Tag Archives: The Journey

Out of Excuses

CrossedQuills

Whitey and I, with some of our Journey friends, have taken up the challenge offered by Mary Robinette Kowal, Brandon Sanderson, Howard Tayler, and Dan Wells of Writing Excuses.

Writing Excuses, if you’re unfamiliar with it, is a podcast series, now in its 10th season, which encourages people who want to write to go for it. To celebrate their 10th season, the hosts are giving away a fiction writing master class. For free! All you need to do is listen to the podcasts and do the assignments. Whitey, Tim, a few other writers, and I are giving it a shot, planning to get together (starting today) to compare notes and provide mutual support and aid.

The first assignment was to come up with five story ideas. Here are my five:

  1.     From an interview or conversation you’ve had:
    Got this from a conversation with Whitey. He said there are tunnels running under the surface throughout Disney World. The people who work use them to get from place to place if they don’t want to be in character. Though this applies to anyone who interacts with the public, whether they’re a costumed character or not, I think. The employees believe they can speak freely in the tunnels (though of course they can all hear each other). What circumstances might make this interesting? If, for example the tunnels were all bugged and/or had video cameras? (Which I bet they do.) What secrets might be revealed, and why might it matter? Does Snow White have a stalker on the security team?
  2.  From research you’ve done (reading science news, military history, etc):
    The Taman Shud case in Australia: an unidentified man dies on a beach in Australia, apparently of poison. In a concealed pants pocket investigators find a scrap of paper with the words “Taman Shud” (meaning “ended” or “finished” in Persian) written on it. This was later linked to a copy of the Rubaiyyat of Omar Khayam  which had the same words missing (torn) from it, with an unlisted phone number listed in the back of the book. The holder of this number was a woman who may or may not have been named Teresa Powell. She told some story about a man, not, apparently the dead man. However, it was later found that her son had extremely rare genetic features in common with the murdered man. How to explain these events? What would it be like to be Teresa Powell or (more likely) her son, especially when detectives showed up? What would he or she do, once given this information.
  3. From observation (go for a walk!):
    (This walk happend at the Art Institute of Chicago). James Ensor; putting pictures together in grid form (e.g., The Temptation of St. Anthony); putting patches over controversial parts. Why did he put pictures together the way he chose to, and why did he cover parts of the finished image?
  4. From a piece of media (watch a movie):
    Peter Pan- what if Peter Pan was like the Dread Pirate Roberts? Really a series of people who only continue to be Peter Pan until they decide they really would like to grow up…and then, what if one incarnation was really a girl, using the Peter Pan disguise to escape the strictures of being female in her society? Does she ever decide to pass the torch and grow up? If so, how does she come to terms with being female?
  5. From a piece of music (with or without lyrics):
    Sin Wagon,” by the Dixie Chicks. I think the lyrics tell about a woman getting revenge on her cheating man by hitching a ride on the metaphorical Sin Wagon. It was really the title of the song that interested me most, though. What would an actual sin wagon be like? Are they buying sins, selling them, or a bit of both? If both, I can see how you might want to get rid of a sin, but who would ever want to acquire one?

Is anyone else out there in Internetland participating in this class? If you have a blog or other online space where you’re showing your work, I’d love to see it.

In the meantime, do any of the ideas above intrigue you? Any of them totally turn you off? Comments (of reasonable politeness) welcome below…

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NaNoWriMo Link Salad

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Most of the writing mojo is going to novel-writing this month. Blogging wordage may be sparse.

In the meantime, please enjoy a National Novel Writing Month link salad. My Writing Journey peeps helped put together these prep workshops for the Naperville region of NaNoWriMo:

The Stone Soup Method for NaNoWriMo Success by Tim Yao and Kaden Patrick

Genre Tropes and Cliches by Frank Dahlman

Fiction Improv—Preparation for NaNoWriMo by Todd Hogan

How to Survive NaNoWriMo with your Sanity (Mostly) Intact by Jen Moore

This next link is not from my Journey/Naperwrimo buddies:
30 day’s worth of NaNoWriMo advice from writers Scott Westerfeld & Justine Larbalestier

Enjoy! It’s not too late to start! (Jen’s workshop will help you there, or write me for tips.)

Oh, and if you read this on November 4, 2014 and haven’t yet done so, please vote!

Story Wall

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Presenting a story wall

There’s a thing we do in my writers’ group, The Writing Journey, called a story wall.

Here’s the idea: you come to the meeting prepared to talk about your story with a few other people. You provide a general idea of plot, characters, setting, genre—all the usual elements. If you’re having problems—say, you’re stuck and can’t seem to write after a certain point—you see if anyone has any helpful ideas. You also give people a chance to say whether they have problems with the story. Maybe they don’t believe the premise of a certain scene, or have difficulty seeing why a character would behave in a certain way. It’s not all negative, however. People are also allowed to tell you things they like about your story.

At the last Journey meeting, Elaine and I each did a story wall. I think it was the first time for her; I know it was the first time I ever presented a story.

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Elaine’s beautifully prepared story wall

Elaine provided excellent visual aids, creating a kind of mind map of her story, with various locations and characters each having their own color-coded card or sheet of paper. I did not provide great visuals, though I did read out a synopsis I’d written (hours before!) and provided a spreadsheet of the scenes, which included the location, characters (including whose POV I used in the scene) events, and any issues I was worried about. In my case, I asked for help with the magic system and with one of the characters.

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My novel scene spreadsheet

So. What did I get out of the story wall?

  1. I got an idea I think will work well for a character I was finding difficult to write.
  2. I got reminders about the cost of magic, which I definitely needed. There’s still work to do along those lines, but other people’s ideas definitely helped.
  3. Since I’m using more than one POV character, I need to make sure I spread around the viewpoint a bit more than I had. Otherwise, when someone other than the protagonist has the viewpoint, it might seem like a mistake, or just plain sloppy.
  4. I need to work on my synopsis-writing skills!
  5. I learned I need to make sure my protagonist can carry the book. There was some concern over whether he “protags” enough.  It takes him a long time to do the right thing, to break through and realize what he’s capable of. I don’t feel the situation is hopeless, but I do want to make sure the reader cares enough about him to keep reading.

I definitely need to keep an eye on the 3 “prongs” of character development, an interesting concept I recently heard about on Writing Excuses. Briefly, when you have a character you want people to care about—say, your protagonist—you have three dimensions which are especially helpful in creating reader interest: sympathy (how nice/relatable is he?), competence, and agency (how proactive is he?). The character doesn’t need to be all of these things, but he should be at least one of them if you want to keep a reader interested. So, what needs to happen with my protagonist? The way I think of him right now, Slim needs to learn a lot, and he’s quite gifted, but stunted. He’s not particularly admirable, but he’s not a total jerk either.

So the question is, how do ratchet any of those settings higher? He doesn’t start out competent, he’s lacking in agency, and he’s not that high in sympathy, either. Hey, he grows as a person, okay? I guess sympathy is where I have the most wiggle room, but does putting him in jeopardy automatically make him sympathetic? Does having him do the right thing, or try to do the right thing in a few places, does that help? I’ll do what I can with those ideas for now, and then see what beta readers think, once I round some up. (If you’re interested beta reading my Western historical fantasy novel, please leave a comment below, tweet at me—@cmbrennan09—or contact me however you usually do.)

Finally, what did I learn from the whole exercise?

I learned that being the victim—er, focus—of a story wall wasn’t as scary as I feared, and that I should absolutely do it the next time I come up with an idea for a novel. Heck, maybe I should do it whenever I come up with a story idea of any length. It’s excellent to get help spotting potential problems before you bury yourself too deeply.

Making Merry on April 23rd

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Shakespeare insult mug – a study aid

Prithee, gentle readers, knowest ye the day that slips, like knave of hearts, into mine bosom on the 23rd of April? Why, ’tis naught but the day to maketh merry in the verbal vein of our dear bard, William!

In other words, April 23rd is “Talk Like Shakespeare Day.” I’m alternately thrilled and terrified when it rolls around. There’s no question it takes energy and commitment, but if you can pull it off, it’s highly entertaining. Here’s what usually happens: I’ll talk like Shakespeare when I first greet someone but then revert to my usual manner of speaking. If I’m met with a blank stare, my Shakespearean talk will peter out fast, but when my conversational partner is into it, we might trade Elizabethan banter for 15 minutes or so.

This year the festal day is especially fun because my writing peeps in The Journey are just getting back into Shakespeare Reader’s Theatre.

Here’s how that started: last summer, inspired by Joss Whedon’s film version of Much Ado About Nothing, Tim (aka NewMexicoKid) decided we needed to get together and read Shakespeare. We met a few times and read from The Winter’s Tale and the Henry trilogy (that would be Henry IV part 1, Henry IV part 2 and Henry V) and it was almost as much fun as riding bicycles. I got to play Falstaff! Never in my life could I have predicted that. I said at the time that all the Journey would have to do would be to start up on American musicals. Let me play Professor Harold Hill and my thespian dreams will be fulfilled.

Anyway, it’s once more into the breach, dear friends. Shakespeare Readers Theatre revives this Saturday. I can’t be at the first session, but we have another one coming up early in May, and I’ll be there with bells on. Or jester’s motley. Point is, I’ll be there. I start practicing for it on April 23. Here is a helpful site, if you want to play along.

Somebody Else’s Turn – Jez Layman

Today on CB’s MoJo we have a special treat—a guest post. I met Jez Layman through Naperwrimo and The Writing Journey. I’ve known for some time that Jez writes fast. She won the coveted Hat of Word Wars in November 2013, for winning multiple word wars at a Woodridge Public Library write-in.

Since November, I’ve had the opportunity to read some of her writing and learn something else: Jez writes well. You do not, however, have to take my word for it. She’s won several writing contests, and she graciously shares some of her experiences below.

 

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Jez Layman


Earlier this week, I was notified that I had won Sound and Scribe’s Flash Fiction contest with an untitled piece, which you can read here. I was intrigued by this contest and its unique prompt, which was to listen to a specific song (in this case, “Bangs” by Bricks+Mortar) and write a story up to 500 words on any topic inspired by the song. For my piece, I wrote what I would describe as an almost dystopian survival story, which wove in lyrics from the song. I was a little surprised to hear I had won this contest because I had spent maybe a maximum of fifteen minutes on this piece, and most of that was looking up and reading over the lyrics multiple times (it’s not a song I had heard before the contest). I did not hear of this contest until its last day, but flash fiction is my passion, as well as my strong suit in writing, and writing something to a specific theme (broad as it was) seemed a lot easier than figuring out which of my previous pieces would be best for submission, so I took a chance and entered. What I appreciated about this contest in particular was the ease of submission, which was through tumblr, a social media website I frequent daily, and the rules were straight forward. The host contacted me shortly after the end of the contest and the prize was sent to me early the next morning—a very quick turn-around! I certainly intend on entering next month as well, and highly suggest others doing the same.

 

Like flash fiction itself, this contest was pretty quick-and-easy for me, and done with no prior preparation. This is not the case for all fiction contests. In fact, it’s quite rare. I’m not very likely to enter long-term or long form contests, but I did enter and win 1st place in the OPUS fiction contest in 2011 with a short story called “The Damsel,” which is about a professional Damsel in Distress. This was part contest, part conference, and I was asked to present my work to a live audience after winning, which I did happily. I cannot commend live readings highly enough to writers. The feedback is immediate and you can gauge the interest of the readers immediately. I received quite a few laughs from that piece and was happy to hear that my jokes and allusions hit home the way I had intended. This contest was different from Sound and Scribe not only because of the live reading and length of the piece, but because I had entered a pre-written piece. I prefer to submit my writing for publication, rather than to contests, but I had been asked personally to submit to this contest and I felt very confident in this particular short story. That’s the number one thing I think writers need when submitting to contests with pre-written pieces: confidence. These pieces should be written, adhere to the rules of the contest, be edited multiple times (and read by a second party, if possible), and fit the theme of the hosting entity or the specific contest.

 

To all submitting to contests or publications, I wish you luck.

 Would love to hear more about people’s experiences with writing contests, either via the comments section or whatever way you usually contact me. Ditto if you have questions for Jez.

A Squee for Capricon

I was angst-y all last week leading up to Capricon. One reason I write is because it’s good work for an introvert and (I keep having to explain this to people!) I’m pretty introverted. Despite this tendency, I’m trying to get out and meet other writers. I worked on getting people from The Writing Journey to come with me; I also whinged at my husband BK, and my BFF, Cookie. It was no go, from everybody. *Sighs*

When I registered, I had no idea who’d appear besides the Guests of Honor. It wasn’t expensive, as these things go, so I figured, what the hell. My sister lives ten minutes from the con site, so I could crash with her for free, and spend a little time with her and my puppy nephew, Seamus.

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Me, petting my sister’s dog

I also don’t get to see enough of Bill and Cheryl Cavalier. They go every year, so this was my chance to remedy that.

So here’s what happened. I ended up seeing Gene Wolfe from a safe distance. I didn’t get his autograph on An Evil Guest, as I had hoped. Lord willing, he’ll be at the next Capricon and I can corner him then. Maybe I’ll even remember to bring some of his other books, and he can sign those, too.

I actually got to talk to Mary Anne Mohanraj and Wesley Chu for a few minutes. They couldn’t have been nicer. Mary Anne actually invited me to a pot luck for local writers. I’d give an ovary to attend, except that I’ll be out of town taking care of somebody, and I won’t be back in time to go. *Pouts*

And now we approach the Super-Squee part. I found out some time after registering that Mary Robinette Kowal would be there. I first learned about Mary in 2012 around the time I decided to get serious about writing. Again. That’s a long story.

Anyway, Mary’s novella, “Kiss Me Twice”, was on the Hugo ballot,  so I read it. I’ve read more of her work since then, of course, including several of her Glamourist Histories novels,  her Hugo-winning short story, “For Want of a Nail”, and Hugo-nominated short story, “Evil Robot Monkey”. Around that time I also started listening to the Writing Excuses podcasts, which I recommend unreservedly to anyone who’s interested in writing, irrespective of their preferred genres.

Anyway, you know what people say about Mary? They say, “Everyone loves Mary.”

After taking an online short story workshop with her in November and seeing her at Capricon, I totally get it. The online workshop was so good I registered to take an in-person workshop she’s offering this June.

So I accosted her at Capricon and said hi, and she recognized me from the tiny image of me that showed up in Google Hangouts. She signed my copy of Glamour in Glass. So far, pleasant but not unexpected, right? However, Saturday was Mary’s 45th birthday. In addition to just talking with her – if you haven ‘t done that, you have no notion how pleasant that can be – she offered cake and party favors to those who stopped by. I indulged in both. The cake was a lemon pound cake her mother baked and shipped to her. It was fragrant and delicious. The party favors were elegant, Jane-Austen-themed temporary tattoos.

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My elegant tattoo

And then…Mary invited me to her birthday party! Squee!

I got to stop by her room later that evening for scotch and nibbles. Her husband Rob was charming, as were the other guests. We talked about City Winery (where Rob works), travel, other conventions, and writing. It was all extremely classy. You want to know how classy? If we ever start offering knighthoods and dameships (is that a thing?) in the United States, Mary would be a prime candidate.

Oh, there was programming and stuff. I went to some. I liked a lot of it.

Bill tied for first place in the Artist Showdown, and celebrated by doing some kickass harp playing at Live Band Karaoke. Cheryl and I talked writing and generally gossiped.

So that was my Capricon.

Um, did I say “Squee!”?