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My homemade MFA in creative writing

Happy New Year to the few, the strong, the loyal who are still here at Dreamwidth.

2016, like 2015, has been about my homemade MFA program in creative writing. My "thesis"--which was due on December 31st and should be done this week--is a publishable final draft of Restraint. I expect 2017 to be about writing, too.

My program of study has revolved primarily around story structure and editing. As I approach the finish line, here's a roundup of the changes my studies have wrought:
  • Word count: Fanfic 230,000, Profic 145,000.
  • Character names changed: 15
  • Characters cut: 2
  • Subplots cut: also 2
  • Subplots added: 1
  • Scenes cut: I've lost track. A lot.
  • Scenes added: about 10
  • Average sentence length: Fanfic 16 words, Profic 14 words
  • Reading ease score: Fanfic 69, Profic 72 (higher is easier)
  • Number of drafts to get here: 8
Here's a rough and improvised heat map of the restructured novel, scene by scene. Green bars are scenes that end positive; red, negative. Height of bar approximates scene intensity:
a bar graph with green bars rising above the centerline and red bars descending below it, representing scene-by-scene valence shifts in the novel Restraint


Three fellow writers have volunteered to read and comment on the final draft. Assuming they find no major failings, I'll polish it up and start sending it out in March.

In other writing news, I'm taking Shawn Coyne's Story Grid Workshop in New York City in February. It'll be three days with the story structure master and 25 other writers who are ready to go pro. Since Restraint will be finished by then, I'll be applying what I learn there--and everything I've learned in my Homemade MFA Program--to my next novel, which is currently in the proto-outline stage.

Crossposted from Dreamwidth, where there are comment count unavailable comments.

Account renewal

Even though I don't come here very often anymore, and I don't know why that is*, I just renewed my paid account. I also don't know why that is.

I think it's the hope that someday, the warm community spirit of more-than-140-characters will come back to me, and to this place. It seems worth the thirty-five bucks to hang on to that hope for another year.

And I just saw this, which reminded me about my account expiry notice:



*it's at least in part, I suppose, because embedding other media here seems anachronistically iffy.

Crossposted from Dreamwidth, where there are comment count unavailable comments.

On a lighter note

When you turn 60, joke-getting-old cards actually become funny. Who knew?

This one was from my little sister, who's only 58.

birthday card front showing two old ladies in a red car with shiny sunglasses and laughing. One asks Where we headed? and the other says I don"t know!

birthday card inside showing same two old ladies. The second one is saying "I thought you were driving!

Crossposted from Dreamwidth, where there are comment count unavailable comments.

Filing the serial numbers off

The biggest difference, I'm finding, between a novel-length fanfic and a publishable novel isn't that you have to change the characters' names and give them different haircolors (though there is that).

The biggest difference is that you're writing for strangers.

Telling the story to strangersCollapse )

Crossposted from Dreamwidth, where there are comment count unavailable comments.
Robert McKee: Story: Style, Structure, Substance...
Christopher Vogler: The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers
Shawn Coyne: The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know
John Yorke: Into the Woods: A Five-Act Journey Into Story
Larry Brooks: Story Physics and Story Engineering and Story Fix Larry Brooks

Lately I've been wooed into the left-brained world of editors and screenwriters writing about story structure. Studying these books (blogs, podcasts, presentations...) has helped me see my work's real flaws.

But because I'm more analytical than creative myself, I'm in danger of over-engineering my novel to fit a Grid, a set of Tent Poles, or a Hero's Journey. It's getting hard to tell whether I'm improving my story or ruining it.

A metaphor keeps springing to mind from a craft I'm more proficient in: sewing.

Crimson velvet and chiffon rufflesCollapse )

Crossposted from Dreamwidth, where there are comment count unavailable comments.
The second meeting of the Super Hardcore Editing Group left me a bit wrung out. The work is intense and so are the people doing it. A lot of brainpower goes into those two hours--so much brainpower, in fact, that I was worthless for anything except Twitter and grocery shopping until six hours had gone by.

We spend little to no time on our prose. Two of our four members don't even have much prose yet. Just outlines. Tent Poles (PDF). We've spent 90% of our meeting time so far digging deep into each other's story summaries, trying to place those poles accurately so that the fabric of the story can be stretched taut over them.

I'm struggling with the middle of my novel. Apparently this is a common problem. The beginning of a story tends to be clear in a first draft and not that hard to spiff up in further drafts. The final act is typically pretty clear too--it's often obvious from the very moment Inspiration plants the story seed in your mind.

But my middle 50%--that is, everything between my First Plot Point (the event that introduces my conflict and drives my protagonists on their path) and the Second Plot Point (the last bit of new information, which drives the story to resolution) is a complete rat's nest tangle of loose ends, extra characters, scenes with no arc or direction...a mess.

A roadmap out of the mess is beginning to emerge thanks to the Sheggers. But boy does my brain hurt.

Crossposted from Dreamwidth, where there are comment count unavailable comments.

Writing Saturday: Big Magic

Now playing in my Audible library: Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear.

Liz (I call her Liz) says a whole bunch of the things Steven Pressfield said in his wonderful The War of Art, but I vastly prefer the way she says them. Pressfield uses a lot of sports and war metaphors that don't resonate much with me. Liz, as you might expect from the author of a book called Eat, Pray, Love, has a more spiritual and nurturing approach.

But they both talk about creativity and fear, and they both have a primarily writerly bias, so they're both inspiring to me in their ways.

Liz, more than Pressfield, focuses on creative self-expression no matter what. She specifically does not talk about "winning". Her anecdotes don't end in, "and then she won a Pulitzer," but rather in, "and then she was happy".

Both of them embrace a concept of inspiration as a real, living thing, existing independently outside of us, and interacting with us. I like that. For Pressfield it's the Muse; for Liz, "ideas". Pressfield sidles up to the metaphysical in a slightly embarrassed way, whereas Liz has it right in her book title: Magic.

Big Magic is read (wonderfully) by the author. It runs about five hours. It's fantastic for me as a writer. I'd think it would be inspiring to anyone who makes anything for any purpose.

Crossposted from Dreamwidth, where there are comment count unavailable comments.

Writing Saturday - Sheggers Assemble

In my quest to level up in my writing, I set out blindly last summer to revise my novel.

My friend Sue lobbed inspiration at me in the form of The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, and I began to see myself as a Warrior for Art. It was a thrilling time, overcoming Resistance, writing every day for four hours, and going outdoors in the early evenings after a hard session, with the deliciously overtaxed brain of the Real Writer.

Though I was fixing small things in my novel, I sensed I wasn't really making progress. But I was inspired and hopeful enough to give a large sum of money to a professional editor, who, I believed, would guide me to the next level. Alas, the professional editor couldn't, or wouldn't, My hopes--not to mention my pride--went down the drain with my money.

It was a sad time. One of my nieces, always kind and inquiring, asked me one day, "How's the writing coming?" and I said, "Oh, I've given up. I'm not calling myself a writer at all anymore."

It was a low point in my writing life.Collapse )

Crossposted from Dreamwidth, where there are comment count unavailable comments.

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