Thursday, April 26, 2007

Haven't had a writing group post in a while

That's what you get when I go on teh computer the morning after my writing group meets. Some vague thing irked me last night. And this morning it felt like I wanted to say, "Gods forbid I include any details for the sake of description and giving the readers a fuller image of the scene," which I think was the problem. Of the pages I brought last night, the trend seemed to be that there were details that didn't add anything to the narrative/plot and in other places, there needed to be more details to make the story clearer.

My reaction (in my head) was a peculiar combination of, "I see what you mean, that makes sense and I should change it," with, "What's wrong with including the fact that this immature guy has to stand still and not move his hand, and now his knuckles itch?" I kept the latter purely mental, while verbally responding with the former. That's why they make written comments as wll, so I can go through it afterward, when I've set the emotions aside, and see if those details really are unnecessary, or if there's something missing to make them pertinent.

Even after the worst meeting (which this was not, not even close), I am grateful for the writer's group. Because these areas they pointed out were parts I glanced over, that I didn't see the problem, or maybe I saw the problem but didn't know how to fix it, and they came in with a suggestion to fix it. Beta readers in almost any form are helpful, regardless of the strength of one's "You're killing my baby!" feelings, because there will always be aspects of an author's writing that needs work, which they can't see on their own.

My personal worry is that I have too many aspects like that which I can't see, and should I ever stop bringing the major works to my group, I'd miss out on some big editing that needs to take place, which then makes me feel like I'm relying on others, and I don't much care for that.

Or maybe I'm degernerating into paranoid rants, but I want to my work to be written by me. Thus, I try very hard not to give in to too many of their changes, particularly when it's along the lines of 'change this sentence to this.' Most of them aren't fantasy or sci fi-oriented, and some of their opinions on point of view, pace and voice are influenced by that. Basically, I just don't want to lose my own voice in my writing by trying to fix everything that point to as a problem, even if they are, technically, correct.

I think that point ends differently from how it began, but overall: writing groups are good, if you find one that suits you, be careful if you're in one that doesn't fully suit you, don't give in to all their changes, nor ignore all their suggestions, and try to listen with the emotion set aside.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

It's too late now, fulfillment just adds fuel to the flame

*No Doubt, "Too Late" from the album, Return to Saturn

The title has nothing to do with this post. I just like it and it seems like it suits the business of writing, for some. That perhaps a writer who is published once, ill then be motivated to write even more, thus fueling the fire of success.

That's not the point though. No actually, I hd a curious realization the other day. Now lately I have been reading a lot of manga, and by a lot I would guess in the hundreds since getting on this kick with Christmas 2005 (I'd read some before, but that's when I really started devouring them). I've run across some stories that were simpler, but had lovely artwork, others with better stories and slightly less desireable art, some with high quality story and art and other with less quality of both. Assume what I'm about to say speaks of the good ones, and basicall every statement ends with IMHO.

I happen to think manga can have well-developed characters and strong plots. The best ones have some sort of character development, for at least the small handful of major players (actually I'm reading one right now that has that, "Ouran High School Host Club"). But it occurred to me that reading a manga versus reading a novel is a very different type of reading. Comic book-style/art aside, I read the story differently.

I used to think it was mostly a matter of, "They're shorter and more visual, so I can read them in half an hour to an hour." But the other day I sat down to begin reading Kate Elliott's Spirit Gate (I'm being a bad reader--I got side-tracked away from The Burning Stone and thus haven't finished the Crown of Stars series yet, but I do want to read this one, which I got for my birthday), and even only reading the first few pages before heading off to work, I was struck by how calm the activity made me feel. Even when reading tense or action-packed sequence, there's still part of me that tranquilly content, "I can't wait to see where this goes." My emotional state with manga is more grin-y, "this is fun, what's gonna happen next, I want to know now." Essentially the same thoughts, just phrased differently and with a more active sound to the latter. Perhaps it's a matter of the ID and ego.

(I did say I'd get into pulling out some of that psychology stuff, didn't I? Just didn't expect it to be today.)

So Freud had a lot of silly ideas, but people still cling to a few. Wait a moment, I'll give you a chance to get out all the Oedipal Complex jokes you know. Better? Okay, here we go.

So Freud had this idea about the unconscious and conscious mind (the iceberg imagery, of which only a small piece of ice above the sea level is really conscious thought), and within this was the Id, Ego and superego. Let's ignore the moral high ground of the superego, he's boring anyway. The ego as I always thought about it, was the practical sort, sying okay, we can do that, but not ight now. A harried mother of toddlers, perhaps. The id is the toddler, worse twins, and then both want A/B now. No! They want C, too!

Manga seems to fulfill that innate and mostly unconscious id desire to read, because there are (usually) plenty of manga at hand that I can read. Be it from the bookstore, a recent purchase, or the library, or rereading ones I've already bought (I think I found a couple of good series that lend themselves well to rereading). Reading novels seems more of an ego compromise, "wait until the summer (I've been in the school system so long that I associate summers with reading for a slew of entire days), and then you can read all of these books, and these over here, and a couple of those too." They were the reward for finishing the semester, finishing the year, finishing high school or college.

Now that I'm working, it's all a bit screwy for the novels. I want to read during my free time, time not taken up by work, eating, sleeping, or working on writing and editing my novel (I've caught up with the edits for my group. I'm on the cusp of chapter 14). All of that takes up a lot of time, though, and sometimes I must admit, I just don't feel like reading. So when I do, it's usually a small window and it's much easier to read a short manga than risk getting sucked into a novel only to have to put it down at the most inopportune moment because of other stuff.

You're just reaching an awesome chapter, the big fight scene, whichever, but it's so late you have to go to bed or you'll be groggy all day at work tomorrow.

There's still hope for novels, though, don't get me wrong. I read all those Thursday Next and the Nursery crime books in a fairly short amount of time (I found The Erye Affair as well at the library), and it was such a nice feeling to start a novel.

As easy as it is to say each reader reads differently, I think it may be just as true to say every reader reads each book differently, too. And by book, I mean manga, novels, nonfiction, all of it, even breaking it down to genres or even authors. I bet if I read Spirit Gate and then Neil Gaiman's American Gods, I'd notice a distinct difference in how I approached each of those books as well.

Just a neat little thing I noticed about myself I guess.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Bad writer, ignoring your readers

Hello readers. I'm sorry for ignoring you. Blame stress at work. I always do. heh.

So I have an older sister who writes. She sent me an email with some new writing the other day and only today did I get around to checking my email in order to reply. It was an interesting start to a story and it made me think of Book #1 (or was it Book A?). Anyhoo.

It's my questy/classic high fantasy story that I dare not look at for fear of keeling over from the horror of the writing. It got me highest honors in English, but I have this image of it still reading as very young. I began it in high school, reworked, finished and revised it in college, and I know it isn't as good as my current stuff is. But then, that's not surprising. I'm still learning, so it makes sense the earlier, less skilled work reads younger and doesn't have as much depth.

But that story was the sort where I started writing without little more than an opening scene and a couple of characters. 50-80 pages in, I had to stop and completely rework those first pages as I figured out what the plot was now that I had a firmer grasp on the characters and what they wanted. Her story read like that. In my opinion, it's perfectly fine to start a story with only a vague idea of what's going on. It can take longer, but eventually you get a feel for the chcracters and the plot and can rewrite the earlier stuff to match the story after you figured it out.

In my writer's group a few women always seem to ask the new members whether they have an outline for the plot. But they ask in a way that seems, to me (I could be totally wrong in my assumption, but for the sake of this post and point) like they expect every writer to know exactly how the story ends right from the get-go. I don't necessarily agree with that. Just as every writer has a different process for writing, they have different processes for planning a story as well. It may make it harder for them to critique because they don't know where it's going, but a lot of these stories coming in now, they still don't, even if the first draft is done or the writer herself knows exactly how the story goes.

No one else needs to know how you write a book. But you should know your own methods. Know your weaknesses, be it dialogue or plotting or too many flashbacks. Know how you edit and what you tend to miss (which you can find out by seeing what a consensus of readers point out for improvement that you consistently don't see until they point it out), and know your strengths.

I noticed this a few times with our new members that had also attended another group. That "well, they said to take X out, now you're telling me to put X back in." You can't always listen to writing groups. You have to look at what others say and then decide for yourself what works best. If you can conceivably look at every comment a critiquer gives and explain why you need to leave it as is (a real reason, not, 'but it's my baby,' remember dears, "Murder Your Darlings"), then leave it as is. If their suggestion makes sense to you keep it and make the change, but you're the writer and it's your story and your method of writing. they aren't writing your story for you and...

You will always know more about your story and the characters than the reader does. As much as we sometimes want to put in all the cool little quirks and tiny details that create this beautiful image in our heads, we can't always. We have to pick and choose for the single or small handful of details that create the image in the readers' heads. Alas, if I get published, my readers may never know that my protagonist's best friend used to be quite bulked up (not obscenely so, but a lot) and he lost a lot of muscle mass after a long illness. He's crazy tall and still muscular but very lean, a few shades short of skeleton at times, if you'll allow me the exaggerated imagery.


...Heh. I have no idea how to wrap this up. Yay for distractions and losing one's train of thought.

Happy writing.