Hope you all had a lovely holiday (I know I did!)

I know I haven’t posted much at all this month. I tend to go a bit dormant in the winter, like a bear. Or some other winter slumbering large blubbery mammal. Seasonal depression, holiday stress, etc. is typically the case. This year, however, it’s just been holiday stress and working on a writing project.

I’ve said before, ages ago, that I write fanfiction as well as my own original works. But for those who didn’t know – Hi, I’m Z. I write fanfiction for all kinds of things (formerly mostly Doctor Who, Harry Potter, and Sherlock Holmes related stories). It’s a fun hobby and I’ve met some really amazing people this way.

Now that that’s out of the way, my holidays went rather well despite the stress. I hope all of you had a good one yourselves! My husband made ham for Christmas and it was absolutely delicious. The best one he’s done since our first Christmas together. He does it in the rotisserie, and holy crap it’s amazing. Always comes out perfectly cooked and perfectly glazed (I always make a home-made maple brown sugar honey glaze. This year it was molasses and orange juice based… or it would have been had I had enough orange juice. So I cut it with part of a bottle of Motts for Tots apple juice and some Sicilian orange marmalade). My husband got me a Ninja blender and my mom got me an electric skillet. Now, I know most women don’t like getting kitchen appliances for gifts but holy crap it’s perfect and they are exactly what I wanted for Christmas!

I wasn’t the only one to luck out though. We got my mom a new desk weeks ago, as an early present. My husband was able to put it up tonight. I had to clear out a space in her room and get rid of a bunch of junk she’d just kept holding onto for no reason other than not feeling like dealing with it. Well, she’s got her desk set up now! My husband got some retro game systems (you know the plug and play types with like 100 games pre-loaded into them). And he got a new set of tools that includes a new power drill and hammer and all sorts of goodies.

My son also had a great haul this year. Lots of DVDs (mostly Paw Patrol), a big marker/crayon/art supplies set (also Paw Patrol themed), plastic dinos that he absolutely loves (gift from my sister and her husband), a giant crayon filled with megablocks, a Paw Patrol themed sleeping bag with matching little pillow. And a Paw Patrol bike complete with training wheels. I’m taking him to the park tomorrow sometime so he can try it out!

I know it sounds like a lot of stuff, and sounds rather greedy. But I am genuinely grateful for the fact that my family was able to afford giving each other such wonderful gifts this year. It sounds like a lot, but it really wasn’t. And most stuff was bought from the discount dollar bins at Walmart (except for most of my son’s stuff).

Anyway, onto the other reason I’ve been busy. My writing project. That bit about fanfiction up there is pretty much what this relates to. I write fanfiction mostly as a stress reliever, and over the course of the last month and a half I wrote a story for a fandom that I hadn’t posted (publicly) for before. There was this show from 2007-2010 called Heroes. NBC came out with a continuation/sequel a few years ago called Heroes Reborn, and it well and truly sucked. So I tend to pretend that the sequel doesn’t exist. Anyway, I won’t bore anyone with plot and details and stuff because I’m pretty sure none of you really care about my shipping preferences, my OTP, and my ridiculous daydream fantasies. What I want to talk about is the process/method of my writing it.

Typically when I sit down to write a fanfiction, or any story really, I have a loose idea of what I want to do and where I want to go with it already sort-of thought out. I make a very bare bones outline for each main character’s motivations and personalities.¬† I make a very bare bones outline of the plot and the conflict I want to take place, then I get to work hammering out the details chapter by chapter. For fanfiction especially once I complete a chapter, edit it, correct it, check it for more editing, then it gets posted online, and i get to work on the next chapter.

However I knew that for this particular story that wasn’t going to work. There really wasn’t any way I could break it into chapters and bite-sized chunks for readers to enjoy bit by bit.

The resulting story was a 48,000+ story, nearly novella length, hammered out into a single stand alone tale. Segments are broken up by month rather than by chapter, with the entire story taking place in the course of one year in the character’s lives. I wrote it all in a single file in Notepad so that I could not keep track of wordcount and the red and green squiggly lines of typos and gramatical errors would not distract me from writing. The only numbers I paid attention to were the file size itself – as my current primary laptop, that much loathed Acer Cloudbook¬† have hate posted so much about in the past, has a very limited amount of storage I can use. I backed up my story using Evernote (love that thing) and occasionally checked my wordcount out of curiosity that way. And the entire story was written with a smattering of ideas in mind but nothing much solid

The only truly solid ideas I had were that the two main characters, formerly enemies (they were this weird sort of place between enemies and not-quite friends in the final episode of the TV show with the villain having reached the end of his redemption arc to becoming a hero), would end up having to live together. Most everyone they knew would have a major problem with it. One of them would temporarily gain the ability to see the future and it would be pretty weird and make things awkward for a while. And lastly the two main characters of the story would at the very least become best friends over the course of the year. That’s it. That’s the only solid idea I had going into the project. Everything else was just constantly shifting what if scenarios that I couldn’t really pin down until I started writing. The entire thing was written stream of consciousness, which I haven’t done since around 2011/2012 with a Sherlock Holmes story.

I am rather pleased with how it turned out, and apparently so are others because I’ve gotten small, but much appreciated praise on Archive of Our Own for it. Enough that I’m considering writing another. Regardless, the process I chose to pursue for the writing of this particular story was very relaxed, and is one that I think I may begin employing more often in earnest. I felt far less stressed writing it, as I didn’t have the pressure of an audience waiting for the next installment of the story, and having to make them wait longer than normal due to life problems and so forth. It was very pleasant all around.

Well, that about wraps it up for me. Both my boys, my mom, and even the dog are asleep so I shall likely be headed there myself before too long.

I wish everyone the best in the new year, and hope it goes better for all than the last one.

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Ramble: Eliciting Emotion Without Details

Recently I posted 3 new chapters to a fanfiction I’ve been writing for a rather long time now (no, I’m not going to link it. It’s embarrassing. If you happen to find it though… well… anyway). These chapters dealt with some very harsh, dark themes such as rape, torture, mental fuckery – among others. One of my favorite readers, who leaves reviews nearly every update, mentioned this in one of her latest comments:

“You weren’t kidding about there being hard things in this chapter, but you did a good job of having us feel the horror without needing to go into gruesome detail.”

And it got me thinking about all of the stories I’ve read over the years that I can remember. Both in regular and in fanfiction And I’ve come to realize that many of the stories I have enjoyed the most leave a great many details up to the reader’s imagination. While yes the basic description of characters and scenes are given, or building up to an event and using language to direct the reader to experience a certain emotion, stories that suddenly jumpcut immediately after making it clear what is about to happen, but not having you read the gruesome detail (especially in horror and suspense situations) – those to me are the best. Not only does it allow every reader to have their own personal experience with the work, but there is nothing more frightening than the worst possible things we can imagine. Perhaps the scene was leading us to believe that a favorite character was about to be tortured to death, but then didn’t let us see/read the torture taking place. When we read the segment that the character appears in afterwards, perhaps having escaped their jailers, how they are described and appear will guide us to imagine the things that may have happened to them. Perhaps the reader is more afraid of water torture – they may imagine that’s taken place to the hero. Or maybe starvation and beating? They’ll imagine that THAT is what may have happened to them.

But later still in the story, the hero may confide in their best friend or lover what truly took place in the jail/dungeon/cavern, etc. And how relieved the reader is that what they feared most wasn’t the thing that has happened… Or, for those who imagined correctly, the overwhelming empathy the reader feels for the hero. This method, which I honestly unintentionally used in my piddling little fanfiction, makes the reader more emotionally invested in the story, and in a way makes them feel like they are part of it. And when a reader becomes so invested in the story, they will keep reading.

That’s my take on it, for what it’s worth anyway.

Filling Time with Meaning

Monday my son starts his special preschool. It’s also his birthday. Today I did double duty shopping – buying him clothes and a book-bag and various school things as well as birthday shopping. But mostly clothes and school things. (Seriously, he’s needed some new clothes for a bit now after a Winter growth spurt. But we were holding out until my mom’s taxes came in. They came in yesterday morning.)

We’ve already planned for the first week or two while he’s at school to finally get some serious cleaning done with regards to the room at the back end of the house, and rearranging furniture and such to give my son his own room and space.

But after that is done, and I run out of things to do at home to fill those few hours each weekday, I’ve decided to take up flash fiction writing. But first, I need to get the practice in before I turn around and submit my work to any publications. (I know, flash fiction doesn’t pay much, but it’s at least some pocket change here and there to treat myself to something nice. Like yarn, or a new book, etc.) But, I don’t want to post it here on THIS blog, because this is my personal space. Where I write about my personal stuff. My life, my kid, my family, all of that.

My biggest problem with attempting NaNoWriMo last year was time, energy, and commitment to large scale projects. I didn’t have all of the time and energy to spend on it. Though I wanted to. So I’ve decided to work on the smaller scale. Because I do have the time, and will have the energy to spend on small things. To start with, I’m going to practice with a 30 day writing challenge, likely sometime in either April or May. I find that starting on the first day of a month helps to keep these things straight and organized. I’ve got a list of prompts to use to start with, ones taken from multiple “30 day challenge” lists that I think would be fun or interesting to do.

When I do decide to move ahead with it, I’ll also be considering platform as well. Do I create a new blog? If so, what service would best suit my need and situation? Do i want it to go viral or do I want it more subtle and homey? Should I give in and get a Twitter and build up a social media presence for the project? These are all things I need to think about and plan out ahead before I start the project, that way I can focus on the writing and let the rest take care of itself.

Anyway it’s mostly just to get me to fill time each weekday. But whatever comes of it, I hope it entertains people.

On Writing (I’ve probably used that title before.)

So I’m taking part in NaNoWriMo this year. Usually I’m what people call a pantser, meaning I write whatever comes and don’t really do any planning beyond “I have this idea, and here’s this character. Let’s see what happens.” Pantsers do a LOT of stream of consciousness type of writing. The downside is that it’s easy to write yourself into a corner, lose the plot entirely, or simply just not be able to find a decent opening to the story. But in order to meet a deadline (NaNoWriMo is from November 1st to the 30th, for those who are not aware) there is no way I can do the seat-of-my-pants type of writing for this. However, I do have an idea I’ve wanted to work on for over 5 years now and just never found a good way to work with it.

I’ve sat down and made an outline – something I haven’t done since college. But due to previous time management issues (a tempermental toddler at the top of that list) I was not able to finish the outline. It sat for months. I went back to it a few nights ago and read through it, intending to continue onward with building the structure of the story. And I hated it. I know that we are often our own worst critics, in everything that we do, but this was plain and simple rubbish. It was kind of interresting. The sort that if I found it online, yeah I might give it a read. But not something I’d think worthy of being put into even an e-book form.

So I started over. I pulled the good parts of the old outline into the new one, and found that I was going to have some key plot points happen out of order and far too early. Now, however, I’ve found a solid opening scene that sets the tone for the overall book and I’m very happy with it. From there I was able to flesh out the plot a little better, adding and removing characters from scenes so that it made more sense and flowed better. I even managed to figure out a simpler, but much better fitting title for the book as well.

I’ve now got the time, energy, and patience for banging out at least a rough draft once I finish the outline. I’m very satisfied with the notes I’ve made, and can’t wait to start the book in November.

Ugh Writing! (Finding software solutions without having to install actual software.)

Over the last few days, I’ve been mulling over the idea of writing a novel. I’ve got a really good concept, a strong character, and a decent premise for at least the beginnings of a series. I’ve also decided to take part in NaNoWriMo this year. Or at least do a test run with it. That said, I don’t usually plan out my stories unless absolutely necessary. But I’ve seen the benefit of such an approach. Thus, I’ve been on the lookout for things to make it a bit easier for me, a bonnafied pantser.

Due to the limitations of my hardware (DAMN YOU ACER CLOUDBOOK!) and my strict financial budgeting, there’s no way I could afford to purchase dedicated software. So my attention went to open source solutions.

Normally, I would be using yWriter5, as I’d downloaded and installed it on my old laptop, and was just getting the hang of using it when my laptop did it’s hot glue in the fan routine. I’d found a few solutions, but they required I install Java. That is something that I WILL NOT do, under any circumstances. Me and Java (unless it’s the drinkable sort) do NOT get along.

I thought I had found a solution with NowNovel. And I do quite like the process they use to help get you motivated as well as helping narrow down ideas and implementing a question and answer system for brainstorming. Unfortunately, it’s a subscription service you pay for, and it only lets you get about 15% through the process before popping up and saying “Hey, pay for an upgrade to finish your novel!” – So, at least I was able to use it enough to get a solid concept nailed down and start brainstorming how I want my character to act, and the emotional and mental situation with the character as well. And it helped me to narrow down my vision to a few pictures in order to help me understand the tone and mood I’m going for. Definitely a service that, if I had the funds, I would throw my money at. But it’s just out of my price range at the moment. Maybe down the road when I’ve got a little more leeway and free money, I might revisit NowNovel’s process and service.

So, I sought another alternative. Checking the NaNoWriMo forums, I kept seeing people suggest Storybook Pro or Schriever, both of which are completely out of my price range. And requires installation. I also saw Snowflake Method software, whatever it’s called, suggested. Once again, out of my range and requires installation. Then, I came across a thread on HackerNews about a site called Litlift.

After Googling it for about half an hour, reading as much as I could about it, some of it from the creator/programmer themselves back in 2009 when they presented the project before other programmers and design pros and sought their opinions and legit assistance, I decided to sign up and give it a whirl.

I am NOT disappointed. It’s free, which is a plus! It doesn’t require me to install anything, double plus – and when I’m done I can export all of my text and stuff into my choice of .rtf or .txt so I can then do whatever I wish with it. What’s more, it helps give me the feel of not planning and outlining, but definitely does the organization with pages and tabs specifically for keeping track of characters (minor and main), scenes, chapters, key plot points, sub plots, and even who currently has what key plot item at any given time (assuming I’ve updated that page with new info such as “Bob now has the idol statue while Frank now has the fake one made of cheese.”). And lastly, there is even a section called “Library” where you can submit your works for feedback and community reviews.

While the “Library” isn’t exactly the greatest, and has the Wattpad level story quality in most cases, it’s the novel building tools that I’m really after, so the Library section really isn’t my cup of tea. But if anyone else wants to explore it, be my guest. (Screencaps below include random page selections for sake of example.)

Ugh. Worldbuilding.

I used to enjoy worldbuilding. It was my favorite part of writing for many years. In a lot of my writing in the past, I’d made very strong worlds, and characters. Plots – not so much. But the worlds the stories took place in were solid as rocks, and worked well with nearly anything I could throw at it.

Unfortunately now, not so much. I’ve attempted to recycle 2 worlds I’ve build for writing, but I just can’t come up with a compelling story to tell in them that doesn’t sound like a hack job.

So, I’ve decided to start from scratch on that end. And it’s soooooooo arduous and painstaking. I have been finding myself putting it off repeatedly. I’ve been trying different methods, both quick and easy as well as detail heavy and lengthy. But I keep drawing a blank. And it’s getting truly annoying. I have so many ideas, but they all conflict and couldn’t possibly coexist even in a fantasy setting. It’s so frustrating.

Therefore, I’ve decided to stop worldbuilding and focus on character building. As luck would have it, during a random google search for worldbuilding resources I came across an old fashioned RPG from my youth, one that had always inspired me to push my creative limits. The world of Rhy’din. So I’ve signed up for it’s current incarnation as a forum and chat based roleplay website, and we’ll see how this goes. This will, I hope, put me back in the writing groove outside of fanfiction and the like.