Sunday, June 7, 2015

We Could Be (Anti)Heroes

I've been playing Grand Theft Auto V for the PS4. Like pretty much all the GTA games, you're playing a character who's basically a criminal and a scumbag. (You can switch between three characters in this one, but . . . well, let's just say all of them are lacking for virtue.)

They're the protagonists of the game. But they're definitely not heroes.

We also don't need them to be.

In terms of movies and pop culture (to include books), we live in a post-Matrix world. We've gotten used to the protagonists wearing black, scoffing at the law and establishment, and killing people. Take the FX TV show The Shield. The protagonist is a dirty cop who kills, lies, steals, philanders, and more along the way. Yet we kept watching. Vic Mackey was no hero; he was an antihero, with the emphasis on "anti." But he was a great character on a really good show.

Protagonists don't need to be white-hat-wearing Dudley Do-Right characters anymore. We've gotten used to rooting for people who live in the shades of grey. Maybe we've even come to expect it. Good characters--as in well-developed, not virtuous--drive a story. After all, isn't someone who's morally grey more interesting than someone who's as pure as the driven snow?

My protagonists tend to live in those shades of grey. I think it makes them more intriguing (they're aware of their grey-ness, for what it's worth) and opens up better opportunities for storytelling and conflict. Your mileage may vary, and that's OK. It takes all characters to make up a world.

What are your protagonists like?

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Respecting the Process

Like many things, writing (that is, writing with the aim of publication) is a process. It's a pretty established one at this point, so I don't think you need me to rehash it for you.

I'm either patient or impatient, depending on what we're talking about. Working in IT for years has taught me patience with respect to technology. It's also taught me to respect (and use) the troubleshooting process.

The issue is, I want to jump the process with respect to writing.

I'm in a writing group. It's a good group. I've gotten some very useful feedback on my first mystery novel there. I'd like to get the book completely thru the group and have feedback on the whole thing. However, that takes time. Months, in fact. Here's where my impatience kicks in. Getting the book thru the group would make it better. Making it better would increase my odds of getting an agent if I go the traditional route. I understand that.

I'm just hoping I'm patient enough to see it through.

A compromise might be to get a couple of beta readers. The group is good, but we meet once every three or four weeks, and it will take a while to get the complete book thru in one or two-chapter chunks.

So, loyal readers: should I be patient or impatient? Or is the compromise choice the best one. Sound off.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Our Incredibly Shrinking World

Disney had it right: it IS a small world, after all.

Our ever-evolving communications technology has made that possible. We've gone from the telegraph and telephone to social media, FaceTime, and Skype. I have a couple of small-world success stories to share.

1) I have a writing group now. The search went on for a while but I've found one. I went to one meeting, got to participate and see how the group worked together, and am now a member. Of course, I won't be able to make their next meeting because I teach a class that evening. What's success without a few speed bumps? However, I'm going to use Word with comments and track changes to do the same critique I would do in person. All the members are local, but I've heard of geographically diverse writing groups who meet via technologies like Skype and FaceTime.

2) This one is not related to writing. My daughter's Girl Scout troop is in the "Bling Your Booth" contest, competing with 11 other troops. The winner of the most blinged booth gets a special Build-a-Bear for each girl in the troop. Several of our girls compete in Special Olympics as cheerleaders. My wife and I reached out via Twitter to some local celebrities who have supported Special Olympics and the special needs community in the past (a comedian and a Nationals player) to see if they would help us get the word out. They did. We're in a dogfight with another troop. Thanks to those two people, plus our Special Olympics coaches, hundreds of people who would otherwise not know about our girls have liked their booth. (Shameless plug: you can too, by liking the pic here (links to Facebook).) Technologies like Twitter and Facebook make the world feel a lot smaller. As writers, we like to use social media to promote our books and ourselves. In this case, social media is helping to promote some very special and hard-working girls. Whether our troop finishes with the most votes or not, we know that our girls have already won just by being supported and embraced so broadly.

Even if I never become a master of social media in the self-promoting sense, I'm glad that I (and my wife) have been able to use it to promote our deserving Girl Scouts. When the world feels smaller, it's pretty cool.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Writing Group: Swing and a Miss

My recent foray into joining a writing group didn't work out.

They liked me, and I think they liked what I wrote. Their issue was not wanting to make the group too genre-heavy. It's a shame. I liked the group and I think I would have been a good fit. Right now, I'm talking with another group and will be visiting them sometime this month.

Here's what I'm wondering, as a general query: is it bad for a writing group to favor genre authors, as opposed to those who just write mainstream fiction?

Obviously, some groups will devote themselves to a certain genre. You'll have romance writing groups, mystery groups, fantasy groups, etc. Those groups will immerse themselves in the ins and outs of a certain genre and work to get published (or keep getting published) within that genre.

For a more general group, however, is there a tipping point when you have too many genre authors? I don't know. I can see that each author has to know how their genre works, what the expectations are, what the market is, etc. The other writers in the group will probably not know that information. If I were in a writing group with a romance writer, I couldn't give her a very deep critique. I could talk about the style, word choices, and technical things like that, but I know nothing about the genre. My advice could be the opposite of what she really needs to know.

So, does this mean writers who write in a genre should only join a writing group that focuses on that genre? I don't think so. I think being exposed to different genres allows you to spread your wings as a writer and a reader. Let's use the romance critique from before: I don't read that genre, so my ability to critique it is limited. But reading it takes me outside of my comfort zone. What I should now be thinking is how I can apply something I saw in that submission to my own writing. Even if what I write is pretty far from romance (and it is), that doesn't mean the writer has nothing to show me. And it shouldn't mean I have nothing to say to her.

I'll meet with this next group later in the month. Hopefully it's a good fit all around.

Happy writing, and remember to step outside your comfort zone, and your genre, every now and then.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Challenge Yourself: Critique Groups

I had a try-out, of sorts, for a local critique group today.

That probably makes it sound weird. It wasn't. They invited me to their group to see how they work, then asked me some questions at the end (and I got to return the favor). Overall, I think it went well, and I hope they invite me to join. It seems like a good group. The process, of course, got me thinking about writing groups and critique groups.

How many writers out there are members of such a group? What benefits do you get from it? In turn (and more importantly, in my opinion), what do you bring to the group?

The group I might be joining comprises writers who write in a variety of genres. I think that's better than a group dedicated to one particular genre. (YMMV on this one; I acknowledge that it's personal preference.) I've mostly written mysteries for the last few years. In that time, I've also read a lot of them. However, the publishing world is populated by people who love all genres, and those who challenge genre conventions. Reading works that differ from what I would normally pick up exposes me to a wider variety of styles, word choices, scene structures, etc. Every genre has its conventions. If I read something for the group that takes my outside of my reader comfort zone, if you will, then I think that ultimately benefits me as a writer.

There should be something to learn in every book or story we read. That includes the ones that are outside our usual preferences. If we challenge ourselves as readers (and critiquers), then I think that expands our bags of tricks as writers.

Consider joining a critique group. You might find yourself challenged, and that's a good thing.

Happy writing.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Happy 2014

It's 2014. Do you know where your stories are?

Hopefully, they're on your pages, e-pages, or on a bookshelf somewhere. 

In my last post, I talked about setting realistic writing goals for yourself. It's common for people to come out with all manners of New Year's resolutions around this time of year. I'm only going to share two of my writing-related goals here (for now).

1. Update my blog more often. Ten posts in 2013 is not enough. I'd like to update this at least biweekly, and potentially more often depending on what I have to say.

2. Have something published. This would include the traditional route or self-publishing. I've written a lot. I've revised a lot. I need to get off my hindquarters and get something out into the marketplace. That's a goal, and a strongly-worded one. Feel free to word them as strongly as needed to motivate yourself. Curse at yourself if you have to. Whatever works.

We'll check in on these goals (and maybe some others--remember, you need to write your goals down or they're just ideas in your head) throughout the year. For now, I want to leave you with a quote I saw today.

"If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it." — Elmore Leonard
Formal writing is for college papers and nonfiction. People speak colloquially. Dialogue shouldn't be stilted. Your narrative should sound natural, not . . . well, not "like writing" as the great Elmore Leonard said. 

I hope everyone has a good 2014. What are your writing goals for this year?

Sunday, December 1, 2013

I'm a Loser, Baby

When it comes to NaNoWriMo, at least. At the rest of life, I'm #winning like Charlie Sheen, just without the tabloid shenanigans and drug-aided psychoses.

I didn't get to 50,000 words this year. This marked the eighth year I've done NaNo. I've won four times (most recently, 2012). I suppose I should be happy with a .500 batting average.

On some level, I am. I realize that the stated goal of NaNo might be penning 50K words in 30 days. The real goal, however, is up to each person who attempts it. Some people just want to see if they have the discipline to sit down everyday (or almost everyday) for a month and bang out a bunch of words. Others might want to finish a novel for the first time, or use NaNo as a springboard to finish something they had started and put aside. Some writers may be even more ambitious and set a goal of 100K words, or more.

If you set a goal and hit it, you're a winner. It doesn't matter what the word-count bar on the site tells you.

If you set a goal and didn't hit it, then you need to come away with some lessons learned. Was your goal too ambitious? Do you need to improve your time management and find more time to write? Do you try to edit as you type and slow yourself down? These questions (and many more) are all things you can ask yourself if you didn't reach your writing goal. The next time you try to write a book, set a realistic goal and apply those lessons learned. See if your experience is different.

My boss told me that you have to write your goals down. Otherwise, they're just ideas in your head. I agree with him. I'll go one step further: you have to set deadlines for yourself. Want to finish that book you started on November 1? Give yourself a deadline. Maybe January 31 is realistic. Write it down. Set periodic reminders on your Google calendar (or online calendar or choice). Check your progress. Most importantly, stick to it.

This year, I learned a few things about my own goal setting and time management. What did you learn?