frack.

| Monday, November 30, 2009
I'm back after two (yes, two!) Thanksgiving meals thanks to the SO's various family units. As for what I'm thankful for... well, I may have to do an entry on that sometime in December. At the moment, I'm thankful that SO is bopping his head and singing along to Lady GaGa, because that shiz is hilarious.

I decided to put my NaNo project on ice for a few days while I just vegged and recovered, so I haven't written a word since I verified and won (WOOHOOIROCK). It feels a little weird. I plan on getting back into it starting tomorrow. I'm aiming to finish the thing by Christmas. *fingers crossed*

I had a loose idea of what I wanted to write about today, and lo and behold, while wading through my backlog of blogs, I found that The Blood-Red Pencil had already touched on the subject I was thinking about - swearing in literature. I know, random. It was just one of those things that got stuck in my head and I ended up thinking about quite a bit over the last few days.

I have sort of a weird relationship with profanity. Growing up in my household, dropping an f-bomb could result in a two-week grounding and the possibility of revoked Trick-or-Treating privileges. Seriously. I was raised to view profanity as something not only incredibly rude, but also low-brow. Of course, eventually I grew up and got over it only to discover that my parents were great big hypocrites who cursed on a regular basis once my brother and I were "old enough." These days, several swears get plenty of play in my verbal rotation, and I've (mostly) gotten over my mental block.

Yet, part of the block still exists. I can't help but find myself in situations in which I find that a person's use of profanity really detracts from what they're trying to say and, yes, makes me turn my nose up a little. It's a tricky beast, especially in literature. There are certainly instances in which it fits - such as the dialogue of a character that has a serious potty-mouth, or even to show an intense emotional outburst from a character that's normally very proper and you're trying to show that they're REALLY upset. In other instances, such as non-fiction where you're attempting to build a logical argument, it can really throw off your whole stance to toss in profanity, even if it fits with your personal voice. Some people, like myself, tend to be turned off to a person's argument when they start swearing at me.

I'm definitely not anti-swearing. Swearing is completely realistic for everyday conversation, and many people are totally fine with it. Others are easily offended and will always find it distasteful. It's only fitting that both sorts of people will be writing and reading literature, and characters will reflect it. Depending on the characters we write, swearing might be more or less appropriate. Military officer? Might swear a lot. My Apostolic Christian traditionalist grandmother? Can't even say "fart."

In fiction, there's no doubt that sometimes profanity just reads hollow and off-color, like it's being used purely for shock factor, and that's a poor way to use it. Not only is it weak, but it's totally obvious. I can almost always tell when an author is uncomfortable with swearing, because the swearing in their work feels really stilted and not natural to the dialogue/narration. This seems to plague certain "adult" fiction books I've read, and some YA, as well. It almost feels like the author thinks their characters should swear, so they throw it in at really awkward points. I suppose the easy solution here is: if you're uncomfortable with profanity, you probably should avoid using it in your work. It shows. It's fine that your characters don't swear - not everyone does.

On the flip side of the coin, there is the fact that no matter what you do, no matter how appropriate it might be that some (or all) of your characters use profanity, there are going to be people offended by it. There will be people who refuse to read a book because it contains cursing. What can you do about this? Well... nothing, really. Not unless you want to censor your book.

How does this stretch to YA? Well, teenagers swear. But not all of them, and not as much as you might imagine, depending on the teen. I personally am trying to avoid using profanity as a way to "connect" with teens, because that crap won't work. It's like when I finally turned 18 and suddenly my parents were okay with swearing around me, and seemed to think they could connect with me more by saying "shit" once in a while. Awkward.

In a nutshell, I suppose I'm going with the idea that profanity is fine as long as it flows naturally, and you're not throwing it in because you think it should be there. It definitely shouldn't be used because you're aiming for the "cool" factor. And if it's really difficult for it to come to you naturally, you're probably better off sticking with vocabulary that does come naturally. It's akin to vocabulary in general - we're supposed to stick to the vocabulary we know and are comfortable with for the most natural-sounding writing. If you're breaking out the thesaurus every other paragraph, readers can tell - most often because you use inappropriate words in inappropriate places.

victory is mine.

| Tuesday, November 24, 2009

50,101 words according to Microsoft Word, 50,210 according to the NaNoWriMo robots. It has been a crazy month. AND MY STORY STILL ISN'T DONE. I have a big end battle and resolution to write yet. I am elated.

I didn't even use the classic cheats, unless you count my characters being all science-y and geeking out over botany and biology to a bit of excess. I am proud of myself.

Now I just have to finish the thing.

hook me in.

| Sunday, November 22, 2009
So I've had all these ideas for blog posts, but very little time to actually write them with my day job being eleven kinds of crazy and NaNo and all. I was going to write a big feminist post about the Publisher's Weekly shenanigans and how we're allowed to be critical of a perceived male preference without being immediately slapped down for trying to stomp all over men in our big black combat boots and reverse sexism and blahblahblah, but it's been done to death in the last week, so I thought I'd save it. I don't actually own any big black combat boots.

Instead, I thought I'd write about hooks.

Hooks, as we all know, are the gateway to our story. They're the opening line or lines - the collection of words that are supposed to pique interest and suck the reader into reading beyond the first page. There are a ton of books (probably literally) on hooks and how to write them, what makes a good one, etc., and I thought I'd give my own personal spin. I've selected several hooks that spoke to me personally, and I'll be musing on why exactly they captured my attention.

I'll start with a big one: dropping your reader into the middle of an action already in progress. Here are some examples I particularly enjoy.

"The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed."
- The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger by Stephen King

"There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife."
- The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

"Once upon a midnight dreary, as I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door."
- 'The Raven' by Edgar Allan Poe

This is a classic hook. Your reader is placed right in the middle of the action, and left with questions they want answered. Who is the man in black? The gunslinger? Who's holding the knife, and why? WHO'S AT THE DOOR??? It's a highly successful way to draw the reader in and get them to keep going. They want to know what's going on. So now that you've got them, you have to keep the interest high, or else they may become bored or frustrated.

The next hook is one I like to think of as the "Fairy Tale" hook. It has a "Once upon a time..." quality to it. Examples:

"Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small, unregarded yellow sun."
- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

"Somewhere in la Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember, a gentleman lived not long ago, one of those who has a lance and ancient shield on a shelf and keeps a skinny nag and a greyhound for racing."
- Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

"If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth."
- The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

I know, right now you're thinking "lol Catcher in the Rye, what." But it has the feel of what I'm going for with this type of hook. They all give a feeling of storytelling - the narrator is settling down and is going to tell us a story. At least, this is what they say to me. "Once upon a time, there was a whiny phony named Holden..." Anyway. This hook works because it's familiar. We've all been told a story at some point or another that started this way. "Gather 'round and I'll tell thee a tale." We assume it's going to be something interesting, so we stick around. The question is, "Why are we following this man from Spain with the lance and shield? What's special about him?" Read on to find out.

Another hook that often sucks me right in is a hook that immediately shows me I'm dealing with a world nothing like my own.

"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit."
- The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

"It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen."
- 1984 by George Orwell

"Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen."
- The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

Right away, I'm thrust into a new world, and I want to know about it. Fantasy novels often start like this. Being as into fantasy as I am, I am interested in hearing about this new place. What is a hobbit? Why does he live in the ground? Why is the clock striking thirteen? Clocks only go to twelve in my universe! Why does Lyra have a daemon, and what is it for? These hooks are often grounded in the familiar, but throw in an element that lets us know we're dealing with something otherworldly, and they do it right away.

Last one I'm going to talk about is the one I think of as the "Lead In." It bears some similarity to the others, but isn't quite as fleshed out.

"The year that Buttercup was born, the most beautiful woman in the world was a French scullery maid named Annette."
- The Princess Bride by William Goldman

"All children, except one, grow up."
- Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie

"It was a pleasure to burn."
- Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

These are the hooks I read and then think, "Okay, you got me, I'll bite." They raise the immediate question of Who? What? Why? Who is the child that doesn't grow up? Why is it a pleasure to burn? Why are you telling me about Buttercup and the most beautiful woman in the world?

In writing all that out, I've come to a conclusion as to what hooks speak to me personally: those that make me ask a question that I want the answer to. "Who is that? Why are they doing that? What story are you going to tell me? What's happening here?" Now, these aren't the only sorts of openings that reel me in. I will start and keep reading a book that doesn't have a great hook, but great hooks really stick in my mind. And then I write blog posts about them.

Also, I'm not every reader. I like to read, and I'll try just about anything once, even if I end up hating it. Other people aren't that open. They want their attention grabbed and kept. You need a powerful hook to do that. You want someone who picks up your book to open the first page to see if it grabs them, and then not put it down. These are some effective methods of doing that, and are some that I often try to incorporate into my own work.

Think of the hooks that grabbed you, and ask yourself why. Then try a similar tactic with your own writing. What hooks speak to you?

procrastination station.

| Friday, November 20, 2009
It's incredible the ways you find to procrastinate during NaNo. I'm even in the middle of an action scene, but I keep getting wiggy like I'm going to screw it up somehow. I need to get over it.

Instead, I'm watching my favorite scene from Dawson's Creek ever (starts at about 4:21). Shut up.

I think I may actually hit 50K this weekend, despite my flitting about. And I'm not done yet O_O

i am a winner finalist!

| Tuesday, November 17, 2009
I had a PITA day today, so imagine my elation when I got a chance to check blogs and discovered that I made the short list of Stuart Neville's Ghosts of Belfast Twitter microfiction contest! SQUEE TO INFINITY! (I am @stephy442, btw).

Totally made my night. Voting is open until Saturday at midnight, so please vote if you're on Twitter!

I have a bunch of ideas bouncing around my head to blog about, but I've had no time. The day job is eating my soul. Bleargh.

Still ahead on NaNo, though! There's always that.

teenage love != meltdowns.

| Saturday, November 14, 2009
I have serious layout template ADD, but I think I've managed to land on one I'll keep for a while. I have tweaked it to my satisfaction, I think. I should really brush up on my HTML and CSS again one of these days, but ANYWAY.

NaNo is going swimmingly, I must say. I'm finding it pretty doable to get out around 2,000 words a day. *ducks tomatoes* I'm sorry! If it's any consolation, the one other time I attempted NaNo, I got about 8,000 words in before the thing floundered and died a miserable death. This time, I'm closing in on 30K less than halfway through the month, and I'm feeling pretty good about that :D

I was pondering more over my post on puppy love, and I wanted to expand. I am all about the teen romance, as long as it's done well. It puts me in mind of how I felt when I was experiencing all those new, powerful emotions for the first time and trying to deal with them. It's very important to me that young adult writers try to capture the teen experience realistically, otherwise it's not going to speak to teens.

However, this brings me to my minor brainstorm (more of a brainflurry) about where to draw the line between realism and going too far into the "Not Okay" zone. It's certainly possible (maybe even probable) that a real teenage girl might tear her hair out and collapse into a sobbing hysterical mess and refuse to get out of bed for a week and then cyberstalk Facebook pages on a fake account to post vindictive comments because her first long-term boyfriend dumped her, but is that acceptable behavior? Not really. It might speak to a larger cultural pressure for people (not just teens) to feel that romantic relationships are everything and they are only half of a person until they find a significant other to "complete" them, but that's a whole other post.

Of course it is realistic and appropriate to portray teen relationships as tumultuous, addictive, and full of passion, because they are. The portrayal of betrayal and breakups including anger, resentment, sadness, feelings of loss, and maybe even a little depression is realistic. I just get worried when I start to see characters being defined by their romantic relationships, or having completely over-the-top meltdowns a la going catatonic in the woods for a day and then becoming a zombie for several months (to nab the popular allusion of the moment). It's okay to have a character mourn the loss of their first (or second, or third) love, to allow them that cutting pain many of us remember so well, but at what point to we need to snap them out of it because they're verging into a seriously unhealthy area?

I should say that it's not the sketchy behavior portrayed by some characters alone that bothers me, because sketchy behavior is a part of teenagerdom and can be done in a reasonable way. What bothers me more is when there is no growth past this behavior, or something in the plot to illustrate that while this type of behavior may happen, ultimately it's not the most appropriate way to deal with love and loss. What bothers me even more is when this behavior is rewarded in a novel. The lovestruck young hero/heroine pines and whiles away and participates in risky behavior and spends 90% of the story refusing to see the silver lining to their dark cloud, and then they get their love back as a reward for all their "suffering."

Ultimately, I think it's the choice of portrayal of these types of stories that concerns me. Character experiencing raw emotions and being torn up, but attempting to heal and live their life despite them? Cool. Character acting like a 5-year old that had their favorite toy taken away, and then getting said toy back? Not cool.

Romantic relationships do change us to an extent. We take on mannerisms of our significant others, and they take on ours. We depend on each other for emotional support, and entwine our lives together. This much is true. Loss of these relationships can shake us to our very core, but we move on - we have to. It is the choices we make on how to deal with the emotion and heartache that dictate whether we are dealing in a healthy way or not. The emotions themselves are much the same. We can show this in our novels, and we should.

And I'd like to thank *my* significant other for letting me bounce ideas off of him and helping me hash this all out ;)

bottomless.

| Tuesday, November 10, 2009
The winners of Writtenwyrdd's Spec Horror contest have been announced, so I thought it safe to post my piece here now :) I did not win, but it was a whole lot of fun and I enjoyed it bunches. Congrats again to the winners!

Here's my entry.


***

I have been falling for ages.

It began as these things often do – mind elsewhere, a stumble, a collapse. My throat had gone raw from screaming and vomiting before I realized there was no end. The world was ink, gravity was of no matter, and death was coming. Perhaps not in the way my crazed mind had anticipated when the ground first broke beneath me, but it was coming nonetheless.

Several hours may have passed before I was able to adjust to the sensation of constant freefall, and several more went by before I understood that I was not alone in my fate. Debris and creatures rose and fell around me, seemingly oblivious to the laws of physics. The world is strange, but stranger still when darkness and the downward pull are all that keep the crawling, wretched beings at the edge of thought from reaching out to pluck you, allowing you to hang, gasping and broken, before they devour you.

A day might have gone by when my drive for survival kicked in. Hunger and adrenaline had made me weak, and I began to listen. The coiled, venomous, slithering things surrounded me. I could hear their hissing and sense their ooze. By this time, I had spread my body wide and fell belly-down, adopting a lazy spin, and I waited. I learned about them, these falling things, and my hands clenched and flexed. When the moment was right, my fingers burst into the darkness and closed on something surprisingly dry and unsurprisingly serpentine. The devil was between my teeth before my revulsion could cast it away, and I gorged. It may have screamed; I do not remember. All my memory holds is gritty organ and salty flesh.

The fall stretched on. I’ve no idea where I managed to find the fluids to survive. There must have been enough in the life and blood of the tunnel beasts I could get my claws on. I urinated and moved my bowels when necessary; the stink never lasted long. Sometimes I slept the restless sleep of one who knows their predator rests close by. One fateful morning (as I began to think of them), my arm struck an outcropping and shattered. Oh, how I howled. I sang to the terror-fish and horror-snakes to distract myself as I bound the ruined limb with cloth stripped from my flapping shirt.

In time, they began to understand me, these things of anti-gravity. They understood that I needed them to survive, and they moved closer to confide that they needed me. There were great secrets to share; incredible information they had held in their whirling minds for eons. My singing was greatly admired, and often my performances were greeted with the slap and hiss of applause. One of the largest, who I had feared from the beginning, wrapped me in flat, sheet-like arms and whispered great knowledge to me – solutions to the ailments of the world that were so painfully simple I could not fathom how I had never considered them before. We fell together, he and I, his soft, dry skin protecting me from the elements and cradling my destroyed arm.

There came a time when a villain, a jealous rat with a slimy tail, decided to destroy me. He felt me an outsider; unworthy to taste the flesh or hear the whispers of his brethren. As the wind whipped by and I fell, deep in discussion with a bold creature, he floated behind me and sank his vicious teeth into my good arm. I clawed at him, reduced him to shredded hair, but his poison had taken effect. He has driven me mad, that rat. The comforting darkness is gone, replaced by burning light. No more do the whispers of my companions lull me to sleep; now there are only moans and howls. I am confined, and I scream for my sanity yet.

And still I fall.

thoughts on puppy love.

| Sunday, November 8, 2009
Welp, so far I've been sticking to my proposed schedule for NaNo, getting in about 2,000 words a day, sometimes more. I have to admit, I'm pretty pleased with myself... my NaNo project is now the longest single work I've written without abandoning, and I'm still going! I think this whole structure-and-goals thing really works for me. MENTAL NOTE.

Not only am I sticking to my schedule, but I'm nowhere near out of plot yet, and that makes me feel awesome. I have yet to reach the midpoint of my plot arch, and still have a number of road markers to guide my way. Feelin' good. Maybe a little too good *shifty eyes*.

Oddly enough, the past two nights have brought me dreams involving the guy I had a MASSIVE crush on in high school, whom I haven't thought about in a long time. Both dreams involved meeting him again, finding out that we have a lot in common and can possibly be friends now, me beginning to get those stirrings of butterflies, him admitting he feels it as well, and then... not much. Some hugging, some hand-holding, some cuddling, some video game tournaments.

Maybe my subconscious is trying to tell me something. I'm at the point in my NaNo project where I've introduced a love interest for my protagonist, and they're getting closer now. These dreams are putting me in mind of my middle-grade and high school crushes, and how different they are from my old-and-jaded-by-the-world mid-20's loves.

I was a serious crusher. I crushed long, and I crushed hard. We are talking crushes spanning three years of my high school experience, here. Never resolved... I never got the guy. Wibble. Oh, but I loved him. I know many people look back on their puppy-love years and scoff about how it wasn't real love, we didn't know what we were talking about, and now that we're older and wiser, we know what love is FOR REALZIES. I disagree. It was a different kind of love, absolutely. It was full of potential and magic, and equally full of knife-to-the-heart twists and weeks of wondering what he meant by that thing he said the other day in class. That love was naive and overdramatic and insane and wonderful and awful.

This is all important. It's important for me to remember that the love I felt as a teenager was new and crazy, and certainly not logical. It was built on possibility, not reality. I think maybe this is what my dreams are getting at. My crushes were never about getting a boyfriend and marrying him and having a bunch of his babies and happily ever after etc. Certainly it was my ultimate goal to have that spark of a moment when he looked at me and realized OMG GIRL OF MY DREAMS, RIGHT HERE THIS WHOLE TIME, but it was really about the emotions and the drama of it all. That heady, addictive feeling of having the tiniest, most insignificant little action rolling around in my brain for days, dissecting it with my girlfriends, and wondering what if what if what if???

I honestly have no idea what I would have done if the guy had asked me out. Died, probably. And that all-consuming drama-queen love was very young and silly, and definitely not something I want back. That feeling, though. That feeling of every day bringing something new, of my very own teen comedy playing out in every action and line delivered. I need to remember that.

So, thanks, Dream High School Crush. Thanks for reminding me how I'd freak out for hours and feel like I was walking on air for the rest of the day every time you hugged me, or we passed a note in class. Sorry I was such a headcase! I'd still play video games with you.

still truckin'.

| Wednesday, November 4, 2009
*breathes into a paper bag*

Closing in on 9K words now for NaNo, and still some weird combination of giddy and nervous. Much to my surprise, the words are coming fairly easily. So far, anyway... knock on wood. Having my key points hammered out before diving in is definitely helping - I have goals to aim for! Huzzah!

Of course, the fact that the writing is coming easily enough is freaking me out anyway. WHY IS IT SO EASY? IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE HARD! A STRUGGLE! IT'S ALL JUNK! AAAARGH! And then I snap out of it and realize that I'm not writing a finished opus and I'm going to have to revise the bajeezus out of it anyway, and I chillax.

The whole process is dizzying. I've started writing novels before, but I've never finished one. Well, there was that horrible 25-page vampire novella I wrote when I was 13, but I'm trying to forget it exists. Finishing a book always seemed too daunting and huge, and I tried letting the writing guide me, but it didn't wanna. I guess this is me discovering that I work better with an outline, eh? Awesome.

I can do this. I can do this. I can do this.

the madness starts.

| Sunday, November 1, 2009
NaNoWriMo is here! And ACK. I started writing at midnight last night, and got 1700 words in before I stumbled off to bed. Not a bad start, I hope! More writing planned for today, whenever I get around to it. I hope I can keep this crazy steam train going all month.

Also, the contest entries for Writtenwyrdd are up! One of the entries is mine, but I'm not going to tell you which, of course. Vote for your favorite!
 

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