Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Bulwer-Lytton 2009 Winners!

The 2009 winners of the annual single-sentence contest are named! You can see them here: Bad Fiction Winners 2009

I did not win. This is ok. It means that badness has not yet seeped out of the overfilled bag of writing goo that is my brain. So I am posting the sins of my pen to the world to reveal those entries that did not make it into the slush pile of badness.

* * * * * * *

She watched as her future, which had unfolded in her mind as an ordered and perfectly executed game plan, was shredded and cross-cut into a confetti which could never be reassembled and only then did she realize that her seemingly fruitless attempts to prevent the decimation of her species could still be harvested by fate.

As wise as he was ancient, as noble as he was generous, and as mad as a troupe of clowns emerging from its carpool, Professor Harlow Whitham was the world’s foremost authority on the coalescence of particles on shoe heels.

Despite considering him endearingly geeky, Maria was concerned that her interest in Jack occurred only out of a desire to complicate her life with technology--a desire she would likely not recall once the robots had removed her brain and replaced it with a sleek, new cyborg model.

The voices of a thousand angels rang out, a riotous chorus of belief and serenity wrapped in a puffy-clouded package of wings and halos, heralding the birth of the new savior: Maurice.

His hands deftly maneuvered the rear thrusters into place and engaged the redundant melacortz-ramistat 14-kiloquad interface modules as his brain attempted to vaguely hash out a plan in which the aliens would not manage to take over the world and force their disgusting cuisine onto an unsuspecting planet.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Backstory Blues

I'm trying to avoid backstory issues. However, there is a lot of backstory in the book I am writing. I've done some truly crazy things to get the backstory details out without getting "explainy" or having flashbacks. If I did this entirely in flashback form, it could get really confusing so I'm hoping to either write no flashbacks or minimize their number to something in the single digits. Once I embraced the craziness, I found I could get more background information into the story in a coherent fashion but it's still not enough.

As a temporary measure and for my own peace of mind, I wrote up all of the backstory into a prologue. Luckily the backstory I'm talking about here is all rooted in some past event so the prologue is mostly the telling of this past event. The related details come out in the telling without getting into too much explication. However, I'd still love to get rid of about 75% of this prologue because it still feels like an info dump. So, as I'm writing the story I find opportunities to slip in some of the backstory through various means. Then I edit that information out of my prologue. This method seems to work well for me.

The process of writing the initial info-packed prologue actually helped me flesh-out details. Having written it all out at one time has helped me to get a better view of the story. Keeping it crammed in my head or written in scattered notes made it feel like I was drowning in information.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Quality and Quantity

I'm working on my novel a bit more but I find myself fleshing out the already written portions and avoiding the rest. Editing and re-editing sections that have been written is a dangerous thing. I'm finding myself falling into serious "like" with some of the writing, especially after a few passes with an editorial pen improves it.

However, each time I start writing on an unwritten section, I am afraid it won't be as good. Of course it won't! Each section goes through lots of editing and polishing. As ever, it's about quantity of writing. Quality comes from quantity (and lots of well-executed editing). My avoidance of writing out new sections is clearly becoming a problem because soon I'll have nothing but polished parts of the book and scrawled notes concerning the rest of it.

If you've never read the book Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland there is an illustration of the point about quantity and quality. They discuss a pottery class in which students' grades were based on one of two grading criteria. In order to get an "A" students either had to produce one perfect pot or they had to produce a large quantity of pots. Those aiming for perfect pots would begin many pots but complete very few, starting over when they found flaws. The other group simply focused on quantity. In the end, which group had the most perfect pots? The quantity group!

They say practice makes better (and sometimes, it can make perfect) and that's absolutely right. The more you write, the better your writing will be. As I find myself going along with the quality crowd on my writing projects, I know it's got to stop. So, for each section I polish, I need to write out a new section.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Organizing Writing Files

After many errors, tears, and frustrations over time, I've developed my own writing file organizational system and file back-up plan.

We own a large hard drive that is stored in a secure location. This is backed-up once a week. It includes all kinds of files like documents, media files, and in the case of my kids, user settings. It's very handy but it's not my only back-up.

I've also got a document thumbdrive. I back-up my document files even more often. Losing a whole day of data is too much to imagine. Losing several could require mental intervention. I've lost more and I vowed never to lose it again.

As for the files themselves, I save them after each major change. Let's say I've got a story called Boring Book. First of all, I have a whole file folder for Boringbook. Then each version is saved in order with a three digit identity number. Boringbook001, Boringbook027, Boringbook113 etc. This way, each file has its creation date intact on my hard drive. I can go back in time and see what my book looked like a month ago or whenever. It's very handy! I save related files like Boringbookresearch001 or Boringbookcards008 (which had note card pages with story details on them).

Fan Fiction

I am kind of ashamed to admit that I have been dabbling in writing fan fiction. I don't read it but I thought it would be fun to write it. Though I know my work on fan fiction will never ever lead to anything sometimes it is nice to work within a universe that has already been created. I like expanding it with my imagination and speculating on other activities that beloved characters may have embarked upon.

It didn't occur to me until my husband bought a copy of Price and Prejudice and Zombies that augmented versions of works which have passed into the public domain are publishable. For modern novels that's a long way off and I have no plans in this direction. However, take classic literature and add an element of zombie invasion and you've got a publishable book! I've read a bit of PPZ now. It's ok but not as infused with zombieness as I was expecting. The author kept a lot of the original story, changed a details here and there, and added zombie scenes. It reads very much like the original book with added sections of undead action.

For me, the fan fiction is a solid story that I can write on when the well of ideas or willingness to work on my own book falters. Since I'd rather write something than nothing, it becomes a fall-back project when I just can't bring myself to work on my original stuff. They say that writing is best done on a regular basis and this keeps that regularity going when all else fails. However, it's not my only option. I also have some nonfiction writing projects that sometimes get my attention. I cannot, however, allow myself to work on any of my other fiction stories for fear of falling in love with them and abandoning my current fiction novel. So fan fiction is an option I can live with.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Writing Group

Last night I hosted a Writer's Group. Because of scheduling silliness, it was just my family of four this time. We do all have writing projects in the works though. My oldest already wrote a novel and is working on tweaking it and plotting out sequels at the same time. My youngest is also writing a book and she has actually been working on a single story for several weeks now.

The only activity we used for the Writer's Group this time was a brainstorming session. Everyone had at least one plot issue that was causing distress. For example, one of us needed to find a way that a monster who took over a human body would be recognized for the monster he was. Someone else wanted two friends to realize that they love each other in a non-corny way. There were pens and note cards available for writing down the inspirations that resulted from the brainstorming.

The rules were:
1. Responses are not limited.
1.5. Multiple responses are encouraged.
2. An author can either reject an idea being given or comment on the idea. The author may only comment on the idea if doing so helps the group to better understand the parameters of the dilemma. Otherwise, it can be rejected without discussion--no hard feelings.

The rule about commenting turned out to be very important. The first suggestions were often so far off the author's expectation that comments helped everyone refine their subsequent suggestions before blurting them out.

We will be doing this again, as it gave everyone ideas. It was like getting a lungful of fresh air after breathing stale air for a long time. Also, we had dessert!

Monday, June 1, 2009


I have a solid foothold on my recent novel attempt. Normally, I like to plot my way toward a fully fleshed-out story before doing much writing. Oh, I might indulge myself in a little bit of pre-writing but I don't do much in case I find too many holes in my story concept to proceed. However, this approach often results in frustration and abandoned ideas because it does not encourage my creative process as much as writing does.

This time, I've done a great deal of writing. I wrote before I plotted, then plotted a bit and wrote some more. The process has given me more ideas to include than advance plotting ever did!

However, the writing has run rampant. So I think that a hybrid approach is probably the best way to proceed from here. It's time to map out the story's process, tighten it up, and pull together the rest of the book. Otherwise it can feel like drowning in a sea of ideas. I won't avoid writing but I have to make sure I don't use muse writing as an excuse to procrastinate on the plotting.

I'm a pretty conceptual person but tangible, touchable stuff helps me too. So I am writing out index cards with story details and will assemble them into a story map. I think I'll take a large piece of fabric and pin them in place. Then I can take them off and bind them, in story order, into a little 2-ring notecard binder I bought.

That's the plan anyway.