Don’t Worry (or Rejoice) Just Yet, I’m Still Here

letireddog

I’ve been distracted for a while, and I’ve been busy with non-writing work for the last two weeks. Though I haven’t been writing and posting as much as I’d like, I’m definitely not throwing in the towel yet.

Novel #1: Still working on polishing the first novel. After the last revision (which, as I may have stated elsewhere, was the final major revision until I get an agent or professional editor), I sent the manuscript out to beta readers: two re-readers and five new folks; all writers. Waiting to get feedback from at least half of them before I apply some changes and make a final Hail Mary pass for traditional publishing; if no one has the hands to catch the damn ball (perfect spiral and all), I’ll finally invest in going indie by hiring an editor.

Short Stories and Breadth of Style: Starting in June, I’ve been trying my hand at short stories and have churned out a bunch of crap and several pieces which I think are pretty darn decent. For some of these, I deviated from the PG-13-esque style of writing I use in Novel #1 in favor of something darker. This came about from a mix of influences, including but not limited to: On the Road which I’m rereading for the first time since college, bits of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, and the unfiltered language of the television show Californication (Hank Moody’s writing seems a bit on the purple side, so I’m trying not to pick up too much of that).

Other Novels: I should update the “My Novels” page. The so-called Urban Fantasy novel I was outlining has changed drastically, and the original intended title no longer makes sense. I’m about 6,000 words into the first draft (i.e., “zero draft” or “junk draft”) and I’m hoping this novel will be more of an obvious high concept work than Novel #1. The superhero project is on the back burner; and I’ve gotten several thousand words into a contemporary (non-genre) novel. Notably, none of these projects are YA (whereas Novel #1 is).

1st Anniversary Post: Top Posts and the State of the Novel

1stanniversaryimage

I set up camp on Wordpress a year ago to connect with other readers and writers, and establish some internet presence while I tried to get my novel published. As far as publishing goes, I totally failed, but I’ll get to that later. First, some fun blogging anniversary stuff—

The Best of A.D. Martin Posts:

Sex definitely sells—well, according to my post statistics, anyway.

Without looking too closely at all the facts, the posts which garnered the most clicks over the life of my blog—by quite a large margin—has been:

1. Two Seasons of Arrow, Seven Women for Oliver Queen; and

2. Cool-ish Actors, Annoying Characters

Pointlessly Shirtless Men of Arrow: Slade Wilson, Oliver Queen, John Diggle, and Roy Harper

Yeah, people click on these guys.

For the post about Arrow, the post seemed to have built considerable SEO which helped it to show up in Google results somewhat prominently (as I write this, if you search for “Oliver Queen” and “Women,” the post will be in the first page or two). I also noticed that not long after I made the post, someone awesome linked to it on the IMDb discussion board for the show. Thanks, anonymous person!

Aimee Teegarden

I should probably watch Teegarden’s newer stuff.

The SEO of the Arrow post aside, there is one thing these two posts have in common: attractive people. By coincidence (not by design; I wish I were that clever), the images displayed on my “Top Post & Pages” are of shirtless vigilantes and Aimee Teegarden, for the Arrow and “Cool-ish Actors” posts, respectively. I think it’s fairly safe to say that most people find Oliver Queen, Mr. Diggle and Ms. Teegarden pleasant to look upon and this seems to have played a part in giving these posts a higher view-count than my other posts.

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GoT Season 5 – Diversions, Deaths, Rebirths

I’d read somewhere that the showrunners for Game of Thrones were planning to diverge from George R.R. Martin’s books—getting away from the source material and GRRM’s plans for the novel series. Knowing this, I went into the fifth season of HBO’s Game of Thrones both dreading and anticipating David Benioff and D. B. Weiss’ changes.

The following will contain massive *SPOILERS* for the show and the novels if you’re not up to date.

Some Characters are Better Off Missing

jeynepooleThe show wrote off a number of characters, making the plot less convoluted and saving themselves the trouble of so many named characters with lines. For the most part, a lot of these characters should be glad they went missing.

In both versions, Jeyne Poole is Sansa Stark’s best bud who goes with Sansa from Winterfell to King’s Landing where both their fathers are murdered. Good times. In the show, however, that’s where Jeyne’s journey ends; she vanishes after the first season, which is probably for the best. Continue reading

Assigned Myself Some Reading

So, I haven’t been reading enough and have decided to assign myself a bunch of books to get through. These books will include “new” literary novels, literature I accumulated as an English major, and a bit of genre fiction.

infinite jest coverFirst up, thanks to Josh Radnor’s Liberal Arts and the fact that Barnes & Noble keeps displaying this book so prominently, is David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. I’m already some pages into the book and have formed some shallow and tentative opinions. The length of the thing wasn’t intimidating to me, having read my share of fantasy novels, but the prose has been interesting to adapt to.

The Plan: Burn through some newer literary works, then get back to Kerouac and Shakespeare (or someone else from the before times) for one book/play each before moving on to what I think would be my first steampunk novel.

Liberal Arts — Movie Review

liberal arts josh radnor elizabeth olsen“Everything is okay.”

Jesse Fischer (Josh Radnor) is 35 years old and working as in admissions for some college in NYC. As if his chronic ennui wasn’t enough, at the start of the film, some jerk steals Jesse’s bag of dirty clothes from the laundromat and his girlfriend leaves him.

Ennui (noun): a feeling of dissatisfaction due to being super-bored (generally caused by reading one too many literary novels).

Coincidentally, Jesse is invited to return to his beloved alma mater for his second-favorite professor’s retirement dinner where he meets a nineteen-year-old drama major named Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen), and then the rest of the movie happens.

I enjoyed this film written by, directed by, and starring Josh Radnor.

And into *SPOILER* territory we go—

Ted Mosby's even-more-somber twin brother, and Wolverine's cousin.

Ted Mosby’s even-more-somber twin brother, or Wolverine’s cousin?

The character of Jesse Fischer is a less fun version of Ted Mosby (Radnor’s character from How I Met Your Mother). They’re both somewhat pretentious and are dissatisfied with life, and both seem to ward off that sense of dissatisfaction by courting women. However, Jesse Fischer’s final growth in Liberal Arts is more internal than it is external (Teddy Westside’s need to find “the one”).

For the most part, Jesse attains new stages of growth throughout the film by being pushed by another character. As such, I’ll discuss the film by focusing on these characters.

Hippy Zac Efron

Jesse meets Nat (Zac Efron) while wandering the college campus at night (as we alum tend to do). Nat is not a student at the school, but a hippy-drifter who seems to be there for no reason other than to remind Jesse that everything is okay. He does so by actually saying, “Everything is okay.” The script makes a self-referential nod toward Nat’s role by having Jesse say aloud that he’s not even sure Nat is really there.

Though I initially found Nat off-putting, I eventually took a liking to him and his stupid hat.

Better than the Scarlet Witch and whatever her name was on Godzilla

Elizabeth Olsen - Zibby - Liberal Arts

How can you say no to this face?

Zibby, perhaps my favorite Elizabeth Olsen performance to date, is Jesse’s nineteen-year-old love interest. With Jesse’s nostalgia for his college years and Zibby’s disenchantment with men her age (who, let’s face it, generally aren’t the greatest), these two begin their relationship with a platonic guise which inevitably gives way to romance. Jesse is understandably reluctant to start the relationship due to the age gap, but after some math (e.g., “when I’m 86, she’ll be 70”) he decides to go for it. When he learns she’s a fan of an unnamed series of vampire novels, however, cracks begin to show.

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From Pantser to Plotter

I’m betraying the Pantser camp. Pantsers are dirty and smelly, and they throw baby carrots at people for no reason. Jokes aside—after nearly two years of editing my novel and outlining new projects, I’ve come to prefer meticulous planning over off-the-cuff writing.

For those who don’t know, a Pantser is one who writes “by the seat of [his or her] pants” without planning ahead, whereas a Plotter is one who outlines the novel’s story and narration to a significant extent before writing the first chapter.

Writing as a Pantser just created more work for Future Me.

pantser story arc

Readers might get stuck in the crotch and never get to the other pant leg.

Three years ago, I started a manuscript with minimal planning. I had some ideas for the world and setting, created psychological profiles and backgrounds for a few main characters, and then I let those characters lead themselves through 80,000 words of meandering hi-jinks. My first draft, more appropriately referred to as a “junk draft” or “draft zero,” suffered from significant structural problems which has required a lot of editing.

Lack of planning leads to excessively lopsided story arcs.

In a misguided attempt to write a commercial YA with a literary feel, I wrote my first chapters as slice-of-life vignettes with the intent of creating a sense of normalcy before crazy junk happened (note: there’s nothing with a commercial-literary hybrid, I just didn’t do it right). I let my characters do whatever they wanted, and they did a whole lot of nothing for too many chapters (albeit with some fun banter). This problem extended into much of the “rising action” portion of the MS which, essentially, rose too slowly.

Characters, like children and actors, need some direction.

To be clear, even as a Pantser, I often had conclusions in mind as soon as I opened up a new plot line. The problem was I’d have two or three conclusions and take too long to decide on one of them.

Outlining reins in the characters and helps build a proper arc.

plottersstoryarc

So much sexier.

Knowing a majority of the plot points, both major and minor, it’s easier to adjust the pace of individual scenes so they properly contribute to the pace of the overall novel. So, the rising action has only minor dips from the resolutions of subplots rather than momentum-breaking pitfalls which results in an anti-climactic ending.

“Double rainbow . . . what does this mean?” Well, it should mean something.

Ideally, everything described in a novel should tie into the overall plot, character development or world building—preferably all three. The more you know of the whole story, the better you’ll be able to emphasize the importance of the individual pieces by linking them together. A lot of these connections can be established and elaborated during the revision process, but it saves so much time if you plan things out a bit earlier as opposed to retroactively squeezing things in.

So, for my future novels . . .

Having more writing experience, I can probably be a much better Pantser if I choose to write without outlining. However, I’m definitely going to try to be a Plotter for my next project or two.

Writing and Rewriting That First Chapter

The first chapter might be the most important chapter in a novel.

Whether you’re trying to entice an agent or publisher for traditional publishing, or trying to keep readers who’ve picked up your self-published masterpiece, the first chapter needs to be a great hook.

There are plenty of articles out there which detail some elements of a good opening chapter (like this one from Writers’ Digest which describes several agent-repelling mistakes, and this list of tips by Chuck Wendig).

So, rather than try to provide comprehensive advice here, I’m focusing on three major issues I’ve encountered while writing my own first chapter(s): (1) knowing where to start the narration; (2) being able to set aside perfectionism so you can finish the rest of the manuscript; and (3) having the humility to make major changes.

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Lessons While Editing My Novel

With so many writing conventions and diverging schools of thought, it’s impossible for a single human being to learn it all (except for Yeezus, of course). However, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make the effort to keep improving our craft. Giving up is for poets and the French (bonus tip: don’t make fun of poets or the French on your blog).

So, in the spirit of not giving up, here’s another list of writing-related lessons I’ve conjured up while drinking an ill-advised mix of Mountain Dew and Stella Artois (mostly lessons that were re-learned and reinforced):

1. Unnecessary scene changes to your readers is as tea to Phoebe Buffay (Hint: “Tea gives Phoebe the trots.”).

Maybe you actually want your book to make people rush to the toilet, but for those of you who don’t, you should carefully assess the number of settings you push your characters through in a single chapter.

Essentially, you have to consider whether a change in setting is necessary. Do you absolutely need the change in ambiance? Are you trying to jump through different settings to expose the reader to the different places you created during your manic world-building episode? Can you get the same plot advances, character development, and evoke the same emotions by having everything occur in the same place? If you answered yes to that last question, make it occur in the same place. Otherwise, you’ll waste time and word counts shuffling your characters between locations.

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10 Tips for Better Writing!

Advice Dog Writing Tip

After being inspired by a guy who thinks lists of writing tips suck, I decided to create a list of writing tips. Yeah, this post started out as a joke and then it kind of got away from me. 

Enjoy!

1. Learn to spell.

If you can’t spell, your writing’s probably going to suck. Buy a dictionary, chump.

Of course, certain words may be spelled differently depending on the region you’re in. Fun Fact #2 (there is no #1): Some years ago, certain folks decided to deviate from French-influenced phonetics and started to omit the “u” from certain words (e.g., going from “colour” to “color”). It stuck in the United States.

2. Use the hashtag #AmWriting as much as frickin’ possible.

Not only will this seem annoying and pretentious, it will also help you connect with fellow writers with whom you can develop alongside and form a network of support.

Originally, I did think the hashtag was a bit on the lame side. It reminded me of the Family Guy joke poking fun at writers who conspicuously write in public for validation. However, I’ve seen others who have used the hashtag to form a good network of earnest writer-friends and, to be quite honest, I’m jealous.

3. Read more novels and watch more movies.

That way you can rip them off and pretend you thought of it first.

Alternatively, you can learn to improve your craft from observing how successful authors set the pacing for their scenes and overall plot, or how they develop tension and make use of white space. You could also take notes of mistakes of other authors—if they didn’t spend enough time to develop a character’s motives and personalities before expecting the reader to care, or if there’s too much fancy prose in a segment which makes it difficult to keep a fast pace. Maybe you can at least pick up a new vocabulary word.

Oh, and if you’re familiar with other work in your genres, you can also avoid accidentally writing something that’s already been done. Those aren’t so easy to sell.

4. Get critiqued.

A good cry can be nice, sometimes.

Receiving feedback on your writing is an important part of improving your writing chops. However, the key to taking criticism is staying patient and logical. You shouldn’t quickly dismiss advice you don’t like, but you also shouldn’t assume that because one person hates something that everyone else feels the same. Get several opinions and see where they overlap; logically assess whether certain things are problems, and whether certain parts of your writing are truly awesome (at least to the majority of your target audience).

5. Critique others.

Making other people cry can be rather satisfying. Also, there are other, more concrete benefits.

Giving critique helps you learn to take critique: You learn that, as a critic, it’s easy to find the bad bits in another person’s work while forgetting to point out the good ones. As such, when someone gives you your own manuscript marked up in red, you’ll understand he or she may have actually liked more of your work than the quantity of red might indicate.

On top of that, when you see mistakes others make, you might just realize you’re making the same ones.

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Awesome Character #3: Lisa Hayes (Misa Hayase)

Lisa HayesFrom Macross to Robotech

Robotech is a localization of three separate Japanese anime series, pieced together so there would be enough episodes for American television in the 1980s. The first part of Robotech, known as the Macross Saga, was adapted from Super Dimension Fortress Macross (Macross) and is largely the same as its source material. The most significant changes were the names and ethnicity of some characters and removal of what folks deemed to be excessive violence, drinking, and nudity (today, none of that stuff would be cut).

The Japanese characters, Hikaru Ichijyo and Misa Hayase, were made Americans (not through immigration and naturalization) and we wound up with Rick Hunter and Lisa Hayes. In terms of personality and action, Lisa and Misa is the same character.

A few years after the release of the TV series, Robotech was adapted into a novel series that expanded upon the story, adding a bit more depth.

By feats alone

Lisa begins the series as a Lieutenant and the First Officer of the SDF-1, making her the second-in-command of the entire ship (the XO, if Robotech used American military designations). She gets promoted a number of times throughout the series. On more than one occasion, Lisa is responsible for saving the asses of thousands of people (e.g., the Daedalus Maneuver, and that time on Mars). By her feats alone, Lisa’s pretty impressive.

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