Friday, May 11, 2012

Now, I'm not going to say aliens, but . . .

I love a good conspiracy, and when that conspiracy involves aliens I love it even more. Nothing gets my writer juices flowing better than a delicious what if? scenario.

That being said, I recently came across some articles about a possible unidentified flying object hovering around the sun. The pictures are pretty interesting to look at, and NASA's reaction a bit underwhelming for my taste. But even if it just happens to be some cosmic rays or a camera glitch, it's still fun to speculate what else it could be. Maybe some extraterrestrials refueling on the sun? An alien space station, perhaps?

I'll tell you one thing it definitely is: some great sci-fi story inspiration.

If aliens are out there, and they finally make their way to Earth, how do you think first contact will go down?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Unsinkable Ship, Take Two

Asked if Titanic II could meet the same fate as its predecessor, 
Palmer told reporters: "Of course it will sink if you put a hole in it." 
He added: "Of course, if you are superstitious … 
you never know what could happen."

An Australian billionaire is apparently replicating the Titanic to scale, fitting it with modern amenities, and then having it sail the same maiden voyage the original never completed. My immediate reaction was: when can I buy a ticket? and, less dignified, TAKE MY MONEY TAKE IT.

That might seem strange to the skeptics and superstitious out there who see this as a bad idea or tempting fate, but I've always held an unshakeable fascination for the Titanic. As a history lover, I'm frequently exposed to important human events in the past, and every now and then one of them takes hold of my heart and refuses to let go. With Titanic, it started with the James Cameron film and has since evolved into a hungry consumption of documentaries and non-fiction works related to the ship's sinking. Anything and everything I can get my hands on.

Something about the disaster keeps me wondering, marveling at the tragedy. All you have to do is look at pictures of the ship -- black and white and pristine and huge, they called the ship unsinkable and that's exactly how it comes across. Then imagine it disappearing beneath the waves on a black April night, taking over a thousand souls with it. It's as unbelievable now as it was when it happened.

In all likelihood, I will not be sailing the Titanic II's maiden voyage, not out of fear but because of funds. I imagine tickets will sell like hotcakes, no matter the price, as soon as they go on sale. That's fine, though. I'd be just as happy (and probably quite emotional) to watch the Titanic II pull into port in New York -- something it's spiritual predecessor never did. Because, to me, that's what this endeavor represents: A second chance at something great.

What about you? Would you sail on the Titanic II?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Novel Completion! + What I Learned

This post is long overdue since I actually finished my novel early last month, but oh well! For posterity's sake, here's some statistics and trivia about how it went:

  • Typed the last words on March 12. Would have been the 11th, but I dithered over the final lines for about two days, wanted to get them just right!
  • The final word count came out to 117,903 which makes it the longest piece of fiction I've ever written. 
  • It took me roughly five months to complete, which also happens to be the longest I've ever worked continually on a writing project. Previously, I wrote my first completed novel in thirty days -- a considerable disparity! Though, to be fair, that was during NaNoWriMo, and craziness happens during NaNoWriMo.
  • That being said, this is also the first novel I've finished on my own, outside of the competitive and supportive atmosphere of NaNo.

Admittedly, I probably could have finished this one in less time but there were several close calls where I almost called it the quits. If you're a writer, you know exactly what it's like when you hit those moments of "why am I even writing this? will anyone ever want to read it? what if this is just a huge waste of time?" But I pushed through, past the doubt, past the uncertainty, and here I am on the other side with a finished novel to show for my efforts! It's a good feeling, to say the least.

Of course, to me, writing is not a destination so much as it is a constant journey toward improvement and understanding. Through writing, I'm able to learn something new about the process, what works and what doesn't, and I also discover more about myself at the same time.

Here are just a few of the things I learned this time around!

  • I can write first-person point of view! I've always admired writers who can pull off first-person POV because it's intimate and powerful when done right. Of course this also depends on the kind of story you're trying to tell, too. This was my first time attempting a lengthy narrative from this POV, and I actually enjoyed it a lot and felt it added a nice depth of feeling and personality to the story. So yes, future self reading this, if you're not sure let me remind you that you can write first-person! And to high school me, who would have ever guessed?
  • An outline, even a loose one, is beneficial. I like writing high concept stories because it helps me narrow in on the plot, and my high concept ideas have proven very compatible with outlines. This story was actually supposed to be a short story, and as such I made one of my rare outlines in advance (I'm more of a panster usually, making it up as I go along) which proved handy even in its brief, skeletal form in helping direct the story.
  • Sci-fi may be my genre. I still like to flirt and batt my eyelashes at other genres, particularly fantasy which is a relationship I've enjoyed for about as long, but I'm finding that sci-fi is my comfort genre, my fallback when coming up with story ideas. Minus the pseudo-science involved in some of them (which I always worry will catch me out as a writer and not a scientist), I love everything about sci-fi. One of these days I'll have to try a little more hard sci-fi, since the two novels I've written thus far are more light sci-fi (i.e. without spaceships and planets and such).
  • Inspiration comes and goes, but it has to find you writing, to paraphrase one of my favorite pieces of writing advice. If there's anything I've learned, it's that there will always come a point when you are tired of writing the story. And that's okay. Take a break, a few days off from writing if you need to. Think about something else, make eyes at some other ideas. Go outside. Read a book. But then return to the novel and keep writing anyway. Another trick I've found helpful is brainstorming a scene that you can get excited about. Whether that means introducing some interesting minor characters, or letting hell break loose on the ones you have. If you're bored, find a way to get yourself pumped up about the story again. You loved the idea enough to start it, remember why that was and get back involved!
Hope this self-analysis helps some of my fellow writers out there!

Writers, what are some of the interesting discoveries you've made while writing? What tricks keep you motivated and plugging away at the keyboard?

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Books from the Past

Growing up, I think we all have those books that stay with us, for one reason or another. Recently, there was a course being offered at my university dealing with children's literature and the required reading included a book that I hadn't read in almost a decade. I didn't end up getting into the class, unfortunately, but it did get me thinking about other memorable fiction from my childhood.

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell:
Twelve-year-old Karana escapes death at the hands of treacherous hunters, only to find herself totally alone on a harsh desolate island. Based on a true story.  
I'll admit that I don't remember much from this one, but every now and again, I think about it anyway. There's something about this book that has stuck with me. I believe I read this in the fourth grade, during our Native American unit. While reading this book, we also got to pick our own Native American names. With true originality, I chose "Dancing Dolphin". I wonder why. Definitely due for a reread.

Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene:
Fan of the book;
the cover not so much.
Minutes before the train pulled into the station in Jenkinsville, Arkansas, Patty Bergen knew something exciting was going to happen. But she never could have imagined that her summer would be so memorable. German prisoners of war have arrived to make their new home in the prison camp in Jenkinsville. To the rest of her town, these prisoners are only Nazis. But to Patty, a young Jewish girl with a turbulent home life, one boy in particular becomes an unlikely friend. Anton relates to Patty in ways that her mother and father never can. But when their forbidden relationship is discovered, will Patty risk her family and town for the understanding and love of one boy?
Be not fooled by the title of this one! As romance novel-y as it sounds, it's actually a very affecting story, as I recall. I read it in the eighth grade so, again, it's been a while. But I do remember pivotal scenes from this one! Most importantly, this book proudly owns the reputation of being the first book to ever make me cry, thus showing me that books can really make you feel. Personally, as a writer, making my readers experience some kind of emotion -- happiness or sadness, or anywhere in between -- has always been my aim. And I believe this novel was critical to my understanding of literature as a sort of gateway to the human heart. Excited to reread this one, especially after taking a course in WWII. Maybe I'll read it this summer. Wouldn't that be apropros? ;)

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien:
If you care for journeys there and back, out of the comfortable Western world, over the edge of the Wild, and home again, and can take an interest in a humble hero (blessed with a little wisdom and a little courage and considerable good luck), here is a record of such a journey and such a traveler. [. . .] For Mr. Bilbo Baggins visited various notable persons; conversed with the dragon, Smaug the Magnificent; and was present, rather unwillingly, at the Battle of the Five Armies. This is all the more remarkable, since he was a hobbit.
It's got a talking dragon, people! If that doesn't sell you on this book, I don't know what will. Kidding aside, it's an adventure story that provides the foundation for the larger epic Lord of the Rings, and somehow manages to equal it in excitement. To this day, I'd argue that Tolkien's narrative style is unmatched. It's uniquely intimate, which adds to the charm; it literally feels as though you're sitting at your grandfather's knee, listening to him tell you a story. With the first movie coming out next year, I'm trying to decide whether I want to reread the book before seeing it or not. Chances are I won't get a chance to with all the other books I want to read! But for those who haven't read it, I highly recommend it!

What are some books from your childhood that have left an indelible mark on you?

Monday, January 16, 2012

A Question of Adaptation

The last time I read a Charles Dickens novel was in high school.

Okay, perhaps "read" is too generous; "skimmed" would be closer to the truth. You'd never know it by the grades I got on the quizzes and essays, but I've always been excellent at acing those sorts of things. My point here being, I don't remember much about any of his stories, except that I didn't particularly like them, certainly not enough to actually read them through like I was supposed to -- sorry, my high school English teachers! Sorry, Charles Dickens!

Harry Lloyd also happens to be the great-great-great-grand-son of
the actual Charles Dickens, adding to his awesome factor.
A few days ago, however, I watched the BBC's new adaptation of Dicken's classic, Great Expectations. I'll be honest: I was only watching it because I'd seen some fan-made graphics that showcased the mini-series' beautiful cinematography and also because Harry Lloyd's in it, one of my favorite actors.

I'd seen an adaptation of Great Expectations before, but recall it being rather boring. This version was not the case. I found myself really interested in the story and characters for the first time, and intrigued by the mystery of Pip's benefactor and how his relationship with Estella would turn out, having largely forgotten most of the plot (if I ever really knew it at all) ahead of time.

This made me think about television and movie adaptations and how they effect the perception of source material, most often a book. I know a lot of people espouse a vitriolic hatred for book adaptations and sometimes rightly so, usually because a lot gets lost in the translation. I've seen a few pretty awful adaptations in my time. I don't want to name names but Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief is the first that comes to mind. Great children's book; terrible movie. Without giving any major spoilers, they took out the main antagonist (for reasons I still couldn't tell you) and left out one of what I considered the best scenes of the book. Also, there wasn't enough Sean Bean as Zeus, but then again that might just be me. 

On the reverse, I've seen some great adaptations, too, such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Based on the trailer alone, the upcoming Hunger Games movie looks like it'll be good, too. One can only hope, anyway!

In some instances, I think an adaptation can actually get people interested in the book and get them reading which is always a great thing. The danger, of course, is that the adaptation could be horrible and turn off a lot of people from checking out something that might be wonderful as a book or video game. Generally, it's my nature to keep cautiously optimistic about adaptations; I'm always willing to give them a chance to impress me. And such as the case with Great Expectations, I was delightfully surprised.

What are your feelings on TV and film adaptations of books and other mediums?

Friday, January 13, 2012

I'm Alive, I Swear!

Let me start by wishing you all a (belated) Happy New Year! We're two weeks into 2012, enough time to put some resolutions to the test. Here's hoping you're all staying strong with those goals!

I have a good feeling about this year, although that could be partly because of all the excellent movies coming out. The Hunger Games, anyone? Or how about The Avengers? I'm just saying, the movie theatres might as well just take my money now. That's not even counting War Horse and Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows which have already been released that I still need to see. While I usually wait for most films to come out on DVD, there's some movies that just have to be seen on the big screen. Here's a few others that look interesting: W.E.Snow White & the Huntsman, and The Iron Lady which is already playing.

Apart from drooling over movie trailers, here's what I've been up to lately:

1. Working on my novel. This has been a 24/7 job as the process of writing a novel often is. Most days, it seems that even when I'm not writing, I'm thinking of writing, manufacturing dialogue and weaving tangled plot twists in my head.  All in all, it's been an enlightening experience thus far, and I'm learning a lot about myself, my writing, and the magic of discipline. Even if it's taking me longer than I expected! I'm getting close to the end now which has brought on some bittersweet angst -- the excitement of wrapping up loose ends and finally being done, the pressure of getting the end right, and the sadness of saying goodbye to characters that I've spent the last four and half months getting to know quite intimately, especially my protagonist who's proven to be quite the trooper.

2. Making fanvids. As I mentioned in my last blog post, I like to make fanvids for characters from movies and shows that I like. You can watch a happy one. Or a less happy one. Spoilers for Thor in the latter.

3. Updating my blog layout. You may have noticed, but O, My Kingdom for a Plot! is now 90% more blue! And there's also a somewhat blurred castle in the background! Cue the ooh-ing and ahh-ing! Kidding aside, I wanted to get a little more color up in here, straying from a tendency to go with shades of brown. Fun fact: blue was historically associated with girls (and pink with boys) until the 1930s-40s.

4. Not placing in the Writers of the Future contest. After perusing the forums, I knew I didn't have much of a chance, which was confirmed with a form rejection email. However, I'm aware of some things to do differently, and I'll likely enter again some time in the future.

5. Playing video games/reading/watching British shows/pretty much everything else that isn't working on my novel. There's a quote in circulation that goes something along the lines of, "a writer will do almost anything to avoid writing" and I've found it sadly true on more than one occasion. But! I just like to call everything else "research." You never know where you'll find plot bunnies hiding! They're sneaky like that. Plus, I'm currently stocking up on all things fantasy as I'd really like to write my own some time this year.

And speaking of, I'd love any reading recommendations for fantasy books, be they adult or YA! So please shoot some suggestions my way! Hey, that rhymed.