Thursday, June 16, 2011

Breakout Novel Workbook Complete

Yesterday I made a final push and completed all the exercises in Don Maas' Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook.  Essentially, these are the exercises that Maas uses in his live "Breakout Novel Workshops." There are nearly 600 different tasks that the workbook calls for, most of which each involve writing two to three paragraphs for your novel.  All told, I ended up writing almost 100 pages of text, some of it in note form, but much of it in narrative form that I can directly use in the book.

And most of it is usable.  Maas' books aren't about writing technique; they are more writing prompts that get you thinking about your story in ways you hadn't considered.  Some of the results of his exercises were, in my opinion, not as good as the way I originally approached the topic under study, but by far the majority of the paragraphs I wrote for these exercises are better than what I had before.

In short, it's a huge amount of work, but is time well spent.  The only challenge is maintaining your critical eye so that you can see when what you had written previously is better and when you just think it's better.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

"Science Fiction May Be a Twentieth Century Literary Form"

I went to Comicon with a friend this year, mostly attending various panels on writing.  On of the speakers was Robert Sawyer, who is one of the big names in science fiction right now.  He wrote the novel Flash Forward, on which the ABC television series was based, as well as a number of Hugo- and Nebula-winning novels.  I have had a suspicion for some time that the science fiction market is dead.  What I haven't been sure about is whether this is a temporary lull fueled by Harry Potter and Twilight mania, or if it's a permanent thing.  I posed the question to Sawyer, asking, "Given that Americans seem to have turned their backs on science in general, do you think science fiction will ever make a come-back?"

He paused and thought about it, then said, "No.  I think science fiction may turn out to be a twentieth century literary form, much in the same way that Victorian fiction was a nineteenth century literary form."  We aren't likely to see a resurgence of Victorian fiction -- no one wants to read that style anymore.  Sawyer doesn't think that science fiction will rebound, either.  His main reason for his belief is that during the middle part of the twentieth century, technology was making huge strides and filling us with wonder every day.  Anything seemed possible.  Today we aren't impressed by it.  We take it for granted that "someone" is making our new technological devices, but as a people, we have zero interest in developing or exploring that technology.  It doesn't fill us with wonder, the key ingredient to science fiction.

I watch trends.  With practice and experience, you can start to see how threads are tied together and the pattern they will likely form (as an aside, this is the inspiration for Elisia's Fate Spell in my novel).  I've seen this coming for a while, which is why two years ago I abandoned my science fiction series in favor of the modern fantasy trilogy I'm writing now.  We are always told as writers that we should not write to the latest "hot trend," and the Wise are correct in that advice.  By the time you finish your book, that hot trend will be lukewarm at best. But if the market for your book is already dead and isn't likely to return, then you're foolish to try to make a career out of that genre.

I'd like to think that I could write the "science fiction Harry Potter" that would turn the nation back to science and science fiction.  I may yet try someday.  But I'm not going to bet my career on it.

Monday, June 06, 2011

What's Up With the Book?

I'm making some fairly major changes to the novel, but I think the payoff is going to substantial. One of the biggest changes is that I'm adding another POV, that of the antagonist.  The antagonist in this story is not the "bad guy" -- in fact, as ruthless as his plan is, you may be wondering if he has a point by the time it's all over.  Regardless, we need to get to know him as more than a shadowy figure in the background.  We also need to see more of the preparations for war that the antagonist is making.  These preparations are largely hidden from the protagonist, so I felt some of the tension of that plotline was lacking. Showing events for the antagonist's point of view will help both issues. This gives me a total of three POV's for the two main story lines (one during the firebombing of Dresden in WW2 and one in the present day), but I think the interlocking between the three POV is solid.  We'll see how it goes.

I'm also focusing events more on the internal conflicts that the protagonist is having to deal with, as well as highlighting the theme a bit more throughout.  There are the same basic plot events, but I'm strengthening the connections and meanings associated with them.  I'm pleased with how that's turning out so far.

There are a multitude of other changes that aren't quite so major (for example, the protagonist's love interest now hates him through most of the book -- and with good reason).  So, lots of work to be done, but it's all good work -- and it's good to be working.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Back Online

I was just looking at the date of my last post here.  Has it really been almost three years?  Amazing.  This blog was tied to my old GMail account (which I haven't used in, oh, three years), and I no longer had the password for it -- which isn't tragic, since I was really too busy to keep up with the blog.

I just today managed to transfer the blog to my new GMail account, so I started playing around with settings.  The background is what I see when I'm sitting at my desk writing, which I thought was kind of cool.  As you know from the previous post, our dog died in 2008.  About a year ago we had finally gotten to the point where we were ready to get another dog.  We had almost settled on a sweet female beagle, when we discovered that my oldest daughter is violently allergic to dogs.  (Her eyes swelling shut was a pretty good clue.) Since I'm allergic to cats, we decided to get a parrot.  Cosmo is now a constant companion.  He loves the girls and REALLY loves his mama.  He also enjoys sitting on his T-stand chattering to me while I write, as you can see here.   He talks quite a bit ("Hello!", "Whatcha doing?", "I love you!", "Hi good boy!", "Mmmmm-wah!") but is definitely a goofy bird who loves to show off his acrobatic skill for attention.  He's also a beagle bird -- he'll do anything for a treat.  He's a very good boy.  My daughters' friends think he's pretty awesome, too.

I have been teaching part time at our community college as well as at one of the state universities.  I quickly managed to amass a full-time teaching load between the two colleges, but still managed to find time to keep working on the novel.  A year and half ago, however, one the astronomy teachers at the community college passed away suddenly from an undetected brain tumor. My wife and I took all of his classes in addition to our own -- that was the end of writing for that semester.

The following fall I decided to interview for the one-year-only job in astronomy, which I got, so I have been teaching full time since fall 2010.  I was also asked to develop a new physical science class in addition to teaching an overload, so again, essentially no writing got done.   This past spring, I was teaching seven different courses (and multiple sections of some courses), as well as writing a new lab book and developing a second lab book for a blind student who was taking my course.  I was barely getting my lesson plans made and quizzes graded for the next day, so again, not much writing!

This spring I also interviewed for the permanent position and managed to beat out twenty-three other candidates, so I will continue to be full time next fall.  I did, however, negotiate a reduced number of class preps (same number of classes, but multiple sections of the same courses), so things will be dramatically easier from here.  Since I will be working full time in the fall, I decided that I had earned the summer off -- this is the first time I haven't worked during the summer in over fifteen years.  So, this summer is entirely devoted to writing, and it has been wonderful.  I'm making huge progress on the next re-write of the novel.  I'll post more about that another time.

I'm still not going to be posting every day, but you should see more updates from now on.  I'll try to tweet more of what I'm working on as well (since my good friend Amy keeps bugging me to do so!).  It's good to be back writing!