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Posts from the ‘KATE PAULK’ Category

Blast from Antiquity – Overthrowing the Evil Tyrant

It’s been a bit of an insane week at work (or rather, at my desk at home, working), with the inevitable result that I am not braining right now. ‘Tis a sad fact of my existence that the more intense things are at work, the less I can brain outside work.

So, have a blast from the past that’s a bit more than 10 years old (ye dogs! It doesn’t feel like I’ve been doing this for that long, it really doesn’t) and lightly edited to clean up the nastier typos and whatnot.

Overthrowing the Evil Tyrant

And why it’s not quite as easy as it sounds.

We’ve all met them. Usually male, although the Evil Empress or Queen occasionally gets a look-in, the Evil Overlord, whether the CEO of Evil Inc. or the Emperor of the Galaxy, or a petty prince of some forgotten nation in Fantasyland, is something of a staple in science fiction and fantasy. Usually he, she or it exists mostly to be overthrown.

When you come down to it, it’s usually pretty easy. Not necessarily easy at the “toss a trinket into a volcano” level (yes, I know I’m oversimplifying. Shut up.), but there’s a big Final Battle of some description, the Evil Overlord dies, and all is happiness, sweetness and light. As often as not, the Evil Overlord is some kind of kludged-up metaphor for the hero’s journey to some kind of enlightenment (something the hordes of Tolkien-imitators usually fail to notice is that Frodo did not gain ‘enlightenment’ per se. He was irreparably wounded by the trials of his journey, and ultimately unable to remain in/on Middle Earth. There was a happy ending, but it wasn’t for him.).

So why do tyrannies in the real world last so long? Read more

Watching Paint Dry

The last few days I’ve been running a data pump to automate creating several thousand users I can use to run a load test. Unfortunately, no matter how carefully I organize it, I have no choice but to interact with the website through a script which acts as though it’s a user doing things, just faster than a user actually can work.

Which means that while that part is running, I can’t do anything else, lest my keyboard or mouse make something unexpected happen.

Not to mention, even with the best effort, when you’ve got something in the vicinity of 16 to 20 hours runtime (without interruption or problems), things go wrong. The timing gets a bit off and the next thing you know you’ve got the wrong data in the field and the system barfs.

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Done Returning

So I’m finally through the Extreme Pantser’s Guide reposts, which means I have to find something to write about on my own again. That or just ramble at the screen until I’ve filled in enough space. Or swear at the cat who decided to leap on me and drape himself over my shoulder – and who hangs on.

Yeah. Swearing at the cat is good. Read more

Return to the Extreme Pantser’s Guide: Editorial Sorts

I probably need to add a bit of explanation here: the term “editor” is one of those overloaded words with more definitions than a dog has fleas. When a copyeditor and a developmental editor (also referred to in the post as a “real” editor – namely what most of the authors I know think of when they use the word ‘editor’ without any qualifiers) can both call themselves editors despite doing vastly different things with a manuscript, it’s a bit challenging to avoid getting confused.

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Return to the Extreme Pantser’s Guide: Subconscious matters

So, we’re finally moving towards the end of the reposts of the Extreme Pantser’s Guide – we’ve covered a bunch of craft matters, and a few other bits. Today’s post is about ways to con… ahem… persuade the subconscious to play nice.

After which I will attempt not to swear at the bloody cat. For Reasons.

The Extreme Pantser’s Guide: Working with your subconscious

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Return to the Extreme Pantser’s Guide: the Afterglow

Those of you who expressed sympathy over the Roomba poopocalyspe will no doubt be pleased to know that it has not been repeated. Unfortunately, this is because the thing is now scheduled to run in the evening, and we’re making sure to check and remove feline indiscretions prior to the scheduled runs. I fear there will be a litterbox in the living room if this continues. We really want to keep the kitty potty downstairs, but when one of the little darlings insists that his potty is upstairs dammit, it’s kind of difficult to argue. Especially when he does it while we’re at work.
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Extreme Pantser’s Guide: A Good Climax

Today did not go the way I wanted it. I got home to yet another Roomba poopocalypse courtesy the cat with bowel issues doing his business in the wrong place again. So another set of brushes goes into the trash because it’s not worth cleaning them, the Roomba gets scrubbed as much as possible (about halfway there right now – there’s more to go before it’s usable again), after which I will be reprogramming the bloody thing so there’s time for a poop patrol before it starts its cycle.

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Return to the Extreme Pantser’s Guide: Meet the Internal Editor

(Work has Kate snowed under and she asked me to post this for her.)

You’ve finished your first draft, you’ve given it a decent amount of time to sit (trust me, for pantsers this is essential), and now it’s time to edit. As with all things pantser, particularly extreme pantser, it’s not that simple. Editor time is when you need to take this thing that’s lived inside your head for months, and put it through the shredder – and most of the pantsers I know (yes, including me) have major problems letting go enough to do this.

Probably the first and simplest tool in the kit for turning on your editor-mind is to phase-shift: to look at the piece in a different format than the one you wrote it in. Print-outs work for this. So does making a copy of the file and getting the copy onto your ebook reader or smartphone (preferably one with annotation or editing capability) and reading it there. The different format is usually enough to keep you out of writer mindset (or worse, “this is my baby” mindset).

Editing somewhere you don’t write is another tool that, while simple, works. The goal of moving is to put yourself somewhere your subconscious doesn’t recognize as writing-space. If you wrote the novel on your laptop while taking the train to and from work, don’t edit it there – or at the very least, don’t mark it up there. It doesn’t matter whether you mark up in approved editorese or not: you’re the only person who’s going to see this stuff, so you’re the only person who needs to worry about it. Highlights on a kindle with a one or two word note to say what it needs are just as effective as handwritten comments on paper, or comments embedded in a word processor file.

A word of warning here: if your word processing application uses any form of auto-formatting turn it off. There are multiple versions of Word in the wild, Word Perfect still happens, and then you’ve got Open Office and its clones, as well as any number of other applications that will create something more or less like RTF (aka “Rich Text Format” – which is text with fonts, bold, underlines and some other formatting, but not the fancy stuff). They don’t all use the same internal codes for anything that is not an obvious keystroke. What that means is that the beautiful file on your Mac ends up looking like someone threw confetti all over it with all manner of weird characters involving tildes and accents where you thought you had a quote mark.

Actually, that’s two words of warning. Do not use your word processor’s embedded comments feature. Not everything you’re likely to be playing with is going to be able to support that. My preference for this is to use something that won’t appear anywhere else in the manuscript as a flag character. So I’ll be writing along and there’ll be something like [add more description] in the middle of the text. That tells me what I’ve got to do and where I’ve got to do it. Sometimes it’s a plot note, sometimes flagging a really crappy sentence, and sometimes a note to remind me that a character’s name needs to change.

For stuff I need to research but don’t want to lose I use the same trick – a sudden burst of [research this] will get added to the story as I write. When I’m done the markup pass-through, I can search for [ and do what needs to be done. The benefit of this is that you can do it with anything, even Notepad (well, if the book isn’t too big – Notepad can’t read very large files. Although if the file is that big, you have other problems).

Okay, so you have your internal editor. Guess what? The editor popped over from Evil Bastard Central, and will cheerfully tell you what you’re doing sucks rocks, while leaning back in a recliner drinking your virtual booze. This is quite normal. I know it sounds like split personality, but heck, we pantsers already host a ridiculous number of personalities anyway. What’s one more?

Quite a few authors externalize the editor-mind, even going so far as to give it a name. Julie Czerneda calls hers the “Great Editor Voice” aka GEV, and posts interesting conversations between her and her GEV on her newsgroup.

You don’t need to go that far. If it helps to do something like this, go for it. Otherwise, don’t worry. So long as you can flip to editor-mind when you need to, that’s enough.

Of course, the other side of this is getting back to author-mind when you’re done with the editor-mind. That’s… interesting. It’s also crucial – you don’t want to be in editor-mind when you’re writing, any more than writer-mind is good when you’re editing. While the toolset is much the same, they’re used in different ways. The writer-mind is applying the paint, building the picture and framing it, while the editor-mind applies a scalpel to clean up the bits that got smudged, and takes the sander to the frame to smooth off all the rough places and hide the marks where the hammer didn’t quite go where you meant it to, and so forth. Not all writers are good at editing, and not all editors are good at writing.

Depending on how clean your drafts are (in the sense of dangling plot threads, odd byways you forgot to come back to, ideas that hit halfway through that you need to go back and seed and other such pantser oddities), you might not need much in your edit passes. Mine are typically pretty light: there’s a pass for plot/character issues where I’ll usually pick up most of the typo and grammar as well, and a second pass that takes a closer look at phrasing and tightening. After that will depend on what Amanda and Sarah, my long-suffering beta readers and in Amanda’s case editor as well, have to say. You might need dozens of passes to clean things up.

Or not. Pantsers have a horrible tendency to over-edit until there’s no life left. We really can’t edit our work until we’ve had a chance to forget it, and we’ve got to be careful about who we listen to. If you try to fix everything everyone says, you’ll end up with flat, rolled out tofu. Very dead tofu, at that. Instead, look for the possible problem that sits under what they’re saying, and work out how to address that.

And that, fellow pantsers, is that. Go thou forth and explore the pants.

Return of the Extreme Pantser’s Guide: What Happens Next

I’m in the last couple of weeks before my first time as a professional presenter in a testing conference (TestBash Philadelphia for those who are wondering) so what passes for my ability to focus is split between that and – as ever – the day job. Which is suitably Lovecraftian, or at least the code is.

So, without further ado, another instalment of the Extreme Pantser’s Guide and yes, I’ll probably be on mostly-hiatus until after the conference. I may not fully surface until Thanksgiving, just because it usually takes me a bit to let go after I’ve been wound tight for a while.

The Extreme Pantser’s Guide: What Happens Next

As an extreme pantser, I work in fits and starts. There’ll be a lot of words going down fast, followed by dry spells while I try to figure out what’s supposed to happen next, then another splat. Often, I’ll take notes that end up at the bottom of the story file, as reminders of things that need to happen at some stage. Depending on the story, I’ll have a lot of these, or next to nothing.

Impaler had very few notes, mostly on things like the date of Easter that year, the date of Passover, and various other major dates and festivals that would impact the plot. Easter also presented a challenge – Vlad had to conquer Constantinople before Easter because otherwise the pivotal scene that I knew happened in the Hagia Sophia couldn’t happen. Mostly, though, Impaler’s outline was “what is in Vlad’s campaign”. The actual events around that happened as I wrote them, quite literally in more than a few cases.

In that book, my dry spells happened because I needed to do more research – I’d know what needed to happen next, but not have enough information to describe it properly. So there’d be a flurry of web searches, reading assorted odd snippets, looking at reproductions of very old maps, and so forth, until the next set of scenes had its ‘clothes’.

ConVent went slightly differently because it started as pure piss-take and acquired a loose mystery plot as I went on. For it, I had a murderer, and a list of corpses that had to happen. Some people volunteered to be corpses, for which I’m grateful, and the ones who gave me bizarrely detailed death scene wish-lists really made life interesting (Hello, Basset, anyone?). ConVent also acquired a list of characters, mostly pastiche of observed behavior from several sources with a healthy dose of warped imagination, a few special request tuckerizations (Hello the Hoyts), and of course the main characters. The list was written more as a way of keeping the requests in check, including who to cast as corpses and how they wanted to die, but got added to so I didn’t lose track of the details.

The piece I’m working on at the moment, which may or may not finish, has no notes, no planning, and I’ve only recently worked out how it ends. What it’s got is a character with a strong voice and a determination to be heard. This is extreme pantsing at the pointy end. There are already (at a smidge over 10k words), several subplots making their presence known, and I’ve got a fair idea where the main stages of the plot fall. Beyond that? Nada. This character operates on a “need to know” basis, and I don’t need to know. Like everything I write, it’s advancing in intermittent spurts as I work out what the next bit needs to be.

Essentially, the extreme pantser is on a journey. The next part of the path might be clear, and maybe the distant goal, but the rest of the journey is still something of a mystery and only the subconscious has the map.

Return to the Extreme Pantser’s Guide: Pacing

Kate got caught up by real life and asked me to post this for her. This is the second in her “Return to the Extreme Pantser’s Guide” posts. You can find the first one here. — Amanda

This chapter is the first of several covering various aspects of plotting and characterization technique from the extreme pantser’s perspective. The thing to remember here, is that this is stuff that matters, and if you as an extreme pantser don’t ‘get’ it free, you’re going to have to work a lot harder than a plotter would to get there – but not necessarily work in the same way.

One of the more interesting things I’ve found as I’ve developed as a writer is that I typically have a vague, not terribly clear feel for the techniques, but I’m not applying them with any sense or consistency because I don’t understand what the heck it is I’m trying to do, much less what my subconscious is throwing at me. Those unfortunate enough to have read some of my early stuff know what I mean here. You can see the shape I’m after but it’s kind of like a small child trying to color inside the lines.

I still color like that, but at least I’ve got better at writing.

So, pacing. This is what makes a story feel fast or slow. Unless you’re planning on writing literary fiction, you’re going to want a variety in your pacing – enough fast sections to drag your readers along with you, and enough slower ones that they have time to breathe. SF and Fantasy, particularly recently, tends to want to start fast, then have something of a slowdown before a series of increasingly sharper accelerations until the climax of the piece. Most – but not all – authors will give a chapter or three of wrapup after that at a nice, gentle pace. Sarah refers to this as the post-climax cigarette.

Pace is partly influenced by vocabulary: short, sharp verbs with minimal assistance from adverbs, action verbs in the sense that someone (preferably your protagonist) is acting… these tend to signal ‘fast’ to readers. Polysyllabic with lots of descriptive usually signals ‘slow’. We as readers are remarkably sensitive to these – to the extent that a particularly fast-paced scene in someone else’s book is quite capable of having me breathing heavily and feeling as though I just outran a bear.

So… read what you can about pacing, but also read fiction with known pace. L.K. Hamilton’s first three books are close to perfect examples of fast-paced. Terry Pratchett’s pacing is generally more leisurely, but again, pitch-perfect.

What tends to happen is that after immersing yourself in well-paced books, the extreme pantser builds a feel for pacing that manifests as “Something needs to happen soon” or “My character needs a break” – also, “Slowing things down here will increase tension” has been known to occur. In my case, rarely quite that explicit, but I do still operate at this level.

I know this sounds very vague and almost – horrors! – frou-frou, but it does seem to work this way at least for me. I’ve had to learn to trust in the pants, not least because the bloody things know more about how this works than I do (As a side note, this is one of the reasons why I’m bloody dangerous when I’m over-tired. It’s not just the narcolepsy, although that doesn’t help. It’s that all the ‘this is not socially acceptable’ filters stop working – which leads to unacceptable truths being aired out, often loudly).