Friday, October 21, 2011

NaNoWriMo: Usernames, Passwords, and Planning Oh My!

It's that time of year again. Oh yes, you guessed it. It's time to rattle your peanut sized brain and try to remember your username and password for NaNoWriMo- National Novel Writing Month November 2011! Yay!
Composing that bestseller

Or perhaps this will be your first year and you're still trying to pick a name: Bestseller Bess, Paperback Writer, or Inescapable Grief.

Unless you're the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-trousers type and you select such things (like blog names) as the form is open on your desktop while you're on the phone with your mother, your gaze darting around the kitchen. It lands upon the spice rack.

"How about dry mustard?"

"Dry mustard?"

"What are you making?"

"A blog."


"Mom, are you still there?"

Remember, your NaNoWriMo user name will be with you every November for the next 742 years. So, for instance, if you name yourself after the main character of your parody fantasy novel, Barry Hotter, and then toss that manuscript into the shredder, hoping never to be reminded of that flop, you may be sorry come next year.

Take it from me, Zombie Girl (cringe) choose wisely.

Okay, so now you've picked your name and password. The password was easy because you only have one or two you use for just about everything and you wrote them down on that bit of paper you keep in your desk drawer because who-the-heck cares about security, right?

What will you write? I'm sure you've got a brilliant novel in mind, or you wouldn't have bothered reading this far on a NaNo blog post. The real question is- will you outline before beginning or go with the flow? I suggest something in between. My literary hat simply flipped with glee when I learned about Dan Wells' 7 point story structure. You can read what I wrote about that here and watch the first of his videos on the topic.

Were I doing NaNo this year, I'd take my vision and map it out the using the 7 point structure, which leaves a lot of flexibility. But you may be an outliner and if that's the case, do it. I wish I were, but if I try to outline, I become distracted by the urge to yank out my eyelashes with a pair of tongs.
Could you meet your NaNo goal using a quill and ink?

But I'm not doing NaNo this year. I'm not. No no no no no.... 

Well, maybe.

 *Image sources embedded in image captions.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Page 99 Challenge

The page ninety-nine test is supposed to tell a reader if a book is worth reading or not. I think it's a bit random, but it's an interesting method. A while back I did the 99 test on my fantasy work in progress, Twelve Keys. However, I hadn't written enough to present you with page 99, so, I did the next best thing. I gave you page forty-two.

I now have about 156 pages written. Today I can show you my current page 99. I'm sure it'll change, with revising and all that.

Without further ado, here is 99- of Twelve Keys

"If we had a winged engine, we could cross the eastern mountains. We would see if the land was normal on the other side," Poppy prattled. "Rick? Rick, are you listening?"
He'd halted at a bend in the path to look down into a gully. "You can't cross the mountains."
"But we'd have a flying--"
"Even on the back of a giant polka-dotted eagle."
"Is there such a bird?"
"No." Below, Rick saw three little kids playing in a creek. They were covered from head to foot in mud and green muck. But what interested him was that the creek had a wide, low concrete weir built across it--from the Modern times. He wondered what else in the vicinity might still be standing.
He felt Poppy slip from Currito's back, and watched her step to the edge and look down.
"Rick, look. Children. Let's go talk to them."
The water level was low and the creek wasn't flowing. On one side of the weir the creek was little more than thick mud and some trampled vegetation. On the other, it was a scum-covered pool. Rick could already smell the stagnant stink.
"Naw. We'll move on."
One of the kids mounted the weir and waved. "Climb down."
Poppy looked up at Rick. "Check the watch."

 ***Lnks to image sources embedded in images themselves.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Character Study: The Sacrificing Mother

One of the most kick-tail hero/heroine types is the sacrificing parent. I'll focus on mothers today. Mothers like, Ellen Ripley (Aliens), Lilly Potter (Harry Potter), Sarah Conner (Terminator). Film and literature are littered with them. I'll mainly discuss two- Ellen Ripley and Lily Potter.
From The Sarah Connor Chronicles

Why do we admire these characters as heroes? What qualities do they exhibit? Bravery, love, fierce loyalty, the ability to focus on somebody other than themselves. All qualities we hope to possess. Qualities we hope we'd find within ourselves when faced with terrifying dangers- be that alien attacks, Voldemort, or the threat of machines taking over the world.
from "Aliens"
Okay, that's fantasy. Let's take it to a realistic level. How about earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, or war? All of these situations can bring out your character's inner heroine.

Or perhaps a more personal tragedy like a car wreck, job loss, illness, or other crisis. Maybe those aren't as glamorous as flicking wands with Deatheaters, but they can be just as taxing.

I think heroes, such as the sacrificial mother, kicking serious booty to protect her child (or another's child, as is in the case in "Aliens") stirs our own inner hero and helps us feel more prepared to take on challenges. I don't know about you, but when I'm thinking about somebody else, I'm less worried about my own tail and can think more about getting the job done.
Let's look at each of these women:

Ripley (Aliens) has fifteen minutes to save a little girl, nickname Newt, before the space station explodes. The thing is, she has no real reason to believe the girl is alive. You see, they just saw the little girl fall down some... thing-- an air shaft I guess it was, and the aliens take her. Ripley goes to the ship and gets weapons to fight the aliens and rescue Newt all by herself.

She risks her own life for whom? A little girl she recently met and who probably already has an alien gestating inside her wee little body. And we love Ripley for it!

Lilly Potter (Harry Potter) is standing in the bedroom at their home in Godric's Hollow. She hears her husband get avada kedavra-ed and then Voldemort bursts into the room. There's no chance she can stand against old Voldipoo, but she'll try. She stands between the dark lord and her baby and pleads for his life.
From "Harry Potter"

Was it worth is?

Ripley lives and, miraculously, the little girl was able to be rescued. Though she dies in the next film. However, knowing that, doesn't make her heroics any less beautiful. We're petrified along with Ripley as she stands there holding Newt amid the alien pod egg things. Not for a heartbeat do we wish she'd left the girl behind. So, yeah, it was worth it.

Lilly Potter dies and Harry survives. Nobody says, "Foolish lady. She should have stepped aside, saved herself, and run off with Snape, living happily ever after." Not even the Snape-Lilly shippers say that! Lilly's lauded as a loving mommy hero. Heck yeah, that sacrifice was worth it.

In both of these stories, we cheer for the sacrificial mommies and fear/hate the bad guy monster types.

I focused on action scenes in science fiction/fantasy, but in some books and movies, the protagonist faces realistic obstacles, such as poverty or domestic abuse. But she's just as much of a hero when she selflessly puts her child first.

P.S. Have you ever noticed how Ripley's line to the alien queen, "Get away from her, you bitch!" is reminiscent of Molly's Weasley's line to Bellatrix, "Not my daughter, you bitch!"?  Just an observation. Sorry about the language. ;-)
Ripley and Molly - as they give their famous lines ;)

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Pacing, Characters, and an Excuse to Talk About C.S. Lewis

I was listening to Writing Excuses, one of my favorite writing podcasts, and they were discussing the Hollywood Formula with their guest, Lou Anders. In this case, "formula" doesn't have a bad connotation. It's about how to pack maximum emotional value into a two-hour film.

I think for a novelist's purpose, one of the values in this podcast episode is learning about pacing. They discussed a two-hour film as a 120 page script. They break it down into three acts of 30 pages, 60 pages, and 30 pages. But percentagewise you can figure out the acts in your own novel page numbering.

One third into act one is your protagonist's fateful decision. That's when the character decides to take the quest or not.

So, I took a gander at C.S. Lewis's The Magician's Nephew (because it was handy on my shelf), did some calculations and found that the fateful decision should come (in my copy) on page 16. This is just before Polly takes hold of one of Uncle Andrew's magical rings and gets swooped off to the "wood between the worlds." I think that Digory, and not Poppy, is supposed to be the protagonist and he hasn't followed her quite yet, but pretty close.
Wood Between The Worlds made of clay (by my kids)
Just after the third act is supposed to come the low point. It doesn't. I think it's much further on. On 176 (in my copy) the witch tempts Diggory in the garden. Of course, you could argue the low point is before that, when Aslan show's his disappointment, and this scene between Diggory and the witch is part of the final battle.
Magician's Nephew

Anywhoo, it's interesting to examine pacing through the lens of this formula. I also looked at my WIP with this formula in mind and I think it'll help me plan out the ending.

This podcast episode also touches on the three main characters in a film: protagonist, antagonist (not always the bad guy!), and the relationship character (doesn't mean somebody the protagonist has a romantic relationship with). I won't go into it because I can't explain it better than they do. I encourage you to listen because, if you're like me, you'll look at character relationships in a new way.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Digital Comics Addiction

Oh please don't call them comics. Say it with me-- graphic novels.* I'm 41, for crying out loud! So what if I sometimes enjoy my artwork and literature all wrapped into one package?

Sure, a good fourteenth century Simone Martini flips my hat, like this comic strip... ehm, I mean painting, depicting an infant falling from its cradle and being healed by Saint Augustine.
A Child fallen out his cradle healed by Blessed Augustine
I think it's the word "comic" that doesn't work here, because the story depicted isn't humorous. Many illustrated stories (illustrated novels, graphic novels, cartoon strips) aren't humorous. And in case you didn't know, loads of them don't contain super heroes. But so what if they do? Everybody needs the occasional super hero and humor is necessary for survival. Isn't it? Well, I thought so.

Is a serious story loftier than a tragedy? Tell most people you're reading Chaucer and they'll nod approvingly without realizing he's full of base humor. Tell me what's sophisticated about "The Miller's Tale" in which somebody farts out the widow. 
comic version of Chaucer's Miller's Tale

Don't mistake me, I have great affection for Chaucer, particularly in the original Middle English. I had this professor in college who spoke it so beautifully. Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote The droghte of March hath perced to the roote... Sigh...

But I digress. Digital Comics. Yum! Over at Dark Horse (home of Hellboy, B.P.R.D., The Goon, Conan, and others) they got me sampling freebies. The next thing I knew, I bought one. See, I didn't think I'd like reading a comic on the computer, but it's super dynamic. As I press my arrow key, I'm tossed into close-ups, then on to the next panel, into the next close up. I think if I wasn't used to reading comics, this might make for a good tutorial on how to read them- you know, to help you figure out which panel or word bubble to read next?

from "Abe Sapien: The Drowning 1" (the real thing is easy to see because if fills up your screen)
As I said, it's a dynamic experience, having the pictures move into frame like that. Plus they're cheaper to buy in digital form. I'll always love to hold an actual comic... I mean graphic novel, in my hands, but the digital experience is super fun and you can buy more of them for the same money.

*Notes on the terms-
Illustrated novels have few pictures- maybe one per page or even one per chapter. I fluidly interchange the terms graphic novel and comic book and some people will pop me in the nose for that. Many will call a little magazine style, a "comic book" and a bound up book with a collection of comics, a "graphic novel." Some are very particular about terms. This guy on Youtube explains how the experts feel on the issue. 

 ~Links to image sources embedded in image captions.
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