Dry Boiled

Mar. 13th, 2010 11:09 pm
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I know it’s been a while since I posted something about my writing. It’s not that I haven’t been writing, editing, outlining, planning, submitting, etc. It’s that those activities are standard fair and so provoke little comment.

However, I am currently outlining a new story, and I’m watching it change as the story unfolds. I thought this might prove of interest to some of you.

Those who took my workshop Idea to Outline should find some of this familiar, but for the rest of you, my process goes in stages from idea, to initial synopsis, to breaking down that synopsis into scenes, to filling in the holes, at which point I’m ready to write.

Dry Boiled came to me as a voice, one I don’t normally do, but one perfect for the genre it seemed to be. (more…)

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Writer's Flood

You hear a lot about writer’s block, but I’ve never heard anyone mention what I’m suffering from.

This is not the first time I’ve had this problem, but it still took a bit to realize what is happening, and I’m determined to come up with a better solution this time.

So what it writer’s flood you ask?


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If you've been reading this blog for a while, you will have seen me take all sorts of ideas through their paces. If you're curious as to how I get rolling, I'm teaching a workshop on Forward Motion through August and into September that takes you through my process one step at a time. This is outlining for organic thinkers, though the methodology works on both inspired and crafted works (as not all my ideas come dressed for the party).

Anyway, if you are interested, here's the specifics for the six-week workshop.

From Ideas to Outline will introduce a series of techniques to convert an idea into a workable, non-constricting outline. Come prepared to work hard as you will be asked to perform each technique yourself so that you can judge whether it works for you or not.
Begins Monday, August Third. Facilitator: Margaret McGaffey Fisk

Note that theses workshops are free but do require that you become a Forward Motion member (which is also free). Once you are logged in, click the below link to go straight to the right section (note the Learning Center 2009 link is available from the header on any forum page):


Hope to see some of you there.
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Gak! I have been attacked, sneak attacked at that.

I've been pushing on so many things that my life has come to resemble a tornado, touching down on one project just long enough to leave disaster in its wake before bouncing off to find another victim. To counter this, and give me space to do what I need to do...like teach a class starting August 3rd that'll run for 6 weeks...I declared once I finish Molly, that's it. I'm not starting another novel (meaning writing, not prep work) until NaNo. This is a blessing because it means I won't be scrambling to finish a novel before November 1st, especially since after the class, I'm teaching another at Muse Online (remember registration closes on August 1st) and going down to World Fantasy 2009 in San Jose (meaning I won't even be here for the start of NaNo).

And those are just the big external things. I'm currently critting a novel with another in the queue, I let my Selkie edit fall to the wayside when I got overwhelmed, and I'm supposed to be editing and submitting short stories which means getting and receiving crits...and acting on them.

Do I sound frantic enough? And that's not even considering my computer work, my kids, my hubby, and plans to go on vacation a lot in the remaining days of summer.

The last thing I needed was an article on self-publishing and the concept of having to explain your life's story on a first date to cross my plate.

What do these two things have in common? Well, absolutely nothing to any reasonable person. But when have I ever claimed to be reasonable.

Enter Let Me Tell You All About Myself.

The idea crossed my mind early this morning. I wanted to pass it to a friend because it was funny, but she wasn't around. I figured I'd have forgotten it by the time she got back, and went about my business. Bad move.

That gave the story a hook into my memory because I wanted to tell it to someone. And with that hook, it wiggled its way through the barriers to that swamp I call my idea generator and started shuffling through the mud, stirring up an unholy mess.

No, this isn't an urban fantasy, science fiction, or even a romance. I can't even claim this as a crossover mainstream like Coma Wedding. Let Me Tell is a psychological mainstream novel about expectation and delusion. About building up an image that becomes so real that you start to question whether reality can compete. (Okay, I forgot about the article talking about a man whose girlfriend is a body pillow stamped with an anime character, which might have had a slight hand in this mess too.)

The closest genre to something I've completed before is a romance, but it's certainly not conforming to the genre requirements since we only meet her through her self-published autobiography. However, because of that, I'll need to come up with entries that are sweet, funny, endearing, and positively wonderful (oh and I don't do funny well :p). But mainly it's the story of a guy who finds his perfect mate between the covers of a book, and the struggle between wanting to find the reality and fearing it won't measure up.

And to make matters oh so much better (not :p), because the idea burst in upon me with such weight, it already has an almost complete initial synopsis and a handful of scene suggestions. This makes it worthless as my "work alongside" idea for the August workshop, which is From Ideas to Outline. I still have to find an idea for that...but maybe I shouldn't look too hard until the 1st has come and gone :p.
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Not quite an analysis, but here's a blow by blow description of writing my last three stories. I got home from BayCon (which involves a five hour drive through the mountains) on Monday night with three stories still to go and the end of the month looming.

Back from BayCon. I'm tired, but had a wonderful time. Survived my first moderation stint thanks to wonderful panelists and participants. (10:22 PM May 25th)

Today is my birthday! I'm bleary eyed and non-productive, but I have a smile on my face :D. (12:10 PM May 27th) Note: I actually started the story on the 26th, but didn't get very far after unpacking and all.

Short story up to 1800 words. That's about it for the day. (12:10 AM May 28th)

More progress on the story, though it's still not done. I think I broke it, to be honest, but maybe editing will patch it back again :). (12:28 PM May 28th)

Time for me to shut everything down and get to bed. Okay, past time, but got into a good programming kick. Sadly, the story remains in progress. (11:52 PM May 28th)

I did it! 4,765 words and has issues, but the story is done :D. (10:17 AM May 29th)

Odd statistic: I have written 95 short stories for Forward Motion's Story a Day since it began in 2003. (12:26 PM May 29th)

And started story 9. It's building as it goes. Not sure exactly where that is, but up to 800 words. (8:49 PM May 29th)

Umm, forgot to update, but as of 1am, story 9 was complete at 2555 words. And this one I didn't break :D. (10:16 AM May 30th)

Since I seem to be updating as I go: Story 10 is conceived, outlined, and about 500 words. I really like this one. SF culture conflict. (1:16 PM May 30th)

Like most writers on a deadline :p, we chose today to rearrange two bedrooms and my study. Furniture, vacuuming, even buying a mattress. (4:16 PM May 30th)

Hmm, good thing there's one more day to go. 10th story stands at 920 words (about 1/3rd), move about 1/3rd done, and I've lost my voice. (11:16 PM May 30th) Note: unrelated loss of voice as I was not using Dragon for these stories.

And DONE! 10 stories in one month. I swear it gets harder each year, but I love the challenge. (11:16 AM May 31th)
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Story 7 - Life on the Line (Speculative Fiction)

I have been doing Story a Day since 2003. Some years have been easy, some hard, and some, like this one, just filled with too much other stuff to be able to concentrate. However, analyzing the process is proving quite interesting. For example, SAD 7 has been waiting for me to do something about it forever. It's the 20th and I got the prompt on, I believe, the 8th or 9th. Now there was a lot going on in my life to account for, but ultimately I didn't have even an idea to jot down, though I had some rumbles rolling around in my head.

Today, I sat down with an "or else" hanging over my keyboard and produced an interesting little story, and I mean little at 1124 words, based on that group of random thoughts. It's not a bad story, but neither is it one I feel will cause me, or others, to sit up and take notice. So what's the difference between that and some of the prompts that have haunted me for years because I ran out of time to write them (and do plan to someday)?

Simple. This is tripping over something I already knew (and even mentioned in the Story 6 analysis) but hadn't really nailed down. Prompt writing works best for me when I get a visual of a character. Curve of Her Claw, my story in the Cloaked in Shadow anthology, came to me in a rush as the words "dark elves" gelled around a very distinct figure (which, btw, the artist did an excellent job of capturing). From there, it was just a matter of nailing down the story.

In contrast, From the Ashes, my story in Triangulation 2004, with "hard port," or Unique Worlds which won the Confluence 2007 writing contest, with "fewmets at the end of time," came very slowly, almost teased into existence. In both cases I almost didn't have a story in time for the deadline.

Characters bring their story with them for me. Ideas do not. I do write idea stories, but they may take years to come together and are written in snatches here or there rather than as a concentrated whole pouring out as quickly as I can get my fingers to move (well, on the good days ;)).

What purpose does this serve? I now have a better idea of which generators are the safer to use during SAD, but this extends beyond that. I know if I want to do a themed anthology that offers ideas not characters, there's a good chance it will take me longer to put something together. There's always the idea stories that rush out and kidnap a character into them, but I can't count on those as easily as I can character stories that will shanghai ideas to wrap around. I also know that when on a strict deadline, I should focus on finding the character however the story came to be.

What prompted this analysis is:

A Quick Story Generator:
The theme of this story: dark comedy. The main characters: clumsy novelist and stressed astronomer. The major event of the story: surgery.
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Story 6 - Prospects (Science Fiction)

What did I learn from this story?
Well, if you'd asked me two hours ago, I would have said that I could NOT write a short story based on something as thin as this even though I generated two characters to make it better:

The tired, rude gigolo who fears people think he/she is a fraud.
The graceful time travel technician.

However, I came up with an idea. I hate writing idea stories. They're much harder, slower, and require more work in the edit.

However, about a third to a half of the way through, Pierre came to life, took hold of the story, brought it over the edge into risque so I had to excerpt a little bit to post on Forward Motion, and I happen to think it ends with a kick in the gut...

The answer then? If I let myself be open to it, even stories I craft rather than create can take on a life of their own and bring me joy.

Of course it's at a WAY nasty length. Too long for flash and too short for anything else :p.

The prompt generator was:
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Story 4 - A Ship of the Line (Science Fiction)

This one was the perfect story. I got the prompt the night before, came up with the idea, was too tired to jot it down, and when I woke up in the morning it was still there. So I wrote up a 558 word synopsis to keep it from escaping. Then my day kind of went crazy and it took all day to get to the end, but still, this is why I love SAD. The feeling of getting a solid idea in a flash is a thrill, and then making it happy that same day? Just wonderful.

This story came from here: http://www.seventhsanctum.com/gens/generalpersongen.php

Story 5 - Balance (Fantasy)

This story was an interesting one. I set it down first as a synopsis with two POVs. Then as I was writing it, I thought it would end up too long, so eliminated one of the POVs and futzed with the outline to fix it. Didn't write much of anything most of the day, and panicked at the end. I finished all but about 400 words out of 3,338 using voice recognition (saving frequently but it didn't crash...possibly because I wasn't using it in Trillian and had cleared up some system resources). Where I had noticed before that I tended toward dialogue with VR, this story is oddly not quite narrative but certainly not dialogue heavy. It's a mood piece I guess. I'll see what I think when it comes time to edit.

However, with this one I definitely broke through any worries about Dragon crashing and worries that VR was going to be dialogue heavy.

And whoops, I used the same generator twice: http://www.seventhsanctum.com/gens/generalpersongen.php I guess it really works for me :).  For those who might have read it, this generator brought both Purity, which got an Honorable Mention in the Oceanview Short Story contest, and Ties That Bind, which got an Honorable Mention from Writers of the Future.
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As some of you may know, I descend into the heart of muse insanity each year for my birthday month. In 2003, Holly Lisle started the Story A Day challenge on Forward Motion, www.fmwriters.com, as a one-off dare to produce 31 stories based on online story generators in a single month. I pushed as hard as I could and only managed 25, many of which weren't worth editing. But the rush of ideas and creation and just pure lunacy was addictive.

At this point I don't remember whether I influenced the decision to keep it as an annual event or not, but I certainly appreciated the fact. However, the reoccurring version came in a softer form. You can still drive for the 31 stories, and some do, but there are also levels from 10, 15, and 20 stories in a month.

For the past three years, I have managed only 10 stories, but still, that's more than I write the rest of the months combined. And some of my more solid stories, stories that have reached the final consideration pile in several pro markets, came from this extravagance.

However, between the fact that my son's big school musical always falls in May, and BayCon, a Northern California Science Fiction convention, also does, this challenge leaves little time for my other writing projects.

You won't be hearing much from Molly, for example. And though I hope to finish consolidating the crits for Selkie at least, that may not happen until June.

So, to keep you all busy, I'm copying over my notes for the Advanced Writers Board challenge on Forward Motion. On top of writing the stories, the challenge on the second board is to consider what each story taught you and tell everyone else about it. Sometimes the lessons are trivial, and sometimes they're a real kick in the pants.

I'm starting out behind, so I may combine a few of the shorter ones, but you'll probably see more posts from me because of this than ever before. I just hope you enjoy them, and maybe even learn something about your own process in watching me question mine.

NaNo 2007

Oct. 22nd, 2007 09:26 pm
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New story -- brand new. And now planned for NaNo because I really am insane. You'd think Con Shirt would have protected me from this, but there you go. I guess this year has been so crazy that I need a LOT of writing to compensate.

The first title was Sorcery and the Perfect Prom Dress. That can't be the title anymore because oddly there's no football with cheerleaders in spring. So not prom. Oh and it was supposed to be funny. Not working out that way so far. Gone from humorous to sweet romance. At least it's still a romance. Oh, and now it's a paranormal, actually it was from the beginning but it took me some 26 scenes to figure out that, hey, demon? That's paranormal.

Sigh. I'm just hoping the story comes together in a tight package in time for NaNo. It's that or I pull out one of my other outlines. I've given up on trying not to do NaNo. Every time that's been the plan, the weekend before I grab an existing outline and run for it.

So this is the plan right now. We'll see what comes of it after this story achieves full outline...and even what type of story it ends up.

And stats:
26 scenes
39,000 Estimated length
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I know, what on earth am I doing posting twice on the same day, but I just had to say something about what has happened to me.

I was feeling a little bereft and dependent on old ideas as nothing new came in to sweeten the pot. Then I caught the frame of a new romance novel, enough to give me something to pitch if Heart is accepted, but it didn't fill me with energy, probably because my hind brain isn't done tweaking.

So I've been glum and tired out. It's not that I don't have enough to do. At this point I have enough backlog to keep me busy for years if not decades. It's more that the ideas that catch hold and drag me along even kicking and screaming are so powerful, so overwhelming, that they fill me with drive and energy no matter how busy my life becomes.

I love all my books and short stories. Nothing I've written has ever been a pain overall, and nothing do I feel less than happy with what it will become when the editing is finished. That said, there are some novels that hold more power over me. Selkie was one, and its power is still strong despite my being in the middle of the second edit before even getting the first full critique.

With all that build-up, I guess you've figured me out. Yes, I've got a brand-new, fresh, overwhelming idea that's trying to steal the spotlight for Labor of Love...or NaNo if I don't finish Seeing Is Believing in time. This novel, currently called Con Shirt, is a stretch in so many directions that I feel like one of those old plastic hulk hogan dolls that you could pull the arms and legs out until the shape was distorted beyond human limits only to have it snap back into place. At least I hope it'll snap back into place, because it doesn't look like this book will agree to linger in the "Books to be" folder with the other ideas for very long.

The essence?

Can a neophyte witch track down a demon portal she opened with her own blood in time to stop the string of deaths and before a sorcerer lays claim?

It's an urban fantasy thriller or mystery, none of them genres I've written in before, though I do read quite a bit of urban fantasy as of late.

So anyway, wish me luck :).


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Margaret McGaffey Fisk

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