Month: May 2010

Technology is a pretty cool thing.  I am writing this post 35,000 feet over the Eastern seaboard, as I fly down to Atlanta enroute to San Antonio.  Onboard wi-fi is rocking!  What’ll they think of next?

Staring out the window, all the fields and towns look tiny, and there are patterns there that are not visible except from this height.  It is a pretty amazing view, and I find myself mulling things over in my WIP.

As I get further into my story, I am starting to consider the structure of the scenes, the pacing, the way certain bits of information are shared with the reader.  I think I’ve posted before that I tend to write extremely messy first drafts that go all over the map–so there is a definite need to take all that content and pair it with a structure that keeps my novel from sagging in the middle, or dragging at the end.  In my mind, good structure really is about balance between the different parts of the story.

Creating and applying a structure to accomplish these goals can be tricky.  It’s a bit like the Nazca lines down in Peru.  If you haven’t heard about these fascinating lines, I’ll share a little history.  For hundreds of years, the locals and then the Europeans who arrived in the area near Lima, Peru knew that there were strange man-made rock formations out in the desert.  They had no clue what they were for or who put them there.  In the early twentieth century, when the airplane was invented and people started flying over the area, they realized that the strange formations were actually symbols, visible only for the air.

There’s an important lesson here, I think, and as I dig into my WIP, I am realizing that the ground-view, page level vantage point isn’t going to cut the mustard.  I need to look at things from 35,000 feet.

In my playwrighting days, I had several tricks that I would deploy to evaluate and tweak structure.  For one, I’d place each scene on an index card, then lay all the index cards out on the floor and move them around to explore different structures to determine what works best.  This also sometimes helps to identify scenes that can be combined or cut.

I also sometimes write an outline or treatment which serves the same purpose: to ensure that each scene performs it’s function and fits into the larger inciting incident-rising action–climax–denouement framework.

What about you?  What do you do to get a strategic view of your WIP?

First, Nashville needs help.  Go check out Do The Write Thing For Nashville, a site where goodies for writers are being auctioned off to raise funds for the hard hit area.  Southern Princess, Courtney Barr has more details about the devastation down there.  It doesn’t look pretty, so let’s all pitch in and do what we can.

Also,  go check out Tricia at Talespinning’s contest.  It’s a good one!

And I’m just back from surviving the helo dunker.  My skin is still tingling!  It was so much fun, I just had to post of up this video to give you a taste of what it was like.  Enjoy!

Have a great Thursday.

At the moment, I’m attending the first session of a two day aviation water survival course in Norfolk, Virginia.  Today was the classroom work; tomorrow we get to bag some pool  time and ride the helo dunker, among other events (Youtube video at the link).  It’s actually pretty fun.

In class this morning, we learned about human factors.  What are human factors, you say?  I’m glad you asked.

It turns out that most aviation mishaps do not result from a mechanical malfunction or act of god, like bad weather.  The most likely cause of an accident, by a wide margin, is pilot error.  Pilot error occurs when the pilot loses situation awareness, or fails to perceive his environment properly.  Most of these problems are lumped together broadly under the heading of spatial disorientation, or SD (gotta love those acronyms!).

A key component of SD is what a pilot thinks about what he sees.  His brain’s interpretations of the incoming data, whether it be visual, aural, or through some other channel, can affect his understanding of his surroundings, sometimes with disastrous consequences.  Like a blind spot, a pilot’s opinions can actually cause him to miss key information or objects because his brain has convinced him they aren’t there.

I think writers can suffer from the same problem.  Don’t believe me?  Let’s do a test then, shall we?  I want you to read the following phrase:

PARIS
IN THE
THE SPRING

Done?  Good.  Now store those words away for a moment and let’s have some fun!

I learned this trick in my college Psych class, but they used a similar test this morning.  You see, what you just read doesn’t actually say what you think it says.  WAIT!  Don’t go back and read it again until I explain.

Reportedly, about 90% of the normal population will fail this test, because of how our brains work.  Since you are a bunch of writers who do a lot of editing, I’d expect the numbers to be lower–say half–but I still stand by my claim.  At least 50% of you think the above phrase says something different than it actually says.

OK.  I’ll let you in on the secret.  Read it again.  It says: “Paris in the *THE* spring.”  Yep.  Missed it, didn’t you?

You see, your brain is hardwired with all these rules you don’t know are there.  Since the word “the” never comes right after another “the”, your brain skips right over it without telling you.  A truer illustration of an honest-to-goodness blind spot, I’ve never seen.

So what does this mean for us writers?  It means we probably have tons of these little rules infecting our prose because our brain skips over the blemishes without telling us.  The trick is to develop techniques to see into these blind spots.  Here are three that work for me:

  • Read my prose out loud.  Somehow the act of reading it tickles a different part of the brain and I hear phrase problems as well as other things that I don’t discover when reviewing silently.
  • Print and review a hardcopy.  The words on paper appear differently than they do on screen.  They’re laid out in a different way.  The experience of holding the page in my hand, the physicality of it as opposed to reading from the screen is different.  These distinctions help me to illuminate blind spot areas also.
  • Change font type and size.  This can also jar things loose.  In fact, sometimes I write my drafts in one font, then edit in another. 

These all work by tricking your brain into looking at your fiction in different ways.  And of course, the help of another brain (read beta reader or critique partner) brings a ton to the table as well.

What about you?  Do you have blind spots?  What do you do to keep your brain from playing tricks on you?

The subtitle of this post is “Fly Away”.  The sub-sub title for this post is “With all this Texas heat, wouldn’t it be fun to go snowboarding?”  Patience, grasshopper.  All will be made clear.

See, I am writing this from a crowded jetway at Bush International Airport in Houston, Texas.  Yeah, I’m on the road again.  The last week has been a whirlwind of calls and emails to a veritable army of people straightening out my travel plans and the details of our move to Sicily.  At the moment, we are set to depart around the first week of June, but based on the various perambulations observed in the last several days, that might still change.

No, I won’t be missing all this travel hoop-jumping when it finally comes time to retire in two years time; it’ll be nice to kick the feet up and stay in one spot for awhile.

Nonetheless, I am still managing to find it fun now.  My current travel takes me first back to the scene of the crime–Norfolk, Virginia–for some swim training, and then I head down to my hometown, San Antonio, next week for two weeks of ground school.

All these events promise to be fun and challenging and are only slightly marred by the fact that they keep me from writing.  But we can’t have everything, can we?  In the meantime, Furnace Girl will keep the home fires burning, and we’ve asked Muffin to take over troublemaker duties (my usual role), an endeavor she has taken on with gusto.

In all the hubbub, I didn’t get a Friday Link Love post up this week, so here I present a very special, once-in-a-lifetime Sunday edition of Friday Link Love (in trying to cover up my tardiness by selling this as something special, I’m hearing a line from that old U2 song in my head: “You can sew it up, but you still see the tear”.  :)  At the rate I’ve been going recently, maybe I should start calling it Monthly Link Love.  Hmmm……the metallic sound you hear is the noise of the cogs in my brain working.

But today’s post is a veritable Link-a-Pa-Looza.  In fact, I’ve been sitting on a bunch of links for awhile, so here is a pretty hefty list.  I hope you enjoy.

Now for dessert:

Have a great Sunday. Stay groovy and thanks for stopping by!