Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Letting the Characters Speak

I'm terrified of rambling in stories.  Of all my pet peeves when reading, I think rambling ranks #1 or close to.  I hate it.  The long, drawn-out descriptions of nature or yet another conversation on why the hero and heroine can't be together... snooze fest.

But I think this fear of rambling has held me back in some ways.  In an effort to ensure the plot constantly moves forward I sometimes cut things a little too short.  Some description is a good thing and is possibly one of the most powerful tools a writer can use to affect the pace of their plot.

So I've been trying a new tactic lately.  I've been trying to let the characters unfold.  I figure I've been so anti-rambling that I could probably swing pretty far in the other direction and still be safe from falling into the rambling trap.

It's easier said than done.  Other than just jotting down basic, basic ideas for plot direction, I've stopped outlining.  I found that when I outline I adhered to the notes a little too strictly (I'm a very linear person).  So once I covered all the basic points I wanted to cover in the chapter I would think, "Well, that chapter is done, on to the next!"

Now I'm trying to let the characters tell me when the chapter should end.  By not sticking to a strict plan they can react much more naturally.  I find I end up surprised by what's happening.  My chapter notes used to be something like:

-have hero return
-space ship broken down
-heroine is happy to see him again
-they still don't have enough money for repairs

Now that there's no outline all sorts of strange things start to happen to the story. The heroine will break down crying just because it seemed like the thing she would do at the time.  I'm not an especially weepy person so it's not something I would have ever considered adding to said outline.  If she was unhappy she would have probably gotten into a fight with the hero over their broken space ship.  But nope.  There she is.  Crying.  What does the hero do about it?

It's both liberating and terrifying letting the characters speak.  I now realize that the author really doesn't have as much control of their stories as they'd like to think.  You can come up with the ideas but you give the ideas life by writing them down there's no telling what will happen next.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Review of "Unyielding," short story by Shane Ward

A battle for right, a battle for a child. One ship, two enforcers with a conflict of interest.

This story wasn't really a short story in concept.  Ward presents us with the intriguing but grandiose of a ship full of humans traveling to what will be the next Earth.  Because it takes hundreds of years the occupants have formed mini economies, caste systems and, naturally, must have strict controls on how many babies get born.

Interesting, right?  Is this a short story idea?  Ehhh....

There's just too much going on.  Which isn't necessarily a bad thing when you have the luxury to add layers and layers of depth to a story.  Short stories don't have room for such luxuries.  The concept presented must be simple.

I don't dish this judgement out very often but: it needs to be way longer.  I wanted the time to really hate the bad guy.   I needed to fear him before he even attacked the hero's wife.  Not oh here's the bad guy and he's done bad stuff and now he's after the hero's wife.

So overall it's a good concept that needs to be explored more fully.

3/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez 

Buy this story on Amazon.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Writing Every Day Continued

I realize that in creating this post it will start to sound a bit like the journaled ravings of a woman that writes her way into madness.  But it can't be helped.

I'm now making headway on the first work I've started completely from scratch since the newly established writing every day goal.  On our last episode I was writing every day and finishing up a work I already started and outlined.

I'm not a huge fan of extremely detailed outlines as I think it sucks the fun out of writing and is unnecessary for shorter works.  But I did recognize the necessity of organizing my thoughts and staying on track.  So pre-writing-every-day I would jot down major plot point that I wanted to occur in each chapter.

And this worked quite well when I was on my Monday, Wednesday, Friday schedule.  With basically 48+ hours between writing sessions I needed those little reminders when I sat down at the computer to get me back into the zone.  Subtle points that I wanted to bring up more than once as the story unfolded would otherwise be lost.

Now in this new writing every day era the outline was the first thing to go.  And what's strange is that it wasn't even a conscious decision.  In the past I would start a story to see where it was going and then make an outline after the first two chapters or so to map out the rest of it.  I'm about halfway through this new work and it just occurred to me that I neither have an outline nor do I need one.

The lack of organization seems like it would be unnerving but it's really not.  The act of putting words on a page every day keeps the story constantly fresh in my mind.  I never lose the zone because I'm always in it.  Consequently my characters are becoming more real to me.  For lack of a better way to phrase this, writing a story is becoming more like describing friends and less like a detached scenario I put my Sims through.

It's unclear to me if these psychological changes are actually improving the quality of my writing or not.  I suppose time and reader feedback will answer that one.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Review of "Cold," short story by Martin Pond

No workplace relationships (they get messy). And no relationships with married men (they get messy too). Lisa broke both these rules when she met Daniel. But when their affair ends, and Lisa realises she cannot get him back, she decides to get even instead, and exacts her revenge in a series of acts that start small but quickly escalate. And as the old saying goes, revenge is a dish best served... cold.

A compellingly told story marred by unlikeable characters.  But let me be clear: In general, I like the antihero types.  I think they actually end up being more interesting and complex than your regular ol' hero.  But in order to get into this type of character you have to be completely immersed in their twisted minds.

We watch as Lisa, our protagonist, changes from a semi-normal woman to bordering stalker.  But that was my problem.  She never really made it past bordering.  A plot like this can't play it safe.  What makes this type of story chilling is watching a sane protagonist make choices that are seemingly logical but really just drive them further and further toward crazy.

Lisa never went full blown crazy.  At best she was spiteful and jealous with a hint of crazy to come.  So all we're left with is a spiteful woman in love with a womanizing boss who's married to an ice queen.  Am I supposed to feel sorry for any of these people?  Even the wife who's being cheated on is a completely unlikeable person.  

So, as I said before, the story was compelling.  The writing was such that it kept me interested until the bitter end.  I just didn't care enough about the fate of the characters when they met said bitter end.

3/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez 

Buy this story on Amazon.