A Truant Disposition

"I must be idle."

Plans, Pants, and Discovery

Written By: Ainy Rainwater - Oct• 21•14

It’s generally thought that there are two types of writers, discovery writers and outliners, or as they are sometimes called “planners and pantsers”. The pants refer to “flying by the seat of your pants”, in other words, making it up as you go along. I consider myself a discovery writer, aka “pantser” even though I outline. Here’s why.

First a brief relevant announcement…(Cue warbling comic fanfare)…I’m temporarily setting aside work on the series to do something completely different for NaNoWriMo, which begins Nov. 1. Today I started organizing my ideas into something resembling an outline. At least, it resembles all my outlines…

I’m a discovery writer, but it’s not like I have no ideas before I start writing. I know the events that start the ball rolling, I know the end (usually), and I know some important points in the main plot, as well as bits of subplot. I usually have certain scenes in mind. For me, outlining is organizing those thoughts.

My outline is usually a simple list of scenes, events, & information, sorted into a rough order in which they should be presented to the reader. This is not necessarily chronological order because sometimes characters don’t find out things in chronological order and also some pieces of information that predate the beginning of the story will be referred to as needed, when needed, if needed. Nor is this rough outline or list necessarily in the order I will write things because I often write scenes out of order as they come to me, knowing I’ll need such a scene later. For instance, while writing one scene I may get a much more vivid idea of how a later, related, scene will play out, such as dialogue or some slight change in the way I’d envisioned the circumstances. In that case I’ll go ahead and knock out a rough draft of that scene and the dialogue, too, if I have it in my head, maybe note this or that which would be good to include in that scene so I don’t forget it. It’s not unusual for a scene I’m writing one day to spark something for a later scene which I will either go on to write or make highly detailed notes for.

So, the outline is mostly chronological, but really in the order the reader needs to get everything (which is often the order the characters relate things or discover things) and it’s not a rigid order of scenes in the order I write them, but is in the order the story needs to be told. Typically, lots of detail is missing (though if I have details in mind, they are included), and there’s usually an item or two with question marks after them, or a “maybe”. I include possibilities, as well as definite ideas. It all gets sorted out when I’m writing. I’ve written books which had a handful of general points — not more than a line or two each — plus a few details, and I’ve also written books which had big chunks of text for each of a couple of dozen points. I can’t say that either makes any difference in what the finished book is like. Often books which had copious notes ended up not using most of them because they were thin, uninteresting, and ultimately off the point. Sometimes books with just a few plot points unfold like magic and develop into complex stories. Even so, it’s impossible to make generalities about the book or the how the writing will go based on the plot. (Though if there’s a huge number of points with question marks that can be a sign of some rough going, unless inspiration kicks in and saves you.)

I expand and reorganize my “outline” as I write. (My idea of an outline is so pathetic compared to people who really plan their books that I feel like I ought to put the word inside quotation marks.)  As I write, it is rewritten, recording story changes and additions to help me keep track of the material as it expands and becomes more detailed. This is why I consider myself a discovery writer rather than an outliner: a lot changes between the first point on the list (the beginning of the book) and the last point on the list (the ending). When I start writing I have an idea of the story, but the story develops as I write it. No matter how long and hard I think about a book before I start writing it, much of the book — including vital parts of the story — cannot be anticipated until I am immersed in writing it. Sure, I need the cold rational logic of a “planner” so my plot makes sense and I don’t contradict myself. But “pantsing” gives me the material I’m organizing. I can’t do much planning until I have something to organize. The more I write, the more I have to organize in the outline. Though I sometimes produces pages and pages of notes when I’m brainstorming, that’s nothing compared to the number of pages of a novel. Which is why my “outline” of a half dozen plot points at the beginning is usually a mess of notes and changes that’s several pages long when the book is done. (It should be noted that this is a working outline, not the sort of outline an editor ever sees.)

Much of story-making is intuitive. It’s daydreaming. When I write I drop into a state of mind in which I make connections and realizations about the story that cannot be forced from the logical rational part of my brain. They have to come bubbling up on their own. I can then apply critical thinking to these ideas and scenes to make sure they are consistent within the greater context of the story. But that isn’t usually a problem. Much more often the act of creation reveals flaws in my existing assumptions and ideas, and improves upon what I had originally started with. I’ve never written a book that turned out to be something utterly and completely different from what I set out to write, but the books always end up being more than I had initially imagined. The depth comes from the state of Flow as I write my way into the story.

My initial outline is just a crudely drawn map from point A to point B, with a few interesting features sketched in. Once I’m on the trail, I can see the landscape for myself, correct mistakes on the original map, and map it with more detail and accuracy as I go.

I’m a discovery writer, an explorer of the unmapped places in the plot.

 

Autumn is a Season: Fall is a Verb

Written By: Ainy Rainwater - Oct• 02•14
First sign of autumn. Photo by Ainy Rainwater

First sign of autumn.
Photo by Ainy Rainwater

It can’t be the weather because we’re not (yet) having fall weather, but autumn is upon us and I am “Fall-ing” in all the usual ways…and also some unusual ways. I’ve got news, news, news! Writing news, blogging news, social network news, music news, and spacey news. (You knew I was spacey, right?)

Writing: My usual way of “Fall-ing” is that I write like a maniac. This year I’m pushing to get a draft of the first book of the series to beta readers by the end of the month. But I may not make it because I enjoy NaNoWriMo so much that I’m tempted to set the manuscript aside and prep either another novel in the series or something completely different. Dunno what, if anything, I’ll do.

Blogging: I’ve dusted off the Ainy Rainwater wordpress.com blog I got when I started writing for The Usual Suspects group food blog (which I’m still writing for but not as regularly), and am now dithering over what I could do with it that I’m not doing with this blog.  (What am I doing with this blog??)

Social Network: Yesterday I made some changes to my Facebook profile which will allow Followers, so if you’re on Facebook, you no longer have to Friend me in order to get updates on my personal profile. The reason for this change is that the way Facebook treats Pages now (see my Ainy Rainwater Page) is that it rarely shows up in the feed of the people who Like the Page. The only people who see my Page updates are Friends, and not more than 1-4 of them unless I put the Page post on my profile. Please, Like my Page, but don’t count on seeing my updates there. My personal profile will have some public updates now, not all of which will be related to my books. For instance…

Music: On my birthday last Sunday, I found out that I hit Reverbnation’s Top Ten List for my Gymshoes Music. This is probably due to the usual fall sales spike for my Halloween Soundscape album, but even so, this is the first autumn I’ve hit the Top Ten! (I’ve hit the Top Ten in other seasons.) It’s an eerie ambient album, inspired by classic scary stories. You can preview the album in the sidebar here and read the liner notes on my Gymshoes Music site.

Space (the Final Frontier): Mars Maven has reached its destination, which aside from science, also means that words I wrote, that came out of my brain, are right now circling the Red Planet. (Along with other entries to the Mars haiku contest.) Every time I even come close to getting my head around that idea, I sort of freak out and do a Snoopy Happy Dance. I’m doing it right now! 😀

Vivid, we dream you
Ancient world, known and unknown
Speak, eloquent stone

My block for Astronaut Karen Nyberg's Star Block Challenge

My block for Astronaut Karen Nyberg’s Star Block Challenge

In other “spacey” news I did a quilt block for Astronaut Karen Nyberg’s star block challenge (she made a star block while in space) and my block, along with thousands of others have been pieced together and will be displayed at the Houston International Quilt Festival at the end of this month. (The total number of blocks 2,260!) I hated that the rules required name and location be put on the front of the block. It messes up the design and there really wasn’t any way to make the label look any better with this design.  I drew the figures freehand and then hand-appliqued the block.

And that’s about all the news from here, unless I forgot something which is entirely possible because it’s Autumn which is my favorite season and Fall is a verb because I quite often either start or finish projects in the Fall. (It’s like one year ends and a new year begins around September; I think this is a pattern I picked up from the school year, but it could be because my birthday is in September.) Now if the weather would just turn autumnal things would be perfect. 

Insomnia for Authors

Written By: Ainy Rainwater - Sep• 12•14
Hotel Reverie (Seaport Chronicles #1) Cover art and design by Ainy Rainwater

Hotel Reverie
(Seaport Chronicles #1)
Cover art and design by Ainy Rainwater

  • Don’t think about the book you’re writing.
  • Don’t tell yourself that you’re just telling yourself a bedtime story.
  • Don’t imagine extraneous scenes for characters in your book, complete with dialogue.
  • Don’t delude yourself that you’re dreaming when your characters are doing all kinds of stupid things. You’re still writing in your head.
  • Don’t think about the mosquito bites.
  • Don’t scratch.
  • Don’t itch.
  • Don’t…
  • Don’t imagine elaborate brand new backstories for characters in your next book, with scenes, dialogue, exposition and...chapter breaks.
  • Don’t rewrite existing scenes in your head over and over. That’s not sleeping; it’s obsessing.
  • Don’t draft a blog post about insomnia.

In my memory this was longer and funnier. Or at least I thought it was. 😉

Writing Prompt #2

Written By: Ainy Rainwater - Aug• 26•14

I said I was going to do writing prompts, then promptly forgot about it. 😆 So here is a new writing prompt which I came up with and did a couple of weeks ago. Surprisingly (or maybe not) this one ended up — like the last one — being rolled into another story I was writing. However, unlike the last one, this story will eventually end up on the blog, once I’ve smoothed out the edges.

What prompted the story was a misheard song lyric and it occurred to me that my alternative lyrics are always more interesting that what the actual lyrics are, and have more interesting narrative possibilities. So here’s the writing prompt: write a story based on (or inspired by) a misheard song lyric. Your mind is going blank, isn’t it? Yeah, I only think of these things when I’m actually singing along and someone points them out. The internet to the rescue! You can google “misheard song lyrics” or browse around Kiss This Guy, a website totally devoted to misheard song lyrics. (Warning: website may cause time-wasting, procrastination, and laughter.) The website gets its name from a misheard Jimi Hendrix lyric: ‘Scuse me while I kiss this guy!”

If you use this writing prompt and post the story online, please drop a link in the comments. I’d love to see what you did with it!

Saladin Ahmed: After the flood…

Written By: Ainy Rainwater - Aug• 13•14

Author Saladin Ahmed’s house flooded and though insurance will cover some of the damage, it will not cover nearly enough. You can survey the disaster on his Tumblr or pics he posted on Twitter (@saladinahmed).

More importantly, you can donate to him through Paypal.

If you don’t want to give money to a total stranger, then get acquainted with his books and boost his royalties by purchasing his novel Throne of the Crescent Moon, and the short story collection, Engraved on the Eye. They’re both really excellent. It takes time — sometimes a long time — for royalties earned on books to trickle down to the author, so I really would urge you to donate in a speedier manner after reading his wonderful stories. By the way, he’s got two pre-schoolers and has, with his wife, just launched a podcast reviewing TV and movies for kids:  Can We Watch It Again?

It really would be good for him and his family to get the house repaired, furniture and computer replaced, kids toys, etc in as timely a manner as possible. The only thing worse than a disaster is to have to camp out in the disaster area for a long time. Any amount you can spare will be greatly appreciated. Usually the only thing readers can do for their favorite authors is buy their books and review them. This is an opportunity for the community of bookworms to show the love in an immediate tangible way at a moment when an author needs it most.

Yeah, what they said!

Written By: Ainy Rainwater - Jul• 16•14

I couldn’t have said this better myself. This is a terrific essay about women in fiction…and more…Don’t have time to read? It’s read on this week’s episode of Podcastle so you can listen to it, too.

We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle, and Slaves Narrative by Kameron Hurley

It reminded me of an article I read recently (thanks Carla Gaulton, for sharing it) about how male World Cup announcers ignored the women who hold World Cup records (and they hold a lot of them) and instead stated that those records were held by men.

World Cup Soccer Stats Erase The Sport’s Most Dominant Players: Women

I could say a lot about how casual and insidious this kind of thing is, but really I couldn’t say it nearly as well a Kameron Hurley does on Aidan Moher’s blog. (Thank you, Podcastle, for broadcasting this and bringing it to my attention.)

Down with scaly cannibal llamas! 😀

Rock and Rolling Thunder

Written By: Ainy Rainwater - Jun• 25•14

A little bit of flash fiction on a rainy day. This goes nicely with my (free!) Rainmaker project on my Gymshoes Music site. I recently added a new track, “Summer Thunder”. 😀

She awoke before dawn to thunder and the restless movement of dogs on the bed. Light strobed against the curtains turning the sedate print into something surprisingly psychedelic. As thunder rattled the tightly closed windows, she visualized the pressure of the booming making the glass bulge behind the curtains like cartoon windows. The sound was breathtakingly loud as if it filled not just house, but the whole universe. At the peaks of the overlapping rumbling she could hear something like a crackling and the thunder sounded oddly muffled, without any decrease in volume.

It was, she thought, almost like a recording of thunder cranked all the way up, so that the peak volume was distorted and some sort of suppression software kicked in. She imagined a huge flying saucer, light strobing above or within the clouds, a giant round speaker on the bottom of the disk blasting the neighborhood like a boombox with the bass maxed out. The dogs, perhaps, had come to the same conclusion; they circled and settled back down in the covers, as if the massive sound of the electrical storm was just a particularly large slow moving car, windows down, stereo up. She closed her eyes and laid there enjoying the deep subtle music. As long as they don’t zap a transformer or fry any electronics, it’s all rock and roll.

An Evening With Mary Robinette Kowal and Marie Brennan

Written By: Ainy Rainwater - May• 12•14
Marie Brennan (left), Mary Robinette Kowal (right)

Marie Brennan (left), Mary Robinette Kowal (right)

Last Tuesday night we went to hear Mary Robinette Kowal and Marie Brennan doing a reading at Murder By the Book. Both of them write in the fantasy genre and both are currently writing historical fantasy novels. Mary Robinette Kowal is nearing the conclusion of a five book series of Austenesque fantasy novels. The best way to describe them is if there was a bit of magic in Jane Austen’s books. Lest you think of wizards and wands and dragons…she said that when she got the idea of doing Jane Austen with magic, she thought about what kind of magic her protagonist would be doing. Since they are all upper class of good families, it could not be anything that was too practical because that would be considered “work” and people of their standing did not work. So the magic is of an artistic type. Nevertheless there is still some social friction because the male protagonist’s family doesn’t approve and our main viewpoint character, who is female, is often slighted because it is assumed that being female her talents are of a lesser sort. I’ve read a number of Austeneque books and none of them capture the feel of Austen the way the first book in the series, Shades of Milk and Honey, does. The second book picks up the story and is less Austeneque because they are caught up in Napoleon’s exploits on the continent, but the third book in the series unabashedly follows Austen’s plots of marriageable women and misunderstandings, combined with a very timely plot of unusually cold weather in England (based on history) and the rebellion of “coldmongers” (who ply a special sort of magic) which she based on the Luddite rebellion. The fourth book is just out and I’m looking forward to reading it. The final book in the series is scheduled to be published next April. (She said that five books seemed about right for this series. She is presently working on something else.) She read an excerpt (spoilers removed) from the final book. In addition to being a novelist and short story writer, she’s also a professional puppeteer. Oh, and she made the Regency dress she is wearing in the photos. Out of a tablecloth. I highly recommend not only her books and stories, but her blog and twitter feed. She’s a nice fun person and I really enjoyed meeting her. We had exchanged a few comments on Twitter, but it was good to have a real, albeit brief, conversation. I got to tell her that I discovered her from a Tor.com short story. The ebook was offered free some years back along with some others and I just went down the line buying anything free. The problem is that I didn’t stop to read the blurb. If I had I probably wouldn’t have gotten it because “First Flight” is a time travel story and though there are some time travel things I like (she and I share a love of Dr. Who), I have read or seen so many awful time travel things that I have a sort of instinctive aversion to them. I loved “First Flight”. It was absolutely perfect. I made note of her name then and was subsequently delighted when she joined the guys on the Writing Excuses podcast which I listen to religiously. (They have saved me from some mistakes, but unfortunately, not all. Listening to their podcast is like being in a really fun writing group with really excellent writers.)

Marie Brennan and Mary Robinette Kowal

Marie Brennan and Mary Robinette Kowal

I wasn’t familiar with Marie Brennan’s books prior to the reading, but after listening to her read an excerpt from Tropic of Serpents, the latest book in the series, I have put the first book of the series, A Natural History of Dragons, on my summer reading list. I know I’m going to like this series. (Want to know more? She did a terrific interview on the Adventures SciFi Publishing podcast.) The books are a memoir of a lady naturalist who studies dragons. The time period is purposely vague, but more or less Victorian. She got a professional to make her Victorian dress, which was a very striking design. Definitely not something to tackle making with a book tour looming and books to write and read! Both Mary and Marie are very busy. (Mary put out a call for beta readers with a short turn-around for a story that she was working on while on tour, right before the reading last Tuesday.)

Marie Brennan read first then did a show-and-tell with “dragon bones”.


Mary Robinette Kowal read next then did a shadow puppet show.


Afterward there was a Q & A. One funny moment that really stood out was when someone asked (since they both do a lot of research for their books) if they had run across the term “sea diamonds”, which the questioner had come across in another historical novel and was wondering about. Both Mary and Marie instantly took up an alert posture and simultaneously turned around and grabbed their phone or notebook and began saying (again simultaneously) that they didn’t know, but they would see what they could find out. The audience broke up laughing; both of them are such collectors of obscure facts that might be used in a book, such research hounds, that they could not have scripted their identical reactions any more perfectly.

There was a book signing after the reading and Mary gave away a sandalwood fan to anyone who bought a book at the store that night — it didn’t even have to be one of theirs — and asked fans to sign a little book she had brought for that purpose. A nice touch.

I had a wonderful time at the reading and the authors looked to be enjoying themselves, too. My two favorite of the pics below are the one of Mary smiling as she listens to Marie read (which I also posted on Twitter and Facebook) and the one (unfortunately blurred) of Marie Brennan caressing the dragon skull. I’ve now started following her on Twitter, as well.

How about some Dewberry Cobbler?

Written By: Ainy Rainwater - May• 02•14

20140502_120937Just a quick post to let you know that today’s post on The Usual Suspects, the group food blog I participate in, is my Dewberry Cobbler! I don’t repost all my posts from the food blog here on the Idleness blog, but this could be considered a companion piece to last year’s Dewberry Easter blog post. So, if you liked that, you’ll think this today’s post is delicious! 😀

Happy (450th) Birthday, Will!

Written By: Ainy Rainwater - Apr• 23•14

2014-04-23 13.35.21Today we celebrate William Shakespeare’s 450th birthday. It’s a breathtaking number, not just because it’s big, or because his work has survived for so long — we have older works of literature — but because of the unique combination of the longevity of his writings, the broad impact that work has continually had on “pop culture” throughout those 450 years, and how lively, thought provoking, and accessible his plays are even today in the 21st century. Will had a brilliant facility with language and story and a keen eye for human nature. Human interactions — and the kinds of stories we love — has not changed so very much in the intervening centuries. His plays are continually being adapted to modern times. Bits and pieces of them permeate Western civilization so thoroughly that we scarcely take notice of it any more.

I fancy Shakespeare would’ve been astonished at the idea that all those pot-boilers he was turning out would be taught to every school kid in the English speaking world (as well as translated into every known language) in the 21st century. Fictional futuristic aliens even embrace his work as their own. (And a Klingon embrace is not something to take lightly.)

I have all his plays (and a few dubiously attributed to him) as ebooks. Thanks to smartphone apps I have all his words in my pocket or purse all the time. Just stop a moment and allow that to boggle your mind: from a playhouse in London in Elizabethan England (which was sometimes closed due to plague outbreaks) to the pocket of my jeans in Houston, Texas, the fourth largest city in the US, in the 21st century. Who says time travel isn’t possible? Will and I, we do it all the time.

Happy (450th) Birthday, Will!