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.

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!

 

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!

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.”

Trivia: Peppers

I get so annoyed with people confusing black pepper with bell peppers.  How can anyone who cooks think these things are anything alike?

Thanks English (#ThanksObama)

Well in this case I can very firmly blame the English.  Ok, mostly the English but also the Dutch, Portugese and Spanish – basically “Europe.”

You see, when Europeans came to America and found these…. things… that added flavor to food; they didn’t want to bother learning the natives’ language so they took them back to Europe and marketed them as “peppers.”

Prior to America, the most “spicy” food most Europeans ate came imported from Indian in the form of these little black pods called “peppercorns.”  So, these master marketers decided to call this new tasty treat a pepper!  (So creative. The most creative. Believe me.)

As an aside – corn meant “grain” so a “peppercorn” is a pepper-grain (which is fitting).  And pepper was a word from sanskrit which might have meant something like “berry” waaaaay back when; Ergo it’s “berry grain” which if you’ve ever seen perppercorns growing fits:

image from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_pepper

So, when these Europeans wanted to sell something that made food tasty, they named it the same damn name as what people already knew.  Or so damn close that 200 years later people don’t understand:

These are two totally separate plants.

In fact, you have to go up past species and genus and family and order  to Clade or Kingdom “Andiosperms” (clade) and “Plantae” (Kingdom).  It’s not even like they are closely related and so yeah people might have crossed the wires a bit… NOPE.

So, the next time you hear someone talking about peppers stop and ask if they mean real peppers or the Europeans-didn’t-want-to-confuse-people-to-make-profit peppers.

 

Writing: Emotional Intelligence

It’s a weird cross-over that I want to make a professional presentation dressed as Batman’s Harly Quinn (the full suit version from the 90’s cartoon).  I want to talk to the managers in the company and stand up and say, “Hello puddin’!”

And then talk about manipulation of emotional intelligence. We all do it to some degree or another. In my professional life I talk about emotional intelligence (EI) on a regular basis. Not always in the terms of EI, but helping managers read body language and use their body language – that’s emotional intelligence. I find it harder to always apply it to my writing, but I certainly try.

And really, Joker is terrifying because he IS so manipulative.  Not just the latest iteration of Jared Leto (and whatever sick writer made him… might be my hero).  Joker has always been a sick manipulative terror of the night, and the relationship portrayed with Harly is to me just a manifestation of that manipulation. She was his shrink. She was supposed to be keeping a distance from him, but he manipulated her with his usual mixture of lies and truths and drove her psychotic (sociopathic? something where she is slightly disconnected from empathy and reality).

The best books for my taste are the books where characters have a slight level of EI (can read body language imperfectly) but they don’t dwell on it and rarely (if ever) manipulate each other. Except maybe the villain.  A manipulative villain should have crazy-strong EI.  I can cite probably 5 examples of this level of manipulation in literature, and they make awesome and terrifying villains.

Hell, Twilight could have been a million times better if there had been some of this conflict.  It felt insipid because none of the characters were liars.  Oh, there were a few who told lies – but when someone was evil they said they were evil.  No one said “I love you” unless they meant it!  A better conflict would have been for someone to say those three “precious” words and they were a lie.  And part of the growth would be learning that emotional intelligence….  just saying there could have been some realistic depth to the characters – people lie!

I am highly aware of EI partly because I am writer, but also because it’s something I’ve always struggled with.  I tend to take trust people’s words. I’ve had to learn to read body language partially because I trust too much.  It is a hard line to walk between “I want to trust” and “I can’t trust anyone” in this world and that is the knife’s edge which can make for an excellent plot.

Review: Bad Characters

Oh the irony that I got called out for “always liking the books I read” and then I read something awful.  Thanks universe. Thanks a lot. (Thanks OBAMA)

Without naming names, this book was pretty awful.  It’s the first of a trilogy and as much as I hate leaving a plot unfinished, I don’t think I want to drag myself through another 2 books with these characters.  They were terrible.

So the book is urban fantasy – low fantasy so most of the people aren’t “magical” and what magic there is tends to be brushed off and/or explainable.  And the concept of the story is engaging.  It’s the characters I have a problem with.

The main character is a sixteen year old girl with apparently no friends and not caring about it.  This is my primary beef with this book: what sixteen year old is happy when they have no friends?  Hell, any age could be (should be?) unhappy when they almost entirely isolated.  And yeah, she’s got her mom and the random women who live with her mom….

Ok, it helps to know her mom is a psychic – of course a real one.  The women who live with her are also psychic (real ones).  These women are basically the only relationships “Jane” (her name in the book is so terrible another character nicknames her Jane…) has. This caused me serious frustration in the book – there is this character who has lived in this tiny speck of a town her whole life, but apparently is friendless. I know I’m ranting.  The frustration this caused (in me) is that the character felt like she didn’t “exist” before this story.

The other primary characters, her love interest and his two friends were pretty similar.  Well, actually they had more backstory.  One of them was abused, one was a seventeen year old rich kid whose parents are loving but apparently don’t care about him (the one time the character met his parents they were decent people – but it’s like they don’t care if their son is literally just running around the world after a mythical legend….)

It was weird.  It was awful. I dragged myself through the first book and gratefully sent it back to the library.