Archive for 'in which i don’t take myself seriously'
What Stace had to say on Monday, August 8th, 2016
Oh, I have many, many things to blog about, or rather, I have many ideas for things to blog about, one of which is my hair–which is why it’s merely an idea instead of a plan; do you guys want to read a blog post about my hair and the hair extensions I got for my birthday? They’re nano ring extensions: tiny little rings that you pull your hair through, insert the metal tip of the extension, and then clamp shut with pliers. I have pictures and all, but I don’t know if the topic would actually be of much interest. This isn’t a beauty blog, after all, although I am always happy to discuss hair/make-up/etc. Anyway.
This is a nano ring:
See? It’s tiny. The Queen is wearing it like a big hoop earring here.
I also have some thoughts on, well, other topics. Topics of a political nature, sort of. See, it’s not that I want to blog about politics per se; I don’t, and never really have. You guys may remember my reasons. I still think those are valid reasons, and the Hubs and I were just having a conversation about this yesterday in which we discussed the main reason (as we see it) which I do plan to blog about. But there are some peripheral sort-of-political topics that have been troubling me deeply; they’re really more social/sociological in nature, but again, I don’t want to bore you with my political/sociological/whateverical blatherings. (As my friend Ben Weasel said, “Politics are fucking boooring.”) Everybody and their brother is talking about politics these days, what with the latest round of Douche vs. Turd Sandwich getting in high gear and all. (In fact, it’s more like X-Treme Douche vs. X-Treme Turd Sandwich Cage Match Scum-a-Thon this time around. How I long for 2008, when I could honestly say, “They both seem like good guys and I bet either of them will do a decent job.”)
But today I’m going to talk about something completely different. I’m going to talk about the epically, epically stupid thing I did.
I wear contact lenses. I wear contact lenses because my vision is so poor that I get free eye exams. Without corrective lenses, I am legally blind–and in fact, if my vision gets much worse I’ll have to have contacts specially made, because I am about half a degree away from the “We don’t make ’em that strong” category. (My other option would be to wear the strongest possible lenses plus reading glasses. Ugh!) But for now, I can still wear contacts, and I wear the extended-wear ones and have for a looong long time.
So a couple of weeks ago I decided it was time to take the lenses out and change them (I wear disposables), so I did. And the next day I grabbed the box of lenses (they come in these little plastic packets, which are packed inside a box) and took one out and put it in my right eye–or so I thought, but when I blinked my vision was still all blurry. Had I dropped the lens? What happened to it? Had it dissolved in my eye or something? I pictured myself as the Opening Scene Girl in some awful horror/sci-fi B-movie, They’re Coming For Your Eyes! or something like that. The lens dissolves, the camera pans to my feet, and a few seconds later you see the bottle of lens solution fall to the floor in slo-mo, followed by the sound of my bloodcurdling scream and maybe a few drops of blood. Cue opening credits and Moog synthesizer (or maybe something like Danzig’s “Blood and Tears,” hee).
Several minutes of myopic hunting around didn’t turn up any lenses, and Hubs was going to be home any minute and dinner was already late so I didn’t have time to go feeling around every inch of the kitchen floor to look for the thing–it wasn’t like I was going to put it in after it had been on the floor, anyway; I regularly steam-clean the tile with my steam mop, but still. I also regularly stand there in my bare feet and drop/drip food on the floor as I cook. So I took another lens out of the package, popped it in, and ahhh–clear vision! Time to shrug and move on, right?
Except the same thing happened with the left eye. This time, though, Hubs had arrived as I prepped to put the thing in (you know, if you didn’t know the “thing” here referred to a contact lens, that sentence could take on a whole new dramatic implication), and the kids wandered into the kitchen, and so I was not only distracted but in no mood to go hunting around for the “lost” lens. I put another one in and got on with dinner, figuring, eh, weird, and I’ll go to the eye doc asap to ask him about it, but no biggie. I was/am pretty sure it’s impossible to see properly if you’re doubling your vision correction, so I wasn’t going to worry about it.
Fast-forward to Wednesday night. My eyes have been a little dry and irritable, and Hubs and I watched a sad movie so I got a little teary, which for some reason always makes my contacts impossible to see through afterward. I usually take them out, give them a rinse, and put them back in, but it won’t hurt my eyes to go sans lenses for the night.
I take out the right lens and put it in its case. It magically becomes–yep–two lenses! (Just wait; I promise it gets even stupider.) Two lenses. I’ve been wearing two lenses in my right eye this whole time. How the hell I managed it is beyond me, but I managed just the same. The thing I can’t figure out is why the double-lens didn’t blur my vision, but hey, maybe I’m wrong about that. It’s certainly possible, given that I’m the dumbass who actually considered the possibility that my contact lens somehow dissolved in either thin air or somewhere in the process of application, so…
I brace myself and remove the lens from my left eye. This time, though, there’s only one lens. Yay, sigh of relief. (Remember, I wasn’t sure about the left eye; the lens could have fallen off my finger, and I didn’t really spend much time hunting thanks to my magically-disappearing-lens-theory.)
Now, if you’ve ever worn contact lenses you know that when you first put your glasses on after wearing contacts, everything looks really weird and tiny and it can be nauseating for a little while. (If you haven’t ever worn contact lenses and didn’t know that, well, now you do.) So I stumbled my way through the bizarrely teeny world on my suddenly-miles-away miniature feet, grabbing things with my munchkin hands for balance, and sat down to focus on my laptop until the queasy ickiness passed.
But my glasses didn’t seem to be doing their job properly. I could see through them, nothing was outrageously blurry, but things were blurry enough to make me wonder. Maybe I was just tired, I thought, so after working for about an hour I went to bed–I don’t have the same vision weirdness when I put on my glasses after getting up (in fact, often when I’m going to take out the lenses I do it late at night and go straight to bed without even putting the glasses on at all–I just feel my way upstairs through a blurry house).
Trust me, guys. It gets even stupider.
I’m sure it won’t surprise you to hear that things were not better in the morning. Something wasn’t right. My left eye seemed blurry and weak when my glasses were on, but when I took them off, my left immediately became dominant. What was going on?
Now, before you laugh too hard at me, remember that I’d taken my lenses out and two had come out of my right eye, but only one from my left–but my vision in my left had definitely deteriorated when the lens came out, which, if I were wearing two contacts, both of which had equal vision-correcting ability, shouldn’t have happened, right? If you need a -9.5, which I do, and you have a -9.5 in your eye, your vision would be perfect/corrected. That’s pretty basic. So if my vision is not corrected, it stands to reason that I don’t have a contact lens in that eye.
So I’m getting worried. I talk to Hubs about stopping in at the eye doc the next day, and hopefully he’ll have time to take a look or help me out. Shit, were my years of lens abuse catching up to me? I have never been good about taking out my lenses every two weeks like you’re supposed to; in fact, I’ve been horrible at it, like, wearing my lenses for an obscene amount of time. I rarely remember to deep-clean my lenses or use an enzymactic cleanser (meaning, before I started wearing disposables–are enzymactic cleansers still a thing?). For months a long time ago I wore a lens with visible protein deposits, a lens cloudy with age, because I was poor and lazy and twenty-one years old so couldn’t be bothered spending money on vision correction when there was beer to be bought instead. Was it finally catching up to me? My eye doc–a hunky Aussie whom I adore–informed me at my last exam that my eyes were in excellent shape even though I had no right for them to be (yes, he literally said this, because he is awesome and hilarious), and that if he hadn’t watched me take those lenses out he wouldn’t have believed that I wore them based on the pristine condition of my eyes. (The lesson here, of course, is that if you’re irresponsible with your contacts, your eyes will be healthy and strong.) I’d been so proud, and now this.
(And you know, I’m joking, but the idea of losing my eyesight is genuinely terrifying, as I’m sure it is for many of you. I was pretty sure nothing was seriously wrong, because “vision has improved” isn’t usually a symptom that something is seriously wrong with one’s vision, and my vision in my left eye definitely seemed better, but still. It was a little scary.)
Then it occurred to me that I’d just taken those lenses out of the one box and put them in. Was my script still the same in both eyes? Maybe it wasn’t. I couldn’t remember for sure. And my vision has actually improved a tad since the appointment before my last, going from a -9.75 to a -9.5 (my current script); the only benefit to getting a little older is that many people start to become a bit farsighted, and when you’re severely nearsighted that’s a good thing. So maybe my left eye hadn’t required as strong a prescription to begin with, and maybe I’d accidentally put in a lens too strong for it, and that was why I was having this fairly-minor-but-still-unsettling issue.
That needed to be checked out! So back into the house I hop (I’d been outside having a cig–smoking is also Good For Your Eyeballs), to check the prescription strength on the boxes. This was it, I was sure of it. I opened the cabinet, yanked out the box–it’s the cabinet where we keep all the medicine and first-aid stuff, so a bunch of band-aids and aspirin and shit tumbled out onto the countertop, which is always fun–and took a look at the prescription strength written on the end of the box.
-3.75? Now, I couldn’t remember if my left eye had improved, or if it had, how much it had improved by, but I was pretty damn sure that it hadn’t suddenly become better by over half. I haven’t been a -3.75 since childhood, I mean, my eleven-year-old Faerie is a…oh, for fuck’s sake.
I’d been wearing my daughter’s contact lenses.
THAT was why doubling the lenses gave me fairly acceptable vision.
Even better, Faerie’s contacts are Daily Wear. I’d had them in for a week and a half.
See, back in April or thereabouts, Faerie asked for contacts, as she’s been doing for some time. I talked to Hunky Eye Doc and he agreed to try it despite her only being eleven, given my extensive experience with contact-wearing and my agreement to monitor her closely; while we both–well, and all of you, now–know that I am not always as on-the-ball (no pun intended) as I should be with my own lenses, being lazy with my precious Faerie’s beautiful big brown eyes was NOT going to happen. (Both of my girls have their father’s big gorgeous brown eyes, which is lovely, though I do admit wishing at least one of them had blue eyes like mine. It was a possibility, since hubs’s father had blue eyes, but it didn’t happen.)
So he gave her a set of trial pairs, and she tried them out, but quickly decided–all on her own–that she was not ready for the responsibility yet, and that she would rather just stick with glasses for a while longer. We were all very proud of her for making that decision, which was difficult for her. And the end result is that we had several pairs of these -3.75 Daily Wear disposable lenses floating around the house, and her mother, in a fit of blinding (pun intended) stupidity, mistook them for her own lenses and then invented bizarre theories about dissolving silicone to cover for her own moronic lapse.
I am now wearing my own contacts again, of course, and Hubs and the girls will probably use this failure to think as teasing fodder for years, but it’s only what I deserve. Seriously, guys, I wore my daughter’s contact lenses, how stupid is that? Sheesh.
Other news: Still no proper treatment for my carpal tunnel, but I am pushing through and working very hard. I will have some news for you soon, and a new excerpt of MADE FOR SIN (and the first review for it has come in–it’s a Reviewer Top Pick at Night Owl Reviews! More on that in my next post) and some excerpts of other stuff, including, if you’re good, a glimpse at Downside 6.
If you want to cheer me up by telling me about something monumentally stupid you’ve done in comments, that would be great (remember, I DO allow anonymous comments) but not necessary.
What Stace had to say on Tuesday, August 5th, 2014
Goodness, it’s been a while again, hasn’t it? I’m sorry! I’ve been working very hard, and now the girls are off school for the summer so we first had a bunch of school activities and now me trying to keep them amused. And by “me trying to keep them amused,” I mean me taking two or three times as long to do any household task because they’re “helping” me, and me teaching them how to play Solitaire in the desperate (and failed, sadly) hope that it would give them something to do other than hanging out and “helping” me with the aforementioned activities.
At the end of next week they’re going to visit their grandmother (my MIL) for about five days. I’m kind of freaking out about that–I’ve never been away from them for so long, and while I’m glad they’re going to go and hope they have fun, and I’m looking forward to the uninterrupted work time…ack, they won’t be home with me!
Aaanyway. One of the things I do when I’m alone in the kitchen is watch Netflix on my phone. Watching it on my phone means I’m limited to UK Netflix, which is frankly rather shitty, so I watch things I may not otherwise watch just because at least it’s available.
But here’s the problem with UK Netflix–it seems to be a slight issue with US Netflix, too, but to a lesser extent, because on US Netflix you can click on a category and see everything available, whereas here you only see what in that category UK Netflix thinks you might be interested in based on what you’ve watched before. Which means UK Netflix is constantly making these weird suggestions to me based on the fact that, for example, I watched ten minutes of the first episode of Sons of Anarchy before I switched to something else. (Sons of Anarchy actually seemed like a pretty good show, but one I’d have to pay real attention to, which isn’t easy when I’m watching in the kitchen because, you know, I’m cooking or doing dishes or sweeping or whatever.) I am still getting recommendations from them based on Sons of Anarchy, and that was four months ago that I watched those few minutes.
And their recommendations are, well, they don’t make much sense, because of the categories they put things in. I watched Memoirs of a Geisha one afternoon in May. I am still getting recommendations based on it, and those recommendations are all romantic comedies/chick flicks. I watched Memoirs because I read and liked the book and have seen the movie before, and because I was in the mood for something sort of historical and about Japan. So recommending Confessions of a Shopaholic to me based on the fact that I wanted to watch something historical and Japanese makes about as much sense as recommending Fatal Attraction to me because I watched a movie about bunnies (it would not surprise me to learn this actually happened).
Now, I sound like I’m whining, and that’s not my intent–I love Netflix, I really do, and hubs and I have been absolutely spellbound by House of Cards over the last few weeks. My intent is simply to use the above to illustrate why I am also afraid of Netflix.
See, I have a lot of interests, some of which are rather odd. Some of which aren’t odd at all but are rather odd for me. For example, in the last few years I’ve developed this weird but semi-passionate interest in mountain climbing. I have never climbed a mountain and I have no plans to–my idea of exercise is baking bread (you would be amazed how much upper-body strength that can require, if you’ve never done it yourself) or having to walk the girls to school instead of driving. I am not an outdoorsy girl at all; I don’t even like picnics or eating outside (I loathe insects). So while there’s nothing particularly odd about being interested in mountain climbing, it is rather odd for me to be interested in it.
But I am. So I’ve watched a lot of mountain-climbing documentaries and read quite a few books/listened to a few audiobooks. I’ve spent more time than I should online reading articles and stories (especially haunting Outside magazine’s excellent website. I even caved and bought a copy of Jon Krakauer’s INTO THIN AIR, even though I have some issues with Krakauer (I find it really annoying and borderline irresponsible the way he keeps insisting Christopher McCandless died of accidental poisoning instead of admitting the truth, which is that the kid starved to death; I found this same “I admire this person therefore they cannot have possibly made a mistake” attitude evident in INTO THIN AIR but still enjoyed the book). Documentaries on Everest? Of course. Ghosts of K2? Bring it, baby. The amazing Eiger: Wall of Death? Hells yeah. And pretty much any other doc I can find.
But here’s the thing. I find mountain climbing and, really, stories about mountains fascinating. But that doesn’t mean all of my interests necessarily follow, which is why I am afraid of Netflix judging me.
See, there’s some documentary on Netflix that looks like it could be rather fun, in a weird and ridiculous kind of way. I can’t remember the name offhand, but it’s basically a documentary that claims the Bush family was responsible for the death of John Kennedy Jr., presumably because of politics/GWB running for President in 2000–I’m not entirely sure. And I really do not mean to get into politics here (you all know this is not a political place) but I find the idea of this so, well, silly, that I would actually like to watch this documentary, because it seems like such a far-out idea that I’d enjoy seeing what evidence they’ve managed to come up with for this theory.
But when we first got Netflix, I made the mistake of watching David Brashears’ Everest documentary (the one filmed in IMAX; it loses quite a bit on a regular TV, I think, but it was still pretty good). Netflix decided that my interest in Everest must also translate to an interest in all things outdoorsy and, well, neo-hippie-like, which means that I am *still* trying to clear my suggestions of various documentaries about the evils of corporations and Enron and militant environmentalism and whatever else. It’s not that I don’t think any of those issues are important; it’s just that I don’t care about them enough to want them recommended to me instead of things I might actually want to watch. And it seems like no matter what other things I watch, no matter how frivolous they are, no matter how many times I click “Not Interested” or try to “refine” my interests, Netflix insists on suggesting documentaries about soccer and environmental terrorism to me.
So you can imagine my fear of actually watching that JFK Jr. documentary on Netflix. What would Netflix think of me then? What in the world would they start recommending to me based on that? There is no box to tick that says, “I’m watching this ironically,” or “I just think this might be amusing but it’s not a topic I care much about.” That box does not exist. Netflix insists on seeing me as, I dunno, some sort of chick-flick loving environmental activist from a motorcycle gang who likes to snowboard. I cannot imagine what they would add to that if I watched some JFK Jr. conspiracy movie. It’s at the point now where I quite literally skip watching things that might interest me because I’m worried about what dark paths of the soul it might lead Netflix down as far as recommendations.
I know this is paranoid…but I bet I’m not the only one, either. (I hope not, anyway.) Anyone else find their Netflix recommendations rather silly or impossible to change?
I will have some news-updates next week.
What Stace had to say on Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011
Well. Things totally do change, don’t they? I certainly have changed, and I will prove that now.
Over the weekend, the hubs and I were looking for something. We couldn’t find it. We tore the house apart hunting for it, and in the process came across a lot of old pictures and a stack of my old report cards from first, second, and third grade. At my elementary school, you got one of three grades, basically, and then there was a space for the teacher to write a comment.
You’ll see how very, very different I am. Maturity has taken me in its grip and made me its bitch.
This is another very photo-heavy post.
Read the rest of this entry »
What Stace had to say on Monday, March 2nd, 2009
Hey, so I can’t think up a good title today, so what?
Actually, titling is an issue I’m having these days. I’m 2/3 done with the third Downside book and it is still saved in Word as “Chess3” because the title I originally planned, CITY OF GHOSTS, was apparently a major film a few years ago and I’m leery of using something with that many Google hits. So that needs a title, bad.
I’m also just about 1/2 of the way through a new project which Agent Man and I both love, which has no title. It’s currently saved as BLOOD AND FAE, which is not really very good. Especially since while both blood and Fae figure in the plot, it’s not really about either of those things.
So anyway. The hubs and I were discussing titles in the car the other day, which led to movies, which led to movies that piss us off for one reason or another, which led us to A League of Their Own.
I hate that movie. I really, really hate that movie.
Or rather, I hate the ending of that movie. It pisses me off like almost nothing else.
What message are we supposed to take from that horrible ending, where in order to make her bitchy, miserable sister happy–to give her happiness she doesn’t deserve, as she is loathesome–the Gena Davis character throws the championship? Is my heart supposed to be warmed by that? Am I supposed to think that’s sweet?
Or am I supposed to think that if the Gena Davis character were my teammate, I would have ripped her eyeballs out of her head with a teaspoon?
Or, am I supposed to think that when it comes down to it, women just aren’t very good at competing, poor little dears, and they will always make emotional decisions rather than rational ones, and cannot ever get past their personal feelings and live up to their responsibilities?
Seriously. The fact that this ball of patronizing sexism was passed off as a movie for women to enjoy astounds me. It reads like something from a 70’s anti-women’s-lib screed: You can’t trust women because they can’t separate their emotions; you can’t put them in charge of multinational corporations because they won’t do what’s best for the company, only for themselves; they’re incapable of making sound decisions based on facts and not feelings.
And it was such a cute movie until then. I really enjoyed it. But what the hell good is it to have a movie where women are railing against sexism and determined to prove they can compete just as well as the men can–that all the silly little skirts and make-up tips are a big joke because women are tough and strong and can play a hell of a ballgame just like men–and then have the entire ending turn on the fact that at least one of them cannot in fact do that? So instead of having a film about how women really *can* do things, you have a movie about how women *say* they can do things but really are irresponsible and silly and will let their teammates down to make their sisters happy?
It just frustrates me and irritates me. Gena Davis’s character had a responsibility and she threw it away–threw away the hopes and dreams of people who supported and cared about her–in order to please someone who clearly did not particularly care about her because she was too busy caring only about herself.
I think this is doubly on my mind of late because I’m dealing, in the third Downside book, with a lot more emotional crap than I have in the first two, as my MC struggles with the consequences of hurting other people emotionally, and realizes that she herself does have those inconvenient things called feelings and that she can’t pretend she doesn’t. So there’s a lot of facing-up-to-things and a lot of thoughts and worries about feelings that, while they existed in the first book and a bit more in the second–Chess was never an automaton or someone so Tough And Hard she ate nails or anything like that–weren’t really focused on then.
And it’s difficult to find a balance, between trying to write an awesome, creepy, scary, exciting urban fantasy (trying to write, I said; I’m not claiming my books are any of these things although I certainly hope they are), and trying to write a book where people are having emotional issues and those emotional issues feel organic and real; which is to say, the characters think about them even at inconvenient times, and are confused about them, and hate having them, and want certain things emotionally and feel embarrassed and silly for wanting those things, and generally don’t know how to deal with them. Especially as they’re emotional issues with which the characters have never dealt before, and that makes them vulnerable.
How do you decide which decisions are practical and which are emotional? How do you handle making an emotional decision when you know you should be making a practical one but can’t help yourself?
For me the difference is in how the character themselves feel about the decision they’ve made. My biggest issue with that stupid League of their Own ending was that we as the audience were seemingly pushed into feeling that Davis made the right choice; her disgraceful, disrespectful, cruel little trick on the rest of her team was played off as the moral and caring choice. I found that offensive, personally; I wouldn’t have had such an issue with the film had her character been castigated for what she’d done–the way she deserved to be.
So I work hard, generally, to show that there are consequences to incorrect decisions and that emotions breed complexity. You can’t just tell someone you’re sorry and have that make everything okay. You can’t ask for forgiveness and expect to be given it immediately. You don’t get to make all of the decisions in emotional situations involving other people.
It’s a fine line to walk, I think. And I hope I’m walking it well, that my characters’ emotional issues aren’t overpowering the rest of the story but aren’t suddenly disappearing and reappearing, leaving the reader to wonder what the heck is going on. I guess we’ll find out.
How do you handle your characters’ emotional decisions? What is your favorite book or film in which those decisions were made?
What Stace had to say on Thursday, January 29th, 2009
So, first, sorry. I didn’t post on Monday. It was a Bad Day. I’ve been having a lot of those lately, but Monday was particularly Bad and I honestly just couldn’t get my head around anything well enough to blog. So, sorry about that.
Seriously, is this month over yet? It’s been AWFUL. One of the worst months I’ve ever had; I feel bruised all over from the beating it’s given me. Part of it might be the Mercury retrograde; part of it might just be that it’s January and the weather is a neverending stream of miserable (and has been for two years.) Whatever it is, I just want to go crawl under the covers and hide.
But of course I cannot. I have kids to raise and a novel, a short story, and a proposal to write. So, no hiding for me. And actually, although it’s been a slow month, the novel is coming along and so is the proposal (haven’t started the short yet) so I feel good about that; I’m 25k or so into the third Downside book, which I’m calling CITY OF GHOSTS for now (although I’m not sure how unique that is, so we’ll see if I get to keep it. It might end up being something like UNDERGROUND GHOSTS or maybe GHOSTS UNBOUND. Don’t know. Reminder to self: Google “City of ghosts” and see what you get.) Shame, really, as it’s the perfect title for what I think is going to be a kickass book; I’m actually extremely pleased with it so far, which is nice. I have a couple more clues to drop in this first third and my subplots are simmering along nicely.
See, here’s what I do. I separate the novel, in my head, into three parts; assuming a 90k book, which of course it won’t be exactly–the final version of UNHOLY GHOSTS is about 98k; UNHOLY MAGIC before edits is about 101k. So we’ll see. Anyway.
It occurred to me that this particular way of structuring a book might interest some of you, so here’s what I’m going to do. This Thursday and the next two I’m going to outline my basic method; feel free to ask questions at the end of each post and I’ll answer them the following Thursday, and we’ll do a little summary at the end.
So. Why would you want to do this? Why would you want to structure your books this way? What is the benefit of it?
I can only answer what the benefit is for me, and how it helps me organize my thoughts and work, and the ways in which I feel it’s improved my writing. Honestly I think most of you probably do this anyway, either consciously or unconsciously.
I’m not an outliner or planner. I start my books with a couple of characters and a problem which needs solving. Occasionally I’ll have a couple of ideas for Big Scenes in my head, but that’s really it. An idea excites me and I start writing, period. If you are an outliner or planner, this may not be necessary for you or, again, you probably already do this. And as with any other writing advice I give, this is my way and only mine; it’s not in any way a “You must do it this way” or “This is the best way”. But I mentioned my little structure elsewhere and a few people really liked it, so I thought why not share it a little more widely.
Also keep in mind that if your projected word counts are shorter, you will of course need shorter thirds, and especially remember this is not set in stone. Every book is different. Every book will have its own needs. You do not have to do this the way I do in order to write well, not at all, not remotely.
So. Here is what this does for me:
**It improves pacing. Separating the book into three 30k chunks, and knowing basically what purpose each chunk has to serve, gives me a structure on which to hang my wild imaginings (hee). Also, because of the way each “Act” is set up, it draws the reader into the story at a predictable pace and keeps the flow of information steady.
**It gives me a much stronger first draft. You pantsers know exactly what I’m talking about here. By the time our book is finished we have so many clues we need to go back and add, so many changes that need to be made, it’s like rewriting the book. But keeping the structure in mind makes it easier for me to fit in anything I might need; I know where the additional info needs to go or from where it needs to be removed.
**It means I’m not cramming to fit things in at the end, or left with too many loose ends.
**It eliminates the problem of the “sagging middle”. I believe the sagging middle is a pacing/information problem; sagging middles occur when too much information is given in the beginning of a story. By structuring my books this way I make sure there’s plenty of action throughout.
Assuming a book is 90k words, by the end of the first third–or 30k–I need to have all my basic information in place:
*Who the major players are. The bad guy needs to be introduced here, even if–as is usually the case–the reader is unaware that s/he is the bad guy. Hell, I’m not usually aware at this point who the bad guy is, especially given how much I enjoy my red herrings. So I usually set up two or three likely suspects here. I can always edit later to strengthen or remove the connections, once I figure out who the Baddie really is. We also need, of course, the main characters.
*The basic plot. What is the mystery or problem we’re solving? A lot of people will tell you this should be in the first chapter, and they’re not wrong. The sooner the better. But I’m also a fan of the Indiana Jones opening, whereby the first chapter is an intro to character and action that clears up events which occurred before the book’s opening. So I feel that as long as we introduce the issue in those first three chapters, we’re good.
*At least one subplot, hopefully two. They don’t have to be delved too deeply into in the first 10k or so, but by the end of 30k they should be (and we’re going to go into the structure of each act itself as well). But the basic stage needs to be set early, in this first act. For example, in PERSONAL DEMONS, Megan’s interview with Brian. We also met our Ultimate Baddie in those first chapters and added our little subplot with the vision of the Yezer’s house on the astral plane. And of course we met our romantic lead as well and (hopefully) had a nice little attraction/irritation vibe going fairly quickly, at least by the end of that 30k.
ALL THE BASIC CLUES NEED TO BE IN PLACE BY THE END OF THE FIRST ACT.
This doesn’t mean at all that by the end of the first act the mystery would be solvable. Oh, no. Not at all. But everything that comes later has to build on what’s already in those first 30k words. No deus ex machinas for us; we need to lay our groundwork.
For example, let’s say we’re writing a murder mystery. It can be set in any world, from “normal” to total fantasy.
For example, let’s say we’re writing a murder mystery. It can be set in any world, from “normal” to total fantasy.
So, in the first 10-15k words we want to introduce:
Our main character
Sidekicks, if any
The mystery itself
The bad guys
The world we’re in
Our basic clues
Is the murderer out for revenge? Then we might want to mention, in that first section, how many people loved (or hated) the victim. Out for money? Then we mention how rich (or poor) the victim was. We might introduce some physical clues here; the bloody knife or gun, say. Or there may be no obvious cause of death, and we introduce the cause at the very end of this act (we may even wait until the second act, but if that’s the case we should have a lot of other stuff going on.)
And in the second 15k or so we want to start exploring the word, pick up a few additional clues, and get to our first Major Complication (beyond the basic plot-laying one).
Every act ends with action and deepening conflict.
Well, technically, every sentence, ever scene, every page, needs to deepen conflict, of course. But for the sake of our structure we’re going to focus on Major Conflict.
To go back to our murder mystery, let’s say our MC is Jennifer, a private detective. The subject of one of jennifer’s investigations turns up dead, and she decides to work with the police–or behind their backs, perhaps–to solve the crime for whatever reason.
It’s a pretty basic plot and one I think we’re all fairly familiar with.
So our first act is the dead body, the introduction of Jennifer and her frenemies on the force, the world, whatever. And we pick up info here and there, and perhaps we learn that Jennifer is debating whether to put her grandmother in a home, and Jennifer’s just broken up with a lover, and Jennifer needs a new car, or whatever.
We’ll probably have some excitement in those chapters, and some uncoverings. But it’s right around the end of that first act that things go from bad to worse. Jennifer is attacked at her home. Or a witness is found dead. Or she’s kidnapped. Or the police tell her in a very shady way to get the heck out of their investigation.
Whatever the plot is, the end of the first act is where you generally put:
*A major action scene
*A major complication
Preferably at the same time. That first 30k has to encourage the reader to keep going; you want the end of that act to be an “Oh crap” moment, you know what I mean? I tend to think of those, and of those major action scenes, as “beats”, and each act should end with or right around a beat.
This isn’t to say at all that you shouldn’t be having those moments as you go, because of course you should. But the end of that first act is where everything rolls on its side; it’s where the MC finds him or herself in jeopardy somehow or where someone else is put in jeopardy (like, for example, the kidnapping of Catherine Martin in Thomas Harris’s Silence of the Lambs, to pull an example out of my–ahem–hat. The abduction, in fact, occurs on page 104 of my copy [I just went upstairs and grabbed it], which is 352 pages long, and is especially masterful there as just a few pages before Harris showed us the autopsy of a Buffalo Bill victim. Thus at the end of that book’s “first act” we have a graphic representation of how different this killer is; we have a significant clue in the throat larvae; and we have the abduction–so we know exactly what is waiting for that girl.)
The end of the first act is where the stakes jump higher. It’s not just an investigation anymore; this time it’s personal, if you know what I mean. Something Bad Has Happened. It’s going to happen again, unless we stop it. There’s often–again, as in Silence–a time factor introduced here too. Either way, this is where everything that’s come so far raises to a fever pitch, and the reader is (hopefully!) left breathlessly anticipating the second act, where everything gets deeper and more complicated.
Remember, none of this is set in stone. All stories are different. It’s just a guideline.
So. Any questions? What do you think; is this a structure you use? Do you keep these things in mind as you work?
What Stace had to say on Monday, January 12th, 2009
So, first, a HUGE thank-you to everyone who commented on my “Author Photo” entry. I admit I am totally shocked by your picks; I thought #4 was by far the worst of the bunch, that it made me look moon-faced and elderly. #3 was my favorite by far, followed by 2, then 1, then 4–which I really didn’t like that much at all. So, quite a surprise, indeed. I’m not sure yet what I’m going to do; I keep thinking if we do one more round of photos I might hit The One.
But I will say that after years of hating the way I photographed I was very surprised by how nicely most of the pictures we took came out. And that made me feel pretty good.
Something else that’s been making me feel pretty good lately is my expanding collection of matching bra-and-panty sets. (Yeah, I’m talking about my underwear, so? We’re all adults here.)
Soo, for years I haven’t really owned anything remotely like a matching set. Well, I have, I just never really wore them together. I have a couple of velvet bras the hubs bought me when we were engaged; they came with matching velvet boy-shorts, which were adorable but tended to be too warm under clothes (in South Florida, remember) and also tended to slip cown or bunch unattractively. I also bought myself a few sets, but the panties always seem to get worn out so much faster than the bras, in large part because while panties are washed after one wearing, bras aren’t. (Again, c’mon. I can’t be the only woman in the world who’ll wear the same bra for several days. If I’m doing something where I’m sweaty of course I change it immediately, but for day-to-day use…I dunno, am I disgusting for this? It’s just bras aren’t cheap and I don’t have that many.)
Anyway. Yes, I don’t have many bras. So there’s this new store in Barnstaple called La Senza, and they have really nice, inexpensive stuff. So because I’m low on bras I bought a couple. And because they were half-price and the panties were too, I’ve ended up buying several sets over the last couple of months. With the result that I know own like six matching bra-and-panty sets.
And it’s pretty neat, I have to say. It’s kind of fun to have matching stuff. It makes me feel like a grown-up. And they’re so pretty! I bought this one, for example, which isn’t usually my style but is just so cute. Or this one. And several more that aren’t on the website; a pinstripe set (I love pinstripes); a bright baby blue set, a red satin set with black tulle over it, a red set with black stripes…and all so inexpensive!!
So while I’m not always matching (I still have some older bras I love, that don’t have matching panties) these days I seem to match more often than not. And so I’m wondering. Ladies, do you match? Was I weird for not matching before? Am I weird for matching now? Men, what do you think? I’ve heard that men could care less, is that true?
A few other things:
Urban Fantasy Land is having a “Best of 2008” poll, with some neat categories, so go on over and vote. I am actually nominated, which is cool as hell, in the “Best Demons/Zombies” category, but as I’m in the running against Mark Henry, Richelle Mead and Jackie Kessler, in addition to Justine Musk (my new Twitter friend, which just about stunned me out of my shoes), Jenna Black, and Kat Richardson, I haven’t the proverbial snowball’s chance. But you know, it really is an honor just to be nominated, so I’m content. Anyway, go on over and vote!! Link to the poll! Let’s get some numbers over there!
And when I say “Go over and vote” I mean vote for whomever. Do not vote for me unless you really are crazy enough to think I deserve to win more than those other great writers. As has been mentioned all over the internet in the last few weeks, the Preditors & Editors poll has begun, and while (again) it is very exciting to see my name in it–although I don’t know if I am this year, I haven’t looked, but I know someone nominated me last year and I actually ended up ranking fairly high–it really doesn’t mean anything at all save who has the most buddies with the most dummy email accounts. I love P&E; I think Dave does great work there.
But the poll…ugh. No offense, but you cannot tell me that award is fair, or that the winners always make sense. I hate polls like that, which are nothing more than popularity contests or seeing who can best game the system. When the top tens are consistenly filled with books, publishers, and authors of whom no one has ever heard, something isn’t right.
Also. Our buddy Psynde has a new pet, a really cool fighting fish whom she has named Terrible, after one of my Unholy Ghosts characters (I let Psynde have a sneaky peeky at the ms). “Stunned” does not begin to describe my reaction, no shit. This is probably the most exciting thing that’s happened to me in my entire career; someone actually liked one of my characters so much they named a pet after him. That shit just doesn’t happen to me.
Anyway, stop on over to Psynde’s blog to take a look at Terrible in all his fishy glory and say hi to Psynde, and let’s keep our fingers crossed that my horrendous luck with fish (every time I try to have one it dies within a few hours) doesn’t extend to Terrible.
And I think that’s it for today.