Friday, November 30, 2007

Two months of writing every day

Now November is done, and I've been writing every day, without a miss, for two months. And I've made a lot of progress. But not as much as I like. There've been too many days when I did only a little bit of writing, so clearly I need some kind of amount goal. Still, I knew November was going to be a busy month when I went into it, and like I said, I'm making progress. Yeah me!

Alas, I wanted to be farther along in my planning for finishing my NaNoWriMo novel from way back in 2004, and to be able to really dig into its text on December 1. Perhaps I can use that feeling to motivate me this weekend.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Counting the days

Recently we were digging through some old boxes and I found a couple of posters from the 1984 Dune (imdb) movie, the David Lynch one. I took them to work and put them on my office wall. This morning when I came in to work I was reminded of that fall when I was waiting for the movie to open.

I was in 7th grade, and in Mrs. Yvonne Davis's English class when I remember talking about "Dunesday." I was counting off the days until the movie arrived.

I haven't anticipated any movie since quite so much. For one thing, there were many disappointments about the movie as a rendition of Herbert's novel. At the time, I was too young to know anything about David Lynch (I'm kind of glad I hadn't seen Blue Velvet by that time), so the movie seemed much stranger than it does when viewed as a Lynch movie.

I've learned to lower my expectations about movies-from-books since. I liked the Sci-Fi Channel's Dune (imdb) much better.

Mostly what I'm thinking about this morning, though, as I look at these posters from 1984, is that delicious sense of anticipation.

I'm partly put in mind of this, I suppose, because I've been thinking about the upcoming December movie, The Golden Compass (imdb) (trailer here), which I expect to see a lot of protest about, given the way a few people reacted to the Harry Potter books and movies.

It's hilarious to me that people got upset about Harry Potter just because it has magic in it. I mean, those are the people who think magic is real, and who somehow believe that fictional magic leads to real magic leads to...Satan? I dunno.

People will get much more angry about The Golden Compass. I'm still organizing my thoughts on that one. I know some religious groups have already started warning people about it. Which is a shame; it's a great book and I hope it'll be a fun movie. But definitely one people should read before having their kids read it. If they'd do that much, and leave out the hysteria, then there won't be any issue.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

50th time to bike to work

I've been biking to work this year. I decided my goal would be to bike to work 69 times, using a complex formula based on 3 times per week 50% of the time and allowing for vacations and the phase of the moon.

Somehow I got off track this summer, what with all the rain we had, so here I am near the end of the year with 19 trips to go. That's not a lot given that there's only about 27 work days left. But today I hit 50, which is a nice milestone.

My trip to work is about 4 miles. I can do it in about 25 or 30 minutes, and I can get home in about 17 minutes because it's downhill. So this isn't about athletic ability. This is really not a big distance. It's much more about arranging my life to allow for this. And about having nice showers at work to use. :)

Actually enjoying the editing stage

The main task I'm working on right now is editing my story "Elf and Troll."
I've been surprised by how much I'm enjoying editing this story.
I'm astounded by how I can improve a sucky scene on 2nd reading. It really makes me want to push to get text down fast, and then go back over it later. I mean, the idea that you should write a bad first draft and then revise it is completely trite, but it's really another thing to experience it.

When it's really bad to start with, it's easy to make it better, and doing that feels really good.

There's a simple pattern here: I find that I often SAY what I want the scene to show, then write details that show it, in the very next sentence. I can go back later and delete the TELL part, and improve the SHOW part. Often, the SHOW part is just fine. It's a funny thing to do -- you'd think I'd see myself doing it, and stop, but it's actually useful, like a miniature writing plan within the sentence. Maybe it comes from being a parent and having very little uninterruptible time, but I'm paranoid about losing my train of thought. So these sentences are like a note to myself about what I intended. Writing the TELL part lets me then focus on writing some action or details that show the scene.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Filtering headings by regexes: the next feature I want from all word processors

I was messing with my Blood of Heroes scenes the other day, and I wanted to make a printout of just one character's scenes. In general I use Word for fiction writing, and the main feature that brings me back to it again and again is its Outline View feature. So long as you use Word's heading styles, you can expand and contract topics by their headings, and that gives a document the equivalent of automatic hyperlinks. It's a great way to see the structure of a document.

Since I had labelled all the scenes with heading names that included the name of the viewpoint character, it wasn't too hard to contract the outline to show just the headings, then delete all the headings I didn't need, leaving a document that just contained the desired scenes.

But I had also recently done an XSL project where I was able to filter out sections of a document based on applying a regular expression to the titles. This kind of thing is super easy to do with XML and XSL. I suppose I should see what Word is supporting in terms of XML these days. If Word XML wraps the text under a heading with a wrapper element of some kind, the way DocBook has [section][title] [/title][para] etc... .... then it would be easy to do.

Anyway, all this led to my brainstorm: there ought to be a way to display and print only those chunks of a document whose headings match a regular expression. This would be a pretty easy thing to implement...a variation on outline view.

I use Excel's built-in filtering all the time. There's nothing more handy than making an ad-hoc list and being able to filter it to show only items that match certain criteria. It's so useful I'd almost like to write a novel in Excel. In fact, it would probably be possible to take a DocBook xml document and convert it to Excel-compatible XML, load that into Excel, and there take advantage of Excel's filtering.

I don't really want to do all that, though. I want someone to add this to a word processor for me.

Knock wood: still writing every day

Okay, we can add nine days to my November writing tally. What's more important is that I'm making real progress on several projects. Heh. I had so many unfinished projects that there were several I could get to review stage with fairly quickly. And that's a fun stage to be finally get some feedback.

Since I'm choosing a prior unfinished novel as my next major project, I'm hoping to be able to get that to the first draft stage fairly quickly as well. And that would be a lot of fun. My Modern Heroes story, which I'm tentatively renaming Blood of Heroes, has sat in my head for a long time, but I've shown it to no one because I don't have a complete story yet. I suppose for a novel I oughta get over that. I don't know. I mean, my good friend Doug Sims is working on a novel, and has sent out the first chunk of it, and it's outstanding...but I think I'm more likely to finish a sloppy whole first draft and then polish the pieces up.

Well, he's strongly committed to finishing his bit. Until recently, I wasn't sure I was going to finish Blood of Heroes, so giving a chunk of it to anyone to read....would have been wrong. Well, that's going to change. Now I want to get to the end of that one as soon as possible.

I underestimate how much I love superheroes

The work I've done recently has really made me think about superheroes. I'm using that word extremely loosely. What I mean is characters with super powers. They don't have to be vigilantes or act particularly heroic.

I think the word typically evokes costumed heroes with super powers, but I'm mostly interested in the problems and issues of made-up powers.

Apparently I'm not the only one, because the extremely well done show Heroes has a bunch of powered individuals, none of whom is a traditional superhero. I guess they can get away with that since they have folks trying to save the's not about vigilantism but about conflicts between various people with genetically-derived powers.

But they first thing they dropped were costumes, possibly the least sensible part of the traditional hero idea.

I've been wondering what it would be like to receive powers in a world that lacked the fictional universe of superheroes that American comic books provide. Even with that fictional model, I think anyone who received a sudden infusion of superness would think twice before acting as a vigilante. I expect folks would commonly use their powers for gain or to rescue people, but I can't see many folks skipping sleep like Spiderman habitually does to stop a jewel thief or whatnot.

On to a novel: Blood of Heroes

I had a goal this year of restarting work on a novel. I've decided that the project I'm going to do is a completion of my NaNoWriMo piece from a few years ago. Three years ago, actually. Time flies when you get old. It was 2004 that I wrote this.

The piece I wrote was called Modern Heroes. It was the required 50k words but I didn't finish all the scenes required for the outline I wrote. And I didn't really have a strong sense of how the ending was going to work. I felt like it was about 3/4 of a story. Not having a finished story from it has never set well with me. So I reviewed it about a week ago and decided that I would really enjoy finishing it.

But I felt like there have been a number of very visible superhero stories in recent years -- The Incredibles and Heroes, for example -- and so I wanted to come up with a mashup or a premise to add to it. What I had was a story that depended on the idea of superheroes as weirdness magnets: where one hero goes, others appear. So I have a powered guy who decides to flee the superperson-filled city for his small hometown...but by going there, he brings the weirdness with him.

I've complicated and added to that idea a lot in the past few days, and now I'm really excited about the project. Apparently I have a limitless capacity to enjoy super heroes. I was worried that it would feel like too much grunt work to go into this big mess that I wrote three years ago and try to finish it, but I don't feel that way at all.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

I declare victory over October!

I'm declaring victory over October, as I wrote every day of that glorious month. To show for it, I have two very nearly finished drafts. Okay, that doesn't sound like much, but I've got two stories that are just about at the point where I'll ask others to read them. I still have some cleanup to do on one of them. Anyway, the point is that now they are real stories, as opposed to cryptic snatches of text and a gleam in my eye.

Halloween 2007

Lots of fun with costumes this year.

I was Dr. McNinja. (See other Dr. McNinjas in the Flickr Pool.

Lily was a princess, in a borrowed dress. How frugal!

Chloe was a Mutant Hermit Crab (created by Dr. McNinja, she says). Her costume involved the most work. I took some cloth, made a cone, stuffed it, rolled it up, then sewed it to a backback she had. Then I did soft-sculpture stitches to shape it a bit. It looks a bit more like a bread roll than anything else, but we had fun. Then we made sheet-foam claws. She had a pink outfit on at one point, and antenna eyes, but they wouldn't stay on.

Ethan did something neat: he decided to have a different costume as of Halloween afternoon, and made one from cardboard, to become Lincoln Man, who has Penny Powers and shoots pennies at people. This is a character he made up this week.