Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 Writing Goals--Looking Back

Well, here we are, the last blog post of 2010. It seems fitting to look back at the writing goals I set myself in January and see how well I did. You can find the original post here; it was part of the Blog Chain at the time. Here's what I posted:

I will attend WisCon Memorial Day weekend.--Completed.

I will read the writing books on my to-read list: Flogging the Quill and The 10% Solution.--I read The 10% Solution, but although I started Flogging the Quill and read sample chapters on the blog of the same name, I haven't finished it.

I will blog more frequently than I have been lately--at least 10 times a month. I'm thinking of blogging about some of the science news stories I read and discussing the implications for science fiction. I will also search for more blogs to follow and leave comments.--I've actually done well with all of this. I increased my blogging, posted more about science, and followed more blogs.

I will critique at least two chapters or short stories on the Online Writing Workshop (edited to add: per month). --I did this for a couple of months, but then I got so busy I let this slide for most of the year. However, I did crit work privately for writing partners and publicly on Miss Snark's First Victim and Absolute Write. And now that my son is going to bed earlier (knock on wood), I hope to have more time for OWW.

Although I made significant progress on revising Across Two Universes and think I've done as much as I can with it on my own, I'd like some feedback on the complete book from my critiquing partners before I start submitting it anywhere.

I did work on a new project; I wrote over 50,000 words of the sequel to Across Two Universes during National Novel Writing Month. For now, it's on hold until I finish ATU.

Although I didn't meet 100% of my writing goals, I did complete two goals I set for myself and made significant progress on the others. That's not too shabby. I still can't decide what, if any, goals I should set for myself in 2011. One thing I do plan to do is keep a list (on a separate page of this blog) of all the books I read in 2011. I'm not resolving to read a certain amount of books, though.

Have a happy (and safe) New Year, and I'll talk to you again soon!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Best of Blog Chain: Torture or Tough Love?

My final Best of Blog Chain post is from February 22, 2009; this is one of my favorites. I hope you've enjoyed the blast from the past!

Time again for another Blog Chain Post. Leah picked the topic this time, and she's hoping to make us stretch ourselves. Here's her question (or series of questions):

So Blogchain, (and others) show me your dark side...What do you do to amp up the conflict? What pins do you stick in the little voodoo dolls? How do you torture your characters???

(As always, you can go back to Leah's post to follow this chain from the beginning, or you can go back to Michelle's post immediately before mine and follow the chain backwards.)

Leah thinks this topic will make some Blog Chain members squirm since (and I quote), "These girls are nice...sweet...moms and teachers and doctors!" Leah, I assume you're not a parent yet; forgive me if that's wrong. But moms know sometimes you have to let the baby cry himself to sleep, no matter how long it takes, so he learns to fall asleep on his own and sleep through the night; sometimes you have to take your child to the doctor for shots and give them nasty-tasting medicine; and sometimes you have to take away something dangerous or discipline them when they do something wrong.

In short, sometimes you need to practice tough love, even if your kids think it's torture.

When it comes to writing characters, I treat them like children (no wonder they sound younger than they are!) and practice tough love with them. I like my protagonists; I don't want to subject them to waterboarding. My antagonists deserve that. But my protags wouldn't enjoy their Happy Ever After endings so much if they didn't pass through some tough times first. And to be honest, I want to see my characters grow over the course of a novel, but they won't overcome their faults until they make mistakes and learn from them. The wounds that I give them will remake them.

Let me give some examples from my WIP, Across Two Universes. At the beginning of the novel, my hero, Paul Harrison, is a seventeen-year-old actor. He is also literally the product of two universes and has a unique talent because of that. However, he doesn't understand his gift, so when his mother is poisoned, he doesn't understand the warning in time to save her. This guilt will drive some of his most desperate acts later in the story. But I don't stop there. Paul was cloned from a famous musician who lost his mother at seventeen. Paul suspects his mother was killed to make his life similar to the man he was cloned from. The death doesn't unlock his musical talent (he doesn't have any), but it gives him more guilt he has to live with, and the only way he can deal with it is to bring the murderer to justice. Add to that the fact that Paul refused to give his mother a final hug (It was in public; he didn't want to look like a mama's boy. The refusal probably saved his own life, but at the cost of more guilt.), and I have another factor that will affect how Paul treats others in the future.

Internal pressures are good, but to keep a reader hooked, it's better to have different types of conflict in a story. As Paul tries to solve his mother's murder and prevent another, he finds other people opposing him, from time travelers, who are trying to protect history, to his friends, who are trying to protect him from himself. Every time he makes progress towards his goals, he complicates the situation further. But these struggles are necessary for him to mature into adulthood and develop his quantum gift. "For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required." (KJV, Luke 12:48) I have grand plans for Paul extending beyond this novel; if anything, his suffering will increase in the sequel. I empathize too much with him to call it torture; I've wept over what happens to him. But the story has to go that way for him to achieve what he must, with humanity's survival at stake.

Anyway, that's more than enough for one post. Leah, I hope I've answered your question. Head on over to Kat's blog for her take on this question!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Best of Blog Chain: Romancing the Novel

Continuing The Best of Blog Chain this week with a post from May 31, 2009.

June is named for Juno, Roman goddess of marriage, which is part of the reason why it's such a popular month for weddings. (Then again, we got married in September.) So even though I'm not a romance reader, I thought romance in fiction would be a good topic for this Blog Chain. Romance subplots are common in many types of books, not just the romance genre. However, sometimes when I read romantic subplots, I don't feel any chemistry between the characters; it's as if you could replace one of the characters and not affect the relationship. So, let's talk about romantic relationships in fiction:

Do you write romantic relationships in your books? If so, what do you do to show the attraction between your characters? What problems do your characters encounter? What qualities do you think make a romantic relationship work in fiction? If you wish, feel free to include examples of your favorite couples.

Before I continue, let's cue some theme music:

I've included romantic relationships in my books. In my Season Lord books, each of the Season Lords gets married. In my current novel, Across Two Universes, Paul romantically pursues his childhood sweetheart, Yvonne. She's pretty, of course, and she is the only eligible girl his age on the spaceship, but he has other reasons to go after her. He first declared his intent to marry her at five, and she refused by throwing ice cream in his face. Part of him still hasn't lived that down. Paul is straightforward about declaring his feelings for her, but since Yvonne feels that's coming on too strong, he has to learn to woo her more subtly. Yvonne has mixed feelings for Paul, but she is always concerned when he is threatened.

Paul and Yvonne are a typical example of a good girl-bad boy dynamic, and they do affect each other. Yvonne teaches Paul to rein in some of his worst impulses, and she provides a feminine side that he lost when his mother was murdered. In return, Paul's determination to pursue his own dreams helps Yvonne resist the influence of her relatives and figure out what she really wants out of life. But are their core values similar enough for them to succeed long-term as a couple? I'm not telling.

I like to read about couples who can work together as partners and fill the holes in each other's psyches. It's also good if they share a sense of humor. As a parent, I know these qualities are essential for a long-term partnership, especially if there are kids involved. Some books with romances I like include The Misted Cliffs by Catherine Asaro and The Time Traveler's Wife.

That's all I have for the moment. Head on over to Archy's blog for her thoughts on this subject. You can also find other members of the Blog Chain in the links in the sidebar.

P.S. This post is dedicated to my own friend and lover divine, Eugene.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Best of Blog Chain : Breaking the Rules

As I mentioned last week, I'm reposting previous posts from the Blog Chain. This one was published on September 3, 2009.

As promised, it's time for another blog chain post. This time, Kate came up with a very interesting topic:

What writing rules/advice -- whether it was a matter of cannot or will not -- have you broken?

Amanda posted before me in the chain, and Eric comes after me.

I consider myself to have a decent grounding in basic grammar (for those new to my blog, I have a master's degree in technical writing and copyedited a local newspaper for a couple of months). While I'm not infallible, my drafts tend to be mostly "clean" of grammar mistakes. However, while I think the Oxford comma should be used all the time, I also realize that fiction writing isn't as formal as academic or business writing. There are times when it's OK to break the rules -- provided you first know what the rules are and why they exist.

One of the rules I've broken in writing is the one against sentence fragments. I've read a Beatles fanfic story that had so many sentence fragments I couldn't force myself to finish it. But fragments can be used to alter the pace of your story or set off items in a list. For example, here's a paragraph from one of my stories called "The Movement You Need." The main character suspects someone has invaded his hotel room and is checking the closet:

He yanked the closet door open –

Shirts and slacks, neatly hung on the hangers provided by the hotel. His suitcase on the luggage rack, lid open. A couple pairs of non-leather shoes on the floor. Nothing else.

In my opinion, using fragments here emphasizes each item and shows how the main character thoroughly checks out his closet. The short phrases also increase tension.

As far as storytelling rules, one I've broken several times is writing novels over 120,000 words. The conventional wisdom is that they're too long to sell. The first novel I queried, Day of All Seasons, was about 170,000 words. I had a couple of agents request partials, but that's as far as it got. I don't know if the length turned them off or if there were other story issues bothering them. Originally, my current novel consisted of a novella and a sequel; I decided to drop the first part (the novella) in order to bring the word count down to something manageable.

Another rule I'm breaking in my current scene is to have characters sitting around drinking a beverage and talking. The idea behind this rule is to keep the tension high and to have your characters do active things. I'm using this scene to increase romantic tension right before my hero is forced into a nasty dilemma, so hopefully it will work for my beta readers.

That's all I have for now. I hope these examples inspire you to learn how to make the rules work for you instead of following them blindly. Please follow the rest of the blog chain to see how other writers handle the rules.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Best of Blog Chain: Holding out for a Hero(ine)

I'm reposting some of my favorite blog chain posts this week. This post was originally published on March 9, 2010. The only thing I've changed is I embedded a different video of "Holding out for a Hero."

Yep, the Blog Chain post is making its first appearance on my blog this month. Eric posed this question:

Do you create characters that are larger-than-life or are your characters more like the average Joe?

(For discussion purposes, let's use his definition of "larger-than-life" as meaning exceptionally talented. It doesn't have to be a supernatural talent--an Olympic athlete would be larger-than-life.)

In his book Characters and Viewpoint, Orson Scott Card discusses how these two types of characters go in and out of fashion. Most of my esteemed fellow Blog Chainers, from Eric to Kate, have been on the side of the average Joe or Jane. I think some of this is due to genre. A few people admit their characters have a slight supernatural twist, but for the most part, larger-than-life characters are considered too perfect, too hard to relate to, or even too cliched. We're at the end of the chain now, and there's only one person left to champion the champions: a short, overweight, almost-middle-aged speculative fiction writer. In other words, me.

Let's cue some music for our discussion:

Most of my protagonists have had some extraordinary gift. My first two books featured magicians, as does my short story "A Reptile at the Reunion." My NaNoWriMo book from 2007 had a pair of shapeshifting sisters. Paul, the hero of Across Two Universes, lives in a science fiction universe, but he has a "quantum quirk" of his own. The only protagonist who might be considered an "ordinary Jane" is Paul's mother, Joanna, in my novella "Move Over Ms. L." So, how do I avoid the previously mentioned pitfalls of larger-than-life characters?

First of all, I don't think a larger-than-life character is necessarily perfect--or should be. Many legendary characters had flaws as big as their virtues. Hercules was very strong, but he wasn't above using dirty tricks in battle. Lancelot was in love with his liege's wife. Modern-day larger-than-life athletes like Michael Phelps and Tiger Woods have shown what I'll call lapses of judgment. Even my beloved Beatles have done drugs, had affairs, made poor business decisions, and otherwise proved they're not perfect. Having an extraordinary talent doesn't mean you're invincible either; just look at Achilles and Samson. I could go on, but the point I want to make is that the larger-than-life characters may be good at what they do, but if they're too good, then the story loses any suspense factor. Struggle is at the heart of all stories, so your characters have to face challenges that force them to stretch themselves. Heck, much of the time my characters struggle just to get along with their allies!

Another concern writers have about writing larger-than-life characters is how to make sure the average reader can relate to them. It's not as if most of us turn into animals every full moon or perform magic and read others' minds. Here, I think the key is to focus on emotions or experiences that can be universal. Many larger-than-life characters in speculative fiction face problems readers can relate to; for example, Carrie Vaughn's werewolf Kitty has a mother dealing with cancer. A classic Star Trek episode, "The Devil in the Dark," features an alien that's basically a sentient rock. Yet this creature is also a mother trying to protect her young. How can any parent not relate to that? If you can relate to a rock, magicians and other larger-than-life characters ought to be easy.

As for whether or not larger-than-life characters are cliche, I think anything can become one. It's not always easy to find a unique spin on a subject, but it can be done.

Going back to Eric's question, why do I prefer larger-than-life characters? Part of the reason is escapism and wish fulfillment. I live in Midwestern suburbia, and I like taking mental breaks from it with my fiction. Having high-powered characters means you can demand more of them; they buy you a seat at the high-stakes plot table. But there are other reasons for enjoying larger-than-life characters and speculative fiction. By looking at the extremes of the human condition (or even examining non-humans), we can learn something about the ordinary parts too. And while ordinary characters in extraordinary situations can do astonishing things, extraordinary people can inspire us to transcend the commonplace and reach for something we never thought possible. Our future depends on how far we can see and our drive to try new things. If we work at it, what was once considered extreme or even impossible can become part of our mundane reality.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Science of the Week 12/23/10--Plus a Chaser

It's a short week because of the holiday, but I still have a few science stocking stuffers for you:

TU scientists in Nature: Better control of building blocks for quantum computer

Turning fat cells into stem cells

Ever-sharp urchin teeth may yield tools that never need honing

Genome of extinct Siberian cave-dweller linked to modern-day humans

Can human athletic performance improve indefinitely?

Using cornstarch to stop oil spills

Making UV lasers

Robot surgeons

Genomes while you wait

Electronic nose detects cancer

Taking plasmon lasers out of deep freeze

And to celebrate the holiday, here's Straight No Chaser singing -- or trying to sing--"The Twelve Days of Christmas." We got to see them perform this live a couple of weeks ago:

Happy holidays, everyone! Please stop by next week if you have time to revisit the Best of Blog Chain before I wrap up the year.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Midweek Randomness

1. I finally managed to upload my copy of Across Two Universes to my Kindle. I had a couple of technical problems with it; I needed to add an e-mail address to my Kindle so it would accept attachments, and since my Kindle isn't on our home wireless network (allow me to spare you the explanation why I can't add it; it's rather stupid), I had to use the cord. I thought that by putting my story in a different format, it would help me with editing. This was actually going to be my entire topic for today, actually. But the horrible line breaks were so distracting I went back to the computer instead. At least it motivated me to start editing ATU again!

2. Paul doesn't always come across as sympathetic. I wonder if I need to make his motivations and thoughts more evident.

3. I promised myself I'd buy myself one of these Vera Bradley Tea for One sets if I won NaNoWriMo:

I did so on Monday -- and of course, the next day, I get a Barnes & Noble coupon via e-mail. Figures.

4. I'm also treating myself to a Beatles marathon since I'm home on vacation. I'm playing all of their official albums in order. I'm just finishing up Revolver as I'm typing. You'd think as a fan, I'd play the albums more often instead of listening to other CDs or Pandora. But it's good to hear some of my favorites that don't get much radio airplay.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Holiday Blogging Schedule

Sorry for the test post yesterday. I was trying to add a new feature to my blog, but it doesn't seem to be compatible with this template.

I'm still planning to post this week, though I'll take Friday off since it's Christmas Eve, the traditional time my family celebrates Christmas.

Next week, I'm considering re-running some of my favorite Blog Chain posts. I also plan to look back at the writing goals I posted in January and see how many I accomplished.

Have a good week, everyone! Hopefully it's a short workweek for you.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Science of the Week

I'm trying out a new feature on my blog. I follow Science Blog, which features a lot of press releases about science, medicine, and engineering that can spark ideas for science fiction writers. Sometimes they also publish articles that give insight into human nature. Here are some links to articles from this week that I thought were especially interesting:

Seaweed as a source of biofuel

Resetting the biological clock

Power and corruption are good for society (power gives law enforcers invective to do their jobs)

Sweet degradable plastics

People's views of justice affects how they view victims of tragedy

Steps toward biological computers

Link between diet and onset of mental illness

How to take a molecule's temperature

Is this interesting? Overwhelming? Too technical? Something you'd like me to keep doing? Let me know what you think!

Have a good weekend, everyone!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Discussion: Favorite Story Element?

Just a quick post today inspired by my latest read. When you read a story, are you most interested in the plot, the characters, the setting, or some other aspect of the story? (I know ideally a balance among story elements is best, but that's not always easy to achieve.)

For me, I think character is most important. If I don't like the characters, even an exciting plot may not be enough to keep me reading. But I would rank plot above setting. How about you?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What's On Your Kindle? (or reading list)

Technology like the Kindle is a wonderful thing; it allows me to accumulate books to read even faster than when I bought paper books. At least I can download samples of books before buying them (though I've occasionally bought a book on accident when trying to add it to a collection, which is much harder to do with paper ones). I thought it might be interesting to share with you what I currently have in my "To Read" collection on Kindle. There are currently sixty-four items. I'll indicate which ones are the full book (F) and which ones are just samples (S).

The Accidental Demon Slayer (S)
Black Beauty (F)
Breakthrough: The Adventures of Chase Manhattan (S)
The Broken Kingdoms (F)
Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom (S)
The Canterbury Tales (S)
CassaStar (S)
The City & The City (S)
Cold Magic (F)
The Curse of Chalion (S)
The Darkness that Comes Before (S)
The Descent of Man (S)
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (S)
The Drowning City (S)
Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet (S)
Endless Forms Most Beautiful (S)
Faust (F)
Five Odd Honors (S)
Flesh and Fire (S)
From Girl to Goddess: The Heroine's Journey through Myth and Legend (S)
Garden Spells (S)
Geist (S)
The Grand Design (S)
Grave Witch (S)
The Habitation of the Blessed: A Dirge for Prester John (S)
The Half-Made World (S)
Harvest Moon (S)
The House on Olive Street (S)
How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe (S)
Into the Shadows (F)
The Kite Runner (S)
Lady Chatterly's Lover (S)
The Last Page (S)
The Man in the High Castle (S)
The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values (S)
The Native Star (S)
Never Let Me Go (S)
Nights of Villjamur (S)
The Passage: A Novel (S)
Passion Play (S)
The Planet Savers (S)
Poems by Emily Dickinson (F, partially read)
Prospero Lost (S)
Quatrain (S)
Reading People: How to Understand People and Predict Their Behavior--Anytime, Anyplace (S)
Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need (S)
Shades of Grey (F, currently reading)
The Sleeping God (S)
Solstice Wood (S)
Songs of Love and Death (F)
Spellwright (S)
A Star Shall Fall (S)
The Starry Rift (S)
Swann's Way (F)
Time Travelers Never Die (F)
Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale (S)
True Believers (S)
Ulysses (F)
The Vampire Kitty-Cat Chronicles (S)
The Waters Rising (S)
Weight of Stone (S)
Who Fears Death (S)
X Saves the World: How Generation X Got the Shaft But Can Still Keep Everything From Sucking (S)

Phew! And that's not including author or genre on this list, or the twenty paper books I still have to read. I have vacation coming up; looks like I need to spend some of it working on this list. I may update this on a regular basis, but I have a feeling the list will only grow, not shrink.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Weekend

We had some bad weather here this weekend, although it doesn't compare to what other parts of the country. Saturday, we drove into Chicago to see Straight No Chaser. Between the rain, traffic, and parking issues, we were half an hour late for the concert. Then the group had trouble with their mikes, but they wound up performing a couple of extra songs to compensate. We got home an hour later than expected; I felt bad for the sitter, but she didn't seem to mind.

We did get snow and strong winds Saturday night, so I canceled my morning haircut and stayed home to take care of some chores. My son "helped" my husband with the snow on the driveway. We were able to go to a birthday party in the afternoon, but I had my husband drive us there because I'm a bit of a Nervous Nelly when it comes to winter driving.

I don't have much writing news to report; I'm just going through what I wrote during NaNoWriMo and summarizing the key plot points. There's a unplanned subplot that's itching to make itself into the novel, so I have to figure out what I want to do with it.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Back on the Blog Chain: Story Challenge!

This is the last blog chain of the year, so Michelle has come up with a unique challenge for this round:

In 100 words or less, write a story using the words ride, post, soulless, local, dehydrator, girdle. (These words were chosen at random.) Your story may take on any form you wish. The only two rules are 1. you can't simply list the 6 words; you must actually craft them into something creative, and 2. you must use ALL six of them.

So, here's my story. One line was inspired by a true event; can you guess which one?

I sighed as I stepped into the food processing plant, our local version of Hell. My girdle pinched me, the hot water wasn’t working, and the dehydrator had sprung a leak. I hadn’t been able to visit the post office before work because my toddler wouldn’t put on his boots. There was only one way my mind was going to escape this mess. I smuggled my Kindle, hidden between reports, to my desk and started reading Gail Carriger’s Soulless. Let's ride to London and have tea with Lords Maccon and Akeldama!

For further stories, please check out Eric's blog (this round he was kind enough to post before me) and Michelle H's blog tomorrow.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Midwinter Blogfest--Snowballs in Space

As I mentioned yesterday, I signed up for a Midwinter Blogfest hosted by Marieke. She wanted to know how our main characters celebrate midwinter. This is a scene I wrote especially for this blogfest, featuring characters from my science fiction novel Across Two Universes. Paul is the main character; Scott and Yvonne are siblings who are his best friend and girlfriend respectively. They all live on a research spaceship named for Carl Sagan. Without further ado, here's my scene:

Snowballs in Space

Paul paused in the living room on his way to see Yvonne. Either Dad or his sister had switched the holoprojectors to holiday mode overnight. Lights and pine branches looped around the illusion of a fireplace in the wall. Four stockings were displayed, but Mom’s stocking didn’t belong there anymore. The first Christmas without her. I’d give every present I ever got to have her back. He debated for a moment if he should remove it from the holo program, but it was more comforting to have it there. Even so, he’d lost some of his Christmas spirit. Hopefully Yvonne would help him recover it. He opened the door—

And something cold, white, and wet smacked him in the face.

Scott stood smirking in front of his family’s suite. He wore bright purple gloves from the lab, and a tub of more white stuff blocked the door. “Merry Christmas, Paul!”

Paul wiped his face. “What the hell was that?”

“Snow! I made it in the lab freezer. It’s an old tradition to make it into balls and throw them at each other during winter.”

Paul had only seen snow a couple of times and couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to handle the stuff. His face stung with cold, and his best shirt was wet. He turned up the heat fibers to dry it. “I think this is one tradition that should be left in the past.”

“You don’t want a snowball fight?” Scott frowned. “Normally you’d start it.”

“Not now, Scott. I have somewhere to go.”

Paul hurried down the Sagan’s hallway to the garden, where tiny lights nestled in the plants. Yvonne was waiting in their favorite nook. “Merry Christmas, angel.” He handed her a box.

She slid it open and gasped as a twisted gold bracelet studded with gems slipped out. “Isn’t this your mom’s bracelet? I can’t accept this. This must have cost thousands of credits. Besides, isn’t it a family heirloom or something? Shouldn’t it go to Cass?”

“She has the rest of Mom’s jewelry.” Paul swallowed, remembering how tough it had been to redistribute his mother’s things. “But Dad said I could save something if I wanted to give it to my wife when I get married.”

Yvonne shook her head, but a twinkle in her eye belied her exasperation. “I’ve told you, it’s way to soon to talk about that.”

“Why not? I've said since I was five that we were going to get married someday.” He drew back warily. “You’re not going to throw ice cream at me again, are you?”

She tilted her head. “That wouldn’t be a nice way to thank you, would it? How about this instead?”

She leaned forward and kissed him, proving they didn’t need mistletoe.

When their lips finally parted, Paul said, “Yvonne?”

“Yes, Paul?”

“Do you know how much snow Scott made? I say after dinner we steal it and pelt him good.”

I hope you enjoyed the scene! Please stop by Marieke's blog for a complete list of the participants so you can check out their entries too!

Friday, December 10, 2010

100 Words for $100 Blogfest!

How'd you like to earn $1/word for your writing? That's right, Elana of You're Write. Except when you're Rong is offering up to $150 as a prize in her first blogfest. What's the catch? You have to write a 100-word sentence (plus or minus five words) and post it on your blog, Facebook, or Twitter. I write long sentences, but this will be a challenge. It's a good thing we have until January 31st to post our sentences. (You can start posting them on January 1st.) The prize starts at $10, but it goes up with each person who enters, so help spread the word! For full details, check here. Good luck!

P.S. I'm participating in a Midwinter Blogfest tomorrow and am posting in the Blog Chain on Sunday, so please stop by if you have time!

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Humor, Puzzles, and Creativity

If you subscribe to the New York Times online, they had an interesting article yesterday about scientists who are trying to understand the "Aha!" moment of creativity. What the scientists have found is that humor helps put the brain in the right frame of mind to achieve insight in solving word problems (as opposed to the trial-and-error method). Apparently humor makes it easier for the brain to spot the less-obvious connections that may be necessary to solve a puzzle. Doing crossword or Sudoku puzzles also helps open up the brain. Subconscious clues may also help people solve problems. Although analysis and insight may both be required to solve a problem, they are different states of the brain. If we know how to switch ourselves from one state to another, we may become more creative and better problem-solvers.

I think we writers need to keep these points in mind not just for ourselves, but for our characters, since we often toss tough tasks their way and expect them to muddle through. Knowing how to achieve insight will help us resolve our tangled plot points, which are often problems our characters have to face too. Sometimes it's not enough for them to resolve the problem; we have to show how they figured it out and how creative they were. The more we know about creativity and problem-solving, the better we'll be at helping characters solve their problems and showing how they do so in a realistic way. Perhaps that wise-cracking sidekick is more helpful than he or she knows.

Finally, to help you with your creative thinking today, here's some Whose Line Is It Anyway? humor. I've posted it before, but it's been a while:

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Thinking of John Lennon Today....

and I wanted to share Christine Lavin's "The Dakota" with you:

as she sings, "Well, it's something that we shouldn't dwell upon, but it's something we shouldn't ignore. Too many good men have been cut down, let's pray there won't be any more...."

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Monday, December 06, 2010

Post-NaNo Slump

It's hard to imagine I finished NaNoWriMo only a week ago. I hate to say it, but I've written less than two thousand words since then. There are three reasons I can think of for my slump: NaNo pace is much faster than my usual one, Christmas prep (shopping, decorating, writing cards, wrapping presents, and baking), and pantsing my plot instead of following my outline. I think in the next few scenes, I can circle around back to the outline. Since this is first draft for this story, I'd rather forge ahead than rip out offending scenes. But I also need to challenge myself to write more when I have the opportunity instead of goofing off. I know I can write a thousand words an hour when I need to; I just need to need to do it, if you can follow that (grin).

How's your writing going post-NaNo?

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Holiday Train

Since our son loves trains, we like to give him opportunities to ride them when we have the chance. During the holidays, several places around here run special holiday trains. We did one last year that had a Polar Express theme. This year, we decided to try the holiday train ride run through the Illinois Railway Museum. We hoped that they would run one of their older trains; however, when we got there, we saw one of the Chicago El trains from 1993:

We think they used it because it was heated. At least it was decorated inside:

Since it was early in the holiday season, the train wasn't full. We drove a short distance into the countryside, admiring the snow, before the train stopped, then reversed course. We drove back to the museum and finally stopped at the diner, which doubled as Santa's Workshop.

Mrs. Claus was there to greet us:

They served us hot chocolate right away, but we had to wait in line (right by all the train items for sale) before Alex got to see Santa:

Santa gave Alex a bag of toys and treats, and Mrs. Claus gave him a cookie. We then got to sit down for a while and do some crafts (scrapbook pages). An entertainer played a few carols on a keyboard.

We were on the last train ride of the day, and by the time they ushered us out, it was dark and cold. Alex said "good-bye" to his favorite trains for now--at least until next year.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Readers' Choice?

As 2010 draws to a close, I'm thinking about my plans for next year. Part of that includes what content to feature on this blog. What would you like to see me post in the next year? Here are some possibilities:

More science articles
Discussions of basic science
Book reviews (I'd probably only do positive ones)
Author interviews (I'd probably open this up to Broad Universe and possibly OWW members)
Blog memes
Personal stories

Please leave a comment and let me know your preferences. Have a good weekend!

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Things I Learned From NaNoWriMo

1. I'm most productive on my lunch hour, but I think that's because I know I have to avoid distraction if I want to meet my word count goal.
2. To meet word count, I'm shameless about padding with filler words and adverbs. Too bad I can't use more meaningful words, like description, in a first draft.
3. Character sheets and outlines are useful references, but I will still deviate from my outline.
4. My first draft will be a hot mess, but since my usual M.O. is to write a draft, throw it out, and start over, why not get it done quickly instead of dragging it out?
5. It's important to know the battery life of your laptop.
6. Writing by hand is slower than using the laptop, but some days, it's the only way to get any word count in at all.
7. If your husband is driving, bring the laptop in the car.
8. You don't have to be asocial during NaNoWriMo to finish.
9. It is possible for a working mother to finish.
10. My son is too young to understand or appreciate the hard work of writing, but my husband does. Thanks, dear!

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