Tag Archives: writing

A Winner is Me

Almost a month ago, I began the epic journey of National Novel Writing Month, where I tracked my progress on nanowrimo.org. Today, I surpassed the 50,000 word mark. So, I win! Yay, go me!

Here is my award:

Of course, this only represents me reaching the 50,000 word mark. In reality, the novel is only about 1/3 of the way finished. I still have a LOT more work to do on it. On the plus side, I have proven to myself that I -can- write novel-length works (my first attempt was a full story… and was 26,000 words. Barely a kid’s book in length and not even remotely safe for kids to read).

My impressions of the nano experience:

People start off enthusiastic. We go to meetings called write-ins with other authors (I hosted one every Tuesday in November myself), but as the month goes on, interest flags.

And no wonder. It is November. In the US (where I live), we have Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Christmas Shopping, guests coming over for dinner, cooking, cleaning, and a thousand other things to do. Somehow, showing up and writing in a cafe somewhere with a bunch of strangers seems to find it’s way to the back of the to-do list every time.

With the holiday season beginning in earnest, and Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanza/Whatever just around the corner, November strikes me a really bad choice for the month to do this. Hey Congress, if you’re reading this, consider switching National Novel Writing Month to a month with no holidays, like August. Sure, you lose the alliteration, but that’s not generally considered good writing anyways.

To all my other fellow NaNo writers, I hope you made your word counts and even more than that, I hope this inspired in you a sense of accomplishment and a sense that you CAN do it.  Best of luck, and good writing.

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The Writer’s Bloc now open

So, after a few months of fine tuning, There By Candlelight is proud to announce the opening of The Writer’s Bloc.

The Writer’s Bloc is a place for creative people, writers, artists, video game designers, et cetera, to gather and pool our resources. We encourage critiquing of each other’s work, using our various social networks (facebook, google+, twitter, linkedin, etc) to get the word out about our fellows. It is a centralized location for resources on writing and publishing, a place to showcase your work, and lend each other a hand.

The Bloc is open to anyone, even non-creators, who simply wish to help out. Our online presence is global (ie: it doesn’t matter where you live), and we will be having physical meetings in the Los Angeles/Orange County area (right now I’m waiting to hear back from a couple places about venue).

So please, come one, come all. Support your fellow artists, writers, designers, and other creative types.  Admission is free, and we have cookies!*

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The Rule of Neat

If I ever sit down and write my own personal ‘Rules for Writers’ (which will be kind of like Rules for the Overlord, but with fewer minions) one of the rules I want to be sure to put in there is what I like to call ‘The Rule of Neat’.

The Rule of Neat is simple: Why is [detail, plot point, device] in my story? If the answer is ‘because it’s neat’ then please go back and either remove or revise that element. Something very much like this rule (although not precisely the same) is embodied in the idea of ‘kill your darlings’ — it’s very often the passages of which we are the most fond that are the most cliched and unnecessary. In fact, the first novel I ever finished (and the one I will one day finish rewriting, I promise) was so guilty of this that it’s a primary reason I tore the damn thing apart and put a lot more work into world-building for the second go. There was so many points in that story that I couldn’t justify other than because I thought they were neat scenes that the whole mess failed on virtually every level.

If you’ve ever read the rough drafts for Star Wars, Episode IV (they are kind of like reading a train wreck honestly — terrible and fascinating and you can’t quite look away) there are some fantastic examples of this. Obi Wan Kenobi (or someone in the same role) has a scene where Kenobi punctuates his argument by revealing to the young hero that one of his arms is a cybernetic limb because he lost his real arm in ‘the war.’ This scene is really just excreble, and it’s in the first five versions of the script. The sixth version made it to film, and it’s only in the sixth version that Lucas cuts this dog. Lucas never quite lost his fascination with having people lose hands and limbs, but it was much more powerful when saved for Luke in Empire Strikes Back. It means something when it happens to Luke. Having Obi Wan reveal it as a done deal has no power whatsoever.

There’s nothing wrong with an important scene also being ‘neat.’ Steven Brust has a terrific footnote in one of his novels where he explains that all writing is ultimately the writer saying ‘let me show you something cool’ and that a reader’s enjoyment of said writing will ultimately hinge on whether or not they agree and to what extent. People absolutely should share the stuff they think is neat — but my personal feeling is that if that’s the only reason it’s there, the warning bells should go off. ‘Neat’ can also be incredibly self-indulgent and nonsensical. ‘Neat’ can also include memes and inside jokes that are wonderfully insightful to a small group of people but will seem contrived, odd or just downright idiotic to most readers. ‘Neat’ has the ability to stare down reason, logic and common sense and say ‘I don’t care if it makes no sense for Neo to be able to control machines outside of the Matrix. It’s neat!’

No. Just…no.

The Rule of Neat segues nicely into Forgetting to Ask A Five-Year-Old, since very often someone who picks at the logical elements of a story will quickly zero in on the stuff that’s only there because the author thinks X is really damn cool.

And of course, the Rule of Neat won’t save you from having such a justification but simply being completely wrong. (See: George Lucas. See: Jar-Jar Binks. See:Virtually Everything George Lucas Has Done In The Last Two Decades.)

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Bonjour, Senor Paddington-Smythe

The use of mixed languages in writing and entertainment.

Warning, VERY mild bad language ahead. Don’t read this if you’re under 10.

Once upon a time, when dinosaurs walked the Earth, I was involved in an argument with the guy running a role-playing game I was in, over the use of certain words. My character, who was quite upset about something or other at the time, used some sort of insulting term. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I think I may have called the town mayor a dickhead. The guy running the game got angry at me and told me I couldn’t use that word. Not because it was a bad word that the FCC wouldn’t allow, mind you. No.

I couldn’t use it because that wasn’t a word that was in common usage in the middle ages, the rough equivalent of the technological level that his game was set in. As he scolded me, “Your character can’t use that word because they wouldn’t know that word, it didn’t exist yet.”

While at the time I rolled my eyes got into an argument with him (I was already pretty upset about a lot of other nonsense he dished out on a regular basis), it got me to thinking about the use of language in fictional settings. In particular, what I call mixed language.

You see, his argument was that I couldn’t use that word because my character would have never heard the word ‘dickhead.’ My argument was that my character would also never have heard the word ‘hello,’ since as a fictional character in a fictional country on a fictional world that wasn’t Earth, my character would have been speaking a fictional language that all the other locals also spoke, and ‘hello’ was just as foreign as ‘dickhead.’ I argued that while the actual word ‘dickhead’ might not exist in his world, there was undoubtedly some word in their language that served the same function as an insult. Since he wasn’t requiring all of the other players to learn an entirely new, fictitious language just to have their characters speak, then it was obvious to me that we were using English as a substitution language. My character didn’t say ‘dickhead’ or even ‘hello,’ my character said the words in that language that held the same rough meaning or served the same purpose.

But this is not just limited to one bad DM in one RPG. You see the same thing in TV and movies all the time.

Today, while waiting for the locksmith to come and change the locks in our apartment (it was recently sold to new owners who clearly don’t trust the old manager), I was watching my wife’s copy of Casanova to kill the time. The one with the late, great Heath Ledger in it, in case you’re wondering. And it reminded me of that argument in that RPG, because they were doing something similar, something so common most people don’t even notice it.

One character looked at another and said something like, “Good day to you, signore Casanova.”

Now, consider for a moment. While this movie was made by an American production company for American audiences (primarily), the fictional setting it was taking place in was Venice in the 1700s. The actors were speaking English, because that’s the language they all knew and the language the audience was deemed most likely to understand. As this was meant to be a big budget movie and not a independent artsy flick, no subtitles were used. But the CHARACTERS… the characters were assumed to be speaking Italian.

In other words, English was being used as  a substitution language for Italian. The actor would say “Good day,” but what the audience tacitly understands is that the character is saying “Buongiorno.” However, since the audience was meant to be English speaking, we used English as a substitution language so that the audience could understand it.

But then, why say “Good day, signore?” Signore is Italian. Since we are using English as a substitution for Italian, that means that the character said something in two different languages. He said ‘good day’ in his own, native Italian, and then he said ‘signore’ in some other, unspecified language. Logically, this doesn’t make sense.

Before anyone tries to give me grief, I do understand that it is used to give a ‘flavor’ to the dialog. You see the same thing in other movies. An American translation of the French Les Miserables, for example, has people using “monsieur” and “mademoiselle,” while Pan’s Labyrinth had the people in Spain calling each other ‘senor’ and ‘senora.’ Even movies set in Japan, where everyone is supposed to be speaking Japanese, you would have people adding ‘-san’ and ‘-chan’ to the ends of names.

Mind you, I am not talking about a native French speaker who is supposed to be speaking English doing this. If Jean Reno wants to refer to Matthew Broderick as ‘monsieur’ in Godzilla, that’s fine. His character is speaking English and dropping a French word in for flavor. I’m not talking about that, I’m talking about when English is being used to substitute for an entire language that the audience isn’t expected to comprehend. And I am also not talking about made-up words that don’t actually exist in English. If someone groks something, that’s fine (although it could be argued that by this point ‘grok’ has managed to merge itself into English, so perhaps I should find a better example).

It is not limited to screens big and small either. I have seen it in print, in books. If the characters are supposed to be speaking another language that the author either doesn’t speak him/herself or they assume that the audience won’t, they use English to substitute. That’s fine, I have no problem with that. But then you see them refuse to use ‘mister’ and ‘miss’ or ‘misses.’  They will almost invariably use the actual words from the language that the characters are supposed to be speaking.

So what do you think? Do you do this yourself? Do you have a reason when you do, or do you just do it without thinking about it? Obviously this is a trend that isn’t going to go away any time soon, and me trying to get the world to change is like yelling at a hurricane to please just settle down, but I’m curious what other people think. Are mixed-language words slipped into substitution language scenarios for ‘flavor’ a good thing because they remind the reader what language the characters are supposed to be speaking, or are they bad because by being in a language other than the substitution, they are implying, in a logical sense if not an actual use sense, that the word in question is not in the language being spoken?

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The Eyes of the Cat

In response to Ken Broad’s “Octo’boo’er” challenge: Sarahann’s Shoppe of Earthbound Souls.

I first saw the Cat on the back of a shelf, in the back of a little curio shop whose name I have forgotten, in the back of a little strip-mall in back of the dim sum place where I used to like to eat. I almost passed it by, but a glint of something green caught my eye and I turned to see where it came from. There was the Cat, half hidden behind a box of incense holders and a little jade elephant. I was instantly drawn to it.

It was, like many of it’s kind, one of those little statues depicting a cat sitting upright, with one paw raised. Sort of a Buddha like pose, again typical of the sort. Most of the Lucky Cats I had seen before had been white with some black markings, but this one was was different. This one was entirely black, entirely black except for the eyes which looked like emerald. I assumed, at the time, that they were actually green glass. I know better now. I assumed, at the time, that since it was in a Chinatown curio shop, that it was made by the Chinese. I know better now. I assumed, at the time, that my wife would think it was really cute. I…

… was right about that one.

She squeed when I showed her the Cat. On the chance you’re unaware of Internet culture, to ‘squee’ is to squeal in delight, preferably while making tiny little clapping motions with your hands in the ‘prayer’ position. I have to explain this sort of thing for obvious reasons.

I wanted to put the Cat in the living room where it could be admired by visitors and relatives. She wanted it in the bedroom where it would give us Luck in our endeavors there. No, I won’t explain what I mean by that other than to say we had recently begun to wonder if we had wasted all the money we spent redecorating the spare room as a nursery, and leave it at that.

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Red Crescent

Moved into the Unseen

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September Update

Hello, and welcome to the end of summer.  I hope you all had a great season. For those in school or teachers, I salute you!

General news:

-I finished the first draft of Blood Fury and am looking for people to help me by reading it and critiquing it. If you’re interested, please contact me here, on Facebook or twitter, or via email. Thanks in advance!

-After a brain storming session, Jennifer and I have renamed the IWA. It will now be known as The Writer’s Bloc. Coming soon: it’s own website.

-New ‘Feature’ on the blog, Brunch! For all your SPAM-ilicious needs.

September’s DWE is up, with one entry so far: The New Kid At School.

Sonia’s mom hurt herself last weekend. Go on over there and wish her and her mom well!

 

This month’s TBC Writing Challenge reflects the end of summer with Changes. Write a story, 500 words more-or-less, about some significant Change. This can be a change in a character’s life, a change in the world they live in, or just a very large amount of coins in the pocket.

My own entry will follow.

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