Monday, October 31, 2011

National Novel Writing Month

October 31st. I know what everyone else is writing about: costumes and candy and pumpkins and witches. It's a day of skeletons, of harvest time, of black and orange. It's a day of worshiping Celtic deities and appeasing potentially malevolent ancestors. What day is that? All Hallows Eve, of course, or Hallowe'en.

But that's what everyone else is writing about. Boring. Not to mention a bit creepy, once you start studying the ancient and pagan rites that surround it... so I'm going to tell you about another event that occurs on this day. Tonight, at midnight, all over the world, writers everywhere are going to pick up a pen, or touch fingers to keypads and start typing on one of the most popular challenges anywhere: Nanowrimo.

Ah, the marvelous magical madness of mayhem that begins on the first of November and continues until the end of that fair month. This is my third year, and I like to think I know the process fairly well. This then is your grand tour to that mystical place called Nanoland.

First you need to meet the important people behind this madness. First and foremost is Chris Baty, the insane writer who founded the program, and this year stepped down to pursue his dream of becoming a published author. He is known for wearing a viking hat, for running, and for making hilarious videos to inspire others to write at a pace as insane as his own. He's the author of "No plot? No problem!" the handbook for wrimos and "Nanoland Chronicles; Bedtime stories for Wrimos."

I hear your pleas for mercy. "Slow down," you say. "What's a wrimo?"

National Novel Writing Month abbreviates as NaNoWriMo. Now forget what those words stand for, because only the abbreviated version is important. Nanoland is the place where novels are written. Nanowrimos are the people who write them in Nanoland. Wrimo is an affectionate abbreviation for those people.

Next in the line up of Important People is Lindsey Grant. She is the voice of reason behind the throne of genius, or in this case, the voice of insanity behind the throne of Chris Baty. (Really, I don't know what Nanoland will be without Chris Baty. It's like Holy Worlds without Jay Lauser, or Apple without Steve Jobs. It kind of defies the imagination...)

And the third person you absolutely must recognize is Dragonchilde, also known as Heather Dudley. Dragonchilde is the head moderator of Nanoland, the sort of Marshall or Enforcer. She posts the rules, she notifies you of infractions. She's everywhere at once, a veritable whirlwind of moderating. She makes it her goal to read every single post on the forum, although she confessed that eventually that becomes impossible. All hail the moderators!

Continuing on our grand tour! Like with most writers wrimos are skilled at the art of procrastination. Rulers of Nanoland recognized this fact and, rather than squash it, they chose to foster it. There are many ways of procrastinating.

1. The Procrastination Station. This is the lower right tile found on the Dashboard, which is the Nanowrimo homepage. Every day it is updated with new links to suck your time such as "How many gallons of ketchup it takes to flood a cave" and "How many cubic feet of jello would fill the White House?"

2. NanoVideo. Every day last year a new video was posted by the staff at Nanowrimo, ranging from the pointlessly hilarious, to plot dares, to effective word boosting tips.

3. Nanotoons. Some made cartoons about wrimos!!!

4. Games and Diversions. "If there's one thing more exciting than working on your novel in November, it's not working on your novel in November!" Thus proclaims the description of this forum, who's sole existence is the playing of word games such as: Convince Cleverbot to join Nanowrimo, Last Post, and The Abbreviation Game.

However, November isn't all about fun and games. It's about writing, seriously writing. And sometimes you need to talk about that writing. The forums are equipped with rooms for every type of conversation imaginable, from age grouping to occupation, to genre. But if you're really stuck then you venture into the world of Nano Tips and Strategies. Here is the Adoption Society, where you can hunt down a sidekick for your MC, or an annoying sibling for your villain. Or you can adopt a setting for that gruesome murder, or a food to eat at your MC's favorite restaurant. Or check out the Reference Desk for help on the distance between Alaska and New Hampshire, a believable speed for knitting a carpet large enough to carry an army, or the amount of hot chocolate packages you would need to fill a bathtub. Get help on how to reach those 50,000 words with tips, tricks, and just plain cheating, or go over to plot doctoring and find away around that persnickety wall that has reared itself in your path.

NanoLand is a kingdom with a culture all of it's own. Obsessive Word Counting is one aspect of the world, but there are others as well. I'd like to introduce you straight off to some favorite elements.

1. Word wars! I love word wars. It's such a pity that they tend to go out of season after November. No better way to boost your word count and feel competitive at the same time. Best done with people you know, preferably people you can chat with.

2. The Traveling Shovel of Death. Death by Shovel. How does that work? Well, if you're really stuck, maybe the TSoD will find it's way into your novel. It can be sneaky, sometime's it's a murder weapon, sometimes it's just a means of tripping the unfortunate character.

3. Plot Bunnies! Plot bunnies are the makers of Rabbit Trails. Very similar to Idea Fish they hop about wreaking havoc with your plot, taking your novel in directions you never intended it to go. One method of dealing with plot bunnies is to drop them off at the Adoption Society, or leave them at the bunny daycare center.

4. The Knights of Nanowrimo. For years these friends have ridden together, courageously battling through the Plains of Writer's Block and the Forest of Procrastination, being stopped by Rabbit Warren, or the Gloom of Real Life Duties. Mounted on brave steeds and armed with sharp weapons they press onward, always onward, fighting their way to the kingdom of 50,000. Melodrama is ours, banners waving high in the air proclaiming our quest, and never mind the laughter of those upon the site of our awkward appearance and progress. Join us in epic speechifying as we get our wandering quest underway!

Those are the highlights of Nanowrimo as I have experienced it for the past two years. To explain it all would take a book the size of a Nanoer's novel, and I do not wish to bore you anymore. You must proceed to the site and see for yourself other wonders such as Shoutouts, and Donation Halos. No where else will you find such freedom to be a writer, to write with abandon, to care for nothing but that final word count. Whether you actually turn out anything useful can be arbitrary, if you have truly joined into the wonderful group effort of writing a novel in November.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Parallel Episodes: Turn off your blue tooth!

Turn off your bluetooth! It may be manipulating you. 

 Stargate: Revisions
SG-1 visits a planet that is uninhabitable except for a small bubble of life. During their stay they notice the bubble shrinking, but the inhabitants have no memory of it being any larger after each shrink. To make matters more suspicious they refuse to remove their ear pieces that tie them into the central network.

Doctor Who: Rise of the Cybermen

Beware of using the same EarBud your neighbor does, they might be connected to a secret network that can control your mind. John Lumic was a brilliant, if a bit off-kilter inventor of cybernetics, including the popular EarBuds used by nearly everyone to directly access a central network. Unfortunately, when Lumic decides that the world would be better of safely encased inside emotionless metal frames he is able to use this network to force everyone with access to comply.

Doctor Who: Sound of Drums

Check your cell phone too. In the Year That Never Was the Master used the Archangel Cell Phone Network to send a message around the world, unseen, creeping into people subconscious. Four drum beats had a hypnotic effect, guaranteeing his election. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Perfect Ending

I'm sure Doctor Who isn't the only show that has recently reached an astonishing conclusion, before returning to entertain us all next year. But since it's the only show I've actually watched as it was airing it's the only comparison you're going to get.

Season six was season to top all previous seasons. Rumors of the main plot had been growing as far back as season five. Not typically having a plot that reaches across seasons this was somewhat unusual, and had everyone a bit excited. And the plot thickened, until the list of questions that had been asked was long enough that we were constantly forgetting something, and remembering new things, and waiting with bated breath for the finale. And the finale came, with all the brilliance we'd expected of the producer, all questions answered, all loop holes tied up. For not planning in advance it was amazing.

But, days and weeks passed. We talk and talk about the finale, making connections, figuring out complex time loops. And this unsettling feeling grows that there were things that weren't properly addressed. Story arcs that started, and never ended. A host of things that weren't explained to our satisfaction. But it's a TV show. They make it up as they go along. Sometimes things just don't line up, we live with it, and hope they do better next time.

We are born with an innate desire for completion. Whenever we read a book or watch a movie we like everything to be explained at the end. If something is really complex or involved we sometimes wonder how it's even possible for everything to tie together. If it does we admire the writer, if it doesn't we grumble about them. This is most easily seen in mystery stories. So often we get hung up on a particular clue, certain it's the answer, only to find it's only purpose was to mislead us, and what kind of purpose is that?

Let me present to you the most confusing story in the history of long running plots. It's most often referred to as the Holy Bible. Reading through the books of Daniel, of Isaiah, of Revelation it reads almost like gibberish. How can any of it make sense? Many, many interpretations have been made of what it all means, but do any of those take into account every last verse or prophecy? The ones that have been fulfilled are marked by startling accuracy, such as the fall of Jerusalem and the fall of Rome. But who can make sense of the ones yet to come?

We can guess, obsess and speculate. But ultimately we must wait for the finale. No, The Finale. The finale Finale. The end of all things, the beginning of all things. The Finale to end all finales. And do you know what? It's going to be a perfect ending. Every last word of prophecy is going to fit in somewhere. There aren't going to be any loose ends or superfluous remarks. Every last, tiny detail is going to fit into that ending in complexion that we can only stare and wonder at. It's going to be brilliant. It's going to be the most awe-inspiring complete ending that the world will ever see.

Remember that. Every time you see an ending you think was well done or poorly done, it's only our feeble attempt to achieve that Ultimate Finale; the Perfect Ending.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Never Say Never....

When I was writing Prince of Yen I was never going to write an epic battle scene. I was Never going to write adult fiction. I was Never going to write anything but fairytales. I was certainly Never going to write non-fiction.

I had my box, I liked my box, and I was never going to leave it. But the Ideas outside of the box broke down my barriers and restrictions and crept in simply to spite me. I had dreams that begged to be stories. I wrote fantasy that got increasingly darker. Magic, sorcery, mind control, murder, blood even, the list went on until I shuddered at my ability to write what I'd sworn never to write and switched to science fiction, abruptly breaking another Never.

I've Never liked superheroes. I always thought they were too perfect, too corny, too outdated, and too completely unrealistic. I hated Supervillains even more. The entire genre was the last thing on earth I thought I would find myself writing.... until two weeks ago. Now I have a telepathic tinkering genius teenager who's really an alien prince fighting a revolution. While trapped on earth he is unaware of his true identity and spends his time building gadgets, wearing capes, and saving people from imminent disaster like any true Superhero would. His weakness is his dreams and his enemies are people of his own race, come from his home planet to find him.

I've Never written fan fiction. I prefer to create my own characters. I couldn't fathom working with anyone else's. See this account here? A Teaspoon and an Open Mind.Yup, that's me. Writing fan fiction.

I was also Never going to waste time on a TV show. Guess what above fanfics are about?

As for Never writing non-fiction... well, look around. I write it twice a week, and I like it. All I can conclude is that I'll Never say I'll Never write something again because the minute I do it seems it comes back laugh at me when I find the words I would Never write flowing out of my pen.

What are your Nevers and how have they overcome you?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Review: Superman

Every time one turns around these days new Superheroes are popping up. With new movies like Thor, Green Lantern, and Captain America we can sometimes find ourselves feeling a little outnumbered by men of steel. Especially when you're as behind on the classics as I am.

Somehow, the night my family chose to rent Superman I was not at home. I suffered patiently for years thereafter, for having already seen it everyone else wanted to move onto new, exciting films, and Netflix has a grudge against putting anything I wanted to watch available instant view. (This is very similar to the fact that if the local library ever has a movie I want it always vanishes from their shelves the day I arrive to check it out.) That is why I love Spiderman, hate Batman and yet knew nothing about the one superhero you couldn't miss: Superman.

Netflix at long last took pity on me, and I finally met Clark Kent in person. I got to watch Superman, Superman II, and Superman Returns. I started on Superman IV and quickly realized that the reviewers who said the series went downhill were very, very right.

So the first Superman movie was pretty good. I got rather confused more than once though, but managed to blame everything on the fact that it's a comic book. Clark Kent is a little too perfect, a little too invincible, and not quite bright enough. I didn't quite understand why he needed an alter ego, when everyone knew of his existence already. (Contrary to Spiderman who had to live an ordinary life because he had an ordinary life to begin with, Superman had the freedom to fly around and just be Superman.) I don't understand what he sees in Lois. I've never really liked her name, and she screams entirely too much. And I didn't really figure out what was going on at the end, or why the mere sight of Kryptonite had such an effect on him.

There's an interesting logical problem, Kryptonite is part of the planet Krypton, right? So... Superman's race lived there. So how can it be dangerous? The planet was made of it. If it's that dangerous, no one could live there... right?

Superman II
I actually liked this one better than the first one. The stakes were higher. Dangerous criminals who can equal Superman's strength; there's some real conflict for you. Not to mention they had pretty cool costumes. Superman's decision to give up everything for love, I love that. But... why was that required? It wasn't very well explained why he had to become human. And then he becomes a total wimp. Even without his superpowers he should be able to defend himself.

The interesting logical problem in this one is the final battle at the end. The bad guys start picking on the citizens, and of course Superman should have known they would. So why did he lead them away to some place deserted from the get go? He should never have allowed them to choose their own ground.

Superman Returns
I found out about this one and thought: Aha! It's new. Modern movie standards to the rescue. No stilted dialogue or unbelievable plots. This is going to be good. I was quite disappointed. I did, however, really, really get involved in the scene where he get's beat up by the bad guys. It was... intense. But then the resolution just kind of flopped and the entire thing went back to being lame...

Interesting logical plot hole of all plot holes (and a major spoiler): the child who's supposedly his son could only have been conceived when he was human, which means the child can't be a superhero because of the entire plot of Superman II!

Overall Thoughts
He has the most beautiful name. Kal-el. And what do they call him? One of the cheesiest names ever, Superman. The only person who uses his real name is his holographic parents. Kal-el. Just say it out loud a few times and you'll start to wonder why they didn't use it more...

Despite being a perfect gentleman and the ideal man I really don't like his morals.

There's entirely too much worship going on. Worship of Superman, worship of the government, etc, etc.

When I'm all grown up and rich and famous I want to produce my own version of Superman. In the meantime I must content myself with fanfiction; something I never thought I would ever write.

(Or what I think the story of Superman should be.)

He has never been truly happy.

He's tried of course, he's pretended. Even as a child something was calling to him, telling him he was different; he would never belong.

He's an alien, so far from home. His world is destroyed, his people are gone, and he is so very, very alone. He struggles to reconcile his past, his culture, with the ordinary world he's grown up in. He's young and ill-equipped, and feels positively inadequate for his position. He's shy and uncertain, and when around the girl he adores he's positively clumsy. He wants to explain, he wants her to help him. He needs her to fill the emptiness he feels, to take away the horrible aloneness, but he can't.

Krypton is gone, shattered into a million million pieces. Parts of it keep drifting down to earth, reminding him of what he's lost. A bit of metal, a few criminals, shadows of his father's name; the father he never knew. He tries to escape it all, to leave it behind. He tries to abandon what the crystal showed him. The world was fine before he came, it will continue without him as it did before.

He is so weak, so helpless. Nothing feels right. Nothing fits. This is not what he had hoped it would be. Even as he realizes he cannot escape who he is he knows that he cannot abandon what he has become. The people count on him, they look to him for protection. He cannot leave them alone now, he cannot abandon them. He has failed, he has betrayed them after giving them a false sense of protection.

He returns to his godship, to the cold emptiness of the stars. He swears he will not abandon them again. He will not betray them. They thank him, they worship him, but he shakes it off. He wishes they would not. He is nothing but lonely, afraid, and empty. He turns away from them, still smiling, and flies off into the night. Only then does he hide his face and weep, giving up everything he loves and desires for duty that has been pressed upon him. He will protect the earth.  

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Idea Fish

Writing a story is not all that difficult, once you have an Idea. Ideas come in different shapes and sizes, and appear to different people different ways. There's no telling what form an Idea will take when it presents itself to you. But sometimes, once you have an Idea, you don't know where to begin with it. This is where the Idea Fish come in.

If the mind is a fishbowl than your thoughts are Idea Fish. They swim about, generally in schools, and most of them have "Start Here" written on them. Have you ever had a really messy room and you set out to clean it but never succeeded because you had too many options to start with? Should you make your bed, or pick up your clothes, or straighten your desk first? Have you ever been confronted with an error screen that says "Press any key to restart" and fled screaming from the room? This, my friends, is the attack of the Idea Fish.

Once you have an Idea it's time to start writing, but where to begin? The Idea Fish float over and make suggestions. Sometimes there are just a few, the choice is simple, and we all survive. But sometimes there is a very large school of them, and the assault can cause a temporary paralysis: the fear of choosing wrong.

Endless Possibilities
Let me give you a very simple example. Your prompt is to write about four children who run away from home. Well, if you tell anyone you're writing about four children who run away from home their very first question is going to be, "Why are they running away?" It's a good question. It deserves a good question.

Why are they running away? The Idea doesn't cover anything other than the running, so the Idea Fish swarm over to offer advice... and what a lot of advice! Maybe their mother died. Maybe their father is a criminal. Maybe their house burned down. Maybe they want to see the world. Maybe they were lured away by a stranger. Maybe they received a mysterious message. Maybe they're not human.

Where to begin, eh? Suppose I close my eyes and point and pick that way? Can't do that, I'm the writer here, I'm going with the most interesting once. So they're not human. What then? Maybe they're elves. Or aliens. Or maybe one of them is an alien and is secretly preparing to kill the others. Maybe their mother escaped from the Otherworld and that's why they're running now. Or maybe they've been experimented on and had their memory of the incident removed. Maybe they're genetically engineered to be superhumans.

Bang head here. 
This is the point at which my brain gets overloaded and I wander off to speculate about something that makes sense, even if it's a pointless kind of sense, like the future of television. I have succumbed to the attack.

Sometimes it's possible to prevail against the attack, to find your way out of the maze, and banish the IF's from your mind. But they don't really go; they lurk in your subconscious saying "If" "Maybe" and "Perhaps." They ask if this is really the best idea you could have chosen. Perhaps if you picked out a different one your story would be even better. But how many stories about four children who run away from home does a body need? I just want to get to the running part, never mind why!

Running.... now that's a good idea... Ahem. Anyway. Those are the Idea Fish, the bane of my existence. In fact, I'd say the attack of the Idea Fish is more trouble than Writer's Block. Which do you think it's easier to get past? A brick wall or a tree of infinite possibilities?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Becoming the Doctor

I just got back from an audition today; a Disney audition. I had to be prodded into going, which isn't usual for me. But armed with a monologue from Doctor Who, and Doctor Who audio books to listen too, I drove myself three hours and got through the biggest audition I've ever attended. And every time I felt myself drifting off into the land of exhaustion, boredom, or pessimism I snapped myself back with a persona not quite my own, how would the Doctor react?

Why am I so obsessed with this character that I've started trying to copy him in daily life? Well, he's funny, friendly, happy, outgoing, inspiring, cheerful, intelligent, and generally fun to be around. These are all traits everyone should try to emulate, regardless of where they get inspiration from to do so. We tend to get wrapped up in our own little world, consumed by worry, doubt, and fear.We don't see outside our own little circle to the amazing universe and incredible people beyond. But the Doctor does. So here is your handy list to start you on your way to becoming the Doctor.

1. Smile. A lot. And then smile some more on top of that. Practice your smile, don't let it get rusty and out of shape. Smile at everyone, even if they don't smile back. Especially if they don't smile back. If someone gets annoyed at your smiling, smile bigger.

2. Talk. Whenever you find yourself next to someone, start a conversation. This includes people at the gas station, on the bus next to you, in an audition hall, or in line at the supermarket. Start a conversation by introducing yourself. This helps them to feel like you're not a random stranger, and indicates that you're interested in a real relationship, rather than just making a random comment and moving on.

3. Make eye contact. Guess what? People aren't robots, or cars, or vegetables. Each one is an individual. See them as that, rather than rushing past, trying hard to be invisible. Greet everyone as an individual as much as possible. When you're walking down the street or the grocery aisle make eye contact, smile and nod, as though greeting an old friend. Your smile is wasted if no one sees it.

4. Be helpful. Did someone drop their bag four aisles down from you? Be the first one there to help pick it up! When a child is lost and crying, don't rush past, stop and help. Do you notice trouble going on? Don't stand back like a curious spectator; see if there is something you can do to help sort it out.

5. Don't be afraid to stick out. Dressing different is a good start to a conversation. Wear a funny hat, or a cool shirt, or a crazy scarf. Be original, and exciting and different. But don't be weird for the sake of weirdness, just do it because it's meant to be for you. Not everyone is cut from the same cloth... or wears the same color shoes. Don't think you have to because everyone else does, but don't think you shouldn't just because no one does either!

6. Listen. Talking is good, listening is better. Be outgoing, but be respectful. Notice when something is wrong, and know when to shut up. This takes practice, but it's well worth is. Observe your surroundings, rather than isolating yourself in by hiding behind a book or with earbuds. It is by listening and observing that you can learn how to be the most helpful. Study the people around you, so you can reach out to them effectively.

7. Be bold. Don't be afraid. Don't shrink back because of what people will say about you. Don't be afraid to stick out. Be honest. Admit when you've made a mistake, even to yourself. But forgive yourself for your mistakes and risk trying again. This is the hardest part, not slinking off ashamed the first time someone glares at you, or mocks you for being so atypical. Remember, they're just people. Pick yourself up, put on your biggest, brightest grin, and carry on. Never give up. Never declare it useless.

"When you run with the Doctor, it feels like it'll never end. But however hard you try you can't run forever. Everybody knows that everybody dies and nobody knows it like the Doctor. But I do think that all the skies of all the worlds might just turn dark if he ever, for one moment, accepts it."

Saturday, October 8, 2011


 Dear Idea Factory,

Random Doorway

I know, I know, I haven't written anything for you lately. Well don't give me that look I've been... busy! And I've been under attack by the Idea Fish.

Frightened Spike

No, I haven't written about the Idea Fish yet. 

Yes, I will. When? Soon. Soon, I promise! And, all right, stop giving me that look... what? Yes, I have a post for today! If you'll just let me get on with it! 

Lots of Spikes

Right. So today I'm going to tell you about Spike.Who is Spike, you ask? Well, simply put, Spike is what you look like when you get out of the shower and your hair is sticking straight up. If your hair is short enough to stick straight up, that is. If not then it's what your brother looks like when he gets out of the shower. 

Worried Spike

Unless my brother is the only one who has a sister who tells him he looks like Spike when he gets out of the shower and his hair is sticking straight up... or perhaps my brother is the only one who's hair sticks straight up after a shower making him look like Spike. Or maybe other brother's don't let themselves be seen when they've just emerged from a shower. So maybe Spike is really my brother and not a representation of all recently showered brothers at all. 

Random Treasure Chest

But whatever he might represent, Spike is one of the few drawings I actually don't throw into the trash can immediately after attempting it. As a matter of fact, I've kept careful posession of the scrap of paper that bears his only incarnation, and now have finally bestowed upon him the form of Digital Immortality. 

May Spike rest peacefully forever, here in this blog post of Randomness to beat all previous Randomness. 

The Entire Original Drawing