Monday, October 31, 2011

Nano Eve

I didn't realise it's been over a week since my last post. Nothing to post about, I guess, although I could have gone on about the refereeing at the Rugby World Cup, Libya or the current furore over Qantas. I decided to keep my opinions to myself.

Anyway... I think I'm ready for Nano. I've got the first scene - which is nice and strong in my mind - and the characters, the scenery, a few villains and the end of the book. I'll find out what happens in between as I write.

What is it about? Well, I can only say it's set on an apparently 'empty' alien world during a galactic war; the combatants soon discover they're not as 'alone' as they thought.

As usual, there's no guarantee it will work, but the back-up plans for sequels are on standby. If it does work, then I'll get on with the rest.

Time to relax before the keyboard abuse.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

New Toy

My new toy arrived - a netbook.

Needless to say, I've been fooling around with it.

The keyboard is small but workable - the larger keyboard won't plug in, so I'm keeping it with the now offline laptop. It doesn't have a dvd player, but it does have a card reader. I treated myself to one long Star Wars marathon... yes, okay and played some of the pre-loaded games.

It also has three times the hard drive space for all those nifty programs I like to use and for photographs.

I will use the netbook for surfin' and keep the laptop as a stand-alone computer for writing; that way, I shall have to change computers to use the internet. Inconvenient, but it will make me think before surfing willy-nilly.

For now, I need to get back to the Nano stuff... or maybe do some more exploring.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

C'mon, I'll fight'cha!

Mmmm.... conflict; the element that keep readers reading. External or internal, psychological or physical, conflict - and the resolution - is central to any book.

No one wants to read about an ordinary day-in-the-life of the ordinary person on the street; an extraordinary day of an ordinary person, or an ordinary day in an extraordinary person, yes, otherwise, forget it.

Conflict makes the world go around, it gets people talking and thinking. No one but historians are interested in the pre-war talks between the Allies and Hitler. Hitler wanted a fight and he got one on a global scale. We're more interested in things like Dunkirk, the Battle of the Bulge, Midway, Pearl Harbour, D-Day, etc. If Hitler had said, "Yeah, okay. Just give me Sudetenland and we'll call it even." And been happy with it, the war wouldn't have happened (yes, right, someone else might have pull the trigger on the war, but that's not the point). If Napoleon had decided he had no interest in the rest of Europe, he'd be just another emperor of France. If Spain said to Queen Elizabeth, "You're a Protestant? Oh, okay, no big, carry on." What would she be remembered for?

Moving to fiction: Bilbo Baggins finds the Ring, hunts down Gollum and gives it back? Eve Dallas becomes a social worker rather than NYPD's top cop? Henry Jones, Jr, went into medicine rather than archaeology? Luke Skywalker stays on the farm, like his uncle wanted him to? Romeo and Juliet abide by their families wishes? Or my personal favourite, Honor Harrington contacts the peep ship Sirius and then lets them go to call off the invading force from Haven. The list goes on.

If done well, conflict creates the 'oh, shite' moment in the reader. Holly Lisle's Creating Conflict, or The Joys of Boiling Oil may interest you in creating conflict in your story.

But conflict isn't everything, you need strong characters. I can think of a number of books I've tried to read recently where the conflict was great, but the characters moaned, bitched and whined. I did not finish those books. I want strong characters put into awkward or dangerous positions. I want to feel for them, not roll my eyes and tell them to grow a spine. I want triumph over tragedy, justice for heinous crimes committed, vengeance taken after a struggle against the odds. In other words, I want a protagonist that's larger than life and an antagonist who isn't wholly good or bad but can legitimately justify their actions.

The Writers Digest article, How to Raise Your Characters Above the Status-Quo can help you flesh out a stronger character worth rooting for.

But for a quick character conflict, try thinking about your protagonist and what the worst thing you can do to them is. A doctor manipulated into killing a sick patient; a devout priest who is betrayed by his superiors; a politician blackmailed into betraying his principles (yeah, I know, they do it all the time, but...), a cop unable to protect and serve the innocent. There are plenty and the worse you screw up your noble character, the more interesting the conflict.

There are plenty of dilemmas you can toss your character into: ethical, moral, emotional, physical, pick one and run with it. If you keep the conflict in mind, you'll have a stronger story, one that can run the length of a book.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Do you feel it yet? The slight increase in your anxiety levels? That more and more you find yourself catching your bottom lip between your teeth? The slight distraction and gazing off into the distance and wondering? The feeling that time is running out? That October is draining away like water through your fingers?

What's causing it? One word: Nanowrimo.

It feels like it's sneaking up from behind, still lurking in the shadows. The hazy ideas for a 50,000 word book are creeping into the dreamscape, vaguely recalled on waking; characters are still blurred, near formless, but waiting; landscapes as dark and mysterious as the world before sunrise; plots call out in the darkness, then run away, giggling, to hide behind the dreaded writer's block.

Or... maybe that's just me.

November 1 looms, crawling ever closer, unstoppable. In less than 20 days, thousands of people will watch the clock tick over from October to November and begin a month-long outpouring of words. Some, most, will not finish. The bright and shiny ideas will fall victim to excuses as plots fail and characters get bored. People will shrug their shoulders and walk away as newer and shinier things distract them.

But some will finish, bask in the glow of the achievement and then go on to newer and shinier things.

To help peeps in their pursuit of writing that book, Jordan E. Rosenfeld has an article in Writers Digest: 10 Ways to Launch Strong Scenes; or try The devil is in the details an essay by Craig Clevenger on about description.

I'll scare up more articles closer to the starting line. In the meantime, I need to go and flesh out the Post-Its (TM) I've written. One line per book is great, but, I don't know, I think it needs more than a one line summation. They need...


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Really, Reilly?

I've been catching up on some reading, trying to downsize the ol' TBR pile - with limited success.

I'm onto my fourth in a week with a squillion to go. Why is it we know we don't have time to read, and yet continue to pile up the TBR?

Anyway, I read the Jack West, Jr. series by Matthew Reilly. My peeps recommended them, but after reading Temple, Ice Station and Area 7, I found it difficult to get past the eye-rolling.

Reilly writes fast-paced, action-filled books, but... also physically impossible things I found myself wincing at (a 747 on a runway can't neatly turn corners like cars can - especially at 140kph - without serious repercussions), there's a lot of loose writing (the passive sentences drove me crazy!) and not much emotional punch. He also has moments of pure genius. The Stonehenge thing in Seven Ancient Wonders was way cool.

If you can get past the wince-able moments, they're enjoyable reads. The action keeps you reading, the good guys up against impossible odds keeps you interested and the history/research is fascinating.

Will I buy more Matthew Reilly? I know what to expect in the books, there are few surprises and the endings are predictable. But that doesn't matter, it's the journey that counts, the adventure that sucks us in, so... maybe.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

When old tech dies

The mouse, she is dead.

No, I didn't kill it, the poor thing was poisoned - by leaking battery acid. It's my second mouse in a year. The first has a partial failure; the cursor doesn't always highlight a complete sentence - which is annoying as hell when I'm trying to move text. So I bought a new one. It has a smaller USB... thingy and the cursor scooted around the page like a puppy on sugar. Marvy! But why do I have a separate mouse at all when laptops come with built-in ones?

Let me take you back in time, time, time...

I learned to type on a manual typewriter. A Remington. At business college. If we achieved our speed goals, we were rewarded with time on an electric typewriter, with a daisy wheel. Oh, how my fingers flew across the keys! But time was limited. In those days, no one had heard of RSI, or carpal tunnel syndrome. Why? Because manual typing teaches proper finger, hand and arm position. You have to lift your hands and arms for the correct pressure on the keys. None of this touch-typing which later caused so many problems.

Anyway, when computers came in I had to have one, clunky keyboard and all. Then the mouse appeared. Frabjus Day! No more memorising the F keys! Then laptops arrived, smaller, more compact, but I liked the full-size keyboard, so like a typewriter.

When my Pentium kicked the bucket - salt corrosion did for the motherboard (coastal living is dangerous, don't you know, to things electronic) - I decided on a laptop rather than a new desktop machine. I took the laptop overseas, something I obviously couldn't do with a desktop. While it was great, I found the keyboard annoying with it's lack of keys I like to use and the in-built mouse which I found awkward.

I have a full sized keyboard plugged in to the laptop so I can type as fast as I like without having to search for the right key (typwriter trained, remember?) and I have a mouse plugged in because I like the way it feels in the my hand and I'm not cramped up trying to use a small square and accompanying buttons. I can't use it one-handed like I can with a separate mouse.

Making computers smaller isn't necessarily a good thing, but I have to move on or risk moving to Ludditeville.

All things must come to an end. The laptop's system won't take updates anymore, it's becoming as slow as molasses and the memory is 1.5 gig with an 80 gig hard drive that's near full; with what I have no clue, nor will I buy one - a clue that is. Keeping up with modern technology is fast becoming a chore and a necessity. I refuse to buy an I-pad, it doesn't feel right and typing is, well, slow.

Instead, next week the new netbook arrives. It's smaller than the laptop and nearly half the width of my keyboard, but I'm plugging it in. All I need now is a you-beaut, new-fangled mouse to go with it.

But first, I'll remove the bodies of the other two; reverantly bury them and say a few words over their mortal remains - or simply toss them. This current mouse - the first one with the vanishing, temperamental cursor problem - is pissing me off.

I think I'll have just enough time to play with the new tech before Nano.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

It's coming...

October, when a young writer's mind turns to... Nanowrimo.

In less than a month, thousands of writers across the world will lay fingers on the keyboard and deliberately abuse their computer. Characters that have nagged and niggled all year will demand on-page time, will audition for a role in a half-formed story line. Scenery is becoming clearer, clothes and weapons developing nicely. Plots are slowly becoming more solid, with endings waving from a distance.

In less than a month, thousands of writers across the world will lay fingers on the keyboard and deliberatly abuse their native language. Passive sentences will be shrugged off, flowery prose marveled at, end-of-sentence prepositions ignored. Cliches will abound, adjective abuse perpetrated and word counts hedged.

The bottom lip of Grammar Nazis will tremble, eyes will tear up and palsied hands will desperately point out the faults; all to no avail as ambitious writers crush the dessicated remains of style guides in the pursuit of 50,000 golden words...

...until obstacles block progress: A plot that doesn't stand up to 50k, weak characters, lack of committment, no time, can't find a suitable space, something more interestng to do, like... housework, watching the grass grow, painting the garage, golf.

More than ninety percent of those who start will fail to finish, will fail to find time during the day to write 1667 words. For every reason of failure, there are an equal number of reasons for success.

Nano is manic; a rush at the beginning, followed by hard yards and finally a rush to finish. It's frustrating, beguiling, exciting, tiring and temporarily corrupts the space-time continuum. But to reach that 50k mark, and beyond, to finish a book fills a writer with an overwhelming and addictive sense of accomplishment.

What more could you ask of a month-long word fest?