All the World’s a Stage

crowded-apple-store_9to5Mac

A Crowded Apple Store, Image Source: 9to5 Mac

I wasn’t sure of what I was going to write about today, but I thought I’d turn my attention to my experience yesterday of going to the Apple Store and finally getting my phone fixed.  Although, more accurate, I guess would be the fact that they replaced the defective unit with a replacement phone, but irregardless, I now have working phone.  While that is great, what I really want to note was the amazing level of diversity in the store as well as the fact that there were plenty of examples of characters that were in the store during my brief visit.

Characters, Characters, Everywhere
So, unlike most of the customers, I wasn’t in the store to shop, but to get technical assistance.  In doing so, I (and the few who were like me) had to do a lot of waiting on the outskirts and so I got to do something that I rarely do and that’s to actually observe people as they interact with others.  Remember, I don’t necessarily enjoy “people watching,” and perhaps that’s why I don’t write characters as well as I do plots.  Well, yesterday I got to observe, really observe, people and I saw a huge range of emotions, personalities, and personal interactions that I have stored away for future references.  Normally, I consider people watching a useless endeavor, but for some reason, yesterday, I found myself mostly “bemused” as I waited for the technician to diagnose my phone and I actually watched the people.  In particular, I saw (in no order): two typical high school students (boys joshing around with each other), a mother with a stroller, a young boy watching the Apple TV in the store and playing games on it, a husband and wife deciding on a laptop, another husband and wife deciding on phone, an older gentleman with a phone problem much like mine, an early career woman looking for a new phone, and a business man dressed in button shirt, slacks, and a tie, among others.

Character Sketches
So, I remember from watching episode of Star Trek Deep Space Nine, Sisko’s son, Jake, while wanting to be a writer, sat on the ship’s promenade and noted the people who were entering the station and he wrote one or two sentences down as character sketches.  While I was only in the store for a fairly short period of time (50 minutes approximately), I still feel like I got a year’s worth of potential characters just from visit.  For instance, the business man was dressed just as one might expect and he was even checking his watch in manner, that while not completely displaying impatience, did seem to indicate that time was important to him–perhaps he had an important appointment, or perhaps he needed to pick up a child from school.  Whatever the reason, time was important to him and that’s something I could use in a future story somehow.

So, even though losing the phone was an ordinary frustration of life, I now have a more concrete understanding of characterization because of it.  I doubt that I’ll ever come to love the phenomenon of “people watching,” but maybe if I can at least learn to tolerate it over short periods of time, I might yet be the writer I’ve always hoped that I’d become.

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Unplanned Project=Project Skies

So, I tried really hard really hard to write a Character Sketch for Skye that I could be really proud of, but no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t figure out a way to encompass all facets of her character–feelings, physical description, likes and dislikes.  I finally resorted to something that I know and am familiar with (even though it earns me little to no money): a short story.  Yep, I’m writing a short story in the world of Project Skye with Skye as the protagonist in order to nail down her character–how she looks, how she acts, how she responds under pressure.  I do intend to market the story, but even if nothing comes of it, I’m hopeful that it won’t be for naught.  The goal is to take what I’ve learned int the story and transfer it a novel length work–hopefully, the character work that I do with the story will translate into a deeper understanding of her character so that I can work with her on a longer, more intensive work.

Jonny Quest “movie idea” as Inspiration
A white back–late 90s, early 2000s–the character of Jonny Quest became hot again.  He was a character created in the 1960s, who along with other Hanna Barbera, had a resurgence of popularity in the early/mid 80s and again in the mid/late 90s.  A live action movie was mentioned in the trades (my library used to have a subscription to Variety, a movie trade magazine & remember seeing mention of in there, if memory serves), but it never came to pass.  I remember thinking how cool it would be to write the movie adaptation of it, and as I’ve seen all the episodes, for both the original and the subsequent sequel series, I set about developing a “plot line” for the “movie.”  I really liked the original title sequence and wanted to update that for my JQ “movie,” so I developed this elaborate flight intro sequence around Air Racing (yes, alert readers can see where I’m going with this).  Well, the movie never happened, Hollywood (for now) has lost interest in most Hana Barbera projects (the two live action Scooby Doo movies are probably the best known movies that came from that collaboration) and even if it had, as an unknown writer with no written or produced feature length scripts, Hollywood wouldn’t have been beating down MY door for the idea anyway.  I never used that flight sequence or even wrote it down–it has existed in brain all these years.

Fly Free
Lester day I realized that I would never be able to write a traditional character sketch for Skye–that I was just beating my head against the wall.  Instead, I turned my attention to what would happen if I put her in a stressful situation–maybe not the one I’d been working on for the novel, but another one.  In fact, what would happen if I put Skye, instead of Jonny Quest, into the scenario I’d devised all those years ago for the “movie.”  Well, I tried it and . . . it worked!  I’ll have to check with my Writing Consultant, but Skye seems now like a living breathing person, a fully round three dimensional character who has wants, drives, needs, and feelings.  She emotes, she feels, she does everything a good protagonist should do.  Again, maybe I’m too close, but not only did I finish the first major “plot element” before I stopped writing, I was also able to outline all of the rest of the plot elements out to the “climax” of the story, which I left intentionally vague for myself (I have a feeling based on her character what’s going to happen, but I want the ending to feel “organic” and not overly plotted).

Still Committed to Project Star
Yes, I will be working on Project Star as well (where, o where will I find the time?), but I simply HAD to stop and draft Project Skies.  It was necessary (IMO) to understand Skye’s character and without it, I don’t think that the novel would ever get off the ground.

Started: Project Star & The End of the Semester

So I’ve started another short story–“Project Star.”  It has a title that I will reveal once I’m finished with the “Working Draft.”  It will probably be the last project I work on for the year.  It should take me up to Christmas Break.

Project Star was inspired by Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game (the movie–I’ve not had a chance to read the book yet), Diane Duane’s So You Want to Be a Wizard series, and by an idea that I’ve had in my head for a long time–years, in fact, of a protagonist who jumps off a very high place, but lands safely in a hovercar, similar to Anakin in SW: Attack of the Clones (so I guess that’s an inspiration as well).

Anyway, it is still in the early stages of development.  I know that I do want it to be a far-future project, whereas All Tomorrow’s Children was a near-future project.  I’ll (as always) detail more of its construction on the blog.

As I move towards the end of the semester, I will continue to write, but once the semester winds up, I’m going to shift my focus more to revising and getting the stories that I’ve finished in the Working Draft form, and move them into Submission Drafts.  Perhaps, with more “product on the shelf,” someone, somewhere will start to purchase.  I’ll also devote more time to my longer works and do more with them as well.

 

Students Hate to Revise (Figuring out how to get past the Do It Once paradigm)

So, I don’t usually talk about teaching or my students or anything like on my blog as the purpose of the blog and my teaching endeavors don’t usually mix.  However, something happened in a class a couple of days ago that I really feel merits discussion.  I don’t have a lot of time so I’ll be brief: a discussion came up about revising and having the opportunity to revise and change an essay, and the comment was made (and I’m paraphrasing): I know its not quite right, but I just don’t want to have to go in and work on it again.

That’s the whole point of Revising/the Revision Process.  We got into a short discussion about it and I tried to make it a “teachable moment” by telling them that’s how real writers write.  They weren’t having it (for the most part–I think I got through to some of them).  To them, the whole I idea of revision stinks because it means more work on their part–not the it is to make it better part.

Yesterday, I had to reread Kate Chopin’s The Awakening for class.  I’d already read it in High School, but I went back and dutifully read it again.  I got much more out of it than I had before just by going over it a second time and I revised my opinion of the work (see what I did there).  In addition, I got a Rejection Notice on a story.  The editor was nice enough to provide feedback and gave two places where the story broke down for her.  I went in, revised the story, “fixing” those to places (i.e., adding in more detail that I thought would explain those places better) and resubmitted it to another publisher, but I will submit another story to that market until I get one that sells.

Not to dilute my message, but I’m convinced that’s the reason that people also don’t want to outline either.  Too much work involved.  So, no (or little preparation) to write something, and no (or little) revision after the work is written.  I, as an educator, have to break down these barriers if I want my students to truly be successful writers.

Writing a Scene

So last week I began to create a tentative “Bible” for the world of the novel.  It wasn’t much, I just put down on paper some of the ideas floating in my head and fairly hastily sketched out the ideas for the world that I needed to know such as the history, important people, and the important institutions of the world.  Again, nothing major, but all of it is helping me to refine my process of thinking about the larger world and Skye’s relationship within it.

This week, while I finally have decided on how Skye should look, I still don’t have a clear handle on her personality, so the consultant and I decided I should write a scene with her in it.  I know next week is going to be hectic for me so I actually wrote out the scene write after I the session.  I’m not sure that it accomplishes my goal.  It is an action scene, so it has Skye doing a lot of things and being clever, but she doesn’t really say a whole lot, nor does she really emote.

I think I’m going to have to try to find time to write a non-action scene that is heavy with dialogue as well to see what that looks like.  I can’t seem to find the emotional resonance with her character.  I’ll see what the response is next week, but I think the action scene doesn’t show enough of Skye’s emotions or feelings to really give an indication of who she is and how she acts in real life.  I really need to know more about her personality and what makes her tick in order to do this story correctly.

EDIT: While search for a heading image for this blog post, I came across this interesting Infographic about 5 ways to write a scene.  Considering that Infographics was one of the “genres” that I taught this semester, I thought it only appropriate to include one in my blog post–also, since I’m still having issues, maybe if I try writing a scene in each of the 5 “ways” that the graphic suggests, maybe by the end of the process, I’ll have a better understanding of Skye’s personality and who she is as character and person.

Entering the “Flow”

Trying to find time to write (even these short blog entries) has been challenging this week.  It has been difficult because of all the time constraints, myriad of school responsibilities and life events that have interfered with writing.  But even more disruptive has been the loss of the “Flow,” that I found on Saturday, but haven’t seen again since.

Now, apparently there is a TED Talk describing the “Flow,” but full disclosure, I haven’t seen it.  I just caught the last part of a NPR episode on it.  In a nutshell, the “Flow” is humans operating at their Peak Performance for a time (usually short).  In sports, it has long been known as the “Zone,” or “being in the Zone.”  It is when we humans get so caught up in the activity that we are doing that we transcend ourselves and create something or do something that borders on the miraculous.

Saturday, I had the “Flow.”  I wanted to completely rough draft out the rest of the basic story of Project Children so that I could work on a scene a week (really I wanted to do a scene a day, but with all of the work I have to do, a more realistic option would be a scene a week).  I completely wrote out a strong draft on Saturday and it didn’t take me anytime.

Well, today was the first day I had time to try to write a scene and everything conspired to keep me out of the “Flow.”  I couldn’t find my notebook where I’d written down the rough draft and I had to clean up to find it.  When I finally found it, I had to stop and work on something else, and one thing led to another and here I am, still haven’t written another word on the story even though it is literally pencilled in my notebook.  I can’t find the “Flow” all of a sudden.  I really need to work on this if I want to write that novel. I have to find a way to find the “Flow’ daily, otherwise all the planning in the world isn’t going to help me get a novel written in this next year.

Baby Steps To a Novel

So, yesterday I took my first steps to trying to complete a novel.  Regular readers of the blog will note that I’ve tried before (without much success) to try to write a novel, but this time I’m using my university’s Writing Center to help.  I’ve worked in the Writing Center myself all last year and I have a friend and colleague who is working there now who has agreed to a “Writing Partnership” with me–a fancy term for a standing appointment to talk about writing over the course of the semester.  Generally, they are used for long term projects (thesis, dissertations, etc.), but they can also be used for just improving one’s writing in general.  We talked about what I wanted to do ultimately (short-stories or novels) and we decided that writing a novel would be a good way to “grow” as a writer.  Then we discussed the idea I had for a novel and what the next steps should be going forward.

Character Sketch
So, my homework is to complete at least one character sketch–the main character/protagonist–and have it ready by the next meeting.  We talked about who the main character is (Skye–which longtime readers will remember from earlier blog posts) and what is her personality like.  If possible, I’d like to write a character sketch for her father as that is her major familial relationship in the book, but based on school work and obligations, there may not be enough time for that.  We spent quite a bit of time talking about the importance of characters and how they should act appropriately–something that I don’t think that I always do well because of my interest in the plot.  Hopefully, I can really nail Skye’s personality and be able to create a convincing character arc for her.

Plot Outline
I also need to produce a plot outline for the next meeting.  Again, one mandatory, but two if possible.  I have “story map” that I use that is a 1 page “synopsis” of the characters, setting, plot, climax, and resolution.  However, I’d like to also provide a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of the story as that is where I always seem to break down when writing the novel, but I may find that that might be better suited to do after we talk about the character sketch/synopsis of the novel.  In any case, I do intend to do what Brandon Sanderson noted about how he writes novels on his podcast, Writing Excuses, where he notes that he writes down big tentpole scenes as he’s generating ideas for his novel.  I think that the tentpole scenes, in addition to the synopsis, would be helpful to do before trying to tackle the larger, chapter-by-chapter breakdown.

NaNoWriMo
November is National Novel Writer’s Month (NaNoWriMo).  I’ve never really tried to do anything for the month because I always had school (or a ton of things to do in the month of November), but as I’m in the midst of trying to write a novel and as the Writing Center will be holding a “Write In” on November 17, I guess I’ll give it a try.  I don’t know what the outcome of all this will be, but I’ll blog about the process here to hopefully inspire other writers (aspiring or practicing) and maybe provide, tangible techniques and tricks to my fellow writers out there as well.

Wish me luck! 🙂