Finding the Words

a blog devoted to the art, craft, and frustration of writing

Uh… you mean like Lord of the Flies? September 18, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — itsy @ 8:29 pm

Okay, I know it’s slightly unethical, and frankly I can’t imagine what sort of waivers the parents signed, but as a writer of speculative fiction, I’m really curious about the new cbs show Kid Nation. 40 kids in Bonanza, Colorado, making their own town.

It’s the psychology I find fascinating. What sort of emotions will these poor kids show? How will they adapt? Like I said, it’s unethical, but what a unique insight into human nature.


Ambiguity September 17, 2007

Filed under: writing — itsy @ 2:38 pm

I’m getting the message from folk that are kind enough to critique my stuff that they don’t like ambiguity. This is a problem–I do. Almost everything I write has some level of ambiguity. There are no good or bad guys. There’s no evil. This is a bigger problem in fantasy, especially, where for the most part people expect no grey (Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars). While this tendency is changing (George R.R. Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice series) the expectation, and the want, is still there. People want to know whether something is good or bad, whether they should root for it or curse it.

I’ve always challenged the notion of evil and will continue to do so. Stories of black and white tend to bore me–yes, it’s nice to have such clear distinctions, but in reality, few, if any thing, will be evil or good. Sorry, but in my stories, something just _are_, and you’ll be on your own to figure out right from wrong.


A new tool September 14, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — itsy @ 5:07 pm

I nay-said (that’s a word, right?) the writing program Scrivener on Fluent. Well, I checked it out anyway, largely because I have a Mac book without any word processor (except TextEdit). I’m two days into the 30-day trial and I have to say, I’m liking it. For someone as scattered as me, it’s nice to have everything in one program. No need to open multiple word documents, Scrivener does it all. Filling out index cards and reordering them to rethink scenes or story outline is a snap.

I hesitated because I love brainstorming in my notebooks, but I realized, I don’t have to give that up. It felt a little awkward at first, since it requires a slightly different creative process. While not perfect, I like that this program ventures out of the limiting linear structure of Word, and once I get more used to it I think it will be very freeing. Anyway, I’d suggest checking it out if you find yourself frustrated with traditional word processing programs.

And you back up your stuff, right? Right?? I use Jungle Disk which links to Amazon Web Services, and charges to your Amazon account. You can set the program to work automatically, and you can store gigabytes for cents a month.


I lost my voice! September 12, 2007

Filed under: writing — itsy @ 6:59 pm

I suppose this is the danger of working on multiple stories at once? I’d been working on draft in first person POV–what drew me to the story was the character’s voice, which I heard as if she were whispering in my ear. I put the draft on hold for a bit because I’d reached a roadblock. Now I’ve cleared the roadblock, plotted a course using an outline, but when I sit down to write, the voice is gone! Will she come back? I certainly hope so.

I blame this on the outline. I’ve started using outlines because several people recommended doing so, and because writing without one can be done, but it takes a terribly long time.  And there’s a lot of heartache and anguish involved. But with an outline, I just can’t feel my characters the same way. We’re not discovering their story together; I’ve already told them where to go.  A large part of the reason a particular plot works or not is because of how it’s written; when I outline, I’m not taking that into account.

I’m sure there’s a happy medium, somewhere, somehow. Its just a matter of finding it, maybe loosening my grip on the outline.


Full circle September 11, 2007

Filed under: writing — itsy @ 10:57 pm

In the last three years I’ve gone from writing with abandon, then scrutinizing every aspect of my writing and trying to apply lessons from those writing books, to going back to writing with abandon. And I have to say, it feels damn good.

My attitude change was the result of a new draft I’m working on. I mulled over it, I took a writing class and decided I was starting the story too soon, based on the professor’s opinion.  But his recommendation would mean I was writing an entirely different story, not one that I’d thought of before. I tried to do it–I sat down and wrote out outline after outline, but I just couldn’t get excited about it, so I put it away, thinking I’d deal with it later. Well, recently I pulled out the stuff I’d written prior to the class, and reread it. And fell in love with the story again.

So here’s the thing. To me, there’s no point in writing if I’m not writing what I want. I want to do this more than I want to be published. I’ve educated myself about writing, how to show not tell, and all that. I hope I’ve absorbed them somehow. But in the end, I just want to write with that wonderful, freeing abandon.


I want to write like a man September 6, 2007

Filed under: writing — itsy @ 2:39 pm

Okay, that sounds weird, vague, and sexist.

What does a man write like? Obviously it depends. So maybe what I mean is, “I want to write more masculinely.” I need to channel my inner yang.

Sometimes I feel like my writing is too delicate. I’m constantly on the search for what sounds pretty, what looks pretty. Mincing words, slicing this and that, but always I have the compulsion to embellish, complicate, or make more subtle.

I’ve been thinking recently about author Stephen Pressfield. He write historical fiction that I enjoy. He writes about warriors, and his prose is like a knife that cuts. Sometimes it’s a bit too sharp or blunt, sometimes he pares out a little too much, but there’s no ambiguity, no wishy-washy-ness. It is what it is. And I like it.

So I’ll try an experiment. From now on, bold statements. Swift decisions. Short sentences.


Ah, how I do love thee, Mary Renault! August 10, 2007

Filed under: books 2007 — itsy @ 10:45 am

I know, I know, this is probably the third or fourth time I’ve raved about her. But I can’t help it. I just finished The Persian Boy, and her brilliance continues to haunt me. For the most part her prose is straightforward but every once in a while she throws in these gems.

Examples from The Persian Boy:

“He sat there, smiling over his wine with his clear blue eyes, his flaxen hair a little damp from the heat, turning the knife in my heart.”

“To honour the King, the ladies of the household would appear and dance. This was something indeed, in Sogdiana, where to look at their women is a matter for long knives.”


“On the steeps below, where in sumer one would not have seen foothold for a rock-rabbit, winter had picked out in white the tiny ledges, or cracks that gashed the hills.”

I wonder if her books would be as popular now than they were then

I was a tad disappointed with the death of Hephaistion, which she treated very matter of factly, but given the personality of her main character, I think it worked. Esp. because Alexander’s death made me weep–I don’t think I could have tolerated two moments of sobbing, and drawing out Hephaistion’s death would have taken away from Alexander’s.

What strikes me most about this book is how brilliantly she manipulates emotional drama without making it maudlin. The main character Bagoas, in whose POV the book is told (in first person) is a deeply emotionally complex, imperfect character, and she does such a powerful and effective job of carving out his niche, what he wants and needs from Alexander, apart from what the Macedonians want, what the readers might want, or what morality might suggest is necessary. In other words, she never loses touch with her character, even if his resulting actions can be uncomfortable for the reader to accept.

What to read next? I think I should take a break from Renault, tempting as it is to read “Fire from Heaven” (the first in her Alexandriad, and the first book I would read of hers written in 3rd person POV), I don’t want to get saturated with her. Others have been raving about The Great Gatsby recently–perhaps I’ll revisit that book. I think it’s been 15 years since I last read it.