Ramblings Of The Sleepy and The Sick

I’m sick, tired, and a tad grumpy from being sick and tired. So you, dear readers get to read me rambling. Thankfully this post will be constructive rambling, or at least I hope it will. You will be the ultimate judge. Anyway… this morning I’m here to talk to you about the classics.

Yes, those books that you were probably forced to endure in school and haven’t read since. Don’t roll your eyes at me buddy, there’s a lot to talk about in regards to them. And they’re damn useful if you’re a writer as well. One of my biggest pet peeves, along with people who try to save my soul when they see me with my girlfriend, is the snobbery that surrounds much of the classics. And I’m not talking just the won’t read a book published after 1960 crowd either, but the other crowd as well. You know the one I mean, and you may even be a part of it yourself. That crowd that claims all classic, even ones in their genre are dry and boring, like Sherlock when he has a case that’s only a 3 on his personal interesting scale.

Well, riddle me this. If you only read books published after a certain year, then how on Earth do you understand how the genres you like to read got to where they are now? By contrast if you’re an aspiring writer that only reads stories from before 1960, how do you understand what is considered an accessible and enjoyable narrative style for today’s audiences? At best both types of people will have incomplete knowledge, maybe even sub-standard.

I will admit that I am biased, I’ve had a love affair with classics since I was an eight-year-old girl reading both Harry Potter and Time Machine, and when I found Shakespeare, then Jane Austen? Well, my fate was sealed as a lover of the classics. In fact, I read Pride & Prejudice every year, and have a copy of Shakespeare’s complete works I regularly thumb through. But don’t let that influence what your feeling on what I’m saying are. Do try to keep an open mind.

There are some myths I would like to dispell regarding the classics. First and foremost is the idea you must read them all, which is honestly absolutely absurd. You could try to read all of them, but there are hundreds of them, possibly even thousands. People who claim you have to read them all are just insane, and often times are the people who hate classics the most. Trotting out the tired excuse of, “I don’t have time to read all the classics when I could be reading modern stuff.”

Which makes me go all twitchy and think,”Ok, and what gave you the fool notion you need to read all of them? Do you expect to read all the modern books in your genre too, or is this brand of foolishness reserved only for classics?”

Second is that they’re all long like Proust, and this is proven by the fact many came in volumes originally. This is yet another foolish notion, as many of the classics are novellas. Yes, let’s face it. Many classics were sold in volumes originally, because the people who wrote them and made a living couldn’t afford to sit on them until the entire thing was complete. You know what? They were also likely to be published in magazines and newspapers before bound into one. A lot of the writers who wrote the classics were paid by word, so, sometimes they did write huge things to make their living. How does this stop you from reading novellas just because they’re classics though?

Smart answer? It doesn’t. You don’t want to read a monster tome then read a novella, I assure you it will actually take less time than your latest Joe Abercrombie, or any other number of modern novelists.

Third thing is that they’re boring. Nah, sorry to rain on your parade, but they aren’t any more boring than a modern work. And to say they are shows how little knowledge someone has on the subject. I’ve read plenty of boring modern books, so you can peddle that piece of fools gold elsewhere. A classic is just a book that’s stood the test of time, no more inherently boring than any modern book is.

Four, is the idea that to understand your chosen genre or genres you don’t need to know their origins. Yes you do. In order to manipulate tropes effectively, I’m of the opinion you need to know how they came about. It helps you to understand how the tropes work, how they’re changed or stayed the same, where the right spin for you story can be made on said tropes. And frankly, I don’t want to read something praised as original that’s the oldest tropes just collected and rehashed in all their glory because the writer didn’t know better. Easiest way to do that is read the classics that either began or were close to the start of those tropes, and read modern stuff which uses them to compare the difference. But you can’t do that without reading the classics in the first place.

And that is enough for now, my decidedly foggy and grumpy brain wants to sleep. Stay tuned for the conclusion of this on Tuesday. Don’t get eaten or abducted.

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Review! Sherlock

Sherlock

I’m a nerd, have been for most of my life. Nowhere is this more obvious than when you look at the shows I loved to watch as a kid and shows that later joined the crowd of things I loved. I can remember being a little kid and watching Cleopatra 2525, Xena, Hercules, Lost World etc. all those awesomely geeky shows from the 90’s and early 2000’s.

But my geekishness isn’t what this post is about, not really, it’s about the BBC’s latest version of A.C. Doyle’s Sherlock. Sherlock is the latest in movie and TV adaptations of stories featuring Doyle’s famous super sleuth, set in 21st century London. Staring Martin Freemen and Benedict Cumberbatch as John Watson and Sherlock Holmes respectively, it first began airing in 2010.

Each season airs about two years after the last one ended, which as a fan of the show I must tell you is just absolutely torture. Torture I say! You don’t believe me, then try loving a show that only has a new season every two years. Currently there are three seasons of the show, with season four being slated to air in 2016. I’ve watched the first two seasons repeatedly, and am just getting into season 3. Good stuff, good stuff.

I’m sure you’re asking where the review part of this review is going to come in, because so far all I’m doing is gushing about the show and how much I love it. Well, that starts right about now. Sherlock is the brainchild of Doyle fans Mark Gratiss (who also plays an awesome Mycroft!) and  Steven Moffat, setting the stories of the Consulting Detective in our modern era.

John Watson is Army Surgeon invalided home from the front line in  Afghanistan after being wounded in action. Watson runs into a friend from medical school, who introduces him to Sherlock Holmes who happens to be looking for a roommate (flatmate to the Brits out there). From there the story unfolds in typical Sherlock fashion, there’s trouble and the two men solve the trouble together. Every episode after that is much the same in that regard, because this is a Crime Drama much like A.C. Doyle’s original Sherlock stories are one of the foundations of the modern Mystery genre of literature.

The episodes are each 90 minutes long and have the feel and quality of a movie as supposed to a TV show. This means more budget for costumes and the like that go into shows and movies, and let me tell you it really shows when you watch it. And I mean really shows. The locations around London and Britain in general are just breath taking, and the clothes the actors wear are as well.

Each episode is written in a style that as someone who has always been a fan of the original Sherlock stories, I am confident in saying would make Sir Arthur Conan Doyle very proud were the man alive today. Though I am glad he isn’t, or we would still be waiting for the awesome stories the man produced and hence this show.

The acting is beyond good, it’s stunning. Just simply stunning. And it makes me want to hug the characters, something that isn’t all that easy to begin with. Much as I love some shows I rarely want to hug the characters or actually be able to sit and talk to them, with this one I do.

If you haven’t seen the show I suggest you find in on Netflix and start brushing up. It’s only nine episodes long and you have just under 1.5 years till the premier of the next season. Don’t get eaten or abducted dear readers!

 

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Tropes Aren’t Evil!

Recently on my favorite writing site Absolute Write, there was a thread that drove me absolutely mad. Mainly because the Original Poster appears to be believe that all tropes are cliché and therefore evil. Well, no, that’s an exaggeration on my part I must admit, but not so far off. I’m not comfortable posting quotes of what other people have said to this blog, especially when they are unable to defend themselves. So if you want to see what was said, just follow the link to the offending thread.

The reason that the thread made me so mad and continues to royally piss me off to no end, is because it places the focus on something other than the writing. And it also assumes that all tropes are bad, something wildly inaccurate.

Stephanie Meyer didn’t create stone-like vampires, vampires who drink animal blood, vampires who are considered unnaturally beautiful, vampires having children, or vampires falling in love with humans. Those tropes and many others in Twilight were already fairly well-known tropes, some even taken  from vampire lore. What she did do was make her vampires sparkle.

Before Twilight, even before modern vampire books and TV shows, some of the tropes associated with vampires can be seen. I wont go into them, only say that they had their start in the stories including vampires and other undead in the 19th century, and before that in oral tales and legends. So when someone has the audacity to act like all tropes are bad I get a little…well, I’m sure you understand.

The same could be said of any genre or sub-genre of fiction. Tropes like the chosen one, which is much maligned can be seen even dating back to ancient legends. If a writer writes a new take on Beauty & the Beast, the aren’t just relying on that story. Half-men, and people curse by being more powerful than they are to turn into monsters are literally an ancient trope. Take the story of Lamia, a mistress of Zeus and Queen of Libya who was cursed by Hera to devour her children and turn into a hideous monster. Or Medusa who some legends say was also beautiful at one point, and pissed of one of the Greek goddesses and was transformed as well.

The Prince in Beauty & the Beast doesn’t look so original now, does he?

Back to genres and tropes, because what is genre but a collection of conventions and tropes that tell you where something would be placed when looking in a bookstore, online, or at the library? To do this we will use a common creature that can fit in almost anywhere, the vampire. Yes, I’ve already use them in this post already. No, I don’t plan to change that to something else. If you’ve read this blog in the past, you know I love vampires with all my black little heart (Virtual cookies for anyone that gets that  movie reference!).

Imagine if you will that a vampire, possibly broody and angst ridden if you want to, is chosen by some force greater than themselves to save the world. This story is set in a psuedo-medievel European setting (this isn’t required, and more and more people are moving away from it to other secondary worlds built on other parts of the world), there’s a wise advisor of some sort, maybe they’re joined by other people on this journey besides the wise one. This vampire story now is an Epic Fantasy story, and also High Fantasy. (Yes, they are different. Not all Epics are High Fantasy, nor all High Fantasy Epics.)

In this story our broody vampire meets a human, and during the course of this story falls in love with them while trying to fix some supernatural problem on the side. There’s a happily ever after or a happy for now, and our vamp and the human ride off into the sunset now in a relationship. Now it’s a Paranormal Romance story, please excuse how cliché it sounds. I’m more versed in Historical Romance than Paranormal, though you can also set a PNR in a historical setting if you want. Either way, I don’t mean to offend.

OK, this time vampires are real. They are vicious killers and they want to eat you. Maybe they were created by a virus, or by demonic possession. Maybe another vampire is needed to create more. Either way, we follow our vampire as they go from human or still very human like and descend into a vicious killer. Now the vampire is part of the Horror Genre.

Vampires are created when people with a special gene sequence as old as humanity itself die, or through a virus inserted by the government. Maybe they work on spaceships, or are used as supersoldiers in a war against aliens seeking to destroy our planet. Someone may have even invented synth-blood for them to snack on so they remain strong.  Suddenly our vampire can now fit into a Science Fiction story.

A vampire who solves crimes in Boston, maybe an Urban Fantasy and maybe a Mystery depending on what other tropes are used.

I apologize for all of these examples, they’re hastily thought up and quite terrible to tell you the truth. But they have something in common beside the element of the vampire, they all use common if decidedly cliché tropes for their genres. And any writer of those genres/sub-genres could take my hastily thought up examples and come up with a great story that people would love. They know their genres tropes and how to use them to their advantage or how to subvert them and turn them on their head.

How could they know these things if their story shares nothing in common with other stories and is completely “original”? The answer is that they couldn’t. Tropes provide something even when they are done poorly and become cliché. Get enough stories with common tropes together involving setting, what happens, who the Main Character is etc. and you have a genre or a sub-genre. You can’t do this without tropes and conventions that help people decide what kind of story any particular one is.

This of course ignores that nothing is 100% original, and some way builds on the things the creator is already familiar with. But that is a rant for another time. Don’t get eaten by monsters or abducted by aliens dear readers. Until next time!

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And Again…..

I’m starting to think that I have the attention span of a gnat. I start a novel, get only a few thousand words in, and then the next Shiny New Idea sweeps me away. This is starting to get seriously frustrating. So I’ve decided to do something else to combat this, a story collection. That way I can write a couple novellas, a few novelettes, and several short stories.

What is the theme and genre of this collection of stories?

A mothers love.

Whether Fantasy, Scifi, or Horror, I will be writing about mothers both human and non-human and children. Non-human mothers taking in human children and babies, and human mothers taking in non-human children. Some will have more obvious conflicts and some will be slice of life type deals.

And I can say with truth that I can blame this idea and the fact it has gripped me enough that I’m already half done with my starting notes on the first novella/novelette in the collection on a Supernatural fanfic I’ve read recently. It was obviously inspired by the episode where in season 2 where Dean and Sam take care of shifter baby. Dean inadvertently adopts and is adopted by a demon baby, who eventually also adopts Castiel as her second father. Dean even gives the baby a name and everything just like in the episode with the shift baby Bobby John. The story is just too cute for words.

I also have a YA novella in my head that fits into this collection, because for some reason it makes sense in my brain. Whether it remains YA or becomes adult like the rest of my stories still remains to be seen though. I really wouldn’t be surprised if that happened, nor would I if it was still YA. Tonight I’m going to start note taking and figuring out my characters, and what they’re like, and start on one of my short stories for the collection as well.

If this doesn’t prove to me that I can write about one theme for the length of a novel, then I will throw an absolute fit of epic proportions. I swear I will. Because this is just absolutely ridiculous. Beyond ridiculous!

The goal? 75,000 words or more in a year. I’ll be taking the rest of the month off from writing adult fiction to read The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. I highly recommend you give it a try, I’m enjoying it so far and I’m less than 100 pages into the book.

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Writing Longhand?

Let’s face it people, we live in a world were speed is everything. We’re told that if we want to compete with other writers we have to do all our work on the computer so that we can draft and revise as fast as humanly possible in order to get our work in front of agents before our ideas go stale. Or I imagine some of us are at least, how many I do not know. I do know that I haven’t been pressured to do that thankfully, I pick up and drop projects at will. One will need more time to brew, or to figure out if my outline is current and still tells me where the story is going. Sometimes even with an outline something needs more research before I can continue, or some more worldbuilding.

In July I did CampNaNoWriMo, one of the two NaNoWriMo camps that is held in addition to the normal NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, in which people try to write a 50k novel draft in a month) in November. And if you follow this blog you know that I ended up with the 1st draft of a Soft Gothic Horror novella that I named Bringing me Dreams, and based off of the poem Annabel Lee by Edgar Allen Poe. A bit off topic, but sometime soon I hope write another novella, this time by hand based on one of his poems or maybe one of his short stories. I really love his work as well as the work of Emily Dickenson, and Shakespeare. For the last eleven years I’ve actually owned a copy of Shakespeare’s complete, annotated works. Every sonnet, play, poem, and even some of the bards letters and will.

Anyway, getting back on track. Bringing me Dreams ended up being 16,509 words just in the first draft done during camp, proving that on the computer at least I can write a novella in a month or a little under 1/5th of a full length novel depending on its genre, closer to 1/6th of something longer. Theoretically I could write the first draft of a novel in five or six months.

I know, you’re probably thinking that isn’t too bad, so why is this post about writing longhand? I’ll be honest, I love writing on the computer. It’s nice and quick, I don’t have to worry about losing papers or notebooks. But for me there’s something…cold about writing solely on a computer. I’ve found that I feel more connected with my work when writing and taking idea notes by hand.

My High/Epic Fantasy monster of a book is being written by hand because I have a personal plan that means I only have to write 5.2K a month, something extremely manageable by hand on a single story. You would think that this would mean that I’m perfect happy with just doing my long-term project by hand if I want to hand draft a novel so badly, but I’m really not.

In my last post I talked about dusting off a story from my Google Drive and finishing it. It’s on my Google Drive, something that should have inspired me to complete the draft completely on the computer. But that’s not what has happened. I looked over the two chapters that were already finished, and they’re good. They’re full of life, despite being done completely on the computer, they practically sing when I read them. Despite this though, they aren’t what I wanted for the story, and I know I can do better. They’re just not the story I want to tell.

Now, I’ve got a few project being written longhand already. A Sentinel fanfic, a YA novel, some things that are just in the planning and writing tiny tidbits stage etc. For whatever reason though, Taking Her Home, the novel I decided to dust off and finish has been added to that list of things I’m writing long hand. And I have to say, 200 words into the story, I’m enjoying myself. I’m even thinking of starting a journal to document my ups and downs while writing this novel.

My brain just likes the idea of writing certain stories longhand ( Though not all of them, things seem to depend entirely on the story.). It’s even come up with a way to get around the whole problem of monitoring word count so I know how long the story is, a pretty damn accurate way to boot, if a bit slow. I’ve been counting the first line of each paragraph I write individually, and then by two until I finish the paragraph. I do this for each page, and then I write the page total at the top of the page. Chapter totals go above the page total, on the first page of each chapter. See, it’s easy!

You have to be thinking that I’m crazy for doing this. But if I’m crazy than so are well-known authors like Neil Gaiman, Amy Tan, and Joyce Carol Oats. All those authors named write their 1st drafts, sometimes the first couple of drafts of the story by hand. So let’s go over some of the pros and cons of writing this way, I think you’ve had enough of my ranting about the topic and waxing poetic.

Pros

  • You can take your writing with you almost anywhere.
  • You have more freedom in what you write.
  • Somtimes things that look better on the computer actually look really silly when you’re writing by hand and vice versa.
  • You can take as much time as you want, and don’t have that infirnal cursor blinking at you.

Cons

  • It takes more time to write longhand, and this means you wont get the book polished and query ready as fast.
  • Sometimes you can’t read your own writing, or your hand cramps from writing too much.
  • You’ll have to figure out a way to keep track of word count if you’re highly motivated by such things, because you can’t just look at the bottom of the screen or wherever the word count thing is located on whichever word processor you’re use to using.

As you can see, for me there are more pros than cons. For you this may be different, and that’s perfectly OK. If we all wrote the same way then life would just be boring, wouldn’t it?

Don’t get eaten by monsters or abducted by aliens, dear readers. Until next time!

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Wordcount

I love me some nice long novels when it comes to reading, I’ll even be writing one of those myself since my Epic/High Fantasy “Trilogy” is going to be written as one large book. But here’s the thing, while doorstops are nice, they’re getting to be all too common to the point that it is a bit ridiculous. Sometimes you don’t want to sit down with this massive Tome with a capital T to read, you want something shorter but still an enjoyable length. Year of Wonder (101,000 words) as supposed to your 50th Anniversary all in one version of Lord of The Rings (473,000 words), or Queen of the Damned (194,269 words).

Thing is, as new writers. We tend to think our work has to be the same size as those big fat books on the shelf and so we overwrite and protect our wordcount like it is our child. The idea that SFF (Science Fiction & Fantasy) has to be mega long is a myth, and a rather vicious one in my opinion. We can’t all be exceptions to the rule our first time out the door when it comes our first book to be published. That huge fantasy I’m going to be writing longhand is on a four-year plan, and will certainly not be the first book(s) I have published.

I’ve dusted off one of my older Fantasy based ideas that has been sitting on my Google Drive for a few months collecting dust. It’s about love, family, and other bonds that tie people together. And you know what, I don’t plan to allow it to get to be more than 100,000 words when it’s finally ready to be queried. What I would prefer is something closer to 90,000 or 95,000. My personal benchmark for this project being ready is what I’m referring to as Hobbit length. The Hobbit is 95,000 words long and manages to, even though it is generally short than some people are used to, create an entire world and multiple cultures.

But what about other genres? Well, the recommendations for Horror is roughly 80,000 to 100,000 words for someone querying the first time. Historical Fiction is suggested to be 100,000 words to 120,000 words for first time authors if I’m remembering right. ( I have to check this and get back to you guys.) I don’t intend to write Romance, Lit Fic, Woman’s FIction, Contemporary Fiction, Thrillers, or Mysteries, so I don’t really know the figures on those. Well, I may end up writing a Mystery truthfully if it ended up being a crossgenre ( a book which uses the conventions of more than one genre, like Science Fiction and Horror or Mystery and Fantasy/Historical Fiction.), but I’m not likely to write a straight up modern mystery.

Join me Thursday for another post. Don’t get eaten by monsters or abducted by aliens!

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Some Fanfic Related Thoughts part 2

Last time we left off talking about fanfiction, I left off at Canon vs Author. I hope you enjoyed reading that post. It is by no means exhaustive, but one of the things I had originally planned to include in it deserved a post of its own. This post is all about characterization in relation to fanficton.

For me characterization is the big one, the most important of all things a fanfic writer must watch out for. Even the most far out of ideas must maintain the characters personality or some viable continuation of that character’s personality at least. You have Spock crying there better be a good goddamn reason for him to cry, like Kirk’s death in Into Darkness. Throughout the first two movies of the Alternate Original Series, both young and old Spock are ever so slightly more emotive than in the original show and movie series. That is not to say that Spock didn’t have a lot of human moments in the originals, he most certainly did. The point I’m attempting to make is that it’s things like that which for me signals a good story. How can the writer keep the character in character while still pushing the boundaries?

Speech

Sometimes this may even apply to an entire group of people when it comes to writing. Again to pick on the Star Trek universe, Enterprise Vulcans speak in a slightly different manner than other Vulcans in the franchise. They act pretty much the same, hold the same beliefs and customs that make them Vulcan in the first place, but there’s one tiny difference. They use contractions when speaking. Not a lot, or when it wouldn’t make sense to use them as humans often do, but they still use them. If your write a story in which Spock uses contractions, it’s not proper characterization. Spock and others of his generation don’t use them.

But if I was to write a Hoshi/T’Pol story in which T’Pol didn’t use contractions even when there’s no other logical way to say something, that wouldn’t be proper characterization either. She uses them, and therefore when writing her I should make use of them too. Which leads me into my next thing…

Behavior

Some people seem to think that fanfic writers pull how a character behaves out of our asses. Not true. Or I should say not true of the people who actually pay attention to the things they’re a fan of. There are people who most certainly do pull how a character acts out of their asses, and make me wonder if they were even watching, or reading the same thing I have. You don’t believe me? Trawl the slush piles over at Fanfiction.net and you’ll change your mind. I assure you that after some wading through the shit in whatever fandom you enjoy the most, you will be thinking the same thing as me. If I had a dollar for every poorly characterized Frodo, or Sam I’ve ever read I would be a rich woman.

Characters have their own mannerism, sometimes they even change slightly between something like say a book and the movie adaptation of a book. Spock doesn’t cry at the drop of a hat, Sam is loyal and caring, Frodo cares about Sam even during the most difficult parts of the quest. And when we use other people’s characters for own amusement and the amusement of others said character should act in a way the reader recognizes as something that character would actually do.

A good fanfic writer keeps all the things I’ve wrote about in these two posts in mind. Thank you for reading. Chances are that in the future I will have more to add to this topic at some point. Don’t get eaten or abducted!

 

 

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