Secret (Agent Man) Writing Project

I’ve been talking about my Big Writing Project for awhile now. Mostly, I’ve been hinting at it. Mostly, I’ve only been hinting because, er, I’ve been too busy working on it to actually provide any viable details.

Anyway, it went live today.

It’s called Edge of the Universe, and it’s an internet fiction network (which makes it sound so posh). And it’s a huge pile of work, and a bigger pile of fun.

Right now, the site is a disaster. I have this theory — which I created purposely to disturb people — that it’s best to go public at some point and then use the fact that you’re public as incentive to get things running faster. “You put your pants on even faster when you realize you’re outside,” is the analogy I’ve used. Never mind what that probably says about me.

Go visit! And marvel at the magnficant wreck. And then visit again a little later, when hopefully we’ll have it smoothly operating and delivering fiction at you.

(It’s heavily automated, to help give me more time to write and to keep updates coming smoothly and on time. This means we have to get the machines working properly first. THAT’S why it’s a bit jumbled.)

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Agreeing, disagreeing, and the stuff in between

So, via Neil Gaiman’s blog, I read a short interview done with Paul Cornell, on the SFX magazine web-site. It’s an interesting little interview, and I enjoyed it. I ike Paul Cornell. I’m not actually a fan of Doctor Who (I’m not NOT a fan; I’ve just never actually watched it, that’s all) but he does Captain Britain whose first issue was terrific (for the ten minutes it was available before selling out) and I like him. He has a nice blog too.

But back to the interview.

It’s interesting, because I quoted a single part of it to a friend in e-mail and said, “i don’t work like this at all. I work almost exactly opposite,” and it was true. And then I continued on reading the interview and realized that he and I stand contrary on almost every single point, with regards to short story writing, my most favoritest field of writing.

Which, I hasten to add, is not the same as me saying he’s wrong in his working method. No more than I’m saying I’m right. It’s just an interesting difference.

For example:

SFX: Can you just sit down and bash out a short story if you’ve got a good idea?
Paul Cornell:
“You can do, if you’re willing to keep chucking pages of stuff that you suddenly realise don’t go anywhere. Some really bad, and usually unpublished, stories are the ones where the writer isn’t willing to do that chucking, so has to conjure an ending up out of what they’ve already written, whether or not it works. That reads like bad improv. If you plot first – and with a short story that could just be knowing what the ending is – then you’ll only have to chuck lots of little plot paragraphs as you replot, and not piles of prose as you rewrite.”

I disagree. Or at least, I don’t work that way (which is hardly the end of the world). I’ll usually have a short story idea — sometimes an ending, sometimes not, sometimes nothing but a title and an opening line — and I’ll go from there. It’s not total improv, not all the time. I have a story in my head now where I have the ending and I have the gray shapes of the things that happen before it. They’ll clarify as I approach. I know, from long experience writing short stories, that the quality of the gray shapes I have is enough to allow me to write the story to completion (whether it’ll be good or bad is another subjective matter entirely).

And further, I don’t really re-write short stories. I’ll modify now and then. Sometimes, if I missed the point, I’ll dump the story and go off and be busy for a week, a month, years, and then maybe do it again if I know how.

Sometimes I DO improv stories. I’m sure there’s at least one person reading this post who can grumpily tell a story about going away from an instant messaging conversation they were having with me, only to return after awhile and discover that, having gotten bored, I wrote half a short story in the chat window. That’s fun. Mostly, it’s just flexing muscles.

SFX: The first draft of a piece of writing is not enough, you have to edit. How do you know when you’ve revised your story enough?
Paul Cornell:
“You get a feeling for when you need to stop. I tell you what, though, if you’re reading this thinking you’ve got that feeling: you haven’t, go back and do another draft. You need many drafts. Many drafts. This process is about rewriting, not writing. It’s not about inspiration and dreaming, it’s about craft, like working a piece of wood. Start every new piece of work from the top, editing as you go, and you’ll smooth out the start, which is the most important bit. Keeping in your head a need to say things in the fewest possible words will help too. You’ve noticed you used ‘that’ this time? ‘He saw that she was moving.’ Get rid of it. ‘He saw she was moving.’ (You can always get rid of ‘that’, except when you can’t.)”

Again, with short stories, I don’t tend to work that way. With novels, I wind up doing a fair number of drafts (by me, “fair number” is “anything under three or four” at the extreme most) but with short stories, it tends to get a first draft and a polish. If it needs a second draft, then it probably means I need to re-write the whole thing, bottom-to-top again. It’s a whole piece of cloth, I can’t just cut out bits and sew in new bits. I don’t know how. I have to make a whole new piece of cloth that’s maybe closer to the color I was originally intending, you see?

Anyway, it’s just stuff like that. It was interesting to me, that interview. We agreed in a few places (I agree with his answer to the first question, about hooking the reader, wholeheartedly; and I agree that if you get halfway through a story and a find a better idea, you should start again. And I agree with his explanation of how novels differ from short stories).

And anyway, he’s currently on top of the world with Doctor Who and getting good reviews with Captain Britain’s wonderful comic, so I suspect if you had to listen to one of our opinions, you’d probably want to go with his.

Anyway, that’s my thoughts for the day. So thunked because I’m doing quite a lot of short story work these days for Big Secretive Mystery Project (which, this article being time-stamped to appear on Monday, you may be just about to hear about, or have already heard about). It’s on my brain.

What do you think, then?

Free Drink Friday: What’d he say?

I was chatting the other day about the character Zathrus, from Babylon 5, specifically talking about his wonderful quotes and how they’ve become a part of my regular usage.

For instance, maybe his most famous saying “Zathrus has lived a miserable life. Zathrus will probably die a miserable death. But, at least there is symmetry.”

That quickly became a regular part of my vocabulary. “at least there is symmetry.”

Another series/movie filled to the brim with amazingly well-written, quotable material is Firefly/Serenity.  You could while away a full day waxing nostalgic with quotes in there, and more than a few have wormed their way into my daily life.  I’d love to think, someday, I’ll be good enough to have things I’ve written become part of my reader’s daily lives.

What about yours?  Have you come across any good quotes that were so well written and appropriate, that they stuck with you AND became a part of you?  Are there things you’ve read, or heard in a movie, that rang so true, they roll off your tongue regularly? Ones you’ve taken and sliced up a bit, molding them or using only parts?

“Would it be too irregular or unreligious of me to suggest” you mention some here?

Free Drink Friday; How old are these peanuts?

6 centuries of scientific books to be sold in NYC

A copy of Copernicus’ “De revolutionibus orbium coelestium” (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres), printed in 1543, is expected to bring the highest price, between $900,000 and $1.2 million. It puts forth the theory that the sun – not the earth – is at the center of the universe.”

I would dearly love to see this one. Can you imagine any of your written works lasting this long, or fetching this amount of money at an auction house?

I can’t, because I’m a hack writer and proud of it. Some people write because they want to leave behind a legacy, others write to inform and instruct future generations, while others write to promote morals and values they believe in. I write to entertain, and judge my own success by how often some stranger tells me they enjoyed the story I’ve told.

But to have one of your books get noticed 465 years after you wrote it . . How cool is that? 🙂

Unless that’s just how long this dude had to wait to hear back from his query . . .

Free Drink Friday; These pretzels are making me thirsty

I was watching television last night, and a character was eating a sandwich – no big deal – but suddenly I was hungry. Since it was late, and I was heading for bed in fifteen minutes, I figured I could just ignore it, but then on comes a commercial for – you guessed it – Food.

I went to bed thinking about how that same thing happens to me when I’m reading a well-written book and the author is describing food really well. I get a craving for things that don’t even exist. Like when Anne McCaffery goes on and on about food in her Crystal Singer series – she’s describing alien treats that I’m suddenly wishing I had in my fridge. She does this because food plays a major role in several scenes, so it’s not out of place.

And as a writer, we often use eating scenes to add movement and interest to a large segment of dialog. Your characters can’t just stand there talking, doing nothing and making no movements, so often a meal is used.

In fact, not too long ago I was reading through some really old works of mine (we’re talking old) back when I was still learning how to put together novels and tell tales. I found I had this habit of giving characters coffee – over and over – with the occasional beer tossed in for good measure. It’s perfectly fine, until you realize you’ve just loaded these poor people up with so much caffiene and liquids, any normal human being would have burst ! Especially since we rarely read a scene where so-and-so had to use the bathroom. I think once, in one sitting during a conversation, I had a guy drink something like 4 cups of coffee. It’s a wonder he survived the story !

So, as a public service reminder – Always in Moderation, folks. Always in moderation 😀

Now . . . I’m hungry.