Goals — What’s Them Things?

We did our quarterly writing goals at the Cat Vacuuming Society (a Northern VA critique group) this last week — always a hard task.  I’m always wondering what other people will think because my goals and reasoning sometimes doesn’t follow with the crowd.  For “homework,” we had to come up with three writing goals/habits, though I also added promotion habits:

Writing Goals/Habits:

  1. Add more structure.  This results from researching my “Basic Training on Military Culture” class for Forward Motion.  The military is very structured because war is chaos.  My writing tends to be chaos, so I need to find ways to impose structure (and just to clarify, I’m not referring to structure within the story).
  2. Listen to myself.  Another habit that I really need to pay attention to more than I have been.  Right now I’m embracing humor back into my book.  It’s one of the things I wanted to do with the omniscient viewpoint.  But after I got comments back from the agent that the voice was too strong, I took out all the humor.  When I attended a workshop with Allen Wold at Marscon, it crept in again, and the panelists there said, “No, don’t put the humor in the narrative.”  So I’ve been steering away from what I wanted to do because everyone else says to.  Then I read this article from Rebecca LuElla Miller and it reminded me that I needed to listen to myself.
  3. Make an effort not to underdo things when I write.  If you tell me to dribble in backstory and not do backstory dumps, I will end up with none at all in the story.

Promotion Goal/Habits:

  1. Do one blog post per week that’s more opinionated.  I’ve tended to back down on things where I do have an opinion and it doesn’t go along with the rest of the crowd.  It’s really kind of scary to be the only one saying, “Wait a minute, this is not right” and sticking to it, even people disagree.  So I’m making an effort to not back off.  My post on Unleaded, Writers Block is Not a Figment of Your Imagination is an example of my branching off into that area.
  2. Make sure I put something out about me in my blog, like promoting my upcoming class or the article that’s coming out in Vision in October.  Half the time I forget, so I have to make extra effort.
  3. Leave flyers and/or Moo cards at science fiction cons that I attend.

This is a flyer I made up for the con I’m going to in October:

Flyer for "Basic Training on Military Culture" for Writers, showing a woman soldier playing a guitar, a kitten playing in her helmet.

Quarterly goals sound really nice because it is such a short term.  If I try to set them for a year or five years, I end up falling off the goal wagon very fast.  What are your goals for the next quarter? Share them below.

And meanwhile, some real cat vacuuming for your viewing pleasure:

Went to Intervention — No, It’s a Con, Not What You Just Thought

It’s a science fiction con.  It stands for Inter(net) (Con)vention.  This one was within driving distance for me along the George Washington Parkway. If you’re not familiar with Washington, DC, that’s a very scenic road that follows the Potomac River.  This is is a photo:

Tree on the right frames a scenic view of the Potomac River below.

It should be gorgeous once the trees begin to change color.  No pics from the con this time though.  The con simply didn’t have much in the way of photo ops.  No action workshops (darn!  I was looking for another action demo), and very little cosplay.  I saw only one person in full costume, though horns were popular.  Do you think I ought to get horns since Halloween is coming up?  Ooh, ooh — maybe alien antennas.

I did raid the dealer’s room for a few more t-shirts …

A t-shirt that says, "We are the Book.  You will Be assimilated" and showing a book and a Kindle.  A t-shirt showing a spaghetti monster and saying "My God can Beat Up Your God," and a t-shirt of Mr. Peanut Steampunked.

Overall, I was not impressed with the con.  It was sparsely attended and seemed poorly organized. The first workshop I went to did not bode well.  “Writing a Fantasy Novel” was a given about the subject matter. Four comic book artists showed up for the panel.  Two of them didn’t even know the name of the workshop and spent time complaining about being there.  One lost interest midway through and started sketching a picture for an auction in a hour that he should have done before he got to the con.  I spent $40 for this?

The other two workshops I attended were much more interesting, but they were also the only ones I found of any interest.  One was “Blogging for Fun and Profit” with Mark Blum and Mike Fenn.  I wasn’t too sure what I was going to get since on the last one I attended it was apparent none of the writers knew what they were talking about.  As it turned out, there was a lot of good information.  The message that resonated for me was on how to market you blog.  Some of the things they mentioned:

  • Put out cards with the blog name and site address at cons.  I had a “Do-oh!” moment on this one.  I have Moo cards and haven’t been doing that at any of the cons.  I did have some with me, but I realized there was a small problem — I’d left off that I was a writer.  So I’ll get that fixed in time for the next con.
  • Write your blog name on your con badge.  Yup, we all hauled off our badges and added the name right there.
  • And the final note, which is that you can’t be afraid to promote yourself.  The hardest thing about being an introvert is that it’s very difficult for me to even think of stuff like that.  With the Moo cards, I was always thinking that I needed a book published.

Despite this great workshop, I couldn’t help noticing that almost none of the panelists really promoted themselves.  They mentioned they had an online comic strip, but didn’t provide paper samples or even a card with a link on it.  Maybe that was a symptom of the entire problem with the con?

The best workshop was “It’s About the Villain.”  The panelists were Michael Terracciano (did villain imitations), Eric Kimball, A.J. Rosa, and Elaine Corvidae (the only person in costume).  They had a blast and had the audience really laughing.  Yes, we do enjoy our villains.  Some highlights, since villains are always fun:

  • Good guys are defined as much by their villains as they are by their deeds.  Or, by any other name, make the villain a strong character.
  • A villain can be terrifying if you can’t reason with them (given we recently had a tiger attack on the news, I thought about a tiger.  You can’t reason with a tiger.  He just thinks you’re lunch, or whatever meal he’s missing).
  • If readers love a villain, give him a moment to be awesome before he’s defeated.  The example given was Boba Fett from Star Wars.  A lot of fans really liked the character, but he went out without much fanfare.

But Michael Terracciano was adamant that hero-villain team ups were a really bad idea.  So what do you think?  Should villains and heroes ever work together?

Linda Adams, Soldier, Storyteller

Starting November 4, I will doing a month-long session on Forward Motion on “Basic Training of Military Culture.”  The lesson plan for the course is posted here.  I promise that I will promote myself for this!

Writer’s Block is not a Figment of Your Imagination

It seems like every time the subject of writer’s block comes up, twenty million writers jump in to proclaim, “It doesn’t exist!” and accuse anyone who struggles with it of being lazy or whining.  So if you  have writer’s block, you’re now wishing you could hide somewhere and maybe thinking it’s best not to even bother asking for help.

Honestly, that’s just plain wrong for one group of writers to make another group of writers feel.  What is it with writers and this black and white stuff anyway?  Creativity is not even shades of gray — it’s shades of colors and patterns.  There is no one way something should be.

So let’s get the preliminary stuff out of the way: writer’s block does exist.  Just because an individual person hasn’t experienced it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.  That’s like saying puppies and kittens don’t exist because you don’t have one.

How do I know it exists?  I’ve had it.  Read the rest over at Unleaded — Fuel for Writers.

Linda Adams, Soldier, Storyteller

Starting November 4, I will doing a month-long session on Forward Motion on “Basic Training of Military Culture.”  The lesson plan for the course is posted here.

In November — A Workshop for Writers on Military Culture

A female soldier sits against the wall playing a guitar, her rifle propped next to her.  A kitten plays in her kevlar.About a month ago,  I ran across this blog post by Donna McDonald: A Successful Author Gives Tips for Introverts and this one more recently about how the culture of women keeps us from participating and went “Holy Cow!” I’ve had so much trouble getting the word out about me, and even writing blog posts.  Just here, you’ll have probably seen some changes.  I added most of my writing credits.  In my head, I kept thinking, “They’re old,” “They’re not fantasy,” but I wasn’t thinking, “They’re writing credit.”  How are people supposed to know I’m a writer if I don’t post a list of what I’ve written?

So, as part of this effort to push myself out there, I volunteered to do a workshop for Forward Motion’s Back to School.

The workshop is called “Basic Training of Military Culture,” and it’s for writers who want to create a military character or a veteran.  The class will start on November 5, 2012 (corrected date), and will be 4 weeks, with a new lesson each Monday.

This is a breakdown of the topics:

Lesson 1: Overview of the Military.  This topic will include research tips and common myths about military.  We’ll also be digging into rank!  I promise not to get too jargony.

Lesson 2: The Civilian Enlists.  To help you understand the culture, we’ll start with what a potential recruit sees.

Lesson 3: Basic Training.  Going through Basic Training is the ultimate immersion into military culture, since the drills sergeants have to take teenagers and adults and teach them the discipline of how to be a soldier.

Lesson 4: Soldier Life.  The most common image of a soldier is from Basic Training, and the day to day life of one is a much
different experience.  We’ll also drop in on the very different experience of war.

There is no charge for this workshop.  If you want to attend, you just need to register at the site, which means you can check out the other workshops they offer through the year and participate on the message boards.

It was really a challenge writing the lessons for this.  The culture of the military is such that I’ve found it difficult to separate itself from it.  How do you convey the culture without veering into jargon, which is a huge part of culture? How do you convey the culture without killing the reader with accuracy?  It’s a big challenge for a writer, but I think that someone who isn’t in the military actually will do better with it if they know the right questions to research.

In the meantime though, do you have any questions about military culture?

Since we’re talking military, check out Grateful for a Gift to ‘Any Soldier‘ that was published in the Washington Post.  I sent it in and didn’t expect them to do anything with it and was quite shocked when I opened the newspaper and saw my picture.  I didn’t tell anyone, but everyone at work saw it, and it was republished there as well (reminds me: Add another credit).

This, That, and Zap! 9/21

This week we got a horrendous downpour — so bad that I had a scary moment on the freeway when I went through a puddle and water planed.  The concrete barrier was one lane away, but it looked entirely too close!  And the next day?  Like the storm never happened!

But that’s Washington, DC.  I’m going to close up with week with a few tidbits that crossed my path this week.

THIS is Anne of Green Gables.  I’m afraid I’m not much for classics — not enough action for this action girl.  But I’ve been trying to be better, so I started reading Anne of Green Gables on my return from Wisconsin.  It turns out it’s a fairly enjoyable and fun book, and it’s in omniscient viewpoint.  If you want to study the viewpoint, this book would be worth a look.

THAT is Heroes and Villains from Writer Unboxed.  It brings up a point that I hadn’t thought about it but is most definitely true: A villain needs to be a leader.  Now if only villains would be easier to spell!

ZAP! is a video called “Dangerous Garden Path of the Day.”  Toy soldiers engage in battle with deadly vegetables — but no carrot men!  Some profanity and toy violence, so it may not be safe for work.

What book has caught your eye this week?

Linda Adams – Soldier, Storyteller

Since I have an action link above, also check out my flash fiction Stone Magic on Writer Unboxed, weighing it at 250 words.  If you don’t guess what the setting is, it’s Washington, DC.

Step into my time machine

This week, I’ve got a trip into the adventure zone, because any travel is an adventure.  I went to Wisconsin for the weekend for my grandmother’s memorial, and anything that involves Wisconsin involves The House:

A three story Queen Anne style house.  A stone base wraps around the front of the house, and to the left is a tower.

I stayed in the room where those center windows on the second floor are.  The house was built by my great-great grandfather Havilah Babcock, and he picked everything — right down to the wallpaper.  His influence over everything in the house was so strong that his daughters who inherited it were afraid to touch anything!  Of course, that left it preserved so much that it’s like stepping back in time.  Ivy was trying to take over the back of the house, and spiders were working on the front porch.  And there’s nothing like having your uncle say, “If you don’t want a bat in your room, make sure you close the door.”

Of course, I had to snoop around the internet and see what else on the house was out there.  I found this blog about a woman’s journey to visit all the historical markets in Wisconsin.  She took almost exactly the same picture about a month before.   The roof is in the process of being replaced, so if you click on the photo in her blog post, you can see the repair work on the right side that’s not evident in mine.  Do drop by her blog — she’s undergoing chemo therapy and would like some comments!

Linda Adams – Soldier, Storyteller

Since I visited the family home, I thought I’d share with you a scene I wrote about a soldier’s Homecoming, posted on Forward Motion’s September Challenge.  We imagine they always come back to cheering crowds and tearful family members, but sometimes that’s not the case.

Slashing the Myths About Omniscient Viewpoint

I’m a little behind this week — I hopped over to Wisconsin for my grandmother’s memorial this weekend and am playing catch up, though I figure that’ll be at least another week.  Next weekend is a con!

Meanwhile back in the land of politicians, it’s about time for another look at omniscient viewpoint.  When I first began experimenting with it, I was absolutely amazed at the myths circulating on the internet, and even in the craft books.  It was like everyone was ganging up against the viewpoint.  What’d it do to them?

No doubt some it is people passing along information without really understanding what they were talking about — the internet is really bad at that.

Must be suffering from jet lag since I just typed viewpint.  Oh, dear.

So let’s get the three biggest myths out of the way before the pints catch up with me:

No one uses it any more.

This one astounds me.  If omniscient viewpoint is no longer being used at all, then why is everyone writing about it to say that it’s no longer being used?!  The fact is that you can find books in omniscient viewpoint that have been published in the last year on the bookshelf.  Like this one I saw The Tombs at Target today.

Omniscient Viewpoint is multiple viewpoints.

Yup.  Saw this one in a craft book.  It kind of ruined the credibility of the author, but I’ve seen writers come onto message boards and proclaim the same thing.  * Sigh * Omniscient is an all-seeing narrator who tells the story — one narrator.  Where writers get confused is that they don’t understand about the single narrator because they keep thinking character viewpoint.  So they see the narrator dip into the heads of the characters, and suddenly, omniscient viewpoint is interpreted as “multiple viewpoints.”  Check out Writing Excuses’s podcast for a discussion on this.

Omniscient is the head hopping viewpoint.

One of the first things I asked myself when I started writing in omniscient viewpoint was what was the difference between it and head hopping.  Because I had read the viewpoint and it definitely wasn’t anything like critiquing a story where it headhopped enough to make me feel like I was going to get whiplash.  Since omniscient viewpoint is only one viewpoint, it doesn’t head hop.  However, writers who think of it as multiple viewpoints end up head hopping when trying to write it.  Rebecca LuElla Miller has a post with some really great examples of headhopping versus omniscient viewpoint.

Okay, I still don’t have any explanation as to why people keep ganging up on the viewpoint.  But back to the pints.  If you were to bottle a viewpoint in a pint, what would you call it?

Linda Adams, Soldier, Storyteller.

I have an article on Vision: A Resource for Writers on Critiquing for Omniscient Viewpoint.  No pints were involved in the making of the article.

When Words Strike Back, the Linda Edition

When I was in the army, my first duty station was at Fort Lewis, which is in Washington state.  Mount Rainer, the “floating mountain” is probably the most visible landmark — at least next to the Space Needle.

The Space Needle framed against an orange sky
Think there’s aliens on that thing?

One of the things that always tripped up visitors was some of the names.  The area has a lot of Native American names like Seattle and and Tillicom.  Seattle is, of course, the big city where the airport and the Space Needle are.  Tillicom was off Fort Lewis and the kind of place where you would look askance at anyone who bought a used car there.

But the name that everyone had trouble with was a nearby city called Pullyup.

Most people look at the name and try to sound it out:  “Pulley Up.”

We knew instantly that they weren’t local — no mind reading necessary.  The correct pronunciation is “Pee All Up.”  Yeah, it doesn’t look like what it sounds like.

But, while I was laughing at visitors’ mispronunciations, I had one of my own, for the word “Potomac.”  It was actually because I’d only read the word, and it seemed like such a logical way to pronounce it …

Poe toe mac.

All because of Fotomat!

There are lots  of lists of commonly misspelled words.  Karen Reddick has a list of commonly mispronounced words, like people dropping the r in “Library.”  C’mon!  We like libraries.  We wouldn’t do that!

So fess up!  What words have you been horrified to discover you’ve pronounced wrong?

Beam on over to my post The Subplots Made Me Do It on Unleaded — Fuel for Writers.

Pulling out my Evil Manual. Studying Hard.

Monster with fangs plots evil deeps as it holds a cane topped with a skullWhen I went to ConTemporal this summer, I quickly discovered that I was overdressed for the con.  I was in a tank top and shorts, but evidently I looked more like a tourist because con security stopped me.  So I visited the dealer’s room in search of a T-shirt and found one that said:

Knowledge is Power.

Power Corrupts.

Study Hard.  Be Evil.

Of course,  I had to buy it.  Sometimes evil can be fun, and sometimes it needs to be a little fun.

I’ve been working on my antagonist’s subplot, so it’s got me thinking about villains.  An antagonist isn’t always a villain — sometimes it’s just a person or thing opposing the heroine — but mine’s definitely a villain.  He’s wanting to do evil things.

Evil’s hard to do.  The first things I always think of are the books that didn’t do it right.  A lot of writers just slap a villain sign on the character and have him do terrible things.  Maybe somewhere along the storyline, the writer realizes the villain isn’t evil enough, so they add a dog or a cat to the story and have the villain kill it to tell us:

This villain is evil!  He kills puppies and kittens!

Eew!  This is enough to make me instantly put down the book.  I ain’t going to hate the villain, but I am going to wonder if the author hates animals.

So what does make a good villain?  I hunted around villain territory and found Tess Collins’ post The Sympathetic Villain:

What makes a good villain? Philosophy. Vision. Humanity. A sense of history. The same qualities that make a good hero.

Hmm.  Sympathetic is a deceptive word, since it easy to think about feeling sorry for the guy.  But in a story, it’s about making him into a human being and not a cardboard cutout of evil badness.  Maybe even understanding why he’s gone off into the evil zone, even if we don’t agree with it.

I think I like my villains to be a little the over the top and extreme in some ways.  Remember the mayor from Buffy the Vampire Slayer?

“Raise your hand if you’re invulnerable.”

It helps keep the villain fun, still dangerous, and yet provides a way to escape from the real world.  Creating a serial killer stalking women in Los Angeles … well, not so much.

What do you think?  What makes for a good villain? What are you favorite villains?  If you had an evil manual, what would be in it?

Wander on by and check out my flash fiction story Sand Dollar Wishes on Writer Unboxed.  No evil villains in it, and no sand dollars were harmed in the making of it.  Some words did lose their lives to the editing scissors, since it’s reallllyyy short.

A short scene for your reading pleasure

This is just a quick scene I did for Forward Motion’s September Challenge.  When I heard the theme, I couldn’t resist.  The homecoming of soldier isn’t always about fanfare and parties.

Drop by and check out all my non-fiction publications!  There are quite a few available online for your viewing pleasure.