Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Already the stress is starting to lift a bit. I had been perturbed by the relative slowness with which new ideas were coming to me, but in the middle of my massive study-cramming last weekend, a peculiar one struck me out of nowhere: BUT WHAT IF THEY WERE ROBOTS?
Go ahead. Laugh. I did. And after I said "pffft", I kept coming back to the thought. What if they weren't robots per se, but it was some sort of weird post-Singularity thing? Maybe one that went terribly wrong? And the ideas kept flowing from there.
I always go on about seeing China Miéville at Comic-Con in 2010, and how he urged the audience not to dismiss their ideas, no matter how weird. And one of my favorite quotes from C.S. Lewis is, "Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it."
So I decided not to worry and just go with it. This idea isn't for the current book still only in the beginning stages, but the one after it--and let me tell you, it is a relief to have an idea that's going to be churning and spinning and swirling around in the back of my brain, waiting to be written when I finish this one, because this one refused to move past the vague idea stage for a LONG time.
And I've decided it's going to be awesome, even if robots/cyborgs/androids have been done before. The current book will have aliens but I still hope it will be awesome, too. It's funny; I always knew that any story I wrote would be SF, but never thought I'd write vampires, aliens, or robots. A few years ago I wrote a SF book with vampires (which needs some major work, though, to be honest) and now I'm writing aliens (well, one alien, and a bunch of humans) and next I'll be writing kinda-robots.
Let your ideas fly, even if they're weird or possibly clichéd.
What about you? Had any weird ideas? Had any at weird times or in weird places?
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
I've blurred out the particulars of my chart, and made a few modifications to suit my own purposes. In this particular story, the cast is a medium-sized group that is stuck on an uninhabited alien planet, so they are pretty much together the whole time. This left me without a need to track where characters made appearances. Being more worried about tracking subplots and character arcs, I put a short description of each major scene along the top and of the subplot/arc on the left side. Some of those scenes will be broken up into smaller ones, of course, but for the purpose of tracking character and plot developments, they work fine this large.
I marked the introduction of a subplot with a red I, just so it would stand out, and used a slightly darker C to mark each arc's conclusion. Anytime that arc is developed in the middle of the novel is marked with a black X. Some of the subplots have their own divisions; for example, the subplot where the cast tries to determine whether they are really alone is divided into two, to show when they find evidence of habitation and when they find evidence against habitation. These are the cells marked in gray.
It's very useful! The areas shaded yellow are where I noticed there was little development of a plotline between its introduction and conclusion. For these, I will go back through my outline and try to figure out key places to work them in in as graceful a fashion as possible. The ones in pink are cases where I know the conclusion but have not yet figured out how or where to work the beginning and development into the story. I can be thankful that these are very small (one concerns the relationship between two characters, which is bound to develop anyway due to the tight-knittedness of the group, and the other concerns the appearance of a certain creature).
So that's it--a very useful tool for creating a visual map of your story. For plotters like myself, this is very useful in the planning stage, but for pantsers, I can imagine it being very useful as one revises.
Have any of you tried something similar to keep track of your story? Interested in trying something like this?
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Continuing with the library theme this week, I thought I'd write a little something about library research!
Maybe you're researching travel to other worlds. Or Sweden's politico-religious culture in the fifteenth century. (Yup, I've researched both for novels.) Whether you write science fiction, historicals, or another genre, you'll probably need to research during your career.
Most people aren't too intimidated about finding physical materials in the library, if only because staff can help when the building is open. But reduced hours are making it a challenge for some to visit during those hours. So what's a writer to do?
Electronic resources are often available to patrons at any time, from any location. Check out your library's website and look for a place to sign in. Entering your library card number or other identifying information will verify you as a library patron and get you access to articles from popular or academic journals, newspapers, and ebooks. If you're still unsure whether your local library allows off-site browsing, give them a call!
But how do I find stuff?
The biggest challenge is figuring out which terms to search. No matter how well-designed a database is, it's not a mind-reader, so it's important to try to think in terms of classification. Typing in "what happened in Sweden in the 1400s?" won't retrieve many results unless an article happens to use most or all of the same words. Instead, act like you're searching an index and pull out the key concepts.
Search Library of Congress Subject Headings
These are key phrases created by the Library of Congress to classify and describe information. If you can find the correct heading for your topic, you should find just about everything available on it. There's a good guide on the subject here (although it's a bit old), but you can also just play around to find the right heading. Or, when in doubt, ask a librarian!
The nice thing about LCSH is that you can append subtopics for more granular information. So when thinking about fifteenth century Swedish history, I might start off with the broadest topic I can think of (Sweden), then add History. I search for "Sweden -- History" (note the -- formatting). I'm not sure what date range to use, but in my catalog, I see there is an entry for "Sweden -- History -- 1397-1523", which fits!
Next I think about traveling to other planets. How might someone classify that? I try "Interstellar travel" and that works, but so does "Space travel", which redirects me to "Interplanetary voyages" and "Space flight". There are thousands of subject headings, so it might well take a few tries to find the right one. But once you get the hang of it, finding information becomes so much easier!
Some databases use their own subject headings, too. These can be just as useful, especially if there is a thesaurus feature to look them up. If you find a document you like, take a look at how it's categorized. Those terms could help you find more information on the same subject.
What if you'd still rather use print sources, or want access to academic information that your public library doesn't have? Investigate the policies of local public university libraries. Many of them will allow walk-in users, since they're funded by tax money (although you won't get borrowing privileges). Even better, they might be open longer than the public system, especially around midterms or finals.
Google and Wikipedia
Don't let anyone lie. Librarians use both these sites to look up basic information like names and dates. They're fine when used properly. Just gauge what sort of information you need before using. If you want authoritative information from an expert on a topic, I'd recommend the library, but if you just want to make sure historical figure X was born in 1610, Google away.
This turned into a long one, and I still feel like I've given only the most basic information about online searching! Questions? Future topics in this vein you'd like to see? Fire away.
Thursday, November 10, 2011
For anybody hopping over here from her post, welcome!
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Now to being well-versed:
I was conversing with a friend last night on the topic of science fiction and fantasy and how difficult it is to keep up with everything in that genre. It's got a rich history and its output seems to be growing everyday, and a number of authors are very prolific. I read quite a lot, and I used to be able to read even more when I could take the bus to work and didn't have to deal with grad school und so weiter, but even so, I feel like my knowledge is scattered. I've read almost everything by a few authors, bits and pieces of a larger number of authors, but most I know only by name and reputation. Every once in a while I'll overestimate my reading prowess...
- overconfident of the proportion of it they've read
- ill-informed of the scope of literature out there
- confined to one particular sub-genre
- blessed with a life and job that lets them read 24/7 (and even then I doubt their claims)
Or maybe I'm just delusional in my interpretation of some people's claims or the feasibility of reading enough of these particular genres to be considered well-versed. Perhaps my definition of well-versed is simply too strict. I just know that I've read quite a lot, but still have much more to read!
What say you? How much do you think you have to have read to be considered well-versed, and are you there yet? How much do you read?
Tuesday, November 1, 2011
I had a vague idea of a few of the characters and the world they would inhabit, but said world is pretty isolated. Uninhabited, except for this small group of people. I had a few minor sources of conflict (man vs. nature, tensions within the group, mystery of the world, etc.) but nothing that felt big enough or hadn't been done very well in very well-known sources. I needed something big and not cliché to add interest.
So I told myself that idea probably just needed more time to ferment, as most of my good ones have in the past, and began outlining another novel. I incorporated a few characters I've been playing with since college and invented a few more who have the potential to be cool, but after a few days, I realized I couldn't really progress with the plot until I had figured out the central mythos of their world. I had a good idea of part of this world's history, but again, hadn't figured out the big, central conflict. I had just finished rereading a story I love for its huge cast of complex, fleshed-out characters and well-established world and magic/science system, and wanted to do something similar in scale, but again found myself tossing every little idea either because it didn't excite me or it had been done before and I couldn't figure out how to add my own spin.
Don't get me wrong. I'm confident that with enough time to think about the set-up, I could build my skills and craft a story that is complex and fleshed-out. My problem, though, is that I've always been quick to dismiss little ideas, or at least relegate them to minor sub-plots, while my big ideas, my good ideas, have always taken quite a while to build in my head. But I don't have that time right now! I've been revising old manuscripts for a while, and I know I do need to start really getting into something new. But of course, stressing about inspiration keeps inspiration away.
Well, I do have some short stories I want to rework. And that first idea actually has a story-within-the-story that I really liked and fully outlined, so I can write that, and maybe it will help me figure out what to do with the main story other than have characters walk around a deserted world and remark on how interesting everything is. Sometimes writing is the only way to stir one's imagination.
But I'll still wish some inspiration fairy could come infuse my head with dreams.