Guilds, Bargains, and General Deviousness

Writer’s block, as we have mentioned before, is a real pain in the…er…plot. Mine’s lasted for about three months. I’ve spent agonizing hours in front of my computer screen, trying desperately to write something, more agonizing hours plotting chapter outlines in the showers, and even more…less agonizing hours doing everything but writing as I pretend that I’m not working on a novel. However, someone has finally dipped the Bucket of Motivation (+5 to Stamina, +3 to Persuasion) into the Well of Lost Plots, and I find myself writing again, quite enthusiastically. Such a happy occurrence, is, of course, not due solely to sheer force of will (iron though mine may be) or a new influx of brilliant ideas (even though I’m sure those are en route). Rather, my new and improved page count is due to a potent combination of three motivational strategies that I thought I would share with you today, in the hopes that something in a similar vein may work for any of my fellow suffers.

I joined a Guild. Well, of sorts. We call ourselves that for motivational purposes and because most of us are writing fantasy stories, so it fits the tone of our works. That, and it just sounds cool. Anyway, there’s a group of six of us in a six-week program. We set individual goals and milestones for the duration of the program, public for everyone in the group to see, and let the coordinator know what kind of feedback we’re looking for. Each person is paired with two reviewers and two reviewees. I post what I’ve written every other week, and my reviewers comment on what I’ve written, using the requested feedback guidelines, after which I do the same for my assigned reviewees. I’ve been a little bit behind on my deadlines, but I’ve kept working at it, and writing is being done.

Why it works: Double accountability. General accountability doesn’t often work for me; just knowing I’m supposed to write a certain number of pages every week so I can show it to someone at the end of the week doesn’t put enough pressure on me to break the writer’s block. The Guild’s system, however, means that I have to comment on and provide feedback for other people’s writing, and that means terrible self-inflicted guilt when I don’t meet my own goals for them to critique. The threat of that guilt and (for me, anyway) embarrassment is enough to make me write, even if I feel like what I’ve written is crap.

guild
More fun than this, I promise.

Bargaining. As most of you know by now, I am an avid Star Trek RP’er. Tom and I both role-play on The USS Intrepid (now recruiting, if anyone’s interested) and the new Play-By-Email site Outpost Eden. Both sites are a great deal of fun, and I spend a lot of time writing for my various characters. Tom has even more dedication to the sites, and he has also been wrestling with writer’s block. So we made a deal: I can’t post on either site until I’ve written 500 words on my novel that day, and he can’t post until he’s written his 500 words. I let him know when I’ve met my goal, and he does the same (or, if I finish first, I pester him until he reaches his goal, because that’s what a good First Officer does).

Why it works: it’s the reward system, with (for me) high-stakes consequences. I’ve been role-playing for almost a decade, and this writing forum is extremely important to me. I love it very much. So knowing that I can’t do anything with it until I accomplish another task makes me focus very, very hard on getting those 500 words written.

intrepidbanner
Photo credit: Tom

General Deviousness (aka, Netflix). When I write academic papers, I can’t have any distractions. The only song I can bear to listen to is the 24-hour playlist version of Pharrell Williams’ “Happy.” Knowing this, I’d never tried creative writing with any background noise, thinking it would just distract me. However, this past weekend, I put on an episode of Suits, pulled up my Word document, and started writing. Lo and behold, I managed to get almost a thousand words written in the space of two episodes of one of my favorite shows. Repeat attempts at this strategy have proven successful (as evidenced by the fact that you’re reading this blog post now), and so I’m rather happy to have discovered it.

Why it works: Distraction. Writing brings out two of my biggest neuroses: perfectionism and linear thinking (logical plot progression). My need to make everything perfect the first time and know exactly how each detail fits into the plot often makes my writer’s block the major problem that it is. I overthink. But when I turn on Netflix, my focus is split, and the perfectionist bit of my brain gets distracted. I write almost on autopilot, and my subconscious brain takes over. Writing gets done, and it may need a good bit of revision afterwards, but the important part is that the words are there.

netflix
Netflix came to Poland in January, and there was much rejoicing.

In summation: Double-accountability, the reward system, and distraction. On their own, none of these three methods worked for me, but together? They’re magic. I’m writing. My characters are speaking. And the story happens. I encourage you to try combining methods, when you have difficulty writing. Find what combination works for you, even if it’s weird, and let it fuel your writing. What strategies work for you, and why?

On Missing the Method (but Increasing the Madness)

Greetings, fellow writerly denizens of the interwebs. It’s been a while since I last wrote to you, partially because of the (relatively) new schedule and partially because of a chaotic combination of work, random trips to Berlin, holiday prep (we celebrate several days of Christmas here in Poland…the actual celebration/vacation part can last up to 3 weeks!), and sheer exhaustion from all of the above. I have also, during this time, been working on my novel, and been making quite slow progress, at that. I have encountered a new problem in this particular process, and so I come to you, dear fellow tortured souls, to seek solace and suggestions for success (Eru, I adore alliteration).

berlin
I spent 2 days wandering around here.

I have a very particular and carefully structured way of writing. By that, I mean that I compulsively have to write from start to finish, with everything in its proper order. This was true in my university days as well, where I wrote all of my 500+ essays from introduction to conclusion, and never in any other order. The very thought of starting in the middle of a story or an essay and then coming back to write the introduction bits later is enough to send me into a panic attack. Anyway, that method, flawed though it may be, is not the problem at this particular moment in time. No, my problem instead comes from breaking my adherence to that method and finding myself in a great deal of trouble as a result.

structure
Forever my watchword.

After getting the prologue and a full chapter of the novel written, I suddenly found myself with three complete scenes in my head that should take place around the climax of the book, scenes in which several important plot points happen. These three scenes are chronological to each other, but don’t belong anywhere near what I had previously written. They popped into my head so vividly that all I could do for several days was think through, analyze, and tweak them. I wanted to write them down, but about 98% of my soul screamed in agony at the thought. I took the problem to my proofreader, our very own Tom, and as his writing process is radically different from mine, he suggested I ignore my inner structure demons and try writing the scenes down anyway. After that, I could lock them away and then ignore them until the rest of my very structured and quite chronological writing got to that point. I agonized over it for a week before I finally told said inner demons to go to hell (so to speak), and I wrote down those scenes in a mad rush, as if my paycheck depended upon it (which sadly, it does not). They were absolutely exquisite (although 2 of them are now out of date and will need a great deal of revising in the future). I’m very proud of the work I did. However, the problem I now have to contend with is that having written those exciting scenes, I’ve run out of writerly energy to get much further now that I’m back working on chapter two. The wheel of writing is turning, but the hamster of creativity is dead, and I don’t know necromancy. Anyone have any ideas for how to get my plot back on track?

On the Necessity of Writing Sabbaticals

restIf you’re, like me, an obsessive-compulsive writer who gets stressed out by not finishing things, taking a break can be difficult. This is especially true during November, or as most of you know it, NaNoWriMo. I have never participated in this insane push to write a novel from start to finish in one month, partially because the past six years of my life have been stressful enough without trying to write a whole book in such a condensed period of time, but also because the pressure I put on myself is enough to make me crack without additional external pressure. I seriously hate taking a longer than anticipated time to finish my projects; it’s stressing me beyond belief right now that I haven’t done much with my novel in two months, despite the fact that said lack of progress is due to moving to another continent and taking up a new job. Y’know, normal adult stuff that is naturally going to get in the way of side tasks in general. But something I’m learning right now is the benefit of taking a break from my writing. Not just one project, mind you. I’m talking all of my non-RPG projects. As of today, I’m on a complete writing break for a week. I find that when I’m having trouble writing and am unable to put words to paper, taking time off for a bit, even if it’s just a day or two, helps me re-exert control over the process. Suddenly it’s not that I *can’t* write at that time; I’m *choosing* not to write. That simple act of controlling the situation actually helps me with the writer’s block when I return to my work because then I’m in the mindset of “I chose to rest; now I can go back.” This only works if I take a sabbatical from writing altogether. No idea why, but that’s the tru9h of it. It also relaxes me by taking my brain out of freak-out mode and allows me to redirect my creative energies elsewhere, such as into dancing or learning Polish. If I try writing another project during a mental freak out, I end up just stressing out about how much I should be working on the other project and how annoying it is that I can’t progress any further. Sometimes, you really do just need to take a break. It’s okay to take time off (though maybe not this week, if you’re doing NaNoWriMo). Just make sure that you set parameters for yourself: how long the sabbatical will last, what other hobbies/projects you’ll work on during that time, and what you’ll start work on when the break is over. If you’re exhausted and haven’t gotten much writing done lately, take a break. Have a Kit-Kat. Listen to a Dalek Relaxation Tape. Your stories will thank you for it.

 

The (Murky) Writing’s On the Wall: A Review of “Spectre”

ALERT: THIS POST CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE JAMES BOND FILM SPECTRE. IF YOU HAVE YET TO SEE THIS MOVIE, FLY, YOU FOOLS!

spectre

*ahem*

A couple weeks ago, my boyfriend and I went to see Spectre. I’d never seen a James Bond film in theaters, so the experience was quite exciting for me. Said excitement was also enhanced by the fact that even though the movie was in English, it had Polish subtitles, so I spent part of the movie comparing the dialogue to the subtitles and figuring out what the differences were (For example, one character said “Go ahead,” but the subtitle read “słucham,” which means “I’m listening”). Anyway, the film had some great elements, but it also had some pretty awful ones, particularly from a story perspective. Read at your own peril…

The Good Elements

Music: One of the defining characteristics of every Bond film is the opening credits and the song, which has something to do with a theme or event that takes place in the movie. While some thought that Sam Smith’s theme, “Writing’s on the Wall,” was overwrought or trying too hard, I actually loved it. Granted, no one can live up to the truly sublime Adele and her incredibly powerful Skyfall theme, but Smith does an excellent job with some beautiful emoting and vocals (even though I will admit to rolling my eyes at the literal writing on the wall near the end of the film). The opening credits are also bizarre and gothic in a wonderful way; they’re unlike any opening credits I’ve seen in a Bond film, and I think they really work here. I wish there was video of the song with the credits, but I’ll just give you Smith’s music video for the song. The song itself is still stuck in my head, two weeks later. I can’t escape it.

The acting: Let me admit up front that Daniel Craig is my favorite James Bond (and I’ve seen all of them but Dalton). I never really cared for Connery’s Bond; ever since Casino Royale, I’ve held that Craig is the best, and I think Spectre is a great example of why. He’s got the suave sex appeal of the character, combined with the ice-cold killer that I never quite saw in any of the previous portrayals. Christoph Waltz chews the scenery with an incredible menace, as he always does; Lea Seydoux’s Madeleine, while no Vesper Lynd, was cool and competent; and Andrew Scott (Sherlock‘s Moriarty) was sublimely chilling, though criminally underused. Overall, I have no complaints with the casting. It was spot-on.

scott

The pre-title scene: The absolute best part of the whole film was the stunning pre-title scene. All the reviews I’ve read agree: those 5 minutes are some of the best in modern film history, with the choreography, scenery, camera angles, and directing. The Dia de los Muertos setting, with the eerie, Gothic parade is the perfect setting for a darker, scarier Bond. It also has just the right amount of whimsy for a Bond film, with Bond in his skeleton’s attire, accompanied by a beautiful girl in a skull mask, weaving their way through the macabre revelers in the dance of the dead. It took my breath away with its sheer perfection. The transition into classic Bond was seamless, as he rips off his costume to reveal the flawless suit and walks along the narrow ledge in a gorgeous panning shot that got my heart racing with excitement. The assassination, the helicopter fight, and the requisite explosion, were pure James Bond with a modern edge. I loved every moment of it.

dia

The Tragic Flaw

Spectre suffers not so much from an Achilles Heel as it does an Achilles Circulatory System. Other than the abysmal Quantum of Solace, one of the hallmarks of the new Bond films has been an attention to plot-craft that earlier Bond films neglected. Casino Royale and the truly incredible Skyfall had well-crafted, intriguing, detailed plots that went beyond “shadowy organization wants to take over the world for some inexplicable reason.” Spectre, alas, missed the memo in this area. The plot, which is the heart and lifeblood of a film, went into cardiac arrest after the opening credits and never fully recovered. I think the major issue in this regard is character motivation. Madeleine, who starts off as a strong and competent woman who can hold her own and rebuffs Bond’s advances, inexplicably throws herself into Bond’s arms in a whiplash-inducing character reversal; after she does so, she instantly becomes the usual helpless sex object, down to the kidnapping and eventual race-against-time to rescue her from certain death. *sigh* C’s motivations for treachery are never fully explained, nor do they make sense (though of course C was going to be a villain; the moment Scott was cast, we all knew it to be true). The vendetta against the Pale King is also baffling…it’s set up as very mysterious and threatening, something Blofeld considers to be of utmost importance, and turns out to be just because he left Spectre some years ago. No actual threat, just an annoyance.

Seriously, no way that face is NOT evil.
Seriously, no way that face is NOT evil.

I think the biggest problem in regards to motivation comes from Blofeld and Spectre themselves. One of the reasons Skyfall was so good was that the villain’s motivations were personal and believable: a burned agent out to destroy M because of being abandoned by her. Everything he does streams from a very real grudge against one person for believable reasons. Blofeld, on the other hand, has set out to destroy Bond’s life because…er…he thought his dad liked James better? Huh? That makes no sense. At that revelation, in tandem with the “every woman in your life is dead because I somehow inexplicably had something to do with it” line, it was all I could do not to burst out laughing in the middle of the theater. It’s not believable at all, and the story suffers for it.

Something Something DADDY ISSUES
Something Something DADDY ISSUES

Then there’s Spectre itself. Another big shadowy organization that wants to dominate the world, and they never really explain why, or what their plan is, or really anything. It also didn’t have nearly enough buildup to be a credible threat. They had to shoehorn in references to earlier films (don’t even get me started on that ridiculous McGuffin, the ring) and throwaway lines to try to explain how big of a problem Spectre should be and why we should be afraid of it. As my astute significant other pointed out, if the filmmakers had planned better, they could have started building up Spectre back in Casino Royale and then seeded references to it in the other two films so that by this one, we’d know it was a big deal, and we’d have much more information to go on. Instead, we don’t know enough about the organization to really consider it a threat, and the motivations are just as much in shadow as Spectre itself.

spectre logo

Perhaps with a lighter tone, this film would work as a classic Bond film: sexy, lots of violence, villains with ridiculous names and motivations, and not much else. But the precedent of Casino Royale and Skyfall has given us a taste of a different, more complicated Bond, and we’ve come to expect more of the franchise. Now, we tend to like our Bond films shaken, not stirred, and Spectre just doesn’t meet the mark.

6 Plots in Search of a Novel

Fellow writers, I find myself facing a quandary. Usually when I write, whether it be short stories or longer projects, I have one all-consuming idea that I work on until it’s finished (or the well of plots runs dry). I tend to be extremely single-minded when I write; though I can do other projects, such as working on the Star Trek role-playing game I do with Tom, when it comes to my own stories, I take them one at a time. Not out of choice, mind you. My brain just can’t handle multiple primary plots at one time. At least, that’s how it used to be. *cue ominous music* I currently find myself with an entire stampede of plot ideas all running through my head at once, which is quite irritating, as I am trying very hard to work on my novel. All the different plots are rolling around, begging and pleading to be written, and worse, they’re getting mixed up with each other. It’s the book version of “I’m My Own Grandpa” in my head; all the related plots are intermarrying and producing strange hybrids that make my head hurt when I try to make sense of them. It’s impeding my writing, but I haven’t found a way to get around it. Have any of you ever had this problem? Do you have any tips or suggestions for me to sort out all of this nonsense and get back to my writing, but perhaps without losing some of the other ideas that might prove fruitful in the future?

This is what it feels like in my head right now.
This is what it feels like in my head right now.

Sick Day Story Challenge

sickWell, yesterday, I came down with some variant of the flu. It’s the sort of illness that invariably makes one feel as though one is not going to survive it. Even though I’m feeling better today, everything still aches abominably and I’m moving very slowly. Still not convinced I’ll make it through alive, but then, I’m a pessimist anyway. Anyways, being sick yesterday included a massive migraine, and so I spent most of the afternoon in bed and then went to sleep early in the evening, and I quite forgot that I was supposed to post today. So as to not deprive you of a post this fair day (if it’s as sunny wherever you are as it is in Poznań, Poland right now), I’m going to leave you with a story challenge. You all know the rules: I give you a story idea, and you write something using that basic plot, using whatever characters and twists you care to bring in. Make it fun, and if you feel like it, post your results in the comments below.

Your challenge: we often look at major events in history and wonder what would have happened if one variable had been changed. What if Stonewall Jackson had been present at the Battle of Gettysburg? What if Caesar had eaten some bad fish and ended up with chronic indigestion on the Ides of March? And so on. So, your challenge is to take a significant event history, and imagine what would have happened if one of the major players involved had taken a sick day at that particular time. It can be any event and any person involved you like, but someone needs to be ill and thus forever change the course of history. Happy writing!

Overdue!

I moved into my new flat this past weekend, Sunday was taken up with watching the new episode of Doctor Who, and Monday necessitated a great deal of unpacking in addition to job prep for my last day of teacher training (for today), so when I suddenly realized at about 1930 on Monday night that I had to write a post, I was somewhat flummoxed. I had no ideas whatsoever for a topic, and I was contemplating the writer’s version of ritual seppuku (making and sharpening your own quill pen before disemboweling yourself with it as you chant the names of all your literary ancestors in hopes that they will forgive you), when Tom stepped in with an alternative.

humperdinck
But not like this.

“Write a short story!” he said, as I sharpened my quill, only half-paying attention. “About a time traveler,” he added, knowing exactly what would pique my interest. A few more interesting details were added to the prompt, and I arose, dramatically tossing my quill to the side, salvation in sight. “I will take it! I will take the Ring to Mordor!” I declared, apparently unaware of the irrelevance of the reference, and began to write. For your enjoyment today, I present “Overdue!” a short story by yours truly.

****************

You’d think that being a time traveller would mean never having to deal with library fines. It’s a completely logical thought to have, what with the ability to jump around the time stream and all, but it’s also completely wrong. Studies have actually proven that owners of time machines are more than twelve times more likely to be chronically late about returning their books. The entire Warsaw library system is funded completely by fines from sheepish chrononauts who thought they were popping in right at closing on the due date to return their copies of Welles’s novels and other historical fiction, only to discover they were showing up at noon two years, six months, and four days later. “Sounds like the voice of experience,” you might say, and you’re quite right, kids. My name is Morstan, Elliott Morstan, and I’m a time traveller. And as of three days ago by linear time, I’m also a library criminal.

Until recently, I’d always been conscientious about taking care of my library books. They keep telling you the rules: never leave your library book in your time machine, don’t check out books from libraries in more than one time period at the same time, and above all, don’t ever try to return your book while using your machine. We all know libraries are bound by linear time in order to contain all the strange time irregularities that happen within, and strange things sometimes happen if you mess around with that. We’ve all heard about what happened when someone broke the rules in Alexandria.

Oops.

But even though we know these stories, something deep down inside still whispers “but it could never happen to me. I’m so much more careful; I’d never cross my own time stream while returning a book” and so on and so forth. That’s what I thought, too, when I took my library copy of the best-selling theoretical manual Wibbley-Wobbley, Timey-Wimey, and Other Stuff for the Discerning Time Traveler by R.T. Davies, along to occupy me during the boring bits of the Battle of Hastings. This in and of itself isn’t a problem…but I became so engrossed in the battle that I left the book inside my machine. All on its own. With all of that peculiar book magic that wreaks havoc on the temporal mechanics of any time engine if left unsupervised.

Ugh. Keep in mind, this was a genuine moment of forgetfulness. Not a good thing to do, but not criminal.

So when I made the return journey home, I planned to arrive just 5 minutes after I left, which would give me two hours to finish my book before returning it. I opened the door, stepped out, yawned, and then my jaw dropped as I stared ahead, terrified. Where the library had once stood instead loomed a giant Starbucks. The 50-mile high green and white logo leered at me as it proudly pronounced in glowing neon letters, “Meeting your linear caffeine needs since 2367.”

The library was closed.

My book was at least 50 years overdue.

When the library branch police caught up with me, and we all know they always will find you if your book is overdue, the fines would be horrendous. I’d never be able to pay them off. And I’d never be able to live with the shame of having my name on the list of those “Banned for Reckless Endangerment of a Book,” the terrible fate of those who eat tomato sauce near a book or return it more than 5 years overdue. I had to go back. Surely just going back along my own time stream to the library just long enough to drop my book in the slot wouldn’t hurt anyone… Fortified by resolve and blinding fear, I jumped back into my ship and headed back for the original due date.

Upon landing (in the correct date this time), I opened the door and cautiously peered out. The fabric of reality seemed to be holding together pretty well thus far. Emboldened, I grabbed the book and stepped out, prepared to make a dash for the return slot just a few feet away. But the moment both feet touched the ground, I realized I’d made a huge mistake. Time seemed to constrict and expand all at the same time. Something started screaming in a high-pitched tone that threatened to shred my eardrums. The whole world began to shake and I felt as though I was about to turn inside out and explode. Terrified, I dropped to the ground, curled up in a ball, and began pleading with the universe to calm down.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” I sobbed. “Just please stop. It was stupid of me. Don’t unravel all of space and time. I’ll never do it again, I promise.”

“We know you won’t,” a cool voice said from behind me. I sat up, my eyes blurry, to find myself surrounded by severe-looking people in dark red uniforms.

Damn…not the library police! Dear god, please no.

The speaker, a stern woman in a peaked cap glared down at me over the bridge of her spectacles. “You are lucky we were on hand to stabilize the fabric of reality before your reckless actions could cause any real damage to the universe,” she said, nostrils flaring. I shivered. “We cannot allow such actions to pass with just a warning. Your machine will be confiscated and you are hereby restricted to the index room for twenty years, with no chance of parole.” I stared at her in horror. The index room…where I would only ever be able to see the bibliographical information for books but never see the books themselves.

“Mercy,” I pleaded, kneeling as the tears streamed from my eyes. “Anything but the index room!”

It was clear that to her, the matter was now over. “Confiscate her library card and give her an index room pass,” she declared to the uniformed officers as she swept past me.

“Yes, Madame Librarian.”

I have been restricted to the index room for three days now, and I already feel my soul dying. Follow the rules, kids, no matter what time you’re in. Don’t be like me. Don’t be…a library criminal.

This segment of the Library Criminals PSA cycle is brought to you by Librarians Against Time-Space Book Negligence. Don’t read and time travel.

Writing While Wandering the World

I hope you all took the time to appreciate my awesome and aesthetically alliterative appellation for this post. Anyways, greetings from Poznań, Poland! I safely arrived here on Sunday evening (well, evening for me…it would have been late morning/early afternoon for those of y’all in the States). It was a long and glorious trip that involved 18 hours in New York’s JFK airport, a very cold layover in Moscow, frenetic dashing through two separate and highly confusing train stations in Berlin with 100 pounds of luggage, and my first ever ride on a European train as I departed Germany for Poland. I traveled through four countries in three days, and needless to say, I practically passed out from joy of arrival and exhaustion from carrying everything when I arrived, so thank you Lorien, for taking over my post for Tuesday whilst I recovered 😀

My response to finally getting here.
My response to finally getting here.

During the three day journey, I thoroughly intended to actually get some creative writing done. Ever since I got the job offer about 5 weeks ago, I’d been so overwhelmed with moving preparations and paperwork that the only writing time I had went into my posts for the Art of Writing and for my personal travel blog. Other than that, I had absolutely no energy for writing, so my poor novel had been eagerly anticipating the travel time as a period in which I would have time to work on it again. What the book didn’t consider was that even though three plane trips, three long layovers, and one three-hour train trip give you plenty of *time*, they leave you without much energy (and usually leave your computer in the same condition if the planes, trains, and automobiles don’t have electrical outlets), so physical writing isn’t always an option.

That, and you get distracted by all the random Russian words in the plane.
That, and you get distracted by all the random Russian words in the plane.

At the same time, however, I knew I also needed to get some work done on my novel so that I could actually get some pages written out once I recovered from the journey itself. Also, my characters tend to throw temper tantrums and get into trouble when I neglect them for too long, and I don’t want them trying to unionize like the last batch did. That…didn’t end well, let’s say. *shudders* The compromise I reached with myself on this issue was that I would do some of the mental work that would facilitate later writing. I’m an internal processor, meaning that  work through things in my head, constantly examining and dissecting them to figure out where they fit and what I need to do with them. It can be quite helpful when it comes to writing. In each location I went to on this trip, I ended up working on a different element of my book. In Phoenix, Arizona, where the journey began, I did some mental outlining of where I need my next chapter to go. In the JFK airport in New York, I fought a courageous battle against the urge to revise some later chapters I wrote a few weeks ago instead of working on the next chapters that needed to be written (I won, though the fight was bloody and the victory came at great cost – more on that in another post). Moscow, Russia, was the site of some social hierarchy construction, while Berlin inspired some ruminations on the necessity of a writing plan for once I get settled. Now that I am here in Poznań, I am back to work on the actual writing of my chapters (one of which should be done relatively soon), and I am resisting the urge to call myself the World Wide Writer. If I didn’t already have a title for my blog, that’s what I’d go for 😀 The process of writing my novel has officially gone global! And now it’s time for me to get back to work on it.

“She’s My What?!”: Discovering Character Relationships

Yeah, you know where this is going.
Yeah, you know where this is going.

Character dynamics are a tricky business. I was working on my novel earlier, and I had two characters, who hadn’t previously interacted, about to meet. As I wrote the lead-in, there was something…off about the character whose point of view I was writing from. I couldn’t quite figure out what it was, but beneath his annoyed scowl and general irreverent attitude towards the situation he was currently in, something strange was going on. Rather than try to figure it out, I decided to keep writing and just see what happened. The scene progressed, the door opened, the two characters came face-to-face, and my narrator took in his first impressions of her, and then I suddenly tuned back in at the moment he was thinking “…because she’s my sister.”

Wait, what?

Nothing has ever stopped me dead in my tracks during a writing spree as much as that little revelation did. Were it not for the fact that I never wrote any sexual tension into their relationship, I am certain that my stupefaction would have rivaled that of George Lucas when he suddenly realized 3/4 of the way through filming The Empire Strikes Back that the male and female leads were siblings.

“Really, guys?” I grumbled in an attractively sulky manner while still maintaining an air of authoritative pique. “You couldn’t have told me this earlier?”

Both of them shrugged, smirked, and told me it was on a need-to-know basis and I didn’t need to know until they officially met on the page. Brats.

Stop smirking, guys.
Stop smirking, guys.

Anyways, the point is that not knowing every detail of your characters’ relationships with each other isn’t necessarily a bad thing. When I visualized both of these characters, they had a strictly businesslike interaction based on their duties and social interactions within their caste. The moment they met on paper, though, the relationship changed and there’s now some really interesting tension that adds depth to both of them…and, as I realized while I was working on the next chapter, not only fixes a plot problem I’d been worrying over, but also, through their interactions, revealed a great deal more about the social hierarchies and history of the society than even I was aware of, and I’d been working on world-building for months at that point. As weird or annoying as it may be when you randomly discover such important information as family or relationship connections that far into writing (I’d hit just over 10,000 words at that point), and even if it turns some of your plot ideas upside down (which it did for me), letting some of your character relationships develop naturally and reveal themselves to you on their own can be both fun and beneficial for your story. Since this incident, I’ve had one more surprise familial connection jump up out of nowhere between to highly unlikely characters, but again, it’s solved more problems than it’s caused, and it’s been quite an adventure  figuring out all the political, social, and interpersonal ramifications of this new relationship. If you have any stories of similar discoveries, I’d love to hear about them! In the meantime, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go figure out how my main characters are going to react to this latest tabloidesque revelation.

Major Life Changes: Balancing Packing and Writing

mapTo say that the last few days have been a whirlwind of insanity would be an understatement. Last Monday, I was contacted about an interview for a job I really wanted. Less than 24 hours later, I was being interviewed for that job and was given a tentative offer; 42 hours beyond that, and I was offered a position as an Instructor of English with Berlitz in Poznań, Poland, starting at the beginning of October. “Did you accept?” you may very well ask, at which point I will stare at you incredulously, because of course I took the job. It would be ridiculously stupid of me not to. Anyway, factoring in the time I’d need to get settled and start my job training, it became clear that I have a little under 5 weeks to prepare, pack, and relocate. Everything since Thursday has thus been a hectic mess of logistics and suitcase-wrangling.

The sad and unintended side-effect of this major life change has been that I don’t have time to write. I finished another chapter of my novel about a week and a half ago, and I was working at full steam on the next one when the world turned upside down and and inside out (albeit in the best possible way). When I do have a few moments to sit down and not work on a list or comb through paperwork, I’m too mentally tired to actually get any of my creative writing done. My characters are currently complaining that I’m never around, but one day they’ll understand that I’m doing this for them so that they can have better opportunities and maybe a European castle some day. Anyways, I just cannot brain enough to work on my novel, but I can’t just stop writing while I’m relocating. So I’ve developed a system to keep myself consistently in the writing game (and, incidentally, keep me from stressing out too much). I have to take at least 15 minutes a day to write on *something,* whatever that may be. I started a travel blog that I’m currently updating daily, I write my posts for The Art of Writing, and occasionally I will write out one of my famous rants about something nerd-related (usually Doctor Who, to be honest, but you all probably knew that). The point is, despite all the insanity around me, I’m still making myself write. And when I’m flying from the Arizona desert to Poland next month, maybe I will have the time and energy to get back to my novel and my poor neglected characters. But for now, it’s a start.