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Archive for November, 2007

Short Of My Goal

This past week has been kind of screwy. With the focus turning to Christmas shopping, I haven’t had as much time to post as I’d like. Nor have I been able to work up a story for the short short story contest that Writer’s Digest is sponsoring. Seeing as the deadline is tomorrow, I don’t think I’m going to make it.

One positive thing (which is directly related to not writing the short story) is that I’m almost finished with the first revision of my 2nd novel. The story is really moving along and I’m only 20 pages from the end. On Sunday morning as I sat in the laundry room editing the manuscript, I became so engrossed that I didn’t even notice the washers finish. I looked up and the room was silent. I hope that’s a good sign. If I can get caught up in the story, then maybe it will be even more engaging for someone who doesn’t know what’s about to happen.

I think a Christmas present to myself will be to finish the edit, which I should do tonight or tomorrow, then go to the word processor and make the changes to the manuscript. Then I can send a copy to a couple trusted friends who were kind enough to read novel #1 (and provide honest criticism, which is always helpful).

So I may have missed one goal, but at least I’m getting work done. sometimes I have trouble deciding which project to work on and I just spin my wheels. But that’s a topic for another day.

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I’ve noticed, while reading fiction that has a 3rd person past POV, that there are certain situations where the author uses a present-tense modifier. For example:

Looking over his shoulder, Randy stepped into the cafe and shivered. This place always gave him the creeps.

I would argue that in the example provided, the adjective this in the 2nd sentence is incorrect. This is a first-person adjective (or pronoun). I think that using it in a 3rd-person context is jarring. It should read, that place always gave him the creeps.  More common is the use of now as an adverb. Now, to me, means “in this instant” or “immediately.” So to see it used as a modifier of a past-tense verb seems odd.

Benny looked down at his friend’s body and the pool of blood that surrounded it. Now he was ready to talk.

That sort of construction is accepted. Obviously it is, since I see it all over. The Oxford English Dictionary even has a definition of “now” that fits that usage, and examples of it throughout hundreds of years, so using now (and by extension, this and here, etc) in that manner could even be deemed proper.

I don’t like it, but maybe I need to change. If it’s accepted and proper, then maybe I should stop trying to avoid using that particular construction and concern myself with more important things, like continuity and pacing.

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Who Likes Short Shorts?

It’s time once again for that annual fall classic: the Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Contest, which is for stories of no more than 1500 words. I like this contest because I’ve enjoyed writing short-short stories for a long time and it legitimizes the format (in my mind, at least.) I try not to just take the easy route and submit something I’ve already written. I see this as an opportunity to create something new and fresh. Perhaps that’s silly. I should probably be sifting through my existing stories and see if anything there stands out, rather than simply ignoring my past efforts. Maybe I’ll do that.

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While I am still weighing the pros and cons of making my first novel freely available, I’ve found a tool that will help me if I decide to do so. Creative Commons has come up with a system that enables writers and other creative types to generate a custom license agreement and attach it to their work. If I were to give away my novel, for example, I could generate a license that allows people to freely download and read (obviously) the work but also to distribute it, so long as they follow certain restrictions. The license I’d choose would allow non-commercial distribution, so long as the work is not modified and is attributed to me. There’s even a way to embed the license information into the metadata of a PDF (provided you have a copy of Acrobat.) Handy.

Another thing that the Creative Commons people are doing is trying to dissuade people from using the US copyright to protect their work, because that extends to 70 years after the author’s death. (Thanks in part to the Disney company, which is deathly afraid of allowing Mickey Mouse to become public domain, even though most of their billions of dollars have been made off of public domain characters… but that’s a story for another time.) The Founders Copyright was created to provide an author with 14 years of copyright protection, with the option of a 14-year renewal. After that time, the work would become part of the public domain. Interesting concept.

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Giving It Away

The October/November issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction has a column about science fiction writers who are giving away their novels. I am intrigued by this because my general understanding has always been that in order to make a living as a writer, one must get paid for the fruits of one’s labor. I’ve understood for a while that musicians put songs up on their web sites and on myspace so they can create interest in their product and hopefully sell more albums and concert tickets. I even had a few of my short stories posted to my web site, back when I had a web site. It never occurred to me, though, that I should make my novel freely available.

Being an aspiring writer, giving away my novel might be a smart thing to do. Every copy that is downloaded and in someone’s hands is a step in the right direction. Every additional person who reads it increases the odds that an agent or editor will take note.

But is it really better to approach an agent and say that x-number of people have downloaded my novel, which is available for free on the internet? Would an agent be impressed, or would they wonder what they’re going to sell to a publisher if I’m giving the stuff away? I obviously need to do more research into this.

To be continued.

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Deniable Plausability

I watched 28 Weeks Later as part of my Halloween-inspired horror fest. It is, of course, the sequel to the awesome film 28 Days Later. I don’t want to give away the plot, but suffice to say that it delivered plenty of twists and surprises (and lots and lots of blood.)

One thing that bugged me was that the action had a few moments where it was overly contrived in the effort to create tension. There was one scene where the main girl and her brother fell down an escalator in the dark. Their companion found the girl at the bottom of the escalator, but the boy was lost. He had wandered off in search of his sister, even though last I checked, she had fallen down ahead of him and he should have landed on her.

Which brings me to my point. Every work of fiction (novel, movie, whatever) is contrived. The things that happen within are there because the writer wanted them there, to advance the story or develop character, etc. I do not have a problem with that. My beef is with the things that happen that have no motivation.

On the Halloween episode of CSI, for example, Katherine and the new girl (whose name I don’t recall) were investigating a warehouse where B-grade horror movies were filmed. There was a storm and the power was out and Katherine checked her phone. ‘I don’t have a signal’ she said. The new girl took her phone out of her pocket and looked at it. ‘I don’t have a signal either,’ she said. She then set her phone on the counter and walked away, leaving it behind. There was no reason fer her to do that; she should have stuck it back in her pocket. But of course a minute later, we saw her at the gas station realizing she had left her phone behind and then going back to the spooky warehouse by herself to get it.

As a writer (albeit an amateur one,) I am aware of my characters’ actions. While I have the freedom to make them do whatever I want, I try to keep things realistic within the context of the story. There is a willful suspension of disbelief that makes fiction possible, but even that has limits. When a character does something that has no basis in the reality of the story, it’s as if the writer is cheating. He or she is saying, ‘hey, I can’t think of a way to make this one thing happen, so I’m just gonna do it and hope you don’t notice.’ I try not to do that. I try to make each character act within the boundaries of their own human (or animal, or alien) behavior.

So when my first novel is published, if you notice I cheated at some point just to move the plot along, feel free to call me on it.

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OED

A lot of my friends play video games. Lately it has seemed as if I’m the only person I know who doesn’t own an Xbox 360. Over the past couple months, Bioshock and Halo 3 are the only things I’ve heard about. Don’t get me wrong, I like video games, too. I grew up in the heyday of the arcade game –PacMan, Tempest, Robotron, etc. I’ve also burned untold hours as an adult with games like Doom, Quake and Half-Life.

But now, whenever I think about buying an Xbox, I picture the hours that I would spend playing games not as worthwhile recreation, but rather as a drain on my already limited time. I don’t think that my friends are wasting their time playing these games (who am I to judge?). For me, though, I simply can’t justify it.

Last month when the Cubs started their ill-fated run toward the World Series, I decided it would be fun to go see them play in the Championship series, if they made it that far. I was prepared to spend upwards of $300 for 4 tickets to one of the games. Once the Cubs got swept in the first round, I found myself with a little extra money in my checking account. Since it was money that I had already spent, it would be a lot easier to justify buying that Xbox after all.

But I just can’t do it. For a while now, I’ve had my eye on something that would help me as a writer and feed my love of the English language. That thing, of course, is the Oxford English Dictionary. It is, after all, “The definitive record of the English language.” I’ve been impressed with the OED ever since I used it for research when I was in college. There have been many times in the years since then that I have considered buying the compact edition of the OED, or the CD version. For whatever reason, I could never bring myself to spend the $300. Looking back at some of the useless garbage I’ve spent that much on, I have to wonder what my problem was.

At any rate, I’ve signed up for an online subscription. I now have full access to the OED. Will this help me as a writer? Will it strengthen my chance of succeeding (and quitting my day job)? Only time will tell, I suppose. I have to think it will help more than the Xbox would have.

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