Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Be gracious about getting critiqued

Since I talked about my CP hunt on Monday (which is going well, BTW), I figured I might as well keep with the theme.

So let me tell you a bit about creative writing workshops in college. The basic setup goes something like this: 1) you write a short story, 2) you share copies with everyone in your class, 3) you undergo a group critique session, and then, 4) you revise the story for your professor. We're going to focus on Step 3.

During that group critique session, your classmates surround you from every angle and they're cruel. Because they don't know you you or care about your feelings, so they're 100% willing to say that your characters are flat and that your plot is cliché--in those words too. And you're not allowed to say a word in your defense.

For good reason.

Because any writer's first instinct is to scream, "No. That's not true. I wrote it that way for a reason. You're just being picky. You just don't understand." And, of course, you're wrong. You're terribly, terribly wrong. Because they do understand.

I know it feels like your CPs don't know how much effort you put into your story, and that it's unfair how easily they can rip apart that effort. But there's nothing more beneficial to you than a critique partner.

Because they aren't crazy and they aren't attacking you. They're trying to make things better.

If a CP thinks there's a problem with your writing, there probably is. These are people that know about writing and stories, and you shouldn't disregard their opinion so quickly. Maybe you don't like or even agree with their critique, but you should at least think about the reasons behind what they've said. Because there is value there.

That being said, I've found that a good critique partner often tells you the things that you already know deep down in your secret heart. They nitpick at the messy little details you tried to slip under the rug. The parts where you tried to be lazy. They tell you the things that you don't want to tell yourself. The big, nasty things, like how you really should to toss out 10,000 words or re-write the entire second half of the story in a different POV. And these, really, are the kind of things that all writers need to hear.

So have you guys had any major experiences with critique partners? Are you good at taking rough criticism, or do you struggle with finding the value in it? What qualities do you think make up a particularly good critique? Tell me in the comments.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The great CP hunt

ETA (09/20/16): Sorry friends, my hunt is officially over. While we may not have gotten the chance to be CPs, I wish you all the best of luck in finding your special someone!

I'm looking for a critique partner.

Or two.

Or something.

See, the thing is, right now, I only have one CP. Brenna's awesome, but I've always liked having more than one outside opinion to work with. So I've been dinking around on Ladies Who Critique for the last two weeks, and I figured it was about time to announce it here. Just in case some of you lovely people are, you know, mildly interested.

If so, feel free to contact me via email (squidinksarah (ât) gmail (døt) com) or through the LWC website.

And here, because I won't force you to look at my LWC profile, a quick rundown:

What I'm Writing
An untitled YA fantasy and first of a planned trilogy. Currently under revision, aka first pass revision hell. The plot can be summarized as follows: Kai is a street rat in the desert city of Gardenia and he's cursed with the ability to See glimpses of the future. Too bad there's never anything good to be Seen there--his dead brother is enough proof of that--and ever since Ivan's death, Kai has just wanted to be alone. But when he's tackled by a girl covered in blood, he has no choice but to help her escape her pursuers. *dun dun dun*

My Critique Style
I’m not afraid of being honest, so my critique style has always been a bit, uh, brutal. But I do my best to be fair and I’ve been told that I make valid (and helpful) observations, so it probably evens out. It’s all about the tough love, you know? And I really like fixing up stories, even if they aren't my own. But if you want the real dirt, I'm sure Brenna would love to give you some sordid details.

What I'm Looking For
I want a critique partner who is serious about writing and getting published. Who loves YA. Who puts honesty first--who is happy to tell me when something sucks and why it sucks. Who is willing to put up with my whining and who is willing to whine back at me. Who is writing the story they love and who really wants to find a CP or two.

An Addendum
My WIP is not 100% ready for a critique pass right now. Yours doesn't need to be either. I figured it'd be nice to chat each other up before trading pages--see if we might be compatible. If we're not, well that's not a big deal. We can still be friends, right?

So there you go. Now what do you guys think about CPs? Do you have any CPs or do you like to work on your own? I'm curious, so tell me in the comments.

Friday, August 26, 2011

It's getting closer and closer

The air is shimmering with heat, the local dairy is a parking nightmare because everyone WANTS ICE CREAM NOW, and the hobo spiders are frolicking like elk in mating season. The grass is in a state of permanent wilt, there are makeshift food stands everywhere with signs advertising corn and peaches, and the remnants of summer construction are starting to fade.

All of these are the signs of late August in southeastern Idaho. Do you guys know what that means?
Picture of the autumnal falls in Idaho Falls borrowed from Laughing Anne.
Leaves that change colors. Scarves. Fresh potatoes out of the field. A nip on the air. School supplies. Insects that will be out of sight because they're dead or hibernating. School buses. The smell of harvested alfalfa. Warm clothing like long pants and coats and other cute things. The state fair. New video game releases. Halloween. Sunlight that starts late and ends early. "Falling back" an hour. Gold grain against a dark sky. Cleaning out the garden. Control burns. Blankets. All the birds migrating away. The first overnight freeze.

That's right. It's almost autumn!

Definitely my favorite time of year. There's just something about, well, all those things I just listed. :D It gets me curious though . . . not everyone can love autumn (what's wrong with you people?!) . . . so tell me, what's your favorite season and why? Give me a heads up in the comments.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Should writers use tablets or PCs?

So tablets are pretty popular. They're thin and shiny and you use your fingers in order to make them do things. Supposedly they're going to replace the personal computer.

I'm not sure how I feel about this. It seems like an accurate assumption for the general public--aka, the people who use their computers solely for Facebook and watching videos on YouTube and playing Plants vs. Zombies. But what about people who type for hours everyday? People like writers. Will tablets replace laptops and desktops for those people?

I say no. At least not anytime soon.

I don't know about you guys, but typing on a touchscreen has never been up there on my list of favorite things. The keyboard is cramped and you don't get the satisfaction of actually pressing a key in. I'm willing to forgo a tablet just so I can type without stressing my hands. And yeah, I know, it's possible to hook a wireless keyboard to your tablet--but that's just one extra thing to lug around.

Moving on. There is no tablet version of Scrivener. There is no tablet version of a lot of programs, and if your writing process requires one of them, well that makes things difficult. Continuing on that vein, if you own an iPad, you can only run one process at a time . . . so there's no music + Twitter + writing document + chat window + email. Sure, it's good for staying-on-task, but inconvenient if you need to bounce between programs.

These are little, nitpicky issues and I know of many people who actively write on their tablets. But right now, it seems easier to stick with my laptop . . . which already does everything I want and need it to.

So what side do you fall on in the tablet vs. PC debate? Do you own one of the other? Are you a diehard fan of the desktop and the laptop? Or do you welcome our tablet overlords with open arms? Tell me in the comments.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Writerly Tools: Skype

Communicating over the internet isn't the greatest. I won't deny it--email gets the job done, and it's super easy to meet new people on Twitter and in writing forums. But it doesn't beat old fashioned face-to-face conversation.

That is where video calling applications come into play.

If you don't know, a video call is pretty much what it sounds like. Basically you "call" someone else's computer and communicate via microphone and webcam footage. It's pretty sweet.

Now, there are several options out there: Windows Live Messenger. FaceTime. ooVoo. Google Voice and Video Chat. And my personal favorite, Skype. What makes Skype my number one choice? Well, let me give you guys five quick reasons:
  1. Skype just works
    There are several different programs for video calling, but Skype does what you want and when you want. The user interface is simple and you don't have to mess with a bunch of crap to make calls, screen share, or simply chat.
  2. Skype can call anyone
    Is your critique partner in Europe and your agent in New York? Do you want to do a video call with a classroom across the country? With Skype, you can communicate to any device with the application for free.
  3. Skype can call anything
    You aren't limited to calling other computers that have Skype installed--you can call anything with a phone number. Charges apply, but it's an awesome alternative when you can't use a normal phone or if you need to make a long distance call.
  4. Skype can be free or not
    The free version of Skype is a fantastic value, but the paid version has some great features too. These include group video and screen sharing calls (which would be perfect for critique groups), unlimited calling in the US and Canada, and live tech support.
  5. Skype has a huge customer base
    This is because it was pretty much the first mainstream video chat program, and thus, a lot of people use it. If you want to streamline your computer applications, it would be easiest to stick to Skype.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Bread pudding and your DREAMS

Last night I made bread pudding.

It was spontaneous. As in, I wanted to eat something sweet and decided to make bread pudding. Because I like to pretend I'm a magnificent cook.

This awesome plan might have gone better if I'd ever actually eaten bread pudding before. Or knew what bread pudding is supposed to look like. Or maybe if the recipe I went with actually had useful information in it (like, cook time or logical instructions).
Does this look like bread pudding? At all?
Mmm. Tasty. Ish.

The point is, sometimes it's better to consider what you're doing before you actually bother to do it, especially if it's something you've never done before. Otherwise you might end up stuck with a 9x9 pan full of lumpy mush.

If you're writing a YA book, you should probably read a few YA books and find out what hallmarks make the genre. If you're applying to a college or a job, it might be a good idea to research the place that you're applying to so you don't get surprised later on. Because you know what? You should never treat your dreams and ambitions as carelessly as my bread pudding.

So, have you made anything that didn't turn out as well as you hoped it would? What was it? A cooking experiment gone wrong, or something else? Tell me about it in the comments.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Writing research is weird

I'm a bit of a research dork.

My inner scientist is obsessed with things in my story sounding and being logical. So, if I run into a detail that just doesn't make sense, my brain freezes. There's no way for me to move on with the story unless I get everything to work perfectly.

Which has led to some interesting research sessions. What have I looked up lately?
  • The marrow capacity of a human femur
  • Burrowing frogs that live in Australia
  • Fulgurite . . . aka: fossilized lightning
  • Wick and lamp oil burn times
  • The Kebira meteor creator in Libya desert
Yeah, it's an interesting collection. Won't deny it. Besides,
Or, I'll keep telling myself that.
So how do you guys feel about writing research? Love it or hate it? And what's the weirdest thing you've ever found yourself looking up? Give me some details in the comments!

Monday, August 15, 2011

The weakness of trilogies (also, pirates!)

I want to talk about trilogies. And I'm going to use the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy as my example, because there's a good chance that most of you've seen those movies.
Yes, I'm ignoring that On Stranger Tides even exists, because it's different.
Now, everyone can probably all agree that the first movie, The Curse of the Black Pearl, was awesome. We were introduced to a new world with drunken pirates and people that could become undead skeletons without dying. No one expected that movie to be what it was, and that's one of the things that made it great. Not to mention Jack Sparrow.

Let's skip ahead a bit. The third movie, At World's End, was also pretty exciting. All of the quirkiness and drama in the previous Pirates of the Caribbean movies was amplified and brought the trilogy to a satisfactory conclusion. There was also an epic pirate battle and a giant crab woman. It's kind of difficult to beat that.

So you might be wondering why I skipped the second movie. First, let me be clear: Dead Man's Chest wasn't a bad movie. There was a kraken, and you guys know how I feel about squid. The things is, I don't think Dead Man's Chest was as good of a movie as the other two.

This isn't an uncommon thing. In trilogies one of the installments always seems to suffer and it's usually the second. Why? Because of exposition. Think about it--most of Dead Man's Chest was spent on exposition. We learned about a lot of crazy new stuff, like Davy Jones and Will's dad. Things were further complicated by the love triangle and the British navy and Jack's schemes. But none of the loose ends were tied up. Instead they were all saved for At World's End.

Which is probably a good thing, because if Dead Man's Chest hadn't been the weakest link, then At World's End would have suffered as a movie. And you can't end a trilogy on a dull note.

So what do you think? Is it just in the nature of a trilogy to have a not-so-great second installment? Is there any way to keep a three-part storyline from sagging, or is it inevitable? And why do you think trilogies suffer from this issue, but not extended series like Harry Potter? Tell me your thoughts in the comments.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Scorpio Races book trailer

So, if you don't know, Maggie Stiefvater makes her own book trailers. They are gorgeous. She composes the music and draws all of the art and films them and I can't even explain how amazing I find the whole thing.

Yesterday Maggie uploaded the trailer for her upcoming book, The Scorpio Races. I've decided to share with you guys because, not only is it beautiful, but there are ARCs involved. So enjoy:

Isn't it lovely? *super shallow* So what do you guys think about book trailers? Do you think they help sell more books, or not? And do you have any favorites that stand out in recent memory? Tell me in the comments.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Major edits are scary!

It's difficult making big edits to a manuscript.

For one thing, we all like to think that our first draft might be perfect. It's that rush of adrenaline that sweeps through your bones right as you type the last sentence--that irrational feeling that THIS manuscript is the one. Sure, it's only a rough draft, but it's the best thing you've ever written, so it must be amazing.

This, of course, is a lie. Any trace of arrogance and narcissism vanishes in about the first 30 seconds after you share the manuscript with someone else. Not to mention when you actually read over it for the first time. Because then everything is HORRIBLE and NEEDS to be repaired.

It's just, what if those major edits make your manuscript worse? Why isn't your first draft good enough? It seems decent, even if you know down in your deepest of hearts that it's not. There's potential for this story--you can feel it--but what if your edits just screw everything up beyond repair?

Well, it's just not going to happen. You're not going to kill your manuscript. Trust me. And if you're still concerned, make backup copies of your different drafts. That way you travel back in time if you mess everything up.

However, even if you do tackle the major edits, I won't lie. You might end up writing four versions of one chapter and then realize that the original really was perfect. Or, you might end up with the sixteenth version, the one that you never would've written without forcing yourself to change things it again and again. It's definitely not easy.

Don't let that scare you though. Think about your changes and then enact them with full discretion. But never back down from a major edit, especially when you know that it needs to be down, because otherwise your writing will suffer.

So how do you guys feel about implementing big edits? Does it make you nervous to change something that's spread out through the entire story? Or do you like performing surgery on your manuscript? Tell me in the comments.

Monday, August 8, 2011

OST Lowdown: X-Men First Class

Some of you might remember when I begged for some new soundtrack suggestions. It was sad and pitiful, but I got some great suggestions. Then I was lucky enough to get one of the early Spotify accounts and it became a whole lot easier to find something good without forking any money over.

So I decided to create a new blog feature: the OST Lowdown. What does that mean? Well, OST is a common acronym for Original Soundtrack. Make more sense? As I listen to new soundtracks, I'm going to be sharing my thoughts on them and how they might work for you guys as writers. I don't have a musical bone in my body, so my opinion is super unprofessional, but it should be fun anyway.

And the X-Men are our first contenders!
Album details--composer, number of songs, etc, etc?
Well, the composer is Henry Jackman, and there are 20 tracks that range anywhere from a minute and half to nearly five minutes long. But I'm not going to list them here. Get the full details on Amazon.

What are your favorite tracks and why?
First Class--Main theme, which means it's suitably epic
Frankenstein's Monster--Dark and a little eerie
X-Training--Dramatic montage sequence music
Rage and Serenity--Love how it slowly builds up
Coup D'état--Eerie and ethereal at the same time

So, from a writing standpoint?
I'd suggest this soundtrack for a story with action and a darker undertone. Mostly because of a recurring piece of music that I think of as the "Magneto Theme." It's predominant in Frankenstein's Monster, but threads of it show up ALL OVER THE PLACE. Even in softer songs. And many of the songs it doesn't show up it--like action sequence tracks--also depend on harsher, electronic sounds.

And your overall impression?
Not my favorite. Probably because of the main themes. They're a powerful combination of orchestral and electronic, and they make the soundtrack, but I can't say they stood out as anything particularly special. It doesn't help that they show up a lot and relatively unaltered. To the point where I felt like I could listen to certain tracks on repeat and get all of the feeling I wanted/needed from the music. That's not to say that many of the pieces aren't lovely, because they are, I just wanted variation.

Friday, August 5, 2011

And now for an interlude

I was deep and meaningful on Wednesday. Today you get Mario and Luigi doing the jitterbug. Because it's wonderful.

Got some thoughts on the matter? Or a nifty video worth sharing? Leave them in the comments!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Finding my editing process

Unlike many writers, I've never been very good at thinking things out on paper. What that really means is I don't like writing longhand. That's right, I have no nostalgia for ink flowing across paper and special writing pens and all those things that so many writers are attached to. I like my cold, clinical word processor. *pets computer*

The thing is, I can type around 70 WPM, but I can't handwrite nearly that fast. There's something to be said about being able to record my thoughts as quick as they come. And the actual writing bit? I like being able to read what I've written and then change it without messy scribbles and wasted paper. Cleanliness is awesome.

Word processors are flexible and they help me focus on what I'm supposed to be doing, whether it's big or little or spread out between four different chapters.

Now why am I telling you this? Because my supposed "editing process"--the one I outlined a few months ago--is completely wrong. Well, not the procrastination bit. That's super accurate. And really, it's not so much that my process was wrong. It was just wrong for me.

How so? Well, I realized how so many writers like to work with paper, and I somehow I convinced myself that it'd would work for me too.

The problem is, when I start editing on paper, I don't think about the rest of the story, just the lines in front of my eyes. I don't even think about the rest of the chapter, just the lines. So my lines become beautiful, but I don't notice that the pacing is bad, or the dialogue is out-of-character, or any of the really important things. My "editing" falls flat because my story lives in my head and somewhere in my fingertips. Not on paper.

So I'm starting over. This time I'm sticking to my word processor. Because while it might be lifeless and dead to you, it's not for me. And maybe I'll get some actual work done this time around.

But before I go, I just wanted to you guys to know: Sometimes it's hard to tell what's working and what isn't. Sometimes you don't realize there's a legitimate reason behind your problems. But that's not a bad thing. In all honesty, you probably needed to do things wrong to understand how to make them right.

Just don't worry, because you're not alone and you will figure it out. <3

So how do you guys feel about the editing process? Have you ever tried to force one method of editing to work for you? Or has everything been hunky-dory from the start? Tell me in the comments.

Monday, August 1, 2011

July Book Roundup

Beginning of the month, so it's book roundup time. Wooo.

Not much to say on how well I'm devouring through The Pile, because, well, I'm not doing the greatest job at that. Of course, now that I've stopped requesting things from the library, it's theoretically going to be a lot easier to get through all of the books I've borrowed over the last few months. And then The Pile will die. *wields steak knife*

Anyway, here's the deal behind the book roundup. At the beginning of each month I do Twitter-length reviews of the new books I read during the month prior. Genres are listed at the beginning of the reviews and my very favorites are marked with a star ().

Make sense? Well let's get down to business then.

The 19 Dragons by SM Reine
Steampunk novella--The godlike 19 dragons have been rendered mortal and their murders harken the end. This story is wondrous and surprising. I wish there was more! 

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater
YA Paranormal Romance--Romance and werewolves, without being super tacky. First half is painfully slow, but the writing is lovely and the chilled ambiance is perfect.

Enclave by Ann Aguirre
YA Post-apocalyptic--Deuce, a Huntress, lives in a small community beneath the husk of NYC. Also, zombies. Nice premise, but almost too many ideas running rampant.

Supernaturally by Kiersten White
YA Paranormal--Sequel to Paranormalcy. Evie's trying to adjust to "normal" life ... and fails. While Evie is still adorable, I wish more had happened.

Linger by Maggie Stiefvater
YA Paranormal Romance--Sequel to Shiver. Sam and Grace are still in love, but change is on the way. Adore the Isabel POV chapters and the gorgeous, lyrical writing. 

The Affinity Bridge by George Mann
Steampunk mystery--Sherlock Holmes with dirigibles, zombies, and a female Watson. First 100 pages dragged, but the rest made up for it. Also, Veronica is badass.

The Shifter by Janice Hardy
YA Fantasy--Nya can heal with a touch and "shift" the pain into other people. Fantastic premise and interesting plot, but I just couldn't relate to Nya.

Well, there we go. That's what I read, so my question to you is what did you read? Anything that I should rush to the store and get immediately? Give me a heads up in the comments.