Monthly Archives: August 2013

Works in Progress (WIP)

My WordPress is not working properly. I had a page identified as Works in Progress (WIP). It has disappeared along with another page. Here is a reproduction of the original post with a few additions.

Posted about June 6th:

I took a vacation last week and thought about new projects as well as contemplated some old ones. I decided to create a new category on my blog and call it Works in Progress (WIPs). As usual I generated more ideas for projects than I can do in a year, so my WIPs will be full for the next twelve months. Sometimes I work on several stories at once, so the numbers indicate nothing other that that’s the order I listed them in my idea book.

One of the issues I’m considering is doing the NaNoWriMo competition again. For the non-cognoscenti, that’s the competition to write a 50,000 word novel in a month.

I’m also adding to my WIPs three books on that I have at various stages of completion. For each project I mention, I will have a percent beside it indicating how complete it is. If it is completely new, I will have a N by it. So, here goes.

  1. 1.       Anthem III, 95%. This is the third book in my Anthem series. I hope to have it completed this month though I am scheduled for three trips out of town.
  2. 2.       Red Maslem and the Pilots of Anzu, 50%. I wrote this book last November for NaNoWriMo. It was written quickly, so it needs heavy editing and completion in parts of the story.
  3. 3.       Viney Woods, 40%. This is the first novel I wrote. It needs heavy editing. At this point, it is a candidate for staying on the back burner. I don’t know if the problems it has are insurmountable.
  4. 4.       Crystal Cave, 10%. This book is in outline form for three chapters and chapter titles for the next ten chapters or so. The outline is rough. I think this may be my candidate for NaNoWriMo. I will complete the outline for all the chapters by November.

What’s it about? It is about a young man discovering Shamen entombed in crystals in a cave. The cave is the universal burying ground of Shamen.

  1. 5.        Something Weird, N. Will be a story about an abandoned space colony. The only building remaining standing and complete is a strange building where noises can be heard at night.
  2. 6.       Rupture, N. Travelers going through a wormhole are thrown far off their course by a rupture in the WH. They land in a world filled with horrors, especially one…
  3. 7.       Secrets of Loma Prieta, N. A New York writer goes to a conference in Albuquerque, NM and falls in love with it. He brings his family there to a ranch he bought. Strange happenings occur and his daughter is drawn into enchantment by Spanish mythical creatures.
  4. 8.       Beyond Rescue, N. A space ship is passing an alien planet and is suddenly pulled inextricably to the planet’s surface. Everything happened so quickly, no emergency beacons were deployed. The survivors are at the mercy of the adventure that awaits them.
  5. 9.       The Ace of Spades, N. A drug dealer builds a house on a medicine mound. All of his excesses and abuses haunt him through the spirit of the medicine man who lived there. It’s been done.
  6. 10.   Navigation Room, N. A descendant of Salem witches and his wife, a descendant of American Indians who massacred at Jamestown, build a new house far in the western U.S. A mysterious young woman shows up at the home. The housekeeper’s curiosity…
  7. 11.   Calypso, N. A young man meets a woman he falls deeply in love with. When he brings her home, his father tells him that she is his sister. His mother has a different story.

(I was copying from Word and WordPress added the extra numbers. Go figure.

Okay, I thought I as up and running today. Apparently not. Although I switched users on my computer to sign on to my blog. The Blog still recognized the computer and let it in, allowed me to comment, and didn’t send a 404 error page.

Since I’ve received no contacts in more than eight hours, I’m assuming it works just for me and not for people not in my system. I guess I’m still up the creek. I’m stumped. Guess I’ll sign off for the day and ponder this. Wish I had someone in the world to talk to about this.

 

If Everything You’ve Been Told to do Doesn’t Work, Try Something Else.

Before I say anything else, I want to thank those of you who continued to check with my blog when it wasn’t working. Hopefully, it is fixed and your diligence will be rewarded. I appreciate you.

After weeks of tinkering with the problem of users, like you, not being able to make comments because you receive 404 error messages, I finally found a solution.

First, I shouldn’t have to find a solution. WordPress has known about this problem for four years, which is documented on their forums. Second, there have been dozens of proposed solutions, so many it makes my eyes blur reading them all, one of them should have worked and should have been incorporated into the software. Yes, users and bloggers are left hanging by the ‘Happy Engineers’ of WordPress.

So, continuing with my tinkering, I disabled all my plugins. Nothing. The next recommendation was to remove the trailing “/” after my permalinks.

Off I went to change my permalinks. When I got there, I found I could copy them to word, but I couldn’t change them. Then I noted the one I was using, Day and Name, had a trailing “/,” but Default, Numeric, and Custom Structure had no trailing “/.”

I selected Default, the first of the permalinks that had no trailing “/.” Then I changed users to another account on this computer, sent a comment, and it came through exactly as it should. Hopefully, you will have the same experience with your comments coming through.

I will leave this issue with a couple of thoughts. First, writers don’t want to have to spend their time fixing software. If it continues to require a high level of maintenance, WordPress will have to go. I will go to Blogger, which is supposed to be less robust than WordPress, but purportedly works.

That decision is sort of like deciding whether to own a Cadillac that doesn’t run all the time, or a Ford that does. Most reasonable people would take the Ford.

Second, known software issues should be fixed, period. Allowing users to struggle with the same problem for years is unconscionable.

Third, the help that is available is not real troubleshooting. I’ve taught troubleshooting to business and industry. Troubleshooting is a systematic process that leads to fixes of known problems. What you have is not a troubleshooting guide, but a mishmash of fellow tinkerer’s advice. “Hey, Buddy, have you tried bubble gum?” That’s not troubleshooting.

I don’t like spending an inordinate period of time fiddling with something till it works. What I’ve done to ‘fix’ my problem is ‘shake the box, hit it with a hammer, adjust the rabbit ears, unplug it and turn it back on, and kick my dog.’ I shouldn’t have to waste my time doing that.

I hope my fix helps some of you. I also hope it doesn’t take you weeks to find a solution.

Satisfying Endings

You put your heart into a story, create characters, bring them to life, and your readers tell you your story is great, but… the ending is not satisfying.

Hrumph. Satisfying, smadisfying. Why wasn’t it satisfying? What could I have done differently? After all, stories can have limitless endings. What’s so damned bad about this one? Why doesn’t it work?

I heard the same things so many times, I flinched when I reached the end of a story. What could I say in this story that the reader would find satisfying? How will I know if it is satisfying to readers or not. Do I just throw a story out and take my chances, or is there another way?

Luckily, there is a means for selecting a satisfying ending. It may not always work, but is much better than just throwing an ending in as I had been doing.

Here it is. David Harris Ebenbach, in Gotham Writer’s Workshop: Writing Fiction, Chapter 3, Plot: A Question of Focus, presents a discussion of ‘The Major Dramatic Question.’ If you consider the bottom line question in a story, movie, or book, the book can be reduced to one question about the protagonist. Ebenbach gives several examples. In one example, from Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, he asks whether Robert Jordan will escape his apparent fate by surviving his military mission. The story’s ending reveals the answer. If the ending has nothing to do with the Major Dramatic Question, it will be bad.

Therein lies the secret. If your ending answers the Major Dramatic Question your story presents, it will likely be a satisfying, or good one for the reader. If it doesn’t – it won’t.

Writing Essential: Sticktoitiveness

Sticktoitiveness; noun, dogged perseverance; resolute tenacity; also written, stick-to-it-ive-ness. Example: The only way she has published so many books is through stick-to-it-ive-ness; circa 1909; colloquial usage; Dictionary.com.

Stick-to-itiveness.* What a difference it makes with people and their goals. As well as being a writer, I’m a teacher. For a period of five years, I studied Self-Directed Learning in the Community College Classroom along with three of my colleagues. We found four types of students,  The Self-Directed Learner, the Compliant Learner, the Rebellious Learner, and the Passive Learner. The thing that distinguished the SDL was that he or she had goals and stick-to-itiveness. They cared less about the teacher’s goals than their own. The teacher was a resource to them. He or she was useful to the extent that he or she furthered the student’s goals. I’ll not discuss the others for the moment as I’m interested in success stories. We published our results in the League of Innovation for Community Colleges in 2008.

The SDL is not smarter, necessarily. What they  have are specific goals and the willingness to do whatever is needed to achieve them. If they encounter an obstacle, they look at it as a momentary problem. They keep going. When they graduate, they translate that skill to a job skill and are rewarded there.

Successful writers have the same attribute. They persist. They have stick-to-itiveness. Every writer I know has their time to write, their place, their favorite means, favorite music, etc. No one set of preferences is superior to another. They all have stick-to-itiveness.

I know a writer who has written one of the most readable books I have ever read. My nickname for him is The Bard, as in Shakespeare. His settings are believable. His characters true. His dialogue exact. Everything about his writing draws me in and keeps me reading. He wrote one book years ago. The one I’ve read, obviously, and sent it to a publisher. It was rejected. Since then, he has shown his book to a select few, but he will never send it to another editor.  He is on his second book now. That will never see the light of day either. He was stopped by one rejection.

When I was in graduate school I became enthralled with the question, Who is successful and who is not? I was looking at people who were equally motivated, according to self reports, and equally talented. Yet, some would succeed, and others would fail. The difference I found between the two is that the former would look at their failure/obstacles/barriers as temporary. They considered them no more than a bump in the road to success. The others, the failures, were crestfallen whenever they were stopped by something. They would despair and quit. The difference? Stick-to-itiveness.

*My word processor preferred the stick-to-itiveness version of this word.

Who’s Doing This Writing Anyway?

When I write, I’m using various ego states. The first ego state I use is that of the Free Child. My choice of words is direct and spontaneous. I may misspell words, use bad grammar, and forget punctuation. Various authors I’ve read who give advice on writing say, the first time through, “Just write, don’t edit.” To me, they are saying, “Use your free child.”

After your first pass through, then you may go back and use your Adult. This is where you find misspelled words, grammatical errors, and problems with punctuation. This is boring work and the free child doesn’t want to do it. This is where discipline comes in. You discipline yourself to go slowly and thoroughly through your work, finding places you can shorten it, say it better, or otherwise improve it.

The next pass is where you are very critical (the Critical Parent). The critical parent looks for things you did wrong, not what you did right. It may want you to throw out a story because there is one error. You may hear yourself say self-righteously, “It is not the number of errors, it’s the kind of error. This error indicates ignorance. I will not let you send this story out. Or, if you ever make that kind of an error again, I’ll never let you write another story.”

These are the three primary ego states I use when writing. When I get to the last one, I’m sure to have a reward for myself for having finished. The last one beats up on my Free Child and I need something to cheer him up.

I think some writers also write from an over Adapted Child ego state. Their writing is dull and not very entertaining, but they do everything right. Writing from the Parent ego state is ponderous.

Writing from an Adult ego state may produce good technical manuals and sometimes good fiction, like Doyle’s Holmes. But, unless there is some Free Child mixed in, it can get tedious. (Think about Holmes and his cocaine addiction.)

I think I’m nearly spot on in thinking these are the ego states I use. But, I’m certain they are not the ones used by everyone else.

Structure of a Story, Beginning, Middle, and End, and How to Mess it Up

When I first began writing I would look at a magazine’s submission requirements and then write a story that met those requirements. Before I sent them off to the publishers, I would have several readers take a look and offer critiques. One reader was a Ph.D. in English. He always had one element in his critique that didn’t change: “Your ending was too abrupt; it wasn’t satisfying.” The other readers occasionally said the same thing, but he always did.

One day, when we were having lunch, I asked we dissect his recurring comment. I was looking for a pattern that would explain his comment. More important, I was looking for what I could do to change his comment to, “I loved your ending.”

The first thing that emerged from our discussion that I was writing with the publisher’s submission guidelines in mind. The one that weighed most heavily on me was the length of the submission.

(In Greek mythology, Procrustes was a rogue metal smith and bandit from Attica who attacked people by stretching them or cutting off their leg, to force them to fit the size of his iron bed. When something is Procrustean, different lengths or sizes or properties are fitted to an arbitrary standard.)

What I was doing was keeping an eye on the word count as I wrote, then stretching my story or cutting it off to make it fit the publisher’s arbitrary standard. Most often it was the latter. I would near the end, then find an ending that ‘fit’ right there and quit writing. After all, the publisher said, no more than N words.

Once we had that issue identified, he went on to what he considered was the most important issue for him. My endings weren’t satisfying to him. While the first issue influenced this one, there was more to the second issue. He likes endings that tie everything up. The conflicts are resolved. The tension caused by conflict falls, and LEAVES READERS SATISFIED. I thought he meant he liked happy endings at first. He does, but not only happy endings. He likes ending that give him the feeling that things came out like they should have.

My endings just ended. They also didn’t necessarily tie everything together. But, the important thing was the reader wasn’t satisfied. He emphasized that as a writer, I have to satisfy both the editor and the readers. Perhaps both can be accomplished together. But by my concern about satisfying the publisher’s request for a certain length, I was losing my readers.

 

Giving your Characters… well… Character

Read the first few pages of Sir Author Conan Doyle’s The Hounds of Baskerville and the characters of Holmes, Watson, Sir Henry Baskerville and his friend Mortimer jump off the page. Note that Doyle describes every character, not in detail, but he gives us something about that character that’s unique. He also places them in a unique setting that  explains something to us about them. Finally, he puts them into action, each doing something unique and different. He brings his characters to life.

Rather than explaining what they are doing he tells us about their action. Then he has conflict within that action, such as Holmes and Watson’s discussion about the unknown guest’s cane that was left behind. We are immediately hooked,  then, when  the mysterious stranger in the coach appears, we’re hooked again.

Now read something you’ve written. Do the characters sound the same or, do they have different voices. Do they look the same, or can you even tell how they look. Do you know where they are? How does that help explain the characters? Do you know more about them because of their location and what they are doing?

I wrote a story once in which, to my way of thinking, I clearly had the characters in a space ship. There was a mutiny, and a woman was kidnapped to be taken to a man she had bested some months before. I had them shooting advanced weapons and flying everywhere. One of my readers asked me if the story was intended to take place in space. I reread my own story and found I had not specified the ship was a space ship. The reader had to guess it was one. The whole story changed if one thought the story took place  on earth. Some of the character’s thoughts and actions no longer made sense. I had to rewrite it and tell more about the setting for the characters to have their actions make sense.

This weekend I was swimming in the Pedernales river. There were ten of us swimming in the shallow waters surrounded by cypress trees. I closed my eyes and listened to the group talking back and forth. Each person had a distinct voice, not just in sound quality, but what they talked about, how they said it, how often they talked and how long they talked. They were identifiable.

Later in the day, one of them received a phone call from his wife. To his son’s amusement, I whispered the line his father was going to respond to, before he responded. I correctly predicted his side of the conversation in a five minute conversation. How did I do that? I knew her ‘voice’ and I knew his voice. So, predicting what they were going to say was… elementary

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