Thursday, March 31, 2011

And On To The Next...

I've now finished the rough draft of Maradaine Constabulary, and I've given that out to my critique group.  Thorn of Dentonhill and Holver Alley Crew are both out shopping.  I won't be making changes to either of them in the immediate future, not until I'm given cause (i.e., an agent requests rewrites, or no agents request anything, meaning I need to give them another look-over.)

So, that means I've got nothing to do right now, right?

Not hardly.

It means it's time to develop new projects!

Last year, I was at a writer's workshop where one of the teachers indicated that you should never have only one pan in the fire.  You can't build a career if you can only write one book and then nothing.  He said something like, "I know someone isn't going to make it if I ask them, 'What are you writing next?  And after that?  And after that?' and get blank stares."

Here, I'm not lacking.

Most likely, the next project is going to be Vanguard, the first book of what would be the fourth branch series of Heroes of Maradaine.  (In other words, I have with ToD, MC and HAC three potential "Book 1 in a series" books, all set in the same city and happening at roughly the same time, and Vanguard would be the fourth of that set of serieses.)

However, my ideas for my Space Opera setting (2373-verse, for now) have been buzzing.  I actually just had an epiphany today why U.S.S. Banshee was inherently flawed, and thus each attempt to write it fizzled into nothing.  Fixing said flaw involves scrapping much of the core idea and starting over, BUT I think there is something stronger at the core which will prove interesting.  Plus I have another idea in the same setting that is flowering into a full on story.

Finally, I have two project ideas that are, really, in their infant stages.  For now I'll just call them Untitled YA Project and Untitled Heroine Project.  Both of which, right now, are little more than characters, some setting and over-arching concepts.  Neither has a story yet.  Seeds that still have to germinate.

This is a long-winded way of saying that I've got enough to keep me busy for the month of April while my group reads Maradaine Constabulary

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Perils of Subgenre

I'm going ask an honest question: is subgenre as important in any other genres as it is in fantasy and science-fiction?  I mean, I really don't know how, say, mystery or horror is broken up, and if there is a significant difference in how supernatural horror is treated over real-world serial-killer kind of horror.  Or are those thrillers?  See, I just don't know.

My main problem with subgenre is trying to figure out where my work fits, exactly.  My sci-fi stuff isn't much of a problem, of course.  It's more or less Space Opera.  Sci-fi subgenre classification is pretty clean, especially since there's "New Weird" as a nice catch-between-the-cracks solution.  Though if someone out there has a sci-fi work that they have trouble classifying, I'd be intrigued to hear it.

Fantasy, however, isn't clean.  Especially since there are agents who differentiate which subgenres they will and won't represent.  I guess I'm just not clear on where lines are, and where I fall on the map.

Urban Fantasy?  I lean towards saying that my various Heroes of Maradaine books (Thorn of Dentonhill, Holver Alley Crew and Maradaine Constabulary) are Urban Fantasy.  Maradaine is a city, after all.  It's not, however, a city in our world, like New York or Chicago, and it's certainly not a version of one our cities where magic is real (and a poorly-kept secret, most of the time). 

Epic Fantasy?  I don't think it's "epic", not in the sense of scope or scale.  There's no riding from country to country.  There's no armies fighting each other.  Nations do not fall. 

"Traditional" Fantasy?  What does that even mean?  I'm not entirely sure.  I have no dragons or elves or trolls or vampires or other such trappings, if those are what make fantasy "traditional".  But I'm not even sure that's what it means.

Dark Fantasy?  I'm not sure what this is, exactly, but I know I'm not really here either.  Again, no vampires, no werewolves, no deep brooding, no tragic antiheroes.  Well, a little dark brooding.  And Holver Alley Crew has something of a tragic antihero. 

I've been taking to saying that, in terms of subgenre, what I write is similar to Scott Lynch or Amanda Downum, and hope that gives people an idea of what I'm doing.  Is that completely accurate?  I'm not entirely sure.  But for now, it'll do.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Blatant Plug for Forgetting Finnegan

ScriptWorks presents OUT OF INK: Forgetting Finnegan, the 13th annual showcase of 10 minute plays

April 7-9 and April 14-16 at 8 PM
Salvage Vanguard Theatre, 2803 Manor Rd.
$12 general admission, $10 students/seniors/ScriptWorks
April 7th is a Pay-What-You-Wish preview


We all know time flies when you're having fun. It flies especially quickly when that fun is writing a ten-minute play in 48 hours. That is the task ScriptWorks members were charged with during the Weekend Fling writing retreat. And if that isn't challenge enough, they had to also incorporate three random ingredients into their mini opuses.

This year's ingredients were:

1. The dialogue must include passages from the end and the beginning of Finnegan's Wake by James Joyce.
2. The play must include a ceremony of forgetting.
3. Time is running out.

At the end of the Fling, the plays were read in a ScriptWorks Salon at the State Theater. A selection committee picked eight of the plays to produce in the Out of Ink Festival. The selection committee included director Debbie Lynn Carriger, actor Jason Phelps, and Texas A&M - Corpus Christi theatre professor, Alison Frost. The selected plays handle those ingredients in various ways including scientists dealing with a shrinking world, a young woman getting married to forget her past, and a surprise encounter with Albert Einstein.

The Forgetting Finnegan scripts were written by:
Lowell Bartholomee, Devo Carpenter, Amparo Garcia-Crow, Max Langert, Marshall Ryan Maresca, Susan McMath Platt, Sarah Saltwick and Hank Schwemmer. The plays will be performed by an ensemble of actors including Michelle Brandt, Victoria Eisele, Sharon Elmore, Rhonda Kulhanek, Christopher Loveless, Jose Marenco, Robert Pierson, Justin Scalise, Jacob Trussell and Zeb West. They'll be directed by Debbie Lynn Carrieger, Ellie McBride, Christina J. Moore, and Sharon Sparlin with dramaturgy by Elizabeth Cobbe and Candyce Rusk.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Pushing through to the end

I am almost done with the rough draft of Maradaine Constabulary.  I just have to write some scenes of denouement. 

This one has been harder to get done than I had anticipated.  I know part of that was that I had put it to the side no less than three times for rewrites of Thorn of Dentonhill and Holver Alley Crew, as well as other non-writing things in my life taking focus.  But I think it was also harder because factors pushed me out of my comfort zone.  MC has a female protagonist, which was my first time attempting that.  I hope I did a good job with that.  Plus, while it is still an fantasy novel (sort of urban, sort of traditional... oh, how subgenre vexes me), it is also a thriller/procedural, which is definitely out of my comfort zone. 

Now, for me, "rough draft" ends up being around 70-75k, which is not shopping length.  That is around 90k.  That was the process I used for both Thorn and HAC, and I find it works well for me.  I have a better time with keeping things tight and then asking the question of, "What more does this need?  What needs to be flesh out?"  Putting on muscle is easier than trimming fat.

That said, I'll need to decide which of my Planned Future Projects I'll start to tackle while my crit group tears up the rough draft.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Quick plugging post

My access is kind of limited today, do I'll just do a quick plug:

Check out Stina Leicht's Of Blood and Honey. It's pretty awesome. Also, if you're in Austin, see her read and sign at Bookpeople tonight!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Twelve Part Outline and the Zombie Apocalypse

A quick post here to show how the Twelve Part Outline can be applied.  Here’s a Zombie Apocalypse story done with it.

Establishment: Teresa is a happy, well adjusted, athletic parkour enthusiast living a normal life.

Incitement: Why is that guy biting that other guy?  Why is my running partner trying to bite me?  Run!

Challenge: Run like crazy to get away from the sudden yet sizable infusion of zombies.

Altercation:  Meet up with a scrappy band of other survivors, fight off zombies, hole up in a church.

Payback:  We should be safe here for a bit.  We just need to figure out what’s going on, and get some medical help for Tom, who got bit.

Regrouping: Tom’s really sick, guys.  Guys?  OH MY.... TOM!!

Collapse: The gunshots from killing Tom seem to have attracted more of them to the church.  I don’t think that door is going to hold.

Retreat: Run!  There’s a emergency shelter in the basement of the church!

Recovery: Well, most of us made it to the shelter.  THAT door will hold, and there’s food and water to last a while.  And we’re SURE no one’s been bit.

Investment: Hey, Jimmy’s on the radio.  He survived by hiding in the steeple!  But he’s picked up an army transmission-- they’re going to bomb the town in an attempt to quarantine the outbreak.

Confrontation: Jimmy’s spotted a hummer with keys it in, just a few blocks away.  Someone fast and clever MIGHT be able to run, get it, and pick up everyone else.

Resolution: Teresa runs like crazy from the shelter to the hummer, picks everybody up, and with some fancy driving gets out of town to the quarantine checkpoint.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Full Twelve Part Outline Structure

I have mentioned, of course, that I'm a big fan of planning and outlining.  I have talked a few times about my Twelve Part Outline structure (and have talked at length about the first three parts), but I've never laid out the whole thing.  So I figured it was high time to do that.

Now, there are plenty of story structures out there, and they all follow the same basic form. The form is essentially this:
  • Inciting Incident
  • Escalating Conflict
  • Dark Moment
  • Climax
  • Resolution

It's a solid, simple structure.  Pretty much every story essentially follows it.  But if you're trying to plan out a novel-length work (or, if you're really masochistic, a series-of-novels), it isn't all that helpful.  Mostly because the part of the book that most people have the most trouble with-- the MIDDLE-- is more or less represented by "Escalating Conflict".   The Twelve-Part Outline Structure addresses that, and gives the story a place to go. 

Now, I should say, I designed this structure for genre/action stories.  If your story isn't that kind of story, this structure might not fit. 

  1. Establishment: Show character(s) and initial situation. Here's where you set up not only who your main character(s) is, but what the rules of the road are.  What is "normal" for your story?  If there is magic, for example, you need to let the reader know here.  Especially in a genre story, you need to make it clear what's going on.

  1. Incitement: Incident or new information spurs protagonist. This may be interwoven with Establishment, or exist on its own, but the important this is that the something changes to throw us out of the Established "normal" and gets the protagonist acting. 

  1. Challenge: Minor antagonists come into play. You can't throw the big guns at your protagonist yet.  Either your protagonist isn't aware of the Big Bad yet, or doesn't understand the scope of what is happening, or just plain isn't ready for the big picture yet.

  1. Altercation:  Conflict with minor antagonists.  Give your protagonist a hard-won victory, even if it's minor or only symbolic.  This lets you show your protagonist as having the competence and drive to deserve being at the center of the story. 

  1. Payback:  Minor antagonists report back to major, allowing a strike back.  That hard-won victory may have felt good, but it isn't without consequences.  Perhaps it means that your Big Bad just re-evaluated your protagonist, and has elevated the threat level from Nuisance to Problem.

  1. Regrouping: Protagonist reacts to the payback, possibly in an ineffective way; thinks confrontation is over, relaxes.  Here is where your protagonist has another victory, but not the victory they think they've had.  This is where they make a mistake, be it underestimating the antagonist, or just sloppy pride.  That deep character flaw you've woven into them is set up to bite them back.

  1. Collapse: Protagonist loses stability and safety of base situation.  Everything falls apart.  Whatever your protagonist thought they could count on crumbles under their feet.   

  1. Retreat: Protagonist must leave base situation to escape threat from main antagonist. Deal them that serious blow.  Force their hand.

  1. Recovery: Protagonist establishes a new situation, enough to be stable and safe. You need to give them a chance to lick their wounds, figure out where they stand, and if they can accept that.

  1. Investment: Personal reason forces protagonist back into fray with main antagonist—they won’t choose to walk away.  This is where you make your heroes.  At this stage, a lesser protagonist would cut their losses, admit defeat.  Your protagonist can't do that.  It's time to see this to the end.

  1. Confrontation: Goes after main antagonist, partly to reclaim investment. Now you're at the climax. 

  1. Resolution: Defeat of main antagonist, which can create a new base situation or re-establish stability of original one.  Hey, look, it has the same name as in the other structure.  Don't fix what isn't broke.

Next week, I'll apply this structure to specific examples.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Structure vs. formula

There is always going to be the great Planner vs. Pantser argument amongst writers.  Of late, I've been seeing threads of hostility amongst the planners towards the pantsers.  Not open scorn, but a certain degree of, "Well, how is not planning REALLY working out for you?"  And I can see the argument behind the ideas that, if you're a "pantser", but don't finish things, or you write a couple hundred pages that you have to scrap and re-do, then you might consider the merits of some planning.

I, for one, am a planner through and through, because I've learned that's what works for me.  If a pantser finds that just going headfirst into the story and seeing where it goes works for them, power to them.  But I do wonder if a number of professed pantsers really need to be planners, but they don't know how to plan, or they're afraid of what it might mean.

Part of that, I think, is confusing structure with formula.  Planning out a story based on structure is just figuring out the bones, placing the signposts that will guide the writing. I'm all about structure. Formula, on the other hand, is a different beast.  There, you're talking about exact points, executed at exact moments, to re-create something else that already succeeded.  I've been told that for Hollywood Screenplays, one needs to follow a rather exacting formula (to the level of, "On Page 15, THIS has to happen.  Then on page 18, THIS has to happen.")  That's no way to generate a dynamic, creative work. 

Structure, for me, gives me the skeleton, and I've come up with one that helps me put my stories together.  I've talked about it before (previous posts on my Twelve-Part Outline), and I'll be talking about it more in the near future.

What sort of structure do you use?  Or is it pure pantsing?  If it is, I'm really curious to hear how that works better.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Cobblestones Laid Down on the Road to Hell

The week after a writer's conference is a lot like the week after New Year's.  On one level, you're kind of exhausted, but in an excited sort of way.  You feel good about the fact that you're exhausted. 

On top of that, at least for me, you're energized with new ideas.  Ideas you're ready to implement.  You have ideas about what you're going to write, about how you're going to write, and how you're going to sell what you write.  And THIS TIME, like with New Years' Resolutions, you're REALLY GOING TO DO IT.

Of course, as that initial buzz coming off the convention wears off, you don't have that same drive you did right afterward. It takes discipline to keep the lightning in the bottle.

It's great energy when you can use it.  I finished the rough draft of Thorn of Dentonhill in post-Armadillocon fueled 2500 words-per-day frenzy.  I started this blog right after another con.  At the time, I tried to post daily, and then lost that momentum after a month or so.  I did keep blogging, of course, but it came out sporadically, more or less posting whenever an idea crossed my mind.

So now, I'm going to take a real serious attempt at regular posting.  Daily, I know I can't do without burning out.  If I tried that, I don't think I'd have anything left for fiction writing.  Once a week, I think, isn't frequent enough to properly build a blog following. 

My goal, therefore, will be twice a week: Monday and Thursday.  Blogs will be posted in the afternoon.