Rambling: Cigarette Ash and Clock Radios

There are times I yearn for my teenage and early adult years. No, not the depression and anxiety. The stress of high school/college. The near death experiences and occasional hospitalizations. More I yearn for that period of creativity that I had.

I yearn for the late nights spent up well past my bedtime, during punishments of not being allowed internet because of bad grades, typing away at my old 1997 off-brand computer from FingerHut. The once pristine white casing stained yellow from years of cigarette smoke and tar that no amount of cleaner or bleach could clean or scrub away.

The bright light of the old hulking monitor as my clock radio played beside me. My window cracked as I smoked the cigarette butts that I had foraged from my parents’ ash trays when I thought they weren’t looking (but they knew). The heavy smell of cigarette smoke and eucalyptus incense that I burned in my room nearly day and night.

The first light of dawn as I realized what time it was and had to rush to get dressed for school – racing to the bus stop on less than an hour’s sleep because I was up all night writing.

The seeming unending inspiration as I jamed out to my stolen Linkin Park cds (stolen from my sister, not the store.).  The 1 foot tall stack of disks that held all my stories, my books, my poetry, my notes and research for my stories.

To this day, I can’t make a single playlist to listen to for my writing that does not include every single song from Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory and Meteora albums – because their music just always hits the right buttons for my creative streak. They are both my muse and my soundtrack for life itself.

I mean, I’m happy with my life as it is, and where I am in it. The people I still have in my life and the people that have come into it.But there are some days, some nights like tonight that I can’t help but long for those old days when it was just a blank Notepad file, the blinking red of a clock radio with the time still not re-set after a power flicker, and my own thoughts in the dark before the bright, brilliant screen of a 10lb late 90s computer monitor.

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.

After a bit of time management trouble the last few days…

I FINALLY managed to get chapter 3 of my novel outlined! Followed quickly by chapter 4! I almost started on chapter 5, but I’m waffling between 2 potential starter scenes to kick off the first turning point. I’m using the W-Plot Model, and mixing in a bit of the 4 Act Dramatica model as well. This breaks the traditional Act 2 section into 2 parts, making it a little easier to tackle such a huge section of the book. Leaving the resolution for act 4 rather than act 3. (Further explanation found in the link there that says W-Plot Model.)

But things have been a big hectic recently. I threw my back out earlier today (is it still today? Okay, technically as I write this it is nearly 3AM on Monday, but I threw my back out on what is technically yesterday) and have not been able to both work on the book and watch my son at the same time. My husband was up since 5:30-ish AM because my son got up at 2:30-ishAM and I slept all evening and woke up not long before my son did so I could go pee. Well, son didn’t want to go back to sleep because he’d had a nice long sleep after dinner the previous (Saturday) night. Husband didn’t crawl into bed until around 1AM or so, and so he was out cold.

So I watched the kid till 5:30-ish when I was just about to pass out from exhaustion. I did pass out from exhaustion around 6 or so. Son followed suit around 6:30 (so I am told). And then my husband couldn’t get back to sleep because he was by that time full of coffee and wired.

And that was just yesterday/last night/this morning. My son this time didn’t fall asleep until around 1:30AM so….. yeah. It’s been an odd few days. And before that, I didn’t have time to stop and write simply because I had a LOT of random household related errands and such to do. And here I am, the clock now reading 3:03AM on Monday morning unable to sleep and have to get up again at 9:30, feed the kid, get him ready for his weekly session with our early development worker AND his monthly session with his O.T. only for me to then rush to the laundromat, then my appointment, THEN the grocery to pick up my meds and my mom’s meds, and THEN back home hopefully before 5:30PM so I can make dinner.

Let’s hope I can get to sleep soon!

But hey, I still managed to bang out 2 chapters for my novel outline and that brings me to the start of Act 2 in my plot development so WOO!

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.