Thursday, December 22, 2011

Play out your ideas, not yourself.

I cannot stress enough, when writing someone, feel free to place your interactions upon their personality.  Do not place your own ideas and goals.  If the writer believes in anarchy, gun rights, and a pure free market, making your characters feel the same way makes them preachy.  This applies to any belief.  Writing can be a platform for your beliefs, but fiction probably isn't the place for it.

More, the character probably faces situations which we never encounter.  Even in realistic fiction, they probably are doing things rare in every day life.  Sitting in traffic and being annoyed might work for some authors (probably dark humor of some sort,) but does not play well as well as, say, fighting a demon.

If I, Ryan, were challenged by a hostile demon, I would collapse in prayer and perhaps run away.  But if I, Julos, half-angel and champion of heaven, were challenged by said demon, I would fight, and perhaps win.

The angel expects to survive, so if I were that character,  how would I behave?  If I were a righteous (literally if I were an angel) badass, I might smart off to an engaged demon, I might question his parentage and his ability to hold his liquor.  Or some such.

Though why his marriage promise matters, I'm not sure.  (Engaged demon.  Engaged.  Like marriage.  Nevermind.)

If the writer's logic and behavior can be framed from within the life of a character, making them live and behave in a "real" way is so much easier.  Many writers tell me they can do dialogue or action, but most struggle with one or the other.  Hopefully, having a full, real, image of the character means the other flows more easily.

If a person has ever been in theater or done improv, this should might be simple.  Pretend your character is a role, only the lines are all adlib.  Make it up on the spot, but as the character.

Pen and Paper games are a great way to learn how to improv a character.

I find making up a voice for a character helps.  Give them a way of speaking, a specific vocabulary, and watch their personality grow.  Make them some stereotype in reality, maybe the person is from the deep south, or jersey, or India.  Since we're probably not representing people actually from India or the South, but a fictional person who behaves the way we imagine some group acts, it isn't insulting!  Fiction!  In a bottle!  Brilliant!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Sketch Writing, for fun and profit

Sketch Writing
4 28 2011

So back in the day, I wrote stories. Meaningless, stream of consciousness stories that amused many, and made sense to few. They weren't supposed to make sense, they were supposed to exist.

Back up a bit from now, move forward a lot from them. To a month or so ago. (Roughly 4-1-11, April 1, 2011.)

Ok, first, back up a bit more.
Mentally anyway. At some point, I realized the why of my writing. I write for three reasons.  These are the best and most functional reasons for anyone to write.
1) I can
(it works, I feel functional in doing so, I have the means to do so.)
2) I'm good at it
(not arrogant at all...)
3) I want to/I enjoy it

There may be more reasons, but those three are plenty.  If money is the reason, go pick up writer's market and skim through what people get paid for writing, and that is only the people who do get paid.  If a person can content themselves with at least one of those three, he or she can write at length.

Ok, lets go back (or forward, I forget when we had gone to,) to early April 2011. I realized the last reason is most meaningful to me.  “I want to.”  I love to write.  I write because if I don't write, I wither into a little raisin-like husk.  (It could happen!)  However, the pain of not writing could never spur me to write.
I write because I literally love it.  I enjoy the act of writing, of sitting and thinking out words, to read what I have written, and to think about what I will right.  These things help me move get up and go write more than anything else.
Despite all that, starting and stopping are the two hardest things I ever do.  I sometimes find that it's 5 am and I need to work at 10 and I'm still pounding away, wearing out my expensive ergonomic keyboard at 70 wpm.  I sometimes find that I've plotted hours to go write, and sit at home doing nothing meaningful instead, maybe listening to music and looking at facebook.

As Luther would say,
“What does this mean?”
The only reason I can write is because I want to.  I wonder how many other people can force themselves to write just because they "need to" or something equally obscure.  Writing is my favorite form of entertainment.  Hopefully other writers enjoy their work as much as I do.
Writing is the end, with no relevant means. Who needs a means? Forget the means. Don't get hung up on it.  You're always going on about this means stuff.  Forget cause and effect.
Don't get caught up in the “doing something” ideal of writing. Sure, you might get published, but that's a side effect, like eating ambrosia and discovering that its cured your athletes foot, along with your leukemia. (Or maybe not, the Greek gods were messed up.)

Best yet, writing doesn't go away (unless you don't back up your material!  And you should!)  Practice makes a writer better, no doubt, and that value is within the writer, but the words themselves might have value to someone some day.  Like any art, your words are never worthless.
Writing, even with little purpose or goal, is sketching.  It is the hours of work a person does to be able to make a single toe look good. It's the hundreds of hours a sculptor puts into making abs look nothing like real abs and all the better for it.

Sketch writing. Because you want to. Make it happen.

Back up your writing! (or, Flash drives, online, engraved in blood...)

Save often, save habitually.
Save because it will keep you from tearing your hair out when you lose power.  I've heard people say they only save when they close the document.  I can't imagine such a world.
Ctrl-s is usually the hotkey for save; learn to hit it every 20-30 seconds.  If saved, work can almost always be recovered.  Even in the event of catastrophic failure, data might be saved off damaged harddrives or storage locations.  Data lost in a computer crash is probably gone forever (unless your auto save is very good.)  

What a boring post title.
Seriously though, back up your writing.  I don't think I can say that enough.  Losing writing is losing time.  We double check to be sure we punch in at "normal" job.  People keep printed sheets of their hours.  Maybe they physically sign in and out too. Why would a person be any less diligent in backing up their art?

Beyond saving, how do you back up your writing?  Online services (or mozy or whatever,) are literally throwing themselves at people to back up data.  At the very least, get some flash drives and get a synching program (yeah, it's MS, but it'll be there in years, right?)

Here's what I do.  I edit the files on my flash drive and use this free program (same as above) to copy the files onto my harddrive any time I unplug the thing.  If I lose the flash drive, I still have the data.  If I royally foul things up while writing, I have a close recent version on my harddrive.  I recommend keeping several other flash drives as additional backups, and updating them every week at the least.

Also, email your files to yourself and occasionally burn them onto CD.  Anything else a person can suggest on how back up his or her files would be welcome.

Well, the real value in most writing is the practice, but some people do plan (or hope) to get something for it, even if the pay day is many years in the future.  Keep everything.  Back it up ninety times.  Get to know the dates on your files.  Rememeber which is newest and which can be replaced.  If that data is lost, you will never get paid.  Maybe it isn't worth a lot, but few people hop onto the writing scene making millions.  Write, then backup, then maybe get someone to publish it, (or do it yourself, though that's a whole different topic,) then get paid.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

To wiki, or not to wiki, that is the question.

(Edit: Yes, I realize this isn't new or controversial.  I wrote it for my own reference.)

No heading here, just watch out for those slings and arrows.

Wikipedia.  Even linking it without making a point somehow seems criminal.  After 2001 anyone who listened when the teacher explained about a bibliography and citing sources probably remembers wikipedia is not a valid source.  That same article does make the point that wikipedia often has decent articles which themselves cite sources.  I'll get to that.

The problem is that people can edit a page, put up information, and then have it widely available on the internet, with little fact checking.  The information may take some time to appear, but will also take time to disappear.  I'm sure many people have friends or heard of people who deliberately post wrong information on Wikipedia.

As a source, it is unreliable.  Consider Wikipedia's changing nature; if you use a wiki page as a source, you cannot be sure it will say the same thing tomorrow.  Maybe you agree with it now, but in a week, the wording is changed and the change is more technically correct, but you no longer like it.  Letting other people control the point you are trying to make gives them power over your article, book, or paper.  So, just to be sure, what is a valid source?  Good question.


Don't let me push you too far away from Wikipedia.  If you are not engaged in any highly technical writing (academic, or published works,) then you probably do not need to worry about your sources quite as much.

Blogs are a great example; if you use poor sources, you are only accountable to yourself and your readers (who are honoring you by reading your blog anyway.)  Not to say you should post poor or wrong information, simply that nearly making your point might be just as good as making it exactly.

Giving readers something contentious to comment about might build an audience.  If that matters.

User editing, the very thing which makes Wikipedia a poor source, can be a plus in the right situation.  Consider this real scenario: A friend of mine has a specific type of intense headache.  I had never heard of these headaches, so I looked them up and, of course, a wikipedia came up first.

I read the wikipedia page, saw when it was edited, examined the sources, and skimmed most of those, only to see them mostly agree with the Wikipedia article.  I then searched the web a little more and found a few pages that disagreed with the article, but they were published a few years ago.

I check the newer sources, listed on Wikipedia, and see they have directly refused the older sources.  In this case, incorrect information was taken down as part of the user's interaction.

In the middle of my story, a single important fact might have be missed.  When I read the Wikipedia page, I looked to see if they had sources and then read (or at least skimmed) any they listed.

Consider the guidelines for decent sources (as listed above, but re-linked here,) while checking these pages too.  A person could create a false source just as easily as posting incorrect information on Wikipedia.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Migration or A history, a man, a plan, but no pallendrome.

Reposting topics

I've been running various websites since 1998, (what, that's not what you think of for 1998? I never forgot the look on that ref's face,) but never really as anything more than a brochure.  I've decided to move most of my website over to Blogger and mostly am going to use the existing templates, because I never made anything fancier than what exists or is possible.  Over the following month or two, I'll bring the dozens of pages I have on my website here and label them as "repost," just so no one thinks I made it right now (now that I'm sure how that thought would be bad.)

I'm a writer.  That will come up a lot.  Now, since authors these days are expected to self-promote (seriously publishers?) this seems a good way to help build a following.  Also, there's a few people who write blogs that I read and I wanted to comment, don't hold that against me (especially if its greasy, I don't want you pressing that against my clean shirt.)

I'll keep it short.  I'm moving things.  I'm a writer.  Nice to meet you, I want to know your name...?