Writing, Reading, Watching

I stumbled into this idea by accident, but nonetheless I think it’s been helpful to me as a writer.

For most Americans, the primary way we access and process stories is through movies and TV shows. I know that’s stating the obvious, but walk with me for a moment.

For most writers, the thing we’re writing is a novel. Again, I’m stating the obvious, but novels are very different than screenplays, scripts, or (especially), finished tv shows.

We’ll start with the most obvious difference: length. Even a relatively short novel is usually twice the length of a movie’s screenplay (110-120 pages, according to the “Save the Cat Beat Sheet), and four times as long as a one-hour drama’s script (50-60 pages, according to MovieOutline.com). Now, granted, prose often takes more space to get the same amount of action in than a script does, but the actual amount of story is radically different.

But let’s look at some more subtle differences. First, for a TV show, you have an episodic structure, with short individual stories, one long story broken up into one-hour blocks (a long story that would itself be MUCH longer than a novel, even for a 12-episode short series), or a Burn Notice-style combination of the two, wherein a few major episodes form a major arc, and are referenced or mentioned within the bulk of the (otherwise self-contained) episode in the season. This is obviously a very different story structure than even a series of novels.

Secondly, the nature of the presentation is different. TV and movies are very visual media, and visual things are very impressive in that media (stunts, sets, etc.). However, prose descriptions of impressive visual things usually aren’t that impressive. They’re out of sync with the nature of prose, which engages less forcefully, but can pull the reader deeply in through engaging all five senses as well as through the prose style itself.

I’ve had to stop watching much TV in order to make time to write. It wasn’t a choice I made to improve my writing style, but a choice I made to allow myself the time I needed to write consistently. I still shoehorn in some documentaries and YouTube videos (more of the latter than I should), but watching actual TV shows has pretty much fallen by the wayside.

And I’ve become a better writer for it. I was too distracted by the neat things I’d seen in visual media to think about how they don’t apply to writing novels. And, this has shifted the balance of how I mostly get my stories. Now, I mostly get my stories through reading novels, and so my brain thinks more in prose. It’s been a real improvement.

I think the key isn’t so much that watching TV and movies inherently distracts from writing prose, but rather, that having my primary method of absorbing story be audiovisual distracted from writing prose. I still watch movies, and I still watch TV with my daughter (I’m particularly fond of Sarah and Duck, My Little Pony, and The Deep), but the proportions have shifted, and that’s made a real difference.

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My 2017 Project: Become a Writer

In 2016, I earned my Ph.D., went vegan, and got my cholesterol under control. I was on a roll.

But I hadn’t successfully finished a piece of fiction (except one short story that I didn’t and still don’t like) since January 2014, when I finished the novel I’d begun the one time I legitimately won NaNoWriMo.

I realized I was never going to be a writer at this rate. So my 2017 project was learning how to write. Not how to get published or how to indie publish, but how to write fiction.

I wanted to break writing down into step by step aspects I could address directly. Writing is a HUGE “thing,” and I honestly didn’t know where to start. But I trusted that if I DID start, eventually I’d get traction.

For the first several months I studied Kishotenketsu, which was a fun warm-up to my serious studies.

Then Dannie, an awesome horror writer and long-time friend, told me about Holly Lisles’ online courses and Brandon Sanderson’s course lectures on YouTube.

The first thing I did was take Holly Lisles’ free flash fiction course. It honestly changed my life. I learned so much about structure and felt so much thrill of success planning and writing story after story.

I learned, proved to myself, that writing IS a repeatable phenomenon. It’s not magic we can’t explain, or lightning that doesn’t strike twice, or a wind that goes where it wants.

I started her novel writing and character courses, but she’s a serious outliner, and I’m much closerto a discovery writer, and that mismatch made them less useful to me. I still learn a lot by reading her blog. I’ll write a whole post about her later.

Then I started watching Brandon Sanderson’s lectures, and I learned so much about novels, including how to approach things from a discovery writer perspective. He’ll get his own post, too.

Brandon Sanderson recommended Dan Wells’s presentation on plotting, and I watched that. I also read Rachel Aaron’s article on planning a novel.

At that point, around July 1, I realized I was ready to start planning my own novel.

And so I did. But that’s going to get its own post, too.

Yay! I finished a novel! Now what?

So the title basically sums it up. I feel like the dog that caught the car.

Thursday, October 12, 2017, I finished a novel I’d started planning in early July and begun writing on July 31, 2017.

Actually, this was my 2016 NaNoWriMo attempt. I “succeeded” in the flimsiest and most technical manner: I wrote 50,000 words, but they were spread across two stories, most of them were unusable, and neither story ever got finished.

So, Friday I didn’t do much writing, except think of a couple of small points that really needed to be added or clarified. Saturday morning I added those.

Then, I sort of stumbled around for most a week, trying to plan a second novel before NaNoWriMo came around November 1.

It had taken me a whole month to plan this novel, and it had already been partially planned and even partially written.

I have only half that time to plan the next novel, from scratch.

And I was all out of ideas. I was starting to get stressed. But then, on Thursday, October 19, a conversation with my wife just cracked everything open.

Yesterday, I got the lead character and what she wants, her motivation. I got the rough shape of the conflict, and part of the setting (my novels tend to involve a lot of travel, so there will be several settings).

I really feel like I can write this story, that it will hold my attention to the end, and, aiming I do my part, that other people will actually enjoy reading it.

I guess you just can’t force these things. But you can relax, read, look at cool pictures of fascinating places, listen to music you love,walk around outdoors, and let things brew.

You’ll be stuck until you’re not, and it will seem like a magic breakthrough, but it was really a result of feeding your mind, giving yourself silence to create, and taking the pressure off.

Leap! An Unhyped but Delightful Film in Theaters Now

There was little hype for Leap!, a French film redubbed in English, but it’s definitely worth seeing with your kids.

We just took my 4 year old to it, and we all enjoyed it. It’s not terribly original, but it’s got charm and heart to spare.

Visually, Leap’s nothing short of beautiful, and you really believe Paris is a city where anything can happen.

I have to say this here, too

So I’ve posted and shared half a hundred articles and memes on Facebook condemning the ongoing resurgence of white supremacists and NeoNazis.

But I have to say it here, too: hell, no.

My Granddaddy gave 4 years of his life to the war against the Nazis, and now we’ve got a president who won’t come out and condemn them when they goose step down American streets chanting “blood and soil?”

Hell, no.

If basic decency doesn’t move you, if justice and equality don’t move you, if the horror of repeating the Holocaust doesn’t move you, can you at least not.spit in the faces of your fathers, our grandfathers, who gave so much in World War II?

Darth Enjoyed the Eclipse

And so did we. I hope my little one remembers it (she’s 4 and 1/2). I know I will.

She spent most of the time decorating a shrub with sticks and leaves from other plants … the number of students and staff she convened to help or at least watch while she did it was pretty impressive, honestly.

But every few minutes she would get the glasses and look at the eclipse for a few seconds. then she’d go back to playing.

I alternated between watching it and passing the glasses around so the students could see it. Good times.

I got a few.shots, but nothing epic.