Random Thoughts – Drafting

Update: I’m writing this in a semi-haze, so please forgive if I sidetrack. I don’t intend to edit this post. Just a random series of thoughts.

1. Looking back at what I have done.

Had a long time to ‘debrief’ myself on my plane ride from Singapore to San Fran – freaking 20 hours in the air with 3 hours of layover time in the now Wifi-enabled Japan Narita airport. Being alone in the plane, away from my keyboard did me a lot of good in terms of thinking about what I want.

Personally, I felt that the last story opener I wrote The series on Goodbyes taught me a lot on two things:

  • What I can leave out in a story and let it be said in the white space
  • Weaving some subtext into the dialogue, which I will explore next time, but not in the next few works (don’t think this works that well for the superhero genre)

And with that… well, I think I’m ready to start writing something more substantial. Hence, in this post, I shall present my thoughts on my writing future:

2. The promise I want to make myself going forward

Today is the day – No more unstructured, whimsical writing. I’ve pandered long enough with half-written openers and plot lines in the last two months to know what I want. From now on, everything shall begin with a draft, a complete draft from start to finish including all plot lines, sub-plots and whatever internal message that I would like to convey with the story.

Here the limitations I will set myself to in future as I narrow down what I want to write about:

  • Basics: Semi-fantastical worlds anchored in the modern society.
  • Genre: Action. Science-Fiction deviating slightly to the macabre.
  • Word Length: 15,000 – 25,000 (Lemme bang out a few of these first)
  • Editing: No more editing in the middle of writing! This is the reason for drafting
  • Preferences: I would still like to explore the super-hero theme at least initially.
  • Writing Speed: Bang out more words, less thoughts. 1500 a day is the bare minimum, either in drafting or actual writing.

3. Drafting Requirements:

  • Scene by scene drafting, no ’empty’ space aside from actual dialogue and action sequences.
  • No posting on the Blog.
  • Each scene draft must be complete with purpose and nature of dialogue and what I want to achieve.
  • If I run into trouble with the main writing, refer and change the draft first.
  • Draft first, write later. If I get stuck, always refer to the draft.

4. Starting Now!

Today I officially began to draft a complete story from start to finish, looking at it from a top-down perspective instead of living scene-to-scene and moment-to-moment. So I’m embarking on my own little NaNoWriMo (since I’ve away from home and can’t commit every single day.) But let’s set a weekly target of 8,000 words considering I still write 3-4 days a week.

For my first story, I’m going back to superhero fantasy again. I initially chose horror, but well, I don’t think I’m good at hidden scares, more of a grotesque person.

5. Why suddenly Drafting

From all the research I’ve done about great writers… none of them honestly just pick up a pen and write. I don’t intend to flutter from a structure to another anytime soon. From my earlier works, you can probably tell I’ve a formula I use in my openers as well as my character archetypes. Now it’s just extending the practice into a novella-length work first before extending it again once I get comfortable with it.

I have 2 10,000+ word semi-stories which while I think they are readable, aren’t exactly what I want to introduce myself with. The writing is tolerable but I still want something tighter instead of having a chunk of explanation and dialogue in between. To me, that’s just not good. The story should flow, particularly in shorter pieces.

6. What I want

  • Short: 15,000 – 25,000 words
  • Action to Action – Explanation kept to a minimum, hence my choice of universe
  • Short and curt dialogue, which works well with male characters anyway.
  • No half-page explanations. If it doesn’t work, just change it.
  • Basic formula – Action opener -> Cue to smaller event -> Cue bigger event -> End.
  • By final third of the book, everything should be resolved except a twist.
  • One constant moral throughout the book.
  • Currently I’m looking at Wreck-It Ralph as a good example of how to pull all the above all. Honestly, the cartoons have still the best storylines in modern storytelling except they tend to whine on too long on relationships.

End post. If anyone of you have any exercises, cues or articles on drafting, lemme know.

The Cure For Writer’s Block: Writing Through The Pain

I was originally going to title this post “There’s something about Mondays.” since it has occurred to me that my most productive content-creation days have always been Mondays, but I don’t want to curse myself.

Not only am I up to 15,000 words now, or halfway through my story. I’ve written close to 3,000 words today with another 2 hours of scheduled writing time to go, I’ve also managed to rewrite my first 5,000 words 1.5 times in editing. I think a schedule where I just go about my editing when my energy is low, is really helping a lot. Not in the sense that the edits are good, but that it drives me forward to write later on. My day started horribly, and now its just going so smoothly.

Another day, another new idea that randomly comes up while writing and I’m rushing through the dialogue and action now, intending to go back and squeeze in the narrative in the places where I want it to slow down. Looking back, I think I might just let my imagination run wild beyond my 30,000 word limit now and cut out the boring bits later on – which tend to be narratives… honestly what gives, feels like I’m writing a script.

Oh well, after 3 days of burn, at least I’m back to having fun again. Hope this boom-bust in my writing doesn’t turn out to be a cyclical thing.

Also, as a side note, I guess it’s important to plan out the boring / transitioning bits of the story as well…. those are the parts I have the MOST trouble on. The rest of the story which are really the important parts, is where I have no trouble with once I get into the flow.

So cheers! Suck it Monday blues!

P.S: Game Of Thrones Season 3 is off to a very good start! Still has a meaningless nude scene, but I absolutely love how deep the scarred the Lannisters are beneath all that pomp. It’s hard to believe there can be a antagonist as well-liked as Cersei and Tyrion.

 

Binge Writing: When To Stop

Writers Block

This is a personal experience piece, not a writing guide. Just want to make the distinction clear here.

My Own Binge Writing Experience (Plus Updates)

Okay, things have been a bit weird lately. I’ll go on a writing binge on Monday and in a half-trance, cough up over 3,000 words (plus another thousand over words on other stuff), then the very next day, wake up feeling very lethargic and braindead to a very ineffective writing session. I’m just writing Mark of Child for now, which started as a rewrite of another story, though I intend to re-look Alone In The Crowd in future.

Mark of Child isn’t proving itself to be popular, but whatever, I’m enjoying myself. Up to 7,000 words now with large chunks of rewriting. I already know the major plot points, it’s the minor ones in between that I need to work out. You won’t be able to see much from what I’ve posted, but these two stories are some of my most complete start-to-end stories in that I already know what I want for both of them. If nothing else, I enjoyed myself writing them. Alone gave me a lot of trouble as I tried to play with the tenses, but it got me going and I’m getting the hang of present tense now, even preferring it. But we’ll see, I’m still learning the ropes. There’s more to the writing then I initially though.

For Mark of Child, as long as it goes swimmingly and I don’t suddenly hit a dead end, I should be good to go the distance for a mini-novella at 20,000 – 25,000 words with a hard limit of 30,000 I’ve set myself. I don’t like horror fiction that goes on forever, since well, horror plots tends to be pretty thin. Should be done in 3 weeks so please forgive me if I ignore my blog for a while. That is usually a good sign however as it means I’m doing something more productive.

Is Binge Writing Acceptable?

Then again, I ask myself if this famine or feast approach to my work is acceptable. Going back to the topic my previous article on Write Habits, I asked the question of how do most writers write. That is a question I’ve been asking myself, since lately, I’ve been questioning my own dedication to just sit down and write. For example, a very popular writing boot camp, NaNoWriMo advocates a sort of disciplined approach to getting out that first novel. 1,667 words per day for a month and you get a 50,000 word novel. That methods works for a lot of people since the time factor forces them to ‘just do it’ and realise the writer in them.

Lindaghill seems to be a prime example of someone who found her mojo after taking part in one of these boot camps and has completed the first draft of a 200,000+ epic. She has done something probably less than 0.001% of this world has done. I’ve been giving her a lot of shout outs lately since I am learning a lot from her.

But, like a round hole and a square peg, I just can’t do it. The more I try to adhere to a “write this amount of words,” “sit down from this time to this” approach, my mind just goes blank. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the process, but I seem to be someone who goes with the flow more than the method. So rather than force myself to write, I decided to stick to my approach and try to refine it.

Binge Writing Help

Turn’s out I’m not alone, and what I’m doing isn’t that wrong from a creative perspective. An article from Scriptmag that seems to understand what I am going through, and has some sound advice from seat-of-the-pants writers like me, to balance our style with the discipline of method writers. The motive of trying to achieve this balance is most aptly put by Ernest Hemingway.

“I learned never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.” ~ Ernest Hemingway

The article in Scriptmag actually speaks out against writers like me, but in a good way. It tries to teach us to control the force within instead of curbing it altogether. This control is to combat one of the biggest problems people like me face – We write without a plan, we write with the flow, we write to our hearts content, then suddenly brick wall. You look back and you see what you have written and how you can angle it to go forward, but no deal. Eventually you give up, move on and start the whole process over again.

Some useful tips from the article include gems like this:

2. “Leave yourself a rough edge.”

Cory Doctorow says, “When you hit your daily word-goal, stop. Stop even if you’re in the middle of a sentence. Especially if you’re in the middle of a sentence. That way, when you sit down at the keyboard the next day, your first five or ten words are already ordained, so that you get a little push before you begin your work. Knitters leave a bit of yarn sticking out of the day’s knitting so they know where to pick up the next day — they call it the ‘hint.’ Potters leave a rough edge on the wet clay before they wrap it in plastic for the night — it’s hard to build on a smooth edge.”

Reading the article, I’ve come to several conclusions

Do not binge write to the point you are writing for the sake of writing Ideas are flowing, but haven’t had time to cook in your imagination. You’re just filling the page with empty words as you try to lead yourself somewhere, meandering through pointless dialogue. Just writing when you run out of ideas is GOOD, but not when you’ve ready gone a couple of thousand words in and refuse to stop.

Do not binge write trying to squeeze every last possible idea This is the reason why I binge write. One idea comes, leading to another, then another. OMG! I need to put all this down, then you start writing and writing until you’re drained. Turns out the next morning, you don’t know where to begin. Refer to the Ernest Hemingway quote above.

Do not binge write and expect the same results every single day This is one of the biggest killers for me. I’ve wrote 3000 words on Monday, why can’t I do it again? A good day tends to set us up for failure especially if you try to hold yourself to the lofty standard of one day. It’s better to look at the average over say a week, since binge writing takes the energy away from the very next day.

Declare yourself satisfied with your work I like this idea from the article and used it for a while. You have a goal in mind for today’s writing. You hit it, STOP! You have some other ideas in your head, make some notes, put down the key points, move on. This links to the second point about letting ideas stew for a while. You realise you end your writing on a high and eager to go the next day, instead of drained and fatigued.

To conclude, since I’ve done it again, and written another thousand word post. Let me just say find a method that works for you, learn it, explore it, question it. But more importantly enjoy it. This applies to the bigger world as well, not just writing. There is no just thing as black and white, right or wrong. Be it 250,000 essays on bondage or 20 word haikus. But not trying to learn more about your craft is a deadly sin. I will always keep questioning and learning, until the day I die.

Related articles

The Two Pillars Of Plot Progression

story-mountain-plotJust read this FANTASTIC article on Writer’s Digest with regards to plot in a story. For the past few days, I’ve been kind of confused about the ebb and flow of a story. There always seems to be a method to it, a certain fixed structure, but why are so many famous authors able to do it in their own ways without being seen as boring or repetitive. Heck, Michael Crichton uses the same thing in ALL his books but they still hit you like a truck when you read them.

It’s also so amusing to me, because i just read and reblogged this article yesterday about Plotter vs Pantser. To me, I always thought the optimal point was somewhere in the middle but closer to the Pantser. Creativity should always be more important than the presentation, after all that’s why you’re a Writer right?

This article nails it on the day, by objectively stating out the two main things you need in a plot, namely the 2 pillars needed for every story. These are your scene separators, and unless you’re writing a seven novel epic, they serve to divide your story into the three essential parts – Introduction, Conflict, Resolution, the arrangement of everything else is arbitrary as long as you hit these two checkpoints!

The First Pillar

The beginning of a novel tells us who the main characters are and introduces the situation at hand (the story world). It sets the tone and the stakes. But the novel does not take off or become “the story” until that first pillar is passed. Think of it as a Doorway of No Return. The feeling must be that your lead character, once
she passes through, cannot go home again until the major problem of the plot is solved.

The Second Pillar

The second pillar is another kind of Doorway of No Return: It makes possible or inevitable the final battle and resolution.

The article gives a lot of examples of this in actual books, so please read it if you want to go into more detail on them. I highly encourage you to read it and maybe subscribe to them. They have a lot of great stuff.

My attitude on writing and plot outlining has changed a lot after reading this. In the past, I believe you should have an point by point outline of how you should proceed before you even start writing. Hey, that’s what most writers guides say right, failing to plan is planning to fail. The first article I’ve read that actually changed this perception somewhat, was some advice from dear Ernest Hemingway. And thanks to him…..

I call bullshit on over plotting now due to 2 main reasons:

(1) As you write and get immersed into your work, you get a TON of “Ah-Ha! This will be awesome!” moments where you bring the story totally off tangent and is miles better than what you wanted to write. I’m up to 7,000 words on a plot outline I randomly generated on Monday, and frankly I ditched the outline and just went balls to the wall on what I felt is best for the story. Taking short time outs to rethink where I wanted to go, but that’s it. it was only after reading this article that I knew why I was able to just keep writing. I hit the milestones, I gave the story a reason to carry on! Something that had frankly been a big issue for me in the last few weeks. Now, I knew what I wanted in the story in the most basic of sense. Not a blow by blow, this must happen then that plot line.

(2) By setting too many checkpoints, you are literally forcing your story along a path, blocking out a lot of potential. Some add these in later as sub-plots or meaningless drivel in their book (because its too good to pass up), but honestly, you’re doing that to make your story better and more readable because your main plot sucks. If your subplot and other ideas are that good to be incorporated, use them, make them part of the whole. Personally I feel a lot of fantasy / superhero and science fiction stories are guilty of this. Just because you have a unique setting shouldn’t stop you from going off tangent, a lot of them are guilty of reading like a point A to point B storyline. Whereas contemporary works tend to be more whimsical and flutter all over the place, but mostly relegated to the side plot or love story inside.

Note of course, if you’re so creative, you can come up with a totally awesome plot just by sitting there and think through your entire story in one sitting, please ignore me. I’m clearly someone who lives for the moment, and get all excited whenever I start writing and my creative juices just start spurting out. 

From now on, just go with the flow

While the article uses a suspension bridge analogy, I prefer to think of writing as driving through a desert. You have certain checkpoints you need to reach to refuel and recharge, and you also want to get out of there sooner or later. But that is ALL YOU NEED. Anything else is an arbitrary limitation. If you found a short cut or a more scenic route, why not just take it!  If nothing else, hey it sure is more fun and enjoyable!

This will be my approach to writing from now on. And I shouldn’t have to replan my plot or story that often anymore. The pillars should be transferrable from one story to another, and by changing the setting and characters, i should be able to write a brand new story by letting the desert sands take me wherever they want.

I might expand on this concept a little in future, in conjunction with my changing thoughts of how characters should be made to fit into a story. Slowly but surely, I feel like I’m learning, not to write, but how to craft. And in this aspect, I’m learning that LESS is more, it’s just how you wrap your head around it.

Have a great day ahead.

Sighhh, I really need to learn to write shorter posts. 

Why Should My Characters Be Unique?

StereotypeContinuing along the theme of characterisation from my previous post yesterday, a question about stereotyping popped out in my mind today: How necessary is it to have fancy characters?  

Now, for the purpose of this topic, let’s not confuse stereotyping with boring. How interesting a character turns out is really up to the skill of the writer and the setting. Dan Brown’s characters are as stereotypical as they come, but Robert Langdon and the white albino killer priest are still as entertaining as hell. He brings the tweed-loving Professor to life.

When creating a character for your story, should the protagonist be:

  • The Stereotype –  Ideal skill set needed or appears for the plot to be fulfilled.
  • Typical with a Twist – That uniqueness gives a selling point in the story.
  • Unique –  Totally against the grain, needs a lot of explanation & backstory.

Quick! Think of an answer before reading ahead. 

Done?

Good.

My guess is most of you went with Typical with a Twist. It seems like the most sensible answer right?  I did too, so I went ahead to compile a list of recent media that would fit into these three archetypes:

The Stereotype

  • Katniss Everdeen (Hunger Games)
  • Robert Langdon (Da Vinci Code) – Basically all of Dan Brown books
  • Almost all the protagonist in Michael Crichton books
  • Almost all the protagonist in Sidney Sheldon books
  • Almost all the protagonist in Danielle Steele books
  • James Bond  / Jason Bourne / Most spies and thrillers
  • Chosen Ones – Harry Potter / Luke Sky Walker / Hobbit (One trick flawed characters)

Typical with a Twist

  • Dexter (TV show) / Sheldon Cooper (Big Bang Theory) / Actually most TV stars who play up a particular gimmick
  • The Girl With A Dragon Tattoo
  • Tyrion Lannister (Game Of Thrones)

Absolutely Unique

  • Fantasy / Space-travel themed fiction (which requires A LOT of backstory to explain, except the all t00 familiar chosen one concept)
  • Comic Book Heroes (Reason why there is always a origins somewhere)
  • 50 shades of Grey (sort of, in the perverse sense)

My perspective

When I was compiling this list, I thought I would have a lot of characters to put under Twist. But towards the end, with a bit of analyzing, I shifted most of them into Stereotype instead. What I have initially believed to be special points, turns out to be bland character profiles when you compare it to the genre at large.

Case in point: I initially wanted to throw Jason Bourne into the Twist category, but then I realise this – Even if the book did away with all the drug/virus nonsense and just put Jason Bourne as a escaped patient from a super-soldier program, would there be any confusion or grumbling? No, people have already learnt to accept such story lines without explanation. True, that would defeat the purpose of the story, but it seemed like the Jason Bourne was created to accommodate the story rather than the other way around.

Then I looked at all the characters that I have left in the Twist category. I realised that by giving the character a gimmick or handicap, it usually means the story is catering to the character instead of the other way around. (Big Bang Theory is extremely guilty of feeding Sheldon juicy scenarios for example). Plots that seem to be created SPECIFICALLY for that character instead of the other way round.

And for the unique ones, well let’s just say there’s a reason why a quarter of the book/movie is usually devoted to just explaining the settings and the characters. By which point, you learn everything about them and they stop being unique since you just read 100 pages of who they are.

Get to the point!

My point is – Often, when I read a writer’s or novelist guide to characters, it’s often advised that we have a ready bank of characters to use to insert into our stories.

Then I look at the bestsellers I see this:

Michael Crichton – Oh I have a scene with poisonous spiders, ok Character B shall be a specialist Spider-Guru.

Suzanne Collins – Oh I need to give my character a weapon she can use, insert backstory about how Katniss’s father taught her how to shoot.

Danielle Steele – I need to my character to be rich and sexy as hell! Cue chapter 3 flashback to a rags to riches story about her father and her tragic mother.

Honestly, I’m beginning to have second thoughts about half of the writer guides out there on how to write characters. To me now, it’s pretty clear that I should have a unique setting, then develop a stereotypical character perfect for the setting. To make him interesting, as stated in my previous post again, talk about Birth/History, Pain, Rise To Fame, Current, Feelings. That backstory can be unique, you’re character itself shouldn’t, he should be PERFECT for the story (with a splash of tragedy).

I don’t have a conclusion to this post, since it’s just a niggling thought in my head that I wanted to get out. But I thought this would make a good discussion point either now or in future. I intend to revisit the importance of characters in telling a story in future. For now, I’m skipping the character development step in my writing until I flesh out my story and know what kind of character I need to fill the story.

Thoughts? Again note, please do not mix up stereotype with boring.

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Midweek Ravings: Happy One Month Old Blog!

Fact or Fiction: The more you blog, the MORE you want to blog

blog

When I started blogging just a month back, the first thought that appeared in my head was whether I had enough content or writing in me to sustain posting in the long run. Back then, all I wanted was a personal journal that would allow me to express thoughts, opinions and the lessons I have learnt in a conducive setting. Blogging seemed like the most obvious choice since I wanted to post more than just words or daily entries. I wanted to play with whatever medium I wanted, and I wanted to write more than just my day to day life.

Unfortunately, the moment I clicked the “create blog” button, I panicked. Holy crap! What should my first post be! Taking a cue from a quick look around the web, the first post seemed to be usually an introductory post, so I created the About Me page. Then came the dreaded second post i.e. The post that is actually supposed to be content. I wanted this to be a writing/reading site, so I scoured my favorites and bookmarks for old reads that I have found on the web. This went well for a while, I made a few posts in my first two days… and then I ran out of things to say.

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