Friday, May 20, 2011

Conscientious Usage: Anxious vs. Eager

For some reason I've been noticing something a lot more recently (don't get me wrong, people have been doing this for decades, but I've started noticing it EVERYWHERE): people say 'anxious' when they mean 'eager.'

Anxiety is generally considered a bad thing, as illustrated by Merriam-Webster:
1 a : painful or apprehensive uneasiness of mind usually over an impending or anticipated ill
   b : fearful concern or interest
Eagerness, on the other hand, is a positive anticipation (again, thank you Merriam-Webster):
2 : marked by enthusiastic or impatient desire or interest

And before anyone calls me on it: I'm aware that this is the second entry, but the first was labeled 'archaic' and 'obsolete'. Ergo, I used the current definition.

You know the most horrifying thing? I've even caught myself making this mistake! So, I've been trying hard to correct myself. And even though you probably shouldn't go around correcting people who say this (trust me, they don't like it), you can now rest easy in the knowledge that you are using correct diction (or intentionally using incorrect diction, if you like).

So, do you have any linguistic pet peeves? What are they? Do you point it out to people or let it slide (even though it's driving you insane on the inside)?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Alpha Readers (a.k.a. Critique Partners)

So, a little while ago, I won a 1,000-word critique from Michelle Merrill. She sent it back with all sorts of comments and suggestions. She made one comment (which I'm sure she didn't think would mean anything) that really got me thinking and pointed out a major flaw in my subsequent chapters (and it was actually a positive comment).

Now, I should clarify the difference between alpha-readers/critique partners and beta-readers (which the guys over at Writing Excuses helped me understand, so go visit them here). Alpha readers (or critique partners, whichever term you prefer) are the people you send bits and parts to during your writing process; they help you keep your story moving in the direction you want to go. They help you identify problems so you can fix them (without having to rewrite your entire book). They are the ones who can tell what you are trying to do (and don't try and get you to do what they would do) and help do it better. These are the people you want it a writing group.

Beta readers are the people you send your book to once it's finished (I use 'finished' loosely). They provide you with general feedback to the story as a whole. They give you substantive feed back on plot and character and writing, based on a comprehensive evaluation of the story. Just about anyone can be a beta reader, as long as they know how to explain why they think what they do.

Alpha readers are going to be infinitely more helpful than beta readers, but they're a lot harder to find. And, unfortunately, the only way to find them is trial and error. So, if you meet a fellow writer that you like, ask him/her to join your writing group, or at least to exchange manuscripts (like I said before, usually only a chapter or two at a time), and see if you are a good match.

So, do you have a critique partner? How did you find him/her? How has your CP helped you?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Checking in

Hi everyone. I just want to let everyone know that I haven't forgotten you. The last week has been super-busy at work (getting ready for this big industry conference that my company hosts every year), and I haven't had time to even think about blogging, much less actually do it. (I really admire some of my new bloggy friends, like Chantele and Teralyn, who have enough posts pre-written that they can take a week off with no one the wiser. Honestly, you two—and anyone else who blogs this way, for that matter—how do you do it?!?!?!?! You've got to help me out here!)

Anyway, this big conference starts this weekend (Saturday through Wednesday), so I should have more time to read, write, and blog once it gets started. I'll have more blog-worthy posts starting then.

What are you doing this weekend?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Power of Characters, Ex: Star Wars

So, to celebrate Star Wars day, I watched Return of the Jedi, which is easily my favorite. As I was watching, an old argument came to mind: movie is the best? Now, each movie has it's followers, but I'm going to break it down into two categories: A) those that think The Empire Strikes Back (TESB) is the best, and B) those that think TESB is the worst. My dad falls into category B because he says the movie starts nowhere and ends nowhere (i.e. there's not real change in the overall situation).

Now, I used to be of the same opinion (I admit, I was category B for most of my life), but last summer I finally realized why people are so divided over whether or not TESB is a good movie. It all comes down to what people are looking for when they watch Star Wars: A New Hope and Return of the Jedi are predominantly plot-driven (a situation is resolved, the Alliance and the galaxy are saved, the enemy is destroyed) while TESB, on the other hand, is predominantly character-driven. TESB is where 98% of the character development for the entire series takes place (Han Solo changes from the gruff, devil-may-care mercenary to the still-rough, but softening/capable of caring hero; Luke Skywalker changes from the impatient, irascible youth to the trained and experienced warrior; etc.).

So, if you enjoy character development more than sci-fi action, you'll probably like TESB the best. If you watch for the plot and the sheer, glorious science-fictionyness, you'll probably like one of the others best.

There, I've settled the argument once and for all. Now Star Wars fans everywhere can get back to enjoying it (as long as they stay away from Star Trek fans—when these two groups get to close, they make the Cold War seem like a pleasant day at the beach).

And the reason I decided to write this post is because writers everywhere (even die-hard Star Trek disciples) can learn a thing or two about the importance of both plot- and character-development from watching Star Wars.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Happy Star Wars Day!

So, my wife made the mistake of sending me an email about something she found on Writer's Almanac (you have to scroll down because it's the last thing on the page). Apparently May 4th is Star Wars Day! (except for in the city of Los Angeles, where it is May 25th, the day A New Hope premiered).

What I read that, I knew I had to post about it! You can read the official wookieepedia article here. Now on to my fanboyness!

I love Star Wars! And I mean the real Star Wars; back when it was just 3 awesome movies, a few computer games, and some really fun novels! Not to mention action figures. I was never much of a collector, but the Star Wars trilogy has held the top three positions on my list of favorite movies ever since I was about four years old.

I always like Han Solo the best (Luke annoyed me too much, except in Return of the Jedi), though I liked the X-wing a lot better then the Millennium Falcon. (When I was a kid, I would sit on my bed and pretend it was an X-wing and my bear was R2-D2.) I also had a habit of making swords out of cardboard or wood...half the time they were lightsabers!

So, to sum up, despite his recent fall from greatness (beginning with Episode 1), I have to thank George Lucas for going out on a limb back in the '70s and making the films he wanted to make. They've been a huge part of my life ever since I was born. And to celebrate Star Wars Day, I'm going to watch one of them after I get home tonight. May the Fourth be with you! (I didn't make that up, so don't judge me)

OH! I almost forgot: Michelle Merrill is doing a critique give-away over at her blog. She also has a great post about Comments and Track Changes in Microsoft Word.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Coming up for air

Hi everyone!

Sorry it's been so long! Like I said in my last post, I've had a breakthrough and I can't stop writing!!! Honestly, I haven't been on this much of a kick since I finished my first draft of Penitence. It's times like these that really remind me why I love writing so much! It is so fun developing an interesting character or writing an exciting new scene! When I really get going, I don't even notice the time passing; if my wife didn't interrupt me and insist I take a break to get up and move around and, you know, eat and stuff, I would probably write myself into an early grave.

Now, believe it or not, I do have a point today. (And it's uncanny how many posts on revision I've read just this morning.) I know a lot of people, including myself, say you should try not to think about anything other than your story in your first draft, that you should just write and get your thoughts out and then go and revise later...but I can't help revising as I go.* There are somethings that are just wrong: so wrong that even I can't miss them (and I tend to be pretty blind when it comes to my own work—ask Shallee if you don't believe me).

For example, I was working on chapter 5 of my WIP (Dathan the Sorcerer), and I wasn't happy with it. I couldn't pin down the problem at first, but I knew there was something horribly wrong. So I read through it a few times, agonized, moped, and languished over the problem; then I raged, bellowed, shouted, screamed, and generally made my wife drop her jaw in horror until the problem finally decided to show itself. Incidentally, ever underestimate the power of angry words when trying to discover a problem in your writing: they can work wonders if you use them right!

What I discovered was that I had taken my POV character out of the scene. In othere words, in my haste to get everything written down, I'd done so from a third-person omniscient point of view. It was like I was standing in the room with the characters, recording what was happening, but not getting any of my POV character's take (his thoughts, emotions, reactions, etc.); and since he's mostly just an observer for the first part of the scene, it was like he wasn't even there.

I'm glad I caught this before I sent a draft off to my CPs. That would have really thrown them out of the story and probably killed their interest, even though they've all expressed interest in my idea thus far. So you see, friends, that some revision is necessary even while you're still working on a first draft!

For all you writers: what are you working on right now? Are you able to overlook a problem until the draft is finished?