IWSG Post #09

(This post was written and scheduled in advance, as today I get to have a super fun endoscopy and expect to be pretty loopy from the sedation. Bleh.)

unnamedAUGUST QUESTION: What are your pet peeves when reading/writing/editing?

These are all pet peeves that I attend to while writing, as well as editing and, to a lesser extent because it’s not like there’s anything I can do about it, reading.

They won’t suit everyone. I know that the first one probably lead to a lot of my peers in writing classes throughout the years lose patience with reading all the comments I left in the margins on their work when critiquing… For my part, I frequently felt like my stories weren’t getting enough scrutiny when it was time for my work to be critiqued.

  • Consecutive sentences and/or paragraph that all start or end with the same word or series of words. Exception: when it is done intentionally (and effectively) for emphasis.
  • Lack of Oxford comma. I like it, I use it, and I want to see it.
  • Dialogue where two speakers’ words are lumped in the same paragraph, making it harder to tell who’s talking if your brain skips the one or two cue words. Incorrect punctuation going in or out of the quotation marks — because if what follows the dialogue is a vocal action in any tense (said, says, etc.) it should always be punctuated with a comma, not a period, which then continues the sentence. If what follows is a physical action, then it should be a period.
  • Substitutions for said that don’t really describe a physically possible way of talking, like “smirked” instead of “said with a smirk” — because a smirk is a facial expression not a description of speech. Or “quaked” or “trembled” — also not speaking verbs. I got all of these examples from one of those Said is Dead posters, which tend to have mostly good suggestions with some real stinkers mixed in.
  • “As if” when it should be “as though.”
  • “Would of.” Are you kidding me?

#AtoZChallenge Theme Reveal *drum roll please!*

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This post is hilariously late due to a very hectic (yet satisfying) work week.

Last year I signed up for the A to Z blogging challenge on a complete whim. I had no plan, no theme, just a vague idea that I’d write short posts based on each letter of the alphabet, and that each would have something to do with life and the writing ideas that can be found in it, because this is a writing blog.

No wait, I take that back. I did have a theme. It was Samuel L Jackson saying “Hold onto your butts” because I didn’t know where I was going with anything.

For those that aren’t familiar with the challenge, it’s an event that happens every April with participants blogging from all over the word. You write posts that start with a letter of the alphabet. You post everyday except Sundays. It can be about your writing, or whatever theme you want if you want to have a theme. This is my second year participating and I’ve come back to it wiser and a little more organized.

A post a day is a lot of work, so this year I’ve decided that I need more of a strategy. Since one of my New Year’s Resolutions for 2017 is to write more and I’ve kind of been interested in trying Camp NaNoWriMo for a while, I am going to combine the three and write short stories throughout the month based on the letters of the alphabet.

These are the guidelines I’ve set for myself:

  • Most of the stories will have an LGBT theme with a high chance of adult content.
  • Word counts of around 500 per post. I’ve written the first drafts of a couple already and that seems to be the average — plus I wanted a number for my Camp NaNoWriMo word goal.
  • Each story will be a complete snapshot, something that stands up well on its own but I can still come back to and write more about later if the mood strikes.
  • While I might do some of this anyway, I will definitely continue the three stories that get the most likes, comments, and views. So if you read anything you like and want to see more someday, do one or more of those things!

Check out this A to Z Challenge blog post, where there are links to other themes on other blogs in the comments.

I look forward to reading your comments throughout the month! ❤️

Wednesday Words of Wisdom #9 —Reality

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream.

Shirley Jackson

I keep meaning to read The Haunting of Hill House… That’ll happen eventually.

In the meantime, I just finished re-listening to the audiobook of Going Bovine, by Libba Bray. It’s one of those books where (no spoilers, kinda) you get to the end and wonder how much of it was real and how much was the unreliable narrator imagining things. It’s hard to tell what even he thought was real or not, in the end. But it’s a beautiful book that at its heart has to do with the stories we tell ourselves to make reality bearable, or worthwhile, or at least make some sort of sense.

The vocabulary I use for this idea comes from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, particularly Hogfather which I recommend highly for its own merits and for being kind of a Christmas story.

YOU THINK SO? THEN TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE AND THEN SHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY. AND YET—Death waved a hand. AND YET YOU ACT AS IF THERE IS SOME IDEAL ORDER IN THE WORLD, AS IF THERE IS SOME… SOME RIGHTNESS IN THE UNIVERSE BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED.

“Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what’s the point—”

MY POINT EXACTLY.

Hogfather

Another source is the incomparable Douglas Adams.

Trin Tragula, for that was his name, was a dreamer, a speculative thinker, or, as his wife would have it, an idiot. And she would nag him incessantly about the utterly inordinate amount of time he would spend staring out into space, or mulling over the mechanics of safety pins, or doing spectrographic analyses of pieces of fairy cake. “Have some sense of proportion,” she would say, thirty-eight times a day. And so he built the Total Perspective Vortex – just to show her. And in one end he plugged the whole of reality, as extrapolated from a fairy cake, and in the other end he plugged his wife – so that when he turned it on she saw in one instant the whole infinity of creation and herself in relation to it. To Trin Tragula’s horror, the shock annihilated her brain. But to his satisfaction, he realised he had conclusively proved that if life is going to exist in a universe this size, the one thing it cannot afford to have, is a sense of proportion.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (radio series), Fit the 8th

ZAPHOD:
The universe does that to a guy?

GARGRAVARR:
The whole infinite Universe. The Infinite sums. The Infinite distances between them, and yourself. An invisible dot on an invisible dot. Infinitely small.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (radio series), Fit the 8th

Absolute reality lacks meaning. Absolute reality is the universe before it’s been run through the filter of our perception. From the day we’re born we start hearing and telling stories, starting with nursery rhymes and “when you were a tiny baby” anecdotes and going from there. To be human is to be a storyteller.

I feel like I have written posts about this idea before. It’s something I keep circling back to, like an itch I keep trying to scratch, because it keeps coming up in my writing.

In the second draft of my NaNo novel I’m still thinking through the stories my main character tells himself about who he is, what he wants, whether or not he’s okay with how repetitive his life has become and why, and so on and so forth. People have been telling him stories his whole life about what is and isn’t okay, especially his father, and over the course of the story he needs to question and confront things that have seemed like solid reality but are in truth a lot more subjective. And that’s just the main character! I’m relatively certain of his character growth throughout the novel, but not so much with the love interest. I haven’t even tackled any of his stories yet.

The idea also creeps into a short (ish) story that I’m currently working on, involving dreams. I’m not going to say much more than that because I’m going to be posting it in April.

How do you think ideas about reality and the stories we tell ourselves about the rightness in the universe show up in your writing?

IWSG Post #07

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March IWSG Day Question: Have you ever pulled out a really old story and reworked it? Did it work out?

Recently, actually. It didn’t work out, but I did end up rereading some short pieces I wrote in 2010 and probably haven’t revisited since. It’s fascinating to read stuff you no longer have any idea where you were going with.

The reason it didn’t work out is because the new idea that had inspired me to look through my old writing didn’t quite fit with the characters I’d been thinking of. Which is kind of irritating, because I miss them and had gotten all excited over the idea that I might be able to get down a new piece of their story… but when I read back over what I had so far, I realized it wasn’t something that would happen to them.

But that’s okay, because I still wrote the new idea. Part one, anyway. The rest is still in progress and was partly spurred on by wanting to find something new to ground the initial concept in.

Maybe I’ll pull the old story out and fiddle with it next, after I’m done with this new project. It’s nice to be reminded of a story that I know I’ll put down on paper some day but don’t feel pressured or rushed to do so. Over the past two years that’s basically what my NaNoWriMo novels have been — big fancy excuses . I haven’t finished them either yet, but that’s okay too. They’ll come together when they’re ready.

(I’m still coasting on the gleeful fact that in the past two years and even just the past few months I’ve done a lot more original creative writing than I have in years. This should last for a while and I’m content with that.)

Short Story #04, February — Well (pt i)

The challenge prompt that inspired this story was, “Write a paragraph or two with vivid descriptions and leave me hanging and dying to find out what happens next. Maximum 250 words.”

If you like what you read, like it on TheProse.com as well! 😊

Continue reading “Short Story #04, February — Well (pt i)”

Short Story #03, February — Driving

The prompt for this was, “Lets shed some reality on mental illness. It’s not cute, it’s not a joke and it’s not an excuse: Write about a panic or anxiety attack.”

I just want to add the disclaimer that it’s not a good idea to drive while having an anxiety attack. If you’re prone to them (mine don’t strike all that often) it might be best to have a built-in plan for what to do if you need to get off the road, even if it’s just to pretend you have a sudden burning desire to stop for Starbucks or something.

If you like what you read, feel free to like it on TheProse as well!

Continue reading “Short Story #03, February — Driving”

The Tale of Alderch of Treath

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Hey followers! Please check out my entry, The Tale of Alderch of Treath, for this week’s #ProseChallenge and let me know what you think.

It is a short side story (maybe full length someday) to a novel I am currently working on, set in an alternate universe with some supernatural ongoings.  I hope you enjoy it!

– Jasper

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IWSG Post #06

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FEBRUARY QUESTION: How has being a writer changed your experience as a reader?

I think the biggest impact is in my book choice. A lot of my reading happens via audiobook in my car, and if there’s a particular story I’m working on I tend to queue up books that (a) I’ve read before and (b) fit the subject, general theme, or ambiance of what I’m trying to write. It puts me in the right headspace for what I want to do… or at the very least doesn’t yank me out of it.

For example, when working on Growing Magic I tend towards books where I really admire the world building, or the rules of magic, or if it just has a really cool adventure plot that vibes with what I want my characters to experience.

Audiobooks also help me de-stress after work. I like to think of it as holding harsh reality at bay so that I can go home and write rather than go home and lay on the floor experiencing existential crises.

When a person is lucky enough to live inside a story, to live inside an imaginary world, the pains of this world disappear. For as long as the story goes on, reality no longer exists.

Paul Auster

Writer You Rather

The first several questions are from Rachel Poli, and then I found some more here because I was bored. Feel free to answer these questions on your own blog if you want. Link back to me so I can see your answers, though. 😊


Would you rather go on a writing retreat in the middle of nowhere with no wi-fi, or in your home office being interrupted every so often by friends and family?

That depends on the length of the retreat. The middle of nowhere sounds kind of nice. Is it somewhere picturesque? I could deal with no wifi for, I dunno, about a week. (I once explained being an introvert to my mom by saying, “I could be shut up alone in my room with a stack of books and my laptop for a week and I’d be fine. You’d go stir crazy within a day or two.”)

Any longer than a week and I’d take the home office option. At least that way I can get some kitty snuggles in too.

Would you rather publish one best-selling novel and never write again, or publish multiple novels that either don’t sell well or sell average?

Multiple novels that sell average. I’m not in this for the money, I figure I’ll always have a day job one way or another. If I don’t have something external to influence my schedule I tend to drift toward nocturnal and that’s not necessarily a good thing.

Would you rather be a best-seller with your real name and people stopping you everywhere you go, or a pen name no one knows who you are?

Real name. Don’t get me wrong, if you stop me on the street I’ll be awkward as hell, but I want my name on my work. If only so my parents can finally brag about how cool I am and send copies to everyone they know.

Would you rather teach English/creative writing high school classes, or college classes?

College, because ugh teenagers. Plus it’d be nice to teach people who aren’t just there because they have to be.

Would you rather only be able to write during NaNoWriMo months (April, July, and November), or only be able to write five days per month?

Mathematically, the NaNo option would give me more time to write, 90 vs 60. But… realistically, I probably work on my creative writing about five days a month right now anyway. That’s a low I’m working on changing, but for now I’ll go with the second option. Slow and steady wins the race is more my forte anyway.

Would you rather read your writings to an audience of ten people who love you or to 10,000 people you don’t know?

Ten people who love me. I’m not a crowds person.

Would you rather do a cross-country book store tour or blog tour?

I’m not entirely sure what both of those entail, but I guess I’d take the book store tour. It’d be a nice chance to get out and about, see bits of the country I’ve never seen before, all that jazz.

Would you rather write in a rooftop garden surrounded by city noises — or in a quiet studio with cows as your neighbors?

I’m going to go with cow neighbors, just because living in a city would up my general anxiety level more than I’d like. I can’t imagine not having a car, but I know that living in a city would either be murderous parking fees forever or murderous attempting to parallel park forever. Also, I’m not so naive that I don’t realize it would be both. Forever. I get nervous just being a passenger in city traffic. That kind of stress is not good for the creative juices.

Would you rather teach writing in a high school or go back to grad school for a Creative Writing degree?

Creative Writing degree. I’ve considered this, but don’t have the money or quite enough motivation available to actually do so. Also, see above where one of my answers included the phrase “ugh teenagers.”

Would you rather bravely share your writing or sit on the writing sidelines forever?

Brave. I’m writing to get these stories heard, what’s the point if no one ever reads it? Otherwise I’m essentially just doodling around in a private journal. I know I’m an anxious person, but I’ve been sharing my work in creative writing classes since high school and sharing fics (at varying levels of polish and read by beta readers) online since college. I can deal with that part of it.

Gender & Writing

When I was in high school, there was this one creative writing assignment that drove me up the wall because the responses were all pretty much the same. The idea was to write from the perspective of someone of the opposite gender seeing your bedroom for the first time. Long story short, it was always either about a boy being surprised a girl’s room could be so messy or a girl being surprised that a boy’s room could be so neat.

Gag me with a spoon. I don’t even remember what I wrote, but it probably fell into the same category. Of course, back then I was in a bubble of gender non-discussion where my creative writing teacher made lame jokes like”words have gender, people have sex.” (This was in 2004-2006. Like, a million years ago.) By now I’m aware that:

  • Gender is either some sort of continuum, 3D puzzle shape, or asymmetrical puddle of self-definition.
  • Man and woman is a separate thing from masculine and feminine, which is a separate thing from male and female. (There might be better words for that. Let me know if I should adjust the phrasing anywhere in the post.)
  • These are all social constructs anyway, and you do you.

It helps that I went to a very liberal college and met all kinds of interesting people. Lots of new thoughts happened. Sexuality was questioned. You know, young adult growing up stuff. As a writer, it introduced all sorts of new thoughts about my writing, as well.

In retrospect there was a writing phase I went through for a while that was actually pretty interesting. I wrote a lot of short romance stories with ambiguously named characters and without using pronouns, then asked readers to describe what they’d assumed about those characters and their relationship. My original reason for doing this was to question assumptions about sexuality, but it works for gender too.

I don’t feel that men and women are all that different, or that much different to write. Not on their own, anyway, and anyone who falls outside of those two (very broad) categories seems to be an indicator of that. We’re just very socialized to fit into two (pretty narrow) classifications, right down to the separate toy aisles that are color coded blue or pink.

Recently I read a blog post that raised the question of how to write characters from the opposite gender, which is a pretty timely question for me. The main character in the novel I’m working on now is a guy, and his actions are mainly determined by how he was raised, the expectations placed on him by everyone in his life and particularly his father. I’ve found that being a guy is not what makes him difficult to write… If I can brainstorm the conditions and expectations the character was raised with, that helps. Having his head up his ass is what makes him difficult to write.

However, I do like to have my partner read over things and do socialization checks for me to see if my characters seem realistic. It always helps to get a second opinion, one that isn’t quite so wrapped up in the story.

Where I do stumble over writerly gender-ish problems tends to fall closer to my side of the fence but with personalities that are different from mine in particular ways. I find it hard to write women who, for example, consider makeup important because I never really “got” makeup. Mostly it’s a texture thing, I hate the way it feels on my face. Also I have a thing about touching or poking my eyeballs that makes me extremely bad at mascara, even if someone else tries to do it for me. My mother just didn’t get why I refused to wear any except when I had my arm twisted to look nice for prom. If I had to write a character who wears makeup regularly and considers it a source of confidence and empowerment, that would be a major struggle regardless of pronouns or their gender identification.

So I’m curious. What are your stumbling blocks when writing your characters, and do they fall along or against stereotypically gendered lines?