Writing: Writer vs. Reader Opinions

I didn’t have a good title for this post, but I’ve tried 3 times to write something similar and it hasn’t worked yet, so we’re going with this title for the time being and maybe someday I can come up with something better (I’m open to ideas!)

The thing is, I’ve been reading books lately by male authors and I’m surprised by how much I am liking the female characters.  I’m reading a Brandon Sanderson book right now and damn if he doesn’t write females that I like.  And variety.  They aren’t all simpering male-hunters or just background or evil hags or… pick any of the stereotypes that plague female characters.

I also can’t help but see elements of discussions of race and equality in books lately.  I’m seeing political discussions that I’m not sure whether the author meant them or not.  Authoritarianism vs. independence, responsibilities of leaders to those they lead – I can’t tell if the art is reflecting my own thoughts or if the authors I’m reading are also picking up on the political climate of our world.

They say “art reflects life” but could my life be reflecting in art?  I don’t know.  But sometimes when I get hit by something that makes me go “did they reference Kapernick kneeling or am I imposing my own experience there?”  There have been multiple times in reading books that have come out in the last year or two I feel that way and it’s getting freaky.  I can’t decide if my brain is twisting or if society is filtering into these authors’ words.

Review: Pride & Prejudice

I love this book.  I have it in at least 3 different forms and always have it loaded on my table and/or phone.  It’s one of the rare books I keep around to pick up and put down regularly.

It isn’t a great love story.  Damn, I get mad about the women in the book and their manipulation and the toxic society they lived in that led to those machinations.  But it it is one my favorites nonetheless.  I love Jane, the sister who loves everyone and lives in her own idealized version of the world.  I love Charlotte, the ultimate pragmatist.  I even love Lydia, the sister who you love and dread.  And of course I love Elizabeth.  The woman who doesn’t want to compromise her ideals for pragmatism.  She wants love; even at the cost of fortune.  She isn’t willing to give into her society that says material wealth is the only option for her.

I would love to see the book where she never met (or at least never married) Darcy.  Maybe Darcy didn’t come with Bingley.  Maybe he went to his aunt’s and ended up getting married to Ms. DeBourgh.   Either way, Jane ends up with Bingley and Elizabeth ends up without Darcy.  What would she have become?

Anyway.  That’s a different story (pun!). What I want to discuss is actually the different TV & Movie versions.  I rewatched the Kiera Knighly (2005) recently and it just made me want to want the 1995 version (Jennifer Ehle & Colin Firth).  I don’t think I will ever watch the 1940 version (Greer Garson) again but… “never say never.”  It might make a good girl’s night of drinking and roasting sometime.

The biggest reason I like the 1995 version best is the time they give to developing the relationship between Elizabeth and Darcy.  In both of the theater-length versions it’s very forced when he proposes.  It feels out of the blue.  It feels weird and unnatural. I don’t think it’s just that Colin Firth is a good actor, but it’s also because he and Elizabeth had some good scenes where it was clear his attraction was building and she was missing all the clues.

It is rare a book modifies well to the big screen (adult books, kid books are easier) simply because of length.  Much less first-person-perspective books.  Thankfully, P&P isn’t first-person, BUT… it is dense.  The book is dense.  There is little description.  There is a lot of assumption about scene.  Almost everything is done through conversation.  It’s hard to condense that into a 2-ish-hour box.

The Ehle/Firth version is six hours and they still had to condense a few scenes from the book.

Hell, Lord of the Rings was over 9 hours long and still cut a LOT of shit out – and anyone who has READ LOTR knows it’s like 1/3 scene description.  Tolkien happily spent pages on trees.  Not even the talking/walking trees.

Just my opinion, but can we officially stop trying to turn books into crappy short versions?  We see tv series is a better medium.  Let’s do it right.

Writing: Editing process

I have 2 types of editing I do.  One is the “technical” editing of words, grammar, punctuation, etc.  I (like many writers apparently) pretty much hate this part of editing.  It needs to be done and I know that.  *But I hates it. (*Gollum’s voice there)

So I get myself through it by brute force.  I start at the end and take it one sentence at a time.  Occasionally, I’ll print a page off (double-spaced) and red-pen mark up the grammar.  I have even been known to diagram a sentence to prove to myself I’m not being grammatically evil (or I am because I want to be evil).

I find by working backwards, I don’t get caught up (errr… usually don’t get caught up) reading what I wrote.  This is the danger.  Reading is much more fun than editing and if allowed, my brain will begin reading what I’ve been writing and sinking back into the story and characters and world. It’s trudging drudgery but I can slog my way upstream (pun intended!) by starting at the end and working my way up.

In some ways, that is the easier kind of editing.  There are hard-and-fast rules for grammar.  The second kind of editing is “Content” – and Content is King.

Content editing is everything from “did I use a thesauraus – or does it sound/feel like I did” to plot to character relationships to themes and “oh shit, that is totally not the message I want to send!”

Content editing is damn hard.  Content editing requires WORK.  There are no rules.  And there are.  Consistency is a huge rule.

My family was laughing at me when we gathered for Mother’s Day brunch because I brought a piece of paper I’ve been making noodles and notes on.  I kept holding up this paper at people (which looks like a picture to most people) and saying “Can’t you tell I’m making a plot line!”  I thought it was hilarious because to anyone not me it looks like a bunch of lines with random words and numbers jotted around it.  But to me it’s plot and world building and even some character arcs in there (yes, this is a continuation of my post on magic)

I don’t have as good a method for this.  I frequently chew on plot for a long time.  WHY is a big question in my content-editing.  WHY is the protagonist the person changing the world.  WHY are they “the chosen one”- I love when there is a prophecy that actually could fit some % of the world but the protagonist is the one who ends up there for…. REASONS.  Those reasons drive much of my world building, character arc, etc.  “Why does she think SHE is supposed to fix it”  and “what in her life led her to believe this totally opposite thing from society?”

Sometimes I end up doing full re-writes because I have so much I have to fix I think I might as well start over.  This particular magic-based-plot is on version 3.  Version 1 rambled through 3 different villains (I kept trying to “redeem” people) for about 25,000 words.  Version 2 is a messy 98,000 words.  If I was a better writer (or editor as the case may be) I might be able to edit it into the place I want it – but I’m not.  I don’t know how to edit the giant swaths of Version 2 that would need to be edited.  And some of them are pretty significant plot points that need to be built up or torn down or some of both.

So I’m starting version 3.  With all the plot building, magic system, character building, and world information I’ve built over the previous 2 versions. This is my method. I don’t think it’s the best (certainly not the most efficient) but it’s mine. I can read-edit and make plot-notes, comments, etc. but when it comes to going back and polishing a plot-arc…. damn that’s hard to do!


Politics: Improvements or SHUT UP

I am so sick of reading political news right now.  I am so sick of the “my way or NO ONE GETS ANYTHING” tone of the rhetoric.  Why are “cooperation” and “compromise” nasty words?  In politics especially they are a requirement. When people don’t apply these we get half-assed solutions that get thrown out before they even have a chance to make any significant impact (bad OR good).  Lemme give an example.

Obamacare has problems.  A LOT of problems.  I said since day 0 of the discussion I couldn’t 100% support ANY passage which exempted Congress.  AFTER ACA passed I still grumbled about this point – I think Congressmen should have to buy their own insurance from the exchange from within THEIR district.  So little tiny district in Wyoming (or GA) has shitty options?  Guess who lives with shitty options?

THAT SAID, when the GOP kept trying to “repeal and replace” without ever actually building or talking about a replacement PLAN…. that was worse.  No.  I’m sorry you don’t like cabbage soup, but you don’t get to throw it out the window because it wasn’t the steak and french fries YOU wanted.  Cabbage soup is better than starvation and right now I am facing starvation. I will gratefully take the damn cabbage soup.  I’d love steak and french fries too, but since you apparently don’t have a cow and never planted potatoes… we have cabbage soup.  Shut up or go find a damn cow.

With the walk-out of the Paris accords and the walk-out of the Iran deal…. I am disgusted.  Beyond disgusted. I can’t find a word that conveys the depths of my disgust. There wasn’t a better option on the table.  There were imperfections and issues with them (well not so much Paris, what I know of that one was pretty good for the US all said and done).  BUT THEY ARE BETTER THAN STARVING.

We are now looking at a world where Iran and North Korea will have unstable governments with nuclear bombs.  Because “someone” didn’t get HIS damn burned steak and soggy french fries.  So our cabbage soup got thrown out the window.  And even worse is the voices of people standing by and watching, nodding and saying, “So smart! So Leader! Look how we will never settle for less than steak and french fries!”

No.  No.  No.

We can eat cabbage soup now and plant potatoes, they’ll take awhile to grow. We’ll probably have to find and trade with someone with a cow for our steak.  And that’s ok.  We can work with our neighbors. They aren’t Reavers from Firefly/Serenity and going to try to cannibalize us. I don’t know how to show people that working together gets us more than working against others.  Because as mad as I am at the politicians with that rhetoric, I am more angry at voters who keep them in their positions of power.


Writing: I want to write a TV Show

I have been re-listening to Ready Player One – and it has made me go from “dislike” to “UGH THE WORST” on the movie.  I have moved my dial from “well, you can tell it was “inspired by” to “were they even trying?!?” And I know, they probably had a ton of difficulty getting rights to stuff (stupid copyright holders probably being greedy, selfish, bastards).

But part of the problem is containing that scale into a movie.  I have been tumbling through my Plex list of movies and IMDB to see if I can think of a single movie that gives a scale to the universe that RPO should have had and honestly, the closest I get is Star Wars IV A New Hope, but that is journey movie – they have 3 major locations (Tattoine, Death Star/Alderaan, and Yavin) and they are SO DIFFERENT it helps.  Now, it might also be that I grew up so entangled in all three of the orignal movies my mind immediately includes all that information when I watch the first one.  I won’t say I can 100% I disassociate from them.

The Pilot episode would definitely be about Wade getting to the Tomb.  Episode 2 would be getting through the tomb & end as Art3mis comes in with drawn blade.  Episode 3 would be like 1/2 chat with Art3mis.

It would have to be more than Wade.  In my TV show, there would be a side plot that develops pretty early in Season 1 (probably episode ~4-5) of 3 sixers who hate IOI.  One would be indentured. One would be the “disaffected rich kid” (daddy works for IOI) who can’t win anyway ’cause of Daddy.  The third…. I haven’t decided.  Maybe just a smart-but-truly-socially-inept young girl who got conned into it and only after the contract was signed understood the true cost?  Maybe starts out as a “true blue” and gets disaffected later?

Anyway, I would build out the world of sixers with a “sympathetic inside team.”  Their plot lines would revolve around seeking some of the high-profile artifacts that show up at the end game – like the tablet the sixers use to find the 2nd key.  These three would be the ones that found it/acquired it.  Instead of just “buying” all these at auctions – sixers need to keep their skills up and these three do… They hate IOI, but it’s “work or worse” for all of them.

They would also get to have “personal avatars” and I think one of them (maybe the third poorly defined character) would have a romantic relationship with H – at first hoping to use H to find shit out and then realized H is amazing and she can’t imagine not being in love with him (her). Kind of a truth to pansexuals of “I don’t care what your gender is – I love YOU” towards the end.  They would have to meet on the final battlefield and the poor sixer chick knows who H is but H doesn’t know it’s her…. oh it would be beautiful tension!

I understand that not all IP’s were willing to get in on a movie – but maybe if they could be a shown a script that shows the depth and beauty of how their specific IP will be loved and honored…

I know, I’m all kinds of adorably naive about greed and whatnot.  Maybe HBO will pick me up and buy the TV rights…. We know they can do special effects right!

Throwback Thurs: Cinnamon

I found some old notebooks at the bottom of the box last weekend – including one my first ever journals.  The first three entries frankly brought me to tears. They are all about my first cat Cinnamon.

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Thurs, Feb. 18, 1997

Today I haven’t been feeling well so I called Mom and came home sick. I’ve slept most of the afternoon and I am about to go to bed.

Vic, a kid in my class, asked me on the 4 if I would go out with him. It was the morning after Cinnamen [sic] had been put down so I was still upset. He kept on pressuring me until Brittney started to beat him up. [I feel like I need to define “beat up” was usually with a piece of PAPER]

I am having a rough year so far. Vic is only making it worse. [God, I feel so sorry for him.  His timing was TERRIBLE – but it doesn’t excuse his behavior] I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do. I am terribly confused and frightening. [over 20 years later – I don’t remember why I used the word “frightened” but it makes me ANGRY.  Fear is not one of the steps of grief.]

I don’t want to go out with anybody right now because of Cinnamen, [sic] but if I don’t go out with Vic he will act like an idiot. [and this is MY problem?]

I DON’T KNOW WHAT I SHOULD DO!! [all caps doesn’t do justice to the middle-schooler’s ability to express herself… :)]

I wish someone could help me understand my problems and work through them. [Nope. Pretty sure that’s called “growing up” honey.]


Firstly, writing really helps me cement a memory.  That is almost EXACTLY how I remember that month.  I put down Cinnamon on the 3rd, Vic tried to ask me out THE NEXT MORNING, I told him “no, I just lost my cat” and he spent MONTHS harassing me (literally, in my diary the entry is in MAY when Mom and I got the Vice Principal involved and this is AFTER the entry “I talked to the school councilor ’cause he threatened suicide if I wouldn’t date him.”) I am so glad I don’t have that kind of drama now. I didn’t realize I was such a dramatic little brat then. But reading those entries now… wow.

And almost every entry “I don’t feel good” just reminds me that I don’t feel that way anymore ever since I (essentially) stopped eating peppers.  I was a little icky over the weekend but that was my own fault (I went to a Mexican restaurant) and it still wasn’t THAT bad.   It was 12-18 hrs of “meh” attitude towards most foods.

So yeah, there we go.  21 years ago I wrote through my own personal “horror.” I thought it was then – I have more executive function now to process the choices I was struggling with them.  Literally, look it up!  You don’t finish growing your brain until about 25, so at ~12 I didn’t have as much brain power; and these were HARD things.  Ok, some of them are STILL hard and scary for the post-25 age group.  Relationships (even ones that aren’t romantic) are HARD.

Writing: Magic exploration

I thought today I would walk through an example of my “back end” thought process on Magic.

I have a magic system that I want to have “locked” from a past conflict in the world.  It has minimized the magic any one person has and definitely minimized magic in the world. The “adventure” for the protagonist will be her (initially unwitting) cascade of unleashing this magic back into her world.

My struggle is that I want to have relatively-low-magic but not NO magic.  So I am trying to set limitations:

  1. Healers all have a random disability (blindness, deafness, loss of motor skills, debilitating migraines, etc.) because theirs is actually DEATH magic.  They don’t know this…
  2. Fire starters can’t feel injuries – making them TERRIBLE to try to use in battle.  They might be dying of a wound and not have any clue about it until they’ve bled too close to death to be saved.
  3. Water manipulators ??? – I don’t know yet!!! This is the one I’m struggling with.  I kind of want to say they struggle with memory; like short-term memories are difficult to retain if they’ve been practicing their craft.  Makes them seem “dumb” when they are children, and the more power they manipulate in the craft the “dumber” they seem.
  4. Time (future seers or past seers) have no control over the depth or distance of their power.  Their magic can be “sucked” from them at pretty much any level when they try to use it.  What should be “simple” might wipe them off their feet for no apparent reason. I actually have a thought on WHY this is – but I don’t know if I can verbalize it thoroughly.  It has to do with that object’s/target’s “depth” within one of the other magic’s realm and it takes MORE “time” to overcome an object’s earth or fire or whatever.
  5. Air magicians ??? – another one I want a good “price” for  A pure air mage can move AIR – so they are speedsters of a sort (but with limitations on their physical form) and not much else (that I’ve come up with).  But what is their downside?  Or is this the “well they might not be POWERFUL, but damn you don’t got the owchie of the others” – when really once you link air to fire or time…  you get scary combos.
  6. Earth magic has “vanished” (lies! lies I say MWAHAHAHA!)

The protagonist doesn’t know all this.  She also doesn’t know that earth magic HASN’T entirely disappeared. It’s “earth” combined with others in different amounts that allow other gifts to manifest (and actually are more common than “pure” gifts).  They assume that when someone is a “plant wizard” they just have pitiful amounts water magic.  It’s actually a case of they are like 33% water, 33% healing, and 33% earth…  They seem “weak” because there IS a problem with earth magic… but that’s getting into plot.  Lightning is air+fire magic.  And yeah, THEY are scary in combat.  Air+earth is basically grenade. 1 in a million people has 33% air, 33% death and 33% fire which is basically the ability to make someone DROP DEAD with a thought.  Air seems “simple” until you apply it with another magic.

So in this system if you are born with “pure” magic you have the capacity to become a full-fledged sorcerer.  This is using ALL types of magic to their full potential.  So a seer is just a person without the other types of magic unlocked. The mages – lesser magics are born with combinations and that’s all they ever get.  BUT they also have access to their full strength all the time and without the drawbacks sorcerers suffer from. Not to get into plot, but there aren’t any sorcerers at the beginning of this book.

I did math:

I don’t want it to be that a LOT of people have magic, in fact I want it to be relatively rare.  So in a city of 100,000 (London in 1600 was about 200,000 so… “medium” city) I want ~1-5% of the population to have “powers,” with these pure powers (sorcerer potential) being approximately 5% of that group.  This means 3,000 people have SOME kind of magic at a random level of ability. Which means 150 will be “pure magic” users (above).

I moved to Excel for the next bit so I could play with numbers (out of ~3,000 “magic” users in the city):

Magic: % #
Healers 25% 37.5
Fire 10% 15
Water 25% 37.5
Seer 15% 22.5
air 25% 37.5
100% 150

Because remember, I said 1-5%  of the total population (1k-5k) with POTENTIAL actually use magic and ~5% of magic users are “mages” (pure in a type). I think this is the balance I like.  I want fire to be VERY low (they don’t survive childhood easily…) and healers and seers are more “rare” because they can choose not to USE their powers. And for healers… if every time you helped a customer something nice you had debilitating migraines would YOU actively pursue a customer service career?  It takes a special kind of crazy to do that.

So the protagonist is a healer. Her maid is a water-user. The queen is a seer. Another Lady in the court will be a seer although it’s not publicly known. One of the people she works with in the king’s healers’ corp (when they are near a battlefront) is actually a non-practicing fire starter masquerading as a super-weak healer.

I have space for another ~35 healers, I think I will have 20 of them be “public” (working in the city) and 5-10 “noble” (supporting/working for nobility) and that gives me a few numbers to throw around (I think 5-10 working for the military throughout a large — think Germany- sized country– is generous and explains why they will allow a nobleman’s daughter to work with the army!)

Readers (unless/until they find THIS blog post) won’t be told a lot of this through the plot.  They also won’t necessarily know WHY earth is broken (at least not in the beginning).  I want to avoid an info dump at any point, but I’m trying to figure out how to dribble what I want the reader to get to if it’s “lost knowledge.”