Drafting up a Skye (Project Skye)

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).

Lesson Learned
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.

Sidney
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“Don’t Be a ‘Writer.’ Be Writing”

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.

Writing
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).

Revision
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.

Everyday Writer

So (hopefully today won’t jinx it), but everyday this week I’ve sat down and wrote.  I know, I know, from a writer that’s not much news, but for me, a person who usually writes in “spurts,” it’s a big deal.

Hobby Writer vs Professional Writer
I don’t really know if writing everyday is the best for me, but in this case it is a matter of expediency.  I have approximately 3 weeks before school resumes and I promised to have the short story for Project Skye done upon returning for school.  Once the holidays hit, my time (like most) will be restricted to family activities, so it is imperative that I carve out some time to simply write on the story everyday in order to finish it.

When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade
I’ve used this quote as the title to a blog post, but I’m using is again as inspiration to actually getting the writing done.  My computer is old–it was top of the line when I bought it, but it is old now and really needs to be replaced.  However, it still functions (mostly) and I usually don’t like replacing something until if finally breaks.  So my laptop battery, like many laptops, has decided it really doesn’t want to hold a charge anymore so that when I take it off its charging cord, it has about 45 mins of power before it needs to be recharged again.  That’s the window of time I’m using to write.  I simply disconnect, write until my computer warns me that it is about to go to “sleep” due to lack of power, then reconnect it back to the charger.  Simple.  Easy.  Effective.  No internet because the WiFi adapter is “borked,” no real time to do any other processor intensive tasks like Keynote or searching for files, just the time I have remaining on the battery sensor vs. me getting the words down.

Weekday Drafter vs Weekend Writer
So, all I’ve done this week is draft, that is put words on the page.  I have several projects that are already finished that I need to revise, however.  I’m experimenting with doing that on the weekends.  If it works out during this Winter Break, I will work to continue it during the upcoming semester.  If nothing else, I’d like to become a more productive “Hobby” writer and finish more of the projects that I swirling around in my head.  By revising and making my stories better on the weekend, including submitting them, and just using the weekdays to draft whatever I’m currently working on, I hope to increase my productivity, at the very least.

 

Back to Basics Writing Approach

Sorry that I’ve been away from blogging for a while, but between grading, students’ presentations, my own Final Exams and related schoolwork, I’ve been too overworked to get much in the way of writing (for this blog or for myself) done.  However, I realize after getting a particularly “hard” rejection letter that I’m probably never going to be much more than a “hobby” writer despite my best efforts.  I like different things than what editors and audiences want apparently (as seemingly confirmed by the Rejection Letter that found its way into my inbox not more than 5 minutes ago).  What I like are heroes and what’s popular are villains who masquerade as heroes, so with two different competing philosophies, the one who controls the “gate” (aka the “gatekeepers”) win.  So be it.  Since it looks like I’m not going to be doing this for the “money” and only for the “love,” I intend to do this my way.  Rereading a book on writing and the writing process as I brainstormed how I would set up my next class, I came across a simple statement of the writing process that I’m going to adhere to: research, prewriting, drafting, and revision.

Research
Most of the time, I’m inspired to write something based on something external, so I do research, but I don’t really make it a formal step.  For instance, All Tomorrow’s Children was inspired by a Special Report on Sky News about Jihadi Brides.  However, rather than have a formal “research” period, I took the idea and started writing.  I think now I’m going to actually take a period of time (a week, two, whatever is necessary) and find out all I can about that topic.

Prewriting
I generally start here with an outline.  I think the outline comes too soon.  I think here is where I need character traits, motivations, etc.  Once I nail this down, then I think my outline will work better.  There’s nothing wrong so much with my plots (to me), but I think my characters leave a lot to be desired.  I feel that the characterizations are consistent and adequately explained, but the rejections notices would say otherwise.

Drafting
Here I think I’m pretty good, although I’ll look for places to get better.  I can write a rough draft in a day or two usually, and (when school isn’t too rough), I can write a submission draft in a couple of weeks to a month.  Drafting isn’t really a problem, except when life comes pounding at my door, demanding that I do X, Y, and Z all in one day or the entire world will explode–that’s when I don’t do drafting well (as this past Finals Week has illustrated).

Revision
Again, I feel I’m pretty good here too, although I feel that I have work to do.  I usually only revise or change when I feel it is necessary, but I’m trying to be more receptive to feedback that I get back from editors.  There’s a danger in listening to someone who’s rejecting your story as they don’t have a vested interest in seeing it succeed (as opposed to someone who offers to publish it if it is revised.  However, I’m trying to submit to markets who seem to give good feedback (say, Cosmic Landscapes) as opposed to markets whose comments have been “nitpicky.”  I think this is where going to the Writing Center and running it by a Consultant that I trust is also helpful–it helps me see it with an objective eye, something I can’t do no matter how much time passes between my writing it and my revising it.

 

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.

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.

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.