Sunday, October 26, 2014

What It Is - week ending 26 October [2014]

With apologies to Dave the Thune.

Every day.  1000 words.  That's the goal.

The train kept rolling this week as I added to the novel in progress.  Passed 160 manuscript pages and 44,000 words, which is good.  But I hit a snag in the middle of this week.  I sat down to write my thousand, and it was a chore.  I would type something, sit back and stare at it, work it over in my mind, delete and retype it in a slightly different manner, sit back, stare, delete, skim the internet, skim the internet some more, come back to the writing, type something, finally move on, then sit, stare, and try to get my mind focused.
But it was not working.  So, after an hour, I closed the laptop with only 450 words down.

Now, all this focus on word counts may seem, to some, as if I am focused on the wrong thing.  Why should I worry about the number of words I got down?  Shouldn't I be thinking more carefully about the words I'm choosing?  Isn't that the more important thing rather than just looking at the total (quantity vs. quality, and all that).  And the answer is yes and no - with an emphasis toward "no."

Every writer whom I admire has stated numerous times that if one wants to be a writer, one must write.  Not think about it.  Not read up on the subject.  Not philosophize and market test ideas.  Write.  It's the only way to learn, because if you haven't actually written anything, well, you haven't written anything.  Now, is the word count the final goal?  No.  But, I can assure you, when I was only writing intermittently, there was little growth in what I was producing.  Since I've been writing regularly (and keeping track with my spreadsheet has been the best thing for me - a quick, visual check on whether I am keeping up my end of the bargain that keeps me honest), though, I know I've grown quite a bit.  Actually doing the writing comes more easily, connections within the narrative (whether to points earlier in the story or through metaphors) reveal themselves to me, and I approach my writing differently now, working to make them more effective dramatically rather than crafting a dot-to-dot series of events.

And, when I have trouble "getting the words out," I realize that something is not working.  It's a gut feeling, but one I recognize now, and it makes step back and re-assess the point I'm working on.  Which is what happened the night I slogged through getting down those 450 words.  Something was off in what I was trying to do.  So I went to bed, pouring over what I'd read and what I wanted from this scene, and by morning I had it figured out and was able to write 1400 words that pushed the narrative forward a bit more (rather than stagnating it with "spinning wheels," as I think was happening the night before).  It would be nice if my gut would pinpoint what's going wrong in the writing, but at least I'm learning to understand what that feeling means and work to adjust what's going on the page.

That - learning how I need to write - is the best thing that has come from writing consistently, with a daily goal in mind.  And, no, the goal doesn't need to be a word count, it can be a set amount of time, or some other goal.  As long as it's a regular thing and you approach it honestly, then it will be something that will help you improve your writing.

In comics, horror may be the most difficult genre to do.  There's no music, no dripping blood (i.e. being able to watch the blood fall to the floor), no movement (as in film) allowing us to watch the monster slink out of the shadows behind our protagonist, none of those tools are available to the comic artist.  So achieving that gut-twisting punch of horror is an almost impossible task.  Which means many horror comics turn to gore and grossness, in order to shock their readers with how far over the line they are willing to go with their grotesqueries.  And, I suppose, that's one approach.

Thankfully, Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez, choose the higher road.  I finished volume 5 this week, but am thinking specifically of a scene from volume 1 that just froze me, when I turned the page.


Bode, the youngest Locke child, has been talking to the woman in the wellhouse, at the point I'm discussing.  And we know that the woman in the well is evil, wants to hurt the Locke family, but is trapped in the well (may even be an immaterial ghost or spirit).  And, to this point, Bode has gone down to the well to speak with the woman a few times.  It's become relatively common, and the readers have come to expect how these discussions go.  Add to this the fact that Hill & Rodriguez have crafted believable and very sympathetic characters in the Locke family, and the scene is ripe for a big shock.  Which we get with a page-turn late in that first volume when Bode turns away from the well to answer his sister (iirc) that he'll be right up to the house - as it is late - and behind Bode, in this large panel, we see the woman from the well creeping out of the well, arm outstretched, reaching for the young boy.  It gave me chills.  This was brilliantly executed, from the set up, to the characters we care about, and the large panel on a page-turn that changes the entire status quo - so good.  If you haven't read Locke & Key yet, do yourself a favor and check it out.

Also finished the screenplay for Harlan Ellison's Cutter's World (I read his teleplay of the same idea last week).  Through the first 100 pages, it stayed very close to the teleplay, which was disappointing.  But then, once Cutter and his son arrive on the alien world, things changed.  Ellison didn't excise anything, instead, he chose to enhance these scenes, and it worked wonderfully.  He managed to share more of the alien civilization while also ratcheting up the drama and the emotional connections with the characters, by dropping in scenes here and there, expanding others, and rearranging still others, with additional antagonists that also made the final part of the narrative feel more natural and not as familiar as it did in the teleplay.

As an example:  In the teleplay, when Cutter and his son sit down to eat, after making their way to Deke's on this new world, Cutter and a Kyban (Ellison's go-to aliens) coincidentally reach for the final piece of meat on the platter between them, a fight ensues, but in the end they become uneasy allies because of a connection Cutter had made previously.
In the screenplay, the Kyban across from Cutter deliberately reaches for the meat at the same time as Cutter to goad him into fighting, and the "friendly" Kyban is alerted by Deke (the connection Cutter made) to intercede, without others realizing, and he pushes aside the antagonistic Kyban, feigning cultural offense at Cutter's insolence, and the same fight ensues but with a far different, and more interesting, reason behind it.  Things like this really made reading these two screenplays not only interesting but also a good lesson for approaching my own writing.

World Series time!  I don't have cable, so this is about the only time I get to watch baseball on TV, since Major League Baseball doesn't seem like they want to try and encourage a new, younger generation of fans.  Ah, well.  Just means I can focus more on my writing at night.

The first two games weren't what I expected.  Even though the Giants won 7-1 in game 1, it felt like the Royals were just on the cusp of breaking through against Madison Bumgarner.  I'm hoping they are able to do that when they meet Bumgarner again.
I'm an American League guy, plus I love the way the Royals play the game - running, good defense, productive hitting even when they make outs - so I was happy they won game 2.  Admittedly, I didn't see the blowout coming.  with 5 innings in the books, it felt like Peavy was just getting stronger, making pitches he wanted to make and forcing the Royals to chase those out of the strike zone for outs.  I wasn't feeling good about an AL win, but they came through against the bullpen and meant I'd get at least one extra game out of my baseball viewing this year.
Game 3 - this is what I was looking for.  Pitchers' duel.  Great defense on both sides.  And scoring a run with two productive outs, as the Royals did in that first inning.  Sure, the general audience loves the home runs and the scoring, but give me a low-scoring, well played game any day. It's far more exciting than a home run derby blowout.
But 4 just turned the momentum back to the West Coast.  Let's see if the Royals can pull this out.

Three years ago, I did a short series here called "October Comics."  Nine posts about comics that would be perfect to read this time of year - they either had a horror element to them, or a dark fantasy element, or were specifically Halloween themed.  It was fun, and I figured I should dust them off and share them with anyone checking the blog this year.  The first two repeats (with three books each) are below this post - the final one goes live Wednesday.  But here are links to all nine individual posts, if you like.

A Glimpse of Crime & Terror by Steve Niles and Scott Morse
Hellboy by Mike Mignola, et al.
Taboo from Spiderbaby Grafix (Stephen Bissette)
Batman: LOTDK Halloween Specials by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale
The Broadcast by Eric Hobbs and Noel Tuazon
Coraline adapted by P. Craig Russell from the novel by Neil Gaiman
the Universal Monsters adaptations by Art Adams and others
Little Book of Horror: Frankenstein by Steven Niles and Scott Morse
Starchild by James A. Owen

All right.  Two for two, which leads to the fact that I pushed out my 42nd and 43rd submissions of the year this past week.  I believe that puts me one ahead for my goal of 52 submissions this year.  Each year I've increased the number of submissions, which means next year, I'm going to need to really up my game - and get some more stories ready for submission - so that I can continue that trend.

'Til next week.


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