Saturday, January 31, 2009

Striking Out

For the last couple of days I've been in Hawai'i for another exercise with the Marine Corps Reserve. Within a few hours of arriving here, expecting to go to Thailand, someone asked me if I had my passport. I was a bit puzzled because no one had mentioned that before then. Of course, since I don't have a passport I had to answer 'no.' I knew immediately that was going to be a problem. I've never needed a passport because a military ID card and official orders were always enough to get me through customs every other time I've gone overseas.

Fast forward 20 hours and I'm standing at the window to the passport office with my birth certificate in hand, an empty FedEx envelope in the rental car, and 31 less dollars in the bank. Sorry, says the bureaucrat, but we can't accept this. The document I've always had stashed away since time immemorial is just a hospital issued thing with no legal weight. (Interesting side note, it was apparently good enough for the recruiter who enlisted me into the Marines.)

So the chapter ends with me not going to Thailand, which was supposed to be a pretty good gig, and another officer here getting last minute notice that he was leaving on Monday. So now I will be doing his project for the next couple of weeks instead. As luck would have it, I think I know more about his project than he does and he's got a Thai wife. Sometimes things work out OK.

And, as they say around here, even if you're having the worst day of your life, you're still in Hawai'i.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Striking It Rich

Rich with dialogue. No, this post isn't about me it's about a story on Abandoned Towers; First Contact by Heather Parker. This is really a fantastic story even though it's not heroic fantasy. The emotion and poignancy that's crafted here is amazing and it is all done through dialogue. A subtle, human drama that both has us caring for the characters and thinking of all the others that it could apply to. Very, very well done.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Striking Distance

"Broken Rocks" is cruising along and passed the 7500 word mark this morning. The mayhem has begun and now, for the first time in the story, there are actual broken rocks littering the landscape instead of metaphorical ones. Both of the main characters are great fun to write about when they go full force into bad temper mode. The evil part of me greatly enjoys creating fictional destruction and seeing what I can do to top myself in each fight scene. The set of stories I'm currently working on allows for that in large quantities. Looks like another couple thousand words or so will wrap this one up and then I have to take stock of the situation and see what I can come up with for the next challenge.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Striking Balances

"Broken Rocks" is up to 6200 words and feeling strong. Right now I'm trying to find the balance between action and character. Three paths are converging and the final confrontation is looming. While doing that I find I have time for dialogue and character interaction. This is interesting but makes for a scarcity of grievous injuries. My typical tactic is to do both character and action at the same time but this story seems to be building up, almost like a spy novel, with move and countermove as the plotlines drive inexorably toward their intersection. That intersection almost always has loud noises and associated broken bits, which is part of the delicious anticipation.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Silver and Gold

I had an interesting e-conversation with my editor the other day. There's a story that's just over the word limit and needs to be pared down a little. This can be difficult because writers tend to think that every word they write is pure gold. In this, I have had a minor revelation about what the purpose of an editor is. They are not here to find the gold in any given story, they're here to find the silver.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Couple of Great Moments in The Book of Names

I've read through the first chapters of The Book of Names and found two very impressive things. First up is the description of the surroundings in the first few pages. It is so important to start strong in fiction and the way Briggs shows the colors of the cloudy sky and evokes all the senses with the mysterious and unsettling stormy weather brings you into the story quickly and sets up the feeling of tragedy the family has gone through. Second, there is an incredibly touching moment when the brothers curl up on the couch discussing how their dead mother used to make the perfect hot chocolate. It's a simple scene and provides some great characterization. Briggs is an author who can give you both a world and a set of characters to really care about.

Monday, January 19, 2009

CSFF January Tour

This month the CSFF is bringing you The Book of Names by D. Barkley Briggs. This is a fantasy story that transports two brothers, suffering from great family tragedy, into an alternate world where they become champions against evil. While this is a plot device that has been done a bazillion times, people I trust are saying a lot of good things about it and as we all know, the magic is in the telling.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Forward Progress Resumes

"Broken Rocks" has crossed the 5000 word mark after going back and forth across the 4K mark a few times. The pesky middle has been fairy dusted over and awaits a more brilliant rewrite than I'm capable of now. The characters are gathering in the bright lights of the big city and soon things will start to take their places in various hastily created rubble heaps. My basic plan for Act Three is to take all the characters, put them in the same area, apply heat and pressure, and shake well. I've found that these scenarios often draw some of the best writing out of me and produce some pleasant surprises that can become sparks for further stories. Oh, what joy.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Silver Linings

An interesting lesson in family togetherness came along yesterday. While largely unsupervised, Son Number Three climbed up on top of the six foot tall bookcases and pushed all the boxes of photographs off, creating an organizational disaster. The task of sorting out the random piles was daunting but Wife Number One and Only was up to the task. There was a bright side to it, however. (Well, two bright sides. The other was that I didn't have to do anything to help.) We took the opportunity to look over years of pictures that we otherwise never would have. So if you'd like to have a few hours of family bonding, allow your twelve year old to babysit, fall asleep on the couch, and remain unaware until you walk into the room and shout, "Oh my goodness!!"

Monday, January 05, 2009

Thrust, Parry, Riposte, Fall On Face

In the ongoing fight to dominate my latest story, "Broken Rocks", I've had the joy of writing yet another future deleted scene. (At least I'm getting better at recognizing them quickly.) For much the same reason, I've abandoned this scene because it doesn't really solve the core logistical problem of getting the characters from point A to point B. Also, it had that 'get up, eat breakfast, get in the car, drive to work' sort of feel to it when I really wanted a 'Joe arrived at work to find his office on fire' sort of feel. There's just a lot of territory that has to be covered over populated lands which will create problems that I don't have time to address within the confines of this story. While difficult times for the main character are good, these are not the problems I want to deal with right now.

Shoot, maybe I should have done a little world building before I started this thing.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

World Building

While I've always known that world building is an important part of writing fiction, (I've even got a Writer's Digest book sitting on the shelf with the same name) I didn't know that it can almost be a hobby in and of itself. To me, constructing the world around the characters always came after the idea for the story. If I needed characters to do something then the world would conveniently have the thing I needed right there. If I need something to happen to them then I'd create the world to allow for that as well. Not since my old Dungeons & Dragons days did I ever sit around and create a world just for the fun of it.

So it's with interest and a bit of skepticism that I'm poking around the internets looking at various world building sites. Initially, it strikes me as the same "To Blog or Not To Blog" argument. I see a lot of potential for sparking creative energy and driving a story towards a conclusion but I also see a lot of opportunity to put the cart before the horse. And in my little world, horses don't push.