Friday, April 18, 2014

Day 9 - Cat Vaccinations

Visiting Vet came today.  Feral cat decided that maybe she is so still feral, but we managed to get her two boosters done.  My hand is only slightly shredded.  (Maude and Max took theirs like troopers.  Besides, they wanted to check out all the pockets in that doctor coat. Catnip resides there.  Also, treats.)

Today's Progress: 2076 words on In Flight.  In Flight seems to be on a tear right now, so I'm letting it run.  I think it doesn't want to be a novella.  I'm hoping it will at least be a short novel.  Chef and Mr. Reef -- our heroine's day job bosses -- have decided to intervene, and I decided to let them have more scenes in their point of view.  I'm thinking that they really just might want to turn the catering business into a catering and private investigations business.

Could this be a series? Possibly, but not a regular kind of series.  Back in the 1950's Frances and Richard Lockridge wrote several stand-alone suspense stories, featuring the same police background character -- Lt. Shapiro.  In those first couple stories, he really just lurked in the background, trying to catch up with the hero or heroine who was falling into deep trouble.

They were each stand-alone stories, of course, but Shapiro made them a kind of series.  He'd be schlepping around in the background always a little disturbed by the false trails he was given by the bad guys, until finally, he'd pull a Han Solo, and step in just at the right moment to help the hero or heroine defeat or escape the baddies.

So it is possible that these two will appear again.

Eating, Watching, Reading: Made "Mock-Potato Salad" today. It's basically a pasta salad made with my potato salad recipe.  I like it because the pasta soaks up any excess liquid.  Watched another early episode of Columbo (Ray Milland). And listened to a bit of The Writer's Almanac.  That's Garrison Keillor's 5 minute daily podcast where he talks about this day in intellectual history, and reads a poem.  I save them and listen to several in a row.

I'm still reading The Glass Key.  However, I'm going to start listening to an audiobook of Lieberman's Folly for my art listening when I start drawing again.  This week, I'm trying to deal with kerfuffle too much.  Lieberman (like Shapiro) is another elderly Jewish detective who has a tendency to come to the rescue, but his series is a more hard-boiled police procedural.

BTW. if you want to see omniscient voice handled really beautifully (outside of the Victorian "dear reader" tradition) you should check out the Lieberman books by Stuart Kaminsky.  He does this in his other police procedural series, which is set in Soviet Russia - the Porfiry Rostnikov series.  It seems to me, though, that the first Lieberman book -- Lieberman's Folly -- does a particularly good job of it, especially in a sequence three or four chapters in, where Lieberman's sidekick is sitting in a Chinese restaurant, trying to keep an eye on an endangered informant's apartment across the street, while picking up a waitress and trying to stay on the wagon.  It has been a while, but I remember being floored by his ability to keep us in omniscient through a pretty complicated sequence.

See you in the funny papers.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Day 8 - Getting on a Roll

Today was a pretty good day.  It wasn't seamless -- I got up late, and dealt with some family kerfuffle.  And I even screwed around, listening to TV and playing games for a bit.

Today's Progress: 1815 words, mostly on In Flight.  I also did a little on Man Who 2.  In Flight is one of the Romantic Suspense game stories.  I have been thinking about what I said about characters and crying and Dashiell Hammett the other day, and though some if it translates, there is one thing that Hammett does that you can't do in romantic suspense: he conveys no emotion at all.  It's really effective, but I think most romantic suspense readers would feel cheated.

So today I was writing a scene that creates an emotional shock for the heroine.  But I think it works because it's actually an emotional shock she is seeking.  She spend her whole life running from her past -- a past she barely remembers because she was a little girl at the time. Now she is seeking out the truth, and since the only thing she knows about the past is the very worst thing about it... well, it's not the kind of shock that a wilting heroine will suffer.

Eating, Reading Watching: Made mini-hamburgers and watched the rest of an episode of Columbo.  It was the one where his dog is first introduced.  I need to go back and look at it again, though.

Peter Falk was of the opinion that Columbo didn't actually have a wife.  That all that talk about Mrs. Columbo was a part of his act that he put on for the suspects and witnesses.  However, there are a couple of episodes where he is talking to his vet or other person in his personal life, and has no reason to lie.  And I think he did talk about his wife to the dog doctor in this one.  But I'm sure.  (If he didn't, though, I think he did talk to another vet about her in a later episode.)

Anyway, tomorrow, MY visiting vet comes to give the feral kitty her booster shots. (Cookie, btw, has mostly decided that she is no longer a feral cat. She is a tame cat.  She stays in the house where weather is good.  Except at midnight, when she wants to go out to the club with her pals. "Really, mom.  It's fine.  I'll be back by dawn."  She doesn't get her way, though.)

See you in the funny papers.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Day 7 - Kerfuffle Day

I have decided that Tuesday should officially be Kerfuffle Day.  At least until Agents of SHIELD is done with the season.  (Agents of SHIELD is an Event around here.)  Also becuase Tuesday marks the end of each weak of this 175 Day Something-Or-Other I'm doing. And, of course, because it tends to be a good day for Kerfuffle.

The Kerfuffle Hunt

I define kerfuffle as all the messy annoying work of life.  Filling out forms, making appointments, straightening out problems, getting things fixed, dealing with minor (or even major) crises.  Interruptions.  Problems.  Annoyances.  Irregular chores.

Most of these sorts of things cannot be completely accomplished on weekends.  They often require phone calls to offices which are closed, or visits to the bank and such.  And always -- always always always -- when you think you'll be able to do it first thing on a Monday... you'll find that you must do this other thing first, which it's too late to do, so you have to put it all off until Tuesday.  (And as often as not, it spreads into Wednesday or Thursday, or Friday or next Monday -- but Tuesday seems to be a prime day for a lot of it.)

So, today was entirely eaten up by bureaucracy (not taxes - those were done a while ago).  And I had a moment of falling to the floor into fetal position after spending an hour trying to find the right phone number to accomplish X.  I found the website which had a link "How to accomplish X!"  I clicked on it. It popped up with the stunningly useful information "You can accomplish X by phone!"  There was no phone number listed.

I shall not go into how I found the number, or my adventures with phone trees.  (Even though the people, when I finally got to them, were nice, I got the distinct impression that the buttons I pushed in getting to them spelled out H-A-I-L H-Y-D-R-A.)

I was going to talk about goals today -- the stuff I'm looking forward to getting done in the next 175 days, but I am too tired.  I still got some Kerfuffle to deal with tomorrow.  (The good news is that some of that is steps toward releasing some money. Always nice when the kerfuffle is remunerative.)

See you in the funny papers.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Day 6 - Should Characters Cry?

I knew my books were going to be distributed to Scribd -- a site which both sells ebooks, and also acts as a subscription lending library, something like Netflix -- but I only just now found out the books are all up and on line.  Check out my bookshelf at Scribd. 

In the meantime, today was a busy day.  I dealt with family kerfuffle, got a good writing session in, screwed around a LOT, and managed to get another good writing session in.

Today's Progress: around 1200+ words split between In Flight, and The Man Who Ran Away.  Yes, I skip around. I have too many projects. I work on whichever one is hottest.

Eating, Reading, Watching: Watched a little bit of season 2 of Columbo while eating leftovers.  But mainly I'm still reading The Glass Key.

Which brings me to some commentary:

Should Characters Cry?

There was an interesting moment in the middle of this book -- something Hammett does really well.  Hammett writes pretty emotionless prose.  In this book in particular, he keeps everything in objective voice.  You never know what characters are thinking.  It's like a movie camera, except you do get some sense details -- a few smells, textures, sounds. 

This works exceptionally well when he uses a first person narrator, such as in Red Harvest, where the nameless "Continental Op" writes the story as if giving a report.  It's full of the emotionless but vivid detail of the professional observer.  And The Glass Key is a third person version of this.  You feel as though, even though you are eves dropping on a guy who is unaware of your presence, he still keeps his thoughts and emotions to himself.

And in both Red Harvest and The Glass Key you have this incredibly powerful emotional mid-book event.  Both are enhanced by how much he holds back.  In Red Harvest, it's the death of a party girl, who is kind of like a Bond Girl, in her befriending of the Op, all the while being doomed.  In The Glass Key, though, it's direct, incredible suffering on the part of the hero.

And Hammett breaks one of the "rules" of writing emotion. His character cries. And it's a kind of stunning moment.

Ned Beaumont, tough-guy gangster sidekick, makes a mistake and gets himself grabbed by the rival gang, and he gets the crap beat out of him, hour after hour, day after day.  And he never looses a drop of his moxie.  His face is so swollen, he can't see and can hardly speak, and they have to dump him in a tub of water to bring him around so the boss can talk to him, and then he basically tells the boss to FU.  Not a bit of hesitation, not a chance he'll crack.  They'll beat him until he's dead.

But when he's alone, he crawls into the bathroom and finds an old razor blade -- and he can't even muster the strength to slit his throat. And then, there on the floor of the bathroom, he sobs.

The old rule of thumb I learned about emotional moments like this is that you should never let your character cry. If you want the audience to cry, you need to take the character to the point of crying, but hold back, and then the audience will cry for him.

Hammett takes this same principle and flips it on its head:  He holds back all right, but he gives us an apparently impervious character. A character who does not want us to cry for him. He doesn't want to share anything whatsever of his emotions, and so when they slip out, that's really an effecting moment.  The fact that he holds back until he's alone, and in control of the situation, that just makes us admire him.  It isn't that he's impervious. It's that he has self-control.

And it's the same thing with the Continental Op in Red Harvest.  Even though I'm pretty sure he doesn't cry, the death of the party girl has a sudden brief humanizing effect on him.  We know that this job is costing him personally.

Maybe that's what's really behind the rule about not letting your characters cry: it's about character strength.  We want to see a character's strength.

Even in the fragile gothic maiden, fleeing the monster in her nightie, we don't want to see her cry and break.  We want to see her delve deep and use up every resource she has. We want to see her fight.  Even if her fighting is just running.  She'll run until she can run no more.  And then she'll crawl.  Crying is okay, actually, as long as she keeps going.  Like Ned Beaumont, who after he fails to slit his throat, finds another use for that razor blade.

Pathos isn't about how bad things are, but about how deep your character has dug in and emptied his/her reserves.

See you in the funny papers.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Day 5 - Baby Steps and Flouncy Ladies

Weekends are times when other people have the day off, so they end up booked up, Saturday for shopping, Sunday for Dim Sum and a Movie.  I try not to plan to do too much.  Sometime it works.

Today's Progress: Multiple small steps.  I generated the start of an idea for the next horse story.  Then I did a few hundred words on a flash story called "Something Rather Terrible," and I did the first rewrite pass on "No Regrets."

I also had an odd fantasy that could lead to an interesting Mick and Casey story:

I was taking a nap, and as I drifted off I had this image of the limp, wilting heroine being carried to safety by the manly hero, and my story-mind immediately started flipping through all my characters and rescue scenarios.  (It was sort of like the Marvel Studios logo -- the flip book going rapidly through a lot of images.)

And it stopped on Mick and Casey:  Some how this ultra-floofy young lady -- bedecked in ruffles and petticoats and ribbons and lace -- got herself into trouble with bad guys, who hitched her up by the jacket or belt and left her dangling from a hook in a barn. She is too ladylike and helpless to get herself unhooked.

And so there's Casey up above trying to get her unhooked, while poor Mick is trying to lift her up by her unmentionable regions, and getting smothered under flounces and pettiooats.  And of course, once Casey gets her unhooked, the lady falls right down on top of Mick, and much entanglement ensues, while Mick tries his best to remain a pure gentleman. (While Casey makes dry comments.)

The kicker that makes me want to write it, though, is that the hopeless little lady has no money to reward them with, or hire them to help her get her things back.  She has nothing to offer except her fancy lace parasol from Paris, France.  She offers it to Casey...

...and Casey accepts!


Did not see that coming. So I have to write it, if I can figure out what the lady's problem is.

So that's one more idea on the pile. (Not really a story yet.)

Eating, Watching, Reading: Dim Sum for lunch, then I baked bread, and made Tuna Casserole as per family request.  Watched The Incredible Hulk (Marvel, 2008) and was not particularly thrilled. It was reasonable entertainment, had a very funny cameo by Stan Lee (who has a cameo in all the Marvel Studios flicks) but totally underutilized Tim Roth.  This one didn't quite feel like a part of the new Marvel Universe -- with SHIELD and the Avengers and all -- but I guess I had to watch it if I wanted to be a completist.

Still reading The Glass Key.  Need to do some drawing soon, though, so I may start listening to some P.G. Wodehouse audiobooks.

Meant to talk about my goals for the 175 Day effort, but the Mick and Casey story was more interesting.  So maybe Wednesday.

See you in the funny papers.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Day 4 - Writing and Shopping

Had a great session to start the day off, but then I had a marathon shopping session -- shopping for three people -- and then I decided that I didn't want leftovers again, so I cooked dinner and watched the good parts of Thor (the first one).  I then decided that I would read and get to bed on time tonight, rather than try to double my writing quotient.

Today's Progress: 1200 more words on "Dark Whisper."  Discovered that the real horse's name is Maven, and he seems to be a Thurcheron. (Thoroughbred/Percheron cross - Big, steady, good movers.  Sometimes don't notice the six-foot steel reinforced fence that's supposed to pen them in.  "Oh, there was a fence there? Oops!  Sorry, my bad." Not sure I'll use that detail in the story.)  Also, Horse Master Joe does a bit of detective work.

Eating, Watching, Reading: made Shrimp Cakes and Pan-Seared Aparagus with a lemony gravy, while watching the middle part of Thor because I like the parts that take place in New Mexico better than those that take place in Asgard. Also, we're reviewing most of the Marvel movies now that the Agents of SHIELD TV show is converging with the movies.  (We'll be watching Hulk tomorrow -- the only one we haven't seen, because it never interested us. However, given the "character-driven" nature of the new Marvel movies, and also how they seem to be building up to a big, on-going mystery pot-boiler, we figure we should see it.)

Yes, I don't write superhero stories, and don't do that much with fantasy, but I am blown away by what Marvel is doing. Also, I am a great fan of Joss Whedon.  (I mean, this is the guy who did Dr. Horrible's Sing-along Blog, AND also produced Much Ado About Nothing as a fun project on weekends in his own house!  He is my storytelling hero.)

So now, off to bed to continue reading The Glass Key

See you in the funny papers.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Day 3 - Imaginary Equine Friends

Today went quite well. It started slow because I went to bed late last night and so got up late.  I got some kerfuffle done -- mainly packaging my pain-in-the-neck city taxes. (Everything else is done, and the refunds are already in my bank account.)

And I had an incredibly fruitful brainstorming session this afternoon....

Today's Progress: Started in on "Riding Dark Whisper," about 1200 words. This is the story idea I generated as an example when I wrote last night's blog post;  Title: Dark Whisper, Subject: First Riding Lesson.  While it does involve a first riding lesson by the end, the story is actually about overcoming fear of horses.  Also about doing a good job at things.  The heroine draws horses and really wants to be an artist.  She's just moved to a new house, and there is a riding academy back behind the new subdivision where she lives.

This afternoon I beat out a plot for a long novelette -- about the same length as The Ride To Save King -- and I'm suddenly very excited about it.  I know the genreal sweep of all four acts, and I have chapter breakdowns for the first two.  I'm not sure I'll get this written in one streak, though. I'll probably write about half of it and jump to something else for a while and come back.  Stories like this work that way for me.

"Dark Whisper" btw, is the name of her idealized imaginary horse, and maybe there is a horse that fits the bill at the academy.  I'm not sure that name is good for the title though. I'll have to think on whether I need to completely reframe the title.

Eating, Watching, Reading:  Made "Shrimp Roll-Ups" today while watching Humphrey Bogart in In A Lonely Place (Columbia, 1950, with Gloria Grahame).  A later Bogie flick, and one of his great performances.  It was also a great noir potboiler -- a temperamental screenwriter who may or may not be capable of murder, and the woman who falls for him and gives him an alibi, only to wonder if maybe she has put herself in danger.  (Funny how real, classic noir was very often a "women's picture" or "woman in jeopardy" type story, more than a hard-boiled detective story.)

In the meantime, I've put off watching any more versions of The Glass Key until I finish the book.  The movies are very much like each other, but they change just enough of the book to make the book confusing.  Hammett writes in "objective" voice here, character motives are completely opaque -- you literally don't know what anybody is thinking -- and you have to pay attention to when and how things happen.

See you in the funny papers.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Day 2 - Flashes and Title Games

Second day of the New World Order.  I screwed around a little....

Okay, I screwed around a lot.

I spent too much time on social media and then watched TV while paying Risk USA on my iPad.  I realize that the early part of the day just doesn't work for getting much done.  Tomorrow I'm going to try swapping excessive social media with Kerfuffle Management.  (Which I will explain when I actually succeed at doing it. One hopes this will be tomorrow.)

Today's Progress:  Finished "No Regrets" which is now 1400 words, half of which are new.  I probably destroyed 500 anti-words in the process.  And when final editing is done it may be shorter. I'm hoping to polish it on Sunday or Monday, and maybe submit to EQMM, though because it has a supernatural element (a battle with the devil story) I might send it to Asimov's first.  I think, though, that it has a "crime" sensibility.

Story Game:  More Title Games. I want to write a lot of short stories.  And though I'm concentrating on writing crime fiction, I'd like to add more children's fiction and especially horse stories, to follow up other stories I've got.  One of the problems I'm having with the children's horse stories, though, is that my mind wants to slip into cliches and tropes.  I need a "mixer" element to get me out of a rut.

So I decided to expand on the idea I'm using for the 26 Story Challenge.  I'm collecting a huge list of titles from all different sources. I'm also creating game wheels of options for various genres -- things I want to write about. I'll select titles from it, and then spin the wheel to see what I'm going to write about.  I've got a couple of variations in mind in case the elements don't match up.  But you never know.  Even an unlikely pair could lead to an interesting story.  (Title "The Dark Whisper" Genre Element: "First Riding Lesson."  that's not going to lead to your usual "Hands and heels down, head and heart high" story.)

And yeah, I just made up those two elements on the spot, but I think I'll keep them.


Eating, Watching, Reading: Leftovers, no reading today (other than nonfiction -- mostly political wonks), and I watched a little more of the George Raft version of The Glass Key.

I also watched a little bit of a strange little movie titled This I My Affair (Fox 1937).  Robert Taylor, Barbara Stanwyck, Brian Donlevy and John Carradine.  It's like a madcap romantic comedy crossed with a crime thriller.  I kinda half expect to see Robert Preston show up in it, though he's not in the credits.  (I'm thinking Brian Donlevy is going to have that role of the romantic rival/crook.)

Anyway, onward and upward.  I need to get to sleep on time tonight so that I can get on with the kerfuffle hunt early, which should settle me down to work properly.

See you in the funny papers.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Day 1 - A Little Flash In the Pan

Okay, here we go, starting 175 days of progress reports.

I spent much of the day, and yesterday, trying to figure out what change I needed to make in the blog. Should I shut it down?  Should I stay the course?  Those of you who read the previous post know the answer: I decided to return the blog to its origins for a while, and make it a writer's journal.

Today's Progress: Most of a flash story called "No Regrets." It's about 1250 words long, but some of the words were already sketched in. I hope to finish it tomorrow.

Eating, Watching, Reading:  I also made bread, and watched 1/3 of Mrs. Miniver while eating a splendid dinner of leftover pot roast.

Classic movies are very important to the main work in progress (The Man Who Ran Away). Karla lives in a world of movies, and is a natural lateral thinker -- so throughout the story she will draw connections between life and movies.  (But never quite in the way people expect.)  I don't really do this all that consciously.  I just have to watch things and see what crops up when Karla sees the situation.

Nothing in particular clicked with Miniver, but I'm thinking that the subplot with the rose might actually match up later on.  Also the air raid warden and his salesmanship.  There are elements of rivalries and sneaky sidekicks involved here.

Which is why I think Dashiell Hammett may be the most important influence.  I'm reading The Glass Key, but I don't know that it will fit as well as Red  Harvest.  (Note to self, get a copy of Yojimbo and A Fistful of Dollars, which were both inspired by Red Harvest.  I was led astray by critics who apparently can't tell the difference between Red Harvest and Glass Key.  Oh, also, add Miller's Crossing to the list.)

In the meantime, I already have a North by Northwest reference.  Karla decides that George's money was mistaken for a spy.

See you in the funny papers.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A New (or Old) Approach To The Blog

I spent most of the day composing this post.  This is ironic since it's mostly an announcement that I'm not going to do that any more. (Or at least not for the next 25 weeks.)

Hi, my name is Camille and I have a blogging problem.

And it has got to the point where I'm not even blogging very well any more.  (Rather like the "drinking problem" Robert Hays' character in Airplane had.)

The truth is I've been letting the cart get ahead of the horse lately.

I blog partly to support my writing, but it's so easy to blog that I let it develop and grow ahead of the rest of my career.  Plus the immediate feedback (comments, views, retweets, pins) makes it distracting.  Then, just as the blog gets on a roll, I realize "oh wait, I need to hold back on this until I've got some more books out."  And I interrupt the blog to go back to work.  So I'm not doing either well.

I've been writing full time for 18 months, but I never really settled into a good schedule. I realize that the blog is part of the reason.  I made an effort to pull back on my writing career so I could restart that... but the blog kept leaping into the vacuum.

What I need to do is a blog reset.  Not a hiatus, not a vacation or a change in schedule. A reset.

So, for the next 25 weeks or so, I'm going back to the original concept of this blog:

1.) The blog will take the form of a daily writing journal.  That is, it will be a daily report on my writing progress, with a little colorful commentary on my adventures in writing and the things that interfere with it.

2.) The posts must be off-the-cuff.  No planning or composing ahead.  I may allow myself to do more "think ahead" commentaries on Mondays (written Sunday night).  But only if I find it isn't interfering with my writing.

3.) If I get a great idea for a regular blog post, I will write it down and file it for later.  (Either use it when I go back to regular blogging, or for a guest post or blog tour.)

4.) I will sometimes miss a day or two or five. The goal is not to post every day but to use the blog to intensify my focus on my writing for a while.

5.) This will last for twenty-five weeks, until the end of September. (Approximately 175 days.) At that point, I'll have to decide whether to keep it up or go back to regular blogging or do something in between, or to run screaming into the night.

I've known I should do this, but I've avoided it, for reasons I won't go into because I can't remember them and even if they seem really important to me, they really don't matter.  I need to do this now -- and keep doing it.

I have announced big changes in the blog many times recently, and it seems like the New Blog Order usually lasts about two weeks.

However, that's where item #2 comes in.

See, in the past, when I put the blog on hiatus, I'd get an idea for a post and I'd write it, but because the blog was just sitting there, empty, I'd be overcome with a need to post it.  And the next thing you know I'd be back to full time posting again. And if I put the blog on a schedule, I'd find myself pulling myself away from writing to meet the deadline.

By insisting that all posts be off-the-cuff posts, and about how the writing day went, that makes it a part of the writing routine, rather than a distraction from it.

I'll be starting tonight, even though the day is mostly gone. We'll see how it works.

See you in the funny papers.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Sunday Update

This turned into a mixed week.  Lots of recovery, but also a lot of raw work done.  I've been very busy doing all sorts of things I wish I had more time for.  Sadly, though, I am not ready to post anything I wrote for the blog yet.

Current Novel

I can say that the novel has been leaping along. (This is The Man Who Ran Away.)  The word count isn't high, but the important elements are filling in.  I just realized today, for instance, that since George has no furniture in his house yet, he may have to acquire some in a hurry so he can have a fancy party to lure in a gathering of the suspects -- so Karla can do her sleuthing thing.  I think, though, that it may have to happen earlier than a usual gathering of the suspects, and be more of a big complication than a solution.

I haven't decided on whether there will be an actual murder at the party.  It's possible the party may end with a chase scene.  In the dark. In or around the lake.

Alternatively, George may go head to head with a little old lady over possession of a unique handmade couch -- it's hers, but she'll let him have it if he resolves the case to her satisfaction. (And if it turns out the person she wants to clear is guilty, that's too bad for George and the couch.)

The 26 Story Challenge

On the 26 Story Challenge, I have detailed ideas for six or seven stories.  The problem is that some of the ideas are lending themselves to longer stories than I want to do for the collection.

(A quick reminder: this challenge is to take the table of contents from an old adventure book found on The Gutenberg Project, and write a flash fiction crime story (between say, 500-1500 words) for each chapter title over the next year.  To keep the ideas focused on the crime genre, I am matching each title with a randomly generated item from The Big Wheel of Crimes and Theories which temporarily resides here.)

When the combination of title and crime element lead me to a longer type story, I'm saving the longer idea and then re-rolling the crime type and going again.


As for blog posts... I might have something for Wednesday, but I'm not sure.  I am pretty sure I'll get up a Story Game post on Friday -- when I'll be talking about creating your own story game.  It'll start with identifying your own genre -- by looking for your favorite tropes.  (May be multiple posts, may not.)

At the moment, I have lots of partially done posts, and ideas for new series, but I want to actually write them ahead of time, and so I can post them on a regular schedule.

See you in the funny papers.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Sunday-ish Update

This week was eaten up by unusual amounts of paperwork, kerfuffle and then family visits. (So we got to move from frustrating to pleasurable, at least.)  I knew about the visits in advance (which is part of the reason I called off blogging activities for a week or so) -- but everything turned out to be more wearing and time consuming that expected.

So I expect I'm going to need ALL the rest of the week to recover and get my momentum up.  However, I do expect to start blogging again starting next Sunday, and possibly start blogging more frequently.

(I have even considered going back on the daily "writing dare," but that's just craziness talking.  I will be continuing the 26 Story Challenge however.)

I do know the next direction I'll take for the Story Game posts: I'll start in on how to create your own story games.  And we'll get on with the plotting series.

In the meantime....

See you in the funny papers.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The 26 Story Challenge

In Friday's Story Game post, I mentioned how I had always wanted to do a particular experiment: I wanted to take the table of contents from an old adventure book from Project Gutenberg, and write a story from the titles of each chapter.

Well, on Friday (which was another one of those crazy bad days in which things went moderately but continuously wrong) I gave up and sat down to play with one of the TOCs.  The story in question had 25 chapters, and I decided to use the title of the book too, so that made for 26 stories.

Then, just for grins, I added a game element: I took my Big Wheel of Crimes and Theories (which temporarily resides here) and rolled a crime or motive element for each title.

Boy did that turn out to be COOL.

Some of the random elements came out with perfect kismet, such as "A Human Spider" which came up as "Burglary."

Others had a title I wasn't sure I could come up with a story for.  For instance, "A Store in Chicago" feels like a regional subject and I don't know enough about Chicago to feel comfortable. (Though I'd come up with something.)  But then I rolled the crime for it and it came up with: "Murder for Inheritance."  So it doesn't have to take place in Chicago. If I like, the inheritance in question can be a store in Chicago.

And there are some old fashioned titles that just feel weird: "So Long as God Gives Us Breath" and the crime came up: "Fault in an unintended misfortune (sports loss, job loss, humiliation in front of mentor, etc.)"  The fact that these don't go together that well might actually be the leverage to coming up with a good story for them.

The Challenge

The stories will be between 200 and 2000 words each.  I might stretch a point for a really good longer idea. (Or I'll save that longer idea for later, and come up with a different short idea -- and write them both.)

Since I want to start submitting to major mystery magazines again, the genre will be loosely defined as "crime" -- just as Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine defines their stories.  (I.e. mildly supernatural stories or SF can be fine if they involve a crime.)  However, I'm going to try to stick to non-supernatural stories.

For the first few stories (this week) I will try to come up with some under-1000 word stories for that KB anthology.

Time frame? No idea.  Other than trying to have a few stories right away, to submit to various publications, I suppose I could set a rough goal of one every two weeks for a year.  They won't have to be polished until I want to submit them, or until the end when I put them in a collection.

Furthermore: it takes time to run stories through the submission process, and any that get bought will take a while to get published, and then a while to revert rights -- so the collection of all of the stories could be years in the making.   We'll see what I'll do with them when I get them in hand, though.

Oh, and one of the things I hope to accomplish with this project is to make it a "fill in" task.  If I run out of steam on a major project, I pick one of these to work on for a change of pace.

(LATER NOTE to all and to self: I'm thinking of turning this into a formal challenge, maybe for next quarter's ROW80.)

See you in the funny papers.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Thinking About a Short Story Game

I don't have a game for you this week.  (Well, maybe some little ones down at the bottom of the post.)  But I'm thinking about a new one:

David commented a few weeks ago that he had been dubious of the game, but was thinking about creating one for writing short stories.

The games I've been coming up with so far have been a little too elaborate for that.  As a matter of fact, even though I created the Situation Game with the hope of writing long novelettes, the stories have been coming out novella length. Or even as short novels.

Which kind of sucks because the original reason I created the game was to get through the writing fast while the story was still hot in my head.

In the meantime, I've been trying to write more flash fiction lately.  A group of us on KBoards want to do an anthology this summer of stories no more than 1000 words.  Usually that isn't a problem for me, but this month I've been coming up with lots of ideas for stories which look like they'll be best at 1500 words or 2000 words. 

But I also want to start submitting to traditional magazines again, so a few extra short-but-not-too-short stories would not be bad to have around.

So a writing game for short fiction would not be a bad idea.

Back to Lester Dent

I mentioned Lester Dent's pulp fiction formula when I gave you a little preview on plotting and talked about the Maverick model of plot.

Dent's formula was designed specifically for short fiction -- 6000 word pulp stories, in particular.  This was divided into four 1500 word acts. (Here is a page with Dent's Actual Formula as written by him.)

So the first step in a short story game might be to take his formula and create wheels of choices for it.  Just for grins, see what kind of stories you'd come up with. 

The problem, of course, is that such stories aren't so popular today, and maybe you aren't interested in writing those classic hard-boiled pulp stories anyway.  Today these stories are appealing on a different level than they were, and they have a different emphasis to please the audience.

So you'd have to adapt it.  But it is a starting place.

Not So Structured Games

Fr me, the best "game" for a short story has always been a writing prompt.  Take a dictionary and flip it open to a random page, and stab your finger at a random word. Write it down. Then chose a second word the same way.

There.  You have a story prompt.

(At least we did back in the day of paper dictionaries.  Not sure how to do this with electronic dictionaries.)

Some of my favorite stories were written because I was sitting in Taco Bell, with time on my hands, and I just looked around and said "Write a story about THAT."   The Enchanted Tree started that way. So did the more recent story Flat Crossing.  (There was a tree outside the one time, and my current Taco Bell is right next to the railroad tracks.)

Very short stories are often "one idea" stories anyway.  You set them up, explore them, bring it to a head and then reveal them. 

One of the things I've wanted to do in terms of this kind of "story game" is to take a Table of Contents from an old novel on Project Gutenberg, and then write a short story or vignette from each of the chapter titles.  And then maybe publishing the collection.

The one problem with doing something like this is that stories created this way tend to vary a lot in tone, genre and style.  So they might not make a good collection, but it could definitely be a fun exercise that would produce some interesting stories.

One solution to this would be to combine something like the Lester Dent approach with  interesting writing prompts.  Maybe come up with some rules on the kinds of stories you want to write before thinking about the prompt.

The problem with THAT is that you could shut down the thing that makes it the most fun.  Of course, one alternate exercise: Take one prompt -- a dictionary exercise, or an object, or one weird old chapter title -- and write several different stories from the same prompt.  A romance, a ghost story, a hard-boiled pulp fiction story.

That's all for this week.  Posting will be irregular for a little bit, as I figure out what I'm going to do with the plotting series.  (I have changed my mind about completely dropping what I was doing. I will at least finish up that last post -- which was really the first half of a post.)

I've got a few other things up my sleeve for you guys too.

See you in the funny papers.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Blog Reboot

I woke up with a cold today, and things slid downhill from there for a while.  I was unable to use my computer or office, and thus I fled the house, only to discover that the batteries had died on my ipad keyboard.  I have a steno pad with me at all times... but today, the pencil ran out of led and the pen had no ink.

Seriously, I don't think I was supposed to write anything today at all, let alone a blog post.

If I had been able to record words in some manner, however, I think the words would have been something like these:

The plotting series seems to have gone off the rails, and completely lost its audience.  And I think I know why.

Usually I get a lot of interest in a theory seires like this, and I also get a lot of interest in the posts where I break down and micro-analyze scenes -- especially with clips from YouTube.  However, in this case, I put these two elements together, and in the end didn't do either very well.

So I'm pulling the plug.

I'm going to reboot the plotting series -- this time I'm going to write the whole thing before I start posting it.  I might start it again as soon as next week.  But don't hold your breath.

I would like to do a full beat-by-beat analysis of some of these movies (and maybe a few books) as a separate thing.  These would be "spoiler" analyses, so I more than likely will post them (if I get around to it) on my unused companion blog "The Daring Novelist Spoilers Blog." (I'd put an alert here when I post there.)

One of the reasons I started the spoilers blog is because I would like to do a "commentary track" type analysis of some movies (and also of my own books perhaps) which isn't necessarily limited to a certain subject. And that was the problem here: I had to keep leaving out things that were intersting because they weren't relevant to the post.  (And, of course, because there were other interesting things I wanted to talk about, I was less interested in talking about the business at hand.)

And there is the fact that some of my fiction is really demanding my attention right now. Which is good, if I can shake this cold.

I may or may not have something for you for the Friday Game post.

See you in the funny papers.