1. Storysculpting

Wherein I admit procrastination and rant about figure skating

How did I lose a whole week?

Oh, right. Winter Olympics. The only nod towards productivity was my tight-fisted refusal to fork over the extra cash for NBC Sports channel. I always lose more time to the snow games than the summer ones. Figure skating and speed skating, biathalon, skicross, snowcross, half-pipes and giant slaloms–I would watch them every winter, but they aren’t on television regularly enough to follow.

I did do some work. I now have a whole glossary of terminology for “super powers,” an alternate world history going back as far as WWII, and titles for the bureacracy and military hierarchy that support US citizens afflicted with the fictional Ackermann-Chung Syndrome. I even know how my main characters meet and why.

Now I need an ending. Once I have a start and an end, the rest falls together pretty easily. I am determined to hash out a full plot including an ending before I indulge in scenes and dialogue for once. It isn’t fun, it isn’t fun at all. I loathe and despise outlining, but it will help me keep the writing tight. It won’t prevent the appearance of ideas that demand to be included, it won’t prevent the story from careening onto interesting byways of character development…but it will give me a weapon to wave at those temptations. Get thee behind me, subplots!

Too bad I can’t wave a plot outline at the bad sports commentary on my TV. I talk at it instead. Figure skating coverage earns my greatest ire. There are 24 competitors. In three hours of TV we might see 5. When the events are live, the tight focus understandable. Skating programs take a long time, compared to say, downhill skiing,  and there are unavoidable delays with judged sports. (I would still argue that commercial breaks and elimination of fluff filler pieces would provide plenty of cushion for showing a few more skaters, but that’s another topic.) My point here is that there was no excuse for the obscenity that was NBC’s primetime Olympic skating coverage this year.

The production teams for very other judged sport took advantage of this lag to by cutting and intercutting footage to minimize the delays that plague live coverage. Downhill didn’t waste the viewers’ time with long shots of each skiier loading into the gate or waiting for their scores to post. Half-pipe didn’t. Ski jump didn’t. Biathalon coverage was brilliant.

The veteran NBC commentator team of Sandra Bezic and Scott Hamilton got the big bucks and the prime-time exposure. What did they do with it? Bubkes. Their production crew pretended that the event was being shown live and wasted time on kiss & cry “tension”and warmups. B&H gushed breathlessly over artistry and repeated specific remarks so many times that they should be used as a drinking game. Worst of all, they gasped, cooed, and talked over the performances without offering the least amount of useful information about judging or program content.

Give me talented, observant, intelligent Tara Lipinski and fabulous Johnny Weir, please. They explained all the technical aspects of scoring that B&H didn’t bother reviewing — which were critically important to understanding the final results — and they did it with flair, consideration for each other and insight into the decisions made by skaters, coaches and judges.

Okay, end rant.  Back to writing. Plotting. Researching jargon of the 1940s & 50s. Whatever. The closing ceremonies air tomorrow. Then I will have only House of Cards season 2 and the last 8 episodes of Breaking Bad to distract me from meaningful work.

Writing is meaningful, right? Even when it’s only dull stories that don’t catch readers fast or hold their interest well enough to keep them reading? (I’ve heard that critique from three pro’s now re: Controlled Descent. Can’t argue the point, “slow,” and “boring,” being in the eye of the beholder, but…*sigh.*) I’m not revising CD or FP again. They’re done.  I’ll have to hope for the existence of a small readership that appreciates the long-form, immersion approach enough to enjoy sprawling, long-winded tales.

Onward, not backwards.

Writing Advice

Sometimes I Am Random

I did random things this week instead of finishing my novella or building the world for my next novel (which will involve super-powers and a necessarily-alternate history) I also planned to submit short stories to several markets I’ve been researching without mentioning to anyone. But no. It was Random Writing on Websites Week. Writing on the web being ephemeral, I decided to archive the bits I liked best here so that I can download it and save my priceless prose for posterity. Because ego.

Here they are, in inverse order of time wasted:

1) I answered an open question on a writing site: “how do you keep subplots from taking over?”

I recommend watching the deleted scenes with director’s commentary from Gosford Park. Best primer ever, in any format, on the ruthless process of cutting back a thicket of great ideas to better showcase one. Subplots become problematic when their development distracts or slows the main story. Period. Their adherence to genre standard isn’t the issue. Plenty of recent YA stories have been ruined for me because a now-genre-standard lurve-triangle took up so many valuable words that the interesting main plot didn’t have enough room left to grow.


2) Did a flash fiction (one-paragraph) piece based on this lovely painting by Steve De La Mare:

Cold mists rose from the forest floor at the fall of night, and predators stirred in the growing shadows between the tree trunks. Elena ran light-foot over leaf and moss and prayed that she would reach sanctuary in time. Never again would she tarry to catch the last rays of the meadow sunshine, no matter how delicious it felt against her bare skin. The risk was too great. Her breath caught harsh in her throat when a chorus of howls rose behind her, and she leaped for safety with a cry of hope. The soft heartwood of her soul enveloped her in layers of heavy warmth as she stepped back, leaving her pursuers to scrape and bite at the thick gnarled armor of her bark.


3) Got into a great forum discussion about the proper response to bullying, triggered by me posting this article about Felicia Day. (She cut her hair. Cue absurd sexist internet response)

Another member of the discussion preferred minimal engagement like posting positive comments to spreading the actual stories because (I’m summarizing) re-sharing stories about idiots only encourages the idiots and can leave people thinking the world is full of awful people instead of mostly full of awesome ones. My response:

Positive comments are one great tool for redress, but holding bad behavior up for public censure is another powerful one, and that’s what sharing stories like this do. Celebs who point at the idiots and cry out, “these emperors be naked,” inspire other victims to stand up for themselves against overwhelming social pressure. I agree that people are mostly awesome, but I’m not sure why celebrating these victories would mess up anyone’s view of humanity. Finding moldy grapes every time I buy a bag of them doesn’t make me hate fruit.

I expressed curiosity as to how sharing stories of people *mocking* anonymous idiots encouraged the idiots, since my experience ignoring bullies only gives them legitimacy. (The answer was that it was felt that while it could be validating to mock the idiots, sometimes it only spread the outrage. I did not question why spreading outrage was considered a negative, since it would’ve taken us off-topic into boggy territory.)

When asked if there were any situations in which I would ignore a bully, I acknowledged that I always ignored the ones who said, “You’d better come out the back door after school, so I can kick your butt,” which happened once a month or so 7th through 9th grade, and I ignored the ones who monkey-hooted at me from their cars as I walked home grades 10 through 12. Basically if you’re alone and vulnerable, staunch refusal to engage may be the only way to go, but it isn’t a good one. It’s an effective short-term defense tactic, albeit only on a personal level, since it only deflects aggression to a new target. It fails as long-term strategy because it will never lead to a change in behavior. Only judicious engagement and a relentless, collective demonstration of opposition can achieve that. Let the outrage fall where it may.


4 and 5)  I also reviewed stories on, since I’m now one of a gazillion unpaid “staff reviewers” there, and I got involved with a round-robin author page promotional event on Facebook.

All these activities were time-consuming and distracting, but it was nice to stretch my wings in new skies. The promo event bumped my page over 100 likes. That unlocked Facebook’s analytics and significantly broadened my audience. All good things.

I would say, “And now, back to writing,” but there’s a problem: it’s Olympics time!