Sorting out the details of an as-yet unwritten novel #Writing

This is what happens: a story idea enters your head. You develop it— either by thinking about it, making stories in your head about it, or by writing down various details in a notebook. Before long you’ve got loads of material that need sorting.

The first question: is your material going to be expressed in a short story or novella? A novel? Several novels? It helps to have a general idea. If you have enough material for a seven-novel series, it won’t fit into a short story. Do you like the material a lot? You might be able to go for several novels on it. If it’s just a random idea, you might trim down the content to make it fit in a novella.

If you have more-than-one-novel’s worth: which story pieces would work for the first novel? And by first, I don’t mean chronologically first. You may have ideas that would work better as a prequel novel, after a first novel in the series is published.

I have one idea I’m working with. Some of the ideas I came up for backstory are too interesting— for me at least— to leave in the past, but they don’t work well for a Volume One of the series. So if I write from a better Volume One point, I can come back someday and write prequel. If I think it’s a good idea at the time.

Now, I am sure there are people who have ideas that march in an ordered fashion out of their heads. I’m the kind of person that creates a story-beginning and then marches backward into backstory, or forward into a youthful character’s old age. I create more story-pieces than I need, and am not organized enough to sort them out easily.

I use certain books to help me organize my ideas lately. Two are ‘Structuring your Novel Workbook’ and ‘Outlining your Novel Workbook’ by K.M. Weiland. (I also have ‘Structuring your Novel’ and ‘Outlining your Novel’ by the same author.)

Both of the workbooks have a lot of questions to answer about your story.  It helps remind you of ideas you’ve already had, so you can write them down. And it reminds you of things you might have to create, such as backstory.

Now, you can change, omit or add questions. If you are writing sci-fi, fantasy or a historical, it doesn’t do to answer questions that assume that every character came from a normal American family and went to a normal/horrible American public high school. Your character’s family background and formal education, if any, may be wildly different. Maybe your character is a space alien who was abandoned by his family at age 9 to live on the street because ALL male children in his culture are abandoned at that age. Maybe your character was taught to read by her mother because all the schools in her culture don’t admit peasant children.

Here is one idea I’ve had. When you read a question about a character, don’t answer in your own voice. Let your character answer it. That’s one way to keep yourself from becoming great at writing planning material and unable to actually write the novel. You can include actions of the character in the answer. Such as, “Peter just looked sad at the question and buried his head in his hands.” or “Amy responded to the question by cursing and throwing her beer mug at the questioner.”

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Life without bookshops #books

I used to have bookshops in my life. Even though I don’t live in a city. There was Aurora books, owned by the son of my Dad’s best friend. There was a used book shop in Marinette, Wisconsin, and also BookWorld. (Twin city of Menominee, MI.) Then Aurora went out. More recently the lady that ran the used book shop for about 30 years died and the shop closed down. Now my mother says BookWorld is closing, too. And of course the bookstore in Marinette’s mall closed so long ago I don’t even remember the shop’s name.

Of course some lucky people buy books online but I know of so many people around here who don’t. Internet access costs money— about $50 a month for satellite internet if you don’t live in a town with cable TV/internet. For a lot of people in my county, that’s not worth it.

Once upon a time children who came from non-bookish families still had a shot to go into a bookshop and buy something with their allowance. But now that bookshops are vanishing, and functional malls as well— that means children and adults are confined to the kind of books they sell in Walmart.

One of the reason times have changed is that the overhead price for running a shop is going up while sales are going down. And price of running a shop goes way up when your shop is big enough to need employees. You may need to pay for their health care (instead of your own) and have to pay higher wages for workers who don’t do much work.

Another factor is that young people no longer need depend on books for entertainment. Even relatively low-income families have cable TV, internet, and games devices such as X-box. There is plenty to do without books— and when would your theoretical young person have a chance to read anyway, with the TV blaring during every waking hour?

One thing YOU can do, as a person who has access to the internet and possibly the ability to buy books online, is to share books with your reading friends who have similar tastes. Especially small-press and indie books. If your friend disposes of the book, in time, to a thrift shop, that one volume can go on to entertain still others.

That’s one reason that I like to buy a book in realbook form rather than kindle. While I don’t usually give books away unless they are horrid and not worth reading, I assume that when I am dead my books will be given to a thrift shop, and someone else will benefit from them.

The world is becoming a different place with the fall of bookshops, but I have no fear. We readers can adapt.

 

Committing to a #Writing Project #indecision

Random Kitten

The secret of writing is to keep working on one writing project until you get done, and then start another. If only my writing life worked that way. It’s really hard to stick with one writing idea. And it seems like I get more indecisive as time goes on. When I was younger I could stick with a project for weeks. Lately I’ve been able to start new writing projects every day, abandoning the old ones as hopeless.

I probably have got to stop doing that. I think my indecision is based on three things: first, my brain keeps coming up with shiny new ideas which of course are more attractive than the older ones.

Second, the older and, possibly, more mature I get, the more possibilities I see. When I was younger I could see only one way a story could go. Now, each story-beginning could lead in infinite directions. I hate that.

Third, the longer I go without finishing a novel, the more of a failure I am. Ever project I failed to finish— failure. And after some years of failure I feel it’s hopeless. Which makes any project I’m working on a doomed-to-failure project.

I don’t really know how to fix this. I can visualize a blue decisiveness pill that would fix all my problems if I took it, but I won’t take it because it’s probably really just a blue button that my kitten War has been playing with.

I feel like an utter failure today. But— there’s a good reason I won’t stop writing. Because my brain will keep providing me with story ideas and I will keep making up stories in my head because I’ve been doing it all my life. Without calling myself a writer I’d be just a weird crazy person living in a fantasy world. And I don’t want to be a weird crazy person. I want to be a NORMAL crazy person.


The kitten in the picture is named Umberto. She’s a girl, and all grown up now. She’s had kittens— usually litters of 1 kitten, as she was. She has a daughter named Norbert who’s probably 2-3 years old. I don’t know how old Umberto is.

#AspergerSyndrome and #Holiday Loneliness

Banquo’s Ghost. At the feast.

Having Asperger Syndrome or autism can be especially hard at Thanksgiving or other holidays where all the neurotypicals expect to be invited to celebrate with family or friends. Not being invited is hard. Being invited, perhaps reluctantly, can make you feel like the ghost at every feast. Here are some of the problems we might go through:

  • Not being invited. It’s not always a form of discrimination that you can ‘protest’ about. With our lack of social skills we may not be sending off the secret social signals that we want to be friends or want to be invited to things. Our non-hosts may even think they are being tolerant of our differences in not inviting us to an event they think we don’t want to attend. I don’t really know what one can do when one is not invited, especially by family.
  • Being invited and not thinking it’s sincere.  The thing to remember is that neurotypical people can have problems with social skills too. Sometimes they invite us in a way we think indicates they don’t want us there— for example emailing to an account you check twice a year instead of picking up the phone. Or only inviting you through another family member who is supposed to be responsible for you. It’s hard to know what to do when you are wondering whether someone is hoping against hope you will stay away, and they won’t give you any clues that would let you know if you are really welcome.
  • Being invited with restrictions. Maybe you once had a ‘meltdown’ at Thanksgiving when you were nine, and you still are cautioned that you can come ONLY if you behave yourself now that you are 52. Or you loudly proclaimed your atheism when the others were saying grace or proclaimed your faith when the others were congratulating themselves on their atheism, you may be told you can come ONLY if you keep your opinions to yourself. Now, it is a social rule not to discuss religion or politics at any family or social event where opinions may be divided, but forgiveness is also an option, especially if the host knows about your autism spectrum disorder. We may need to do a lot of forgiving too, especially if forgiving slights and even insults is the only way to stay connected to your own family.
  • An invitation that is clearly charity. If you have been invited by someone you barely know because their family custom involves some ‘charity’ invites and they can’t find a homeless person this year, you may feel too awkward to come. It is socially awkward being someone else’s act of charity when you feel like a regular, normal person who ought to be invited to events for regular, normal reasons. But you might try accepting such an invitation if you feel up to handling the awkwardness, because accepting someone’s charity invitation could be your act of charity toward them.
  • An invitation that requires a money contribution that you can’t meet. Some families celebrate with restaurant food or catered food. If they want you to kick in money you don’t have, it may be easier to stay away than beg to attend at the group’s expense. There is not much an Aspie can do about this. Most of us are unemployed, on scanty disability or underemployed. And most families who buy Thanksgiving food pre-cooked do so in order to spare family members work.

If you are going to be spending Thanksgiving alone, you don’t have to be depressed or lonely. If you have a working DVD player you can perhaps rent a couple of movies so you can keep yourself distracted. Better yet, buy some new books you will save for the day.

Social media may not be much of a help when most of your social media buddies are spending time with their families and shouldn’t take time out to interact with you. But there may be others in your situation. You can interact with people like that— maybe even plan a social media ‘party.’ And of course if you have friends In Real Life who will also be alone, why not suggest a get-together? You don’t have to plan a full feast. You can just heat up frozen pizza or chicken wings or something easy.

Another good solution is if you can find someone who has an ‘in’ at the local soup kitchen or a church where they have turkey dinners for the poor and lonely. Being one of the people who is helping may be easier than going as a recipient of the charity. And you can be doing good as well as feeling less lonely.

The problem with #Superman as a fictional character #writing

Superman. I like him, perhaps because I come from an era when comic books were safe for kids. But there is one interesting think about Superman. As he was originally conceived, it was very hard to write interesting stories about him.

Superman was basically invulnerable, with no weaknesses. We felt he was quite heroic, but everything was so easy for him, was he really heroic after all? He could pick up street criminals by the bunch and drop them at the jail. Of course he probably had to go back to pick up eyewitnesses so the criminals could get convicted. But it wasn’t really a challenge for him.

The writers of Superman added kryptonite so that Superman had a point of vulnerability. It’s kind of silly that rocks from Superman’s destroyed home planet would be harmful to him. And that so many villains could obtain kryptonite. But by making Superman vulnerable— at least to one thing— it made it easier to identify him. And he could be really heroic by taking real risks in order to save someone.

The other thing that the writers of Superman had to invent were supervillians. Ordinary, realistic street criminals were too easy for Superman to defeat. So there had to be villains with superpowers of their own, or who were evil geniuses who could figure out how to seriously endanger Superman or thwart his efforts.

The rule we should learn from this is a real hero needs to be vulnerable in some way, and needs to have an opponent who can actually harm or defeat him.

This can be a problem in some fantasy fiction. Writers might create heroes with amazing magical powers so that the reader wonders: why doesn’t he just use his magic? Unlimited powers in a hero lead to boring stories where the hero is unchallenged. Or unrealistic stories where the hero doesn’t attempt to use his magic powers to accomplish his goals without any real reason to not use this power.

A villain that seems too powerful to defeat does work in fiction, as long as the author plants clues that the villain has a weakness, a limit to his powers, or a way to be defeated. The Harry Potter series works in part because we know Lord Voldemort had limits. He couldn’t just sit in his lair with magic wand out, chanting ‘Aveda Kadavera’ and have his distant enemies all drop dead. We know from the beginning of Harry Potter that Lord Voldemort was defeated once, and that he had opposition as well as supporters.

Writers that don’t think their story through, give both villain and hero non-unlimited sets of abilities, and arrange defeats-of-villains that make actual sense in the story world don’t manage to create entertaining stories.

Book-oriented Writers and TV-oriented Writers #amwriting

There are two kinds of aspiring writers in our age— book-oriented ones who get much of their fiction through books, and TV-oriented writers who get much, most or all of their fiction through television and movies.

Since television and books are different art forms, you can guess that the more book-oriented a writer is the better he is able to produce good books of his own. But with television ever-present in American homes and beyond- with DVD players in vans so little tots don’t have to do without entertainment on the ride to the grocery store, and televisions even intruding into family restaurants— we can understand how some folks can be TV-oriented.

I was almost wholly TV-oriented myself. My mother wrote in my baby book that they sat me up in front of the TV to watch Captain Kangaroo at six months. They thought I was a TV-watching prodigy or something. And as I grew older the first fiction that really inspired me to make up stories of my own was the original Star Trek.

But I was lucky enough to be born into a book-loving home. Neither of my parents went to college— in their day it was rare for people of their lower-income background to have that chance. I always remember my father having a collection of ‘serious’ non-fiction books– about the lives of recent presidents and statesmen, about wars, a set of books by Winston Churchill. My mother had some popular novels like Gone With the Wind and The Silver Chalice, and some sets of mystery short stories.

When I was a baby my mother bought a 12 volume set of children’s books for me called ‘My Book House.’ The first volume had nursery rhymes from around the world. The second had simpler fairy tales, and the next had more complex ones. The last volume was advanced enough that it had chapters from ‘The Mill on the Floss’ in it. When I was about nine I decided that the numbers on the books indicated the age of child who was allowed to read it. So I didn’t read the last few books as often, since by then I was finding reading material on my own.

I got the idea to want to be a writer from reading ‘Little Women.’ I don’t know that I liked writing, or the character Jo from the book who wrote, all that much. I just was afraid if I cultivated my musical talent like Beth, I’d die young.

But, more so in these days, there are a lot of people who are keen on TV shows and want to tell TV inspired stories. That’s where the impulse to write TV-based fanfiction comes from. And there are a lot of fans of The Hunger Games and Harry Potter that experienced the movies first, and may or may not have read the book series. If you are from a TV-oriented family where no one owns books or reads them, it may not occur to you that the books can be deeper and richer than any movie could be.

The answer, if you are a TV-oriented aspiring writer, is to find books you like and read them. Novelizations of movies and TV shows count, at first. As a kid, when in about fourth grade I saw another kid reading the Star Trek book illustrating this blog post— Star Trek 3 by James Blish. I nagged my parents into buying me the other books in that series, and later used my allowance to buy others in that eventual 13 book series. Later, after the movie Star Trek 2 came out, original Star Trek novels started being published by Pocket books and I regularly bought them. I now have a nearly-full bookshelf of them— though some very recent Star Trek novels I bought were so very bad, riddled with political correctness, that I don’t think I need to be buying any more. Imagine a character in the middle of action worrying about which pronoun she should use when thinking about a gender-neutral alien species. People that dumb wouldn’t survive long in a hostile situation.

Of course an aspiring writer, even of genre fiction, will want to read a variety of books, including some that are rated ‘good literature.’ Don’t be afraid of trying books like that. Some of them are even better than Star Trek 3.

Should Sunday Schools teach moral law or not?

Jesus. He’s a Friend of mine.

 

I always understood that one of the things we were supposed to be taught in Sunday School was the Moral Law: things like the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule. How to do the right things God wants us to do, instead of behaving the way that the Devil likes.

But I’ve read that some people worry that doing that will teach the kids Works Righteousness— the idea you can earn your way to heaven by doing good deeds and avoiding evil ones, no Jesus or cross required.

Works Righteousness does not work. Not even if you are Catholic. Not even if you are the Blessed Virgin Mary. I mean, we Catholics pray ‘Hail Mary full of grace’ and not ‘Hail Mary who is full of good works and doesn’t need grace.’

But children need to be taught, and God leaves it up to us. He doesn’t send down angels to teach kids that stealing is wrong even if they really, really want something that belongs to someone else.

Many of us Christians have been raised in the faith and taught well about the Moral Law from such an early age we don’t even remember all of our instruction. We don’t really know how far astray a young human can go if not taught.

I remember reading on the news years ago of some young woman who was auctioning off her virginity online to help pay for her college tuition. She didn’t seem to have any sense that she was doing anything wrong, rather she thought she should be praised for being responsible and seeking out a higher education. My thought was not to blame her, but the people who raised her who should have taught her the Moral Law to a much greater degree than they did.

When I was a young kid in the Presbyterian Church, we had catechism classes where we were to memorize the statements of a catechism, where we learned about the Ten Commandments among other things. My mother had to memorize these things in her church as well.

People discount this as rote memory and therefore not worth doing, but it is something to hang on to. And there is no rule that learning something by rote memory excludes the possibility of the teacher instructing the pupils to understand what they are memorizing and learn to apply it.

These days the Sunday School instruction tends to be far weaker— in my mom’s church instead of having a Sunday School hour for all ages, the children are trotted out after that pastor gives them a children’s sermon. I wonder how much time they have to teach everything to the few children that come to that church.

I think that these days parents have to take responsibility for the religious education of their kids. You can buy an old-time catechism book related to your faith. Or just teach the kids to memorize appropriate Bible verses. Teaching Biblical moral rules doesn’t teach your kids they can be righteous enough on their own. Just trying to keep moral rules teaches us the opposite— that no matter how much we want to do what is right in God’s eyes, we just can’t do it on our own. We need the forgiveness that Jesus Christ bought for us at the cross.