Sunday, July 29, 2012

What You See

How do I decide what a particular character looks like?
I probably do it differently from anybody else. And I allow myself the freedom to change my mind about any physical attribute at any time. Yes, it can be difficult if, as I do draft 5 of a novel, I decide the heroine’s eyes are blue and not green. I’d better have a good reason for making that change, but if I do (perhaps the aliens are fascinated by blue eyes, because they’ve never seen that color before), then I’ll do it, and hope I catch any mention of her eye color in the final polish.
But that’s later. How did I give her green eyes to begin with?
Okay, most stories have more than 1 character. Mine tend to have both genders as characters. How do I decide what they look like?
I have a thing for redheaded females. Do you remember a comic strip called Brenda Starr? Brenda had luxurious, curly fire-engine red hair. That’s the red hair I envision for my ladies. It looks beautiful in ink in the cartoon strip, but that isn’t real. So I save that shade of hair for women who come from different planets, where the genetics might have gotten tweaked a bit, or the environment might influence hair shade.
I don’t have that urge to give a guy red hair, so that leaves me with black, shades of brown and shades of blond. (Occasionally, I do give a character some form of red hair, but sparingly, as redheads are fairly rare in the US, as a rule.) By the time I am deciding what my characters look like. I have some vague idea on their personality and the plot of the story. If someone is intended to start out as shy, retiring, and so on, I give them a bland shade of brown or dishwasher blond hair. Same with the eyes; hazel or brown, maybe an remarkable green. If the character is female who goes through some kind of metamorphosis into somebody interesting, a change in shampoo can reveal red or gold highlights, and makeup can reveal flecks in her eye color or otherwise make them more interesting. Similar Cinderella-type make-overs can work with guys, too.
If the character is someone who catches people’s attention, then I give them more vivid coloring; vivacious black hair or rich blond locks, eyes that are emerald green, sky blue or maybe smoky gray. Such women will be self assured and light on their feet, while the men in this category will be well built (but not necessarily hugely muscled) and in control of himself.
That’s the basics. Other details (does a woman have long nails or short?) will be determined by things like her occupation and her level of self-confidence. Does she bite her nails? Then they won’t be long, and probably won’t be polished or manicured, either. And men might be nail biters, too.
I build characters little by little, by examining their place in the world at the time of the story and their history. They take shape slowly, like a piece of clay being molded into a figurine.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

A Writer's Work is Never Done

I’ve talked about my To Do list before. Yeah, yeah, it’s pages long, in part because I have things on it that won’t come due until 2016, when I have a reminder that that’s about as long as we can expect the ‘new’ dishwasher to last. No, it’s not 9-11 pages of things for me to do today. I try to keep the chores for any one day down to a page.
I was looking at some of the chores that had somehow all cropped up on today’s date. Not the housework, not the personal chores, but the ones related (however slightly) to writing. Things like writing this blog, checking out several websites in search of tidbits to improve my writing, reading other people’s blogs about writing and leaving comments, looking for writing seminars, checking out some softwares that others have suggested I try, researching markets, sending out short stories, researching agents and composing queries .… It doesn’t even count actually writing.
Some of those chores I actually did tackle today. Some I put off for another day. I had enough of them all land on today that I could have kept busy for a full 24 hours, if I’d wanted. But I wouldn’t have gotten any actual writing done. And the best part of writing is the writing.
Working at home – and particularly writing – is a delicate balancing act. If you spend all your time writing, there’s no way to know if you are actually any good. If you spend all your time doing the other stuff, you never get anything written. Either way, nobody gets to read your stories.
Also, as a writer, you are supposed to be reading whatever you can get your hands on. This gives your imagination ideas to work with, introduces you to new styles and voices. Lots of reading, in fact, taught me quite a bit about sentence structure, punctuation and other facets of writing. Alas, ‘reading’ is not on my To Do list.
I think I need to fix that.

Monday, July 16, 2012

SF Dreams

Every once in a while, I have a dream that I remember when I wake up. In the last couple weeks, I’ve had a couple of those dreams.
Dreams seldom make good stories, in my opinion. They are too fragmented, too repetitive, and usually lack the logic I expect from a story. But every once in a while, one of my dreams has enough of a plot that it seems like there could be a real story in there. Of course, by the time I’ve re-written it a few times and polished all the rough edges off, the final draft has little in common with the original dream. That could be said of all my stories; the final draft has little in common with the rough draft. That’s the nature of writing.
The thing is, I write fantasy. These 2 dreams I’ve had recently have been science fiction. I like science fiction. I’ve tried to write science fiction, but my science knowledge has been out-of-date, so it hasn’t worked very well. Can I do justice to these dream stories?
I’ve been looking at those dreams, analyzing them, trying to figure that out.
The first is an ‘invasion’ story, somewhat like “War of the Worlds”, “Independence Day” and “Fallen Skies”. I knew right away that the ‘ending’ of the dream would not work. But aside from that, the pacing, action level and emotional level would need to be maintained at a point that is definitely outside my comfort zone. This would be a chance to challenge myself, right?
Dream 2 takes place in the far future, when humans are exploring other star systems and establish a relationship with another race. This seems much easier; when it’s in the far future, you can almost imagine the science as if you were setting up a system of magic for a fantasy. The basic plot of the story seems very doable, but the ending just won’t come to me. I think I woke up before I got that far.
Most of my stories come from daydreams: If I have this kind of a character, and I put him/her in this kind of situation, what happens? Occasionally, I have a dream that has potential to be a story. To have 2 of those dreams/stories in such a short time … is my subconscious trying to get me to spread my wings into the sf genre?

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Best Use of Time

I always run out of time before I reach the end of my daily to do list. Part of the problem is because I don’t really estimate how long it will take to do any particular chore. So if you look at my to do list, it seems like I’m supposed to spend 5 minutes on any one chore. Who can get anything done in 5 minutes?
I don’t estimate because I know from past experience that I have no idea how long it will take to get anything done. Cleaning out my mailbox? Anywhere from 10 minutes to 2 hours or more. Write a blog? It might take me half an hour just to figure out what to write about. And if I’m trying to do something that I haven’t really done before – like figure out how to record and edit a short video, or how to use a new software to create a website – that might take days, or even weeks.
So every evening, before I go to bed, I take a quick look at what’s on the agenda for the next day. If the list is more than a page long, then I try to pare it down. Can some of those items be put off for a day or two, a week? Well, eventually I’ll get to them.
Unfortunately, there are some things that I really should not put off, like feeding the family and doing a bit of housework, taking care of myself. Writing. Submitting. Marketing. I try to get a little of all of that done each day, but it isn’t easy. I just have to figure out how to best make use of my time.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Doing What We Can

Okay, we finally got the MoonPhaze Publishing website up. If you want to look it over, it’s at\MoonPhazePub\MoonPhaze. It was put up Friday night, and I’ve already had to make some corrections. I’ve also received suggestions on how to make it look more modern. Who would have thought our taste could be (at least) 15 years out of date? Of course, there are plenty of people our age out there who don’t even use a computer, let alone try to create a website.

So, why did we create a website? Because a website has become pretty much a necessary adjunct for just about any business. Because rather than spending hundreds or thousands of dollars creating, printing and mailing sales letters, we can send people to our website, where they can get all the information we have to give to them. And when we have more information, we can update the website and not have to create new letters, print and mail them. Any new contacts we make and aim at our website will get the new information about us.

Seriously, I’ve been talking to lots of other genre authors about marketing efforts, and they all said an author needs a website. I didn’t have a lot of money to create my own website. A corollary to that thought is that a publisher also needs a website, especially if that publisher offers e-books. How could a publisher be up-to-date enough to offer e-books, but not even have their own website? Unfortunately, MoonPhaze is operating on a somewhat-less-than-shoestring budget, and didn’t have money to spend on a website either. So we decided to go together and found a free website host.

Yeah, I was surprised they existed, too. Of course, they WANT you to upgrade, so your choices in putting together your free website are ... stilted. But I think we can make it work for a while.

On the other hand, we’re hoping it won’t be long before we can afford that update.