Posts tagged: ideas

Oct 16 2010

It’s that time again!

Every year, I participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I am a Municipal Liaison (ML), and have been since 2005. I also moderate one of the busiest forums on the site, and have since 2006.

NaNoWriMo is a fun, community-building writing event. The goal is to write a 50,000 word novel (or the first 50,000 words of a longer novel) in November. Writing begins at midnight on November 1 and continues until midnight on November 30.

I first discovered NaNoWriMo in 2001, I believe. It didn’t go well for me that year; I think I managed a few pages of a story about a boy and his dreams. If I ever find that failed manuscript, I’ll see about finishing it.

In 2003, I was living in Calgary and learned of the forums and local in-person events. I never made it to any events that year, but it was exciting to find out they existed.

In 2004, I made it to some of the events. I even made a good start on a fairy tale type novel that uses bits and pieces of popular (and not-so-popular) fairy tales to create the plot. That one I definitely intend to finish.

In 2005, I volunteered to ML and totally flaked on everything – the novel, the write-ins, the parties… yeah, I sucked that year.

But in 2006, I resolved to make it the Best Year Ever, for myself and my region. My co-ML, Heather (whose web site is over here), took control of the in-person events, planning and running the Kick-off party and scheduling and booking weekly write-ins. I found a free IRC chat host that had an interface I could put up on a web page (I had this domain already, so that was easy) and started hosting chat rooms (that is now a rather large undertaking called chatnano.net), I sent weekly inspirational e-mails to everyone in the region, and I volunteered to moderate three of the busiest forums on the NaNoWriMo web site. I also planned and ran a Midway Bash because people wanted a social in-person meet, and I wound up looking after the Thank Goodness It’s Over (TGIO) party when Heather suddenly had to go out of town at the end of the month. 2006 was also the year I finally made that 50,000 word mark, with a YA novel called The Social Habits of Dolphins. Most of the plot points in that book are still valid, but overall the story itself needed so much work that I have decided not to work on it any longer.

In 2007, I met my now-husband, Juniper, in the middle of October. He decided to do NaNoWriMo with me, and we had a blast together. Heather again handled the Kick-off and the write-ins, and I did the online stuff and looked after the Midway Bash. I also got to do the TGIO because Heather again had to travel at the end of the month. Sadly, I only made it about halfway to the finish line that year, but it was still a lot of fun. I blame my lack of success on my attempt at an experimental type of novel, which didn’t really have a proper plot. I might see if it’s done or if it needs a bit more work to finish it, and then we’ll see where it goes from there.

And then 2008 happened. Heather was too busy to do her usual event handling, so I booked, planned, and ran: the Kick-off party, the Midway Bash, and the TGIO; two or three write-ins per week; an all-nighter write-in; and a 12-hour write-in. I also continued to run chatnano.net, and I was still moderating two forums on the NaNoWriMo web site. This was the year of my second win, with a sequel to my 2006 novel. It was called The Survival Instincts of Seagulls at the time, but I have since changed that to Tumbling. Tumbling is in editing at the moment, and has become book one of a series of YA books about teens with disabilities.

At the beginning of 2009, Juniper and I moved to Saskatoon. I became the ML here, and last year I ran a Kick-off, a Midway Bash, a TGIO, and one write-in per week. I moderated two forums and ran chatnano.net. I also finished Pointillism, which is the third book in the series. I am currently working on Releve, the second book in the series. Tumbling, Releve, and Pointillism are a trio, so the events of these three books are dependent upon each other.

This year, I am still ML in Saskatoon. We’ll be having lots of fun events, and our Kick-off and TGIO are both going to take place at McNally Robinson, which is the best book store in the country. I am still moderating one of the forums, and I am still running chatnano.net. I am going to write the fourth book in that series, but I’m starting a new trio, so I get to explore some new characters and new disabilities.

Writing is fun, and NaNoWriMo makes it even more fun. Even better, I actually finish my projects in a decent amount of time when I write them this way.

If you want to join me this year, follow the link at the beginning of this post – I promise, you won’t be sorry!

May 09 2010

It’s all derivative, and it’s all fanfic.

Diana Gabaldon, author of the Outlander series, had quite the furor over on her blog last weekend. The posts in question, along with their comments, are gone now, which is too bad, but I honestly don’t blame her for deleting them in the end.

The initial post called out fanfic writers. Ms Gabaldon used comparisons that caused a huge uproar in the fandoms. She could have used a little bit of tact, and she was incorrect in her statement that fanfic is illegal, but I do believe her point was valid. The point of the initial post? She doesn’t want people to write fanfic about her characters and post it online.

For the uninitiated, fanfic is a genre(?) of writing wherein the author takes characters or elements of someone else’s work (be it television, movies, or books) and uses those characters or elements to create a new story. It’s gotten rather a bad rap in many circles due to the tendency of these stories to include eroticism – or just plain smut – that often pairs two characters who were never paired in such a manner in the original work. There is, in fact, a lot of what is called “slash” – that is, homoerotic fiction that (usually) pairs two male characters who are canonically heterosexual – written in the fanfic genre.

I, myself, do not read fanfic very often. Occasionally I will read a Combat! fanfic story that my mother has written (somehow Combat! fans manage to stay away from slash), but in general I don’t seek it out and don’t click on links to fanfic that I come across during my usual perusal of my friends page on LiveJournal. It stands to reason that I also do not write fanfic.

Something that I have noticed, which I very much appreciate about the fanfic I have come across (whether I read it or not) is the way the story is introduced. There is typically a header to the post that offers the reader a rating (similar to that used for rating movies), a list of warnings (e.g., sexuality, violence, language), the fandom (or fandoms if it is a cross-fandom story) being explored, and a disclaimer that notes who originally created the world and/or characters and states outright that the author of the story is just playing with them. Sometimes, a fanfic author will create a whole alternative universe, and when that happens, the header will note that this has occurred. Sometimes other authors will become so taken with this alternative universe that they start writing stories in this new continuity themselves, and they note that they are writing something in so-and-so’s continuity.

All in all, fanfic seems to have a lot of pretty clear rules about how things are to be done, and one of those rules is that if an author states that they do not condone fanfic, then there will be no fanfic of that author’s work.

Now that I’ve said all of that, what’s up with my post title this week?

Just what it says: it’s all derivative, and it’s all fanfic.

There are a limited number of stories in the world. I think somebody else said that first, but I have no idea who it was – just that it was said. I think it is important to realize that we, as authors, don’t write in a vacuum. We watch TV, or we watch movies, or (at the very least) we read books (and we’d better be reading, else what business have we to try to write). All of this media influences our writing. We like certain aspects of the things we read or watch, and we choose to include them in our own work. This isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, but it is, I think, important that we recognize that it does happen. There is no truly original work in the world: it’s all derivative. What makes each new work original is the spin put on it, the twists and turns the author takes as he works to tell the story that has planted itself so firmly in his mind, and the author’s voice (assuming he has developed a unique one and is not simply imitating someone else’s).

I think “it’s all fanfic” is also a valid statement. High fantasy (sword and sorcerer type stories) hail back to Tolkein, Dungeons & Dragons, and other similar works. One of my favourite twentieth-century Christian fantasists, John White, made no bones of the fact that he based many aspects of his Anthropos books on C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series (e.g., children from our world go there; there are talking animals that help them defeat evil; there is an allegorical slant to the story, complete with a poorly-disguised Christ-figure and a crucifixion scene). So-called science fiction that doesn’t include a whole lot of actual science? That’s probably got a lot to do with Star Wars and Star Trek. And you can’t tell me that people who write romance novels (of the ripped/heaving bodices type) aren’t simply writing the types of stories they like reading in the genre. (Okay, yes, I realize that some of the people who write them don’t read them. But enough of them do, I think, to make it a valid statement.)

I will share some examples from my own writing.

  1. Ballk is a children’s fantasy novel that is based loosely around John White’s Anthropos books. There is a girl who travels to another world and must defeat the evil queen to restore order to the place she finds herself.  It’s not so well-developed an imitation that there are talking animals or a Christ-figure, but the overarching plot elements are there.
  2. Beast is a retelling of the fairy tale Beauty & the Beast. Immediately you know it’s fanfic, derivative, whatever else you want to call it. What’s different about my take on the story is that I’m telling it from the point-of-view of the Beast.
  3. I write stories based on the Bible. By which I mean, I take a story from the Bible and choose a point-of-view and write it, with more detail, from that point-of-view. So far, I have written the creation story from Genesis, the story of the sacrifice of Isaac (from the point-of-view of Sarah, Isaac’s mother), and a couple of other stories. This is definitely fanfic.

What about you? Can you see your influences? What fandom do you write for? From what do your stories derive?

You know you do it.

Mar 16 2010

My Editing Process

Editing a novel is very different from editing a short story. When I write a short story, I finish the first draft, get one of my writerly friends to read through it and give me some comments and critique (C&C), take what they’ve said and make some decisions about what to change, then get more C&C and make more changes. My final draft is usually my fourth draft, though sometimes it’s obvious that a piece is finished before that. It’s important to note, also, that when I say I “make some decisions about what to change,” that means that I read through the C&C and decide whether or not I think the proposed changes will actually make the story stronger. If a question makes it clear that the reader didn’t quite catch on to whatever it is I’m trying to do with the story, then I know there are things I need to change so that it’s clearer.

Well, I want to do that with my novels, but there’s a more complex (well, longer, at least) process involved here. Pointillism is the third book in a series. Tumbling is the first in the series, and Relevé is the second. Me being me, I wrote Tumbling for NaNoWriMo in 2008 and Pointillism for NaNoWriMo in 2009, and haven’t really done much beyond plotting Relevé. My series is in this state because I wrote the original first book in the series for NaNoWriMo 2006, but after writing Tumbling I realized that The Social Habits of Dolphins was really, really bad (though I love the title and want to use it someday for something else) and the characters were not as strong as they should be. So I revamped my idea for the series and began to plot Relevé (the replacement for The Social Habits of Dolphins, now the second book instead of the first)and Pointillism.

Confused yet? It doesn’t get any less confusing, trust me!

One of my friends read through Pointillism and gave me some great C&C. After I finished my read-through, I incorporated her notes with my own, and I now have a really comprehensive list of things to work on as I work on my second draft. (She read it in two days, she liked it so much; it took me longer, but I was anxious to get back to it every day because I wanted to know what happened next.)

I have sent that same friend the first draft of Tumbling. I’ve finished my first read-through and made a lot of notes. There are things in it that I need to make sure I incorporate into Pointillism and others that don’t hold up to scrutiny. And along the way, I’ve had some revelations about the main character of Relevé that have left me excited and sleep-deprived as I imagined how her story is going to go now that I know what really needs to happen to her.

But it’s NaNoEdMo this month, and I can’t wait to start editing until I receive my friend’s notes on Tumbling or have the first draft of Relevé ready to go. So what am I doing now?

Well, I like to use yWriter for my writing – novels and short stories. It’s a great free writing program that lets you organize your projects by chapter and scene (something that helps keep me organized and lets me know where I am in the story). I’ll probably write a post about how I use the program at some point, but right now I want to explain what I’m doing to Pointillism.

I am currently going through and making sure that I have characters listed for every scene. This is not a feature that I have used extensively as yet, but I am hopeful that it will help me keep my story more organized. I am also applying “items” to each scene. I put quotes around the word because I’m using the items feature to keep track of my subplots (I don’t write mysteries or high fantasy, so I don’t really have a lot of items to keep track of; YA fiction, however, does have a lot of subplots). I’m also rating the tension, humour, and romance in each scene. I’m hopeful that using these features and printing reports once I’m finished will help me see where I need to add or take away – do I need another scene for this subplot? what about changing the dialogue? is the climax too soon? – things like that.

We’ll Write You an Opera You Can’t Refuse has been on hiatus for long enough. I’m hoping that I will be able to get it finished soon. I just need to dig in and get it done! When the first draft is finally finished, I am going to reward myself by plotting out Relevé on paper. Right now it’s all in my head, and it is screaming to get out. I figure I’ll eke it out slowly, writing a bit here and a bit there, always as a reward for finishing something less appealing. My goal is to actually have all three of these novels in the same stage of editing at the same time, so they can be finished and maybe published at the same time, as well. We’ll see how that goes.

Jan 15 2010

Following ideas

First, the big news: I actually submitted Fortresses Crash into the Sea to a journal. I will report back on that when I hear from the editor. Forever Yours is going to be incredibly difficult to find a market for. I have a suspicion that it’s too religious for some markets and too controversial for others. That’s what I get for following ideas.

Following ideas has gotten me into some hot water in other ways, too. Remember that story I wrote about last week, We’ll Write You an Opera You Can’t Refuse? Well, I’m not done yet, but it’s turning out to be quite the ride. I’ve had to research Italian first names, Italian first names, and Italian operas and composers. I’ve had to research timpani music. Did you know that there are actually concertos and symphonies written for solo timpani with orchestral accompaniment? Some of them require seven or eight timpani to one musician! Of course, I’m no percussionist – the closest I’ve come is playing shakers and tambourine in band for church. This could cause a problem, if I let any of the scenes be about the playing of the instruments. So far, so good. 😉

In editing news, I’ve now got two picture books that need a final edit and an illustrator. Or maybe an agent. Whatever. I need to figure out what to do with them. And The Power is going apace. I deleted a whole bunch of scenes out of it today, and that could easily cause problems for people, but this edit is primarily about making sure I get rid of the stuff that’s really bad. Once I’m done, I’ll have to find someone to read it and tell me where they need more information and where things don’t make sense, so I can make sure I add the right scenes.

I say that following ideas causes problems, but really the main problem is needing to write the stories based on the ideas. Ideas niggle and wiggle and want to come out. And trust me, come out they do. Each of the four named stories in this post was borne of a different idea:

  1. Fortresses Crash to the Sea is based on a song of the same name, by a now disbanded Christian rock band based out of Calgary. The imagery evoked by the music and the lyrics gave me the idea for the fairy tale I wrote.
  2. Forever Yours is, at its most basic, about what people do when the foundations of their lives are shaken in some way. The triggering idea was the question of what would happen if the Roman Catholic Church decided to allow priests to marry.
  3. We’ll Write You an Opera You Can’t Refuse is about the musicians’ mob, which, to my knowledge, doesn’t exist. The conversation that gave me the idea was actually about moving a set of timpani from the concert location back to the rehearsal location after Remembrance Day, but something in the way things were said made me think of contraband timpani, and, well, the rest is history.
  4. The Power is basically about finding oneself and refining and depending on one’s faith in God. The idea behind it has to do with the power of Holy Spirit, the reality of the supernatural (i.e., angels and demons), and how people respond to the gifts they are given. I definitely take liberties with accepted theology in this story, but there are reasons for those liberties, and I made each choice purposefully.

Stories start with ideas. I dare you to follow those ideas and see where you end up.

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