(Dear Diary,)

A bunch of stuff has happened in the last eight or so months. Nothing I can (or want to) speak freely about quite yet. But there has been one matter that has been on my mind a lot, and I figure I might as well write it out.

Characters are a fun bunch. Forget the ones that come up randomly and take over our stories (I’m looking at you two, Felix and Kata!). Forget the ones that turn into obstacles to the story you want to tell, derailing it at every junction. I’m talking about the run-of-the-mill MC.

As a writer, I don’t “design” my characters. I let them become who they have to be in the story somewhat organically. Oh, I do begin with developed ideas of who they start out as, but I also welcome the surprises. More importantly, I never begin with a protagonist who HAS to be “relatable.”

  1. The trend nowadays is to laud protagonists who are easy to “see yourself in.”
  2. The protagonist has to be compelled: tragedy in his or her past, usually, or at least something that left them uniquely linked to the story problem.
  3. A character flaw has to render the protagonist helpless (or make him or her at least disadvantaged) against the circumstances of the story problem (a flaw that they, of course, later overcome).

If you are a writer, I can already hear you agreeing. But of course that’s what makes a great character! Who wants to read about a Mary Sue, anyway?

Right?

Well, I disagree.

First, long gone are the days I inserted myself in my stories…. Like, thirty years in the past or so. Why? Well, because I don’t want to write (or read) about myself. I want to explore the minds of those unlike me. I want them to enrich me, not reinforce me.

Second … compelled means that at no time in the duration of the story, the character makes a conscious, unaffected decision to become involved. He or she already is, by virtue of something beyond their control. Whether or not they’ve realized/admitted it yet.

Third, my favorite one. Please, do make characters as flawed as you want. I do. I’m all about flaws, because I think perfect characters are boring as hell. And flaws are extra fun to the writing process. But the big “but” — designing that striking character flaw to be the heart of the internal obstacle to resolving the external problem smacks of all kinds of contrived. Why is it the alcoholic who has to fight the monster in the beer factory? At some point, the flaw, no matter how realistic or relatable, becomes a parody of itself.

As a reader, what I want is truthful, fascinating, or admirable in some way characters, not “relatable” ones. I don’t want to see myself in the story. I want to see people with whom I can sympathize, empathize, take on a challenge, have fun — and through whom I can ultimately change my perspective, even if only for the duration of a book. I want people who make decisions because they want, or must, or think they probably should, not because they have no choice. And I don’t want to see the author inside the story, working in the final polish on that round peg in order to fit it in that round hole just perfectly so.

And someone once said, “write what you want to read.”

So, I will not be going for “relatable.” If that hurts wide audience appeal of my books … So be it.

[Someone else’s article to read: http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/scourge-relatability]

At the risk of sounding like I’m whining … January has not been a great start of the year for me. Work has been its own charming self, but it’s not worse than it was in November or December, so it shouldn’t be an excuse. Nevertheless, I’ve been having a hard time getting myself to write.

Of Dragons and Swords has been crawling forth, but no matter how many new words I put down, the end still feels like it belongs to a distant, unreachable future. I know I’m overshooting my target, by a lot. I hope I’ll be able to go back and condense the beginning to keep the story within a reasonable word count, but I think I’m starting to struggle with patience now. For a story that should be so close to being wrapped up, it’s taking far too long.

The little bright spot, however: I revised my “hindsight” outline (I’ve now decided it best to write my outline after I write the story; fun times), and I don’t think it sucks too bad. So, yey?

(Of Dragons and Swords current WC: 108K)

A rare slow day, which is good since I feel so very tired right now.

And instead of something actually writing or art related … here, have a random slightly cropped, but otherwise non-processed photo:

… without having accomplished anything at all.

Really. Sucks.

So, I was out of town for nearly two and a half months (short notice extended overseas work trip). And now I’m back. And I’m absolutely miserable. Jetlag is a good excuse, but it’s only that — an excuse. Motivation for work: extremely low. Motivation for stories: in a pipe-dream fashion, pretty high; in a realistic fashion … bleargh.

In April, I joined an online writers group with a goal to write 10K words. I managed it, barely. Nibbled on stories here and there, squeezed writing in between work, somehow it panned out. I worked through a couple of hard scenes (notably, one in Castles of Sand and Stone), so I wasn’t unhappy. But I never attained “focus” enough for any substantial writing.

Since the end of April, I’ve written practically nothing. I think the only story I moved on was Broken Circles, and that too was barely.

I really feel like I need some time off. But I’m afraid that if I take it, I’ll end up wasting it, like I’ve done so many times before.

On the other hand … Pineapples.

I’ve been running tired this past week… Lots of stuff going on at work, kinda leaving me braindead, so my latest spurt of productivity died out rather abruptly. Got Crossing Roads to its next plot-based milestone (Crossing Roads current WC: 42K), but as soon as I hit it, I totally lost forward momentum. I’ve written exactly 378 words in the last six days. Meh.

On the other hand, when I get into creative “meh” spells, I tend to do okay with organizational stuff. I’ve always struggled with keeping track of my thoughts and ideas for each individual story. I’ve tried full outlines, etc. etc… They seem to have the opposite than intended effect — not only do they not make stories easier to write and better structured, etc., but they seem to sap the life from them. Jotting down notes generally works, but can get really messy. And I’ve always thought that if I get an idea and don’t remember it by the time I get to it in the story, it probably wasn’t that great of an idea anyway, so on to the next…

But still, when I do get my “dry” spells, I tend to want to fill the dull with something, so I go for organizing. So I end up trying to put everything in neat little graphs and flowcharts and tables and figures (you should see my monster story tracker in Excel). This time around, however, I decided to try out “mind mapping” — a flowchart type method that I’ve known about for a while and have been thinking might be interesting to play with. I tried FreeMind (an open source software), and I’m actually kind of glad I did. Not so much so that I can keep what’s ahead in the plot straight, but for the general purpose of keeping track of what’s already happened in the stories, characters, locations, events, concepts, etc. etc. I’ve “filled it out” for five stories already (to a varying degree of detail), and I think it’s going to be a powerful reference tool, especially for any what-the-fuck-was-the-name-of-that-character-who-showed-up-six-chapters-ago-for-a-paragraph moments…

So, until this dry spell ends, I have myself another task to occupy me. Well, that, and Skyrim. I’m pleasantly surprised that Skyrim is actually playable on the XBox360… (The Witcher 2 wasn’t) Damn it, I miss my PC…

The past couple of years have seen quite a few developments in the field of electronic publishing, which have greatly affected how the sector of publishing that interests me the most (fiction publishing) tends to work.

Now, I’m not quite at the point of being ready to send queries out to traditional publishers, or to try to self-publish and self-promote (although I have done an unpromoted test run with a mini-novella at KDP, with some interesting results). But I’ve been following the developments with due interest, and have been trying to form a plan how to go about “releasing stories into the wild,” once I get there.

Being utterly scatterbrained and refusing to set writing goals (what’s the point if I know I’ll break them), I don’t know if by the time I’m ready to start publishing, the landscape won’t have thoroughly changed. It probably will have. But I still can’t help but wonder how I’d proceed if in this indeterminate future, the state of publishing is exactly how it is right now. Read More →

So, the nice surge of creative energy ended over a week ago. Luckily, before that happened, Crossing Roads took off like nobody’s business, and I’m very happy with where it’s going. (Crossing Roads current WC: 26 K)

I also did some organizational work on Broken Circles. Being the behemoth it is, and written somewhat out of chronological order, I split it up by viewpoint groups (that include POVs that don’t violate the timelines relative to each other). Now I need to stitch everything together, write out the  … well, last third of it (yes, it turns out the end ISN’T near), and edit the hell out of the thing. And edit I will need to. I keep pointing to the first 20K of this story, as they were written over a decade ago (when both my English and storytelling skills were non-existent), and before I had solidified the plot. But the truth is, the whole thing needs a solid pass. Even if I can’t say I don’t like it. But I guess if we didn’t like our own stories at least a little bit, we wouldn’t be writing them in the first place. (Broken Circles current WC: 108K)

In other news, I have a new piece of electronics, and I am frankly happy, and impressed.

So, I finally replaced my ancient laptop with a new piece of hardware. I got myself a Samsung ATlV Smart PC Pro. It’s pretty much a full PC in a tablet form, with a somewhat optional keyboard dock that I’ll probably only use when I travel, or to run my desk monitor + peripherals, until I finally bother fixing my desktop …Which promises to take a while.

Anyway, I’m not going to do a full review of the ATIV Pro. I’ll just say that it has exceeded my expectations (which weren’t necessarily very high), and that I couldn’t be happier with its functionality. The most important thing: I now have a piece of electronics which is okay to carry around, which, with the exception of playing full-blown PC games, can do EVERYTHING I need it to do, and very well at that. Yes. That does mean I can write in the fully functional MS Word (the handwriting recognition works very, very well, which is unexpected, especially for someone like me who has very little patience and time to spare…), I can draw in Photoshop (the full version as well, with full pressure sensitivity), and do all other things that people use tablets for, on a beautiful screen with great resolution and even better response time. So… Score!

And a quick evening update: Of Rats in Darkest Corners just got a small bump. (Of Rats in Darkest Corners current WC: 15K)

Apparently, the hiatus lasted much, much longer than I thought.

I’m back, though… kinda?

It’s been a notably bad year, with a few really, really good things sprinkled in, to keep me sane. The last major personal upset was that I got nearly all of my mobile electronics stolen (work laptop, cell phones, camera, back up drives, etc…). Other than professional implications (although my company was really gracious about it, especially since the timing, and resulting severity of the theft, was work trip related), the worse personal bit is that a lousy human being out there has a copy of ALL of my creative stuff. And I do mean all. I’d finally gotten off my lazy butt and backed up everything…

Everyone I’ve shared my fears with has tried to calm me down, telling me that the thieves probably won’t do anything with it — hopefully, by now the portable hard drive has long been formatted and sold — but I can’t help it but have mild panic attacks every so often, that some jerk out there has gone through my drawings, or stories… I feel… yuck.

Anyway… This happened some time ago now, so I’m slowly recovering.

But for a while, I couldn’t even look at my stories without thinking of the theft, and the fact my creative work has fallen into a stranger’s hands. This resulted in almost two months of avoiding thinking about my stories… but I finally shook it off, I think … I hope, anyway.

So, back to our regular programming.

Of Rats in Darkest Corners is officially on hold. Before the theft, I did attempt a “Chapter 0” and even started on Chapter 3. “Chapter 0” is at this point horrible. Chapter 3 is going in the right direction content-wise, but feels excessively flat. Furthermore, I think I’m now back to “Fantasy” mode, so the story goes back to its shelf, until further notice. (Of Rats in Darkest Corners current WC: 13K)

On the other hand, Turn of the Wilds: Bent Steel got quite a bit of a bump in word count before the theft. This is the second time in my writing life that a character comes out of nowhere to overtake a story and, just like the first time, it’s all kinds of awesome! I also clarified a direction for the book, so — yey! The biggest frustration… This is actually the SECOND book of the Turn of the Wilds group of stories. Tarnished Red comes first. And Tarnished Red is, unfortunately, stagnating at a couple of chapters, that I’ve been thinking about rewriting anyway … It’s not that Bent Steel can’t stand on its own — but I’ve had this constant nagging feeling in the back of my mind that it’d be better to finish Tarnished Red first, even while Bent Steel was flowing onto “paper” like nobody’s business. And that’s not a good feeling to have. (Turn of the Wilds: Bent Steel current WC: 50K; Turn of the Wilds: Tarnished Red current WC: 6K)

BUT … after my “return,” the story that’s coming back into focus, mostly for reasons of it being close to the (at least official) finish line, is Broken Circles. This one also comes with its own set of frustrations — since the first 20K words were written way back in college, they need a major rewrite not only for language, but also for content. There are also so many side stories (ones that are already on paper, and others I wonder if I shouldn’t tell anyway), that the word count promises to majorly bloat out of proportion. And there’s also the (at least for me) natural fear that I won’t be able to tie all the loose threads into a good end. I mean, I HAVE the end in my head, and in a quick abstract. I know what happens with each of the characters. I know how the plot gets wrapped up. I have the content… but what scares me is whether I’ll be able to pull it off as writing and storytelling. There are some very, very tough scenes coming up. I’m an ambitious writer, but I’m not a good writer yet. And having to write some of these scenes intimidates the fuck out of me. (Broken Circles current WC: 103K)

Finally, the “guilty pleasure” space opera story that turned into a mainstream one … Dancing with Demons. About a quarter in, it stumbled onto a good and I think worthwhile plot, so I’m now taking it out of the “guilty pleasure” category. I’ll keep the focus on Broken Circles, of course, but I’ve found that my writing process must allow for me to jump between at least a couple of stories, or otherwise my writing goes flat. So, Dancing with Demons has come into the spotlight. It’s mostly Star-Warsy type action (think the Knights of the Old Republic games, not the movies — without the Force, and with more factions and mercenaries =), with two awkward (hopefully, not in a Star-Warsy way) love stories (one just kicking up, another already going strong) thrown in the mix. It’s been pretty fun writing it. I don’t know if now that it’s “serious,” the enjoyment of the process won’t change — but I still like the story and hope to bring it to an end someday soon. (Dancing with Demons current WC: 24K)

So, that’s it for my long overdue update. Toodles!

I’ve been working on multiple stories since my last update on Vet, getting scenes out of my head and on paper.

One of my big bits of progress: I got over a bump on Castles of Sand and Stone and wrote 2K words in one sitting. I ended up putting myself against another bump, though. I have to bring a group of people to a certain location and the way I wrote it out this time feels “too convenient.” The justification behind the events is fairly solid, I believe, but my gut feel is that it still reads a little forced. This could be a consequence of my new practice of actually planning ahead for things that happen in the story, but I can’t take a chance — I can’t look at it with “fresh eyes” anymore, so I’m going with my gut feel. Therefore, I’m on hold with this one, until I figure out how to make it all work naturally. I already have an idea, but I’ll have to work through the details before I sit down to write anything out. (Castles of Sand and Stone current WC: 61K)

I wrote a scene I’m pretty happy with for Turn of the Wilds: Bent Steel, the “core” story, and a little over 7.5K words for the “aux” bucket, which is part of the story that I don’t really know if I’ll use in the actual novel or not — it depends on how I decide to structure the whole damn thing.

This story’s actually becoming interesting to work on as a process too, because I’m juggling a ton of characters in it, and the ones that are naturally emerging as “leads” were not the ones I was planning to have as main characters in the beginning. I even have a character who was not planned at the start, was introduced as a transitional POV character so that I don’t have to go into a major info dump, and is now a main mover. (then again, this is definitely not the first time this has happened in a story of mine, so no surprise here) The cool thing is that the story’s falling into place very easily. Practically all little frills I originally added to the world just to make it more “colorful” have become major plot elements, and so far, I’ve yet to go back to fix something so that a new idea works. It’s a really fun way to work on a story, I have to say. Feels effortless, so far. Of course, I’m still in the first third of the story, which means I still have a LOT of work to do on plot, etc… but so far, it’s been great. (Turn of the Wilds: Bent Steel current WC: 24K, plus an additional 15K that may or may not go into the story depending on how I decide to structure it)

Vet has been in a little bit of a bind. I had a dear friend visit over the weekend, and I went through a pretty major bout of nostalgia. Up to about 10 years ago, along with writing, I kept trying my hand at comics. I was never good (see previous post) and I don’t really have the patience for it (see previous post, again), but I like the medium a lot. When finding time for creative work became more of an issue, I more or less went back to 100% prose, taking care of my drawing urges through character sketches and illustrations. But now that the memories have been stirred, I’m sincerely considering giving Vet a try as a comic. I think the story would work well visually anyway (plus, I love to draw me some punks =), and I’m now considering trying the first chapter as a comic too. Not sure if it will work or not, or how far I’ll stick with it, but, hell … why not? (Vet current WC: 11K)

Then, I did some consolidation of my C&R stories (I’m considering “Between Two Broken Mirrors” as a title right now… not sure if I like it enough yet). I’m seriously split between two options for buttoning down this story. First would be to stick with the current format (loose short stories that follow the two main characters); the second would be a true novel format, which will use one of the short stories as the frame, will require a ton of work, and will possibly result in a major rewrite of most of the internal stories. I like the second option because I think the plot device could be kick-ass in light of the meat of the story: a man who’s lost his memories is trying to piece his past together. On the other hand, I like the first option because that’s how the story flows “naturally” — and I’ll be able to include the second POV of the shorts (Cyrus’) — while in the novel version, I’d have to stick with just Richard’s. I’ll have to do a little more soul-searching on this story in general, though. It’s an early story, and some of the themes and on-screen events have always pushed my personal comfort level. Now, I’m not saying that the story’s risque or anything like it. Even some of the things I’m not comfortable with are vanilla compared to some of the writings I’ve stumbled on before. But on a personal level, I’m not sure I want to make this story public. And if I’m keeping it private, then I don’t need to “button it down.” (Between Two Broken Mirrors current WC: 103K)

Oh, did I mention I jump from story to story a lot?

(Oh, and I’ve made the executive decision to always record the word count of whatever story I’m talking about, with the idea that this way, I’ll give myself a way of remembering where I was in the story whenever I said something about it… accountability, AND tractability… Hey ya!)