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“Hymn to Breaking Strain” by Julia Ecklar and Leslie Fish
The careful textbooks measure: “Let all who build beware!
The load, the shock, the pressure material can bear.”
So when the buckled girder lets down the grinding span
The blame of loss or murder, is laid upon the man
Not on the steel– the man!
But in our daily dealing with stone and steel, we find
the gods have no such feeling of justice toward mankind!
To no such gauge they make us, for no laid course prepare.
In time they overtake us with loads we cannot bear
Too merciless to bear
The prudent textbooks give it in tables at the end:
The stress that shears a rivet, or makes a tie-bar bend
What traffic wrecks macadam, what concrete should endure
But we poor sons of Adam, have no such literature
To warn us or make sure
We hold all Earth to plunder, all time and space as well
Too wonder-stale to wonder at each new miracle
’til in the mid-illusion of Godhood ‘neath our hand
Falls multiple confusion on all we did or planned
The mighty works we planned
We only in creation! How much luckier the bridge and rail!
Abide the twin damnation: to fail, and know we’ve failed!
Yet we– by which sole token we know we once were gods–
Take shame in being broken, however great the odds!
The burden or the odds
Oh, Veiled and Secret Power Whose Paths We Seek in Vain,
Be with us in our hour of overthrow and pain!
That we– by which sure token we know Thy ways are true–
In spite of being broken
–Or because of being broken?–
Rise up and build anew!
Stand up and build anew!
Weird thing about listening to the characters when I write, is that what I think the characters are going to do at the beginning, and what they actually do when they get there, are often completely different. In the current book, I’ve just hit 34,000 words and finally put into words a scene that I have been writing in my head for three years– a scene which is one of the major touchstones of the book for me. I’m pleased with the scene, and overall quite pleased with the book, but I am also faced with a problem, which is that the plot is off from my outline by about 33°. My intended next chapter… totally doesn’t make sense any more.
So, loathe as I am to do it, I need to stop my forward momentum and go back to the macro-level outlining stage and re-think the back half of the book. I didn’t want to be doing any story surgery on that big a level until I had completed the first draft, because I’m sure I will find more things that need doing on the way, but I also can’t complete the first draft in its current state because I have no idea what’s going to happen.
On the other hand, this can be a great opportunity to come up with a much better ending. If I take the first half plot as it has come out as my starting point and ask the characters, “What do you do now?” instead of trying to figure out a way to wrangle the story back to the outline I already had, hopefully the new ending will be stronger, more satisfying, and truer to the characters.
It’s just, y’know, more work for me. 😛 *shakes his fist at an uncooperative muse*
For the past two weeks, when not sending off job applications, most of my time has been spent writing another novel. I had intended to hold off until November and do it as a NaNoWriMo project, but for whatever reason the book said, “NOAP, you will write me NOW!” and so I have been. As of last night, I hit 20,000-ish words at the end of chapter seven, and I’m taking a “creative recharge and look back at the progress so far break” today before attacking chapter eight.
I have to say, I am very pleased with how the book is coming along, and as far as this story is concerned, it’s about damn time. This story started out as a nugget of my Arclight Adventures comic project, then morphed into my Coventry idea, then emerged as its own thing, then got shelved, then informed the creation of Rough Housing, then got shelved again, and now has finally re-asserted itself with forcefulness that will not be denied. Verity and Tanya want their story to be told, and they want it to be told in the right way, dammit! And when characters yell at me that loudly, well, I’d be a fool not to listen. The book is coming fast, and solid, and fun, but also with a lot more depth and texture to it than I expected. As I tweeted last night, I think this is going to be my best book yet, and this is the one I finally feel is a good candidate for publication.
The revamped Brigid and Greg novel is another good candidate, actually, and I may put that into the NaNoWriMo slot if this book is finished by then. That one would probably have been finished by now if the house sale hadn’t knocked me out of my groove.
A major factor in this level-up of my writing craft has been Scrivener, which has turned building an outline/story structure from a horrendous pain into an absolute joy. For both the B&G book and the new one, I have started with five notecards:
- Act One: Setup
- Act Two: Conflict
- Act Three: Rising Action
- Act Four: Catastrophe/Falling Action
- Act Five: Denouement
Drilling down from each of these, I put in 4-6 more notecards with major story beats. On each of the story beat notecards, I then drill down and put 3-5 short scene summaries– not even whole sentences, just things like “Brigid and Isadora argue”. That whole process takes me a few days, and by the time I’m done I have a nice and solid skeleton to start hanging my story on. From there, it’s just writing out each scene as described in the summary, usually in a 500-1,500 word chunk, of which I can write around three on a “normal” working day and more on a really good day. Just looking at the math, you can see what happens: four scenes of 1,000 words each make a 4,000 word chapter; five chapters of 4,000 words each make a 20,000 word act; four acts of 20,000 words, plus a denouement that’s probably one or two chapters tops, make an 80,000-90,000 word novel.
(Of course, nothing ever goes completely to plan. In the current story, in order to twist the emotional knife on a particular scene, I decided to elevate something that was basically speed bump in my outline into a major catastrophe, which in turn made complications that had to be coped with, but which had not been factored into the original plan. Using Scrivener, that was relatively easy to fix, basically by just shoving in some more notecards for new scenes or chapter. Since it’s just shoving little pieces around at the outlining level, it doesn’t feel like major plot surgery.)
Anyway, I think that with this book, I will actually be making the transition from perennial dabbler to true professional novelist. Not just because of the quality of this piece, but because I now feel like I have the tools and the experience to repeat the performance. I can now confidently build a novel-length story, and I know both what I want out of the process and what the process will need out of me to pull it off. And honestly, I think that when I actually finish something my writing is as good as anybody’s out there.
Building an audience, translating these books into earning a living, and all that stuff, is something else I will need to tackle, of course, as is integrating all of this with my desire to keep Suburban Jungle alive. But those are all topics for another day.
First of all, hello and welcome to everyone coming to see me after picking up my card at Furthe’More! I hope you’ll find lots of stuff here you like. ^.^ Posts have been a little sporadic since March, due to the whole selling-my-house-and-moving thing, but that’s all cleared up now and the production machine is moving again. 😉 As I owe some of you commissions, and others of you may simply be curious as to what I’ve got in the pipeline, this is one of my periodic “state of the Gneech” posts to let you know what’s going on.
My first priority is to get Issue Three of Suburban Jungle: Rough Housing finished as quickly as possible, in the hopes that I can have it on hand for AnthroCon, which is only a month away! (Eep!) Everything else I’ve got going on is officially on hold until I get that squared away. If I’m lucky, that will be done by the end of next week… if I’m unlucky, it will take pretty much the rest of June and no issue three at the con, which will make me go all sadface.
Once issue three is done, either way, I will be emptying out my digital commission queue. This is what I have listed in my notes, so if I’m missing something of yours, please remind me!
- KarmaKat’s Watering Hole series (4 of 4)
- Conqure commission
- Miertam Twilight/Fluttershy monster studies commission
- MaxGoof commission
Assuming the SJ work gets done on time, these should be finished by the end of June and/or AC. Finally, once those are done, I’m going to turn all of my attention to Dungeons and Denizens and get that finished off while I work on the script for the fourth issue of SJ. That will probably take most of July and/or August.
So, that’s my summer spoken for. 😉 If you want to squeeze a commission in there, they are technically still open, but your best bet to get art from me in the near future is to get me to do it for you at AnthroCon. As you may have read in my LiveJournal, badges and sketchbooks at Furthe’More were almost nonexistent for whatever reason, which is not a happy way to spend a convention for an artist! Especially when most of the other dealers were booked solid. Don’t you love me any more? *sniffle* Aw well, hopefully AnthroCon will be better!
Anyway! Time for me to get to work. Catcha later!
It’s no secret that I have been dealing with dysthymia since childhood; the same way some people have a bad back or a trick knee, I have recurring low-grade depression. It’s further no secret that I have had a bad few years. I lost both parents, a favorite aunt, and literally half of my circle of closest friends, all since late 2010. Put shifting to self-employment, an extremely difficult short-sale of our house, and recurring worries about Laurie’s job situation on top of all of that, and I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that I’m still riding a psychological roller coaster.
Nevertheless, it continues to surprise me. My emotional center is completely broken and seems to be governed at the moment by a random number generator. I get ridiculously angry at nothing; when I find myself screaming at the top of my lungs at the phone to quit ringing all the goddamn time and physically restraining myself from throwing it across the room, I know I’ve entered the land of disproportionate response. But I also can’t seem to figure out anything to do about it.
My mood right now seems to have three basic settings, depending on my energy level. If my energy level is high, my mood is either edge-of-rage angry (bad day), or crazy manic productive (good day). If my energy level is low, my mood is lonesome, self-loathing, edge-of-tears despair (every day starting around 3:30 p.m.). There doesn’t seem to be “good day” version of low energy.
I am in counseling, and we have addressed this somewhat, but frankly I am such a basket case it’s taking a long time to get around to it. But if you have observed my behavior being erratic, this is why. Thanks for being patient. I am trying to broaden my emotional repertoire: I’d like to think “quietly productive and content” is an option and I just need to find the right buttons to push to get there.
Over the past few weeks, as my seemingly-never-ending house sale sits instead of going through, and my life is mostly packed up in boxes, I haven’t been able to work on art and have instead been working on one of my various mothballed novels (and making good progress, I’m very pleased to add). It is the long-theorized and twice-attempted Brigid and Greg novel, which includes several existing Fictionlets finally put into context, as well as the rest of the narrative that actually makes into a (semi-) coherent story.
One of the new things I’ve been trying this time around is that I picked up a copy of Scrivener, which is a nifty hybrid of word processor and project management software for writers. The way it works is by creating a virtual corkboard onto which you “pin notecards,” which can be scenes, sections, notes, whole chapters, whatever suits you. You can shuffle them around, put them into “folders,” however you see fit.
I may have gone a little nuts with it.
What I started with really was a list of scenes, some of which were existing Fictionlets, others were simply concepts or story beats I knew had to be hit. For lack of a better framework, I then created folders based on the five-act structure, and started putting scenes into them as made sense. Once I had the big picture worked out, I then drilled down into individual acts and created folders for individual chapters, and from there started writing specific scenes within the chapter folders. At the same time, I’ve been maintaining some other notes in Snowflake, mainly using the scene list and word-count database to get a big picture view of how long each chunk of story is compared to the others around it. It seems that the average scene in this book is about two pages long (~500 words), although a few whoppers are seven pages long (~1,750 words). The average chapter is running around 12 pages (~3,000 words), and I expect to have around 20-25 chapters, which should put me well into the 60,000-75,000 word range I was aiming for.
Considering that even the Michael Macbeth novel I did for NaNoWriMo 2013 just barely squeaked over 50,000, I’m quite pleased with this state of affairs. I keep thinking of the preface to Thank You, Jeeves…
“…Writing my stories, I enjoy; it is the thinking them out that is apt to blot the sunshine from my life. You can’t think out plots like mine without getting a suspicion from time to time that something has gone seriously wrong with the brain’s two hemispheres and the broad band of transversely-running fibers known as the corpus callosum. It is my practice to make about 400 pages of notes before starting a novel, and during this process there always comes a moment when I say to myself, “Oh what a noble mind is here o’erthrown!” The odd thing is, that just as I’m feeling I must be getting a proposer and seconder, and put myself up for the looney bin, something always clicks, and after that, all is joy and jollity.”–P.G. Wodehouse
Given my writing habits, that passage has been of everlasting comfort, to me! And so far, the passage has described my writing attempts very well, to which I say if it’s good enough for Wodehouse, then surely it’s good enough for me!