Category Archives: Writing

Entries where I talk about my writing: stories, novels, general creativity.

Writing Update

Today: 923 words written on Terassic Cycle outline. Essential questions linking Unfallen to The Road to Gilead have been answered.

Also about 50 words added to “Hollow”.

And about 100 words written on a new short called “Tristan Among the Fishes”. Written in crayon on construction paper because I needed a change of venue. I would have written more and possibly finished the story but I got caught up in an episode of Nova about the sinking of the battleship Yamato at the end of the Second World War.

And, see, this is why I had such a hard time focusing in college. I’d see a show like that and think, “Whoa! Now I want to be a military historian!” and give up all of my previous plans to be a veterinarian.

Worked at home again today because my lungs blow. Or, rather, they don’t. Asthma bites. Anyway, so I continued the process of reworking the fundamental architecture of our content delivery software. I also messed around some with my personal website, fixing up some stylesheet issues and adding a “Reading” section because I know that everyone in the world wants to know what I’m reading and what I’ve read. Everyone. It occurred to me to test my site in Internet Explorer today — I’m a diehard Firefox user and won’t touch IE with a ten-foot IDE bus if I can avoid it — and I discovered it looks pretty shabby in IE. The fonts just don’t translate well. Well, it’s not my fault if IE can’t render cascading style sheets properly.

Oh, and then I had supper. Yummy.

Writing update

So, 769 words yesterday on The Terassic Cycle outline. It’s a lot more complex than I had really thought about at first and I’ve been spending much of this time paring down on some of the plots and themes to make everything consistent and believable. I’ve had to drop a number of the cooler ideas because they didn’t make sense in context.

Also: ponderations on “Hollow”, but no words written. Also some ponderations on “The Divergents”, which is a story that won’t leave me alone.

I was sick yesterday so I worked at home, and had a surprising amount of downtime. I spent much of that time revamping my personal home page at I suppose I could have spent that time writing, but this revamp has been a long time coming.

Why can't every day be this productive?

2,114 words written on the outline to The Terassic Cycle. Doing that was fun; I did some interesting research into the Black Death and into the causes of the First World War. Lots of threads in this story, and I’m still working on how to tie them all together, but I’m optimistic.

And I’ve finally begun the rewrite to “Hollow”. About 500 words written on that today.

Nothing written on The Road to Gilead, though.

Writing Update

Not a great day for writing today. “Who Remembers Molly” has been sent to The Harrow. “Indications” is off to Black October Magazine and Borderlands 6 for consideration, and that’s about it. I did write up about 900 words of outline for The Terassic Cycle; mostly rehashing of background material, though it’s good to have it done because it answers some questions for me that have bugged me for quite awhile now.

I also had some ideas for some of the other products that AO Enterprises (from “Joe’s Salvation” — and by the way, has anyone figured out what “AO” stands for? I know, but I’m wondering if anyone even guessed that it might stand for something) might be trying to sell. They may well end up being featured in a series of stories. in the future.

Reason #33223 why my wife is cooler than yours

After the first day of the advanced writers’ workshop at Dragon*Con, I mentioned to Jennifer that the laptop bag I’ve been using to carry around my notebooks and snacks and medicine was getting awfully heavy; even without the laptop, the thing weighs about eight pounds (I’m not kidding), and this becomes painful on my back after awhile. I told her I was thinking about getting a lightweight messenger bag just to carry around my notebooks and pens and possibly a book for days when all I was going to do was go somewhere and write (which I do without my laptop more and more these days). So she went and made me this satchel (after letting me approve the final design and choose the yarn, of course). I love it! It’s just the right size for the leatherbound notebook I keep all my drafts and working copies in plus a couple of books and some pens, but it’s also incredibly sturdy and light.

Note the Serenity pin on the flap, which I got at an advance screening two weeks ago. Bwah ha haa!

In writing news, I’m surprised by how well “Joe’s Salvation” has gone over. I slapped that one out in just about half an hour plus another fifteen minutes for quick revisions, expecting it to be another throwaway piece. Now I think it’s actually publishable.

Plus, I’m almost done with the most recent round of revisions on “Who Remembers Molly”. I tried to add in some more humorous elements without being blatant, and bring some more depth to Molly herself. Plus I realized that one of the subtexts I was trying so hard to get across just wasn’t happening, so I finally just decided to spell it out bluntly. It never pays to assume that your readers are stupid, of course, but it also never pays to assume that they see the same things that you do.

Meta Satire?

I’ve been thinking about satire quite a bit lately; I’m not sure why, except perhaps that it’s been recommended to me as a form of therapy. The idea is simple: take something that upsets you about the world and write something funny about it and hope that Someone In Power will notice and do something to fix the woes you’ve so cleverly pointed out. It’s harder to do than you might think. The few satirical pieces I’ve written work, I think, either because they’re well-written or because my readers owe me a lot of money.

But I began to wonder last week whether some sort of meta-satire can be written. Take reality shows, for example. The phenomenon seems to be dying down, thank God. The Apprentice may still be one of the most popular shows around right now, but it doesn’t look like we’ll be seeing Survivor: Antarctica anytime soon. But for awhile, reality shows were such a huge part of our culture, and such a stupid idea, that satirizing them become just too simple. Before long, satires of reality shows became just as prevalent as the reality shows themselves. At least one move — Series 7: The Contenders — was made, and perhaps a dozen anthology series had an episode spoofing the concept of reality television. It got to the point where writing a story spoofing reality shows was just as clichéd as reality shows themselves.

So I got to wonder: would it have been possible to write a story satirizing the satirization of reality shows? I’m imagining something about a bunch of writers sitting around with guns ready to shoot each other for the best reality show spoof, something like that. Could something like that have worked? On a slightly different tack, would it be possible to make a movie spoofing all of the Leslie Nielsen films that spoofed spy movies or airport dramas? Or would it have been something that only a few people in America would have enjoyed, congratulating each other on having understood the joke while simultaneously trying to one-up each other with stories about how they saw infinitely more subtle layers of meaning in the jokes?

I’m not sure, personally. I think that only one or two levels of mockery are possible before any meaning is lost.

As always, there’s nothing even remotely resembling coherence or clarity in this entry. Just assume it’s done here.

Writing Update #whatever

Today was a pretty good day for writing. I did some basic revision to the latest draft of “Who Remembers Molly”, hoping against hope that this will be the final one, and I actually wrote two short-short stories: “Blink”, a study of fear, and “Joe’s Salvation”, a little satire about the modern American quest for spirituality and lawsuits. I’m not sure if either of these little dribbles work the way they’re supposed to, but I had fun writing them and I think they’re both strong enough first drafts to merit further work. I think I’m more excited about “Joe’s Salvation” if only because it’s a longer story with a stronger plot. “Blink” is probably going to end up being part of something much larger.

Point of View

“Point of View”, I’m discovering, is one of the harder elements of fiction writing to master. I’ve grown very sensitive, over the past few months, to how POV is used in short stories and in novels, and to what seems to be more or less officially called “POV drift”: that is, when the point of view in a short story wanders from one person to another. For example:

I looked at my hands and wondered how they got coated in blue ink. Then I looked up at Shari, who gazed back at me with a sense of foreboding.

In this case, the highlighted element is an example of POV drift: we’ve temporarily drifted out of the narrator’s head and into Shari’s. The narrator cannot know what Shari is thinking or feeling or sensing (unless one or the other of them is a telepath). A friend of mine refers to this sort of thing as “head hopping”.

A more subtle variation of POV drift happens when we see a character from an outsider’s perspective, when the story has up to that point been told strictly from a third-person limited point of view. For example:

Joe looked at his hands; how did they get so blue, he wondered? Then he looked at Shari, his face pale with agony.

In this case, the POV drift occurs in the second part of the second sentence; if the entire story has been told from Joe’s point of view and we’ve been deep in his thoughts the entire time, then to describe what his face looks like this is a bit of drift. It’s as though we’ve suddenly been thrown out of Joe’s head and are now looking at him from outside instead of inside.

All of this is difficult enough for writers to master. I keep coming up with questions of my own: how much can a person describe his own external appearances, and under what circumstances?

I looked up at him with that look of befuddlement which comes when you are overwhelmed with new information.

This example comes from Bill Bryson’s book A Walk in the Woods. You’re temporarily out of the writer’s head and seeing him from the outside; and yet this scene was written directly from Bryson’s own experience. Is this an example of acceptable POV drift?

In spite of all of this complexity, I do find point of view relatively easy; when critting stories by other beginning writers, I am frequently amazed by how much head-hopping and POV drift occurs. And even more amazed when I point it out to the writer only to have him or her respond, “What do you mean by point of view?” I usually recommend to them the book Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card, which contains an excellent discussion of this question.

Complicating all of this, though, is the notion of “narrative distance” which I’m only just beginning to comprehend as a concept. In a single story, there can be times when it’s entirely appropriate to be deep in the head of a particular character; and other times when it’s more appropriate to be outside that character’s head. To draw a cinematic analogy, there are times in a movie when closeup shots are appropriate and times when a wider shot is appropriate. A closeup shot — a deeper POV — gives us better insight into a character, while a wider shot — a more removed POV — gives us a better, more objective view of the action. This can lead the writer to a terrible quandary: at what time is it appropriate to be deep inside the character’s head, and when is it appropriate to be outside?

Ken Kesey’s novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is told from deep inside the narrator’s head; given the Chief’s schizophrenia, it is therefore impossible to know whether the entire story happened as described, or whether much of it was delusion. It worked for Kesey, but for other stories, that very deep 1st person POV may detract from the story if the character’s thought processes are untrustworthy; in this case, a third person limited POV may be called for, with varying depths to show both the level of the character’s insanity as well as a more objective view of the action. That’s just a single example of how appropriate narrative distance can really monkey up the notion of point of view.

Writing is much more difficult than I had imagined in my youthful days of exuberant imagination. But a good story, well told, is its own reward.