Friday, January 27, 2012

Recipes and outlines

I am a foodie, to put it mildly. I am a foodie to the point where I don't understand how I was ever a picky eater. These days it feels like I'm constantly craving something new and delicious... which is really too bad, because I'm an assistant on a budget.

So I try to cook as much as possible. I don't make very elaborate recipes most of the time - by the time I get home from work, I just want something that's quick and not terribly labor-intensive. But on the weekends or when I have company, I love going all out!

Last weekend, I had some friends over, and I made them salmon cakes and goat cheese mashed potatoes. I had to look up the list of ingredients for the salmon cakes, because I've only ever watched my friend M make them, but I played it by eye in terms of proportions. As for the potatoes, it's a simple recipe, so I improvised and played around with the spices and herbs I've had on hand.

In some recipes, like spinach and artichoke dip, the proportions and the order of the ingredients is important, so I keep the list on hand as I cook. But in other recipes, like risotto, I've made it so many times it's like second nature to me, and there's plenty of room to tweak the flavor as I go. My recipe repertoire is ever-expanding, but within my mental cookbook, each recipe requires something different.

I'm sure you've all heard this question in the writing community: are you a plotter or a pantser? Do you outline, or do you improvise as you go? I almost always have a bare bones outline, but for me, different scenes are like different recipes. In some scenes, there are several points I need to hit before moving on, and I need to write down those points in order. I make notes for future events that need to be foreshadowed, but the timing of that foreshadowing depends on where it'll fit naturally. And for dialogue-heavy scenes, I write off the cuff, and edit/rewrite them later as needed. It all depends on how complicated the scene is, and whether the primary purpose (character development, action, exposition, etc) is playing to a strength or weakness of mine. It can be hectic, but somehow it all comes together!

And now I've made myself super hungry, and I still have half an hour until lunch. Happy writing (and cooking), everyone!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Open thread: characters and gender

Good morning, everyone! I hope you had a fabulous weekend and MLK Jr. day.

On my post about narrative "kinks" a few months ago, I talked a little about how I love when writers switch up traditional gender roles. Last night I was talking with a friend about adaptations or remakes where a previously-established character was written as the opposite gender. I can think of a couple examples off the top of my head: Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica, Kono from Hawaii 5-0, and most recently, Emily Thorne in the new soap Revenge, which is very loosely based on The Count of Monte Cristo.

So for today's post, I'd love to hear from you: what would your current WIP be like if you flipped your protagonist's gender? What would change? What would stay the same?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

"Suggestions: stop writing."

I have been lucky enough to have access to writing workshops since high school - I took classes for about six years straight! So as you can imagine, I've gotten all kinds of different feedback. I've met people who are amazing at constructive criticism. Those people could tear my story or poem apart, but they were so specific about their problems and suggestions, I never had trouble figuring out where they were coming from. And most importantly, they were always polite. Real constructive criticism doesn't discourage me - it energizes me to get back to work and make my writing better.

Not all critiques are like that, of course.

There's feedback that has stuck in my mind if just for how much it made me want to crawl under my desk. Some days, out of the blue, the worst ones will just pop into my head. I think the one that hit me hardest was the one scribbled on the back of a screenplay I wrote for a class. I will be the first to admit that it was not a good script at all, but I still almost choked when I read the verdict:

What was good: nothing.
What was bad: everything.
Suggestions: stop writing.

Ughhh. My stomach still goes into knots thinking about it!

It hurt like hell at the time, but the more I looked around, the more I realized that all my favorite authors had one of these: the critique equivalent of a punch to the stomach. It may not have taught me anything about my subpar screenplay, but it did teach me that I didn't have to take everyone's word as truth. Once of the hardest things to do as a writer is look at all the feedback you get and figure out what to take away from it. If someone tells me to "stop writing," there's nothing to take away from that. I'm obviously not going to stop. So la dee dah.

I wanted to post this here today to encourage those of you who might be down on yourself, whether it's because of feedback that stung, or the little voice of self-doubt in the back of your head, which can be even harsher. It hurts, and you're not weak or thin-skinned for that. We're all going through this process of trial and error together, and sometimes it's important for me to let myself feel discouraged. But pursuing this dream of mine is an adventure. If adventures were easy, we wouldn't have anything to write about.

And besides: there's no better revenge than success.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

In which I set my cap at a jaunty angle and ride into battle

Happy 2012, everyone! How were your holidays? Mine were eventful and relaxing at the same time - it kept me busy, but purely with fun stuff. But now it's back to work, both for the book (yay!) and for the day job (... eh.)

Every year, I find it harder and harder to make real New Year's Resolutions. When I was in school, it was much easier: get good grades, and stop screwing around on the internet so much. (Until I realized that the second one would never happen, and I just found a better way to balance studying with screwing around on the internet.) But my goals are moving further into a place where they're not quite in my control. I can't guarantee that I'll make everything happen, but I can promise myself I'll try.

But you know what? I've got some really awesome stuff on tap for this year. My manuscript will be ready to go in a couple of weeks, and I'll be sending it back to Secret Agent Man. I've FINALLY decided on my next writing project, which I will start in February, and I've got a couple fun ideas still developing. I might even see some exciting new changes on the personal front by late summer. It's daunting to have so much I'd like to accomplish, but it's also so thrilling. It's great to be this psyched for what's ahead!

So watch this space. 2012 will be the Year of Getting Things Done. So hopefully I'll have news before long!

Did you make any resolutions?