In Which Our Heroine Compares Books and TV

So my best friend and I were having one of our great IM chats today because she was one of the many people on the internet who is less than pleased with how the ending for How I Met Your Mother turned out. I will not reveal any spoilers for those who might be concerned. I never watched the show, but I knew something about it and was asking questions or making observations as someone who writes rather than a fan of the show. A lot of our conclusions came down to why TV writing and book writing are different. As much as I love my TV shows, I have kicked some shows off the DVR list (and one network) after committing some seriously bad writing.

So, I shall now present my list of why books are better than TV.

  1. Your characters will never decide they want to go off and pursue other projects when their contract runs out. In TV, this often results in a scramble to write off a character which may also kill plot lines that have been developing and leave fans feeling cheated and angry. When you are a writer, your characters leave the story when you are good and ready to let them leave and you get to decide how. George R.R. Martin likely makes characters wish they could unionize.

  1. You have characters and not actors. You do not have to worry about bad story lines popping up as a result to deal with an actor or actress that has becoming pregnant, gotten arrested, or taken a trip to rehab. Never mind the highly difficult situation of how to cover for an actor’s tragic death which has happened too much as of late in the entertainment industry. It isn’t that I dislike actors, or that I don’t respect actresses who are pregnant (I have two kids), or actors/actresses who try to face their problems through rehab, but I have seen some bad writing result to explain their disappearances.

  1. No one complains about casting choices in books.

  1. Books have editors. TV episodes are mostly screened for things that fall under the “indecent” category. Books are also screened for character development and plot lines. How many times have you seen a TV show do something that makes no sense or seems to betray the development of a character? How about time spent setting up a plot line that vanishes without a trace never to return? If a showrunner has a bad idea that falls with in the safe zone of a decency category, it happens.

  1. Your author stays the same. Except in cases where writers do work for hire, an author gets to stay the boss of their worlds and characters. How many times has a network fired the creator of a show and replaced them? Ever notice how this can change the whole feel of a show? A new creator might go off on a tangent with characters or storytelling that the creator never would have done, often leaving original fans pretty ticked off, while new fans don’t see what the problem is.

Do you have a reason why book writing is better than TV writing? Is there a show you watch or watched that pulled one of these much to your annoyance? Please comment bellow, but comment readers, beware of spoilers!  

In Which Our Heroine Makes an Overdue Return

As some of you may have noticed, I took a little min-hiatus that ended up longer than I had hoped. There’s been a lot of changes in this writer’s house, all good. I’ve made a shift in my “day job” that should allow me more time for writing. I’ve also spent a very exhausting nine months growing another geek child. He now allows my husband and I to sleep more or less. As our new sense of routine is getting under control, I’m putting my focus back on my writing.

Death by Dragon was a big learning experience for me. Not just in getting the draft written using a new writing method, but in sorting out how critique groups and such work. I do feel like I have a better sense of how to make the process go more efficiently the second time around, that alone is a victory.

It’s easy to feel like an underdog in writing. Getting a book published is no easy feat, and I have never heard of a legitimate “shortcut” that makes it easier for anyone. Some might argue that many a celebrity lands a fiction book deal. Quite a fuss is made when this happens. What I don’t think a lot of people realize is that those books are ghostwritten. The celebrity comes up with characters and an idea and a writer puts them all together, but the celebrity’s name goes on the cover. The truth is that it takes a lot of time and work, and you often have to be your first and biggest fan.

Luckily for me, I love do love me some underdogs, in fiction and outside it too. Just last night I got to experience watching Veronica Mars on the big screen. Not only is it a story about the girl detective who was an underdog, but the whole process it took to get that canceled TV show onto the big screen was an epic tale of the underdog claiming victory. I can’t help but to find that just a little inspirational, and no, it’s not because the movie soundtrack playing in the background that’s causing med to say that.

In Which Our Heroine Discusses Meeting Authors…

I have returned from what was a very unexpected hiatus that I truly hope will not need to be repeated. Thank you for everyone for sticking with me.

In May, I attended Phoenix Comic Con, which is my family’s convention of choice. One of the things I have enjoyed over the past four years is the writing panels, several which have introduced me to new authors, many of which have given me great writing advice. Over four years, I have seen people who are new to cons who are either uncertain of how to act in these settings or who create blunders unintentionally, so I thought sharing wisdom would be nice.

1) Authors are human too and most are really nice, don’t be afraid to go up at say hi. If there is a long line for that writer, try to be respectful of people waiting for their turn.  I have noted that not all writers show up on the first/preview day of a con but it can be a good way time to see a writer and not worry about crowds. We had a lovely chat with Cherie Priest this way and witnessed Wil Wheaton playing a little prank on John Scalzi.

2) During panel questions of writing craft, remember to ask questions that could benefit more than just you. It is a big no-no to take up that limited time by asking a question specific to your novel in progress. Writers prefer that you ask them these questions when they are at their individual booths. Just remember to not hold up a line with your questions.

Some questions that get interesting feedback (and can benefit more that one person in the room) I have heard include:

What did you not know about writing/publishing that you wish you had?

What rule were you told you had to follow that you found out you didn’t?

What behaviors undermine a “strong” female character?

What themes are inappropriate for YA books?

How is romance handled differently in YA?

Some answers may be subjective, but you do learn some great things this way.

3) Writers do not get paid to show up at a convention, and many fans have already bought their books that they bring to get signed. If an author you are not familiar with gave great advice, don’t grab their book on Amazon later, get one at the convention and get it signed. It may cost you a bit more, but it is a nice way to show your appreciation.

4) Do not ask writers for spoilers in future books.

5) In author spotlight panels, be careful about asking a question that’s more of a spoiler for the book series. If the book came out very recently, there’s a good chance not everyone has read it. If the book has been out for a year, you’re safer. It’s not required, but it is kinda nice to newer fans.

6) Behave like you are a published writer. You will not impress anyone by bashing on a particular author/book and it doesn’t prove that you’re better than that writer. You also never know who else is present including agents or editors. Remember, writers often create communities of their own. I have actually seen someone bash on a particular writer in front of another writer who had been mentored by the bashed on writer. Not a great move. You may notice that many writers will mention other books they support, but not ones they didn’t. It’s basic kindergarten rules. If you can’t say anything nice, keep your mouth shut.

7) I think this is a nice gesture, but when I have found some advice, or a class, to have been very beneficial, and the author returns to the con, I like to thank them in person for that advice.

Does anyone else have questions about meeting writers or advice of their own?

In Which Our Heroine Reflects on Her Imagination

I was raised as an only child, and I’m quite certain this is where my creativity comes from. at the age of seven, we moved into an old neighborhood where the houses were on 3 acre lots. There were fewer neighbors and they all tended to be of retirement age. For a long time, there was a limited number of kids to play with. To add to that, the stripe down the middle of our road was a school district boundary.  I didn’t get to interact with the limited kids across the street so much because they went to the other school district.

While some kids got socialization through sports teams or gymnastic classes, my parents were never the type who sought such things for me. With a chunk of land over three acres big and no built in sibling playmates, I was left to my own devices.

It should be no surprise to you that I was a big reader. books were something that an only child could devour. No other kids required like in a board game or sports related activities. Books took me to faraway places and new worlds, especially the fantasy and historical variety.  I honestly believe my childhood was proudly sponsored by Laura IngalL’s Wilder and C.S. Lewis. I often built amazing forts to accompany my epic adventures.

When classmates gave up pretend play for more junior high type interests, mine just evolved. I turned to writing, and the characters and adventures I had made up simply followed along with me.

They’re still with me today.


In Which Our Heroine Finds Cool Story Ideas

A few weeks ago, I noticed this article online and thought it was pretty interesting. Micro-unit apartments that vary between 250 and 370 square feet are being created in NYC. It may be the geek in me, but I promptly thought of sci-fi space stations or ships with their limited space.

If I was writing some sort of outer space story, I’d love to see a selection of these blueprints to wrap my mind how characters right live. Beds that fold up into the wall, storage built into the ceiling, convertible rooms. Those sorts of things would be perfect in those space stations or ships where space is of a very limited premium but you want people to have enough room to live. What do you think, cool idea for a story setting?

In Which Our Heroine Reflects on Crit Groups a Lot

Earlier last month, I sent my beloved Work in Progress through it’s first round of critiques. Since then, I’ve learned a lot about the critiquing process from my own experience and the thoughts of others. I have two groups of people who do my crits. Karen is my lovely dedicated critiquer. I will see all of her story and she sees all of mine. She is the one I will ask about the things I want to expand for my second draft. My other group, Mud Puddle, has a chapter exchange system that means the same people will not always read your chapters. The way I have things worked out, each of my chapters gets three sets of eyes looking at it.

First of all, I think you have to go in understanding that people really want to help you make your story better. Some of the things they point out will be harder to take than others. Some suggestions you will disagree with, some will make you wonder why you didn’t think of it first. Some of the hardest feedback you get will be what you need the most. I ultimately feel it’s good practice for having an editor go through you stuff, because they will be both an amazing supporter and the toughest judge. Or you know, getting your entire story rejected by an editor or agent. If you feel like you are in a group that isn’t trying to help but play the “I’m proving my story is better than yours” then you’re in the wrong group. Luckily, I don’t have that issue.

Another thing to keep in mind is what the other person needs you to look at. If they want a beta to look at plot and characters of a first draft, you will both go crazy if you do a line edit instead. I’ve also found that some writers are very sensitive to the language you use in comments. They want you to say “the story might benefit from this” instead of “I see you wrote this…” To them the use of “you” feels like a judgement on them while other writers feel that addressing the writer is building a relationship. Some want you to suggest grammar changes, others tell you to just put the comma where it should be but turn on track changes. If you have a preference, let your reader know up front!

Another thing to note, in a big enough group, writers may be at different points. I’m lucky enough to have published writers in my Mud Puddle group. I’ve also seen writers who are writing their first drafts of their first books. Others are in between. Everyone can contribute something. Even if you feel like another chapter is more advanced than yours, don’t let that intimidate you. Let the other reader know what you liked and why, keep an eye out for inconsistencies or things you want to know more about.

I hope this helps some of you out there!

In Which Our Heroine Discusses Fairy Tales

My BFF, the Tony to my Steve Rogers, the Holmes to my Watson, and the Kirk to my Spock made an interesting comment the other day about the concept of fairy tale stories and how people don’t really want a “fairy tale romance” in real life.

She made the comment that when most people say they want a fairy tale romance/wedding/life they mean the Disney version. You know, the handsome prince/hero and the lovely young lady who defeat evil and live happily ever after with a bunch of catchy songs that follow them on their journey. The Disney Princess line follows has followed the formula with a lot of success, but Disney didn’t event the fairy tale so much as they figured out how to make bank off of retelling them.

I mean, have you ever actually read a fairy tale? I’m talking the original brothers Grimm sort of thing where the penalty for not winning the princess’s hand was death (“12 Dancing Princesses”) and the step-sisters cut part of their feet off to try to shove that coveted glass slipper on their feet (“Cinderella”). Those stories are full of some pretty dark stuff. The Disney version was neatly adapted to a family friendly G version because no six-year-old girl wants to know how the original version of “The Little Mermaid” ended (although they have no qualms about killing off mothers as many of us have noticed). I’m really hoping that people don’t want all of that death and violence in their relationship, because otherwise, I’m going to be concerned. Like seriously.

So here’s to having relationships that aren’t fairy tales.

In Which Our Heroine Discusses Villains

January brought the return of one of my favorite guilty pleasures.

i speak of the updated version of Dallas of course. The show that created a phenomena last summer that I still describe as “John Ross feels.” i was thinking about how the show crafts it’s more villainous characters the other day, mostly because I had an upcoming class on writing villains. the one thing I already know going into the class is that villains should be complex as well as the hero of their own story. I’m trying to remember where i heard that phrase from, but it makes sense to me. Dallas really brings that out I think, especially with John Ross Ewing.

John Ross earns sympathy because his romantic life is pretty screwed up. He will always be second place to the girl he really wants. His childhood was a screwed up mess because let’s face it, being the son of the infamous J.R. does not lead to stability in anything non-financial. He will always try to please his father who has an agenda all of his own.

Of course he is a villain, and he’s willing to use black-mail, law breaking and all sorts of dirty tactics to get his way. But last season, when he was accused of splitting up his cousin’s relationship with Elena and framed for a murder he didn’t commit, you felt for him. Even as he’s plotting to take over the family property, you know he’s not all bad. When he screws up and looses Elena, you don’t blame her for leaving, but you kind of do feel for him. You don’t want him to destroy the more sympathetic characters, but you start to get why he’s so ticked off about the hand the universe dealt him. When he goes to the dark side and asks his daddy to teach him to do things the J.R. Ewing way, you’re kind of sad to see him give in. At the same time, he is so wickedly charming, good looking, clever and cheeky that you enjoy him as a villain and sometimes, you like seeing him get the victories that he does. John Ross is a scene stealer and with the passing of Larry Hagman and J.R. both, he’s going to be on deck in a big way.

Any villains out there that you love to hate or even love to love?

In Which Our Heroine Hates Some Advice

Somewhere on my reader, someone reposted a blog with what I felt to be some of the most dangerous writing advice ever. It came down to one line: burn your ships. This writer proposed that to be successful, you should pull an Alexander the Great, cut out any back-up plans you have because they are distracting and go be that writer. She used the example of her quitting her sales job and moving in with her mother as an example of the ship she needed to burn. I have issues with this advice for two big reasons reasons:

1) Quitting your job to be a writer does not mean you are automatically a writer who gets published. It means you are a writer with no incoming money. If you do get published, it can take time for that money to come to you. If you are self-publishing, there is still a risk. Putting a decent book out there often means spending money, which is a limited resource now that you quit your day job. Don’t forget the fact that you have no promises on how much you will make as a self-published writer.

Two pieces of better advice: understand how the publishing industry works and seek to improve your writing skills. I found out how the publishing industry works from a book at the library when I was 15 and at that age realized I needed a day job as a back-up. As for improving my writing, I practiced, a lot. I found books on the writing process and I joined a professional organization designed to grow writers. These are things more likely to help you get published.

2) Many of us are not in a position to just quit our job. My mortgage and my paychecks have a symbiotic relationship. My toddler is not going to be impressed at the daring actions of Alexander the Great if he doesn’t have a roof over his head and food on the table. Many of the writers I read have spouses or children who expect someone to be providing for the family. Besides, not every parent is going to be thrilled at having their adult child move back in an essentially become a dependent all over again.

Better advice: see what you can do to free up more time. Maybe your family can afford for you to work part time. Maybe you can afford hire someone to do the house cleaning for you. Everyday expenses won’t magically go away but you just might have room to work within them. Besides, if you quit your job and three years later decide you need to get one again because Mom won’t let you live with her anymore, telling the interviewer you quit your last job spent 3 years unemployed to be a writer may not go over well.

Generally speaking. I think writers should ask themselves if they’re learning enough about their craft and if they’re making consistent time to write. Many authors I like transitioned from day jobs to full-time writing. But quitting your job isn’t going to automatically make you a published writer, it will automatically cut your ability to pay for your living expenses though.

In Which Our Heroine Discusses Editing Versus Proofreading

One of the things that I hope this blog serves as is a writer’s journey to becoming published. I try to share what I’ve learned about publishing and writing in this corner of virtual space.

Right now, the first draft of my story is going to Beta readers. Beta readers check for things like plot and character. What works, what doesn’t, what might work better. Their job is not to correct my grammar and typos. A lot can change between a first and second draft. Pages or scenes can be cut, passages reworked. It’s not worth it to do the grammar and typo thing until you’re story and characters are where you need them. I’m getting good feedback and ideas from my betas. It is a time consuming process, however. Because my betas are other writers, I am doing a trade with them. I beta or proofread their stuff, and they beta my story in return. Ooo look, I used beta as a verb! How very Joss of me.

Proofreading is the part that always feels more mind numbing to me. This is the grammar, spelling, typo part of things. It can make you cross your eyes. It is important, I just think the story and character thing is more fun. But again, it is a trade I do with other writers which takes time. In the end, both should get you to a better manuscript though.