Wednesday, November 30, 2011

13-Step Program: What do I do next with my NANOWRIMO novel?

Mary Robinette Kowal writes an inspiring post on finishing up your NANOWRIMO novel. I agree with her that the important thing, whether or not you finished your manuscript or even reached 50,000 words, is that you're writing. Because writing is hard work!

I thought I'd add some comments about what to do next with your NANOWRIMO creation. I hesitate to call it a novel, even if it has a beginning, middle and end. It's a first draft manuscript. Anyway, a few tips:

1. Don't show it to anyone. Please don't. Go and buy some celebratory chocolate instead.

2. Put it aside for a while. Or not. It's been a month since you wrote the first few chapters, and that's probably long enough.

3. Write or rewrite your outline from scratch. This may or may not resemble either your original outline (if you had one) or your draft. Hopefully, it's way better than either. Whether you use the hero's journey or three acts with turning points or GMC charts or something else, I would advise shoehorning your plot and character development into some sort of structure, at least loosely.

4. With your new outline as a guide, figure out which parts of your first draft you can keep or delete, and insert notes where you need to add new material. Rewrite the parts you keep. Salvage whatever brilliant snippets you can from the parts you need to delete. Write the new material.

5. Congratulations! You now have a second draft, although the new bits are actually first draft, of course. But be kind to yourself - call it your second draft.

6. Write a new outline that matches the second draft, looking out for pacing problems, inconsistencies, and places where you can make things even more exciting and brilliant. You should probably delete the first three chapters entirely - they are unnecessary scene-setting and backstory.

7. Repeat step 4. Voila! Your third draft. You've now removed the boring bits, fixed the bits that make no sense, untangled the plot knots, and added a whole heap of compelling character development, logically sequenced action and thrilling turning points. You've probably also deleted all those brilliant snippets you kept in step 4.

8. Edit ruthlessly for grammar and spelling. You may call the resulting work your fourth draft, especially if you rewrote a chapter or two.

9. Fantastic! Your fourth draft is possibly ready to show off to the world at large. Okay, not at large. But your mother, friends and critique partners will no longer feel you're wasting their time when you ask them to read it.

10. Repeat step 4 with any beta-reader feedback in mind. You probably also have a hundred improvements running around in your head that you came up with while your story was in the hands of your readers. Yay, your fifth draft!

11. Put your fifth draft aside for a few days and this time try not to think about it, otherwise you'll be caught in an endless step 10 loop.

12. Edit again for grammar and spelling. Polish those awkward sentences. Reconsider the chapter breaks. Change the layout to standard formatting, if you haven't already.

13. Your sixth draft (or seventeenth, depending on how long you spent at step 12) is ready to be called a novel manuscript. And it could be ready for sending out into the world at large! If so, send it out already.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Trying not to be a technophobe

Earlier this year MCP and I got our first "smart phones". It was his first ever mobile phone, and my third. I got my first when I moved to the country and was worried about my 1980 Datsun breaking down and stranding me in the middle of Nowhere (Nowhere is a big place in Australia). I got my second in the US as a stranger in a strange land, and used it so infrequently that my $20-a-quarter flat-fee service accumulated to over $200 that's still sitting in my US account.

I love reading about new technology, and I love inventing new technology for my stories. What my mobile phone has taught me is that I've fallen years behind in the actual devices people are using today. Perhaps a lot of X-Gens feel that way about technology in general, but I'll bet most of them know how to Google on their mobile phones. Not me. I had to post endless questions on geek forums to learn how, and it still only works intermittently. Today I learned there's a difference between a widget and an app. I don't know what the difference is, mind you.

In 1983, my siblings and I bought a Commodore 64 computer for $600. It had a no floppy drive (we used a tape deck to load programs), no monitor (we used the TV) and no mouse. Back then I was a tech Jedi master! I could write Basic programs that simulated human conversation and played cricket. (I sense you are impressed.) Over the next 15 years I kept up with all the latest computers, graduating to an Amiga and then a PC. I used Macs at work. I could do anything! In the office I became the go-to person for Microsoft Word and Access questions. Once I got online in the mid-90s I learned everything there was to know about writing HTML web pages and image-editing. I used a dozen different graphics, desktop-publishing and book-keeping programs with ease.

Now... I can't keep up. Not even close. My PC is 7 years old and I'm still on Windows XP (which came out in 2001). I know no more about web pages than I knew in 1997. My graphics editing program of choice puts out a new version every year and I'm still using the same version I had 12 years ago. I haven't played a computer game since Sim City 3. Half the time I screw up the TV programming on my DVR because I can't figure out the menus. I gave up on my MP3 player because I don't know how to make a song list.

And I still think it's outrageous that I pay $30 a month - cheapest plan I could find - for a phone that I use once a week to text MCP to ask what time he'll be home so I can start dinner.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Pre-new year's resolution

Today MCP and I arranged a babysitter for three days between Christmas and New Year. We are going to write for three days solid. That's our pre-new year's resolution. I am not placing any bets on whether we'll achieve it but we are very motivated. We have several works-in-progress between us, so the rule for this forthcoming writing "retreat" is Pick one!

(The babysitter is, of course, my mum. Grandma is slightly more popular than daddy and twice as popular as mummy these days.)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Heidi's Pick Six

I've done a quickie interview over at Heidi Ruby Miller's blog where I answer six questions: here. You'll notice I mostly didn't answer the writing questions. This is because my brain is still pretty much porridge these days and it's easier to talk abou food and cartoons.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Review: The Time Guardian


The Time Guardian is an 80s Australian movie starring the man from Snowy River, a pretty Aussie woman, and, for reasons unknown, Carrie Fisher. I never quite figured out what was going on in this movie and I'm not going to watch it again to find out. I think it was trying to be Australia's answer to The Terminator.

In the far future, cyborgs have killed all of humanity except for some stragglers in a time-traveling city, which the cyborgs continually attack because they want the power source. Our hero Ballard, a soldier, makes a garbled speech that involves a plan to travel to the Aussie Outback circa 1988 - I honestly don't know why but he's very angry and very earnest about it, so it must be their only hope. He and Carrie Fisher go on ahead a day or so to build a rock pile so the damaged city can land without toppling over.

Yes, the fate of all humanity depends on two people building a rock pile.

In 1988 Ballard meets Annie, a cute geologist in pleated (arrgh!) white (arrgh!) cuffed (arrrrrgh!) shorty-shorts who's already been treated badly at the tiny outback township where half the action takes place. This town consists of one street and a dozen buildings, but has three, count 'em, three cops, all of whom are gun-totin' dicks. I can buy one or even two being dicks, but all three? There's a Confederate flag in the police station office. I'm not sure an Aussie audience would even recognize what that is, and I don't know what it's doing there.

Ballard needs an "earth transposer" to make his rock pile. On their way to town to find one, Annie and Ballard come across a truck with a dead driver. The guy was electrocuted or frozen or something by an energy whirlpool from a time disturbance. Or something. They put the body under a tarpaulin in the back of Annie's truck and drive it into town, where the cops are kind of suspicious even though Ballard says "It's not what you think."

The local earth-mover-store owner won't take credit, so Ballard throws him about 30 feet through a plate glass window, badly cutting up his face, to make him change his mind. Now, I can buy that Ballard would use violence because he's desperate (if he doesn't build his rock pile, the entire future will change, which come to think of it doesn't really matter when you can travel about through time at will). But Annie's reaction is to laugh about it as they drive off.

This kind of thing really really bugs me. See here and here.

After watching Ballard abuse an innocent man and beat up a couple of cops with his kung fu mojo, she's ready to have sex with him. Because, ya know, that's all it takes. He's not so sure until she whips off her top and shows him her wares. Then he's all for it.

Forgot to mention that some cyborgs followed Ballard and Carrie Fisher back in time and are hiding out until it's dark (they are light-sensitive, the poor dears). Also forgot to mention that Carrie Fisher gets shot early on and is out of commission for most of the movie, which is okay because she's not convincing me with her performance.

Actually, no one is convincing me, let alone elucidating the plot for me. We keep crossing back to the future where people are wearing puffy quilted costumes with big circles stitched on them and are yelling and speechifying and there's an old scientist who dresses in a duck suit, and he's trying to convince people that he can use the energy from the timestream to thwart the cyborgs but they just won't listen! He only now came up with the idea, which is a bit odd, but it turns out to be important.

Back in 1988, the nastiest of the cops gets pulled into the future by a cyborg arm that reaches through a fragment of one of the giant beach balls the cyborgs use to move through time. His demise serves no plot purpose, which is annoying. We never see him again. We don't know if he gets his just desserts for feeling up Annie in jail (see below) or if he becomes the cyborg overlord. We just don't know.

So, Annie and Ballard end up in jail - I don't remember why, probably because of the dead body. A handful of cyborgs arrive at the police station thanks to one of the cops setting off a beacon while he's fiddling with Ballard's futuristic armband. This armband serve two functions: (1) it sets off a beacon that the cyborgs respond to, which is frankly a stupid feature, and (2) it sends you to sleep when you've been injured, which is more useful but somewhat unrelated to (1). It's like having a gum boot that also hangs curtains.

Our favorite couple escapes and Ballard finds the police station's arsenal of semi-automatic weapons. In case you didn't know, every outback town has one of those. While he has fun with his new toys, he leaves Annie defenseless in the kitchen. She upturns a fridge to no avail, and then sets a cyborg on fire from the handy dandy stove and throws a propane bottle on it. It explodes. Yay. (These cyborgs seem rather easy to kill.)

At some point the rock pile gets built, no thanks to Ballard who spends his time shoveling sand from here to there, there being half a meter from here. The city from the future materializes, the cyborgs show up, and a dramatic battle ensues. Did I say dramatic? I meant to say dorky. Idiot Annie refuses to leave and gets herself into trouble, which inspires Carrie Fisher to suicidally leap into the arms of a cyborg in order to save her.

The scientist/duck, who has been shot, tells Ballard about his under-appreciated idea with the timestream energy. Ballard goes off to stick his arms in the timestream and before you know it he's wielding a big fat energy cannon. I don't know how that happened. Just take my word for it. He vaporizes the cyborgs, but not before making an angry earnest speech. All the cyborgs stop fighting to listen to it, which makes them easy targets when the vaporizing begins.

Annie puts on a futuristic outfit (admittedly an improvement over the shorts) because she's going to live in the future now, and kisses her man. (That's Ballard, in case you're not following me.)

I couldn't help but notice that the entire plot - the time travel, the rock pile, the cops, the fridge, the geologist and her nipples, all of it, although possibly not the duck suit - is totally irrelevant. The timestream energy cannon that saves the day has nothing to do with anything else that happens. Also, who the hell puts a dead body they just found into the back of their truck? 

But there's a happy ending: I picked the DVD out of the bargain bin - only $2 for a painful yet hilarious night's entertainment for myself and MCP.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Remembrance day grammar

At 11AM today I happened to be checking out at the supermarket when we stopped for a minute's silence, preceded by someone reading the ode over the PA system.

She said "Lest us forget."

What?

Is this some new-fangled grammar-mangling version I don't know about? Am I wrong to have my editor's hat on at such a time? 

Actually, I was more concerned with picking up the bits and pieces my baby was throwing out of my purse from her perch atop the shopping trolley. Still, I'd like to know who's responsible for this horror.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

What's wrong with this picture?


From the picture book Shopping Day (c) 1974, found on my mum's bookshelf. Click to enlarge, for it must be seen in all its glory. 

And I haven't even taken it out of context. 

Ah, the seventies! They were so awesome.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Nostalgic for comics

Comics... not superhero stuff. I never read those and today I can't follow them when I try. I'm talking about comics for girls, or picture stories, which I think are just called magazines today. In fact, I'm not sure the comics of my childhood even exist any more. Today they're about make-up and pop stars. Then, they were mostly about orphaned girls enduring terrible hardships at the hands of mean relatives.

My older sister bought the comic Mandy every week during the mid-to-late 70s. I had a couple of favourite artists, and the way the strips were drawn was sometimes more important than the story. Wikipedia lists some of the stories - I don't recognise most of them so I think they must not be from the era I was reading. One of my favourites - it may have been called "Darla" - was about an alien named Darla who joins the household of our heroine. Everyone else is brainwashed into believing that she has always been there, the younger sister, but our heroine knows better. I think Darla could blast mind-control rays from her eyes. The heroine learns that relatives far from home don't know who Darla is, so the brainwashing only extends so far. She eventually discovers two people from the town have been replaced by aliens, and along with Darla are plotting an evil takeover of some sort.

Some of the stories were rather more mundane. "Rita the Record-Breaker" is determined to break a world record - any world record will do. One of her attempts involves eating a lot of macaroni cheese. In the end I suspect she broke the world record for attempted world records. "A Ticket For Timmy" is about a family emigrating to Australia who can't afford the £100 ticket for their dog. Our heroine finds ways to raise the money herself, week by week. And how's this one for a great YA novel idea? I don't remember the title but it's about an orphan living with cruel relatives (of course), forced to be the voice of her talent-free cousin. During stage performances, she stands in the wings and sings into a microphone while her cousin lip-syncs.

I also remember stories about a girl with a terrible scar on her face, a girl terrorized by the ghost of her dead twin sister (who turns out not to be dead), a girl faking deafness, a girl faking blindness, and the touching story of a magic music box that has been passed down 13 generations from mother to daughter, and takes the heroine back in time to meet each of her ancestors, where she has to help them out with some problem.

And that, along with Enid Blyton's boarding school and secret club stories, comprised the literary influences of my early childhood.

I now recall that Mandy was also my first publishing success, although I didn't receive a penny. The comic published a letter of mine in about 1980.