W.O.L.F. Sector
Thursday, Dec 14, 2017
Worlds Of Lesbian Fiction

News Archive for September 2012

Friday, September 7, 2012

Going Back To School (Sort Of)

Written by Kodi Wolf at 3:11 PM

As I wrote at the end of my last post, I've been doing a lot of research for Lights of Life, mostly because I never really did any when I first wrote it and it shows. Based on the comments I've received so far from my BetaWolves, my lack of research has caused numerous problems with the story's believability. Also, as a newbie writer way back then, I made numerous bad choices when it came to which scenes to show, so now I'm trying to fix all those problems, which has necessitated a complete overhaul of the story.

I also haven't been very happy with the amount of progress I've been making on my stories in general. It's been far too long since I updated with completely new content (as opposed to a revised chapter) and I feel really guilty about that. I hate letting my readers down. So, I've also been looking for ways to increase my speed of progress.

The main problem with the above two goals is that I'm kind of out here by myself, making this shit up as I go along. I've never taken a creative writing class, so I don't really know "the rules."

What I know about writing has come from four sources:

  • reading copious amounts of fiction (seeing how other writers do it)

  • writing and rewriting my stories (learning by doing it myself)

  • comments for changes from readers and beta-readers (taking in opinions from mostly non-writers on which way they think is "right")

  • reading "how-to" books and online articles about writing (learning what professionals in the writing industry say is the "right" way)

That's it.

Now, I don't think my writing is bad by any means. If I did, I wouldn't have the confidence to charge for my work. I know my stories are engaging and well written (not to be too cocky about it).

However, as you can see from the assessments I made above, there is definitely room for improvement. So, since all my beta-readers are indisposed for the next month or two, and have been for the past couple months as well (meaning I'm not receiving any feedback on anything), I'm using the time to focus on my stories in a way I never really have before, which involves structure.

When I first wrote my stories back in 2000, I was what's known as a 'pantster,' meaning I wrote by the seat of my pants (meaning I didn't really have a plan). I did outline a little now and then, but mostly I just wrote what I saw in my head as it came to me. That served me well back then, but as my stories became more complicated, I think they suffered for the lack of intention on my part. It's hard to foreshadow when you don't know what's going to happen next, and it's nearly impossible to give a scene the depth it could have if you don't know why the scene is important in the first place (if you know the 'why,' then you can make sure every detail helps prop up and reinforce that goal, rather than letting it get buried by other, less relevant, details). Also, when you're just waiting for the next scene to come to you, it's very easy to get writer's block because waiting for inspiration is not a proactive process.

Since my test project with all this is Lights of Life, I'll give you an example.

In the current posted version, I repeatedly have the main characters focused on food in the initial chapters. A lot of conversations take place around food, I describe what they're eating and how they cooked it, and the characters even comment on what they like or don't like about the food. At the time, I had a vague idea that Kaylee wouldn't know what stuff tasted like, since she's not from Earth and has also lost her memory, so I knew that aspect was important and needed to be in there, but according to my beta-readers (and my wife), the constant scenes revolving around food are too much. They bury the point in needless detail.

Now that I've been learning about structure and that every scene needs to have a concrete reason for being there (the focus or goal of the scene), I've realized that what I was subconsciously throwing darts at in the dark was the fact that not only does Kaylee not know what Earth food tastes like, she grew up on 'slave rations' among her own people, so she's never tasted good food. Now that I'm aware of that, I can make those scenes really mean something, rather than being repetitive. At least I hope so. :)

And of course, now that I realize what I was trying to say, I don't feel the need to keep trying to say it, so a lot of those food details can be cut, so that only a few remain to make the point, rather than half a dozen.

Throughout this learning process, I've read quite a few different articles regarding the 'pantsters vs. planners' debate. Apparently, there's a huge gap between the two camps, each of which believe their way is better. The main issue seems to be in regards to planning supposedly taking the creativity and spontaneity (in other words, fun) out of writing for pantsters. But I have to say, I've found it to be the complete opposite for me. I've felt more creative in the past few weeks than I think I have in years.

For anyone who isn't a writer, I'll try to explain what it's like to be one, at least for me.

Every time I get a new idea, whether it's a line of dialogue or a piece of backstory for a character or even a spark for a new story, there's an accompanying adrenaline rush. The same is true every time I'm writing story text and the words are flowing and my word count is rising. Or I finish a scene and read back over it and it feels right (I'll probably go back and edit it later, but in that moment, it's 'good enough'). Or I finish a series of scenes, culminating in an entire chapter being completed. Or, and this is a huge one that I've only experienced a few times, mostly with my short story fanfic, I actually finish the entire story.

However, those moments can be few and far between. Most of writing involves rewriting, editing, research, etc., at least if you want your writing to be better than average. The first words you write are almost never the right ones. They were just the ones that got you started, so you could get to the right ones. There is a certain amount of joy in getting to that final, polished stage, but there's a lot of toil in between.

On the other hand, if you're writing as a pantster, it might feel like you get more of those great moments because you're not doing much in the way of research or editing. You're not really thinking about how it all goes together, you're just enjoying the moment, the current scene, without feeling the need to see the larger context. As I said, that worked for me up until my stories got complicated.

But what I've found with learning about story structure is that instead of only getting those adrenaline rushes while writing, I'm also getting them before writing. Now that I know what it is I'm trying to say, I'm brainstorming how to dramatize those details instead of just throwing them into the narration. I'm actively trying to create dramatic moments and find the conflict and tension in my scenes, so that the reader will hopefully stay engaged with the story. I'm asking 'why' a lot more, which is sparking a lot of creative answers. And the more I delve into those aspects of my characters and the story, the more ideas I'm coming up with to connect all those pieces that I never saw when I was just waiting for the next scene to come to me.

By having a goal in mind, I can brainstorm all the various ways I can get that goal across to the reader, which gives me that same rush when I've hit on a good idea as when I simply write the scene that's playing in my head. In addition, by having a plan, I haven't really been getting stuck the way I used to when the film in my head would stop or go in a direction I knew wasn't right for the story. Now I just go back to brainstorming to figure out what's wrong or what I could do differently to make the scene better within the context of my overall story goals. For me, planning has become the main creative thing I do before the actual writing.

As for my second writing goal, speeding up the process, planning has helped more than I ever thought it would. As I've mentioned numerous times in previous posts, I have serious anxiety issues. One of those is that when I'm stressed, sitting down to write ends up becoming one more stressor, so to avoid the anxiety, I avoid the writing (I've been working on my avoidance behavior, but when I'm really overwhelmed, it's safer to indulge than push myself too hard and cause worse problems than simply not writing). But I've found with planning, knowing where I want to go and what I have to do to get there, it seems to have lessened that anxiety reaction, so instead of avoiding writing, I'm getting right to it. For the past week and a half, since I got back from vacation, I've written or worked on a story every day (except one; I spent the day with my wife).

So far, I've completed the revisions for Chapter 1 of Lights of Life, which might not seem like a lot, but I've expanded the text by over 15,000 words (about 23 pages) with new scenes before and after the original scenes, as well as expanding and rewriting those original scenes. I'm incredibly excited about all the new content, which I really want to post already, but it'll have to wait until my BetaWolves get back to me, which as I said won't be for another couple months. Plus, I'm still waiting for their comments regarding the two new chapters I have ready to post, which should get posted before any of the revised content does (I want all the revisions done before I post any of them).

So, how have I been learning all this stuff? Through books, of course.

My complete writing course includes the following books:

Structure

  • Story Engineering by Larry Brooks

  • Story Structure Architect by Victoria Schmidt

Creativity

  • Book in a Month by Victoria Schmidt

  • Wired for Story by Lisa Cron

Editing

  • Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King

There are other books I would recommend reading (check the Links page for them), but these are what I consider the essential books in my arsenal, the ones I've learned the most from.

The first four books are the new ones I've been reading that have helped me so much regarding story structuring and speeding up my writing process. Story Engineering really helped me understand the ideas behind the reasons for story structure, as well as the mechanics of it, while Story Structure Architect gave me examples to study. Book in a Month showed me the value of brainstorming and also setting writing goals, while Wired for Story gave me a whole new insight into why people love stories, which in turn informs how best to write a story that will engage a reader from start to finish.

The last book is one I've read in the past that I've found invaluable with regards to final editing. It shows you how to bring every little thing that could be wrong with your writing to the forefront so you can judge for yourself which way you like it best.

So that's where I'm at right now. It's still a learning process (it always will be), but I feel like I'm finally hitting my groove where my writing is concerned.

The other day, that one I spent with my wife instead of writing, we went for a walk in the morning and I told her about how I felt stuck getting started on the next chapter's revisions. I explained my dilemma and we talked about it, and she eventually encouraged me to go with my initial idea, since like she said, at the very least, it would mostly likely lead me to a better idea and I could always cut it if it didn't work out. So even though I didn't write that day, having a plan in mind set me up to get started the next day, and I ended up completing almost 600 words (that's a page and a half) of new text.

So as you can see, there are some major revisions in store for Lights of Life. However, I don't think they change the story from what it was to something new (it's still a story about an alien who crashes to Earth, loses her memory, and falls in love with a human, and then the two of them have to deal with the fallout once the alien gets her memories back). I think the changes just refine what was already there (or at least what I thought was already there). In any case, my wife normally hates it when I change my stories, but she loves the new opening chapter, as well as the revised chapters I've completed so far. Hopefully, you'll love them, too.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Out of Commission

Written by Kodi Wolf at 6:28 PM

So of course, one week after my last post, I fucked up my back again.

I have no idea what I did, but the trigger point under my right shoulder blade has decided to throw a massive hissy fit and has even gotten the normally calmer trigger point under my left shoulder blade to get in on the act.

So for the past 10 days, I've basically been banned from the computer. I've been taking pain meds and muscle relaxants, stretching, icing my mucles, and trying to lie flat (or at least supported on an incline) most of the time, rather than sitting up. I even got a massage over the weekend, which seems to have helped.

But of course, what do I do as soon as I feel better? I get stupid and spend too many hours on the computer, which is what I did over the weekend playing a game with my wife, and now I feel like I have an ice pick stuck in my back.

So I need to get off the computer now and ice my back, so I can get better and get back to writing sooner rather than later. I just wanted to write a quick note to let you all know why there haven't been any progress reports for the past week and a half.

PS Happy Autumn Equinox for those who celebrate the changing of the seasons. :)