Last week was not great for many reasons. From forgetting the charger for my computer to my car not starting intermittently, last week was a real challenge. I should have posted to my blog, but I wasn’t able to do so easily while dealing with life.
So, the car started up, but wouldn’t crank over. After two days, it finally started and I was able to get into a shop. I hope that the repairs will be enough to get me through semester.
So, over the weekend, it appears someone is trying to hack my email account. After doing online research, it looks like someone is trying to use my email address to gain access to my Apple iCloud account in order to lock me out of it and hold it hostage for ransom (probably bitcoins). Here’s a news story on this issue. I’ve taken measures to keep this from happening, but I have to say that Microsoft helped to make this an issue. I noticed that my “gmail” account had been “cloned” via Microsoft account (not sure how it was done), but when I called their account services, they basically told me not to worry about it. I could have avoided this had they taken action and locked this renamed “gmail” account on their Microsoft email servers. When this hacker renamed this gmail account to an “iCloud” account on Microsoft servers, I decided to take action.
I lost a week of writing, but I hope to get back into the swing of it this week, fingers crossed. This blog post is a part of that desire to get back to a writing life.
The author Jesmyn Ward was recently interviewed on PBS.org’s website and she talked about the writing life. However, she gave 4 pieces of advice. I want to talk about the first one here and I’ll go into the other 3 on the next blog post. Her four big takeaways are “Persist. Read. Write. Improve.”
Time and again, I’ve heard the adage: “Persistence is the key to success,” so whenever I tried to do something, I try to be persistent at it, to have grit as Angela Duckworth and other educational theorists have defined it–the ability to stick to a task even when it is hard. In writing this is true as well. I’ve seen many writers (students and non-students) give up writing after their first rejection or after several rejections, but I tried to push through and I earned my first publication nearly 20 years ago. However, the journey from neophyte writer to a successful one has not quite gone as I’d envisioned after making that first sale.
Her advice rings true. I need to simply persist. I honestly wondered whether I should continue writing in early to mid December, but after the break I think I just need to focus on getting projects done and enjoying that aspect. It was so refreshing to have worked on the outlines for the projects with Tana on Ship of Shadows. Even if they are never published (even though I sincerely hope that’s not the case), I still had fun creating them and coming up with them while wrapped up in a warm blanket on a snowy day. The sheer joy of writing, of creating, is why I find being a writer (or to be Writing to reference an earlier post) to be so much fun and liberating. Unfortunately, “life” got in the way yesterday, and I wasn’t nearly as productive writing as I should have been–I only wrote a “note card” of one potential project and it was extremely tentative (wrote it late at night when I should have been in bed because of school) and as such, I don’t have the same “euphoria” that I did after the first Snow Day.
I must learn to be both Persistent in my writing and also to be consistently persistent. That way, even if I can’t publish the way I’d like, I can still have fun and enjoy the challenge of creating and writing the things that I love.
So, I was very tempted to to call this blog post Snow Day #2 or *2 or something similar as my school is closed for the second straight day), but decided against it at the last moment. I wanted to give an idea of how much one can get done with a little “free” time. Here’s a little of what I worked on yesterday:
2018: Year of Ship of Shadows
So I am devoting the whole of 2018 to “preproduction” and drafting of various projects related to my story “Ship of Shadows” (which is available on Amazon.com in the anthology Visions IV: Space Between Stars). I am going to “remix” it in as many ways possible this year and I wrote several outlines of how the character of Tana and her story might inhabit/play-out in different media or forms. It is super early in the year, but as the projects progress, I will definitely keep readers of the blog informed.
I also began a reorganization for my writing files that will hopefully make me more productive. I’ve organized my writing into three distinct areas: planning (“preproduction” – to steal a movie term), drafting (“production”), and revising/editing (“postproduction”). I have various projects in various stages of completion–drafts that are completely written that just need editing, drafts that need various elements revised, projects that need characterization or characters that need plots, etc. I’m “stealing” the movie industry’s terms of “preproduction,” “production,” and “postproduction” in order to finish projects in a more organized and orderly fashion. I’ve wanted to make this change for a while now–since early Spring of 2017 and the Snow Day allowed me to get it done.
Dreaming up New Projects/Characters
Much of the fun of writing comes from the act of creating something new. Thanks to the Snow Day, I was able to come up with “tentative” ideas for two or three new projects and story ideas and characters. These are in the embryonic stages, but hopefully if my school work will allow, I can more fully plan these projects out in the summer and write them later this year.
I have no idea if I’ll be nearly this prolific on this second Snow Day, but I will most certainly give it a try! 🙂
So today is a Snow Day for me. The semester was supposed to start today, but school was closed, so I’m taking a day to get mentally set and prepared for the upcoming semester. Specifically, I will be trying to work on writing and getting ideas down on to paper and planning stories today. I will also be working on revisions and editing also if there’s time.
I hope to get a lot accomplished today (while also resting a little as well). I’ve learned from my time as a Middle School teacher–you want to really use Snow Days effectively (and I have several projects that could use a little more time to work on them!).
So over the Winter Break, I finished Mad Max, a video game based on the Mad Max character and world, but not based on the movie Mad Max Fury Road. It is an original game using the character of Mad Max and the apocalyptic world that he inhabits as the focal points to tell a unique story. While I did finish it, I did also feel that it was a bit of a slog to get through (more on that later), but more than that, I had real issues with the way the story was told, or perhaps more accurately, how the story unfolded. According to my year-end Playstation stats, it was the 3rd game that I spent the most time on this year, clocking in at about 124 hours.
Part of my issue is that the story was really very good up until the final missions of the game. Essentially, (without massive spoilers) the game is essentially a massive “rebuilding” operation where you do various missions for various “faction” heads and then “build” up that faction. The missions were side missions, but they also acted as “gating” missions, meaning that your progress was locked (i.e., “gated”) until you completed the side missions/story mission for that faction. The way it worked seemed to imply that at the end of the game, these “factions” would aid you in your story after you had done all of the things you could to help them–alas, this was not the case.
The “Circular” Story
In the last few missions of the game, your character (again, no spoilers) makes several choices in the cut-scenes of the game that you as the player probably would not have made and you’re left with the ramifications of the choices that he’s made. For an open world game that is all about player agency and choice, the story oddly takes the narrative out of your hands in the most unsatisfying of ways. In games like this, there are sometimes multiple endings (InFamous series springs to mind), but most often than not, the ending is the same, but little things are able to be changed here and there so that even though the ending is the same, the choices that you made seemed to have mattered (even if, in truth, they did not). MM doesn’t even give you the illusion of choice–you see the moment when the creative director rips control from your hands and see the results of the outcome and then the game gives you back control. Worse yet, the character doesn’t learn anything from the experience. He goes back to being the exact same character that he was in the beginning of the game, which leads to a Why does this even matter question after one finishes the game.
The Audience changes, but the Character Does Not
In this game, the story wants the audience to feel for a character who doesn’t feel at all. I can understand that narrative, but I also question it. One of the reasons Hamlet works is because we see that Hamlet, the prince, is conflicted. Hamlet isn’t dead inside like Mad Max, but Hamlet feels–one might argue that Hamlet feels too much and that because he doesn’t just kill the king when he has the opportunity, he sets in motion his own downfall. MM falls into that nihilistic category that modern storytellers seem to love so much: let’s not change our character, but let’s instead change our audience. Let’s tell them this really (insert adjective here–gory, sad, disgusting, etc.) story and then destroy everyone except the hero and then watch him or her ride off into the sunset. This will wring pathos from our audience. I was really disappointed with the way the story turned out–if it is an open world game, then please give me, the player, agency over the story. That’s what video games are all about and that is the strength of the medium over other mediums, say books or movies. Let the player decide the outcome of the story, rather than the other way around.
So in the last blog post, I talked about planning a story for January. In this blog post, I’m going to talk about drafting (aka writing) a story. The story that I’m writing for January 2018 is Project Skye (the short story).
Short Story as Character Sketch
I’m writing this story as a way to examine Skye’s character. I was tasked to come up with a character sketch for Skye by the MTSU Writing Center as I struggled to try to create a novel this past semester. I struggled to do the character sketch because all my choices seemed arbitrary. So, I decided to write a story which puts Skye into jeopardy to see how she would react–to reveal her character through action.
Not as Easy as it Sounds
This sounds easy–I wrote a brief one sentence outline of everything that I wanted in the story. I wrote a beginning, middle, and end for the story. I wrote a 1 sentence brief outline of the scenes (3 scenes) in the beginning, middle, and end. I’m about halfway done, but I’m having problems working on it because 1) I now realize the setting actually needs to be changed (this is happening in their aircraft when it should be in “hovercars,” 2) this was to be a “prologue” event to show how they know each other (there needs to be a different prologue event and this needs to happen later in the novel’s timeline), and 3) The first section is waaaayyyy longer than I’d intended it to be (by about double–I feel like I need that length, but it is making the rest of the story unbalanced by comparison). Basically, I can see all the flaws that I want to go back and fix (i.e., start over). I’m going to try to trudge to the end, but when I’m not happy with the results of my writing, it is very difficult to finish.
Knowing When its “Right”
When HawkeMoon was “finished,” I knew that it was “right.” The same is true with Silence Will Fall (although I knew at the time that I’d written away from the ending I had in mind–so that’s why I had to rewrite the ending last year–to bring it more in line with the original ending that I’d dreamed about with that story). However, I’m not even finished with Project Skye and I know it isn’t right. I’m going to need at least one more draft to get it where I think it needs to be. That is the hardest part of drafting for me–having to keep going even when I know that the draft is lacking because I want to fix it immediately. I think, because I just dove into the project, without doing what I normally do (i.e., writing a draft that is just for me–my own personal “telling” myself the story, I don’t think that I have the action as firmly in place as I should).
As I go throughout this year, planning stories, the end goal needs to be: sometime during the last week of the month I need to write out a Rough Draft in which I “Tell, Don’t Show.” This draft is For My Eyes Only and will aid me when the time comes to turn my story into a draft for the audience where I then “Show, Don’t Tell.” If I don’t do a “Rough Draft,” then I’m going to have to spend even more time “fixing it” with another draft later on down the line.
So the first of the new projects that I’m planning is a new short story that I’m calling Project Sea for the moment. It is in “preproduction” stage throughout the month of January. I have a small book that I’m reading in addition to try to gain the requisite knowledge for it as it involves sailing vessels, pirates, and voyages on the high seas. I’m not a sailor, nor am I a sailing person, but I would like to get the nautical usage correct. I’m a fan of Robert Silverberg and if I remember correctly, the first book of Silverberg’s Valentine novels (Lord Valentine’s Castle) featured an extended voyage at sea with a cast motley characters. This is what I’m looking for in this project.
I don’t want to go too into detail or depth so as 1) not to reveal, but 2) also not to write away the surprise of the first rough draft when I finally get to writing it at the end of the month. Right now, I’m focusing on characters, their motivations, and (surprisingly) plot as this is one of the few stories where the action of what happens is nebulous for me. Right now, I only have the world really clear in my mind and I’m trying to flesh out some of why the world works as it does and the characters that inhabit this world.
My ultimate goal is to have characters (goals, motivations, character change), plot (beginning, middle, end) and setting (why does the world look/act as it does) planned through January and write a 1 or 2 page Rough Draft during the last couple of days of January. I then plan on putting it away for a while and pull it out again later in the year to Revise into a “Working Draft.”
Below is the trailer to Skull and Bones, a new game from Ubisoft coming later in 2018 that is a partial inspiration to this project. It really only inspired one potential character, but it does also give a visual sense of what I’m trying to achieve in my story.
That’s all for today. I hope you have a great day!
This quote from William Faulkner is as close to a New Year’s Resolution as I will allow myself for this year. I’ve tried too hard to be a “writer.” I need to just write. I need to plan what I want to write (for me that generally means character sketches and plot outlines, along with world building) and I need to revise what I write (getting it in good enough shape to submit and making adjustments as necessary). But most importantly I need to just write (to draft project after project regardless of whether I’m selling the projects or not).
Planning to Write
I’m working on planning at least one project to write every month. If I finish planning a project early, then I will pull out another project and plan it, but every month I plan to have at least one project done (so I should have 12 new projects ready by the end of 2018). This is both attainable (hopefully given school work) and measurable (I report back at the end of the year to see how closely I matched this goal). I created a Planning Checklist in Numbers (Apple’s answer to Excel) to track the days that I can actually work on planning and on the days I do, I simply place a checkmark beside it to give visual feedback on how well I’m doing. Thanks to my illness, I only got to work on planning 2 days last week.
This is where the rubber meets the road. This where I actually sit down and draft out a story, trying to adhere to all the story conventions (Character, plot, dialogue, setting, beginning, middle, end, exposition, rising action, climax, resolution, etc.). I intend to create a checklist for this process as well to help give me visual feedback on how well I’m doing. Thanks to my illness last week, I didn’t get any drafting done last week, although I did draft 5 days consecutively the week before Christmas. The same thing applies: every month I’m drafting 1 project, so that at the end of the year I should have at least 12 projects written. I want to be a little “harder” on myself on this step as it is doable. Just pull the internet connection on the laptop and write until the battery drains (which in the case of my late 2008 Macbook Pro is only about 45-50 minutes), so this is where Faulkner’s quote comes in: don’t be a ‘writer’ Be writing. This is where I really want to show growth/improvement in the coming year–(again, based on schoolwork).
While I understand the market isn’t perfect and I’m not the flavor of the month, I still want to publish my work. To that end, like the other two steps, I want to try to revise at least 1 project every month and put it out on the market. I plan to follow the same “mold” as the other two steps in creating a checklist to help give me visual feedback on the days I worked on the project. I worked 1 day on HawkeMoon last week due to the illness. I want to submit it to an anthology that has a deadline of Feb. 1st, 2018. I intend to enlist aid from either another grad. student or the Writing Center to help get the story where I want it for this market. I intend to write an Author’s Note for it as well as to write a more in-depth Revision Note section on what I want to revise and why and try to solicit feedback on how to achieve this goal. As I type these words, I just got an email from a market that Silence Will Fall made it to the second stage (the “maybes” pile) at a market–so there’s hope still that some markets do, in fact, like what I write.
Well, that’s all for now–while I might not touch on this monthly (although I might give periodic updates, I’m not sure yet), I will try to revisit this in an end-of-year post to see how well I’ve done. All of this is dependent on school/classwork which is the great unknown in this endeavor, but hopefully I can find 45 minutes somewhere in my day to not be a writer, but to be writing.
One of the reasons that Rian Johnson had so many problems and so much of a backlash against SWTLJ is the exact same problem that I had with Looper–he relied on visuals rather than trying to create epic themes that SW (especially the original series). SW at its core is about relating its characters to the world and showing how much more you can be. SW is about themes that resonate through the characters’ (& by extension, our own) lives.
Star Wars: Believe in Something Greater/Higher than Yourself
The theme of SW is to believe in something greater/higher than oneself–to have faith. There are a multitude of scenes that illustrate this including the famous “Trench Run” scene where Luke is told by Ben’s voice to trust the Force and he turns off his targeting computers. In doing so, he is questioned by “ground control” as they wonder what is wrong. It is most explicitly talked about, however, during Luke’s “training” with the drone with Ben teaching him about the Force. We see that once Luke realizes that he can “see” beyond the physical and into the immaterial, then the Force “guides” his actions and helps to move him from good to great.
The Empire Strikes Back: 1) You May Not Have All of the Facts Even When You Believe You Do and 2) The Power of Belief.
The ESB is a darker movie, not because it is literally shot darker, but because it deals with more complex and more nuanced themes. Most specifically, one of the main themes that runs throughout the movie is the idea that even if you think you have all the information at hand, you actually might not not and a closer look might be wise. This happens to both Luke while training at Dagobah and to Han, Leia, and Chewie in Cloud City. In each situation, both groups think that they have all of the pieces of information they need, when in fact, they are missing valuable pieces that would greatly enhance their understanding of the situations they find themselves inhabiting. It really comes down to trust. Should Luke trust his teachers or trust himself, should Han, Leia, and Chewie trust Lando or not? Luke also learns from the raising of the X-Wing that he doesn’t really truly believe in the power of the Force. Yoda has given himself over to it completely where Luke has learned the lessons, but when things get hard, he doesn’t really trust in the Force to see him through it. This ties back into the first theme when Luke doesn’t trust Yoda enough to see his training through even though it might cost him his friends.
The Return of the Jedi: Point of View as well as Friends versus Lackeys
For RotJ the theme is trifold: 1) One’s Point of View, 2) the idea of having Friends vs. Lackeys, and 3) Don’t make the same mistakes. One’s Point of View is very important in orientating/grounding the character to the world and has an important bearing on how the person/character looks at the universe. Luke is angry with Ben Kenobi for not telling him the truth about his father, but Ben tells Luke that many of truths that we cling to in the universe depend greatly on our point of view. Had Luke not learned that lesson then he might have fallen into the trap of believing that his father was completely lost. Having friends that one can depend on was very important to the SW characters as they are always bailing each other out and formed an interconnected web. The Empire, however, relied on lackeys to serve and fulfill the Emperor’s will and this ultimately cost them the battle. Many fans hate the Ewoks because they reason that the Empire shouldn’t be able to be defeated by “teddy bears with spears,” but history is replete with examples of finer military forces getting upended by smaller, less advanced forces because those smaller forces have better “grit” for lack of a better word. Even the biggest Imperial Walker can be taken down with the right combination of grit and moxy–something the Ewoks had in spades. Finally, Luke learned a valuable lesson in ESB–that under the right circumstances he could find himself in the same position and be lured to the Dark Side. Luke was especially conscious of this based on his experience in the “cave.” When his time came to be tested, he saw what he had done and stepped away from the “precipice,” something his father couldn’t do. So he learned his lesson well and ultimately, it served to save his life as well as to ensure the victory of the Rebellion.
This is where SWTLJ ultimately failed in that it really didn’t go deep enough with the themes that the characters inhabited to make it a truly satisfying movie for fans of the original trilogy. There is a reason that many are calling Rey/Kylo Ren’s “relationship” “Reylo” and that is a true disappointment to me personally, but to many other OG SW fans out there.
Slight spoiler here–Skip down to the next paragraph if you want to know nothing about TLJ–you know you’ve gone off the rails somewhere if there’s a scene in a SW movie where Rey is telling Kylo Ren to put a shirt on (and yes, that scene exists). Why does that scene even exist? What function does it perform that either a) ties into the greater universe as a whole or b) reveals something unique about the characters or the world? It was simply a throw away line designed to get laughs and get tweens speculating on how cool it would be if Rey and Kylo “hooked up?” Gah! Please, someone get that out of a SW movie and put it in Twilight where it belongs!
We talk about suspension of disbelief–well, for me, that was the moment when the “magic” was broken and I saw SWTLJ as a movie rather than a story.