Writing Excuses: retrofitting structure

Writing Excuses is one of the only podcasts I listen to. I like to explain it to my friends thusly: “THEY JUST KEPT TALKING AND I WANTED THEM TO GET TO THE POINT.” My friends usually roll their eyes.

Most podcasts are about an hour long and make me want to tear out my hair. One, two, or occasionally three people will ramble on about some subject or another for the whole duration. It makes me want to eat hearts. I become Baba Yaga in the wood. I whirl about and grab the reins of my chicken hut and ride into the sunset.

Honestly, I hate podcasts. If I want to be talked at by people, I’ll go to work at my dayjob. Otherwise I’m just as happy to read a book. I guarantee I can read faster than you talk.

That said, I love Writing Excuses. What’s interesting about this podcast is that it is a) exclusively focused on writing and writing techniques, b) really short, which makes me happy, and c) is in a conversational format that allows for insight. All of the participants (regularly, the podcast includes Dan Wells, Mary Robinette-Kowal, Brandon Sanderson, and Howard Johnson) come from diverse parts of the writing world. They have experience teaching the craft, but very different opinions about some parts of it. It’s not two people in an echo chamber, nor is it a boring interview. It’s a group of people having healthy conversation (albeit probably somewhat rehearsed) about what techniques they use to make their writing good.

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Gushing is now over, I swear.

Recently, I was listening to an episode from Season 12 entitled “Retrofitting Structure into a First Draft.” I always have a hard time with determining where a first draft begins and a zero draft or second draft ends. The finals are easy to clarify, mostly, but for the purposes of this podcast I think it’s healthy to disregard the “First Draft” moniker. Instead, the conversation is about retrofitting structure of your draft when you know something is broken.

Case in point: a few years ago now (wow, how time flies) I finished what I affectionately call The Zombie Book at a time when many were saying that the zombie genre was dead. Putting aside whether or not a genre can die, this book was my favorite thing. I loved it deeply. Nothing I have written since has filled me with quite as much joy, actually, at least of the maniacal kind. The main character is a rather unstable middle-aged woman who could easily be a supervillain but somehow finds herself helping out with a ragtag band of people saving the world from an apocalypse that’s sort of their fault. It was lots of fun to write, and I still hold out hopes that it will find a home in a publishing house somewhere. I hear zombies and their ilk are making a comeback. A resurrection, even.

Bad humor aside, I loved this book. I hated the ending. It felt like a good ending in that it set up some things for a sequel. It brought some of the various plots I had been playing with to a solid close and opened up some new ones. Sequel material, in other words. Perfect. But it didn’t jive. It didn’t quite feel right.

Listening to this episode of Writing Excuses helped me to figure out exactly why that was. I didn’t quite keep my promises to my readers. There was a tonal shift.

In any case, I’m very excited to perform the activity in this podcast and fix that problem. Hopefully listening to this episode will give you some insight as well.

Inspiration – Movies

While I’m at MystiCon this weekend, you get this last inspiration post. The previous two on books and music can be found earlier on the blog. You also get the complete cover for Daughter of Madness in this post! It’s at the end, so if that’s what you’re clicking in for, scroll down until you get there. If you’d like to stick around and hear about some of my favorite movies, please do so!

So honestly I don’t watch a whole lot of movies. Some of my favorite ones are Japanese animation, which I’ve mostly left out of this list by dent of it being a bit of a different animal. I do love movies, and my tastes are pretty diverse, but lately it’s really hard for me to watch or read anything that I don’t mostly know is not going to treat women like objects. I’m sure someone will accuse me of being overly sensitive in that, but luckily I don’t care. The past two months have been mentally pretty stressful for women, I think most of us can admit, so exposing myself to more misogyny than required is not really on my list of things to do. That said, most of these movies are older.

This makes sense, you know, because it’s about inspiration that led me to write The Creation Saga.

Lord of the Rings

This is sort of cheating, because I read the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit  ages ago. When I was about five, actually. My dad read us the entirety of Tolkien’s work as soon as we could reliably communicate audibly. This was the origin of my fantasy bug.

The first LotR adaptations were animated. I remember being absolutely terrified by the goblins. There are no goblins in the world of The Creation Saga, which is just as well. People are brutal enough. As a child, though, you don’t think that people can be evil necessarily.

The Hobbit is actually my favorite of these stories. It’s a story about a person who comes into himself, not about a person who is broken by what happens to him, as in Frodo’s case. Bilbo finds camaraderie and learns about the darknesses of the world. In the end he experiences betrayal, too. The world of all stories is a vast one, complicated in its own way. The right and wrong of things seems simpler than it perhaps is. Gods walk among men, or something like them – wizards and elves with powers that can reshape rivers and mountains. Rocks move and trees talk. There is something appealing about all of that, and I don’t think any fantasy writer can quite escape that appeal.

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The movies, which most people are familiar with, contain much of that magic and mystery, but couch it also in blood and battle. Eowyn is one of my favorite characters, predictably. She wants so desperately to prove herself to her people, to save those that she cares for. She suffers so much loss and rises to fight despite it. She has a lot of rage, Eowyn. I was happy for her to find Faramir, but in some ways I think it did a disservice to her character to resolve her questioning so easily in the wake of her uncle’s death.

Mad Max Fury Road

Mad Max is not a fantasy franchise. It is dystopian scifi, but it’s a very good example of some of the themes I was playing with in Daughter of Madness. Not the “who killed the world” refrain, though that speaks to me so well. Instead I think of Furiosa, of her sense of loss and the way that it moves her forward into rage and eventually into triumph. I think of the violence that she renders on others and which is rendered on her. I also love the vast landscapes of Fury Road, the reds and blues of the deserts. They don’t make it into Daughter of Madness exactly, but the austerity of that space was a place that provided me a lot of inspiration.

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Star Wars!

How could Star Wars not be on this list? I mean talk about movies. These were my favorite movies for a long time and I still love them. And Luke and Leia are twins! With very different fates from Liana and Liander, of course, but nonetheless. Royal twins fighting for their birthrights….it’s hard not to see some thematic resemblance.

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Still, the person I think probably jives with Liana’s character the most in the Star Wars universe is probably Jyn Erso, at least in my head. I saw Rogue One well after I had finished most of the Daughter of Madness story arc, but I felt that kinship instantly. She has the same trust issues and rough and tumble edges.

Alright, dears, the moment you’ve all been waiting for! I will be at MystiCon this weekend, as mentioned earlier this week, so enjoy this while I’m gone! (And if you are at MystiCon, check out one of my events for cool free swag!)

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