Setting – Too often ignored?

4 Oct

One of my beta’s criticisms that I will agree with is that I tend to not take the time to describe where my characters are. In general, I try to go for the feel as opposed to waxing poetic about what the blinds are made of unless it’s a plot point. I’ve said it before that I don’t consider novels to be a predominantly visual medium, as you and I can envision very different actors for the lead with the same description.

Some authors have the gift of visual story telling, but for me: I like books that make me think, so whether or not the dress is ruby red, cherry red I’ll worry about those details when I see it transcribe to screen. In general, I adore watching science fiction movies, because quite often they revel in their fantastic sets. Fantasy, at least to me, in general feels like traveling. I think one of the main advantages that urban fantasy has is that when I say I’m in present day Paris or New York, I don’t even have to name drop iconic buildings. The tone of my narrative voice can do a lot in terms of establishing whether we’re somewhere upscale or in the dredges, but for fantasy: you can have a lot of fun with sets that should be impossible. I’ve blogged about Shadow of the Colossus before, but for a game that doesn’t tell you much, the architecture certainly begs questions from the opening scene.

But films and video games are a much more visual medium than prose. Film can show quickly show montages in what would take me long boring sentences to describe. Unless it’s something related to the plot or the overall tone, I often find myself glassing it over. I’ll set up a corridor if I need it for a fight, but if not, it’s a long hallway lit by candles – let’s get on with the plot! I’ll fill in the details upon rewrites… until the publisher tells me to cut 5k. Let’s see… is the embroidery style on the tapestries really that important?

I think even very brief shots or details can establish an area and breathe life into the world.

Paul: Apostle of Christ details the last few days of Saul of Tarsus’ days, imprisoned and awaiting execution. The movie is set almost entire in Rome. The costumes were bang on, and I thought several of the acting performances were very powerful. We were mostly in a dirty dungeon and small homes in Rome as well as the city streets.

I’m not sure if this is the right word, but it felt claustrophobic. I enjoy my Sword and Sandal epics and, majestic icons like Rome have their slums and dirty places in spades. They also have grand spectacles and trademark buildings. If I hadn’t seen other movies and documentaries depicting the iconic city in that time period, or if we were in a town outside of Rome, I would have bought it. I hate saying this, because the sets were good. You go to a Roman home, it feels different than the places the Christians are hiding out. Would quick shots, that would no doubt be more expensive assuming they’re models or paintings for a quick shot, would they matter? We were up close and personal with those awaiting martyrdom, and I know what the Coloseum looks like.

Methinks Affirm films turn a profit, but they don’t have the budget Gladiator did.

So what are your thoughts on description of setting?


Editing Update

25 Sep

So I lied – I’ll talk more about Paul: Apostle of Christ in the next update. More specifically, one of my writing weaknesses: Setting.

I’ve been a very busy little goomba and I do not yet have a publishing timeline. However, I’m just about done edits for my Steampunk-Horror Novel and after talking to my publisher, the novel I’ve entitled Witchslayer’s Scion is one whole novel. I wrote a supplemental novella in addition to the  sequel, but both of which require copious amounts of editing prior to a real editor fixing it.

Can’t blame work so much as enjoying summer. I screwed up what I want to say is my gluteus medius this January (not fun) and it’s still kinda giving me grief. I think I’ve been in denial about my ankle long enough, and if I’m right basically that means it’s screwing up my posture. Hasn’t stopped me from zipping off to the lake and getting in as much kayaking, swimming, and general shenanigans. The first day of fall was a few days ago and we got snow. Not enough to stick, and my tomato plants are safe, but still – snow! I’ve also been vigilantly looking for a house. I have the down payment, have paid down my student loans, leaving me with basically a car loan and what I’ll call “stupid spending”. I really want to be closer to family and friends in a town called Elie, but it’s been a hard deal so far – it’s a commuter town. My honest guess is I’ll throw my hands up in the air and probably buy in either Portage or Oakville in the spring

I know I probably shouldn’t be attaching myself to any more challenges, but I managed to participate in Inktober last year – mostly inking comics I photocopied. I’d like to do more of it this year, including some original art. I don’t post a lot of original art because I was forewarned not to do so when I just started writing. Typically, us young authors are masters of nothing and I’ll be honest, I kind of faked my knowledge of anatomy until about second year University. I don’t get to play around with conte and paint as much as I used to, so I figure even if I screw up and it takes me a few days to finish a piece, it’ll inspire the writing for NaNoWriMo.

Writing wise, I’m feeling science fiction for this NaNoWriMo. I have a few shorts to write for anthologies in mind, additionally to all the editing I have to do. Busy busy~

Embracing Censorship?

24 Sep

If you follow me at all on FB, you’ve probably noticed that I’m a proponent of freedom of speech. I’ll spare you the rant, in essence I shouldn’t be able to force you to listen and you have the right to self-censor (you don’t like this, you either bleep out what you don’t like or read something else). You may say to yourself: Hey, the world’s a rough place and I believe in being real and honest and…

…and I agree, but there’s times when I don’t know if something is okay for a kid, so I’ll watch it before I show it to them. There’s a time and place for expectations of rough and vulgar. Sometimes I want the brutality of Spartacus: Blood and Sand or Game of Thrones; other times Narnia is in order.

As for my work, I think no one is buying a porno for the plot so changing the odd curse word might sound funny, but it’s really not changing the content of the story wholesale. But just because I’m okay with it, doesn’t mean it would sit well with others. It’s something I can respect, as I think ultimately that the author has to feel comfortable that those are indeed their words.

I was chatting with several other authors about the Clean App controversy from a few years ago, and got their opinions. In a nutshell, instead of F—, the app would change it to “curse” or “fudge” or whatever. The two I spoke with yesterday said they weren’t 100% okay with it, even though they would consider some changes if they were okay’d ahead of time. I thought of Beatrice Mosionier’s April Raintree vs In Search of April Raintree.  I read the former in High School, the latter in University. The subject matter dealt with Aboriginal sisters abused in the Manitoba Foster system as they dealt with a legacy of alcoholism. It’s been a few years since I’ve read either title, the main toning down was a rape scene, although there were some other changes (references to genitals, etc.) I’m not sure if the author was upset with the changes or not, but at the time I understood why. We could still discuss the subject matter, and for a more mature audience, they could handle some of the things a 15 shouldn’t necessarily know about.

One of the issues I find is that when I’m writing drafts, I go into more depth and I end up scaling it back. I’m not trying to belittle violence, I’m trying to not write torture-porn. It’s important for me to understand what’s going on. And then, depending on the tone of the novel or even that scene, I’ll typically try to make it more consistent with the work as a whole. The question ultimately becomes: Is it too much, or not enough? My issue is being true to the matter without trying to sensationalize it.

A film that deals with the fine balancing act that I thought handled it very well was Paul: Apostle of Christ.

Say what you want about Affirm Films, but in general Christian Audiences are the ones who are for modesty and clean language. How then do you tell a story about martyrdom? You don’t want to gloss over it. I skipped ahead to the two minute mark. Luke keeps walking and you’ll see Roman Candles.

The film showcases the horror of not only is happening in current day, but what happened prior to Paul’s imprisonment. He persecuted and had many followers of Jesus executed. While the story focuses on letting go of personal pain and revenge, it doesn’t shy away from the reality: People were killed, some in horrific ways. The tone sets us up so we don’t focus on people lingering in anguish for long. There’s mockery while the centurions are dousing people in oil. Shots pan away as weapons are raised and sound is used, and blood is used sparingly.  Because it’s used at crucial times, every time there’s a death scene, even if we don’t see it, the tone suggests we know the gravity of what just occurred.

Am I saying I’m loaning this film to my grandparents? Probably not; unless they ask. But does it handle the subject matter to impress both someone who wants the historical accuracy as well as catering to an audience who tends to be stereotyped into wholesomeness? I say it’s creative and honest, so we’re not glossing over what it is people who have been killed for their faith have gone through.

I’ll chat more about this film in my next blog post. What are your thoughts of censorship? Not from a government-ordained, “you ain’t allowed to say that” but in terms of marketing to your audience.

2018 WWC Collision and a little Banff

13 Aug

Wrapped up another When Words Collide – didn’t get to go last year, and I wanted to make talking to my publisher in person a priority. The good news is things are a go and I got to briefly visit with authors, editors and other creatives I’ve met over the years. It’s really nice to meet people who’ve had their babies polished and unleashed into the world. This is a pretty big convention, I intentionally picked two editors I already knew for my blue pencil session as a way to ensure I got to at least say hi, and some people I didn’t see until an hour before the end of the convention! The Champagne Authors all got together at Bostan Pizza on Saturday night, so we got to chat and share pictures beyond going just at the business end of the books.

An aspect I really enjoyed was the inclusion of science lectures – mostly physics I think, I didn’t get to all of them – from lecturers from the University of Calgary. The main complaint I heard from multiple sources is that the convention appeals for writers like me – the science fiction and fantasy crowd – and the other genres writers are getting a little annoyed. I mostly chatted with romance writers, so I wouldn’t know how the literary types are fairing.

I made it a point to hand in less-polished works to the editors. I know that sounds dumb, as the rule with Beta Readers is “make it as polished as you possibly can”. I handed in something a few years ago and the guy was like, “Why are you here, exactly?” I try to make it a point to learn something, and I’ll admit to being the Queen of Non-Sequiter Paragraph Structure.


I don’t care it’s funny.


One of the nicer things I got was from the Coffee Klatch with Guy Gavriel Kay – festival guest from last year. He basically reaffirmed a contradiction us authors face. There’s a plethora of types of fiction in need and unfortunately, certain works wouldn’t be picked up today. He used the example of LotR because it takes 100 pages for it to essentially get moving. One lady said, “My stories don’t hook and grab. They’re a slower form of fiction.” Which is completely valid, and I agree whole heartedly. My publisher and I had a chat about covers and as the Writer Convention Appeals to readers, everyone else I spoke to on the subject said we feel fooled if the cover conveys the wrong image, or the book is marketed incorrectly. We get that there’s a certain sales amount that is involved, but generally speaking my grandmother and I don’t immediately reach for the same books on the shelf.

Weekend went by super fast and I went to my first ever Dr. Seuss Off – never read Fox in Socks but my father read me “Oh Say Can You Say?”  way too many times. Rather enjoyed the entire thing, additionally it’s something new to try with the nieces and nephews.

I’m currently typing this at a Hostel in Banff. I wasn’t going to stay, but the ads showed up on my feed and I was “Ba-ha”-ing at the minimum price of pushing $300 to stay in Canmore and area. I couldn’t find a B&B for the two nights I needed and I thought it was silly to change places considering I need to be at the airport by 10 on Tuesday for a noon flight. Figured if it’s not safe to stay in a Banff Hostel it’s not safe in any hostel – we’ll confirm how I feel in a day or two, but seems like we got a good range of people here and I’ve been getting up early to hit the gym. I was originally thinking “horseback riding” but I might wake up and go for an early morning hike and rent a SUP and get some editing done. It’s a little smoky out, but it’s still beautiful here. I haven’ t been here in probably fifteen years – way more built up than I remember it.

Anyway, if I missed you at WWC apologies – I’m excited for a day of outdoor fun (weather and glut med strain permitting, hah!)  I didn’t take any pictures as I was trying to navigate walking around, so I’ll have to fix it in the morning.

Thoughts on Branding, Rejection, and Perseverance

5 Jun

I was at Keycon a few weekends ago hocking books. I should have updated earlier, but alas I was behind in my edits and it seemed within an hour of firing them off, my stomach took a turn for the worse. Let’s just say it wasn’t the most violent puking episode that followed, but it does make one appreciate how relatively pain-free one goes about through life. Add working OT, a wayward cat, life’s finally slowed down.

A topic we didn’t panel but a few writers mentioned, was about a series versus a standalone. I’ve blogged on the topic before, but the general consensus I get from writers is, if they knew how much work was involved, they would do a smaller project.

I try not to tell people what to write, but I think I like the idea of thinking about the body of work as a whole. Most of us have more than one idea, and I think it’s a great idea to experiment and study all forms of creative writing: Shorts, poetry, non-fiction; playing in first and third person and generally improving the overall quality of the prose.

“Branding” is something my publisher talks about a lot, and the idea behind it is to present to the reader the sort of books you as an author write. Typically, my published works have been described as “epic fantasy” but I consider myself a science-fiction and fantasy writer. In general, I’d say my “brand” is science fiction and fantasy adventure stories. I think the genre is a nice wide open sandbox, and it’s important to relay the idea behind the book relatively quickly to potential readers.

If you want to write a series or a trilogy or whatever, that’s wonderful and I encourage you to do so. The main issue with working on a sprawling series is making the first few sales. I have plenty of rejections, and in general I’m thinking that if I can’t sell book 1, I’ll have a heck of a time moving book 2 or 3. Some series you can enter in at various books (Narnia) and sometimes I’m in the same world, but following a different cast or the cast in a different time period (Michelle Sagara-West’s Sunsword Series has three different series set within the same world and time period, for instance). No problem doing all that world building and revisiting the world.

The problem is with putting your hope on a series, is that book 1 might keep getting rejected for reasons beyond the writing. The market might be oversaturated with that topic. You picked an unpopular style. The publisher doesn’t know how to market it.

None of this isn’t to say you shouldn’t write it. I think if you are serious and want to write a sprawling epic, go for it. But write something else, too.

Having another completed manuscript also buys you time to finish book 2 in your series. Pretend your intended book 1 gets picked up – and you are only 30% into book 2. If you have a different book, say a standalone – publication and editing take time, but you can fire off other titles to your publisher while you’re finishing the beloved sequel.

The “con” if you will, is that assuming the series gets picked up, you worked really hard to get someone to notice your book, and now that you have contracts and a deadline, life tends to throw curve balls. You thought you had plenty of time, and suddenly you don’t. I wouldn’t want to leave my audience in suspense. Wanting more is fine – not knowing the fate of the hero, it feels like the product is unfinished and can feel unsatisfied. Knowing that the next part is coming out soon – but hey, the author has another title to enjoy while you wait – it builds the momentum and that way, allows the author time to make the sequel stand on its own and not feel rushed.

In my opinion, the pro outweighs the con to writing different books outside of the series. You’re forced to use different styles and research, and you can play with a different cast. In general, writing more improves your writing overall, and helps you improve as an artist. A scene or technique might come to you when you’re writing in a different style or voice, and who knows – you might enjoy the project de jour as much as or more than the epic masterpiece in your mind’s eye.

Disagree? Comment below!

Well, at least the Cat is Healthy

23 Mar

My poor dog has developed a bit of a honking cough. I’ve had a scratchy throat for the past few days, but just enough to annoy me from doing a really good work out. It’s been nice, these past few months working at a quieter station I’ve been able to focus on health and fitness. Less drama, as our newest member of our station will attest.

Anyway, just a quick post to high-five myself and mark the date for future reference. Just finished the A-Plot of the sequel to the book that should have come out last year. It’s around 120k at the moment, so depending on how much I can do, I can blow right past the 135k mark book 1 is at, or eradicate and utilize the idea either in a novella, or leave it in some various form of appendices. But I suppose I should get on figuring out what the plan with book 1 is. I’m terribly behind – I figured I would have the bulk of this book written in November and I’d have it finished off January, but life doesn’t work out the way I planned. Overall I’m very pleased, but I think a big part of it is the high I get because I got to play. The real work comes with revision, and believe me, this project needs revision. I also cut a ton out of it, so if I had kept to my original plan including a small novella’s worth of flashbacks and fleshing out the world, this would have been in the 200k range. Not bad for a fantasy novel, but I need to meander less, focus more.

I am probably going to take a break and do some shorts for various anthologies, and eventually get back to the B plot, but time tends to help me see the real problems I fail to acknolwedge, as well as helping me streamline unimportant things. As for other good news, my boss confirmed she’s going to give me the days off for When Words Collide. She couldn’t give me the whole tour off, so I’ll have to make some decisions as to whether or not I have time to fly or drive (it’ll be tight if I drive, but then I don’t have to rent a car!) a friend living in Moosejaw (5 hours from here, about 7 from Calgary) certainly doesn’t hurt in the driving aspect. I love flying, but road trips are fun too, you know.

Revision as Adaptation: One Approach

9 Feb

My principle problem with the pantsing (or quilting) approach to writing is essentially while it lets me play a lot, I find that I start with an idea, it’s moulded into something perhaps not completely different, but different enough from when I started the first pages of the first draft. Entire scenes get scrapped, or revised from a different POV, and often the beginning needs to be rewritten to match the dominant narrative voice. Honestly, quite often I go back and write a beginning because I like to start with plot and conflict.

My biggest problem with revision tends to be competing ideas. I found with my earliest works, that I’d throw tons of ideas into the story – with complaints like “Too many characters” and reminders to describe the scene, those still tend to be comments I get to this day.

I argue about what’s realistic – that there would be many unnamed people in the tavern, and it’s weird that you keep running into the same few people. But, I remind myself, that I’m not dictating history, I’m writing fiction. The audience doesn’t want to be bored, so focus on the important bits. But how do I determine what’s important, who’s important, and if the hero from this tale is suspiciously similar to the last guy I wrote about?

The easiest way for me to think about what is essential, is pretending that the book is going to be adapted. Specifically, a discount musical with no budget, and they have to reuse the same few actors. (Don’t worry, you don’t have to write songs unless you really feel like it).

Why a musical? Besides that I enjoy theatre, the stage lends itself certain aspects that don’t give me as much control as if I were to adapt it to a movie or tv series. We can’t close up on the actor’s face. We can’t wallow in their thoughts unless it’s blatantly implied. There’s a certain amount of time – so if I have a sprawling epic and my old high school needs to cut it into two hours with a fifteen minute intermission, what is so essential that, when someone adapts it for the stage, the themes and ideas of my story are evident for the person changing it?

I’m not taking it all the way – I care about how the story reads in a novel, and recognize that there would be adaptation even if the director or an artist wanted to be extremely faithful to the source material.  I’m imagining, as I’m doing revising, “Is this scene essential? What does it convey? Does it run counter to my theme? Is there a more entertaining way of doing this?” And obviously, this doesn’t always work. I can’t keep everything bare-bones. The appeal of some books is the heavy stylized narration, and novels re pretty much limited to the skill of the artist. When I’m talking revision, I’m not talking about “Dumb it down for the masses” I ask myself, “If I were to cut this, what would change”? This is doubly important if I have a sprawling epic and my publisher only wants to publish a certain length. Assuming I need to drop 10 000 words, my precious prose needs to still convey all the necessary information to the audience.

An example of what I’m talking about was in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.

I had some very opinionated friends who regularly argued (not really) while both LotR and The Hobbit came out. Amongst the many changes that took place in both sets of films, I had zero problem with Glorfindel being replaced with Arwen in the Peter Jackson adaptation (I believe it was Legolas in the Bakshi adaptation, it’s been a while and I can’t seem to find the scene on Youtube). More strict fans I’ve talked to despise the change for a variety of reasons – the best argument I heard against was that it made Arwen too powerful. As a casual fan, my main argument for replacing Glorfindel with Arwen or another character was that Glorfindel essentially just shows up for the act of ferrying injured Frodo to Rivendell and Elrdond. Was it realistic that Aragorn happened to be found by Arwen? Not really, unless Arwen has some unexplained magical way of finding her beau. Utilizing Arwen allowed for the reveal in the third film that her life is now tied to the quest. I look forward to the upcoming tv series, to see if Glorfindel will finally rescue Frodo as Tolkien intended or he gets replaced yet again.

Finally, I’d like to say this is a revision tactic. Written stories are different from stage plays, and ultimately when I’m writing, I want what’s best for the story. Movies have the advantage of showing training montages and showing swooping landscapes that would take pages to describe. Theatre has its own magic, and can interact with the audience and the audience often utilizes a suspension of belief that won’t hold up in other mediums.

Anyone else have a tactic in revision? Lots of times when I talk to writers, they talk about their perfect actors who would play their leads. I usually assume by the time my novel sees the light of day, the “perfect” choice would no longer look the part.