IWSG March 2019 — Perspective

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Thanks to Alex for hosting this each month. Here is the complete list of participants.

Whose perspective do you like to write from best, the hero (protagonist) or the villain (antagonist)? And why?

I usually err on the side of the protagonist, because I think it actually depends more on which character I like the best, aka whichever one comes easiest to me most of the time. Which raises a question of my own…

If it’s from the antagonist’s POV isn’t that just a combination of anti-hero and unreliable narrator?

In real life, every person sees themselves as the hero of their own story. This is also true for any well-developed, well-written fictional character, so I feel it’s incredibly relevant when considering what a protagonist and an antagonist are.

I was haphazardly googling around for inspiration in writing this post and I found this thought:

“Protagonist and antagonist are not point of view characters but are character functions. The protagonist is the one who is the prime mover of the effort to achieve the goal. The antagonist is all about preventing the protagonist from achieving the goal. In our own minds, protagonist represents our initiative – the motivation to affect change. Antagonist is our reticence – the motivation to maintain the status quo, or at least to return to it.” ~ The Storymind Writer’s Library

But that still leaves it as a matter of how the story is written, and the reader’s perspective on what’s happening. Here are some dictionary definitions, also found via google:

Protagonist

  • the leading character or one of the major characters in a drama, movie, novel, or other fictional text
  • the main figure or one of the most prominent figures in a real situation
  • an advocate or champion of a particular cause or idea

Antagonist

  • a person who actively opposes or is hostile to someone or something; an adversary
  • (biochemistry) a substance that interferes with or inhibits the physiological action of another.
  • (anatomy) a muscle whose action counteracts that of another specified muscle.

So “protagonist versus antagonist” has been explained variously as “initiative versus reticence,” “motivation to affect change versus motivation to maintain status quo,” and/or “leading character versus someone opposing/counteracting leading character in some way.”

What if it’s a character who’s trying to save the world versus a character trying to return the world to its less complicated, pre-human state? Or, to put it another way, a character who’s trying to destroy the world versus a character trying to stop them and maintain the status quo?

Frodo trying to get the One Ring to Mount Doom and destroy it vs Sauron and minions trying to stop him? Or, Sauron trying to conquer Middle Earth vs the Fellowship setting out on a quest to keep it free?

Raise your hand if you had instinctive knee-jerk answers to the previous two paragraphs, because I know I do. Most of the stories that I can think of at the moment are that first way around.

Now consider, if you’ve seen it, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.

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Wikipedia

On one hand you have the obvious good guy Captain Hammer, who’s as much of a tool as his name suggests and who gets the girl because, duh, he’s the good guy. On the other you have Dr. Horrible, aka Billy, an aspiring super-villain whose application to the Evil League of Evil keeps being rejected and who doesn’t get the girl because, duh, he’s the bad guy. Without giving any outright spoilers, let’s just say that in trying to get his crush to break up with Captain Hammer by proving that he’s actually a selfish, self-involved jerk, Dr. Horrible accidentally causes a death, is finally accepted by the League, and is so emotionally shut down by what he’s done that he accepts.

Who’s trying to accomplish something? Dr. Horrible. Who’s the main character and champion of a cause? Dr. Horrible. Who do we see the most of throughout the story and who does your heart break for by the end? Dr. Horrible, even though he could easily qualify as an antagonist under different circumstances — i.e. if you didn’t get primarily his side of the story.

… I haven’t really answered the IWSG question, have I?

Or maybe I have. I guess it’s all a matter of perspective.

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NaNoWriMo 2017

I’ve finally made a few decisions about what I want to do this November.

ONE:

I will definitely do NaNoWriMo. My novel is already announced on the site and I’ve come up with a working, if stupid, title that I got from googling “how to come up with a good book title.”

… It’s “Good Book Title.” Which probably won’t stick, although one of the main characters is a published author so maybe I can actually work that in.

The temporary cover image is one of the stock drawings from the how to come up with a good title wiki page.

TWO:

It’s definitely going to be a second draft of the novel I was working on last year, which crept along so slowly that partway through I had to do an emergency retcon just so I could get anywhere near the end of the story by 50k. Despite that, I think there probably still are some bits I can still use, but a lot needs to be changed/rearranged and there will be a lot of new stuff to fill in the gaps.

THREE:

I’m cheating a little and already writing. At the moment it’s mostly backstory shorts that wouldn’t necessarily be in the novel though.

… I say that, and yet it’s vital character building stuff for the main character’s later struggle with his sexuality as an adult. So I don’t know.

FOUR:

Boy howdy do I write better if I treat each scene like a short story. So for now I’m sticking with that, and filling in later. If I can spend November just getting down the most important bits, that would still be great progress.


So there’s that. Let me know if you’ve tried the each-scene-treated-like-short-story method and how it worked for you!

Tomorrow’s post will be about the fires in Sonoma County, where I happen to live.

NaNoWriMo Declaration

In the past few days I have made some decisions.

First, I am using my bullet journal to keep track of my finances. Like a checkbook but tracking three accounts at once: individually, in total, and in total by month. I’ve done this before but now I’ve got a much more sophisticated set-up… and I’m putting it in a spreadsheet so I can use formulas to do the math for me, heh. F**k math.

Second, I am going to sign up for NaNoWriMo again.

Last year I won in the sense of word count but did not win in the sense of getting to the end of the novel. Not long after November I decided that draft needed so much work that it made more sense to switch to extensive rewrites rather than trying to finish it, and spent most of this year (by turns actively and passively) working more on my world building. I came up with some new sub-plots and some new characters that might plug up some of the gaping holes in the first draft. In short, instead of starting a new novel I am going to force myself to buckle down and write a second draft.

Over the next month or so I want to get a basic timeline down for this story. I want to figure out what happens when the main characters visit the Sea Queen, and then how/why they go north and encounter dragons. I want to really think about a sci-fi element lurking in the back of my mind, and whether or not I ought to incorporate it into this fantasy story.

Starting with this model of 9 Steps to Build a Strong Plot.

IWSG Post #01

I just found this through Elegance Icy’s post! (Yeah, I am that far behind on all the blogs I follow. It’s… one of those months. Again.)

The Insecure Writer's Support Group

The purpose of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group is to share doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak, and encourage each other. There’s a new question on the first Wednesday of every month, so here’s July.

What’s the best thing someone has ever said about your writing?

This is not difficult to answer. A college friend of mine who I followed on Tumblr did one of those “give me a number and I will publish a compliment directed anonymously to your number.” What she wrote was beautiful, and I was smart enough at the time to take a screencap of it.

First, I should say that these days I struggle with the feeling that I was a much better writer in college than I am now. I haven’t really written and completed any original fiction since graduating six years ago. (My NaNoWriMo novel does not count, because even though I hit the 50k word mark I didn’t actually get to the end of the story.) I still haven’t gotten anything published. I haven’t even tried to enter any writing contests. Even when I sort of make some progress on my novel, I still feel like I’m merely treading water.

So every once in a while I pull this out and read it again for a self-esteem boost.

“Oh my god, have I ever mentioned that you saved [that writing class] for me? Because you did. You were a huge part of why I didn’t pointlessly cause conflict in that workshop — I might’ve been closer with [some of our other classmates], but you were one of the standouts in that class, because you didn’t just kowtow to [the professor’s] definition of ‘acceptable’ fiction, and her habit of erasing sci-fi, fantasy, and supernatural-themed stories with stuff like, ‘I don’t even think this IS a fantasy story.’

I was actually going through some of my collections from old classes the other day and found an old copy of [one of your stories from that class] and remembered just how much I fucking loved it. If I haven’t mentioned it before: I love how uncompromising you were about the fact that people can write ‘genre fiction’ and have it be amazing, even if it doesn’t fit the strictest definition of ‘literary fiction.’

You can be really shy and kind of quiet, in person, but anyone who thinks you’re just that is dead wrong — you’re feisty, your sense of humor is absolutely killer, I love your brain and how unique your perspective on things are… You’re one of the people who makes me proud to have gone to [our college]. You’re a great example of what our alma mater’s system can produce, when it’s paired with someone who has all the talent and insight, but also has a drive that some people lack. It’s not like, drive in a stereotypically Slytherin-esque, ‘I want to take over the world’ sort of way; it’s this quiet determination to make yourself and your work the best that it can be, and I admire that in you.”

… That’s probably not only the best thing anyone has said about my writing, but the best, most well-composed compliment I’ve ever received.

My first thought upon rereading it was, “No… I wasn’t that uncompromising.” And then I remembered some of the arguments heated discussions I got into with that professor. Mostly they involved fanfiction and whether or not it was a valid writing exercise (I still think it is), but although I can’t remember specifics I’m sure there were more topics besides that one that we clashed over. That example statement is something that would make me cranky enough to say something, especially if I’d been hearing it on a regular basis. If you wanted to consider a sci-fi story more in terms of the human elements than the setting it’s placed in then fine, but it is still sci-fi because you could do that with just about any story.

I’m already itching to find the story she was talking about and reread it, maybe edit it a bit and try to get it published somewhere. The reason I never had before is because I always sort of wanted it to be longer, possibly novel length. But I’ve also read a fair amount of novels that were originally published as short stories, so why not. Might as well work on my follow-through.

To all insecure writers out there (insecure anybody, really), I recommend going to your most eloquent friend and asking them to write down something they really like about you. Then save it and keep it for any gloomy moods you have in the years to come.

Author’s Voice, Editor’s Voice

I have always struggled with voice. In high school, the struggle went like this:

  • Reading Grapes of Wrath? Everything I write that week sounds like Grapes of Wrath.
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     A visual distillation of how I felt while reading The Grapes of Wrath. (Source.)
  • Reading The Great Gatsby? Everything I write that week sounds like The Great Gatsby. And includes a mint julep.
  • Reading Crime & Punishment? I don’t write at all those two weeks because Russian Lit just kills me.
  • Reading Stephen King in my free time? I learned how to spell harbinger real well. Real well indeed.

Then, in college, the struggle became:

  • I am pretty good at writing fanfiction in the Douglas Adams voice.
  • That’s pretty much it.
  • Everything I write contains the phrases “almost, but not quite ___” or “almost, but not entirely unlike ___.”

My problem is that I’ve learned how to write by sponging up whatever I happen to be reading at the time, and the result is I am still a bit uncertain of my own voice. What I do know is that it tends to be very direct, often rather snarky, and consecutive sentences never start or end with the same word because that drives me up the wall.

Some of this I’ve learned from how I edit other people’s work. I am the nitpicker who will go through the page and circle every instance of a repeated word in a paragraph or page, and note the total count in the margin just in case I hadn’t already made my point. I am the nitpicker who will not only notice that every sentence has the same length and structure, but (a) point it out, (b) state whether or not it seems like you did it on purpose, and (c) start scribbling in examples of how you might rearrange them.

I’ve never been quite sure how anyone feels about my writing critiques, but personally I can’t stand getting critiques back with no notes throughout and a bunch of vague comments at the end. If you didn’t think something worked I want you to show me where during the text you had that thought, and I try to do that when I edit.

My voice as an editor has helped inform me a bit more about my voice as a writer, although I have to take this with a grain of salt. If I listen to my editor-voice too much I get distracted by rewriting things I haven’t even finished writing in the first place. Similarly, I can queue up audiobooks to listen to in the car but have to keep a wary eye out for signs that the book of the week is taking over.

It helps when I pick the audiobooks to suit what I’m writing, rather than the other way around.

And heaven help me if I’m typing up something I’ve written longhand, because unlike the self-restraint described in this post over at The Caffeinated Writer I can’t help trying to fix it as I go! Approximately halfway through whatever I still have written down has somehow become completely irrelevant and I no longer have a complete draft. 

Daily Writing Progress #20

Thursday, June 2nd

  • Missed this day.

Friday, June 3rd

  • Missed this day.

Saturday, June 4th

  • Project: It’s Mine
    • Word Count: 178
  • Thoughts: This short story was kicked off by this prompt, and is not yet finished. It somehow became a better start to the previously untitled story idea that I’ve been working on lately. It’s not exactly in the mystery genre though. Maybe if I get enough written to decide that I’m satisfied with the beginning I’ll post some of it.

Continue reading “Daily Writing Progress #20”

A to Z Challenge #21 — Underwater

As any full-time glasses wearer knows, seeing underwater is only a thing if you can keep prescription swim goggles from fogging up.

This is not my strong suit, so I have a long history of being that dork in the swimming pool still wearing her glasses.

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Seahorse farm in Hawaii, 2010

… There was more to this post, and some people have commented on it, but for some reason the internet has decided to eat it. I can’t remember exactly what I wrote before, but the upshot is that I’ve been driving along the Great Highway in San Francisco a lot lately and it has crept into my WIP novel.

I’m a nervous driver. On long, stressful drives through the city I’ve gotten in the habit of visualizing it underwater. Tall clumps of kelp forrest instead of the tall trees between the road and the ocean along some sections of the coast, like in that several-story viewing window at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Slow, syrupy currents instead of brisk winds. And maybe part of all this is that I’ve always wished I could see clearly underwater, but between either chlorine or salt and my poor vision that’s difficult to achieve.

So in my novel, where the sea level has risen quite a bit, the characters are going to visit a submerged San Francisco.

Daily Writing Progress #12, #13, & #14

Tuesday, March 22nd

  • Project: Growing Magic outline (draft 3)
    • Total Words: 1113
    • New Words: 500
  • Thoughts: It feels so good to work on this again!
  • Tomorrow’s Goal: Write more outline this week.

Wednesday, March 23rd

  • Missed this day.

Thursday, March 24th

  • Missed this day.

Friday, March 25th

  • Project: Growing Magic outline (draft 3)
    • Total Words: 1678
    • New Words: 565
  • Thoughts: I like the progress I’m making here.
  • Tomorrow’s Goal: Write more future posts.

Continue reading “Daily Writing Progress #12, #13, & #14”

Wednesday Words of Wisdom #6 — A Writer’s Rituals

“When you’re writing, you’re conjuring. It’s a ritual, and you need to be brave and respectful and sometimes get out of the way of whatever it is that you’re inviting into the room.” ~ Tom Waits

My first thought upon reading this was of some of the books I’ve read that involve summoning demons. Which is the sort of thing that typically you’d only do when you’re staring down a big problem and starting to get desperate, or your the evil mastermind who might be a liiiittle too cocky…

As a writer, I have at times felt I fit both those descriptions. Sometimes even at the same time.

But also typically, if you’re thinking far enough ahead you build plenty of safeguards into your summoning circle and take a healthy step back as soon as you’re done casting. The methods you use are important, because for better or worse they will shape the overall outcome. There often is a great deal of ritual involved, perhaps because in any situation it’s more comforting to stick with something you know and consider tried and tested, rather than taking the risk of totally making things up as you go along.

(How far can I carry this metaphor? This is already farther than I expected to get when I started writing, to be honest.)

You have to be brave. Some things are easy to botch, whether it’s summoning a demon or trying to make what’s on the page as grand and complete as the vision in your head. If you allow yourself to be intimidated, it makes the task that much harder.

You have to be respectful. Granted, the characters in your imagination are less likely to bite your head off than infernal hellspawn, but minding your manners and giving them what they consider their due is probably the simplest way to get them to cooperate.

And sometimes they’re just gonna roar on out of there, and you’ve got to do your best to just get out of the way and let it happen. The most interesting characters are sometimes the most willful ones, and the most demanding to have their own story.

So… yeah. I’m going to go sit at my desk with a cup of tea (still steaming, with milk and honey) and a cat in my lap (trying to keep her off of my keyboard), and do some conjuring.