Category Archives: Steampunk

Back to the Drawing Board!

This weekend I spent hours and hours reading for my thesis. I stumbled upon this book called “A Writer Teaches Writing” by Donald M Murray which made me really think about my writing process for my book but also for other stories. He breaks the process down as COLLECT PLAN DRAFT. The thing is, for his process, it’s not linear. It’s not just collect, plan, draft, DONE! It’s a revolving cycle until the final draft–meaning revision is just a rehash of the process. He refers to editing basically how I referred to correcting.

What does this mean? I’m re-thinking the Abassi Expedition. I’ve collected, planned, and drafted and now as I look at it–it doesn’t feel right. Something, mostly a fire, is missing from it for me. I think that I need some more collect, another plan, and another draft.

So, I’m probably going to collect my thoughts–break the draft down into the issues that I’m having, which for me, is primarily Alice and William at the end of the book. Morris grew into the most perfect character for me, save for maybe one or two scenes that feel forced. But Alice and William? They were planned before they were collected. So I’m back on the collect. I really want to better understand who they are, their backgrounds, how they’ll act as life comes at them. I had planned to be done with the Abassi Expedition by fall but honestly, I don’t know if that will happen.

After I collect, I’ll plan… I have legitimate scenarios for Alice and William to experience but I don’t think I have the right responses and actions on their part. So I might re-plan the rising and falling action. I like the climax, I like the end.

Then I’ll draft and when I do, I might use some old scenes but I also plan to use some techniques in that book like writing my lead over and over again in the different options (direct statement, anecdote, quotation  news, informing detail, dialogue, surprise, description, mood, face, scene, first person, third person, tension, problem, process, voice, second person, rhetorical question, background, introduction) with a focus on honesty, simplicity, immediacy, information, and voice.

I think it’s time for me to accept and be okay that my first draft is a discovery draft and it helped me to discover what I need to know, what I need to explore, what was left out. I have that draft off to my good friend Sabrina right now, so we’ll see what she says.

Another thing I’d like to do is to answer all the questions Murray gives that are more directed for non-fictional writing but still carry meaning to me:

  1. Do I have enough specific, accurate information to build a piece of writing that will satisfy the reader?
  2. Do I see an order in the material that will deliver information to the readers when they need it?
  3. DO I hear a voice that is strong enough to speak directly to the reader?
  4. What do I know about my story?
  5. What do I need to know?
  6. Do I need to expand or narrow my scope?
  7. Will my reader’s questions get answered?

Murray also gives some great ideas about keeping the writing going such as setting a quota and keeping score, writing in parts instead of focusing on the whole, don’t stop to look at notes.

Before I start any of that, I need to figure out what is working well in my draft. My prose is good, concise, to the point, active, but my characters aren’t working for me the way they should. They’re not in the story enough. This plot is driven by the characters and the story needs to reflect that.

To really assess my work, I need to read it thrice (YES THRICE!) for content, structure, and language. Lately, I’ve been reading, instead, for language. That’s just not working for me. Because I can fix the prose but if the content isn’t right, that means nothing!

SO, now where am I? Well, I’m mired in the collect for my thesis. So the Abassi Expedition will have to wait a few months (hopefully just until March) before I can really delve into it’s collect. But I have a few books that I’ve recommended but never *fully* read, I’m going to link them AGAIN and finally read them this time! Cover to cover!

  1. Make a Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time by Jordan E. Rosenfeld
  2. Word Hero: A Fiendishly Clever Guide to Crafting the Lines that Get Laughs, Go Viral, and Live Forever by Jay Heinrichs
  3. Plot Versus Character: A Balanced Approach to Writing Great Fiction by Jeff Gerke
  4. How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy by Orson Scott Card
  5. New to my list: On Writing by Stephen King
  6. New to my list: 20 Master Plots: And How to Build Them by Ronald B. Tobias

If I can work these into my thesis, I may, but until then, I’m stuck reading books and articles about writers teaching writing (if you know any, pass them on!).

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Peep Show of The Abassi Expedition

Sabrina passed the Peep Show Challenge along to me and so here it is:

The Peep Show rules are, go to the 77th page of your WIP, count down 7 lines, write the next 7.

I promise, despite the fact that it only looks like 6 lines, it was 7 on my manuscript!

“She must be killed.” His handler downed a glass of scotch. “Your punishment isn’t over,” he added with another puff from his pipe. He nodded and men grabbed Morris from behind. They pulled him from the hook and he sighed at the relief on his muscles before they threw him to the ground in front of a trough of water.

They thrust Morris’s head in and out of the water, never drowning him but never giving him enough time to breathe before shoving him back in.

I’m going to pass this along to… AK, Jason, and Nat Russo! I can’t wait to see some of their MSs

Publishing, some other stuff, and a Poem!

I lied. I said I’d share my work this month but then my friend Sabrina started talking to me about helping her get published. SO I did some searching on query letters and then I thought, well where will I submit to and blah blah blah.

So here’s the thing: the best way to get published is to get published first (I know, I know) and win prizes.

I am submitting to OWFI’s annual contest this year. I also found this great site: http://writersweekly.com/this_weeks_article/004256_09122007.html. Maybe, if I win some sort of prize I can fund a drinking binge submission to paid contests.

I’m also going to try to write a short story and some poems for publication. While I do that, I’ll finish my novel. THEN I’ll start querying agents. Hopefully, I make some progress. I’m looking forward to making a lot of progress on it this year.

But the thing is, I have to start writing shorts and poems in speculative fiction, which I almost completely do not do. I have some “I love science fiction” or “I’m a book nerd” poems but nothing… really in the genre.

I do however, have this blog and the 50 followers whom I dearly love. Thanks guys, you’re the best.

I also recently got reblogged! I know, super cool, right? Check it out: SingleInACollegeTown.

Also, I ordered a treadmill that will be here Friday which means that all my reading/tv time will ALSO be exercise time. This, to me, is the lazy way to exercise. But hey, it’s good for the brain and energy and living forever.

I dredged up this painting I made and a poem:

 

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Where Crimson, Blue, Green, Yellow, and Lilac Come Together

The sky is a clear white, as if the oxygen forgot
its favorite blue and left naked this morning.
Crimson, lilac, blue, and green grow
as living things in places they don’t belong
while my yellow hangs not as a ball in the sky
but as rays shaking around me.

Life laps, touches down and picks up again.
Lilac, soft, sweet tweeting.
Blue, leaves and paper and paper rustling.
Yellow, a lively violin playing.
Crimson, a soft, steady heartbeat.
Green, steady humming.

My yellow is aglow, the touch
of spring after a long winter.
Blue is the splash of salty water on lips.
Green is the caress of grass.
Lilac is calm in a storm.
Crimson the blush on cheeks.

On Revision: Eliminating Passive Verbs

I like to revise. I really like it. I love to help people revise too. I am also for hire should you want me to help you out. If you don’t want to pay me (why not?), there are lots of little things YOU can do to make your own WIP stronger.

First, you can check out a few blog posts that I’ve published that are really helpful:

Reblog Wednesday: The Fantasy Novelist’s Exam – This is great for speculative fiction writers to work on making sure their content isn’t rife with cliche.

Revision and Critique Group Tips – This is pretty self-explanatory! 🙂

An Exercise in Detail – This is great for practicing slowing down your writing to gather details.

Wordle and Poetry – This is a post about writing exercises and ideas to help you develop your writing.

One of my obsessions thanks to a grammar class in college is passive verbs. Passive verbs slow down your writing and steal the heat away from your prose. However, passive verbs, if you’re not familiar with them, hide from you and eliminating them can be difficult.

So first, pick a color of pen or highlighter and go through and circle/highlight every instance of: are, is, was, were, had, have, will, could, would. I also think looked, turned, watched, started, heard, gave, hoped, smelled, and thought should be eliminated as much as possible. They’re overused, blah words. Also, if you work to eliminate them, your work will be stronger.

Now, you have a wall of red… what next? Figure out how you can eliminate them. Here are some examples of ways I’ve eliminated some:

“he started to reel his line in” changes to “he reeled his line in” – simple enough

“there were apprentices running in between delivery carts” changes to “apprentices ran between delivery carts” – again, still simple because a great action verb stands ready

When you use passive verbs in situations like, “It was cold.” Cold is an adjective. So, either use it that way or use a metaphor… “it froze his fingers” or “it froze.” Or from “the car was red” to simply “the red car.” This is not to say, just add adjectives, because adjectives are lazy ways to add description, but once in a while, it’s okay. Be careful doing it. Sometimes, you have to rearrange the whole sentence or paragraph to eliminate your passive verb so don’t be afraid to look past the period for help.

For rearranging, try something like “Alice was used to Xui’s primping so she waited…” to “Alice, used to Xui’s primping, waited…”

Try this active verb exercise from Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones: Make a list of ten nouns. Pick a profession and find 15 verbs associated with that profession. Now match them up and make some sentences. She has sentences like “Dinosaurs marinate in the earth.” “The fiddles boiled the air with their music.”

Use -ing/-ed verb phrases to add detail (Running through the store, Mary slipped and fell.)

Use metaphor effectively (that takes practice) and not fall back on cliches or simile. “She laughed like a hyena” is both cliche and a simile. Using a metaphor effectively means using those verbs to do more than be literal: The buildings of the colony drew a jagged line across the sky. The buildings didn’t really draw anything, but that’s better than “The buildings were all different sizes.” And thoughtful practice: knowingly work on your passive verbs. The more you do, the easier it is.

I’ve found some really great sites about how to work on your passive verbs, so please check them out and please give me YOUR tips if you have any!

Let’s Have Fun Writing | Spike Those Verbs

Active and Passive Verbs

Passive and Active Voice

Active and Passive Voice

Updates on The Abassi Expedition

I haven’t shared a lot lately about my WIP so I thought I’d spend today giving an update.

First, I finished my first draft in the middle of December!

To celebrate… I printed out the first five chapters and started my revisions…

My first big change came in the form of developing two satellite characters (the parents of MC Alice Hadley). I read through the prologue searching out passive verbs (ick!) and -ly words (boo!). Afterwards, I thought, “These two characters who are are essential to the plot really need to be fattened up!” So I developed their physical image, their motivation in the prologue, their mannerisms. Then I got to work. I re-wrote the prologue which can found on my WIP Page. I’m very pleased with the change.

With chapter one, it’s really the first introduction to New London so I wanted to do something really important with it. I took some inspiration from Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” and used the social structure of New London to tell its story… I’m also very pleased with it:

The buildings of the colony drew a jagged line across the sky as wide swaths of sunlight illuminated the fresh paint, perfectly lain bricks, and smooth trim. Parliament lay in the center of the colony with its clock tower rising high into the sky, a beacon of order and direction visible from everywhere in the colony. The ministers, lords, and ladies all woke to their staff ushering them to new committees and meetings while workers diffused through the city collecting garbage, fixing cobbles, repairing buildings. Down the streets, apprentices lumbered into the light while their master’s still slept. The farmers were already on their way towards the fields that blew and shifted in the wind, ready to welcome the warm sunlight. The slums, hidden by the rest of the city, slept into the day.

To create that, though, I had to figure out the social structure and the layout of the city. This is the best I’ve got because designing cities is nigh impossible:

I do not have any colored pencils so it’s not colored but basically the top part is a lake with two rivers that descend through the colony. The hexagon shape is the barrier that keeps the colony safe from the wildlife of Kepler and filters the air so that the humans can survive on this alien planet.

My biggest goals with this revision are: eliminating passive verbs, catching POV violations, trying to get everything into place. I’m trying to rush (I’m not doing a good job of it though) so I can finish with a second draft by January. The big thing is to get it readable for beta-readers because the writing process means that some things that you wrote in the beginning don’t match up with what developed towards the end. Writing in itself is discovery so the whole thing needs to be molded for the best story. So far, I’m doing really well and happy with my updates.

Today, I wanted to work on chapter six but got derailed trying to figure out the military that two MCs and one satellite character is in. William is a captain, his father is the Lord General, and Morris is a Lieutenant. I wanted to know how big their army should be for the 400k population of New London (I put it at 20k) and what that meant for the structure. I also developed the enlisted and officer structure. The most fun part, however are the drawings I made for their uniforms and rank insignia:

On the far left is the universal combat uniform. You can see I have a little triangle on the left sleeve, that’s a lazy person’s drawing of the star in the center of the shoulder strap in the center. The right sleeve has the slashes for ranking. The officer’s uniforms have shoulder straps with insignia, while the enlisted uniforms do not.

On the right is the dress uniform which is the one that William most prefers (while Morris prefers the left uniform). I’m not done with it. I think the shoes should be shinier, have spats, etc. But for the most part it has the same shoulder strap in the center, is worn maybe with the flight cap on the right (the triangle one). Anytime you see a weird squiggly half-star, that’s my way of saying “some sort of insignia should be here.” But on the hats, I’m worried it might not work.

The center image is the shoulder strap. The circle at the top is meant to be a silver button that is a relief of the planet of Kepler (known to us real life people as Kepler 22b). The insignia of the sun is meant to be a star. I wanted the choices of insignia to reflect the new planet, not the old. This is really one of the first places that I’ve gone with the sci-fi thing which feels great! Because The Abassi Expedition is steampunk, I’ve tried to stick with mostly Victorian style, so I played with the insignia a lot. The other two symbols I used are a symbol of the parthenon for the governent and a scythe over a rapier.

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Okay, that’s the last of my crappy drawings I’m going to submit you too. I hope that your eyes aren’t bleeding!

If you have any suggestions for city-planning, revision, uniform design, etc. Please let me know!

Also, if you follow me on Twitter, @MelanieSokol, you can get more frequent updates!

5 Abandoned Books – Book Round-Up

Last year (2011), I decided to stop trying to force myself to finish books I really didn’t like. With the advent of the internet, my desire to figure out how things ended is quite easy to appease. Now, to abandon a book (not just set it down for a later time), a book has to be just really… bad. And that almost always applies to the writing. It’s not usually the story that I can’t stand, it’s almost always the writing. So let’s get to it and I’ll give you some details as to what I mean.

Daughter of the Blood

Links: Author Page, Amazon, Goodreads.com, Barnes & Noble

I downloaded this book because I like epic fantasy and vampires. It was supposed to be pleasure reading. It was not.

Bishop seemed over-worried about people thinking her fantasy world was detailed enough which led to her characters CONSTANTLY talking about the world and it’s design so much so that I was confused (cliche names were flying everywhere attached to random colors). It’s like a draft of a manuscript in which the writing shows some clear attempt at revision (syntax was phenomenal) but lacks the development of the action of the scenes to properly tell the story.

Ignoring the confusion, the characters felt like cliche cardboard cutouts whom I developed absolutely no interest in. Good premise, horrible follow through.

I know quite a few people like this book and the rest of Bishops work but calling this high or epic fantasy is a joke. It’s horrible and horribly written.

City of Bones

Links: Author Page, Amazon, Goodreads.com, Barnes & Noble

I started City of Bones because of the hype and hey the cover is neat looking. Also, it was listed as having steampunk elements somehwere (that was a lie). Okay… let’s get to business. I thought Clare was about… 14 based on the writing of this. From my understanding it started as a Draco/Ginny fanfic. NOW I wrote Draco/Ginny fanfics when Iw was fourteen, and upon returning to those (I’m linking this but I think it’s a bad idea: HP fanfics for my intense embarassment [it’s the 2nd story]), I can verify they are better written. I’m not saying little 14 year old me deserves to be published, she doesn’t, and neither does Clare. I’m sorry for all the people that love her books, they’re crap. She attempts to add detail by adding adjectives, horrible ones at that, and it’s just… torture. I have nothing else to say other than–no. Just no.

Aaron and Keja

Links: Author Page, Amazon, Goodreads.com, Barnes & Noble

No.

This book was so bad it made me angry enough to post a really nasty Goodreads review. Just move on.

Dark Prince

Links: Author Page, Amazon, Goodreads.com, Barnes & Noble

Sometimes, my friend Sabrina has really great book recommendations (Mistborn Trilogy), and sometimes she doesn’t. This is a time she didn’t. I tried to read this but… my opinion of this serious is so black it’s raven like the hair of the MC, RAVEN. Yep. Moving on, Sabrina said that Feehan created a really cool fantasy world in which vampires start out as good (Carpathians) but loneliness drives them to become animals. I agree with Sabrina, this is a really interesting idea. The writing, however, and characters were so bad that I just couldn’t keep going. If you don’t mind bad writing, check it out.

Maximum Ride

Links: Author Page, Amazon, Goodreads.com, Barnes & Noble

I don’t know much about James Patterson, but after reading a few chapters of this book–I actively don’t want to know any more. The idea behind Maximum Ride is similar to one I have toyed with–genetically altered kids. This group are all bird children with gimmicky comic book nicknames and the narrator–annoying.  I think this guy Joe got it right on the money with his review:

The stilted narration, provided by the “edgy” Maximum Ride, perhaps one of the most grating heroines in YA literature, is weakened by attempts to provide three-dimensionality to her character through her thoughtful analyses of those around her. Unfortunately, Patterson’s creativity as a writer is strictly limited to half-baked and poorly described battle sequences, so Ride’s introspection is relegated to heinous platitudes like, “It was like I had just lost my baby sister. And like I had lost my little girl” (p.25). (Guess what, Sister Girl… you did.)

The premise was fine but Patterson tanked it with this crappy, crappy story about a group of kids I couldn’t care less about.

I get a little meaner about books I don’t like than books that I do. I’m sure some of you have read these books and love them, that’s cool. There’s a reason why we’re different people! 🙂

See you Wednesday with a great reblog!

4 Stand-Alone Novels – Book Round-Up

Last week, I was feeling a bit under the weather so I kind of just chilled. It was nice but I’m sorry for breaking my schedule. I’m back however with my Stand-Alone novel reviews.

I want to point out that a few of these novels are part of a larger/longer series so they’re not stand-alone in the truest sense of the word. They’re stand-alone in that I only read one book of the series and I’ll go into why I didn’t finish the series during the reviews.

Howl’s Moving Castle

Links: Author Page, Amazon, Goodreads.com, Barnes & Noble

I decided to read Howl’s Moving Castle because I really enjoyed Studio Ghibli’s cartoon film of the same name. The film addes to the storyline of Jones’s original story and while I really enjoyed it, I found it had some really interesting but not fully explained plot points. Jones executed a better plot line–better flow and no gaping plot holes like that of the film.

Another thing I loved about Howl’s Moving Castle is that it was a quick read. It’s really nice to devour a book within a few hours instead of a few days.

Howl’s Moving Castle is part of a series, but from my understanding, the subsequent books do not feature the same characters only the same world of magic. I didn’t continue on with the series because I wanted to know more about Howl and Sophie not the world.

I’d recommend everyone to check out the whimsical world Jones created, it’s a fun read.

Haroun and the Sea of Stories

Links: Author Page, Amazon, Goodreads.com, Barnes & Noble

I absolutely, positively love Salman Rushdie. He’s a prolific author, penning really famous works such as The Satanic Verses and Midnight’s Children. I haven’t read The Satanic Verses yet but I am familiar and in love with Midnight’s Children. The thing with MC is that it’s really, really difficult to get through. I read it as a 20 year old undergrad student and after every chapter I had to write down what happened to keep track and each chapter was a 1-2 hour endeavor. It was literally the hardest fiction book I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading, but it was so, so enjoyable.

So, what does that have to do with Haroun and the Sea of Stories? Well, Haroun is Rushdie’s children’s story that is accessible to all. It’s a great story about Haroun helping to defeat a fantastic evil that threatens to ruin all stories and to save his father from never being able to tell stories again. It’s a fantasy story that plays on the themes of heritage that Rushdie is a master at. This is an impeccably written, one novel story; Rushdie’s Harry Potter of sorts.

There is another Children’s story that Rushdie wrote, similar to Haroun, called Luka and the Fire of Life. Both stand alone and I currently have Luka on my to-read list. I strongly urge you to check out any of Rushdie’s work. He’s an amazing man that has put his life on the line to share his thoughts and the history of his people.

The Princess Bride

Links: Author Page, Amazon, Goodreads.com, Barnes & Noble

The Princess Bride was actually the first book I read this year and it was a fun, quick read that inspired the cult classic film by the same name. I think we call all spend a bit of time discussing our favorite lines: “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” and of course “As you wish.” (Please feel free to share your favorite if I missed it).

Anywho, movie talk aside, the book was interesting–things were different but much along the same lines as the film mostly because Golding also worked on the screenplay. It was an interesting read and I’d recommend it but not overly strongly. I would, however, say that the film is a must see for all people. Ever.

Ascension Point

Links: Author Page, Amazon, Goodreads.com, Barnes & Noble

I did a full length review of this novel in November: Book Review: Dan Harris’s “Ascension Point.” However, because Harris is a new, independent author, I thought I’d give him one more plug.

Ascension Point is a great piece of sci-fi that I’ve found myself craving because of his novel. I actually decided to seek out more sci-fi because of Ascension Point. It’s a first novel and so it’s not pristine like the work of Rushdie but it’s an amazing first novel and a great read. If you love or even like sci-fi, check it out.

 

Check back Wednesday for my take on four “classics.”