Saturday, January 28, 2006

Back in the saddle

After nearly two months of not writing (in the sense of drafting new material and/or doing direct editing of something I've written) I'm getting back to it. I still have development work to complete for the later stages of hte book, but I'm confident that I've got the big rocks scoped out. The first new sections are solid enough in my mind that I thought I'd sit down and just write.

A couple of good friends had us over for dinner last night. He's an MFA and teaches writing at some local colleges. He's also just started working on a draft of a new novel. Seeing what he's done (although I haven't read it yet... we're going to swap work later) got me jazzed about churning out some actual new writing. My wife was out with her sister this morning, so I sat down, cracked open a new document and set to work laying down some background for the "bad guys."

It feels good to finally be back in this part of the process again. There's going to be a lot of new writing needed for this draft of the novel, so although I've been working on it for years, there's a sense of newness about it that's exciting.

Word Delta: +1950

Monday, January 23, 2006

CLCL - Your clipboard on steroids

After the last couple times I've lost bits of work in progress, I finally decided to bite the bullet and install a clipboard extension. These were brought to my attention via Jeff Atwood's Coding Horror. He had an excellent article about an app called CLCL. I've installed it, put it into startup on the different machines I use and haven't looked back since. Good stuff.


So it's finally happened... I've taken a step that part of me secretly hoped would never be necessary.

I've created an outline for my novel.

It might not seem like a big thing to a lot of people--it probably is even how a lot of folks would start off a project like writing a book. However, it hasn't ever been my way of approaching it. A lot of that comes from the fact that very often when I've started my novels I don't have all the mechanics/geography/history of the world worked out, and writing the first draft is kind of like exploring a new country.

That's a lot of what makes this different. I have a "complete" novel... I'm working on completing the gaps I've found in the world and don't really need the wide-open expanse before me to settle in. What I need now is to get a firm grasp on the story-line, how each piece builds into the plot and drags the reader along. The outlining is going well from that vantage point--I'm finding the chapters that just don't go anywhere, determining what needs to happen instead, and shoring up the smaller gaps in other areas.

Does this mean that my next novel will start out life as an outline in Word? I'm not sure yet, but it just might happen. I do know one thing--whether it's an outline or just some basic notes, I will be writing a lot more before I sit down to really get going on the next one.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Review: Anansi Boys

I finished reading Anansi Boys over the Christmas break, and have been meaning to write up some thoughts about it since then. To start off with, I'm a big Neil Gaiman fan. I've read the Sandman series a couple of times and was profoundly influenced by it during college. Since he's moved over to writing more narrative fiction, though, nothing has caught me as strongly.

Except Anansi Boys that is! This book finally captured the mythology I associate with Gaiman, and merged it seamlessly with the tone of his writing. Anansi Boys is more comic than some of Gaiman's other works, and it felt a lot like just talking to him or reading his excellent blog. It had some really funny moments that had me in stitches, and those scenes often were so hilarious because of the characters and the situations that he'd set up--the sort of jokes that you can't really explain to someone, you just had to be there. His keen eye for detail and strong, unique descriptions also built into the whole atmosphere of the novel.

The story is well-constructed, with little sign-posts along the way that make you think you know where he's headed. However, many of the things I expected to happen didn't, and instead the clues turned on their heads into something different and far more satisfying. I don't typically try to second-guess where an author's taking me, but he quite deftly set up expectations and then fulfilled them in a way I couldn't have anticipated.

Highly recommended.

I love blank books

I work with computers all day, do the largest part of my editing work in Word and generally spend a lot of time in front of a glowing screen. Beneath it all, though, I have a deep, abiding love for blank books of just about any variety. Whether it's an old spiral notebook like I wrote on frequently in junior-high and high-school or the unlined sketchbooks I moved to later on, there's just something magical about the feeling of paper spread out in front of you and a pen in your hand.

With the recent world and character development work I've been doing on my novel, I've had the chance to revert back to the world of paper and ink. Some good friends gave me a couple thin notebooks a couple birthdays back, which I've been hoarding ever since. I decided that this was finally the time to bust one out. I'm using it as a scratch-pad for details about the world--how it works, history, odd tidbits that I don't want to forget about. I'm thoroughly enjoying it.

Soon enough, it'll be back to the word processor and printouts, but for now I'll luxuriate in using the notebook.

Saturday, January 7, 2006

Why read sci-fi?

Why read science fiction?

I'm pretty picky about the books that I read anymore, so I don't just pick up anything in the science fiction/fantasy section of my local bookstore. Anything I read must have decent characterization, an engaging plot, good writing... but all those things are general and apply to the non-sci-fi works I read too. So what is it about science fiction that keeps me reading (and writing!) it?

I think it boils down to the world creation. Science fiction, regardless of how close to the present day it is, builds a new world for me to learn about, explore and become comfortable with. While the story has to have all the other elements of good writing to keep me involved, it also has to be set in a universe with some interesting differences that I want to learn about.

This is all becoming clear to me as I continue to wrestle with my novel and what I need to do to improve it. As I worked through the different characters, I found a few holes in the world that I thought I'd completed. The more I've pressed, the more places I found that I don't entirely understand and know about myself. Even if not all this information comes through in the text, it just isn't acceptable to have those sorts of gaps.

It also has a bearing on the plot of the story. As I'm looking at sections that just don't seem to be working, one thing that I've identified is that large tracts of it could happen entirely outside the imaginary world that I'm trying to build. Along with just having some broken pacing and unnecessary detail, the mundane nature of those sections is a huge problem. People will be reading this book to be transported to another place, to dig into a lush, rich world that's different from their own. Failing to capitalize on those differences is dragging me down.

It's interesting too, because these are all things that I "know." I've read a lot of sci-fi, read a lot of writing about sci-fi, read a lot about writing fiction, and I could spew off these sorts of rules in my sleep. But when it comes to the page, it isn't always clear while you're in the thick of things exactly what's going on, what wrong turns your taking. Now that I see it, though, it'll get fixed and, hopefully, won't happen as badly next time!