Musical Interlude 2018

I was looking at summer camps this morning, Squiders, and one was touting that its 2018 schedule was now up, and in my head I was like, “Why so far in the future?”

I have now remembered what year it is. Oops.

Also, one of my monitors (I have a dual monitor set-up) smells like it’s burning something so I’ve had to turn it off.

BUT ANYWAY.

Every now and then I like to share some songs with you that I’m currently digging, usually because they provide story inspiration of some sort. And it felt like it was time (and apparently so, since it’s been a year!) so here we are.

No Roots (Alice Merton)

I feel kind of hipster about this song (“I was listening to this before it was cool”) but on the other hand, now that it’s on the radio all the time I also get to listen to it all the time. Plus it’s fun to sing along to.

One Foot (Walk the Moon)

I love everything about this song. I hadn’t watched the video before this post and it’s ridiculous, but I have no regrets.

Radioactive (Within Temptation–cover of Imagine Dragons)

I love the Imagine Dragons version, but is there really anything that can’t be improved by a power metal cover? If there is I haven’t found it yet! Also I adore Within Temptation and I wish they would tour over here in the States sometime.

Euphoria (Xandria)

The lyrics are a little problematic in places on this one (and very dark in general) but I love how this sounds like early Nightwish.

Footsteps (Pop Evil)

I can’t remember if I’ve shared this song with you guys before (it’s older) but if I have, uh, well, here it is again!

Have any songs that are hitting your sweet spots right now, squiders? I’m pretty open musically, so feel free to give me a rec or two!

Readalong: Dream Thief by Stephen R. Lawhead

The title looked really barren for a second, and then I remembered that this was our first standalone readalong, so I normally have the series title as well.

Anyway! It’s the 18th! Let’s get to it.

First, the basics. Dream Thief is an early-’80s science fiction novel about Spencer Reston, a sleep researcher interested in the long-term effects of space travel on people. Stephen R. Lawhead is a name I have heard before–he’s probably most famous for his Pendragon cycle (late ’80s through late ’90s) and his trilogy of Robin Hood retelling (mid-2000s)–but I’ve never gotten around to reading anything of his before.

I suspect I picked this book up at a thrift store somewhere along the line, but I have had it for a long time, so if nothing else, I’m glad to have finally gotten through it.

Spencer Reston has recently arrived on Gotham, a space station in orbit around Earth. It’s quite an honor to have your experiment chosen by the station, but things have not been going well. Every night Spencer (nicknamed Spence, though it’s somewhat inconsistent throughout what other characters call him) goes to sleep in the lab to have his sleep recorded; every morning he wakes up knowing he’s had terrible nightmares that he cannot remember.

There’s multiple viewpoints through, and there’s some headhopping which is a bit annoying at times but not terrible. The antagonists also have viewpoints, starting maybe halfway, so there’s no great mystery in how the story is going (or at least what they’re trying to accomplish).

There are some good things about the novel–for being fairly massive (and a bit slow in places), it reads pretty fast. The dialogue is good. The sequence on Mars, though it does bog down at one particular point, is quite interesting and some good scifi. There are some interesting side characters that I enjoyed very much.

That said, some other characters are almost walking stereotypes. There is a single female character of any note who is handled fairly badly. The theme of the story is heavy-handed almost to the point of ridiculousness in some places. And then there’s Spence.

Are you familiar with what it means when a story is considered “wish fulfillment”? Essentially, it’s when an author writes about what they wish would happen to them. My husband has recently been reading a novel about a man who’s cryogenically frozen, and when he wakes up, there’s a shortage of men and all the lovely, young, nubile women can’t keep their hands off of him. (My husband gave it an honest go, but eventually the book got too ridiculous and he gave up on it.) This feels like that in some places. All the good guys like Spence immediately, he gains intimate friends through no effort on his part (people who are willing to die for him), important people take care of him, etc. Yes, of course, there is the dream issue which is a problem, but there’s no lack of people trying to help him out.

And, of course, the single female character falls madly in love with him.

And Spence is kind of a jerk, especially through the first part of the book (it doesn’t really start to change until after Mars), which makes it a bit more grating.

(Oh, yeah, and there’s no female scientists. We talked about that already.)

So, let’s see. It’s an okay book. It has its good and bad points, but I don’t think I’d recommend it to someone else. There’s better scifi out there, both in terms of story and scifi concepts, and between the character pitfalls and Spence in general, the good points get somewhat overruled.

Did you read this with me, Squiders? Thoughts? Favorite part? What did you think about reading a single book over reading a series? Which would you prefer to do moving forward?

Common Writing Mistakes: Starting in the Wrong Place

Trucking right along, squiders.

(As an aside, Pinterest now allows you to create sub-boards, so I spent a lot of yesterday organizing my most problematic board, unhelpfully called “Your Pinterest Likes” and left over from when you could like pins. I, unfortunately, would both like and pin some pins, which has resulted in a lot of duplicates across boards, but I have gotten it straightened out now. Bwhaha. I wonder how the sub-boards affect the feeds of anyone who follows your boards. Anybody know?)

Now that we’re into story mechanics issues, let’s talk about what might be the most common issue of all: starting your story in the wrong place.

This is ridiculously easy to do. You can start too early. You can start too late. You can pick the wrong character to focus on, or have them do something completely useless in relation to the rest of the plot.

And the most annoying thing is that, a lot of the time, it’s not obvious that you’re starting wrong until the rest of the book is written.

Stemming from this issue is that starting in the wrong place can make it hard to get the rest of the story to flow, which means that you might languish at the beginning of the story, trying to beat it into submission.

Has that happened to you? You just can’t seem to get going because something’s obviously wrong.

(Ask me how many times I rewrote the beginning of my fantasy trilogy before I found a workable beginning spot. I dare you.)

Starting Too Early

This may be the most common of this common mistake. Your character does things, sometimes for chapters, before the story manages to get going. Some people will argue that you have to show what’s at stake for the character to lose before you have them lose it, but this can be done without three chapters of watching someone go through the daily routine.

Starting Too Late

You can get away with starting in the middle of the action, or even working backwards from a later plot point. You can even show a lot of earlier story through conventions such as flashbacks. But you can start too late, and if that information doesn’t come out in a timely fashion, then it feels like you’ve walked into a movie five minutes too late and are missing key information for the rest of the story.

Starting with the Wrong Character

Even if you have multiple viewpoints, there is still usually a “main” character, someone whose stakes are higher, someone who has a bigger journey to go through, to get through the completion of the book. You don’t always have to start with your main character, but realize that readers tend to bond with the first character in a book unless something is obviously a one off (a prologue, or a chapter from a murder victim’s point of view, for example). There also can be the problem of you trying to focus on the wrong character in general, and changing to a different character might make the story work better.

Starting with Useless Actions

Every scene counts in a story. It has to explore characterization, or move the plot along, or introduce new information, or some combination thereof. Yet many authors make the mistake of starting with something that does none of the above, such as going through their character’s daily routine. Can you have their daily routine mean something? Of course. But you do have to be purposeful with your intent. Even an exciting scene, such as a character getting carjacked, is useless if it doesn’t provide something larger to the story.

So, how do you fix this? Look at the story you’re trying to tell. Are you trying to stuff too much in the beginning? Are you leaving out key information? How does your opening scene work with your intended plot?

Some people recommend thinking about where you want the story to end instead, or even writing the ending first. By knowing where the story needs to go, it can help you understand what’s necessary to have it start.

What do you think, squiders? Other ways beginnings are wrong? Ways to fix them?

Common Writing Mistakes: Pacing and Plot Flow

Back to it, squiders!

Also, a reminder that we’ll discuss Dream Thief by Stephen R. Lawhead next Thursday, if you’re planning on reading that along with me. (Have you been reading it? Once again we have a future where all the scientists are men and who knows what the women are doing with themselves. It’s pretty sad in ’60s-era scifi, but this is mid ’80s and he should know better.)

(Also, I kind of want to punch the main character in the face, but we’ll get to that next week.)

Today we’re going to talk about issues with pacing and plot flow. Pacing is the speed of your story, and everything affects it, from how often you hit your plot points to your dialogue, your description, and even the length of your sentences. Plot flow is related, but is essentially the order your plot happens in and whether or not things make sense.

Have you ever read a book where you realize you’re halfway through and nothing’s happened? Or where things happen so quickly you’re exhausted just thinking about it? These are pacing issues.

The range of what is acceptable for pacing varies widely, with some genres tending to be faster (a lot of thrillers, for example) and others slower (romance). Some readers are willing to accept a slower or faster story pace than general as well, so you may find that some of your readers are fine with your pace while others are yelling at the book.

Pacing is a hard thing to work on. To some extent it’s instinctual, and it can help to read books to use as an example. Personally, I’ve found that the best way to get pacing to work better is to make sure you’re hitting key plot points when you’re supposed to. Too spread out, or lacking them early in the book, and your pacing is too slow. Too close together or bunched in weird places, and you get other problems.

Plot flow is directly related to pacing in that if your flow is messed up, your pacing is probably also messed up, and vice versa. If you have five things happen within a chapter and then another five chapters pass before anything else of note occurs, well.

But plot flow issues can also include what’s happening, and in what order. Is your character learning things before they should? Are they doing things and then doing them again because you forgot they’ve already been there, done that? Are you skipping key scenes that will help explain what’s happening? Are you forcing things to happen because you feel like they have to, not because they flow organically?

Plot flow issues can be hard to see while you’re writing as well. Some are obvious, such as when you get your character into a situation with no way out except some deus ex machina that stretches disbelief. But it might not be until you start getting feedback from your betas that you realize that you never showed your characters falling in love.

Perhaps the best way to avoid plot flow issues is to outline. If you know how your story is supposed to go, and what steps you need to go through to get there, it’s harder for things to sneak in (or get left out).

(See posts about outlining for more information on the subject.)

Thoughts about pacing and plot flow, Squiders?

Another nonfic post on Tuesday, and then the Dream Thief on Thursday. I hope everyone has a lovely weekend!

Star Trek Discovery, Mid-Season

Back in October, we talked a bit about Star Trek Discovery, which was fairly new at that point. And I think I spent most of the post complaining about CBS Access, actually.

(We have managed to get several free months out of CBS Access now, so I’m a little less grumpy about the whole situation, though it is still stupid and we had to buy my MIL a Roku for Christmas so she could watch the show.)

Discovery had 9 episodes in the fall, then went on a mid-season break, and started back up this past Sunday with the second half of the season.

(I have Feelings about Sunday’s episode. Most of them fall into the “sdfhkesfhsfhddf amazing” category but I am also REALLY MAD about one little part so I haven’t been the best conversationalist on the topic.)

So, now that we’re further into the series and the show is more established, how do I feel about it?

I love it. I unabashedly love it. Have there been some less than stellar episodes? Yes. Are there some characters that I don’t like that much? Yes. But that’s television.

(Stamets is no longer a no-go for me, but I still don’t like him as much as I want to like him.)

(Tilly, however, I love.)

The acting is great, the writing is good, the throwbacks to the original series and even Enterprise make me happy, and for whatever flaws you want to point out (mileage on that seems to vary person to person), the story is interesting and engaging. It is good television. And it is good Star Trek.

(Though I am sad that it is too adult in content to be able to watch with my kids. Most episodes are rated TV-MA, and it does get dark and scary in some places. But I can still watch TOS and TNG with my kids when they are willing to sit down and watch Trek with me, which, to be honest, is not often.)

(Though we did watch this very interesting Next Gen ep the other day that I don’t remember, about a Romulan who comes to the Enterprise with information, fully intending to betray the Empire to help avert a war, but the Empire has fed him false information so he basically just proved he was a traitor and the Federation got nothing useful.)

(I love Romulans.)

The new plotline that started up on Sunday is amazing and I wish I could gush about it more without revealing major spoilers. I’m super excited about this week’s episode.

So if you’ve been holding out on watching Discovery for any reason, I’d say go for it. As I said last time, it takes a few episodes to get the shakes out, but man, it is so worth it. You should catch up now, so we can flail about the next few episodes together, because they promise to be doozies.

Watching Discovery already, Squiders? Thoughts? Captain Killy, amirite?

A Look Back at 2017 and Thoughts on 2018

While I am not particularly one for resolutions, Squiders, I do find it helps to take a look at what one accomplished in the previous year and make vague plans moving forward.

Here’s what I did, writing-wise, in 2017:

  • I wrote 75K on the rewrite of Book 1.
  • I had four short stories published (here, here, here, and here).
  • I sold two more than have not yet been published.
  • I redid all the back matter in my published books and redid the book description for Hidden Worlds.
  • I published a short story collection.
  • I finalized my query/synopsis and started querying agents for my YA paranormal novel.
  • I used the blog here to work on my nonfiction book series.
  • I continued writing my monthly scifi serial (which is almost done now!).

I mean, it’s not nothing. But I did intend to get a lot more writing done last year, which was mostly waylaid by the Book 1 rewrite going slowly (we’ve talked about that elsewhere) and also life generally getting in the way.

For 2018, I’d like to get more writing done. The marketing stuff is all well and good and unfortunately necessary, but I feel like I’ve gotten hung up on it to some extent and am not producing as much as I’d like to/could be.

Projects for 2018:

  • Finish the rewrite for Book 1 and get it critiqued/betaed. It’s at 76K right now. The last draft was 103K but I have a sneaking suspicion we’re going to end up more in the 110-120K range this time through due to where I am in the plot.
  • Write the sequel to City of Hope and Ruin. Siri and I are currently brainstorming everything and starting to put the plot together, but I believe we need to have the book written and in mostly publishable condition by December, so we’d better get on it a little faster. We also need to put together a series bible so that other authors can start working in the universe. (If you recall, CoHaR was supposed to be the first of a shared universe.) Along those lines, I believe a Fractured World anthology will be released in December, so I’ll need to write a story for that as well.
  • I’d like to finish up my serial. It’s been going since 2009 or 2011 or some ridiculous time ago, and I’m so close. Not sure what to do with it when it’s done. Edit it and try to publish it? Shove it in a drawer? I’m kind of leaning towards shoving it in a drawer. With so many things I want to write, is it worth it to spend a lot of time on something that kind of feels like it’s run its course?
  • I’d like to get the nonfiction book series out this year as well. Blogging the books has been hugely helpful toward this and I believe I’ve only got one or two more after we finish with common writing mistakes.
  • Continue querying my YA paranormal.
  • Continue writing and submitting short stories to various markets.

To be honest, between Book 1 and the CoHaR sequel (which Siri and I have dubbed “Sekrit Project 2” although we’ve already got a real title), I may not get a lot of other writing done. But I would like to, and here’s what I’d like to work on:

  • I’d like to finish my scifi space dinosaur adventure story. It’s about 2/3rd of the way done and has been since the end of Nano 2014. I hate leaving drafts undone for so long.
  • I’d like to write a companion story for Shards. I have two partially planned out (and, if you remember, I wrote a bit on one this past year to give myself a break from the Book 1 rewrite slog) and at least one is novella-length, so wouldn’t be too much of a time commitment.
  • I’ve also started developing two separate series that I wouldn’t mind getting started on. One’s a steampunk mystery/adventure series and the other is a paranormal cozy mystery series. Both require some research before I can get started, and I should also probably do some practice mysteries. I love mysteries but writing one seems really hard, though the first Nano I ever did, back in 2003, was a murder mystery (that story is so far in the drawer it’s never coming out again).

So! That’s me. How did 2017 go for you, Squiders? Big plans for 2018?

2017 Books in Review

(Shhh. I’m not really here.)

As you know, Squiders, every year I take a look at the books I read over the last year and run stats. Because I am a giant nerd and I like to keep track of such things.

Here’s the stats for 2017:

Books Read in 2017: 51
Change from 2016: +1

Of those*:
14 were Fantasy
13 were Mystery
10 were Science Fiction
6 were Nonfiction
3 were General Literature
1 was an Essay Collection
1 was Magical Realism
1 was Romance
1 was Science Fantasy
1 was a Short Story Collection

*Some genre consolidation was done here. YA titles went into the general genre. All subgenres of fantasy or romance, for example, also went into the general genre.

Hm. Little less broad on the genres than usual this year. And LOTS of mysteries.

New genre(s)**: essay collection, magical realism
Genres I read last year that I did not read this year: steampunk, superhero tie-in, paranormal, historical fiction, Gothic, chick lit

**This means I didn’t read them last year, not that I’ve never read them.

Genres that went up: science fiction, nonfiction, mystery
Genres that went down: fantasy, romance

26 were my books
23 were library books
2 book was borrowed from friends/family

36 were physical books
15 were ebooks

Lots of library books this year.

Average rating: 3.46/5 (Same as last year! Ha!)

Top rated:
A Man Called Ove (5 – general literature)
Victorian Tales of Mystery and Detection (4.2 – mystery collection)
Creature of Dreams (4 – magical realism)

Not a lot of exemplary books this year, though there’s a bunch hanging out at 3.7/3.8 (such as The Doomsday Book, American Gods, Meddling Kids) including some self-published ones I reviewed (Into the Between, Entromancy, Icarus).

Most recent publication year: 2017
Oldest publication year: 1896
Average publication year: 1997
Books older than 1900: 1
Books newer than (and including) 2012: 26

My average year’s back in the ’90s, har har. (Last year it was 2004.) Even though more than half the books I read this year were published in the last 5 years.

See you Thursday, Squiders!

Away til 2018

Squiders, I have lost my voice. This has made my normal wrangling of puppies and small, mobile ones more infuriating than usual.

But, anyway, I’ve got a full household, so I’m going to declare a hiatus here at the blog until Thursday, January 4th. I shall see you then!

Sad landsquid with tea

(Have a sad landsquid who is also drinking Throat Soothing tea, which tastes terrible. Bleeeehhhh. And I don’t even know if it’s helping.)

Happy holidays, squiders, and I shall see you on the flip side.

(Also, if anyone has tips for getting one’s voice back, please share!)

Common Writing Mistakes: Point of View and Filtering (Part 2)

Sorry it’s a bit late, squiders! Also, I haven’t started wrapping Christmas presents yet and aaaaaahhhhhhhh

So, last week we talked about common issues with Point of View, and today we’re going to be looking at a specific, sneaky issue known as filtering. We talked briefly about filter words a few weeks ago, which is a related issue.

Filtering is when you add something unnecessary that adds a layer between the reader and your chosen point of view. This is mostly an issue in first or third limited point of views, when you’re directly following a single character at a time.

Filtering is also extremely subtle. As I mentioned last week, this is something I learned about this year. I belong to a specfic message board that does critique marathons twice a year. You submit a chapter each week for others to critique and then return critiques so everyone gets something useful out of it.

And one of the other critiquers pointed out a few aspects of filtering in the chapter I submitted. And I learned something new, and it was amazing.

Filtering normally comes about around what a character is thinking or feeling. When in first or third limited, you are essentially in one character’s head along with them. Here is an example of filtering:

She thought that perhaps he was cheating on her.

Do you see it?

It’s the “thought.”

Here’s another example.

I felt my stomach churn as I watched her walk away.

Here it’s “felt.” And the “watched,” actually.

Do you see the filter? When you’re sad, do you think “I am sad”? No. You just feel sad. Tears form in the corners of your eyes. Your heart sinks. Things happen. The same thing with characters. By adding words like “think,” “feel”, and “seem,” you take an action out of its immediacy and add a level of detachment.

Here are the examples without the filtering (be aware that there are multiple ways to fix these, and this is just one):

Was he cheating on her?

My stomach churned as she walked away.

Most filters are set up by mental verbs: think, feel, seem, wonder, decide, know, realize, etc. These are all things people do, but it’s not something they think about as they do them. And it’s really easy to have these instances sneak into your writing. It still happens to me all the time. But knowing what you’re looking for can help you edit these instances out later, or become aware when you’re writing.

That being said, it’s still okay to use filter words occasionally. In dialogue, of course. For clarity or understanding, if the sense is important to the meaning of the sentence. And sometimes, there’s just no other good way to put something.

Clear as mud, squiders? Thoughts about catching filtering in the writing stage without completely ruining your flow?

In other news, I’m reading Ready Player One (because the preview for the movie showed in front of both Thor: Ragnarok and The Last Jedi and it looked pretty awesome) and loving it. I know I’m several years behind the times, but that’s how it goes. Feel free to share your thoughts on that too, but no spoilers, please, since I’m still a little less than halfway through.

 

Library Book Sale Finds: The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

Hey, look, squiders! I actually picked a scifi novel out of the bunch for once!

(Well, in actuality, I was talking to my grandmother about Connie Willis and the Oxford time travel novels because I’d seen Connie at MileHiCon and I’m a bit of a fangirl about her. And the next time I went by, my grandmother was reading The Doomsday Book and I was like, “Hey, I have that book and I should read it and then we can talk.” Except, of course, my grandmother is 95 and has nothing to do except read all day, so she was done in about four days and it took me three weeks, and she’s probably read four other books by now.)

Title: The Doomsday Book
Author: Connie Willis
Genre: Science Fiction
Publication Year: 1992

Pros: Excellent twists mid-book, Colin, Mr. Dunworthy, Kirvin trying to speak Middle English
Cons: Drags a bit for first third of book

Let’s talk for a minute about the Oxford time travel books. There’s four novels and one novella in the series, and now I’ve read them all except for the novella, though Connie has it nicely available on her website, so I can get there shortly. (All five entries won Hugo awards, if you care about that sort of thing.) The premise is that sometime in the mid-2000s or 2100s (the Internet is telling me both and I can’t recall which is correct off the top of my head) time travel was invented. However, you can’t bring things through time, so commercial interest quickly died off and time travel became the realm of academics, “historians” who travel back in time to observe how life worked or important events, etc. There is some amount of “slippage” based on how far you’re traveling and how close you are to milestone events (which tend to be unreachable directly).

The Doomsday Book is the first of the series, published in 1992. (The novella, Fire Watch, is technically first, being published in 1983. Then there’s To Say Nothing of the Dog, 1999, and the duology of Blackout/All Clear from 2010.) I will say that time travel is more of a frame story, and most of the novels tend to be historical in nature. Blackout/All Clear is a brilliant WWII story within the trappings of time travel (which mostly doesn’t work throughout for Drama), for example. (To Say Nothing of the Dog is not as historical as the others. That’s not to say that there’s not historical elements–Ned and Verity spend a lot of time in WWII era–but it’s not the focus. It’s much more of a farcical/romantic comedy.)

The Doomsday Book is a play on the Domesday Book (pronounced the same way), which was produced by William the Conqueror in 1086 to take stock of the land and ownership thereof in England after the invasion. The Medieval department has just gotten access to the “Net” (the process that time travel works through) and are taking advantage of the history department head being MIA to send their first historian back to 1320. The 1300s have a danger rating of 10 (because of things like the Black Plague) so they’re supposed to go through a bunch of tests before sending people, but screw that. Nothing can go wrong, right? 20th century has been sending people forever.

Of course, things go wrong.

Like most of the series, the book switches between “modern day” Oxford and the historian (Kirvin, in this case) in the past. (To Say Nothing of the Dog stays in Ned’s point of view throughout, if I recall correctly, but he’s going back and forth through time so often that he can carry both time periods on his own.) An interesting mechanic of the time travel is that time is equivalent. So if you want to spend a week in 1918, for example, a week has to pass in the current time as well before you can be picked back up. This makes missing your “drop” a big deal as you can’t just go back and try again.

There are some comedic elements, such as when Kirvin realizes basically everything she learned about the time period is incorrect (and her attempts to understand and speak Middle English) and the general snarkiness of Mr. Dunworthy’s thoughts (he’s our viewpoint character in the “present” day) and Colin in general. (I ? Colin, and he’ll be back in Blackout/All Clear.) But this book is closer in tone to Blackout/All Clear, more serious, and it doesn’t shy away from the less appealing aspects of the time period.

(Seriously, though, if you haven’t read Blackout/All Clear I highly recommend it. It’s long–1300 pages between the two books, but it’s one of those books you read and are awed by.)

(Not great for re-readability, though.)

Overall, it’s a good book, especially once it gets moving about a third of the way through, though I like the later books in the series better. It’s always nice to see reoccurring characters (Mr. Dunworthy is a constant throughout all the books) again, and the comedy is spot-on when it’s present. I’d recommend it, especially if the series sounds interesting to you.

Back Thursday for more common writing mistakes.

Read any of the Oxford time travel series, Squiders? Thoughts? Which one is your favorite?

Books by Kit Campbell

City of Hope and Ruin cover
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Shards cover
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Hidden Worlds cover
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