Once Upon a Midnight Dreary…

Once upon a time, in the snowy city of Quebec, Häagen-Dazs blessed the holiday season with a special, limited edition Bailey’s flavored ice cream. As one who was at the time known to drink said liquor straight from the bottle, Yours Truly welcomed the offering with an enthusiasm that was cut short; too soon, the edition passed and the flavor never reappeared, its memory fading like a cherished dream never to be licked from a spoon again.

Yet, once upon a midnight dreary, out of a ninth train ride in about as many days, Yours Truly lugged luggage under the pouring rain, stomach grumbling from a missed dinner. The corner store beckoned and despite being one who highly prefers a home-cooked meal to uncooked plastic-flavored foodstuff, I walked in. Little did I know that upon that night, that rain, that long trying day, Hamburg would provide much needed comfort in the form of seemingly endless supply of Bailey’s flavored Häagen-Dazs.

That’s it, World, I’m staying right here.

Moving, GDC Europe and Other Excuses

Hi everyone,

I’ve gone back to silence mode again. Shame on me. I also haven’t written or edited a single word in the past three weeks. Double-shame. I do have very good excuses, though.

First weekend of August saw the beginning of my move back to Hamburg and the visit of my parents, aunt and uncle. We had a wonderful weekend full of beer, sauerkraut and stuff. I also spent my first night in my new temporary apartment in Hamburg.

Last week was all about welcoming the new lead game designer on Drakensang in Berlin, ramping out of that project, ramping onto new projects and moving back to Hamburg. After a back and forth on Thursday, I gave back the keys to my Berlin apartment on Friday, had dinner with friends from Quebec (more beer and German foodstuff) and took the last train to Hamburg.

Last weekend, I unpacked my suitcases, made the laundry, repacked and took the Sunday train to Cologne.

This week, it’s GDC Europe and Gamescom, a week long series of interesting speeches, awesome new contacts and general celebration of games. There an odd concentration of people with blue hair here; it’s unsettling. *laughs* Seriously, though, I’m having a great time and attending some very interesting talk about games as cultural vehicles, the game industry in general, and, as a bridge between what I do in my hobbies and what I do at work, narrative structures in games. I’m taking a quick break to do some stuff for work and write this post, then I’m off to meet new people. ;)

Next weekend, I’m taking a quick trip to Brussels (because it is close to Cologne, no why not?) before heading back to Hamburg on Sunday.

And I’m in Berlin next Monday to support the Drakensang team.

So, I’m in one piece and the right kind of busy, though not the one that gives me time to write. It’ll come back. It has too. I go crazy if I don’t write for too long and that’s not good for anyone. ;)

Birth of Another Idea

Four years ago, I wrote a fairly poetic take on Where Do Ideas Come From?. This weekend, I found a perfect example of just how random the birth of a story can be, and I figured it would be could to share it. For me, these little moments are a constant reminder to be open to the world, ready to let inspiration in.

So here’s what happened.

I was having a Skype conversation with a dear friend who is getting bored out of his mind at his job. Since I’m a super positive and optimistic person, I said something that triggered a funny exchange which I decided to transfer to Facebook to bring a smile in other people’s life. I had an inkling it would get me in trouble:


Sometimes I hate my brains…

Yes, that happened. Just like something as random happened with fire hydrantssummoning chickens and a bunch of other stories. Just like it’ll happen for as long as I have my senses and let the world in.

Curious to see what these first 200 words read like?

The Girl Who Writes Motivational Posters

The amount of boredom you feel is but a measure of how better than this you are.” I scribble on my blank page and look at the smooth curves of my letters. There are too many of them.

If you’re bored, you are meant for greater things.

Each line is further from the truth, but my boss will call it ‘deep’ or ‘philosophical’. Besides, our target demographic has a short attention span, so I put pencil to paper again and scratch in two new lines.

You’re meant for greater things.

There it is. Slap the picture of a sexy college student dozing off and watch the posters sell like sweet tea on a hot Louisiana day. Replace the student with an office worker and the laminates will reach the secondary audience and boost revenues.
They’ll love it.
My eyes drift toward the clock. Fifteen minutes without wanting to shoot myself. I should pump my fist or something.

Celebrate every mediocre achievement.”

Yeah… that one won’t fly.

What do you think? What has been your most random source for an idea?

How I Edit

As I mentioned last week, though I haven’t been blogging and haven’t been writing as much as I want to, I have managed to edit a few chapters of Oil and Boiling Water. I sent that novel out on query a couple of years ago and got some feedback from agents, several of which didn’t send a form rejection. The novel ended up on standby while I worked my way through my burnout from my old job and then flew my way to Germany.

Because I truly believe in this story,  I figured that I could ease my way back into writing by doing a new pass of edits on the whole thing. It helps that the story sat for a while. Before I set out on my edits, I made a list of my goals. At first, I focused on the feedback I had received: simplify the voice, clarify the opening, age it up (some people thought it was YA and that’s not the story I want to tell).

I read and tweaked, pulling details together into more visible elements, straining relationship a bit more, and cutting down some of the overly lighthearted moments. These tweaks, though rather minor in the grand scheme of things, messed up the progression of the relationships between my characters a little bit. I decided to dig into this a bit more and track the ups and downs of relationships in an Excel table.

Why stop there?

The table grew quickly to help me satisfy additional objectives I added to this pass of edits: check the rhythm of action and drama, make sure the key elements of the story show up regularly in chapters, validate that the longer chapters deserve to be this long, etc.

This is what it looks like now for chapter 1 to 10.

Analyzing my novel in Excel

Building a table out of key elements of my novel.

The colored chapters numbers flag the length. Elements that evolve in the story get a variety of numerical values, while tertiary characters/key plot points get nothing if they are not mentioned in a chapter, a 5 if they are briefly and a 10 if they play a significant role in that chapter. I should probably at least mention the Scholars (my main antagonists) in chapter 5 or 6 because they currently disappear for seven chapters after their first apparition.

Then, that table turned into a series of graphs.

Visualizing the progression of drama and action.

Visualizing the progression of drama and action.

Chapters 12, 21 and 24 are clearly a problem; no drama or action. And to top it off, 12 and 24 are some of my longest chapters. My midpoint does what it should: high action, short breather, high action. There should be high drama close after that and that’s not happening.

These tools have allowed me to paint a clearer picture of what my edits need to accomplish and I’m confident I can fix these issues with rather small changes. The elements of potential drama and action (for example) are in there, but they don’t shine so I’ll point a follow spot on them. ;)

In case you’re curious, here’s the new first 500 words of Oil and Boiling Water. You can compare them to the initial draft (which hadn’t changed all that much in the previous revisions).

The door slammed shut in my face and shook for a couple of my angry heartbeats. I looked down at my bulging breasts, cursing them per my new habit. I had tried everything to get into the University.
“You don’t learn, Lady Seymour,” said the guard perched on the high marble wall. The coal-charged drizzle tarnished his apprentice robe, a hybrid between cassock and nobleman’s wear. “If your female brain can’t comprehend the meaning of ‘never’, how could it handle calculus?”
“How would your weak will handle celibacy if I walked your halls?”
The guard scoffed.
Even when I strapped my breasts, borrowed my brother’s clothes and tied my hair in a fashion appropriate for educated lads, my body wasn’t humble enough to pass for a man’s. It was the crux of my predicament, to be sure.
“And you are one to talk,” I continued whilst I had an opportunity to vent some frustration. “The Scholars’ teachings were your birthright and your stupidity squandered it.”
The drizzle had ramped up to a downpour and its drumming on the slate roofs covered whatever the guard mumbled. The angry slant of his brow left no doubt that I had hurt him. Everyone knew that the University’s guards were noblemen who failed one too many classes. He had attacked my ego first.
“Hurry back to your fiancé, my Lady,” he yelled over the din. “You will come closer to science by birthing Britannia’s heir.”
That smarted. A lot.
I wiped the rain off my face with my sleeve. “Expect me back with a working iteration of the prototype your master stole. They will invite me in.”
The guard burst in laughter, and I did the only ladylike thing left to do; I spun on my heel and walked away.
Since the soft spoken words, patience and fluttered lashes couldn’t get me through the mahogany door, I had hoped my gift and the coming storm would get gentlemen to offer me shelter. My scheme failed to consider that Scholars put chauvinism before manners like they put their thirst for knowledge before diplomacy. I wouldn’t make this mistake again.
Time for plan B.
I gathered my petticoats in my arms and stomped down Maryott Avenue, my head held high, as befitted my rank. The thunder roared and my knees buckled, thwarting my march with an ungraceful stumble.
“Do you intend to cripple me before I run away?” I said to the uneven cobblestones. “In league with the Scholars who would cover you in blood?” Steadying myself on a lamppost, I removed my high-heel shoes and stockings before resuming my escape.
The Scholars’ iron grip would bring Britannia’s to its knees before I got pregnant. Already, riots reddened some nights and France watched with coveting eyes. I couldn’t wait for a maybe heir who may grow into a wilful man who could keep chipping away at the Scholars’ walls. No. I had to be the battering ram.

What do you think? How do you plan your edits?

The Importance of Routine

Last time I wrote here was at the beginning of April, a few days after I moved my life across the ocean. Since then, I’ve been trying to find my footing in Germany, but working between Hamburg and Berlin has made it hard to put down roots. So I gave myself some leeway on blogging, writing, the gym and other activities that are usually part of my routine; new job, new country, new language, I’m allowed to lower my expectations toward myself.

By sacrificing my routine on the altar of circumstances, I’ve realized how much these simple things that give rhythm to my days and weeks are important for my creativity. I’m significantly less productive in my writing even though I do spend some time working on that.

Almost four years ago, I wrote an article about the importance of having a Writing Time, but other routine elements matter too. They help bring order to the multitude of actions I take everyday, so that when I sit down to write, my brain can focus (instead of building a To Do/Most Not Forget list for the next day). Routine gives me a feeling of control and security, and makes it easier to let go and let the words flow.

It doesn’t mean that I need every minute planned and every week to be the same, but a certain cadence to my days goes a long way.

Until I move back to Hamburg full time in August, it makes no sense to start certain things (like finding a gym I like). One habit I have kept is to have breakfast with my netbook at a restaurant once every weekend –I found a good Turkish restaurant with a tasty breakfast plate and upbeat music that just bring the ‘sun’ in Sunday. It helps, but I’m not being especially productive at that time, my mind wandering between ‘nomnomnom’ and ‘laundry-grocery-cleaning-sightseeing’. A similar thing happens during my weekly back-and-forth train ride between Berlin and Hamburg.

Long story short, I’m reintegrating blogging into my routine so that it serves the same initial purpose behind the start of this blog in 2010: get me to sit down and write. Though I don’t intend to return to Strings of Retaliation for now –I’m focusing on editing Oil and Boiling Water– I want share thoughts, tips, tricks and shorts on a regular basis and reconnect with hops like Weekend Writing Warrior. That should be a good start on a more productive writing schedule.

What about you? Do you have parts of your routine you need in order to have the mental space to handle writing?


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