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Posts Tagged ‘steel butterfly’

I haven’t touched Steel Butterfly: Part One since I sent it off to the Awesome Team Beta a couple of months ago (in fact I haven’t written a word of fiction since I typed The End), but that was the plan. I wanted to let it sit and not do too much conscious thinking about it until I was ready to dig into revisions–and I knew (or felt, or vaguely apprehended–more likely, given my usual MO) it would need revisions a-plenty.

My feeling or vague apprehension is borne out by initial reports from the betas: the beginning is rough, the world-building sketchy, and the main character not as likeable as I had fondly imagined. So, that’s okay; now I know what I need to fix. But I’m not going to dive in just yet (for one thing, a couple members of the expeditionary force have yet to report back), for another I’ve got art deadlines, and for a third I want to give it time to cook in my subconscious before I bring it back to the fore.

I don’t know how other authors work, but for me a lot of the thinking about my stories goes on in the background while I’m doing other stuff. It’s like soup: you chuck in the ingredients, turn on the fire, and then let everything simmer and meld. Sometimes you might chuck in a couple extra things while it’s cooking, to make sure you’ve got the balance of flavors right, but mostly you just leave it alone.

What that means in practical writing terms is working on other stuff entirely, taking notes when a concrete idea bubbles to the top of my brain, and just generally being on the alert for neat ideas I can toss into the soup. I’m reading a book called Samurai Sketches (tales of samurai from the end of the Edo period) that is happily congruent with some of my needs (plus it’s just interesting!), and a blog post about Final Fantasy IX helped bring some of my world-building thoughts into better focus. That doesn’t mean my soup is going to be Final Fantasy-flavored*, or have big chunks of samurai in it (how far can we take this metaphor?), but storytellers are omnivoracious, and every thought, word, experience, goes into the soup one way or another.

The omnivoracious author on the hunt for more ingredients...

The omnivoracious author on the hunt for more ingredients…


 

*It doesn’t mean it’s not going to be Final Fantasy-flavored either, given what a tight grip FF4 still has on my imagination.

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Hello, my faithful and beloved reader(s)! I have not meant to fall off the face of the earth, but … eh … life. The awesome Team Beta has awesomely been beta-ing Steel Butterfly, and giving me loads of good feedback and thinky-thoughts for round two. I have meant to mention some of them here, but … eh … life.

Real Life Wins is the unofficial motto (at least, I think it’s unofficial–if I notice it translated into Latin or made into a crest or something I will assume otherwise) of the equally busy fellow who is teaching a group of busy folk here in the D/FW area how to bash people with swords. (“Woefully Unprepared” is my motto. Or, if I have spent too much time on the Facebook, “For Crying Out Loud!” Any Latin-learned amongst you willing to translate these so that I can turn them into family crests, or at least t-shirts, will have my undying gratitude.) (And yes, I am learning … slowly … to bash people with swords. Actually, right now I am just learning how to hold a sword and how to swing it effectively. So slow, my learning. But anyway.)

The point is, my current Overwhelmedness Level is at about an 11. When I returned to a more regularly whelmed state, I will no doubt have both opinions about things and the wherewithal to go on about them. Meanwhile, I apologize for the radio silence, and here’s a picture I drew of my main characters. I plan to color it, but (you know) … eh … life.

Just imagine a beautiful landscape behind them.

Just imagine a beautiful landscape behind them.

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FINISHED*

*for certain values of finished

*for certain values of “finished.” There’s work yet to be done, sanding down the edges, polishing the grain, that kind of thing. 155K is a lot of words! I bet I can cut at least fifteen thousand of them. But. But, but, but! The thing, the thing that I thought I would never get done, is done!

Be still my heart.

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Now that I am at last, at last approaching the end of The WIP That Would Not Die, I find myself strangely reluctant to push forward. Daily word counts have been in the tens instead of the hundreds since I embarked on Chapter 32 (of 33) (I think). Part of the problem is of course the unsettled state of the house, rugs pulled out, furniture where it should not be, no furniture where it should be, books and towels and papers all higgeldy-piggeldy … but the other part is … me. Why should this be? Why should finishing be scary?

It’s a great thumping big word, though, “finished,” and I’ve been unsteadily hacking my way towards the end of this maze for more years than I care to admit. How can you ever do this professionally, I chide myself, if it takes you this long to write one thing … and then you balk at the end?

image

A cookie if you can read my scribbles, because I sure can’t!

 

But I am moving forward, if slowly and with inexplicable reluctance. Ten words a day is still better than no words, right? Even if at this rate it’ll take another [really long time] to finish.

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The experience of writing Steel Butterfly has been one of brief, intense periods of activity (and progress) followed by long stretches of nothing at all.  My computer tells me that the last time I edited the latest chapter was February of this year: ten months.  More than enough time to bring an infant to term.  (I don’t know if other mothers think of time in this way; certainly I never did, pre-motherhood, but now I find it a useful measure.  If it ain’t long enough to have a baby in, it ain’t that long.  And of course the converse is also true.)  So, you know, a not-insignificant amount of time.  My memory, when consulted, adds the helpful rider that, when I accessed the file this February past, I fiddled around for half an hour or so, played a few hands of solitaire (probably), then felt too tired or sad or disgusted or whatever to continue, and closed the file again.

For when you're stuck...

For when you’re stuck…

I don’t believe in writer’s block per se.  I do believe that 90% or so of story-creation is instinctual and unconscious, and that whatever process governs the writer’s (or at least, my) ability to get words onto paper (screen, wax tablet, whatever) will halt unless the conditions are, like the littlest bear’s porridge, just right.  (You, hypothetical reader, may be different.  You may exert such masterful control over your unconscious processes that you can muscle through these … cessations.  There’s no right way or wrong way, so long as the words are getting written and you, the writer, are pleased with the end result.  But most of my best thinking happens when I’m not paying attention to it.)

So what are some wrong conditions?

1. The writer’s emotional state.  Seems pretty obvious.  If you are distracted by real-world problems–or even real-world joys–you probably will not be able to write effectively.

2. The writer’s physical state.  Ditto.  It doesn’t even have to be pain that distracts you.  When I was pregnant, I was unable to sit comfortably in a chair for the long stretches required to concentrate on writing.  I probably should have found an alternate solution: a standing desk (ugh, with swollen ankles and feet? Maybe not) or dictation or something.

3. The story is wrong.  Either something you’ve already written contradicts where the story wants to be going, or something you’re about to write is not going to work.  It is best not to force the story into the shape you want it to be.  If the problem happened earlier in the story, it is kind of like a dropped stitch in knitting: you will have to tear out everything you’ve done since the mistake, fix the mistake, and then do it all again.  Tedious?  Well, maybe, but presumably you enjoy knitting, or you wouldn’t have started the project in the first place.  If the problem is about to happen … well, unless a future version of yourself appears before you and gasps out, “No–not that plot development!” how can you know?

This is more challenging.  If a 3 corresponds with a 1 or 2, the time necessary to regain your equilibrium may also help to shake loose the right plot development.  If you don’t have that kind of time (maybe you are a published writer with deadlines, and not a dilettante like me), you can always do something else, something physical and repetitive and boring, to help your subconscious produce the right answer.  Taking a walk is good, or a shower.  Washing dishes, or folding laundry, or some other tedious, necessary chore, can also help.

4. You just don’t have the right words.  Everything else is fine.  You feel okay (or you are writing to purge those feelings of not-okay-ness), you have had adequate sleep and/or are adequately caffeinated, you know what happens next … and still nothing.  You sit and stare at a sterile white screen with a blinking cursor mocking you.

What do you do?  You have no idea how to go on.

Sometimes … you can just say so.

In Voyage to Ruin, I got stuck in just such a way.  Fortunately, I was writing with an omniscient narrator who liked, now and then, to interject his own opinions into the goings-on, so I wrote:

I must pause here and confess, dear readers, that I am puzzled as to how I should continue.  In fact, a part of me wishes I did not have to continue at all.  I would much prefer to leave you here, with the charming image of Captain Flynn at the helm of his beloved ship: a man in the prime of his life, rather good-looking, made handsomer still by his evident happiness—a man, it must be admitted, of no particular virtue, but in whom a certain dash and ebullience of spirit might almost have obviated the need for virtue.  I would like that of all things, because the events to come are unpleasant in the extreme, and will no doubt be as disagreeable for you to read as they are for me to relate.  However, to leave you with the impression that Captain Flynn’s story ends here would be iniquitous, vile, false.  We must remember that the service of truth sometimes requires the endurance of suffering, and if things become too frightening, we will hold each other’s hands for comfort, like children lost in a dark wood.

Wow.  That narrator had one heck of an orotund style.  But however over-the-top the words, the idea was straight-up truth.  I was puzzled as to how to continue.  I didn’t want to keep writing.  The narrator expressed them, but those were my thoughts and feelings.  And, expressing them in the story’s style helped unstick my brain and get the words flowing.

What about a story with a more limited POV? I hear you asking, assuming there is a you and I am not just yapping into a void.  After all, omniscient POV is really not popular right now.

It can still work!

In fact, the reason I am writing this now is because I used this technique, or trick, this morning, to get Steel Butterfly unstuck.  Now, Steel Butterfly is told in third-person limited with no narratorial intrusions, so instead of describing how I felt, I had to describe what the POV character was feeling.  (To make picking up the story more difficult, I had stopped right before what I thought was going to be an action sequence with a particular plot development, only to realize that the story needed a different, much more emotionally-charged development.  So I had to dive in to that without having a chance to warm up on some dialogue or scenery description or something easier.)  So I chose to describe the tension I felt, that I couldn’t just make the story get on with it already!

The moment stretched on and on and on.  Move, Aine thought at it.  Break.  End.  But it did not move, and it did not break, and it did not end.

Not a lot to it, but that little paragraph helped get the story going again.

And a little bonus tip: learn and use rhetorical devices to make your prose stronger.  The technique in the final sentence is Anaphora, the repetition of words or phrases.  It is helpful for emphasis, and also for slowing down the pace, making the moment seem even longer.

I don’t know if this technique would work for everybody, but it works for me every time.  If it works for you, I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

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Happycrow blogged about his “spare time” list, and that got me thinking about what I would like to do in that elusive thing called “spare time.”

Ha. Ha. Ha.

My goal for the new year was to be done done done with sketchcards so I could focus on other things: like moving into comic book pencilling, finish my novel (and start on the next one!), actually get paid a living wage for the work I do … you know, crazy stuff like that.  SPELLCASTERS was going to be my last set, for realsies.

Ha. Ha. Ha.

Because I am weak willed and have trouble saying no (and some of the things I wasn’t saying “no” to are really cool gigs), now I’m looking at June before I am done done done.  Late June.

Here's what's on my desk right now.  That's not counting all the stuff that's drawn but not yet inked or colored.  Oy vey!

Here’s what’s on my desk right now. That’s not counting all the stuff that’s drawn but not yet inked or colored. Oy vey!

But what would I be doing, if I weren’t breaking my heart, mind, soul and body over a drawing table in the wee hours of the night (because daytime is kid time)?

  • Finish Steel Butterfly
  • Redo the bathroom
  • Brush up on my animation skills
  • Get my concealed carry license
  • Learn basic car care, so that I can do the maintenance on my Dad’s car myself
  • Gardening!  Lots and lots of gardening.  I am thinking: roses everywhere!  (Sidenote: the house down the street just took out all their rosebushes.  What were they thinking?!)
  • Get in shape
  • Work on personal art
  • Learn how to make bread
  • Learn to play the mandolin

The list goes on and on, but you get the idea.  Some of this stuff is just me dreaming, but some of it is going to happen.  Just.  You know.  Not till after June.

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valentine_flat_full

I don’t know how it is with other people who both write things and draw things, but I find that my writing goes better when I have time to draw–and I don’t mean, either, the focused kind of I’m on a deadline and have to draw fifty spandex-clad superheroes by Monday drawing, but the more leisurely, Hey this class–or meeting–or what-have-you–is kind of boring and I’m going to doodle my characters in the margins of the notes I’m supposed to be taking kind of drawing.  In that way, the writing and the drawing balance and fuel each other, like one of those kinetic batteries that charges when you shake it.

Not a lot of time for that lately (although Aine did get to wear some cool plate mail in a scene because of doodles of plate-mail Aine), but here’s a picture from a year ago that I polished up and refurbished–like an old cabinet with a new coat of paint! 😀  If you like it, you can get it as a print on Redbubble.  (See what I did there?  Subtle, right?)

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