Category: writing life

Neil Gaiman’s American Gods

I’ve decided to return to my book-reading resolution.  While it’s unlikely that I’ll make my 50 book mark by the end of the year, that should not stop me.  Last night I crossed book #20 off of my list, and that’s a number to brag about.

But I also believe that books are not conquests.  You don’t read a book for the sake of reading it and moving on to the next one.  You read a book because you want to experience the story.  Maybe you want to peek inside a writer’s head for a while, maybe you want to escape what’s in your own mind temporarily.  The reasons for reading a book are just as personal as a writer’s reasons for writing one in the first place.

But that’s for another post.

Last night I finished reading American Gods by Neil Gaiman.  Despite the overwhelmingly positive reviews of his work, I’d hesitated picking up a book of his until now.  Why?  Maybe I’m just stubborn.  I don’t like people telling me what I should read.  Perhaps it’s an extension of the ideas mentioned above.  My reasons for reading are personal and someone else shouldn’t interfere with it.  Whatever the reason, I’m glad I finally read this one.

Be warned, there may be minor spoilers ahead if you haven’t read the book.  I’ll keep them to a minimum, though.

My first impression upon reading this book and being introduced to all of the godly characters was “I need to do some research!  These gods are interesting.”  And that’s no joke.  I adored the writing style in this book too.  The book had a darker, more serious overtone which contrasted with scenes full of, well, Gods and dwarves and pixies.  Given the tone, I expected more death and bloodshed (and fewer resurrections) in the ending.  The loose ends did get tied up nice and neatly by the end, but the execution was well done.

Toward the middle of the story, Shadow is dumped in a small town called Lakeside presumably to lay low while Mr. Wednesday does much of the dirty work.  (While at first this seems like a cop-out, this subplot proves have more significance later on, so that was interesting.)  The townspeople take an immediate liking to Shadow, this stranger who wandered in on a bus the night before and has no idea how to live in sub-zero temperatures.  The police chief gives him a tour of the town and helps him buy things because he has nothing better to do.  I was left amazed, thinking, “Is this how small towns really operate out in the Midwest?  Maybe I’ve been living in the wrong towns all my life!”  But alas, even the frozen utopia of Lakeside had some dark secrets to it.

This is definitely a candidate for re-reading in the future.  There were quite a few intricate details that were missed by me in the first go through of the story.  I suppose it didn’t help that I took a break halfway through to focus on writing and editing.

The next book I’ll read will be Nadine Ducca’s Serving Time.

Advertisements

Review of Scripted.com

(Note:  This will be cross-posted to my other blog, The Bitter Baker.)

As previously mentioned, one of my resolutions for 2012 (and 2013) was to take on more freelance writing jobs.  I’ve had some success with this.  While I was able to find and produce some work, it was not exactly at the level that I was hoping for.

Being completely unfamiliar with the freelance world and unsure of where to start, I stumbled across Scripted.com and thought I found gold.  Unfortunately I found more hassle than I bargained for.

The site has an approval process in order to get in and I’m wary of privacy/trade secret regulations.  So I won’t be posting any screenshots to illustrate.  Can’t be too careful.

Bear in mind:  I have been a member for some time and the site has gone through major renovations since my induction.  But I made the cut with almost no experience under my belt, so their process isn’t that rigorous.  If I can get in, you likely can too.

Once you’re accepted as a writer, you’ll have access to the rest of the interface.  (There is a separate interface for buyers, who use a different part of the site to log in.  I have not worked with this side personally.)  There are further steps you need to take in order to start claiming jobs, including filling out a profile, posting a W-9 to the site for tax purposes (US writers only), and applying for certain “specialties” in order to accept jobs in a certain field.  The latter step will ensure that you will wait at least a few days before taking any jobs, due to the time your application takes to be accepted or denied.

This comes to my first complaint:  The turnaround time for the Scripted staff is slow.  Not just for applying to specialties.  Once you are able to take a job, finish it and submit it, you can count on waiting at least a week for the content manager to look at your piece and send it back for edits before the buyer even sees it.  On a few occasions in the past, staff members would email you directly to let you know about certain big jobs you could take.  I would respond immediately for more information, only to wait hours for the staff member to reply and tell me the position was already filled.

Let’s say you made it on the site, filled out your profile and gave them all the necessary information.  You even applied for a specialty in Publishing/Journalism and were accepted.  Awesome!  Now you can start taking jobs.  Nine times out of ten, unfortunately, you won’t see one available to you.  And when you do, it won’t be available for at least two days.  What gives?  According to Scripted this has to do with your “writing score,” an arbitrary number assigned to you based on the writing sample you gave when you applied and can be adjusted based on the quality of previous jobs you’ve filled.  Those with higher scores are given first priority at new jobs, and you’ll find that many of the jobs will go away quickly.  This makes it very difficult for new writers to move up – how are you going to improve your score if you can’t get any jobs?

Another option for new writers, and one where I’ve had most success, is with Pitches.  Buyers not looking for any specific topic will post a general idea in the Pitches section and writers will pitch their own ideas to write about.  If the buyer likes your pitch, congrats!  You’ve got yourself a job.  This is a popular avenue for blogs to find new content to post, because it will give them greater variety.  Unfortunately, the minimal information required of buyers to make posts in this section gives it a Craigslist feel, and the “ads” will be as vague and unprofessional as possible.  There seems to be very little quality control on part of the staff in this section, too.  More than once I’ve seen ads written in Korean, ads that said only “this is a joke/test, please don’t pitch to me,” or double postings.  (At the time of this writing, all of the aforementioned ads are still up.)  It wasn’t as much of a problem in the past, but now navigating this section feels like navigating through a minefield.

I’m not going to pretend that finding jobs in the freelance world is easy, especially for a beginner.  But these are obstacles that are unnecessary and could  be done away with on part of the staff, but for whatever reason this did not happen.

So while Scripted.com is a good idea in theory, the execution seems to be lacking and the quality slipping.  Because of the learning curve, I would not recommend this to beginning writers.  If you are more established and skilled in the field, this may be of more use to you.

Plot Dot Test

I found this in a recent post on the Adventures in Agentland blog.  A plot dot test is supposed to be a way of determining where in your plot action is lagging.

To start, you either need a finished manuscript or detailed outline.
It goes like this:  Take a sheet of paper, and all along the top write a line of numbers corresponding with the number of chapters in your story.  For each chapter, place a dot somewhere below that number.  The idea is to make a bar graph for your story, with the x axis being your story chapters and the y axis being the amount of action in a given chapter.

If my math-heavy explanation is too confusing, here is an example.  This is the plot line I created from Jasper City:


There were a few errors when graphing, hence the crossed-out dots.  Other than that, that’s how I feel the plot flows.

Judging by this graph there are areas where I could probably ramp up the action.  It does look rather slow, but looking at the outline itself I would disagree.  It’s an interesting test but I feel there is a wide margin of error to take into account as we’re measuring something that can’t really be quantified.

What do you think?

How to Beat Writer’s Block

I’ll be honest, that title is sensationalized.  I don’t have a cure-all for writer’s block like others may claim.  What I do have are suggestions, that I am shamelessly reposting from another site.

I’m going to share this article I found from Cracked.com: 5 Writing Exercises That Will Make You More Creative.  At first I thought the article would be about writing prompts, but it’s actually more useful for if you’re in the beginning or middle of your story and feeling stuck.

I’ve been guilty of some of these before, and it’s not a bad way to keep writing.  The first exercise is to start writing the ending before anything else, which is what I tried for Jasper City.  I was intimidated by the plot and not sure if I could pull it off, so I started at the part of the story that (at the time) I felt stronger about.  Did that ending make it to the current draft?  No.  Did I drastically change the ending?  Absolutely.  Did I get more excited about my manuscript after writing that ending?  Also yes.  Problem solved.

One quote that stands out in that article is, “As a writer, never forget that you’re Bill Murray on Groundhog Day.”  If you follow the advice you’ll likely end up scrapping whatever you write, and that’s okay.  If it gets you unstuck on your story, it’s not a waste of time.

For Science!

This post is about experiments.  Not all of them have to do with beakers and odd fizzy chemicals that explode if you look at them the wrong way.  Some are all about words and how you use them.  (But it is possible to combine the two, and write an experimental story about moody, fizzy chemicals.  There’s an interesting thought.)

Writing, and any kind of craft, is a subjective medium.  That’s why you hear about famous authors experiencing the same rejections us little people do all the time.  The more recent instance is with JK Rowling and her novel The Cuckoo’s Calling.  If a bestselling author’s book can fail to stand out to an editor, that speaks less about the name behind the story and more about the story’s merits.

That being said, we’ve all tried certain concepts in our stories that may or may not have worked out for the best.  The deciding factor is execution; maybe it doesn’t work out on paper the way you thought it would, like a literary version of the “that pick-up line sounded better in my head.”

For Jasper City, I originally wanted Edward to be presented as a shining hero and Calvin as an absolute villain.  The intent was not to follow the black and white cliche but play with it, because at the end Edward was supposed to do something so unforgivable that the reader would realize he or she was on the wrong side all along.  This proved difficult to write effectively, and while going through the story I added shades of gray.  (Gray is nice.  It makes stories interesting.)

What crazy ideas did you want to introduce but later scrapped?

Happy Birthday!

I haven’t been neglecting the blog, I’ve been taking a break to get some kinks in Jasper City ironed out.  And now that I’ve made some decent progress, I’m back.

This is only partially inspired by the fact that today is my country’s Independence Day.  I’m currently working on a chapter in which one of my characters celebrates her own birthday, but we are unsure of her true age.  In other news, yesterday marked the births of my own niece and an old friend’s baby, so birthdays have been on my mind lately.

When creating a character, dates for birth and death don’t often come to me.  Because I write about post-apocalyptic scenarios or worlds that definitely aren’t Earth, it’s also difficult for me to pick out a calendar date that makes sense in our world and the fictional world.  Not to mention that birthdays aren’t often plot points in my stories, so I rarely worry about them unless they come up.

This recent chapter was one of those times.  I chose the birthdate of July 3rd for my niece, but hopefully these two do not turn out to be to similar.

So let’s give a belated happy 8th birthday to Dot!

Do you have birthdays for your characters?  How about death dates?  Do you have their tombstones written out already?

One Little Instability

My social life has taken a backseat for the past few months due to work.  I went from having no job at all for two months (I should probably count my blessings that the unemployment was relatively short) to having more hours than I know what to do with, simply because I have coworkers who do not work.  And then things got worse.

One coworker who transferred in from another branch of the company gave us some hope.  She knew the job already, at least.  She turned out to be lazy and much too argumentative.  Before long she was that one coworker that we drew straws to figure out who would have to put up with her for the night.  And this wasn’t the worst of it.  Said coworker became increasingly whiny and attention-seeking, and made her (false) complaints all the way up to the corporate offices to cost one employee his job and threaten another.  And despite documented thefts and walking off of the job more than once, she is still employed.
What have we learned from this?  Two things:  One unstable individual can make some substantial waves, and some characters seem to escape karma.
A blog post for The Bitter Baker will be up in the near future regarding poor employees and the tendency of companies to enable them.  I’ve neglected that blog for far too long.  But that’s not a rant to share here.
This story ties in to a favorite theme of mine, that the bad guys don’t always lose.  Greater influence and cutthroat companions can undermine a “good guy” faster than you can say “justice!”  It isn’t motivations or purity that decide the outcome of a battle, but the actions each side takes.  One threat of a lawsuit can be enough to scare a company into submission, no matter how unfounded an allegation can be.  This is something one never wants to encounter in real life, but necessary in fiction.  It creates the conflict that drives a story forward.  It makes stories such as A Song of Ice and Fire so popular.  It’s also a hell of a lot more interesting than a story about the hero who has everything handed to him.
Let’s aim to make real life more comfortable and fiction less so.