Sunday, February 23, 2014

All the Zeros!!!!

Define Irony: After deciding to push harder to avoid "Zero Days"; having an entire week of them....

I'm not entirely sure what happened. I'm not entirely sure where this week went. I didn't have too many work hours this week. I did cleaning, but not as extensively as I would have liked. I played video games a bit again this week, but it was for maybe a grand total of three hours all week long. I barely watched any TV since I'm not big in to the Olympics - I know, I'm like the only person on the planet - and so all of my normal shows were reruns.

The only justification I have was that I was reading. Even so... where did the week go!?

As I was falling asleep on Friday I had a nice long mental interaction between Lia and Ripley, so yesterday morning when I was waiting to start my shift - I got my schedule screwed up and showed up a half-hour early - I wrote. Broke out the "Lia" journal for the full half-hour; writing with no trouble. The conversation is far from done, and so if I can kick this sluggish fog my head is in I'll work on that some more today.

But that and the work on this post is all the writing I've done. How did that happen!?

Ronoxym had been pulling a lot of 14-hr days this week, and so he's been drained too. Since he has yet to continue Devon's side of the collab story, I haven't even worked on that. I feel like the gang is also waiting for me to continue on the forum, but neither Lia nor I know how to respond to what's posted... and so I keep tapping my pen on the table and ponder.

The closest I've come to doing anything constructive - aside from that blip I started working on yesterday morning - was typing up another Snippet. Even so, I didn't do much writing. I had already written it as a solo-session on the forum about mid-January. I went back to re-read it to see if I could think of anything to do with Trish; since I haven't played her in about a month. I enjoyed the story enough to drop it in to the Snippets anthology with a few tweaks. Sure, editing it and messing with the formatting on both FanFiction and DeviantArt kept me about two hours, but there really wasn't any active writing involved.

Still, if you'd like to read - and haven't yet - here are the links:
"Confessions" on DeviantArt
"Confessions" on FanFiction

Oh, and anyone who read the story on DeviantArt and was wondering, yes, druidlockcooke is Ronoxym. Also, I'd like to note that in comparing the views for this anthology on both DeviantArt and FanFiction, I get a lot more views of my writing over on DeviantArt. I'm glad I decided to go ahead and start posting stories on there too, instead of just sticking solely with FanFiction.

So, I failed once more to write for 8hrs this week. It's a bit late now to change my goal for the Writers’ Huddle Winter Challenge, but I think after the challenge is over I'll just set my goal to that "Non-Zero Days" idea. Because I've noticed that while I may not hit 8hrs of WRITING per week, this past month I've been doing a lot of RESEARCHING and PLANNING that I need to get under my belt in order to move forward with some of my stories. Mostly stuff to further help convert X-Future in to an original universe, as well as world building Gyateara's universe.

Plus, every author will tell you how crucial it is to read daily. I know I've commented on this - as well as why I don't read daily - more times than you guys care, but I felt the need to do so at least once more. Maybe I can give myself some slack and count reading towards my "Non-Zero Day" as long as I do so "actively".

What do I mean by that? No, not read it aloud like I did this past month; more on that in a moment. I mean make mental notes while reading. Notice the titles of chapters, and try to mentally calculate how they were formed; something I desperately need work on giving my horrendous ability to name things. Make mental notes - or even physical ones; something a lot of writing blogs suggest - on passages I really enjoy, and then figure out why I enjoy them so much. Basically, allow myself to be swept away by the story - the way you should be with a good book; dive in head first in to the tale - but also mentally note in the back of my mind to later ANALYZE what I read.

THAT is one of the main reasons writers should also be avid readers. Seeing how others were successful in the career you want - or have already - allows you to learn and grow. As long as you take the time to reflect on what you read after the fact.

What did you like about the tale? What didn't you like? Was there a twist or an angle that you wouldn't have thought of? Did you enjoy it? How was the pacing? Or the wording? The voice of the narrator? Would you have changed any of it? If so, how? Was there a challenge the characters faced that is similar to one you can't get your characters out of? How did this author handle that challenge? Could your characters do something similar? Does that help with your writers block?

Basically, get in touch with your inner, annoying, high school/college English/Literature teacher. You don't have to think LONG about any of those questions. You don't have to write an essay. You just need to reflect to the point of growth. However - although I may be too lazy to ever actually follow through with this - a lot of professional writing advice includes literally taking notes while reading. So, go ahead and jot down that passage that you really love - or hate - or a chapter title/opening line that you got a kick out of. That way the next time you're stuck you can go to that notebook, flip through your notes, and see if anything sparks an idea.

Perhaps writing similarly to a passage you really enjoyed, parodying a line that made you crack up, or rewriting a passage or character you couldn't stand will help you break through whatever is blocking you.

So, I'm definitely going to be counting "active/reflective reading" towards my "Non-Zero Days".

Let's backtrack a bit now. First up: reading aloud. So, I mentioned previously this month that I wasn't feeling too well, and so Hubby tried to make me feel better by reading Rick Riordan's "The Mark of Athena" aloud to me. By the time I was healthy-ish again my husband was re-invested in the book - which he had already read on his own a year ago - and so I continued reading the rest of the book aloud to him. We got so in to this habit that we instantly jumped in to the most recent book in Riordan's Heroes of Olympus series: "The House of Hades".

We spent the last week reading that intense book. The downside to reading aloud snuggled up next to Hubby - perfect for emotional support during really intense scenes/chapters - is that it DID take about a week to read. Normally, a book this good I would tear through in a day or two. CelestialTyrant actually did just that; he picked up "The House of Hades" on Wednesday, didn't sleep, and had it finished Thursday.

So now Hubby, CT, Ron, Cyhyr, and I are all anxiously awaiting the last book of the series - "The Blood of Olympus" - to come out in October. OH, THE SPECULATIONS ON HOW IT WILL END!!!!

*ahem* Anyway....
Reading with Hubby really got me in to active/reflective reading for the first time EVER in regards to leisure reading. Perhaps it was because I was semi in that mindset to begin with; wanting to learn more from Riordan's work. Perhaps it was because I had someone beside me that I could instantly turn to and discuss with. Perhaps it was simply the act of reading aloud.

I was picking up on things I only noted in passing - and quickly forgot since I didn't discuss them right away with anyone - while reading Riordan's other works. Things like how awesome his chapter opening lines were. Here are some examples from "The House of Hades":
Opening line of the entire book:
During the third attack, Hazel almost ate a boulder.

More gemstone opening chapter lines:
When they reached the ledge, Annabeth was sure she'd signed their death warrants.
Leo spent the night wrestling with a forty-foot-tall Athena.
Annabeth literally stumbled over the second Titan.
Percy was relived when the demon grandmothers closed in for the kill.
And that is only about 1/2 way in to the book. So many great gems. He set up every establishing chapter with an amazing opening line like the above. For the first time I actually paid close attention to that. I'm still not sure I can create lines that awesome, but I at least have a set bar to aim for: that "wait... what!?" element.

Other things I noted were the words he used. The characters were dealing with a LOT more Greek and Roman monsters in these last two books, and so the Greek and Latin was EVERYWHERE. Man, is that hard to read aloud. And these are legit languages! I couldn't imagine reading Lord of the Rings aloud with all the Elvish, Dwarven, and other such langages. So... note to future self... if I'm going to have characters speak non-English, don't do so too frequently without some sort of pronunciation guide in the back....

Christopher Paolini did that with the books in his Inheritance Cycle. The backs of his books held a glossary of non-English words - Elvish and Dwarven mostly - as well as how to pronounce them. Riordan has a glossary as well: to define the Greek/Roman terms. He doesn't include a dictionary-like pronunciation though... So Hubby and I sort of sounded most of the words out. If we ever decide to read these books aloud to our future children we NEED to figure out how those words are properly pronounced first!

Riordan also threw in about half-dozen words that even *I* didn't recognize, and these are books typically aimed at fifth- through eighth-grade students. I made a note of that for sure. It was like he forgot for a moment who his target audience is. Ronoxym does that a lot too: elevated vocabulary.

Me? I guess it was the training from working on school newspapers for nine years, but I stick with the journalism rule of thumb: write at a fifth-grade comprehension level. In the United States, most of the population can comprehend at least up to a fifth-grade reading level. Because of this, the journalism rule of thumb is to not write more advanced than that; this way the story can be understood by just about anyone.

Sure, I may throw in some college-grade words now and again, but for the most part I stick to that rule. My language may not be as fancy as Ron's, but it's readable without a higher education or a dictionary sitting beside you.

Another thing I really sat up and took notice was the fight scenes; something I'm not very good at. I did the same thing while watching episodes of Ultimate Spider-Man on Netflix with Hubby. Know what I noticed? Injuries. Knock outs. The heroes not winning the fights all the time.

I know that it's boring to have your protagonist(s) win every battle, and easily at that. I know there needs to be struggles, challenges, and possible defeats. Yet, when I write fight scenes the majority of them are "struggles" simply because the protagonist can't quite figure out where the weak spot is.

I write fight scenes the same way I play video games; namely Legend of Zelda. I have the character(s) run around dodging attacks until a strategy to defeat the villain(s) forms. The worst my character(s) get is the worst I allow Link: getting tossed aside or minor injuries/bruises.

I don't allow things like broken ankles when walking is crucial. I don't have any character's sides slashed open with blood gushing out while in the middle of sword fighting. I never think to have a character struggling to stay awake enough to escape while slowly dying of poison. The idea of plowing down hundreds of enemies with an arrow shot through the left bicep is foreign to me. Yet all of these things happen in Riordan's books; sorry about the minor spoilers, by the way.

In Ultimate Spider-Man the supposedly indestructible Power Man had his arm broken in one episode and his leg gouged in another. Spider-Man himself had been knocked unconscious or electrified nearly every episode. They never suffer nearly as much as Percy Jackson and his crew, but they still get their butts handed to them multiple times.

I guess, even though I'm great at emotionally scarring my characters, I'm not as good at physically doing so; poor Amara not withstanding. I need to learn to let my characters get beaten up. Let them lose. I just need to figure out how to either a) get them to recover fast enough to not get killed, b) bring in back-up to protect them from getting killed without it seeming deus ex machina, or c) get the enemy to escape/not want to kill the downed character. Then there's the little-used option D: let the character die.

To be fair, few months back I did allow Trish to get really banged up in a simple training obstacle course. So I guess I'm sort of learning....
For anyone not sure what I'm talking about - but would like to - the Snippet can be found here:
"Trying Out The Obstacle Course"

So, to recap this really long post: no, I didn't succeed in writing for 8hrs this week; yet again. No, I barely got any writing in aside from the two hours to write this post and another half-hour while waiting to start work yesterday. No, I didn't even succeed in this week's mini-challenge to "Do Something Different With Your Writing", considering I didn't really do ANY writing...

But I DO have this blog post up; and on a Sunday again, no less!
I did finally do something that most writers find essential for their careers: reading. And I did so ACTIVELY, too.
So, I also LEARNED this past week. I absorbed what others do differently than me in things I struggle with. Hopefully, with something to aim for I can therefore improve. I GUESS you could stretch and say that's something different with my writing...
Finally, I did some more researching and development for X-Future and Gyateara to become original tales.

All-in-all a Zero-Week that was still surprisingly productive.

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