Tag Archives: Aanora story

Experience and Learning, or There’s Always a Lesson to Learn

The first Beta reading of the “Aanora” story has been done and I’ve received the feedback. I have to admit that I was surprised. On the one hand, my set-up for the climax had been extremely successful. On the other hand, a couple things I’d thought I’d made clear — important details — had been missed, leaving my reader confused during the last act of the story. What?

I spent a good deal of time going through the novella with slow and careful attention, looking for where I may have missed something myself. But everything was there. My reader should not have been confused. I made some changes to clarify some details and also some continuity corrections. Then I put the novella away. I sent my Beta reader an email thanking her, and also included a response to some of her comments. Then I moved onto Perceval’s Shadow.

This past week, I was reading the October issue of The Writer and came to an article by Susan Breen about dealing with criticism, “Thin Skin: How to Deal with Criticism as a Writer.” Breen writes about the difficulty of being bombarded with criticism at all stages of a story’s life — Beta readers, editors, agents, publishers, reviewers, friends, well-meaning fans, and the list can go on and on. Each believes, of course, that they’re doing the writer a huge service by offering their criticism. Then Breen goes on to list 9 essential things to remember when dealing with criticism.

As I read the article, I realized that I knew everything that Breen was saying, and I’d been very good about doing everything she suggested, i.e. listen, write down notes, wait (give it time to ferment), use the criticism to make it better, look at the big picture, consider the source of the criticism (how trustworthy?), never take it personally (even though it can feel that way), pay attention to the positive things, the praise (it can get lost among the negative stuff), and remember that real writers are the ones who are criticized, not those who never commit anything to paper. I also realized that I had not done a very good job of accepting the criticism I received from my Beta reader.

I had chosen this particular reader for the first reading because I knew that she knew the sci fi universe in which I had set the story. I had asked her to watch for anything that could be out of place, and she pointed out several things that were very good catches. She also reads widely. I trusted her to be honest with me and she was. Where I fell down in this process was to give her comments time before I responded to them. Then I needed to go back to her and ask some questions about those things that she had missed. For example, what had she thought when she’d read that section? Why had she thought in that direction and not some other direction? I realized that I was the one who needed the clarification from her, not that she needed clarification from me to explain those things she had missed. There was a reason she’d missed them, even though I had set them up earlier. Clearly, I had not done a good enough job of setting them up so that they wouldn’t be missed.

I’ve been writing for decades now, and I continue to write a lot in a lot of different genres. My experience over the years has given me knowledge and skill. However, it doesn’t matter how many years or how much experience or how much skill, there’s always something to learn — or re-learn — in writing. So if someone says to me that they’ve been writing so long, it all comes really easily to them and they really don’t have anything more to learn, I don’t believe them.

Life and living is learning. As part of life, writing is the same thing.

Thanks to Aanora, I’m on a Mini-Hiatus

For the last two weeks, I’ve been working feverishly to finish the first draft of the Aanora story. It’s going very well!  But, as a result, all my other writing endeavors have had to take a back seat for a while. I love, love, love it when the fiction writing is on fire!

Thanks for your patience. I’ll have more news and a blog post next weekend, I hope!

How to Know When It’s Really the End

For the last few months, I’ve known most of the story and plot of my Aanora story, except for the climax and how my characters would resolve it. Sometimes it’s better not to know everything before writing in order to be open to the characters and their motivations, behavior, thoughts, and emotions. When I began this story, I knew very little. As I wrote, I began to see possibilities, and part of my writing process on this story has been to explore those possibilities. I knew from the beginning the very last scene, however. My challenge, I knew also, was to get there.

While some writers outline a story in detail, I tend to do rough and tumble outlines, i.e. throwing ideas down on paper for the different sections of the story. Sketch out scenes to test their place — do they work in the context of this particular story? Ask myself a lot of questions about each of the primary characters — what do they want? What will they do to get it? What is their primary fear? What is their primary emotional vulnerability? Each character is a potential conflict or obstacle for the protagonist. Who is the villain? I couldn’t answer this question for a long time. I thought it was this one character who kept popping into my mind, but then I suddenly realized that character was not at all what he seemed. When I dug deeper, I discovered a layer of the story that gave me the path to the climax although I didn’t know it at the time.

I did a rough sketch of the climax and realized that I’d created an impossible situation for my characters. A no-win situation. What I didn’t realize, of course, was that the villain provided the way to resolve it. Instead, I decided to just write my way to the climax and hope that by the time I got there, I’d have the answer to how to resolve it. “Trust in the process” the note says over my desk, and I decided I’d do just that.

Credit: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech.

Last Saturday, as I was writing closer and closer to the climax, I realized, no, it wasn’t closer and closer — I was there. Indeed, there my characters were, facing down the villain, surrounded, alone, with apparently no way out. I wrote right up to the moment the villain demands their surrender and I stopped. I couldn’t write any farther because I really didn’t know what would happen next. What did my characters want? What were they thinking? Feeling? Did they have the intelligence and imagination to figure out how to get out of this alive?

The real questions were: What was I thinking? What did I want? Did I have the intelligence and imagination to figure out how to get them out of the situation alive?

When I put away my writing last Saturday, I was in despair. I knew I was close to finishing the story. I wanted to finish it. The doubts poured into my mind. I decided to focus on other things like chores, British mysteries on PBS, and getting a lot of sleep. The next morning, however, I still didn’t know what to do. I read the Sunday newspaper over breakfast, then got in the shower. What a magic place a shower can be! With the water beating down on my head, the sweet scents of the soap and shampoo, feeling clean and relaxed and warm, my mind swimming around with my imagination. In fact, I wasn’t even thinking about Aanora. The idea just emerged, like a diver rising up through the depths of a lake to break the water’s glittering surface in the sunshine. There it was. The answer.

The right answer. How did I know? I felt it in my bones, a tingling through my muscles and skin, a mental settling down into the deep, comfortable chair of that ending. The action could not be any other way for this story and its characters. They need to work together, but at the same time, Aanora needs to step up and do her part. She was, after all, the reason they were in this pickle. Total excitement! The ideas started to flow fast and furious — ideas for other parts of the story in order to set the stage properly for the climax’s resolution.  But last Sunday, I had the time only to write notes so I wouldn’t forget. Today, after living with the ideas for five days, I get to finally step inside the story again and write the climax and resolution. I’m so excited.

Trust in the process.

 

Update: Aanora Story

On July 23, 2017, I first wrote about the new character in my writing life, Aanora, and how she appeared. It’s now been eight months and what I thought was going to be a short story has turned into a novella of almost 13,000 words so far, and I’m still writing the first draft. Aanora herself has evolved and grown, and her magic has given me the opportunity to play around with narrative and action in ways I’ve not had before. I definitely see the appeal of Fantasy stories, but Aanora’s story is most definitely in the realm of Science Fiction.

The fourth planet in the Reederian 7 system loomed large on the view screen. The green and brown land masses competed with cobalt blue water that covered about half of the planet. Wisps of white cloud floated here and there. No volcanic or seismic activity registered on the starship’s instruments.

A brief description of Aanora’s planet. It is M class, teeming with life, but Aanora is the only sentient on the planet.  She describes the other life forms as being on the cusp of sentience. That idea really intrigued me. What does it mean to be on the cusp of sentience? The Planet of the Apes series of movies explores this notion, from what I understand, but I haven’t seen the most recent movies. The wildlife on Aanora’s planet is not friendly toward humans, however, but predators of them.

Standing in front of the granite wall was a tall figure wearing a long gold-shimmering sage green hooded cloak. The hood covered the figure’s head and left the face in shadow…. The figure’s arms rose…. Pale humanoid hands pushed back the cloak’s hood to reveal a female head with long black hair streaked a coppery red. The oval face appeared smooth and youthful, with a small nose. Her mouth opened in a radiant smile, her brilliant emerald green eyes focused on the captain as a golden light shimmered all around her.

Aanora’s first appearance in the story. She had emerged out of a granite cliff in which she was merged while the backs of the human explorers were toward her. She has abilities that the human explorers find both inspiring and intimidating. I’ve learned that she’s an accomplished diplomat, and her life has intersected humanity’s often. She has lived on earth, worked in a coffee shop. She is also over 200 earth years old. Her story has drawn me away from earth and demanded that I look at the Milky Way Galaxy as well as the larger physical universe with all my curiosity. It has been both fascinating and intimidating.

And what is her magic? I had originally thought of her as being a wizard, but I was quite wrong about that. What appears to humans as “magic” is really nothing more than her normal abilities. Aanora comes from a different dimension, a different universe with different laws from ours. She takes human form because humans were the first sentient beings that she met when she first entered our universe. I have yet to discover what motivated her to come into our universe, although I have a feeling that it will come up in this novella I’m working on now. And I’ve already seen that Aanora has many stories surrounding her life that I could explore if I so chose. A rich and deep character is an incredible gift from the imagination.

The villain in Aanora’s story has actually changed several times. The most recent one is directly related to Aanora and her presence in our universe rather than the human explorers who discover her. The questions that have come up now are about what role the human explorers will play — will they help or hinder Aanora? Are they innocent bystanders in a much larger conflict or victims? — and just how they all get out of the nearly impossible situation they are heading for. I know the ending, but I don’t yet know how I’ll get there. As it stands now, writing this story in pieces has actually served my writing process very well.  I have two more sections to write and then I’ll have a complete first draft.

I am astonished.

Writing in Pieces

Yesterday, while cleaning out e-mail (I am forever cleaning out e-mail! Who isn’t?!), I found a blog post by a blogger, Lindsey Gendke, I’ve been following for several years now. She’s a writer, a mom with 2 pre-schoolers, and published author. Her blog post that I read yesterday was from October 23, and she wrote about how to get unstuck when stuck in the mud of writing and life. She suggested writing ideas on index cards. I confess, I’ve done this at times. Not to come unstuck, but just to organize projects.  It’s a good way to keep up with idea generation, though — carry a pack of blank 3×5 index cards and write one idea per card.  Then the ideas are preserved for later scrutiny and development.  After dutifully turning back my clocks and watches last night, I went to bed.

This morning I woke up thinking about writing in pieces.  Using index cards is one way to write in pieces.  It’s the method I used for keeping track of research for a paper in school, and it’s something I’ve done occasionally to map out plot points. Although I think the index cards idea triggered my thoughts about writing in pieces, it’s not what I mean when I say writing in pieces. I mean breaking a writing project down into manageable pieces to work on.  For a novel, that might be chapters, or even sections of chapters. Or scenes, which I did when I was writing screenplays — I wrote scene by scene (usually handwritten on a legal pad).  Prose fiction can also be broken into scenes. And they do not necessarily need to be written in order.

My work this past week on the Aanora story involved a lot of thinking about several different scenes (Monday through Friday), and then yesterday working on the rough outline to capture my thoughts about those scenes. I’m surprised at myself, actually, that I’m fleshing in an outline before I’ve written very much, but it’s helping me organize my thoughts, reveal what I need to research, and helping me see just how viable the story idea is, i.e. well worth developing and writing. As I was working on the outline, I realized that I was starting to break the story up into pieces that did not necessarily relate to plot points but involved 1-2 scenes for each piece. So when I woke up this morning thinking about writing in pieces, I realized that this was the way to go for the Aanora story, and perhaps I could write on it during the work week as a result rather than waiting to the weekend.

So my task today, after I finish this post, is to figure out the specific pieces, open a separate Word file for each, and then see if I can figure out how I get from the place I managed to outline to yesterday to the ending I have outlined. I’m very close. And I realized also this morning that this is the first story I’ve written in which the main character really doesn’t get what he thinks he wants, but he gets something better.  That was a surprise to me, a happy one.

The Aanora story is gaining momentum, folks! And I’m feeling quite happy about that.