Thursday, April 28, 2011

Oh, the wall had it coming.

Grading the same assignment 70 times over is tedious, tedious, tedious. It isn't their fault that everything sounds the same after the first essay, but all I feel is like channeling Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock and taking it out on my wall:

Curse my short attention span.

I should make this about writing, but… well, all I've got is that months and months of self-training to critique everything written is the exact opposite training that is useful for having to get through dashed-off undergrad essays as a grader. So, critique partners: I love you. Thanks for being alright. And not ever making me bored.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Hanging on a chord

**#*#*#Dusts off blog**#*##**

I'm back! It's been too long, both from RTW and blogging in general. I have it in my head that I am not allowed to write ANYTHING except my thesis, but then that just turns into me watching marathons of BBC shows. So nuts to you, writing embargo: I'm playing again.

This weekIf your WIP were music, what song(s) would it be?

And what a good week to do so! Scars and first kisses... eh. My stories are not so great. My memory is dismal – embarrassingly so, for a writer. But songs to inspire/embody/accompany writing? I can DO that.

Even better, my writing moratorium introduced two brand new book ideas to my brain, the most recent of which came directly from a fantastically joyous song from a fantastically joyous band that I found on NPR's Tiny Desk Concerts series last week, which I immediately bought the album of. The joyous song in question? Right here:
I now have a very promising, rollicking, heart-string-tugging contemporary bildungsroman WIP on my hands, with a cheeky narrator and an achingly dear best friend. Also, a growing playlist to support it (See: Local Natives' AirplanesRa Ra Riot's Can You Tell and Too Dramatic, both).

The other song that immediately sprang to mind is tied to my oldest WIP, the fantasy/adventure/time-travel YA that is now undergoing a major revision. My attempts at making a more substantial playlist for this project continue to come to naught, as it has spanned the longest period of time, from pre-grad school to now, and my tastes and interests in music keep changing. OKGo's WTF, however, has stuck like glue to my conception of Temerity's world since I first saw it, and seems only to grow more pertinent as time passes. Chicken and egg, probably.
My latest tweaking, especially, has turned Temerity's story into something that this video even embodies (to a degree), beyond just the aural elements. Yes, by that I mean TOTES TRIPPY. Other songs that might flesh that playlist out are Bat for Lashes' Horse and I, the whole tone of this Black Dub Tiny Desk Concert, The Head and the Heart's Down in the Valley, at least at the moment, but the OKGo is here to stay.

What I have found, with this WIP, is that songs for individual character playlists come to me much more readily than story-based ones (the first two in my list are for my MC, Black Dub is for the warrior girl's relationship, Down in the Valley is for the male protag/romantic lead). I'm not sure what that says about the story, or me as a writer – it isn't like I have much experience building book-based playlists, after all – but I do find it interesting.

What about you guys: character-associated or story-associated? Or something else entirely? I never did like a binary.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Tenses and Tensility, or How I Learned to Love Mixed Metaphor

In physics, tensile strength is the amount of stress a material can withstand while being pulled or stretched; it is measured as force per unit area.

It has almost nothing to do with tense as we writers use the term.

And yet.

The use of tense in writing exerts a force on the area encompassed by the story: it allows the author to pull and stretch and pull some more on the elements in play, on the characters, on the situations contained within – pull them to the point of breaking and see how things play out. Tenses dictate the level of connectedness between reader and story; they direct how much meaning is taken from the words, and what kind.

Past tense gives you a distance that is at once safe and encompassing; you know, when a story is in the past tense, that there is an end in sight – even if it is a bad one, there is an end, and that kind of knowledge builds that much-sought after element: anticipation.

Present tense gives you an immediacy, a sense of closeness to the action at hand, and is inherently unsafe; there is no telling if the story will end, let alone how. This kind of stress gives the reader a different kind of anticipation, one more akin to anxiety that that awaiting of predicted satisfaction. Also valuable.

This came to mind as I was reading John Green's Paper Towns last night, and I was jarred (and then pleased) when the tense being used changed mid-chapter. If I have read other books which contained multiple tenses, I can't remember them, so in this case, I felt floodgates open: there is possibility here. Obvious possibility, I guess, but possibility. The way Green uses tenses pulls the reader in different directions, keeps us on our toes – there are times when the story seems safe, when there is the comfortable past-tense distance; then there are times when the unknown is made tangible by the yanking into present-tense.

I don't think anything I am writing now has the kind of presence that Paper Towns has, the kind of stressed story that would require shifts in perspective to test the tensile strength of the characters, but I like seeing the possibility.

What about you, ether? Got any tensile strength/writing anecdotes for me?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Purple supernova prose

Ah, publishing in 2111. I didn't think I'd be up for this Road Trip Wednesday topic, not really being wise at this stage in my career to the intricacies of publishing as an industry, but then I read this article by Zsuzsi Gartner on the cult of the sentence, and was reminded of a thought I've been having for the past couple weeks – namely, that expansive, sweeping, purple prose is due for a comeback.

You see everywhere the advice not to overwrite, not to maunder on past a reader's attention. Gone are the days that a two-page description of a field can hold a reader's interest! we are told. And yes, this much is true. Atmospheric, exquisitely described, adjectived-out-of-its-brain prose is not a contemporary market-buster, especially in YA.

But Gartner – even if he later channels Martin Amis, at whose dismissal of our discipline (and I really do think of it as a discipline) we all in the YA world have rightfully cringed in recent memory – makes a point worth thinking about:
You would think all writers write because they are head-over-heels in love with sentences, no? American author and editor Ben Marcus writes that in the literary world a false dichotomy has emerged: successful writers who can make readers feel by making them care about their characters, and writers who care more about language – the storytellers and the users of the language, and never the twain shall meet.
This is, of course, not true at all, even if the stereotype begs it. I just read Robert Paul Weston's Dust City, for example – a gritty, whimsical noir that features thaumaturgist-on-wolf torture, interspecies juvie hall brawls, and jam-packed magical action sequences – and on almost every page found myself re-reading beautiful, tight, masterfully composed sentences. And this is just the most recent example.

But that still isn't War and Peace or Gone with the Wind or Wuthering Heights or Doctor Faustus. So what I am thinking, is that on the 2111 publishing scene, these sweeping, lyrical, VERBOSE works will be back in style. Terseness will be out. Teens the world over will be clamoring for page-long sentences and purple, indigo prose.

On paper-thin, foldable pocket Kindles, of course.

Monday, April 4, 2011

What I MEANT to say…

TREE, n.
     synonyms: button tree, marmalade tree, marblewood, Brazilian pepper tree, ebony, necklace tree, devilwood…

So I've seen a lot of writers just fall to pieces over Scrivener, and I get the impression that after that, most use Word. Scrivener – eh. I've tried to start using it, but it just seems like so much BUSY work to get a project established. Busy work that I am sure would pan out and more, but honestly, I am so very lazy. So very lazy, AND contrary. Getting my words out at all can be a challenge.

I won't even comment on Word.

Me? I use – and adore – Nisus Writer Express. Its laurel wreath is all made up of foreign language capabilities, which is why I was drawn to it in the first place, but it is a really dependable and totally quirky word pro for plain old English, too. I am not surprised that they offer their thesaurus for free download: it is BOMB. Simultaneously helpful and unbelievable, I haven't yet lost my amazement over the things it comes up with, even several years in. It is the genius that spat out the synonyms to tree listed at top.

Yes, it thinks ALL THOSE THINGS are more likely to be the word you might want to sub in for tree than oak, pine, aspen, wood, acacia, willow, or cedar. And if you type in a proper name and Nisus underlines it in red, and then you click learn, IT SUDDENLY KNOWS EVERYTHING.

Pushkin? Underlined in red. LEARN. Oh, you mean "Aleksandr Sergeyevich"? "Russia"? "Poet"?

Vladivostok? Underlined in red. LEARN. Oh, you mean "Russia"? "City"?

Dushanbe? Underlined in red. LEARN. Oh, you mean "capital of Tajikistan"? "Capital"? "Dyushambe"? "Tajikistan"? "STALINBAD"?

It does not, alas, no how to translate Voldemort into any real details. There are limits. All the same, I think that Nisus – or at least its thesaurus – has some crazy fun, wackadoo story going on inside its little binary brain, and every time I pause at words like tree to think where I want MY story to go next, I get jealous, and wish I could just jump inside the thesaurus and read what it has going on.

Because there IS NO SUCH THING AS A BUTTON TREE. Not in real life.

And that is NOT what I mean when I say "tree," Nisus.

Not this time, at least.

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