Saturday, March 29, 2014

White Room Syndrome



The White Room Syndrome - aka lack of description

I heard this topic mentioned by Mur Lafferty on her podcast, I Should Be Writing (awesome podcast) and it really clicked with me. I do this far too often. In fact, I will often state that description and setting, along with worldbuilding in general, are my bigger weak points when it comes to writing. Character, dialogue and even on occasion action, I can do okay. But I describe very little and can only use some of the senses if I'm paying really hard attention to the fact they need to be used in the story. I don't describe what characters look like or what their surroundings are like over 90% of the time. It's something I really need to work on with my novels.

Yet I can write 170,000 words in a fantasy story while lacking worldbuilding and description. Not sure how I do it either. lol

So, what is white wall syndrome?

Easy answer: Look at this link - http://inventingreality.4t.com/whiteroomsyndrome.html
and here - http://www.sfwa.org/2009/06/turkey-city-lexicon-a-primer-for-sf-workshops/

Longer answer: Well, I think it's a bit harsh to say it's a failure of the author's imagination (having looked over the items I linked) but the basic consensus is, the white room syndrome is when the story/scene lacks in description that the reader needs in order to really see what is happening in the story. They are left with the characters in a blank (white) room. I didn't know about the link to the white page we write on though, I have to admit. Figured that was a different syndrome... oh well.  Though on the second link, if you find the paragraph that mentions white room, part of it also seems like a different problems some writers have and that's starting a story with the character waking up, but that's also a different ramble I'll save for another day (makes notes for 2 post ideas). It's like having theater players on a blank stage (except in some plays, with a couple black boxes, that's all you really need to put on a good show).

The first link, however, gives a good way to approach fixing the problem at the very end, so make sure to check that one out.

So, you have characters and they talk and do things but you realize the setting is blank. You forgot to add details about the stage. Long as it's not published already, the good news is, it's fixable. It just might take a little more focus and some work. The different senses are a great start to fixing this problem. And not just the visual one. I can do that one okay, I can say what the character notices sight wise but the others often evade me. But if we focus, there is often a way to get them in that makes sense for the story.

I have a scene where a demon goes into a coffee place, for example. It's easy enough to have him notice the chalkboard specials drawn with little designs of some type or another. He can notice the crowd or the lack of a crowd depending on patronage level. He can even notice the clean white shirt of the guy who got him the job (which he'll later have to replace cause it won't be so white anymore). That is a good start but there is more to pain the scene. There are sounds. Coffee grinder buzzing to get the beans ready for the next brew. People talking, cups against tables or forks against plates. Different kinds of noises are possible. Then of course, is the smells. Coffee is the most obvious and the different flavored can have specific scents related to them that are strong. Add pastries to the mix and some mouthwatering aromas can linger (or if he isn't a fan of coffee he can cringe, knowing the scent will invade his life on a regular basis). Taste to me is the hardest because it seems weird to add taste unless they are eating something. I don't stand around at work and think, "hmm the air tastes like... umm something or other." Smell maybe, but taste doesn't register often with me. The trick with taste is trying to find something that makes sense in the scene/story but doesn't come off out of place or cliche, but it can be done. Finally we need to add touch. Well that happens when he touches something, so not too hard to add either.

So, take the start of a scene, story and look at what you have. Can the reader see where they characters are? Do you have a couple of the senses used at least? If not, try to rewrite it with that focus in mind. It doesn't have to be thousands of words and try not to get too purple with the description (ah the color codes of writing) but give them something to see and experience in the moment. Then compare the two and see what you think.

Paint the room... unless, for some reason, they really are in a very white room, then well, let that room be white.



What do you think of White Room Syndrome?
Is this a problem in your writing or have you conquered it already?
Have you listened to I Should Be Writing?
Go listen. ;-)  And have a great writing day!


Saturday, February 22, 2014

Writing Every Day Revisited

Topic Re-Write: also known as, me revisiting the concept of writing every day


In fact, the first blog post I ever wrote for this blog, back on May 1, 2009, was about the concept of writing every day. The blog post is here: http://dawnembers.blogspot.com/2009/05/every-day.html. And really, I wasn't a fan back then. Though also at that point, 2008 was my first and only success at getting 50,000 words in a month and it was the longest thing I'd written. I hadn't finished much else and I still wrote poetry. So yeah. And I only did a few attempts at picture books that week cause I'm not really a children's book writer.

I talked again about the topic, more with questioning it in August of 2009. http://dawnembers.blogspot.com/2009/08/write-every-day.html  And in that one I was less into the idea of writing every day even more. But that was also the last time I really focused on the topic, so all the way back in 2009.

We're in 2014 now. After almost 5 years, has my opinion changed? Some.

I still don't think it's necessary to write every single day of the year. It's okay to take breaks and it's okay to have other priorities. I still think that treating writing as a job is a good idea, but it can be a part time job or even a full time job, but even with full time jobs people take days off. And I still agree that what you need to do is find out what works best for you. However, I am now more capable of writing almost every day.

What has changed? Well, I've spent 2009-now often writing. Back then, the longest thing I'd written was 50,000 words of a struggled romance/erotica attempt. I had written a number of little scenes and poems but not much in the way of long fiction. Now, my longest draft is at around 170,000 words (it's almost done, really, I promise) and I've gotten at least 3 novel first drafts done, rewritten a novel and tackled editing. Been a long 5 years (someone remind me to do a 5 year reflection post for May 1) which didn't always include writing. I had months where I wrote not much at all, but it all adds up over time whether it's 250 words a day consistently or binges of 5k a day and some with 0.

Last year, I started the year saying I wanted to see how much I wrote in a year and that lasted a couple weeks max. This year, I'm trying again but I have a different approach. Thanks to a friend who had access to a shared spreadsheet, I have an easier way to keep track on google docs, so every day I write, I add my total words for that day onto the spreadsheet and it adds it all up. It's not the excitement of the "magic spreadsheet" as discussed on I Should Be Writing because there are no levels or points but there are colors. And more words mean different shades so that is kind of fun.

This month, I've written at least 250 words every day and plan to for the whole month. Even if it's just 250 on some days that is okay. I started part way in January with the spreadsheet and have gotten to almost 40,000 words for the year already. Off to a good start and while I won't write every single day of the year (already missed a couple in January), I will write very many days. And some months, it just might be every day.


How often do you write?
Do you keep track? If so, how?


Monday, January 13, 2014

Submission Process

I'm getting to the point of jumping off a cliff... I mean, I'm going to be sending out stories and queries in 2014 so it seems fitting to dedicate a blog post to talk about the submission process.

Which means I can talk about the submission process. Yay!

After you have written the awesome story of amazingness and edited it to a shiny glean that rivals the sun, well then it's time to figure out where and how to submit the story. That is the fun part right? (I forget which part is considered the fun part at times...)

Finding Places
Time for some research. Internet has made it easier, or so I've heard. There are ways to search, google, and a few web sites dedicated to this endeavor that will come in handy. Check out the different publishers available and looked around their sites. Read some of the stories they have published. It helps to read more than a few because you want to see if what you write seems like a good fit for what the location looks for in stories. They also have the guidelines for that but seeing what already got the seal of approval will also help. Think they are right for you? Make note of that.

Read Guidelines
Yes, most have listed somewhere their guidelines. On this page is often some of the general things the publisher is looking for which includes genre, story lengths and even some little hints at what they either like or what will be a really hard sell to them. They also list exactly how to submit. Most have online submissions available through different formats (email or their own online form) but there are still a few that have a preference to the printed and mail out variety. Most also will list formatting tips, which is really helpful. Read them and then, maybe read them again just in case. We all make mistakes but it helps to try and put your best foot forward and really, having worked with a small publisher a little, it's amazing how many ignore guidelines. Don't let that be you.

Tracking Tools
These are great to have but like any tool have to make sure you use them as just that and don't obsess. I've only got one story out right now but must admit already within the last 10 days I have checked my email and the tracker site I'm using way too much.

Duotrope - This is what I think I first used a few years ago to find places to submit, back when the web site was free. But I never used the tracking aspect as I only sent out a couple things back then as that was all the way back in 2009. It still seems like a great site to use even though I don't have access to it at this point. Maybe someday I'll have the funds for such. It sure was a good search location for open publications to submit back then and I imagine there is much it offers now. (http://duotrope.com)

The Grinder - I am using this site now. It's a search place for finding publications to submit and has the option to track submissions. I signed up and have tracked the one story that I've submitted twice so far this year. It's nice. I like the layout, being able to see the different reports on the main page and the graph on each publishers page. Seems a handy place to keep track of things and bonus for me (and those using it), the site is free. (http://thegrinder.diabolicalplots.com)

Excel - And I have my own excel sheet for submitting just to make sure I don't lose track where I have submitted, when and what responses I receive. I even have the ones from 2009 on it still. I got mostly form rejections and the one personal rejection that came with a note was from someone that gave comments to all submissions. But I have the information still, which is good. I currently have a page for places I'd like to submit where I mark down how many stories I submit to them. Then I have a page where I list my stories, where I want to submit, what date I submit to them, when I hear back and what the result is (form, personal, etc). Might need a second sheet for that once I get sending a lot more out but right now it's small. I try to list at least 3 places to submit per story but that will also increase in the foreseeable future. And I might need a new page when I get to the novel query submission process with agents and such involved.


But it's all exciting. And I'm a little more productive in other aspects so far this year too. I've gotten together a schedule for the week so I can work on short stories, novels and editing. It's working out even with my works schedule being a bit unreliable (people calling in sick and such). While I only have one story out so far, I have 4 that I'm getting ready and hope to have out by the end of the month. And I'm using a google doc excel thing someone else created (Thank You) to keep track of words written each day. 2014 is looking promising.


Have you submitted any stories recently?
Do you use any tools to track submissions?
If so, which do you prefer?

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Hanging a Lantern

You know something is not quite right, some fact is going to raise readers' eyebrows in question but at the same time, you want it in the novel. What do you do? One solution is to hang a lantern on it.



This is a topic that I heard on Writing Excuses. It was mentioned a few times, like in season 7 and a few others. I listened to a bunch on the long drives to Wyoming and Utah so the seasons blur after 10-20 hours of podcasts. But the point is, they are where I heard the term. Now what does it mean?

Hanging a Lantern
This is the act where a moment is in place in fiction/film/theater/etc where something could break the reader's willingness to suspend belief. There is something that doesn't seem accurate or believable but needs to be there anyways (or the creator wants it for any particular reason). Instead of doing it anyways and hoping for the best, this option means putting a light on it for a quick moment before moving on. Show the reader it is questionable, then move on from there.

Examples:
Action scene where person does unbelievable tricks in order to survive, then looks back and asks how they managed to do that.

Shakespeare in a play mentioning that if something like that were to be done on a stage, the character would find it improbable.

Jeff Dunham in his act where he has the puppets point out what is required for them to talk and such. Or the Spanish scene where he doesn't "speak' the same language as them.

For more check out here: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/LampshadeHanging


What does this all mean for us?

Well, there are times when you don't want to lose the readers suspension of disbelief but there is that one element you want to keep. Instead of changing the story in order to make sure it all works on the right wave length, the option exists to hang a lantern on the issue. But there is probably a limit somewhere as to how much you can do in one story (pending genre and tone) unless you're writing Horror Movie 10.

I have one so far where I might use a lantern. It's a situation where a character really likes a type of movie but because of his past, he's sensitive to even things like fireworks going off. So, I struggled a bit with wanting to keep the character's medical/psychological issue in place but also not lose the way he meets the love interest. And in this case. It may just end up with him or someone pointing out that it's odd he likes those movies considering.  That is my lantern.



Okay this is one too, lol. A friend said the crane looked out of place but since it seemed fitting for this topic, I named the picture "Out of Place Crane". Nice lantern right? ;-)


What about you? 
Ever use a lantern (or lampshade) in a story?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The False Start

Other title: Restarting A Novel


Now that National Novel Writing Month ends and we are back to more of a regular schedule, I have topics. Today is also a very non-nanowrimo type topic because during the month, even if the start of the novel is terrible, you don't stop. You keep writing. But this topic isn't about continuing to write despite set backs. Nope. This time, I'm talking about what happens when that start doesn't work.

But the tale does begin with NaNoWriMo.

Back in 2011 I worked on 2 novels, one romance and one young adult. I finished the romance at 99,000 words but the young adult only made it to over 25,000 words. And I haven't worked on it since then. Something felt off about the novel, that I couldn't figure out at first. If I was in NaNoWriMo mode, the solution would be to either keep going with how it is, or change from the point I'm at and after the month go back and fix the beginning once I figure out what is wrong. And I did figure out the problem.

First, I had to access the problem and much like how I came up with the title (Ottohahn in E Minor), I did this while driving. The thing that stalled the novel even after 25,000 words was the main character. I made the mistake of making the main character a loner that struggled to make friends, much like one of my other characters that I have in a novel almost ready for agents. Which wasn't too bad for the subplot, the romance side, but it didn't work for the rest of the story. He couldn't be a loner for the story. My bad.

So, what do I do now that I know the problem? Well, this time I'm going to do something I wouldn't with most NaNorWiMo attempts, I'm going to start over from word 1. Yep, a brand new start to the novel.

Sometimes it is great to keep going, to forge the path ahead no matter the troubles that occur in the first draft. However, on occasion there is a need to restart the novel and that is okay. So, in 2014 I have a novel to restart, several to finish and one to submit to agents. Fun times in writing land it shall be during the new year.


Have you ever had to restart a novel before getting a draft done?
What caused the problem that made it necessary?


Monday, October 7, 2013

November Approaches

I know we are still in the beginning of October what with it being the 7th and all, but before we know it November will be here. It's one of my favorite times of year: National Novel Writing Month. I've already started preparing 4 novels using the NaNoWriMo Prep Challenge held on Writing.Com but of those 4, only plan to write 1 novel. But it's nice to have outlines and character sketches for other novels prepared ahead of time in case I decide to take March or something to write another novel first draft.

Though I find some of the usual lessons a bit more difficult for one of the novels because this year I'm doing the rough draft of book 2 in a series. Right now book 1 is with a couple of readers and in 2014 I will be sending query letters to agents, so now feels like a good time to give the second book a first draft. I know some say not to write book 2 until book 1 is sold, but I figure it won't matter too much if things get changed because this is a rough draft. Book 1 took a major rewrite and an edit that resembled a rewrite to make it to where it is, so it's not unreasonable to expect a rewrite in the future for book 2, but it's easier to go from rough draft to a presentable product than from a blank page.

So, I can't wait for NaNoWriMo once again. Though this year, with work and the novel I'm working on, I think I will have a more reasonable word count. My hope is to get 75,000 words done, so have the whole first draft done. That would be a great feat considering book 1 first draft was 23,000 words. It's not at 65,000 after rewriting and editing (which somehow the edit made it longer...). If I can make book 2 be long enough in the first draft, that would be great. I don't need 165,000 words written in November this year and I'm okay with that.

I should go work on prep. Today I'm working on background stories to the plot.


Are you excited for NaNoWriMo?
How do you prepare?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Great Agent Quest

Yep. While my novel still needs a little work and I'm waiting to hear back from a test reader or two, I have started something at long last. I have started:


The Great Agent Quest


Also known as, I'm researching agents to find the right one for me. I hope to submit in the near future to at least 5 potential agents and it's all very exciting. After starting this novel back in 2007, I'm finally at a point I can consider what possible agents would work well for this story and in large focus, my career as a writer. Because while this novel is great, it's not the only one and not the only genre or age range that I write in, so I'm dreaming big and looking for agents that match both this one but also future prospects.

It's a happy but nerve-wrecking time. I've never done this before. I have to actually consider what I'm looking for in an agent.

Here are a couple of things I've come up with:
- Genres and age ranges need to include young adult, fantasy, maybe sic-fi but not be just young adult or younger because a chunk of my stories are in adult speculative fiction.
- Must be able to accept GLBT characters. It's one of the few things I won't change about a story.
- Feedback. I know some don't want edit/rewrite tips from agents, but I'm not one of them.

And well, that's actually it so far. Yeah, I don't have very many requirements yet but I'm new to the search. Which brings me to my questions for you.



What do you look for in an agent?
Anything you don't want in one?
Are you searching for an agent?