Friday, February 13, 2015

Writer's Ennui

My friends, I'm in a bit of a quandry.  Recently, the third book in Maureen Johnson's Shades of London trilogy dropped, and so I began re-reading the first book to remind myself of what was happening.  This is my standard operating procedure with series - I like to remember all that went before the new book, so I don't have to keep asking myself who different characters are.

My problem, however, was that as I read The Name of the Star, I realized that there were significant...similarities, to my own Paranormal Investigations, Inc. series.  I know for certain that I read this book before I started writing PII, so I have no doubts that I was influenced, but...well, it gave me a bit of a shock.  I know that stories have been told multiple times over the years, and that the books aren't exactly the same (no Jack the Ripper in my book, for instance), but it's still a little painful when realizing that someone else had a similar idea, and they wrote it better than you can.

I'm going to be stepping away from PII for a few, just to try and give myself some space before trying to work things out, but I'm having a hard time figuring out what to work on instead.  I have several works in progress, and I feel as though I should actually try to finish one of those before starting something new, but none of them are really grabbing my attention at the moment.  I'm the same way with books, sometimes - I have several books that are in-progress, but some days I don't want to read any of them - I want to start something new.

I guess it's time to go to the trunk, and see what lurks in there.  Wish me luck in the spelunking!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Writing Excuses Master Class - What Do You Mean My Main Character is Boring?

New month, new beginnings with the Writing Excuses Master Class.  This month is apparently going to be focused on characters, which is great, because that's where things tend to fall apart for me.  The writing prompt (and yes, I realize I'm a week behind):

Take three different characters and walk them through a scene. Convey their emotional states, their jobs, and their hobbies without directly stating any of those. The scene in question: walking through a marketplace, and they need to do a dead-drop.

Take one:

Janet kept her eyes fixed firmly on the road ahead of her as she jogged around the track.  She felt awkward without her iPod and keys, but the phone call had made it clear that she needed to come right away - no time to do her normal stretching routine, even.  The track wrapped around the waterfront, passing in front of the busy Saturday Market.  Sunny weekend days were at a premium, and it seemed everyone in the city had decided to go shopping today.

When she reached the edge of the market, she turned off the track, keeping her pace steady as she passed the food stalls.  She forced herself to look up, trying to find the bucket behind the elephant ear stand.  She knew from experience that she would draw attention from security guards if she started looking around or over her shoulder - it was something that would draw her attention during her rounds, at any rate.  She tried to keep her breathing regular, but the nerves were getting to her.  Just as she was about to give up, she saw the edge of the bucket peeking out from the tarp at the back of a stand.  From the smells of cinnamon and sugar, she knew she was in the right place.  Letting out a deep breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding, she casually ran near the bucket and tossed something from her pocket, then sprinted away.

Take two:

"Toby, heel!"  Roger tried to pull the stubborn dog back, but the Golden Retriever had just seen yet another dog, and had to sniff it out.  The dog was dumb as a box of hammers, but his owners paid well, so Roger put up with him.  At least he was friendly, and taking him for a walk through Saturday Market gave him an excuse to handle other affairs.

With an irritated sigh, Roger pulled Toby off the other dog and smiled apologetically at the girl holding the Shii Tzu's leash.  "Sorry about that, he's a little feisty," he called as she huffed away.  "Toby, you've got to try to go for the dogs that have HOT owners," he told the dog as they walked in the opposite direction.  "How am I supposed to get any if you don't do your job?"

They continued down the row, stopping at the Spoonman stand where the air glittered with "art" made from upcycled silverware.  Roger thought it was garbage, but the man made a lot of money, and with so many people around the stand, it made his job much easier.  He sidled up to the edge of the stand, looking seriously at some...he thought they might be flower vases, maybe?  At any rate, they'd be perfect.  With a quick glance around, he reached into his pocket and added a little something extra to the vase display.  Whistling, he tugged Toby's leash and they continued on their merry way.

Take three:

Alison couldn't help rolling her eyes at the serious tone Matthew was taking.  "I get it, boss," she sing-songed.  "I go to the stall in the market, drop off the-"

"Quiet!" Matthew hissed, trying to keep her attention on him while simultaneously keeping himself from being seen.  "You can't just go around talking about it.  You should know better than that by now.  Just...just go, put it where it needs to be, and come back."  He sighed, shaking his head.  "I still don't know if this work is for you, but we have to try something."

"Thanks a heap," Alison muttered as she snagged the package from the bench next to Matthew and stalked off.  She knew that this was a weird part of the job, but she refused to let herself think that she couldn't handle it.  There was important information to track, and the package in her hand was going to help her team in a lot of ways.

She walked down the aisle of stalls, slowing down as she saw a few jeweler's stands with sparkling necklaces and earrings.  Maybe after she did the..thing, she could come back and do a bit of shopping.  Better hurry up and be done with ti, then.

She continued on, in a bit of a hurry now, hoping that the large amethyst necklace would still be where she saw it when she was done.  She almost tripped over a Golden Retriever who jumped up on her, and she almost dropped the package.  She managed to get away from both dog and owner and rounded the corner to Spoonman's stand.  She wrinkled her nose at some of the displays, but she admitted that the pens made of servingware did look pretty cool.  She tried not to look around too much, and with as many people as there were in the booth, it was unlikely that anyone would notice her, anyway.  She went to the counter where the cashier was ringing things up furiously, and dropped the package behind the business-card holder next to the register.  Slipping away, she felt a rush of adrenaline.  Now to find that necklace again...

Friday, February 6, 2015

Writing Excuses Master Class - Q&A on Ideas

I am a bad blogger who didn't blog last week (or most of this week) - shame!  I will have to work on that.  At any rate, I'm planning to skip the Writing Excuses writing prompts on the "wildcard" weeks, at least as far as the blogs are concerned, and will only be focusing on the master class ideas.  I've also gotten my writers' group at work started on them, which makes me happy.  This week's prompt ties into some of the things I do with character development, so I'm excited to see how this turns out:

Take one of the ideas you're excited about, and then audition five different characters for the lead role in that story. Make sure they're all different from each other.

I'll be focusing on the camera shop of horrors, and I'll be auditioning for the role of the keeper of the portal, who is forcing the employees of the camera shop to keep the portal open for nefarious reasons.

ENTER Dennis - Caucasian male, looks late-twenties but is actually much older, handsome as the devil, tall but not intimidatingly so, with piercing blue eyes.  He strolls onto the stage and sits casually in the folding chair, crossing one Armani-clad leg over the other and straightening his jacket collar.  He smiling winningly.

AUTHOR:  Dennis, tell me why you want to control a time portal, and what you'll do to keep that control.

DENNIS:  (with a throaty laugh)  Why wouldn't I want to control a "time portal", as you so charmingly put it?  A window into the distant past that allows one to travel to and fro on a whim, learning from the mistakes of one's forefathers and finding new and exciting ways to exploit them?  It's a dream come true!  And once one is in control of such a find, why, there's no reason to allow anyone else to even know about my little secret, much less defend against it.  So long as it stays well-hidden, there's no need to fight.  And the best way to keep something hidden is to keep it to oneself.  After all, the only way two people can keep a secret is if one of them is dead.

AUTHOR:  OK, that veered into creepy.  Next!

ENTER Alyss - African-American female, early twenties, with a perpetually worried look on her face and her eyes hidden by large glasses.  She clutches a tablet in her hand, scrolling through a page and doesn't even look up as she passes Dennis.  She sits on the edge of the vacated seat, leaning forward to rest her elbows on denim-covered knees, and remains absorbed in whatever is on her tablet.

AUTHOR:  Alyss, same question.

ALYSS:  Huh?  (blinks owlishly at the author, then sets the tablet on her lap as she comes back around to the real world)  Oh, right!  Well, a time portal could be one of the biggest breakthroughs in historical research!  Just think, we could go back in time and actually find out some of the biggest mysteries in the world!  We could actually watch Kennedy's assassination, and how the moon landing was faked, and how 9/11 was really the result of a years-long conspiracy amongst the top tiers of the government!  The only people who wouldn't want to have this information out in the world would be the liberal media, with their bias and their determination to hide all of the parts of history that don't fit into their neat little narrative.  But we'd show them!  We'd show them all!

AUTHOR:  Oooookay then.  NEXT!

I think I'm going to stop things here, as I'm having a really difficult time coming up with different characters for this.  I may come back to it, though, because the exercise itself is really cool.