Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Re-writing: My Characters Don't Make Sense

As an actor, you're given a script and a character and told to go from there. You have to figure out why that character does what they do, and then you have to commit to that and sell it to an audience who will (hopefully) be engaged. And if they do not care about the character, they likely will not be engaged. This even goes for the school of thought that says audiences shouldn't be totally immersed and sympathetic -- but if they don't care about what they are seeing onstage, then why should they care enough to critique or think about what they are seeing?

So: you get a script and a character, someone who is not you, whose motives and actions may be totally incomprehensible. And you have to figure out why. 

Writing and revising are a bit like that. 

I'm currently rehauling That Novel I Wrote In High School* (yes, it is about as bad as it sounds) (and technically I wrote it in high school, finished it in college, and wrote the second book in college) and it's a lot like being given a script as an actor. I'm faced with the same sorts of questions, like...

Why do the characters do these things, apart from the fact that at the time I clearly wanted them to do it to advance plot?

Why does the plot move forward like it does? 

Do characters' actions make sense?

A lot of the time, I found that there was no reason for the plot to move as it did (apart from that I wanted it to happen). Characters did not have compelling reasons or motives to act as they did. Their actions did not make sense beyond getting from A to B. 

I thought for a long time that I was bad at plotting -- because all the above objections meant my plot made no sense. 

But then I realized: it's not that my plot doesn't make sense. My plot doesn't make sense because my characters don't make sense. 

I'm not bad at plot. I'm bad at character.

Luckily, I get to rewrite this "script." I can take the bones of the actions it contains and then write characters who would do those actions. And I can let those actions change as the characters develop. 

Giving the characters things and people to care about in order to inform their motives has been difficult. Letting go of some of the basic assumptions I've held about this story and these characters for years has been difficult. 

And -- if you'll permit me to ramble on about myself a bit more -- I'm glad I wrote that third book in college. I always heard that you should only work on one big project at a time. However, working on a different book helped me let go of this first project. It stopped being my "baby." Now that I'm not so attached, I can step back and rehaul it. 

Rewriting an old project has taught me a lot about writing.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Adventures in the ER

Things took an unexpected turn for the worse last Friday when a trip to the health clinic ended up with me in the emergency room.

For a little under a week, I had been feeling dizziness, weakness, nausea, blurred or randomly unfocusing vision, difficulty concentrating and putting words together, and a laundry list of other weird symptoms that added together to make "I feel like crap and I can't blame it on my usual spaciness." When I had what I thought was a fever on Friday, I decided enough was enough and went to the clinic at the local Wal-mart. That's my litmus test for sickness: have a fever, see a doctor. 

They listened to my symptoms, got very confused and concerned, took my vitals, and did some tests. While I had teeth-chattering chills, I didn't have a fever -- but my blood pressure was low enough to make them alarmed and my symptoms were bad enough that I didn't feel safe driving. They called me a taxi and sent me to the ER. 

This experience fucked up my entire weekend. I had to call out of work for the duration of the work excuse they wrote me (but still had to go in the day after that while still feeling horrible, because I need the money). I missed the deadline to apply for a TA position at my college. Luckily, they extended the deadline and I sent my application in (sans any kind of real work experience apart from a very earnest, hopefully not-too-desperate-sounding cover letter). I also missed the deadline to submit something I was working on as a freelancer. I've communicated the situation to the client, and hopefully I can finish it by Thursday. It wasn't going well to begin with, but since then, I've had even more difficulty concentrating. 

Also, whoever put the IV in to draw blood managed to BEND THE NEEDLE while it was in my arm. OUCH.

On the other hand, the experience was oddly positive in a couple of ways. This is one of the only times I've felt like I was taken seriously by a doctor. I'm someone who doesn't typically go to a doctor when sick -- partly because I've learned that all they will do is take my money, shrug at my symptoms, and manage to imply that I'm either pregnant and lying, on drugs and lying, or making the whole thing up and super-lying. They don't listen, they constantly interrupt, they make it clear I'm wasting their time, and they don't act like it's serious. The doctor's office is already a very unpleasant, invasive place where everyone acts like you're an idiot. I avoid it whenever I can.

So normally, I just shrug and assume it's nothing serious. But for once, the clinic and ER doctors actually listened. I was even trying to downplay the concerns of the clinic doctor, and was forced to acknowledge their validity when she asked if I felt safe to drive and I had to admit I didn't. Under different circumstances, I guess I might have been worried or scared. But I was too out of it to care at all, and my main concern was the work I was going to miss and how everyone was going to hate me for calling out of an opening shift the next day. 

End verdict: they didn't know what it was, but diagnosed it as vertigo probably caused by complications from an ear infection. But they also advised me to push fluids in case it was dehydration, and sent me home with a prescription for anti-vertigo medicine. Getting me out of the chair was kind of funny, actually. I kept shivering, so people kept offering me warmed blankets. By the time it was time to leave, I needed the nurse's help to break free of my blanket burrito.

I don't know. Maybe this IS something to be worried about. As the ER nurse told me, I'm awfully young to be having these kinds of symptoms. In the past few days, I've also experienced the added joys of shortness of breath and tightness/pressure of the chest. 

I've avoided finding a doctor in this area because of my dislike of doctors, but I'm going to pursue that this week -- to follow up on the symptoms if nothing else.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Pink

Once again, I've changed my blog.

The look is decidedly "pink" this time. I wanted to use the same picture I use for my twitter account background (@Laura_the_Wise). I had been using one of the stock images provided by Blogger, and I didn't like it. The header text stands out better now (it helps if you tilt your screen a bit to get more contrast), and the image is a photo I took myself.

After much torturous experimentation, I decided to leave the background white. I had waffled between pale yellow, green, or pink --  but backgrounds of any kind, even solid color backgrounds, distract me. So, white it is. I know that's hard on some people's eyes, but I've tried to make the post font fairly large and easy-to-read to compensate.

Let me know if you like the new look (or not). I probably obsess way too much over what this blog looks like.

It seems that, once again, I've created a blog that reads as far more "cutesy" than some of the content on it. I used to worry about that a lot more, but now I'm just pleased with the way it looks. After all, this is mostly just my silly personal blog where I have opinions on books, movies, and other things. Even the email associated with it is the one I made when I was fifteen.* Come on -- cuteblondandcrazy[at]gmail[dot]com? That should be my porn name, not my email address. (And for some reason, my name under that email sometimes still shows up as "Theresa McKay." A fake name and a porny corny email? That's not suspicious at all...)**

Speaking of which, you'll note that my new "About" page has a different email: lauraw178[at]gmail[dot]com, aka my "definitely not a porn star responsible adult email." If you have my old email, don't worry -- you can just message or email me there, and I'll answer. If not, the lauraw178 one works just fine.

Apart from changing my blog, I'm plodding along in thesis research and working my way through the 14 Books of Fantasy ebook anthology bundle thingy. Concealed Power is my current featured review, and The Sorcery Code is great! I loved it, and I really did not expect to. It's magitek/mathemagic, which I really like, and it's very well written (which I also appreciate after the first couple of books in that anthology), and it has a great plot, characters, and concept.

Basically, it's Frankenstein but with a mad sorcerer instead of a mad scientist. 

Currently Reading
This cover makes just about zero sense, though.

*My current self refuses to be held responsible for this.
**Again, these things made perfect sense to a paranoid teenager convinced someone would steal her identity on the Internet. Because, you know, a fake name on your email TOTALLY prevents that.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Meditation as Stress Management?

I read this post at Janice Hardy's blog today, where the guest poster recommends meditation as a stress reduction and relaxation technique. The post was about establishing healthy writing and living habits. Some of it's not for me, but the meditation idea piqued my interest.

I am an absent-minded, daydreaming sort of person. I'm no expert, but meditation seems a lot like directed daydreaming. 

I've tried meditation before, and usually with pretty good results. I was first introduced to it in church. The pastor wanted us to pick a focus word and meditate on that. He gave some tips for focusing the mind (read: not getting bored out of one's mind) such as holding an image in your mind or watching a candle flame, or paying attention to your breathing. He gave the focus word for that particular time, and if I remember correctly, he probably recommended some more words for later practice. 

My church also held all-night vigils and Tenebre services during Lent and before Easter. If you signed up for a vigil, you took an hour or two hours or whatever and sat in church meditating. You could choose to play meditative religious music, which usually featured a word, phrase, or prayer repeated over and over with varying instrumentalists. The vigils would start at sundown and go until dawn Easter morning. Because multiple people participated, it was less a private experience and more a communal meditation.

My third experience with meditation was also religiously based. When I was in the confirmation class, we went to a convent and walked a labyrinth. You're supposed to meditate on stuff when you walk a labyrinth. Afterwards, people would write down their thoughts, prayers, whatever in a little book on a board by the labyrinth. We read through them. Some people wrote basic stuff thanking the facility for the beautiful location, some people were inspired to write poetry, some people wrote down what they meditated on or any kind of spiritual guidance they wanted. 

I guess people associate meditation with New Age-y stuff, so it's kind of funny that I was introduced to it via Christianity.


I used meditation as a relaxation technique more than a spiritual one in college, because I wanted some kind of stress relief. I had studied psychology, and I knew that it was possible to hypnotize yourself. So I would basically hypnotize myself into a relaxed state with meditation. It was kind of nice.

The problem is...It takes a long time.

The benefit of and problem with meditation, for me, is that it takes a long time. So when I am choosing to do it, I am actively choosing not to do something else. It's hard to relax when you're thinking about all the things that you should be doing but aren't. 

My other main problem with it is that I daydream too much already. I always think about what I am going to do, read, write, work on, or whatever, and think about it but don't end up doing it. I don't want to get into the habit of meditating and using "I'm doing it to manage stress" as an excuse to do that instead of things I need to be doing. I can see how it would help manage stress or clear your head, but I don't see how it would contribute to overall productivity or self-discipline.

What I'm saying is that I guess I'm a bit up in the air about its effectiveness. I'd be curious to know if anyone else has tried this and gotten better results than I have.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Why This Book Has Been Sitting on My Sidebar for Months

If you look to your right, you will see Emperor of Thorns sitting on the sidebar of this blog under the label "Currently Reading." It's been there for a while. Why, you ask? (You didn't ask, but let's pretend you did.)

Currently Reading

Because not many other series have had as big an effect on me as The Broken Empire trilogy. And Emperor of Thorns is the last book. And once I finish reading it, it's over. And I don't really want it to be over because then it will be DONE. (And I'm pretty sure the main character will die in the last book, so there'll be no more reading about him after this, either.)

These are really, really great books. What hooked me first was the "voice" -- writing voice, character voice, whatever. It's unique and compelling and one of the best examples of what people like to call "voice" out there. Voice can be tricky to define. If you read this series, you will immediately understand what voice is.

The characters are also great, whether or not you like them. I wouldn't want to meet any of these people or hang out with them, but damn do they make great characters.

Also, it is post-apocalyptic fantasy, which is like my chocolate. Well, my wine. More like my crack. I love dystopian fiction, post-apocalypse fiction, and fantasy, and this series is an unholy cocktail of those subgenres -- with a splash of pure science fiction. (The author actually used to be a rocket scientist.) Post-apocalypse/future-Earth fantasy isn't exactly thick on the ground, either, so it's not like I can go find a similar book after I'm finished with this trilogy. Also, the style is very much "sword and sorcery" -- so it really has the flavor of classic fantasy, despite the sci-fi elements. PA fantasy that reads like S&S -- this book just makes me happy in every fiber of my hopelessly geeky being.

Now, normally I'd recommend this far and wide -- but I won't. I don't recommend this to anyone who isn't prepared to have to read through a lot of disturbing violent and sexual content. You know how Game of Thrones has a terrible reputation for sex and violence? Yeah, imagine if Game of Thrones were about 50 times more violent. The Broken Empire makes Game of Thrones look fucking cute. 

(Actually, if you are a Game of Thrones fan, the main character Jorg Ancrath is best described as a mixture of Arya and Joffrey. If you can imagine.)

The main character is a psychopath, rapist, mass murderer, and war criminal. And he accomplishes all those atrocities by the time he's 15. In a lot of ways, he's like a regressed child throwing a bloody temper tantrum throughout much of the first book. He's worst in the first book, but as for whether he stays that way...well, it's a bit like the original ending of A Clockwork Orange, where the psychopathically violent MC just sort of grows up, matures, and grows out of it. There's a lot more to it than that, obviously, but it's still a series where the main character is pretty damn evil.

So I don't necessarily recommend it, because villain protagonists are not for everyone. This series is premised on the idea that in order to defeat extreme evil, you need a "hero" who is at least as evil. My prediction is that he's going to sacrifice himself in the end. There is also a lot of Biblical imagery and metaphor in this trilogy. This series can't seem to decide whether its hero is Jesus or Satan.

Another reason I don't necessarily recommend it is that this book is also just depressing in its message. Nuclear warfare wiped out society as we know it...and even "recovered" society is brutally medieval and backwards. A warlord comes along over a thousand years later and rediscovers some nuclear weapons. And of course, what does he use them for? EVEN MORE nuclear warfare. Because, in the author's opinion, humanity just can't learn its fucking lesson when it comes to weapons of mass destruction.

Despite all that, it's one of my favorite series and I'm resisting finishing the final book because I don't want it to be over. Which is why it is still on my sidebar. However, the author is writing a new trilogy set in the same world, the first book of which I bought while it was on sale on NOOK. So now, I feel like I have to finish the original trilogy.