Mired in the Blog

Author K.M Weiland’s Post on Why NaNoWriMo Matters

Piggybacking on Quantum Fairy’s post a couple of weeks ago about NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month for you noobs), I wanted to share a post written by the always brilliant K.M. Weiland about how participating in NaNoWriMo can make you a better writer all year long. She breaks it down to seven skills that can be developed by participating:

1. Learning Healthy Preparation Skills

2. Prioritizing Your Writing

3. Getting Into the Habit of Daily Writing Sessions

4. Maximizing Word-Count Goals

5. Turning Off Your Inner Critic

6. Connecting With Other Writers

7. Finishing Books

She goes into fantastic detail about each of the points, so go read the whole post here. Seriously, even if you’re not participating in NaNoWriMo, the skills she talks about are ones that every writer should work to develop.

Anyone out there getting ready for NaNoWriMo? What are you doing to prepare this month?

Childhood Reinvented

Hello once again, readers! I think you’re going to like this prompt—I know I do! So sticking with the theme of cartoons, I thought it would be interesting to take a cartoon from childhood and reinvent it for the children of this generation. Pick a TV show that you absolutely loved as a child and watch a few episodes to get reacquainted with it (this step is optional, but the most fun in my opinion).

Think about answers to the following questions:

  • What would the characters look like now?
  • Where would they live? In the same place or somewhere more relevant to today?
  • What lessons would each episode teach (if they were originally intended to do so)?
  • How would political/social views of today be present in this revamp?
  • Who would you ship with who? (Okay, maybe that one is just for wish fulfillment purposes)

So go! Reinvent something that you connected with in your childhood and imagine how children today would connect with it. Never doubt the integrity of cartoons!


Until next time, readers. Adieu!

Cartoons: A Gateway to a More Progressive World?

I know what you’re thinking: “Geez, does this girl do nothing but watch cartoons all day?” First of all, shut up. Second, now that school has started up I haven’t had a lot of time to watch cartoons… as much. I am studying animation, so let’s just agree to call it research. It seems like a lot of people my age are doing the same research. Call us an immature generation, but I like to think that cartoons have simply gotten more sophisticated.

What I’ve learned from analyzing modern day cartoons is very inspiring: they’re teaching children to be more accepting of other genders and sexualities. I know this sounds like a stretch, but there is one particular show that without a doubt portrays romantic relationships between same-sex characters. Steven Universe, created by Rebecca Sugar, is a story about a boy named Steven who has to defend the world from evil along with the help of his three badass teammates, Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl. These three are portrayed as humanoid, but really their bodies are projections coming from their gems, the sources of their power. It is unclear as to whether or not they identify as female, but we assume that they are because of their obviously female appearance. In fact, all of the gems that have been introduced to the show thus far have been female. Let me just add that point to the progressive list: Steven is surrounded by incredibly powerful women. Feminism for the win!pp-1 Next, there are some strong indications of the existence of homosexual relationships within the show. Actually, scratch that. There absolutely are without a shadow of a doubPP-2t homosexual relationships in the show. It is heavily implied that Pearl suffers from unrequited love for Steven’s deceased mother. In addition, two characters, Sapphire and Ruby (in the image on the right), are very much in a romantic relationship. Two girls. In love. Has this ever been done so blatantly in a children’s show before? No and it is abso-frickin-lutely adorable. Think about the millions of youths who get to see such a positive display of homosexual relationships? Not only that, but some heart-wrenchingly sad displays as well! It teaches them that homosexual relationships have their ups and downs just like heterosexual ones. It teaches them to be more accepting of what used to be thought of as unacceptable. More importantly though, it comforts those who are struggling with who they are and who they love. I think it is extremely important for a show like this to be on the air during such a crucial era of change. Though some countries are a little less accepting than others….PP-Censorship

So readers, I encourage you to give this one a try. And for the sake of the future, make your kids watch it if they aren’t already! It is beautiful both visually and emotionally. Plus, it has one hell of a soundtrack! I listen to it when I go to the gym. I am not ashamed. Be forewarned: you will fall in love with the characters instantly. Steven is a cutie patootie.

Thanks for reading! See you all again on Thursday for another exciting prompt.

Comics Writer Gail Simone on the Bare Necessities of Writing

I read a lot of comics. I read a lot of web comics. There are some web comics that have the potential to be truly truly brilliant (and there are others that are truly brilliant). But something I see so very often is web comics that make huge jumps in story — sometimes this manifests and failing to introduce a character, indicating a change of scene, or outright hopping over to a different story arc. Some of those comics have fans that still seem to follow what’s going on — and I think these are the ones that rely on message board/comment discussion for moving the story. But you know what? That’s bad writing. I shouldn’t need to know external matter to understand your 3 daily/weekly/whatever panels.

You need to learn how to do your storytelling, comic writers.

And you know what? (more…)

NaNoWriMo 2015 Approacheth!

NaNoWriMo Crest
Just a friendly reminder that NaNoWriMo 2015 is coming up quickly! There is only a month and a half left to finish up any preparatory notes and outlines that will help those 50,000 words flow and minimize post-editing. Or, if you’re like me, to get last year’s novel edited. If you need some friendly advice and tips, check out my post-NaNoWriMo 2014 summary from last year.

Dirty Little Adverbs

Clockwork Gnome here today. Thinking a lot about writing style lately. I write speculative books, poetry, short stories, and I teach writing as well. Most of the time I’m concerned with my own plot bunnies and which ones I should kill. But occasionally, I run across a lesson that I have to teach to kids that makes me stop and wonder at my writing habits and style. More specifically, do I suck? And am I hip and trendy enough to sell?

It seems that writing fads, just like every other facet of human life, from clothing to music to politics, are constantly changing. I was in a writing class a few years ago where the teacher was praising the adverb and how it can add so much to any verb. It makes the weak verb stronger, it makes the strong verb a show stopper. The little “LY” word from heaven – Sigh!

Then a year or so later I see the internet all ablaze with hate for the adverb. It’s a crutch, it’s a device for sloppy, lazy writers who can’t get their verb up high enough to do the job. It’s awful. We hates it. NO MORE ADVERBS.

After reading a few middle school papers DRIPPING in adverbs last week, I was in agreement with the latter opinion. But then I started reading a classic novel. I’m very fond of the classics. Anything old and dusty and over taught is going to be a go-to for me. I realized this book was also, dripping in adverbs, but in all the right places and in all the right ways.

So, the advice from your old Auntie Clockwork Gnome is this: Do whatever the hell you want. Write whatever the hell you want. Just make sure you do it well. If you do adverbs, make them amazingly perfect. (See what I just did there? Bahahaha) If you do first person, do it with everything you’ve got. If you do transgender-horror-space opera, Ninja Monkey is dying to read it, but man, it better rock our faces off.

In short, take a look at the trends, then go on writing whatever it is you love in your unique voice, and send us a little slice. We’re hungry.

Writing Prompt: Sense the Suspense


(click for photo source)

This week’s post talked about creating suspense in stories. We’ve had some great prompts on the blog about teasing out the senses to bring a story to life, but nowhere is this more important than in suspenseful stories. Being able to sense the setting is crucial to creating the tension and fear integral to the genre. Of course you don’t want to use sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch in every single scene, but try to get a balanced amount of show vs. tell.

As my wise writing partner wrote on my pages this week, “We mimic what we read. If her heart is racing, ours will too.”

Your writing prompt today is to write a SUSPENSEFUL paragraph that engages your reader by using senses and emotions to explain what’s going on in the picture above. Make your reader’s heart race! We’d love to see what you come up with in the comments below!

Creating Suspense without Manipulating Outcomes

Recently I went with my husband and another couple to a murder mystery dinner. Our job was to question characters—doctor, lawyer, actress, maid, gardener, etc.—about their host, a wealthy estate owner murdered during his own dinner party.

It was fun to talk with the cast, explore the “manor,” and interact with friends. The evening was broken up into three parts:

  • Act 1: A PI (Private Investigator) told us there was a murder. Without any of the details, we questioned the cast.
  • Act 2: The PI called us back together to tell us:
    1. The victim had been stabbed at the base of his skull.
    2. Part of a torn note was found in the corpse’s mouth. All of the guests had received a note exposing a dark deed the rich man had found out about them.
    3. Parts of the estate had been shut off/boarded up, and we needed to explore those closed off areas.
  • Act 3: We re-interviewed the actors with the new information, the PI found the final clue, and the case was solved.

Toward the end, I was pretty determined that I had it figured out because with the person I suspected, all of the pieces fit.

However, during the final phase, two things happened. In the dark corridors, somebody found a letter opener (murder weapon) and PI found the other half of the note. The mystery was solved because the name at the top of the note told who the murderer was.

So, what does this have to do with writing? Well, the story was unsatisfying because it broke three key rules of good fiction:

  1. Chekhov’s Gun: Employing purely extraneous details which do not enhance the plot and do not lead to a potential conclusion. (the character backstories). Learn more HERE.
  1. Red Herrings: Using clues that are not extraneous and would lead to a possible conclusion, just the wrong one from the real conclusion (plain sight gardening sheers fitting the description of the murder weapon). Post about how to do them right, HERE.
  1. Deus Ex Machina: Resolving a problem through contrived and unexpected intervention with a new event, character, ability, or object (the name on the letter that the PI found when nobody else could). Hilarious post about Deus Ex Machina HERE

Literary agent Victoria Marini said this one best:

In the first act, it works to have everyone be a suspect because they each have motive, opportunity, and ability to commit the crime. But Chekhov’s Gun indicates too many details thrown in that aren’t relative to the story, and the note being found by the PI was a major Deus Ex Machina–because the writers of the play intervened with a new object and event that we weren’t told about until the conclusion. Red Herrings work great in mysteries, but after the first one or two acts, the reader should be able to start drawing a few accurate conclusions. The problem with our experience was that there was no way to solve the puzzle based on the information we were given.

A good example of plotting done right is the boardgame CLUE. Players are on a level playing field with access to all relevant information. Each player starts with an open graph where all weapons, rooms, and characters are suspect.

But as information becomes available, you’re able to eliminate suspects until all that’s left are the last possible choices. It’s deductive reasoning, not an endless stream of “guessing” what the author wants you to figure out.

A mystery should narrow down possible conclusions with each act, not add more possible conclusions. In other words, you can’t have a conclusion that wasn’t reachable all along.

It’s the same with writing in any genre. As authors, do we deliver what we promise in the premise? Do we give readers the tools they need to come to satisfying conclusions?

I think one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from writing, and particularly from working with a writing group, is:

Give the reader credit!

Readers are smart. Allow them to put the pieces together so they feel like they’ve figured something out, rather than that they’ve come along on the journey, only to be misled by the clues and tricked in the end.

Look at We Were Liars, for example. Without spoilers, the novel is basically a psychological game that could have gone badly. However, I felt like there were enough clues along the way that I ultimately bought the ending. The big revelation was earned because Lockhart had legitimized the end all along. The clues were all there, it just wasn’t until the end that I was able to make sense of them.

I believe that’s how good fiction works–the author trusts that the reader is smart enough to stay with them. Otherwise, it may be a fun journey, but it leaves the reader unsatisfied in the end.

Have you ever read a book that left you feeling tricked or didn’t trust to you to make the connections? As an author, do you have any tips for creating mystery without manipulating the outcome?

Storytelling Failures in the End of Mass Effect 3

The game development company BioWare recently announced a fourth title in their hugely popular Mass Effect series of video games, which prompted me to replay the already extant trilogy. Which in turn reminded me in great detail all the problems with the ending of Mass Effect 3. Some of those problems were game play (which I’ll spare you) (for now). But many of them were problems with storytelling. So I’ve gathered some of the lessons you can learn about storytelling from the bad ending of a terrific video game. There’s some spoilers here, but the statute of limitations has expired for this one, so this is the only warning you get.

1) Understand your medium.

Mass Effect is a video game. A lot of video games have very rich backstory and settings. They have immersive story that pulls you in. Mass Effect has that. It’s got very strong environment details that any novel writer could rightly envy. But it forgot what it was at the end.

Near the end, after the final battle (though first time players could hardly be aware it was the final battle), decision making is taken away from the player. Now, in a lot of games, decision making isn’t a factor. You go through the levels that are given to you, but those games are not roleplaying games. Mass Effect is.

And Mass Effect doesn’t even give you a level to work through. There’s no fighting (which doesn’t make sense for a game played as a first person shooter), there’s no dialog of consequence. There’s a very thin semblance of interactivity placed on top of a movie.

If you’re writing a first-person shooter roleplaying game, you can’t take out the shooting or the roleplaying, or you deny your story. If you write a fantasy novel, you can’t suddenly have your dragons fall out of the sky because physics doesn’t provide a means for such a massive beast to fly. If you’re writing a sonnet, you can’t toss in three lines of trochees. If you’re writing a blog post, you can’t blather on for five pages.

2) Action!

Action doesn’t automatically mean chase scenes or tense bomb defusals or epic sword fights. Action can be conversation. Action can even be introspection (provided you are remembering your medium, as above). But it’s got to be something that moves the plot. It has to feel like the conflict is being explored or that the characters are trying to overcome an obstacle.

Shepherd (the protagonist of Mass Effect) is injured near the end, and because of this has to do this limping shamble that makes moving through the compulsory long hallways with nothing interesting to see (well, except for a lot of carnage). Any walking that happens for the rest of the game will take. a. really. really. long. time. It takes half an hour, bare minimum, to get to the end of the game from this point. And a good half of that is walking. On injured legs. Very slowly. You don’t feel like anything is getting done, and it’s terrible and if that happens in something you’re writing, most readers are not going to finish.

3) The end comes from the beginning.

You’ve heard of deus ex machina? It literally translates to “god out of the machine.” Which was a popular way for ancient Greek plays to end – a device opened to allow an actor on stage who played a god such as Zeus or Hera, and then told everyone how everything should work out. Voila! Archimedes then said! Everything’s done!

It hasn’t been a popular way to end stories for centuries because it doesn’t make sense. Anything can happen, even if it doesn’t have anything to do with the events of the story. It’s bad because it renders the struggles of the story meaningless. There is literally no point to any of it but the set up and then the God straightening it all out.

Mass Effect 3 definitely has the problem of inconsistency with the rest of the story. At least one of the three choices actually contradicts the events and solutions of the story. “Control the Reapers?” Sure. That might make sense if every use of Reaper technology up till then hadn’t resulted in Lovecraftian nightmares and widespread carnage.

I was going to say Mass Effect 3 doesn’t have a straightforward deus ex situation, but then I remembered that the decision is forced on to Shepherd by a very godlike little boy who apparently controls the Reapers that have driven every sentient species in the galaxy for at least hundreds of thousands of years.

Even the need for that decision – the conflict that synthetic life will always destroy biological life – is demonstrably false. Shepherd has two synthetic lifeforms that actively support and work with him without false pretenses.

4) Death has to have meaning

Death of a companion can drive a protagonist, even if the death, in itself was senseless. And it can be deeply ennobling for a character to sacrifice themself to overcome a conflict, or to give others a chance to live, or so forth.

Mass Effect doesn’t do that. In one of the three choices, Shepherd’s death at least makes sense. But there’s nothing gained from it. In another, the “death” is played off as something transcendent, but it’s dissonant and a strong contradiction of the story – transcendence is only a theme for the bad guy, and his “transcendence” turns out to be corruption. In the third choice, the death is mostly… reasons… There’s no explanation for why Shepherd has to die, but it’s made very plain that death is required. It’s senseless.

Mass Effect has gotten a bad rap, considering that it is one of the best first person roleplaying games ever written. It got that bad rap because the ending was terrible. And because the failure was at the ending, it was impossible to leave the game without that bad taste. A story can have excellent writing, but if it drops the ball for the last 1%, the whole story is going to suffer for it.

Poetry Writing Prompt

Write a poem that is inspired by one of the following pictures: