Archive for October, 2011

Okay, I’ve spent a couple of hours doing things like answering emails and reading posts and now I have half an hour to compose a blog post. Can I do it?

Yes I can! By talking about three things that seemingly have nothing to do with one another.

It was my birthday last week and thank you to everyone who said happy birthday, I really appreciate it! I worked on my birthday — I’m talking about my day job — so my friends are taking me out today to celebrate. I’m going to Society.

That’s later, in a few minutes I’m heading off to a NaNoWriMo luncheon and information session. I’m excited! As I’ve said too many times, this is my first year doing NaNo and the ‘bright shiny’ hasn’t worn off. I talk to other, veteran, NaNoers and they look at me pityingly with memories of bleary, bloodshot eyes and waking up at their desk, gripping a half-empty can of Red Bull.

I’m time-starved, so I know something is going to have to give. Sleep, of course. Showering … hmmm, probably try to keep that one. One thing that’s probably going to fall by the wayside is Dragonvale, a delightfully addictive game featuring … er … dragons. You get to mate them and build them houses and feed them. Okay, it doesn’t sound super addicting but, trust me, it is.

Okay, gotta run!

What is technorati.com? According to Wikipedia it is a massive search engine for searching blogs. Okay, that doesn’t sound exciting, but apparently getting ones blog registered with technorati is a very good idea. The first I heard about all this was at the last Surrey International Writers’ Conference. I took a workshop conducted by none other than Vancouver’s own miss604.com! (Yes, my notes will be posted shortly!)If you’d like to register your blog with technorati, here’s what you do:

1. Create an account at http://www.technorati.com
2. Confirm your account by clicking an emailed link
3. Go to your account and enter your blog URL in ‘Start Claim’ – at the bottom of the page.
4. Enter your blog details (including RSS feed URL)
5. Create a blog post with your verification code.
6. Click on ‘Check Claim’ and then ‘Verify Code’ once your blog article is posted to complete the process
7. Your submission will then be checked by the Technorati faeries and if they like it, you’ll be added.
What is Technorati all about?

A few minutes ago I took the first few steps to registering my blog with Technorati and I got my code, VSWRUMW5B2JK, so in publishing this post I will have (hopefully!) finished my registration. Yea!

I wonder, has anyone else heard about Technorati? Has anyone else registered their blog? I’m curious, because the workshop at SiWC 2011 was the first I heard of it, but it seems like a great service.

On Saturday, Vancouver resident Brian King was reading in his living room when a bedbug crawled out of the book and onto his hand.

“Out of the spine walks this little red creepy-crawly thing and I said to my wife, ‘Hello what’s this?'” King told CBC News on Wednesday.

King said a Google search informed him it was a bedbug, and a quick search of the book turned up several more.

“So I squished two or three of them. I caught a couple of them live and put them in a pill bottle securely, and there were also in the spine maybe two or three already dead.”

. . . .

Vancouver Public Library spokesperson Jean Kavanagh says it’s the first report of a live bedbug in the Vancouver system. Staff are in contact with Vancouver Coastal Health and continue to monitor the situation.

But because of the size of the Vancouver Library system, they haven’t decided yet whether to mount a full-scale inspection for bedbugs, and they have no plans to close any library branches, said Kavanagh.

“We have over 10 million items, so I think we have to look at the situation seriously, but also practically.”

Meanwhile, King said it appears his home is bedbug free.

“No sign of any bug infestations at all. There hadn’t been and there still isn’t,” he said.
Bedbugs found in Vancouver library book

When I read this article my first thought was: Of the list of positive things about ebooks I would never have have thought to put “bedbug free” on the list!

Reading this over I’m worried that I come across as being rabidly pro-ebook or, worse, against paper books. I love books of any description, but I must admit I think ebooks are cool in a way that paper books aren’t. Perhaps it’s the Star Trek dweeb in me (Trekkie? Trekker?)

When I first watched Start Trek: The Next Generation the idea of a holodeck and the portable hand-held computer/readers Picard used captivated my imagination. “One day humanity will have things like this,” I thought, but it never occurred to me that I’d be alive to see it happen.

Okay, we don’t have a holodeck (yet!) but my iPad seems pretty close to Picard’s hand-held tablet.

I remember watching the episode, from the original series — I think the title of the episode was Court Martial — where Krik is falsely accused of negligence in the apparent death of one of his crewmen, Ben Finney. It’s a great episode, one of my favorites, but what stayed with me was Kirk’s lawyer’s refusal to use digital books in his law practice.

In one scene, Kirk walks into his lawyer’s office, one Samuel T. Cogley, and looks around. Bookcases laden with dusty tomes line the walls. I remember feeling that if I ever had an office, that was the kind of office I wanted. Kirk is surprised by all the paper books. He says something like, “You can have all these books on your computer, why keep them around?”

His lawyer replies that books, real books, have soul. I loved this! “Yes!” I thought. It was wonderful to think that people in a technologically advanced future world would think that in some ways our society was better. I know, I know, it was a fiction, a fantasy, but still.

I still think Kirk’s lawyer’s speech was magnificent. That said, my skin tingles when I think about my iPad being able to hold thousands of books. Think about it! Any electronic reader or tablet can hold an entire library and it’s weightless. Portable. It’s like having the library of Alexandria in your hip pocket! If that’s not some kind of spooky magic I don’t know what is.

I guess this rambling post has been a stab at an explanation of why I am enamored of ebooks, why I write about them, why I’m tickled by unexpected new qualities (for instance, immune to bedbug infestations). It’s not that I want to put down or belittle paper books — I still love paper books — it’s just that the geek in me thinks that ebooks are so darn cool.

Seth Godin:

Here’s a bit of speculation:

Soon, there will be three kinds of books on the Kindle.

$1.99 ebooks. This is the clearing price for virtually all ebooks going forward.

$5 ebooks. This is the price for bestsellers, hot titles and books you have no choice but to buy because they were assigned in school.

$10 ebooks. This is the price you will pay to get the book first, to get it fast, to get it before everyone else. There might even be a subset of books for $20 in this category.

For example the new Steve Jobs book. The only reason it wasn’t onsale two weeks ago is that the publisher needed to move tons of molecules from the printer to the store. That means ebook readers have been waiting so that the paper readers could get their copy.

The analogy is paperback and hardcover. You paid extra for the hardcover because it was first and because it was a classy thing to display on the wall. A year later, the very same book is half the price or less as a paperback.

One of the unused features of digital ebooks is that the price can change easily, daily, by volume and by demand.

Starting soon, you’ll pay extra for the hot, fresh ebook (at $20, the publisher can do quite well for two weeks while we wait for the hardcover, thanks very much) and you’ll pay a lot less when it’s on the clearance rack.
– Seth Godin, The Domino Project, Paying For First

I’ve been working on my bedbug post for the last bit (yes, bedbugs! I’m going to post it in an hour or so) so when I came across this post I thought it was interesting because it talks about how the form of a book — electronic versus paper — changes things. And it’s Seth Godin, everyone loves Seth Godin!

Over the years I’ve been told countless times that Don Maass is a great teacher, so one of the workshops I looked forward to attending at SiWC was Donald Maass’s The Inner Journey.

Donald Maass did not disappoint. I’m sure I’ll use every exercise he discussed during NaNoWriMo!

(By the way, when I use the word “hero” in my notes, I mean the protagonist of a story, whether male or female.)

Why do we keep reading a story? What keeps us interested? Micro conflict. Line-by-line conflict. Resonance. Associative devises: reverses and parallels.

Write with a theme. Write what you care about. Write with a purpose. What is it that moves our hearts as we read? What is it that keeps us in its grip as we read? The emotional side of the story. The inner journey of our heroes. This inner journey can even change us as we read.

To open our characters emotionally we have to open ourselves emotionally.

There are two things we’re going to talk about today:
1) The emotional landscape of the story. What are your characters feeling?
2) The journey of the character, the character arc. The character arc is the sequence of changes a character goes through, the series of changes that transforms them.

Part One: The emotional landscape of the story

What story are you working on? What is your favorite place to write? See yourself there, see the computer screen. What feeling are you afraid to put on the page? Write it down, right now, write it down.

What will leave you feeling raw if you write it down? What would be too truthful, too painful, too true? Too angry? What might end your relationship with your special person? What are you hiding from yourself? What is it that you don’t want to admit? What is it that you know you have to do but you haven’t? What aren’t you telling yourself?

To whom in the story does this feeling belong? Who owns that feeling?

When is it, in the sequence of the story, that the character feels this way? Who is going to hear about this feeling? What is going to happen when they do?

This is what I mean by writing emotionally. You need to open yourself up to do this.

In your life, what makes you blissfully happy? Write down the first thing that comes to mind.

Put this happiness into a physical container. What is the most surprising thing about this object? What is it about this object that is wonderfully familiar? Delightfully strange? If you were to give this object, this happiness, as a gift to someone else, if they were to take it into their hands what is the first thing they would say?

Is this object fragile or is it unbreakable? Is this object one colour or is it many? What is its surface like? How big is it? How heavy? When others see it are they curious about it, or are they afraid of it? Do you want to share it, or hide it and keep it for yourself?

Craft a paragraph or passage in which you describe this feeling without naming it (“happiness”). Tell how this emotion looks and feels to others and yourself.

Remember, this emotion exists independently of you. What do you want to do with it? What have you discovered about yourself because this object is in your hands?

When is the moment in your story where you character experiences this happiness? This bliss? Can you put this into your story? Have you? Does it work?

This is a way of writing about primary emotions. “He froze in fear” does not make anyone freeze in fear. Big emotions like blissful happiness are very difficult to communicate so that THE READER feels it.

You can do this with fear, rage, humiliation, lust, etc.

Let your readers feel a feeling without naming it. What is the dominant emotion felt by your protagonist? A certain dream? A certain drive? An emotion? What is it?

Your protagonist needs to express this feeling, she needs to get it out. The story god strikes a character mute. What is the one thing the character can do to let everyone know how they feel? What can the character DO to express this feeling?

These exercises provide a way of working on the emotional landscape of the story. How do we make the reader feel what we want them to? By turning emotion into ACTION.

Example:
“He stood mute with rage.”
versus
“He used a sledgehammer to turn the car that had killed his wife into a useless mass of twisted metal.”

Write down a moment when your hero feels numb. Overwhelmed. Burned out. Exhausted. Confounded.

Write down, in addition, what someone else does as a result of the hero expressing this.

Do you see a place in your story where your character is just going to let go and say, “I don’t give a f**k”?

Open an emotional landscape for your protagonist.

Part Two: Emotional Change

What is your protagonist’s worst habit? Their weakness? Their blind spot? What would your hero like to change about themselves? What do they know needs to change?

What is the moment, early in the story, that your protagonist tries to change what needs to be changed and fails? Why does she fail? Why can’t she do better?

What is the moment in this negative characterization when your protagonist causes embarrassment? Who notices? Who says nothing? Who turns away and tries to pretend that didn’t happen? When in the story does this negative trait actually HELP her? Why does it help her? BE SPECIFIC!

As your story continues this negative trait continues. Your character can’t stop it. Who does the character alienate? Offend? Disgust? Who tells off the character? Who rejects the character? Who just can’t take it anymore?

Having bottomed out, what is something your protagonist does differently? Reader must be able to see that your protagonist has changed.

Working backwards in your story. How could you make this action something your character would never do? Make them highly resistant to this action. Have them dislike it or hate it. They find it to be a flaw/weakness in others. Then, at the end of the story, they have the weakness.

Some people would call what we’re talking about here the character’s flaw. I like to say that it is solmething the character is powerless to change but does.

Think of three or four ways this thing that needs to be changed is made evident to the reader.

Change involves: a) healing and b) reconciliation

What is your character’s deepest childhood hurt? What incident scared her the most? Which detail of this moment does your hero remember clearest? Which part hurts the most?

Write down one place where something identical happens but in the current day.

In the course of the story there will be something … an obsession … that your hero can’t let go of. There is a deeper reason why the hero can’t let it go. What is the deeper psychological reason?

What other character in the story sees that hidden reason before your character sees it? What will your hero say to that character when that character confronts her? Will she deny it?

Reconciliation
Who in the story does the hero most need to forgive? Who do they hold a grudge against?

What would have to happen for the hero to forgive that character? What would it take to make it okay? Let that happen if you can. If it is a change for that character that you can include.

OR

Is there some way your protagonist needs to change. Something they need to let go so that what hurt before doesn’t hurt anymore. So that they say, “That’s okay. I understand”.

Grand Arc: Inner Journey, Inner transformation
What is the most important thing that your hero needs to know about herself that she doesn’t?

Write down three reasons your protagonist has not to care about the thing they need to know. Through the story find a way of tearing down each of these three reasons.

What is your protagonist’s greatest hope? What is her greatest dream? What is the idea? What is it that they wish for or dream about?

Is there a way for your protagonist to taste what they hope for? Can you put it within their reach?

In what way is your protagonist naive? Is what she hopes for impossible? Childish, unrealistic? Not going to happen? When is your protagonist going to realize this? What will replace that hope or that dream?

I want to challenge you. I challenge you to enact this in the manuscript without exposition. No thoughts or feelings. Dialog only: What truth or principle does your hero cling to the hardest? About the world in general. What do they believe, foundationally, is true? Write down three or four ways you can crush that truth. Three or four ways that you can show that this foundational belief is wrong, flat out wrong.

When does your protagonist have to admit they were mistaken? What does she come to believe instead? What will she do or say to someone else to show this new truth?

End of novel: What will your protagonist see or understand about themselves? Work back and find five places to direct your hero away from what they will learn about themselves at the end. Something OUTWARD, CONCRETE and EXTERNAL. Something keeping them from where they need to be, from where they need to go as a human.

What is the biggest thing that is different about your protagonist because of this change? Remember, this change should be something that the character is seemingly INCAPABLE of doing.

This is opening an emotional landscape, building profound change for your hero. This is NOT plot.

Twitter: @DonMaass
Don Maass mentioned that he tweets weekly breakout prompts.

Wow! I walked out of that class wanting to buy all Don Maass’s books. One book everyone has recommended is: Writing the Breakout Novel. That’s one book I am definitely reading.

Earlier posts in this series:
SiWC 2011 Day One, Part One: Don’t Flinch: Robert Wiersema
SiWC 2011 Day One, Part Two: Don’t Flinch: Robert Wiersema
SiWC 2011 Day One, Part Three: The Psychology of Plotting, Michael Slade

From my notes:

What is the worst thing that ever happened to you and how are you using that to power your fiction? You don’t have to use this event in your plot, but this has such a high emotional sentiment that it can supercharge your writing.

When you draw from a traumatic event in your life you are INSIDE your characters psychology, not trying to figure it out. This will show in your writing.

You’ve heard that you need to draw on universal themes in your story. What do people want? What do people fear? These things are universal, but for your story to be interesting it has to be unique. How can you do this? How can you write about universal themes and yet make your story unique? Here’s the secret: Infusing your story with your experience will make it unique and it will lend it verisimilitude.

After you’ve exhausted your own material, phone up a police crime lab, they will tell you all sorts of grizzly stories. Don’t be shy about contacting folks and asking them to talk to you about their experience.

Remember, rule number one is: Write what you know.

Well, that was a lot shorter! I guess I was exhausted after all my note taking from Robert Wiersema’s workshop.

Hmmm, should I continue on and post my notes from Don Maass’s workshop, “The Inner Journey”? I’m turning the pages of my notebook — I had left my notebook in my luggage but by this time I’d retrieved it — and I think there’s too much material here to post right now so I’ll save it for Wednesday. (I’m writing this at 11:30 pm Tuesday. I’ll set this post to be automatically published early Wednesday.)

Till then. 🙂

Earlier posts in this series:
SiWC 2011 Day One, Part One: Don’t Flinch: Robert Wiersema
SiWC 2011 Day One, Part Two: Don’t Flinch: Robert Wiersema

Why go through the insanity of NaNoWriMo? Here are the answers according the MuseInks:

1. It’s invigorating.
It gets you out of the not-so-creative rut you may be in.

2. It’s just what the doctor ordered. You know that manuscript? The sick one? The one you’ve been meaning to make some chicken soup for, take to ER, and rub its back till it feels better? NaNo gives you a whole month to indulge the headachy, snot-filled, fever-ridden work-in-progress. After 30 days of caregiving, you’ll know beyond the shadow of a doubt whether or not the patient can be saved.

3. It will force you to look at things from a new vantage point. With NaNo, there’s precious little time for second-guessing. Or editing. Or proofreading, for that matter. It’s a write-like-your-life-depends-upon-it undertaking. Which makes you overlook things that may have slowed you down in the past. Every new NaNo day marks uncharted territory. There is no time to revisit what you did yesterday. Get ready to be bumped out of your comfort zone!

4. Try something daring. Has your writing become rote? Complacent? ~ahem~ By-the-book (pardon the pun)? NaNo gives you permission to throw away your crutches and safety nets. Try something you’d never normally do. Go ahead: it won’t kill you!

5. You discover your personal writer’s work ethic. No matter how supportive your cheerleaders, no one can write your book for you. (Technically, that’s not true. Ghostwriters can. But that kind of negates the whole “I’m going to write a novel this month” thing…) NaNo shows you exactly what it takes to shoulder the book-writing load and git ‘r done.

Sounds good to me! 🙂 Read the entire post here: Top 5 Reasons You Should Do NaNoWriMo This Year. The original post has wonderful photos; I love the one of the dog trying to eat water.