Sunday, July 31, 2011

Odds and Ends 07.31.2011

Not exactly a linky post, just random stuff I wanted to share:


I got a bloggy award from Yahong! Thanks for your kind words and all-around awesomeness. :)


I think it's absolutely insane. I'm too much of  a wimp to sign up, but I do kind of want to give it a shot. Maybe 24 hours would be more doable? I don't know. I meant to try it yesterday but got sucked into TV tropes and didn't find my way out of it until hours later (and look, I am such a good friend I'm not even linking you). On second thought, maybe I really, really need to participate in this marathon. The internet is a dangerous, time-sucking, productivity-wrecking thing, I tell you.

Sigh. I think the only way I can do this is if I cheat and let myself use email. But then I will see blog comments and Twitter mentions (at least I turned off Facebook notifications) and gchat, and Google Reader is only a click away and I'll want to comment on stuff, and... yeah, I can see why it'd be a slippery slope. I guess I'll have to think about it some more.


Krispy somehow talked me into doing CampNaNoWriMo (basically NaNoWriMo in the summer, which I think works a lot better for me than November). 

I seriously have no idea how that happened. Um, hello, self, are you completely crazy?? This is not going according to plan. I do not have a nice, detailed outline. I have no idea what I am doing. I have never completed NaNo before despite my previous (and very pathetic) attempts. I am sure I will fail.

But you know what? It's ok. I already have quite a few ideas for what happens in the beginning, middle, and end of my story, so I'm not starting with a total blank. I'll mostly be using NaNo to develop my ideas. There will probably be a lot of messy freewriting, things out of order, random scenes, and ramblings on worldbuilding/backstory stuff that nobody needs to know but me. Afterward, when I've discovered most of the things I want to say, I'll organize all my ideas into an outline and use that to write a draft that actually reads like a story. (Who knows, maybe I'll do that for the official NaNo. :P) So I guess it's not that far off my plan. I'm just brainstorming more intensely and starting to write a bit sooner. 

And even if I don't make it to 50k words, or only manage to generate a ton of junk, I think it'll be a good learning experience. I'm terrible at commitment and discipline, so this is a good challenge for me.

So yeah, August will be pretty crazy. I'll still be posting at least once a week (at least, I hope to), and I might also post writing updates. We'll see.

What are your writing goals for August? Any tips for turning off the internet or writing 50k words in a month? Anyone want to join me? :P

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


When I wrote this post last week, I had no idea I would be asked to critique again before the end of the week! I felt incredibly honored to be asked and was glad that I'd been thinking about how to be a better critiquer, but I still think I wasn't as encouraging as I'd hoped to be. Definitely something to work on.

A couple weeks ago, I agreed to look at my friend's med school personal statement for her. It wasn't the first time this year; another friend had asked the same thing a month ago, and I'd looked at hers, offered several comments about what could be improved, then returned it with a note along the lines of "Great job! A few tweaks and you're there." (Although she did later tell me that she was shocked by the amount of comments I gave her, despite my encouraging note at the end.)

So I was hoping this time would go that smoothly too. But as I opened the document and began to read, my heart sank. She'd asked for feedback on awkward sentences, unclear sections, and rough transitions, but her essay needed a lot more than line editing. In my opinion, it would take a major content/structure overhaul for it to become an effective essay.

I'm pretty sure nobody ever likes to hear that their writing isn't working. And I didn't relish being the one to tell her, either. At that moment, I wished I were one of those readers who always found everything perfectly fine, and said so. It would make things sooooo much more comfortable for everyone involved.

Unfortunately, I am not one of those readers, and I thought it was more important that she knew the truth, even if her feelings got hurt. So I resigned myself to my task and drafted a long email to (hopefully) prepare her for the comments I was going to make on her essay. Things like, "I'm not doing this to hurt you, but to help you improve your essay," "take a deep breath before you read my comments," and "I know this will be hard to swallow, so brace yourself."

Then I annotated the document with comment bubbles everywhere. I wrote down my thoughts and reactions as I read and commented on almost every sentence; by the time I was finished, the comments I made added up to be much longer than her essay.

I attached the document to the email I'd already drafted, edited what I'd written, typed in her email address... but, in a sudden fit of — thoughtfulness? restraint? sleepiness? —  something, decided to wait until the next morning to send it to her.

And I am very glad I did. I tend to be straight-forward and blunt when critiquing. Combined with my critical eye and high expectations, my comments can seem harsh even when I don't mean for them to be. I have to work at being encouraging; I tend to forget to point out the good parts until the end, when I realize I need to balance my comments with praise so I don't get stabbed to death by the writer. (Not that it would've been easy for her to do so, since I live on the other side of the Pacific. But still.) Some people may process criticism fine this way, but I knew it would have been too much for my friend to handle.

So. Good thing I didn't send it. But then what? I couldn't lie to her, or give her the silent treatment. She needed to know her essay wasn't working, and why, so she could improve it. But how could I do it without making her hate me?

Fortunately, things turned out ok. I talked to her on gchat and tried to figure out where she was in her writing process, and whether she wanted to hear what I thought. I then went over the essay with her through IM instead of sending her my comments, which allowed me to rephrase my comments more gently.

I was alarmed when she got defensive at first, but as I moved on, she came to understand and agree with many of my points. I pointed out why certain sections wasn't working, made suggestions for revision, and helped her brainstorm new ways of spinning her stories so they conveyed what she meant. (I also told her to get lots and lots of second opinions.)

I was so relieved when she said that she appreciated my efforts and knew that I was pointing out the flaws not to put her down, but to help her. Yay, crisis averted! I really do need to learn to be more encouraging though. And I should put my work out there more often, too, so I know how it feels to be on the receiving end of critiques.

[While we're on the subject, here are some great posts I came across regarding critiquing and being critiqued: James Killick offers a few tips in his post on how to write critiques that don't kill (or get you murdered, heh). Beth Revis wrote a post on how to critique that made me glad I'm nit-picky and honest about my thoughts. For those being critiqued, Jane Lebak at the blog writes about how to argue productively with critiques (hint: not with the critiquer).]

Anyway, the whole thing made me wonder how people deal with similar situations in the writing world. 

What do you do if you discover the manuscript you'd agreed to critique for a friend needs a ton of work? Do you use the sandwich method and try to balance criticism and praise, or are you brutally honest?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Inky Linky Love 07.23.2011

Time for another link roundup post! (I know they're kind of random. But at least they always show up on a Saturday?)

Lots of amazing worldbuilding links, since they inspired many of my thoughts in my last post. Be sure to check them out, as well as the other writing posts I found thought-provoking or helpful:

  • Sherwood Smith at Book View Cafe wrote an insightful and in-depth post about worldbuilding, internal consistency, and things that pull her out of the reading experience. Definitely made me want to write a secondary world that's logical, despite how much work it is!
  • Steven Popkes, also at Book View Cafe, applies evolution to the movie Avatar and comes up with some interesting conclusions. Great thoughts about how flora and fauna of your world should make evolutionary sense.
  • Juliette Wade posted a TTYU retro about how descriptions should have relevant support structures. Love her points about keeping the viewpoint character in mind and slipping in the worldbuilding subtly.
  • I adore the INTERN's posts on breaking down The Hunger Games! I love that book and I enjoyed reading her analysis of what makes the book so addicting. Part one is about structure on the sentence/scene/chapter level, and part two is about video games (yes, really).
  • Kate Hart does an amazing job of creating cool info-graphics to analyze the covers of 2010 YA novels in her post, Uncovering YA Covers: How Dark Are They? The answer to her question? Not very. In fact, they tend to be overwhelmingly white. I'm hoping there will be more diversity in YA in the future!

That's it for this time. Have a great weekend!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Settings and Worldbuilding

I got a bit distracted with the excitement of winning a blog giveaway last week, but here I am, back to blathering about stuff I like and don't like to see in novels. So far I've talked a bit about protagonist and plot... what's next? Ah, yes. The setting.

Patricia C. Wrede wrote in her blog post, Big Three Redux, that most writers can easily pick out their strongest and weakest suit among the three biggies of character, plot, and setting. When I read that, I immediately thought, "She is so right! I bet I'll totally suck at setting." (I did not, however, think I had any strong suits to speak of — because I'm just super humble like that. :P)

When I think of settings, I think of those long descriptions I skim so I can get to the good parts — you know, action, dialogue, things happening. I only need a general gist of where the scene takes place, and my mind fills in the rest. I mean, cool settings are neat, but they don't make or break novels for me the way fascinating characters or mind-blowing plots do. So yeah, I don't pay much attention to settings. Which means I probably won't be good at conveying my mental image of a scene to readers. Definitely something I'll have to work on.

But there's more to setting than making sure scenes don't take place in a void, now that I think about it. After all, why else would I be so drawn to fantasy, if not for the secondary worlds full of magic or talking animals or unfamiliar cultures? Why am I so excited when aspects of a secondary world are not only fun and quirky but also clever and sensible? I might not be very enthusiastic about flowery descriptions of rooms and landscapes, but I find worldbuilding fascinating (probably why I adore Juliette Wade's blog).

And a little intimidating, too. I mean, have you seen this list of fantasy worldbuilding questions?? And readers expect everything to make sense and be internally consistent! (Well, I kind of do, at any rate.) Every plot point I think up results in tons of implications about how thing work in the world in which the story is set, and getting them all to form a cohesive whole, with plausible causes and effects, can be so overwhelming that the task seems impossible.

Still, that doesn't stop me from dreaming of crafting a fantasy secondary world with its own histories and cultures, and then having the world evolve over several books. I'm not a fan of trilogies or storylines that require multiple books for resolution, but you know what I think would be super exciting? A series of standalone companion novels that take place in the same world, though in different eras. I'd want to see how technology and magical knowledge advance, how fashions and speech patterns change, how borders and international relations shift. I want the characters' actions to affect not just themselves, but the characters that live in the world after them.

Of course, none of those things should take center stage; they'd be part of the worldbuilding, and only recognizable to those familiar with other books in the series (ideally, that is). Character and plot should still take center stage (since they matter more to me), but I'd love for there to be subtle references and connections. Like if one character's joke becomes the basis of a popular idiom generations later. Or if a decision made by a character in one installment effects the tense political climate in a book set years after the incident. Or if an innovation that defeated the villain in one book brings about drastic changes in the lifestyles and attitudes of the people who came after. You get the idea.

Doesn't that sound fun? But, alas, this will probably involve wayyyyy too much work. There are authors who have pulled it off, but when I think of the outlining and planning ahead and research and familiarity with the social sciences required... I think I'm crazy for wanting to make things so complicated. But hey, as long as I'm dreaming, might as well dream big, right? :)

Despite my grand plans, I'm going to start small. I've already decided the one non-negotiable thing about the world I'm going to create for my characters: it will be a world where people who look like me exist, and matter. And we'll see how things go from there, based on what I learn about the world from the plot and characters.

Hey, this might actually be fun! Well, until I hit a wall while trying to fit everything together and then want to pull out my hair. But I'll worry about that when I get there. :P

How about you? How much attention do you pay to settings when you read? Do you enjoy worldbuilding?

Friday, July 15, 2011

OMG! (and, Why You Should De-Lurk)

Interrupting my series on vision to say: OMG I WON A BLOG GIVEAWAY CONTEST!

Ok maybe you think it's not a big deal. But it's NATALIE WHIPPLE'S contest! :D And this is the first time I've ever won a blog contest in my life, so I'm super excited because I never thought I would win one. YAY!

I could not believe my eyes when I saw my name in that post. I stared at it for a long time to make sure it said what I thought it said. And then I scrolled through all 300+ comments on the contest post to make sure there wasn't any one else with the same name. And then I stared at the post some more, while thinking lots of calm and sensible thoughts such as "OMG OMG OMG" and "is this really happening? to me??" and "OMG I get to email Natalie!"

Seriously, the part I was most excited about was emailing Natalie. I know I probably could have emailed her at any time in the past two years I've been reading her blog to let her know how much she inspires me, but I've only started commenting on blogs recently... and I'm still a bit nervous when it comes to talking to someone as popular and amazing as she is. It just feels so different being invited to email her with a legit reason, you know?

So I wrote her an email. And honestly the first half of it was pure fangirling about how much I admire her. (I wonder if she gets that a lot?) 

And you know what awesome thing happened after that? SHE WROTE BACK. *squeee* :D

Ok, I know I'm starting to sound crazy because, duh, of course she'd write back. But still! I hadn't thought that far. It definitely put a huge grin on my face. And of course I wrote her back and gushed about her some more.

Which brings me to the part about de-lurking. You should seriously consider it, if you are currently a lurker. (No, I'm not just saying that to get more comments on my blog. But I certainly wouldn't mind if you want to comment! Hehe.) 

First of all, if you never de-lurk, you will never know the joy of winning a blog contest with a comment. That should be obvious. The second thing is, if you lurk for a really long time and finally start talking to awesome bloggers you've been cyber-stalking for years, you will not be able to stop yourself from behaving like a fangirl/doing something dumb because you're nervous/generally making a fool out of yourself. Because all those comments you wanted to make but never did? Yeah, no way they're going to organize themselves all nice-and-quietly so you can express them in a sane and thoughtful manner. Not after all those years of repression. No, my friend, they will burst out of the breaking dam, pour out in a waterfall, and rush happily away — to freedom! — and it will look so fun your dignity will decide to tag along, too. Whereas, if you'd been commenting all along, you wouldn't have that problem, see?

So yeah. Important things to consider, there. Of course there are also other reasons for de-lurking, like building relationships with people, supporting your favorite bloggers, getting your name out there, etc., but this post is mainly a Public Service Announcement concerning the specific hazard of excessive gushing.

Now excuse me while I go refresh my email. :D

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Inky Linky Love 07.09.2011

Three weeks is way too long to go without posting one of these! There are so many great blog posts, but since I don't want this to be too overwhelming, I narrowed it down to a more manageable number of links. Hope you enjoy these posts as much as I did!

  • So if you've been following these linky posts, you may have noticed that I am drawn to posts about villains/antagonists. Janice Hardy wrote one using the newest X-men movie as an example. Even more amazing? I actually watched that movie! That's pretty amazing, since the last time I watched a movie in theater was New Year's Day, when I watched Tangled with my sister.
  • Judith Tarr is Book View Cafe's resident horse expert, and she wrote a post on the fine art of horse arranging. It provides a fascinating look into how social groups change depending on the members. Awesome implications for complex relationships between your (human) characters, as well!
  • Jason Black at Plot to Punctuation wrote a super cool post on four ways to generate conflict between your characters — using Tolkien's Lord of the Rings series! Great stuff.


  • Chuck Wendig keeps writing these amazing (though profanity-filled) 25-things posts. He makes a lot of great points in the list of things to know about writing a novel. Yeah, I suck at the momentum one. It's kind of depressing to be stuck at #2.
  • Tawna Fenske is not only hilarious but thoughtful as well. I can very much relate to her post on not being a machine —  I've wished so many times that I could program myself to do what I want me to do!

  • If you need any evidence that Tawna's posts are comedic gold, check out her post on her housemates' plan to use her dog as a chick magnet.
  • And while this isn't from a writing blog, this post on picking your battles is too hilarious not to share. Three reasons you have to read this post: GIANT. METAL. CHICKEN!

Oh, and HUGE congrats to Natalie Whipple for selling her books! I've raved about her before in a previous link roundup post and I am so, so thrilled for her. She is an inspiration. Go read her story on the process and offer your congratulations!

Have a great weekend!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Plotting and Series

So I meant to take this one little break, and before I knew it, three weeks flew by. That's forever in blogging time! Thank goodness I'm not the only one on a summer hiatus lately (even though it doesn't really much feel like summer to me since I still have work. Oh summer vacation, how I miss you!).

My last post was supposed to be about my vision on protagonists, although I did kind of get carried away talking about other stuff. This one is about plot. But since Chantele's post on series triggered a strong reaction from me (from, ah, quite a while ago), I figured I'd talk about that here, too.

Most of my favorite novels earn that distinction on the strength of the characters — ones that make me laugh and cry and worry and wish to be as much like them as I can. They engage my emotions and make me care despite my general attitude of apathy.

But there are also novels that I love for stimulating my mind. I adore logic games and riddles and mysteries and intricately-woven narrative threads; I admire, so much, those masterminds who are brilliant enough to craft a complex puzzle as well as an elegant solution, and unfold both in just the right way to blow my mind.

I don't know if I'm brilliant enough to do that, yet. One of these days I want to write something with a non-linear plot, but I figured it's not ideal for a first project. So at the very least, I will make sure that any plot point I dream up is plausible (given the rules of the world), makes sense, and has a clear cause and effect. It bothers me so much when I read books that have plot holes or elements that just don't make sense to me.

And I also prefer reading about intelligent, observant characters. So many times I've read a book and guessed a twist or reveal ahead of time, then have to endure a character's surprise when he or she finally figures it out. The disconnect tends to pull me out of the narrative and make me think less of the character.

That's why it impresses me so much when I come across a book that's unpredictable on the first read, but when considered in retrospect, every event is logical, adheres to all the rules that were provided in the setup, and culminates in an ending that ties everything together in an inordinately clever fashion.

And oh, the ending. It's so important. One that I find unsatisfactory can ruin the entire book for me (an unhappy one, for example. Yes, I'm a sucker for happy endings). If I make it through a novel, I want closure and contentment when I put it down.

That's one reason I tend to dislike trilogies and series. I cannot stand cliffhanger or unresolved endings. It's bad enough that it seems as if all penultimate books must have one by default, but a lack of a satisfactory resolution in the first book pretty much guarantees I won't want to pick up the next one. I much prefer series where the books are companions, so that each stands alone (even better if they can be read in any order). That way, readers get to dive back into a world and maybe even catch a glimpse of favorite characters while enjoying a brand new story.

Trilogies seem all the rage in speculative fiction, and I understand the appeal. It can take multiple books to catapult a series to blockbuster status, and multiple books allow for more in-depth setup and worldbuilding. Still,  I haven't encountered many series where I loved every single installment; sequels tend to be disappointing. Reading a story that spans multiple books is more of an investment, which means the pay-off better be worth it — and I tend to lose interest partway through or find that the resolution fails to live up to my expectations. I'd rather read standalones and choose my favorites à la carte than as a set/saga/series. Of course, there are exceptions, but here's my general take: standalones with companions, please.

Anyway, these are a few of my thoughts on plot. What are your pet peeves? How do you feel about trilogies and series?