you're probably going to have to let go of your "baby" and send him to the sitter for a few days.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go break into a secure bunker and drop some cookies and juice boxes for the munchkins.


Monday, July 19, 2010

6 Chiming In
Why yes I did use the "F" word...

Okay, so I know not everyone is familiar with fanfiction. I wasn't until a couple of years ago. Basically, fanfiction is when people who like a particular book, TV-show, movie, etc. make up their own stories using an established universe and its characters.

If you've never read a piece of fanfiction, try taking ten minutes to look at a site like Fanfiction.net for a better idea of how it works. (You'll also get a better idea of how the slushpile looks, btw, because while there are some terrific pieces out there, most of it's garbage with a capital trash.)

Technically a no-no (darn copyright!), it's generally a don't ask/don't tell situation because if the copyright holders were to shut down the fanficcers (<--- Yes, it's a word. Dictionaries don't know everything.), they risk alienating their hardcore fans.

The point of this post isn't to vilify or praise people who write fiction based off other people's work, but more a matter of curiosity to see others' opinions of the practice.

Before I go any further, I'm going to point out - again - that, yes, I've written fanfic. It was for a couple of TV shows I won't mention, and it was fairly popular given the size of the fandoms. (Neither show went more than a season, so they were small fandoms.)

Don't confuse fanfic with licensed tie-in novels for things like Star Wars or Star Trek. Those are professional books that have the permission of the rights holders. They're edited and must adhere to canon.

In a legal sense, it's not even the same as those "mash-up" novels like Pride and Prejudice... and Zombies. The book used in that case was in the public domain, and once again, it was edited.

Fanfic is no holds barred, mix n' match, alternate universe, fix everything you hated about the original story-telling that can be done by anyone old enough to type.

Don't like the fact that an author killed off your favorite character? Fine. Change it.

Think the MC would be better of with another partner? The best friend? The gay friend? Yourself? Have at it (though, self-insert stories are pretty much a joke...)

Absolutely love a minor character with no backstory? Write one for him!

Hate the fact that your favorite show got canceled? Organize a "virtual" season!

That's the essence of fanfic.

You can't sell it because it can't legally be published for profit. And it's very rarely edited. It's also highly addictive because of the almost instantaneous response and the fact that even some of the worst (as in obviously written by 12 year olds with a crush on the actors portraying the characters) pieces out there get praised and encouraged.

Then there's the other side of it.

Everyone who writes fanfiction does so without the permission of the original creator. For most, it's meant as a tribute to characters they liked so much they wanted to keep alive. They at least try to keep them in character as the author wrote them, and as strange as it may sound, most ficcers I know would immediately remove anything they wrote if the original authors asked them to.

My experience is a little different in that it's TV-fic, so there's not one creative person in charge of the whole thing. It's already a joint effort, and in this case, the people involved read and enjoyed the fans' pieces. They even incorporated several of them into the series finale, which was cool.

With a novel, however, you're in a playground built and maintained by one person. They alone know the motivations that never make the page, and they alone know where they want each character to end up. I see a definite difference in the two kinds of fanfic.

I can also sympathize with authors who cringe at the sight of their beloved characters going against type. Way back when, one of my "babies" (okay, so he was a 6"6' Russian, bear of a baby who was more of a brick wall, but that's not the point) that I used in many stories (a character of my own creation, not something from canon) was seized upon by several other writers, declared "fanon", and therefore fair game. He promptly became a pod-person; I hardly recognized him.

The biggest chunk of fanfic is like that. The characters don't play by the original authors' rules. They either don't "sound" right, or they start staring in porn-style stories with no plot other than "One day Hero and Heroine wondered what would happen if they...."

Granted, most writers know better than to read fanfic based on their stuff, but still. It's weird.

I guess I've rambled long enough, so what's your take? Would you be flattered by fanfic of your novel? Horrified? Angry?

Where do you stand?

A Story on The Alchemy of Writing

Thursday, July 15, 2010

5 Chiming In
Over on Bryan Russell (Ink)'s blog, he posts 500-word short stories submitted by readers. Today he's posted one of mine. It's neither YA nor fantasy, but something a little different. A little quiet, a little melancholy, and hopefully something to make you think.

Here's the LINK


Accidental Synchronization

Saturday, July 10, 2010

7 Chiming In
Have you ever been driving along with a great song on the radio and suddenly, you look around, and everyone seems to be moving to the beat? The guy in the car ahead of you bobs his head in time to your music, the windshield wipers (if it's raining) swish to the beat, random jogging man or chattering tweens in a cluster shuffle their feet like you've just walked into a musical and queued up a spontaneous choreographed dance number.

You know there's no way it's on purpose, but for that one moment, everything and everyone is in synch.

I've found that the same thing seems to happen with writing.

Remember being in High School English and the teacher would drag out whatever classic served as the week's focus? He/she would start in on the symbolism and foreshadowing and all that stuff that made your eyes glaze over because you knew someone had already written it down in the Cliff's or Spark notes, and a droning voice would fade to the background of your own mind which was screaming "they're making this up!" or "It's a shoe! A friggin' shoe! You put it on your feet and all it means is that your feet don't get cold!"

No offense to the educators out there, but the longer I work at finishing a solid WIP, the more I'm coming to realize that the little voices were probably closer to right.

Sometimes things just work. That's it. They fall into place like windshield wipers snapping to the beat of a song it can't hear. Maybe it's subliminal planning, or maybe it's coincidence, but it happens. You'll write something down and, upon editing, realize that it dovetails seamlessly with something you wrote a hundred pages earlier and forgot about.

Your MC has a skill that he's playing around with in one chapter, and come the climax, it's saving his life. Anyone who reads it after the fact is thinking you did it on purpose, but you'd forgotten when you put a throwing knife in Hero Goodguy's hand that he was playing around with a penknife to show off in front of Beautiful Damselgirl in the second chapter.

Someone drops dead, and you forgot the first time they appeared in the story they had a stomach ache... well, of course they died of appendicitis... planned it all the time... (and you'll never prove otherwise.)

The convenient need for an opening location instills your character with knowledge he needs later, but it wasn't planned that way. (Like having a kid take Karate lessons or gymnastics that give them an upper hand later, or maybe they're Quizbowl geeks who learn arcane facts that save their life in the end.)

This happened to me the other day when I was writing a scene with a background character who is the sibling of the main character. I couldn't remember his name, but I didn't want to stop and look it up because I'd loose momentum, so I gave him a placeholder name and figured I'd change it later. Then I started to like the placeholder, and decided that if the original name was so great, I wouldn't have forgotten it, so I'd just change it to the placeholder... only, when I looked it up, the placeholder WAS the original name.

It makes me wonder how many times "classic" authors did the same thing. They used a place or an object, not because it was intended to have some deeper meaning, but because it was convenient or simply the first thing they thought of. I also wonder how they'd react to all the story analysis devoted to their works.

Editing vs. Changing Voice

Monday, July 5, 2010

11 Chiming In
I think anyone who's ever written any kind of serious piece knows that editing is hard, irritating, infuriating, &#(*&%*&#ing, etc.

I'm pretty sure, too that more than a few of us have "over-edited" sections so that they're polished to the point you buffed off the luster or the voice has been reduced to a monotonous drone.

So where do you draw the line?

Another way to look at this is to find a novel (preferably one that's popular and you don't like yourself), take part of a chapter and edit it as though it were something of your own. Now compare the voice of your version to the original and see if you can figure out what makes it different.

Is it word choice? Sentence structure? Or do you impart something into the characters 0r plot that you thought was missing in the original?

I've done this, and decided that I can't turn off my internal editor... it's ruining what could be fun reads. A number of books lately qualify as what I'd call "good story/bad writing".

What it amounts to is a writer version of back-seat driving.

When you read a commercial novel, no matter what you think of it, the novel's been edited. Someone's gone line-by-line and found the mistakes and an enormous amount of time and effort to make it the best it can be while preserving the author/character voice.

When you read a book with an eye for enjoyment, that's enough of a polish to make the ride smooth. But, when you read it with a critical eye (this is worse when in "edit" mode on your own WIP), all that registers is a bunch of jerks and stops as the story snags on things you might not think have any business in a published book. It makes it difficult to enjoy the ride.

I've come to the conclusion that voice is like a Jenga tower.

One or two changes can leave you with an edge-of-your-seat, interesting formation with unexpected gaps to give it character. Change too many things, and the whole thing falls apart and isn't any good to anyone.

Hopefully that made sense. Editing's sort of fried me.