What's important to you in a reader/narrator/actor--particularly in fiction? Have you ever figuratively thrown an audiobook across the room because some particular thing about the reading bugged the crap out of you?
For example, do you value voice quality above all? Can't stand certain types of voices? Would listen to Alan Rickman reading the phone book?
Or is vivid characterization most important? Do you like really dramatic character readings? Or are subtle variations enough for you to keep track of the story?
How much do you care about authentic dialect, accents, and accurate representation of, say, foreign words in a text?
What about male versus female voices? Have you ever felt that an audiobook would have been improved by an actor of a different vocal gender?
And pacing: do you use the playback speed control on your audiobook app if someone is too slow? Too rushed?
Here's why I'm asking: I'm thinking seriously of hiring a voice actor to create an audiobook of Restraint. I know what I like, but in the long process of workshopping the novel I've learned that my taste is pretty specific, maybe even alienating to people who might like my work if I opened it out a bit more.
I can't please everyone, of course, but if I'm gonna shell out for this production, I'd like to get a sense of your taste, too, and try to meet it.
I'm thinking mostly of feedback on writing, but I'm interested in experiences of any kind of critique you may have received on any kind of activity.
Here's why: In September I'll become a certified Story Grid Editor. There's a big discussion among Story Grid course-mates about how to make sure the client is ready for the editorial work.
Well, receiving feedback is a skill, and I want to write a little book or cheat-sheet for prospective clients to help them build that skill. I've managed to acquire it, but I don't know how I did it.
- Do you have the skill?
- How did you get it?
- Was there a particular turning point?
- Or do you avoid critique altogether? If so, why? And is there any ideal situation under which you'd be open to it?
I now have most of the props for my book cover photo shoot. Spray paint, pins, hot glue, RIT Dye, masking tape, old curtains, bits of hardware, an actual riding crop off eBay--I really haven't had this much crafty fun in ages.
The lighting is pretty good. I'm pleased with the complementary orange/blue color scheme--which was a happy accident. It was time to put a body in the chair and start testing poses.
So I asked my sister to don the shirt and drape the (very skinny) "buckskin breeches" (linen drawstring pants, still awaiting modification) over her legs, and strike the attitude.
I liked the effect, so I pasted on the head of the actual model I hope to hire for the photo shoot.
(The professional graphic designer will be charged with a real layout and real fonts. It's still up to me to tweak the costume. The draped column might have to go.)
What do you think?
I suspect that my uptake wasn't good (I coughed it all out instantly!) and that I might not have gotten adequate doses, because after that first miraculous end of toothache misery, I couldn't replicate the pain-relief results. Once the offending tooth was extracted and the local wore off, I was in misery and no number of hits on the vape pen had the slightest impact.
But I can't keep relying on ibuprofen, and I am not resorting to opioids. I have arthritis, it's a problem, and joint-replacement surgery isn't really on the table.
So, next stop: sublingual CBD tincture.
Also, actually doing the exercises I went to physical therapy to learn. And maybe not sitting so much.
Those are Goodwill garments in roughly the right colors and shapes. We decided that with the pale costume we'll want a dark chair, so here we're testing red rummage-sale curtain fabric. We've got a bronze-gold-brown-red pair of drapes coming from eBay.
The backdrop will be a nearly-black wall, aka my living room, so pretty soon I'll have to drag that chair indoors.
Meanwhile, I've acquired some fake gold leaf for illuminating the decorative elements, and a white linen tablecloth that will make a pretty nice poet shirt. Sewing will ensue. Really quick-and-dirty, fusible-and-glue sewing.
Then we just need to find the guy. Think "finding the guy" thoughts, please!
So, though I've never been much for getting high, today I tried medical marijuana for the first time.
It took a lot of homework for me to get here. I read books, attended a workshop, and spent several hours on Leafly. I asked my doctor (who, as a naturopath, is all for it). I researched cannabinoids, terpenes, strains of sativa and indica. I read about the different dispensaries. Learned something about the labyrinth of laws surrounding legalization in Oregon. Became engrossed in delivery methods. Decided on vaping. Vaping is fast-acting and doesn't stink the joint up.
Harlequin is a sativa strain bred for high CBD and low THC, which translates to "pain relief without getting high", and my neighborhood dispensary sells it.
So off I walked to Kings of Canna on 15th and Prescott, and came home half an hour later with some paraphernalia and drugs.
But look! It comes in retail packaging. There are USB chargers and LED indicators. The only baggie in sight was the fancy opaque white zip-lock bag mandated by the State of Oregon for carting the goods off-premises.
It's a couple of hours and several hits of Harlequin later, and behold! The tooth isn't really hurting anymore.
Heh. Maybe I need a new icon.
ETA: And I really don't feel high. Maybe a teeny bit hazy. I might have eaten a box of cookies...
There are quickie template-based designs online, and there's $5000 for original artwork, and there's not much in between.
"Well, what do you want to wind up with?" asked my sister Helen.
"Basically this," said I:
"...but a) without Jared Padalecki's face; b) not stolen from a copyright fashion shoot with Johnny Depp; and c) featuring a poet shirt and buckskin breeches rather than that 20th century tuxedo."
"So let's do our own photoshoot."
( Wait. What? Do it ourselves? )
The feedback so far is excellent: constructive, knowledgeable, and detailed. Nobody so far hates the novel. But the silences! Do the non-responders dislike it too much to comment? Were they too bored to finish? Are they too nice to say so?
It's impossible to get my ego out of the way. These people are doing me a huge favor and I don't want to press them, but only the fact that I have acrylic nails is keeping me from biting those nails off.
( Now comes marketing. )
Which is all the more reason to remember that every day is precious, I am not unlimited, I must give my best work to the Resistance as best I can, and that means taking a breath, and a walk, and a moment to recognize that there is still beauty and hope in the world.
Graydie and the daffodils. January 30 2017
I expect to get suggestions back for further small changes, and of course I spotted typos the instant I hit the send button. I could undoubtedly still shave a few words for style, or add a sentence here or there to fill out a minor plot point, but the novel--this novel--is finished. Any big changes at this point would be making it into a different novel.
It's a little weird, cleaning up all the files, closing all the research tabs, shutting down the gigantic spreadsheet called "Engineering Restraint" after more than two years of rewrites. The prospect of starting a new project is daunting.
But I'm starting. I'm thinking about the new political situation, and how it's my responsibility to write for the Resistance in some way. Not a dystopian Hunger-Games-ish thing--that's not who I am as a writer--but somehow a weaving of resistance into the fabric of the historical novel I'm already researching.
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
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.
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.
The biggest difference is that you're writing for strangers.
( Telling the story to strangers )
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 ruffles )
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.