One topic you'll see me write about from time to time is my Craft on My Commute project, in which I read books about writing craft and productivity. You'll find my current list of completed books under the cut.
( Craft on My Commute Books )
1. Words written this week: 3,127. I wrote every day this week and met or exceeded my GYWO daily quota (411 words) five times, up from previous weeks. This week I wrote most of a shitty first draft, as Hemingway would say, longhand for a fic in a Gothic horror fandom. I find that it’s easier to plow through a story idea when I write on paper as opposed to on a computer, mostly because it’s materially more difficult to tinker or go backward. I know my next draft is going to need a lot of clean up, which is intimidating, but my hope is that I'll be able to give every section of my story a consistent amount of revisions and edits.
I decided this week that this writing goal needs some structure, too. I can mark this goal complete for the week if I read a Craft on My Commute book for at least four of my 10 commute trips per week.
- Character description: 7 ways to avoid weak imagery at the Now Novel blog
While I still need to built up faith that I'll find the stories I'm meant to write, I'm glad I found my way to LeGuin's succinct, elegant guidebook. The text clearly defines and provides examples of the tools writers use to explore and uncover their stories: word choice, sentence structure, point of view, verb tense, and narration. If you have a rough idea of these concepts, but want to make that knowledge more precise, this book is a great place to start. Her discussions of verb tense and different types of narrators were clear and simple, and revisiting them in this essential way refreshed my thinking about how to identify and use these narrative elements. She delivers her advice efficiently and with a lot of charm (even when being a bit of a curmudgeon), which made the time I spent reading and learning from her delightful.
If you are looking for writing exercises, the ones LeGuin includes in this book are great. She introduces each with a clear description of what idea the exercise is designed to teach or demonstrate and provides examples of how to alter the instructions so you can explore a different aspect of the lesson. The subjects of the exercises range from word choice and sentence structure to exploring narrative points of view to managing exposition and backstory. One thing I like about her exercises in particular is that you don’t need to apply them to a work in progress. LeGuin provides a few simple scene or story ideas to help you get the most out of the exercise and the accompanying lesson.
While reading this book, I realized that I may not have ever read one of LeGuin’s novels. (If I have, it's been decades.) Friends, if you are a LeGuin fan, which of her books would you recommend to a new reader?
2. Write in the Morning 4+ Days per Week: Achieved, mostly by moving my Craft on My Commute reading to my ride home. I realized that I should have some more specific rules for this item. So, to be able to check this box, I need to write for 20 minutes or more before noon.
3. Friday Morning Writer Date: Achieved. I also found a hotel in Maine for my late winter/early spring writing retreat so I now have a longer term treat to anticipate.
4. Write Two Original Stories: No progress this week (see #5).
5. Write to Prompts for Story Ideas: Achieved a little bit. I did one or two exercises from the LeGuin book but mostly focused on my fic (#1). I realized that I needed to reframe this exercise so it will be more useful.
( Thoughts and feelings about this under the cut )
6. Post Personal Fanfic: Some progress this week (see #1).
7. Craft on My Commute: I read most days this week and finished up Steering the Craft: A Twenty-First-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story by Ursula K. LeGuin. I also listened to part of Episode 234 of the DIY MFA Radio podcast, in whch the host interviewed David Corbett, author of The Art of Character. It was interesting to learn more about the interests and writing strategies of the author of one of the best (if intimidating) writing guides I’ve read. The podcast option continues to be helpful for this project because I carry a change of clothes and shoes to work during the winter (two on gym days) and sometimes it’s nice not to have to carry a book on top of everything else.
1. Words Written this Week: 2,288. This week I mostly wrote for prompts and did some "shadow story" (documentation of "off-screen" events) writing for a fic I'd like to post around Valentine's Day/International Fanworks Day. I achieved the GYWO daily word quota for my pledge level (411 words) two days this week. I'm feeling a bit behind on my word count but I did start my pledge in the middle of the month, so I'll be satisfied if I can hit half the January goal (6,370 words) by February 1.
2. Write in the Morning 4+ Days per Week: Achieved, just barely.
3. Friday Morning Writer Date: Achieved! Going forward, I am going to try to wake up earlier so I can make these sessions a little longer.
4. Write Two Original Stories: Some progress this week. I started writing for an idea that I'm not sure will crack the 1,000 word story threshold I've set, but I'm interested to see where the concept goes.
5. Write to Prompts for Story Ideas: Achieved! I wrote responses to several prose style exercises from my current Craft on My Commute book (see #7). I also kept doing the art postcard exercises, which have been fruitful for me thus far (and give me an excuse to buy more art postcards).
6. Post Personal Fanfic: Some progress this week (see #1).
7. Craft on My Commute: Achieved! I started a new book this week: Steering the Craft: A Twenty-First-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story by Ursula K. LeGuin. I also listened to Episode 236 of the DIY MFA Radio podcast on writing on a morning when reading proved difficult. It was pretty good; I'll try out a few more episodes to see if I'll want to keep listening on a regular basis.
Helpful articles and resources this week:
- #5onFri: Five Steps to Creating Characters of Color by Andrea J. Johnson at DIY MFA
- One Simple Tip To Improve Your Description by Robert Wood at the Standout Books blog
by disgruntled_owl for calliopes_pen
Fandoms: Dracula - Bram Stoker, Dracula & Related Fandoms
Relationship: Jonathan Harker/Brides of Dracula
Not Rated, No Archive Warnings Apply
Collection: Fandom Stocking 2018
Additional Tags: Jonathan Harker, Brides of Dracula, Vampires, Gothic, Blood Drinking, Vaginal Sex
Summary: Once Dracula leaves for London, his women lay claim to his castle and to the victim inside. Now fully in the Brides' clutches, Jonathan Harker must choose whether to resist or to surrender.
by disgruntled_owl for MiriamKenneath
Fandoms: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016), Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel - James Luceno, Star Wars - All Media Types
Relationship: Galen Erso/Orson Krennic
Not Rated, No Archive Warnings Apply
Collection: Fandom Stocking 2018
Additional Tags: Galen Erso, Orson Krennic, Missing Scene, Angst, Manual stimulation, Memories, Backstory, Betrayal, Hand Jobs, Intimacy, Tragic Romance, Minor Canonical Character(s)
Summary: Galen gives in to Orson's affections to keep him from discovering Bodhi Rook's flight to Jedha. But once he takes Orson in his arms, Galen succumbs to memories, desire, and a longing to change their fate.
Tricks for Self-Editing: This leader of this small-group seminar described an approach where writers use colors and symbols to mark up hard copies of their manuscripts. She suggested that writers color code their sentences (or in novels, paragraphs) to make sure each sentence or paragraph is helping to achieve one of two key story story elements: 1) developing character or 2) advancing the main plot. It should also achieve one of these other elements: 3) advancing the setting, 4) advancing a subplot, or 5) establishing an emotional theme. She also suggested putting boxes of various shapes around potentially problematic words or phrases: adverbs, filter words, uses of the progressive or past-perfect tense. These uses may not be problematic in specific situations, but the boxes can help identify when certain techniques are being overused. As a very visual person, I like this sort of thing.
Writing Outside of Comfort Zones: This was probably my favorite session from the whole conference. The moderator,Smith College professor Andrea Hairston, did a great job of setting the stage by describing the importance of narratives to individual identity, how the narrow American mythology leaves the stories of some groups out and commodifies the stories of others, and how caricatures and stereotypes can become so ingrained that it can be difficult to distinguish them from character. The other panelists shared their experiences being black, queer, legally-blind and with having ADD or non-visible physical disabilities, experiencing sexual assault, or being an "invisible bisexual" (I know a thing or two about the last one). This prompted a lot of useful questions for me to think about in terms of creating three-dimensional characters.
- ( (more here) )
2. Write in the Morning 4+ Days per Week: Achieved!
3. Friday Morning Writer Date: Achieved! My work week was trash and I was glad to have this practice as a something to anticipate and use to cheer myself up.
4. Write Two Original Stories: No progress this week.
5. Write to Prompts for Story Ideas: Achieved. I spent most of my morning writing time on the Fandom Stocking stories but I did do a few "postcard" exercises where I looked at some random art postcards from my collection and tried to come up with a story based on the images. I'm not sure I'd turn any of the specific results into longer stories, but I was intrigued by some of the themes that emerged.
6. Post Personal Fanfic: No progress this week.
7. Craft on My Commute: Achieved! I read for at least one leg of my commute each of my five workdays and finished James Scott Bell's Just Write: Creating Unforgettable Fiction and a Rewarding Writing Life. I'd recommend this one if you haven't read a craft book in a while and are looking for topics of interest; this one offers bite-size pieces of advice on subjects ranging from plot development to productivity to marketing, which may help you identify areas you'd like to focus on. I also bought a notebook to take notes on these craft books in longhand, which I hope will help me retain the information better.
My completed books include
- Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose (review here)
- The Art and Craft of the Short Story by Rick DeMarinis
- The Joy of Writing Sex by Elizabeth Benedict
- Pen on Fire by Barbara DeMarco-Barrett (review here)
- The Art of Subtext: Beyond Plot by Charles Baxter
- The Art of Character by David Corbett
- Writing 21st Century Fiction by Donald Maass (review here)
- Finishing School by Cary Tennis and Danelle Morton (review here)
- On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
Now that I've connected with some new folks via getyourwordsout and friending memes, I'd like to hear your suggestions for what to read next. What are some books you've read that have helped you become a better writer?
2. Write in the morning at least four days per week. I did this off and on in 2018, often for a half-hour or so by candlelight before the sun came up. I've missed a number of days lately because mornings are so dark and I so want to sleep. Yet when I pull it off I'm glad. Morning is probably my most productive time and most of it ends up going to my job, but when I can get the writing done I feel like I've made an investment in myself.
3. Continue my Friday morning "writer date" at a coffee shop before work. I started doing this in December and so far it's something I've found myself happily anticipating, even if I have to force myself out of bed to make sure I have enough time to make progress on my writing project before I shuffle into work.
4. Draft at least two original stories longer than 1,000 words.
5. Generate ideas for original fiction by regularly writing to prompts. I'm struggling to come up with original plots and characters, and right now this feels like a good way to push through that and make progress on Goal #4.
6. Post at least one fanfic longer than 500 words that's not for an exchange, fest, or specific recipient. I've got a lot of WIPs that not only focus on things I love about the source material but also reveal themes and ideas that resonate personally with me. I want to work harder to get those out there.
7. Continue the Craft on My Commute self-study project I started in 2018. I've gotten a lot out of the books I've read thus far, but I need better ways of retaining the information so I can access it when I'm trying to solve specific problems in my writing.
Friends, if you have writing goals, I'd love to hear about them!
Fascination (10,671 words)
Archive Warning: Graphic Depictions of Violence (vampire staking and references to decapitation)
Fandoms: Horror of Dracula (1958), Dracula & Related Fandoms
Relationship: Jonathan Harker & Van Helsing (Hammer)
Characters: Jonathan Harker, Van Helsing (Hammer), Arthur Holmwood, Lucy Holmwood, Mina Holmwood
Additional Tags: Minor Original Character(s), Bavaria, Vampires, Obsession, Vampire Hunters, hammer horror, Hammer films, 19th Century, Backstory, Vampire Staking, Minor Character Death, Vampire Decapitation, Pre-Canon, Friendship, Libraries
Summary: An elegant stranger arrives at the Karlstadt Municipal Archive, seeking the histories of Bavarian nobles for a mysterious purpose. Librarian Jonathan Harker aids the visitor in his research and becomes captivated by him and his secret mission. As sinister events begin happening in Karlstadt, Harker sinks deeper into his obsession until he learns the dark truths that will change his life forever.
( Notes and Thoughts )
These two writers did a great job exploring Farah's backstory and her connections with the other characters, whether hinting at her links to the Prince or forging a dark link between her and the treacherous Vizier. Also, they both structured their stories in interesting ways that echo the fluid way that time works in the games.
a tale of joy
Rating: Teen and Up Audiences
Characters: Farah (Prince of Persia), The Prince (Prince of Persia)
Relationship: Farah/The Prince (Prince of Persia)
Summary: Tell me a tale, father. Tell me a tale.
Rating: Teen and Up Audiences
Characters: Farah (Prince of Persia), The Prince (Prince of Persia), The Vizier (Prince of Persia)
Relationship: Farah/The Prince (Prince of Persia)
Additional Tags: Implied Relationships, Pre-Canon, Non-Linear Narrative, Stream of Consciousness
Summary: Farah has been haunted by dreams for as long as she can remember, the sense that there's something more. She can see it in the way the Vizier looks at her, the way he listens when she explains. The dreams though, the stories, they've changed in her memory, slipping away into something new.
Collection: Trick or Treat Exchange 2018
Rating: Teen and Up
Word Count: 1,388
Fandoms: Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008) - All Media TypesStar Wars - All Media Types
Tags: Grievous | Qymaen jai Sheelal, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Psychosexual Encounter, envy - Freeform, Nudity, Trick or Treat: Trick, Fight Scene, cyborg, Jedi
Summary: Obi-Wan is compromised during a stealth mission and wakes to find himself wounded, exposed, and in Grievous's clutches. As he tries to make his escape, the Jedi is forced to reckon with the creature within the machine.
- One of the blessings I've experienced writing for exchanges is that I have gotten better at empathizing with, or at least appreciating, characters that don't naturally attract my interest. Here's hoping these experiences are making me a better writer overall. At the outset, I struggled with what I was going to do with Grievous, but by the time I finished the story, I found him to be a lot more intriguing (and I found Obi-Wan a lot sexier, too). It helped to watch both Clone Wars TV shows, which put the horror villain Grievous in horror-type settings (as opposed to sunny jungle planets surrounded by giant lizards). He's actually at his most terrifying in Tartakovsky's cel-animated Clone Wars series, where he's this nigh-unstoppable murder machine.
- I've seen countless Force pushes and throws in Star Wars movies and TV shows, but writing about how the Force works and how Jedi use it turned out to be pretty hard.
- I debated whether I could define this as a slash relationship when I was tagging it. I wanted to include a sexual undercurrent, but it's probably one the characters only subconsciously realize. There's no actual sex, but a lot of weird touching. I'm still feeling my way towards where the slash boundary actually lies, and what tags might be false advertising.
First, a deliciously gloomy scene set prior to the events of Horror of Dracula, which reveals a dark moment in Van Helsing's past.
Fandom: Horror of Dracula (1958)
Tags: Abraham Van Helsing, Jonathan Harker, Count Dracula, Trick or Treat: Trick
Summary: Harker and Van Helsing meet one last time before the young man's ill-fated journey to Klausenburg, and the good doctor remembers an earlier brush with their adversary.
Next, a scene that explores the vulnerabilities, loyalties, and fortitude of Walter Dornez, my favorite character in one of my favorite Dracula-related fandoms.
Dereliction and Duty
Tags: Alucard & Walter Dornez, Minor or Background Relationship(s), Background Relationship: Alucard/Integra, Alucard (Hellsing), Walter Dornez, Offers to Turn, Temptation, Old Age, Discussion of death and aging
Summary: Walter's hand shakes. It’s a quick quiver, nothing major; the china teacup rattles on its saucer in an ominous warning, but not a drop is spilled.
And finally, a heartbreaking alternate ending for a a battle between friends set during the Clone Wars.
A Trick of the Light
Fandom: Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008) - All Media Types
Tags: Anakin Skywalker & Ahsoka Tano, Ashoka Tano, Anakin Skywalker | Darth Vader, Character Death Implied/Referenced Character Death, Dark, Lights, Alternate Universe - Canon Divergence, Alternate Universe, Angst, Ambiguous/Open Ending, Ambiguous endings, Gen Work Ratings: G, Bad Ending, Eldritch, Mortis (Star Wars), Episode Related, Episode Tag, Episode Remix, Friendship, Holding Hands, Horror, Trick or Treat: Trick, Trick or Treat: Chocolate Box, vices, Episode: s03e16 Altar of Mortis
Summary: His reactions are so often reckless.
In the first half, Tennis and Morton explain that "six emotional pitfalls" are what stand between writers and their work (as opposed to laziness or a lack of self-discipline):
- Doubt: I'm not capable of the work or not "good enough."
- Shame: I am ashamed of not finishing and too ashamed to finish.
- Yearning: The work has to be perfect to be worth doing, and if it is perfect, I will be perfect, too.
- Fear: Failure of any kind with respect to the work is too painful to risk.
- Judgment: I don't want people to discover my mediocrity, or to be angry with me about things I've written.
- Arrogance: I don't need anybody's help to get this done, or, my suffering around this work is "more exquisite" than what others experience.
The authors spend a lot of time on the nuances and manifestations of each emotional pitfall and provide examples from their own writing lives. They also explain how these emotions tend to travel in packs. It's tempting to skip ahead to the action-oriented parts of the Finishing School model, but true success depends on acknowledging and then working past these emotions. Each chapter in this first section concludes with descriptions of how to summon the will to keep going, or how to channel the power of that emotion into the work itself. These passages are longer and meatier than a pithy phrase, but I've found that walking with the authors through the logic of these strategies makes them easier to accept.
The second part of the book describes how the authors created and/or implemented local Finishing Schools to help fellow writers complete long unfinished projects. They formed small groups that met weekly and carried out a standard set of deceptively simple tasks:
- Physically block out on a calendar when they were going to write each week, and set goals for that writing time. Show that plan to a buddy. This type of planning typically happens at in-person Finishing School meetings.
- Contact (typically by text) your buddy when you start and finish your writing periods, and when you need encouragement to keep going.
- Report to your buddy and/or your group about what you've accomplished and whether you've met your goals.
- Lather, rinse, repeat, until the project is done.
The authors outline a series of principles to support this framework. The writing groups don't show each other what they've written or ask for craft-oriented help because Finishing Schools aren't critique groups. They're solely about getting the work finished, which puts everybody on the same playing field regardless of their project type, genre, professional experience, or talent. They provide a therapeutic outlet for writers who are struggling, but they are more about listening than about providing specific solutions to problems. The group also provides a place to celebrate successes--Tennis and Morton describe an amusing ritual of members dropping print copies of their finished work on the ground so they can hear the satisfying thuds. They add in other suggestions for finishing well, including creating a "detailed scenario of doneness" and writing a declaration that you deem the work done (and won't monkey with it anymore).
Online fandom seems to be pretty good about creating similar supportive communities for fanfic writers, which leverage social media so we can support each other. That said, I can see how the in-person nature of Finishing School would do more to encourage me. I find it easier to be accountable to a small group of people, especially those that I know and/or will physically see, than a broader online community. The one-to-one intimacy of texting a buddy has and likely would continue to help me power through inertia. I don't think I can handle creating a formal Finishing School in the near future, but I intend to implement a few of these tactile ideas in my writing life.
- What did the Baroness and Greta do when they first realize the Baron has become a vampire (if they did not call for a priest or a doctor)? How did they learn that his affliction is vampirism, and not something else? How does she trap him with the silver chain in his wing of the castle?
- Tell me about a time when the Baroness successfully ensnared a woman or man for the Baron’s consumption. How does she find the victim, and how do both she and the Baron lure the victim in? You could show this ritual happening for the first time. What internal conflicts and fears does the Baroness overcome as she commits to keeping her son alive, even if it means that others will die?
- Dig deeper into the fraught relationship between the Baroness and her vampire son. Show me a scene between the two of them. This could be just after she traps him in his wing of the castle, after she brings him his first victim, or just before he turns her into a vampire and escapes.
- What becomes of Gina and the village girl, now vampires without a master? Does Van Helsing pursue them?
- What happens to Marianne? She begins the movie as a plucky but naive character. How does she change and what does she decide to do with her life in the aftermath of her encounter with the Baron?
I love this version of Dracula. Christopher Lee's portrayal of the Count is at once terrifying and sensual, grand and feral. Peter Cushing is his match as the clever, noble, indefatigable Van Helsing. The screenplay puts some interesting twists on the original Dracula story, such as Harker going on a stealth mission to infiltrate Dracula's lair instead of just selling him real estate. I’ve listed both Dracula and Van Helsing as requested characters, but I would be happy with a story focused on one or the other, or involving some of the other characters. Some story possibilities:
- Van Helsing hunting Dracula once before and failing, almost meeting his doom.
- Van Helsing recruiting Harker to hunt vampires. Is Harker Van Helsing’s first apprentice, or has he had others (and did those precedecessors meet similar grisly fates)? Why does Harker decide to help him, especially given he’s about to settle down with Lucy?
- Dracula claiming and initiating his bride. What was their relationship like before Harker’s arrival at Castle Dracula?
I only play about 8 video games, and three of them are the Sands of Time, Warrior Within, and The Two Thrones from the Prince of Persia series. I love the slow-burn romance between Farah and the Prince that begins in Sands of Time and continues in the Two Thrones. That said, if you'd prefer to write about only one of the two, or to bring in other characters (the Dark Prince, the Vizier, Kaileena, etc.), please do. Some ideas:
- What kind of life does Farah lead between the events of the Sands of Time and when she encounters the Prince in Babylon?
- As she grows up, does Farah suspect the Vizier, her father's adviser, of something treacherous? (I'd be open to a Farah/Vizier ship).
- Is there more of the Kakolookiyam world that the Prince and Farah can explore together? What other lore does Farah know about the world and what do they discover?
- An extended, intimate scene between Farah and the Prince, either alone in the beautiful ruins of Azad or in Babylon, would be delightful.
Dracula- Bram Stoker
- Exploring Dracula’s dark deeds as a vampire before the events of Dracula
- Exploring Van Helsing’s past pursuit of Dracula, or the dark/unsavory things he might have done in his quest to rid the world of Dracula
- Stories about Dracula acquiring his Brides; about the Brides encountering Renfield or Harker; or about them taking over the castle once Dracula leaves for London
- Renfield’s experiences in Castle Dracula before the story begins
Hellboy - All Media Types
- Van Helsing hunting Dracula once before and failing, almost meeting his doom
- Van Helsing bringing Harker into his cabal of vampire hunters
Logan Lucky really distinguishes itself from Ocean's 11 in the heart it shows, particularly in the second act. Jimmy races from the raceway robbery to see Sadie perform at a pageant. When she unexpectedly sings "Take Me Home, Country Roads," his favorite song, he seems to have a crisis of conscience about all that he's stolen, which is something the audience never sees the Ocean's cast contend with. The next day, the news reports show a truck with a flatbed full of money abandoned at a convenience store, presumed from the raceway robbery, earning the heist the moniker "Oceans 7-11." The bonds between Jimmy and his siblings—who have been fiercely protective of one another through the whole film—threaten to unravel at this betrayal. This new challenge gives the film its staying power, and makes the dénouement that much sweeter. The film ends with a bit of open-ended tension, which creates opportunities for a sequel. I have mixed feelings about that possibility; while it would be fun to spend more time with the Logans, I would hate to see these characters and their world become a gimmick.