Saturday, June 28, 2014

WIP Marathon June Check-In

Last check-in: 3165 words into chapter 13 (47,804 words)

Currently: Finished with Part One, aka, the first half of the novel (14 chapters, 51,945 words)

WIP issues this month: I wanted to write 1000 words a day this month. Obviously, that didn't happen.

A really big thing happens in chapter 9, and chapters 10-14 are all about the ramifications. These chapters don't have a whole lot of plot. What they do have is a lot of angst, arguments, and a few backstory reveals. A big reason my writing has slowed down recently is that I'm getting really tired of it. There were actually 1-2 chapters that I opted not to include, at least not right away, because I'm worried that they'll make the story drag. I might come back and write them later.

I am really glad to be done with Part One, though. My last draft of the novel wasn't so much a draft as a compilation of scenes. Now they all finally work together cohesively.

I'm also really excited to start Part Two. Though I'm going to have to outline like crazy to figure out how all the different scenes work together.

What I learned this month:

1. While reading Premeditated: I love snarky narrators, but when you're ending every single paragraph with some sort of smart-ass quip, it slows down the narrative and actually gets really annoying. (It also didn't help that most of these comments weren't all that clever or funny.)

2. I watched the Delirium TV pilot and wrote a whole post about how it fails at worldbuilding (and how it misses a lot of opportunities to actually explore thought-provoking ideas).

3. Speaking of worldbuilding, a really helpful thing to do is find one or two friends (preferably smart ones) and explain your world to them. That way, they can ask you a lot of questions that you might have never thought of yourself, and they can help you pinpoint things that don't make sense. Last month (I forgot to include this in my May update) I had a conversation with a friend about Inter-World, the organization that mediates between our world and the magical world, because I wasn't sure in which US city to set the North American headquarters. It was a really helpful conversation. (Though I still haven't made a decision.)

4. Based on a reviewer's comment, I re-awakened a love for one of my secondary characters (the token "mean girl.") My philosophy on the token mean girl is this: if you're going to include her, make her awesome. Make her fun and interesting (and better yet, make her smart and competent). If she exists for no reason other than to sleep around and get jealous of the protagonist, you're doing it wrong.

The thing about this character is that she doesn't want to be nice. Why should she have to censor herself when everyone else is thinking the same thing? It's not her fault other people act like idiots and then get upset when she calls them out on it.

Now if only I can figure out a way to give this character more screen time... (Sadly, she hasn't appeared in any of the chapters I wrote in the last few months. She almost did, but that was one of the scenes I decided to hold off on.)

What distracted me this month:

Work, critiquing, weekend trips (2 weekends at home and 1 at a retreat with friends), being chronically tired because I have no self-discipline or time management skills. Also, Orange is the New Black season 2.

Books I read: Finished The Broken Kingdoms (not as good as The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, but the two complemented each other well) and Premeditated (it was okay). Currently reading The Spirit Rebellion, sequel to The Spirit Thief.

July goal: I would like to have Part Two fully outlined, and finish writing at least a third of it. (Many of the scenes are already written, but there are also some that I haven't touched it.)

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Why the Delirium TV pilot fails at worldbuilding

I'll start by saying that I never read Delirium or any of the other books in the series, mostly because the concept sounded kind of silly and most of what I heard about the books failed to catch my interest. However, out of sheer curiosity, I decided to watch the pilot episode of the rejected Delirium television series, mostly because it was easily available and free. (For those who are interested, it's on Hulu.)

I suspected it would be bad, but even I wasn't prepared for how laughably awful it was.

The premise behind Delirium is that this futuristic society believes "love" is a disease and has found a way to eliminate it, using some kind of medical procedure. While the idea of a society "cured" of love is shaky and not entirely believable, it still has the potential to make for some really cool exploration of themes. (ie, forcing invasive and controversial medical procedures on people, government regulation of family and reproduction, etc.)

The main reason I'm writing this isn't just to rant. (Well, okay, maybe it is.) I'm writing this because I think this show's failures provide really good talking points about worldbuilding: not only where it went wrong, but also where it could have been really fucking awesome (but wasn't).

If you haven't watched the pilot, I would strongly suggest you do so before reading the rest of this post. Also, here is a really good review of the episode that you should definitely read. Also, see the comment(s) at the bottom of the post. (The main reason I linked to it is that they make several excellent points, and I don't like repeating what's already been said.)


So now that you've done all that, let's talk about Delirium.

Problem 1: Failure to illustrate what a "loveless" society looks like.

We are told that people who have undergone the procedure are incapable of love, but never do we actually get a sense of what this means. "Love" isn't a static concept--everyone defines it differently, and it often encompasses many different emotions (attraction, sexual passion, obsession, intimacy, affection, attachment). Which of these do people lose after they undergo the procedure? Is it limited to sexual desire/romantic love? What about familial love and friendship?

After watching the episode, I never had a sense that the adult characters were emotionally deficient. We are told that one character's parents were "going about the motions," but nowhere did I actually see this for myself. There are so many things this episode could have done to illustrate what "lack of love" looks like. You could show a before-and-after of a character who has undergone the procedure, or you could show more family dynamics. Yet, this episode does none of those things. There is only one moment in the entire show where you actually see a married couple interact, but beyond that, you get absolutely no sense that anything is weird or wrong. 

Problem 2: Failure to take the worldbuilding to the next level

In other words, with the exception of some very cliche totalitarianism tropes, this society is almost indistinguishable from ours. It's like the creators didn't take more than five minutes to actually ask questions or stretch their imagination.

For instance, Megan's comment on the Bibliodaze article brought up the question of sex and reproduction. I assume the procedure eliminates sexual desire, so it would make sense that a lot of reproduction takes place by artificial means. This brings up some really cool possibilities. If the government arranges marriages and controls reproduction, shouldn't they also take genetics into account so that they can lower the risk of passing on disease-associated genes? (According to one of my professors, this is a big part of how the Hasidic Jewish community arranges marriages.) The episode shows the interview process for matching, but nowhere do you see the characters getting their blood drawn or cheeks swabbed, so I can only assume they match people based on personality.

Oh, and while we're on the subject, why is marriage necessary in the first place? Why is everyone required to get married? And if there's no familial love (or maybe there is? I'm still not clear on that), what is the purpose of raising children in traditional family units?

Oh, and how does this society feel about adoption? Do people usually raise their own biological children, or does the government assign them a child?

I assume there's no divorce, since marriages are arranged, but what about re-marriage after a spouse dies? Does that ever happen?

Problem 3: It makes love look bad

At the beginning of the episode, I was convinced that Alex couldn't possibly be the main love interest, because he was creepy as hell. He fell in love with Lena from the moment he saw her (during her marriage interview, when she wasn't exactly being herself), and then basically stalked her until she loved him back. It almost made me wish someone had found a way to "cure" him.

However, I do think it's worth mentioning that while this trope is problematic, it also provides for another potential avenue of exploration. If people in this society are not exposed to the idea of love, how would they know what healthy, mutually-respectful love looks like? It would be really interesting to see how this society's rebels deal with things like unrequited love and relationship problems, since they don't exactly have anyone to model it for them.  

Problem 4: Unfortunate Implications

Everyone assumed/accepted that the mother killed herself because of love, even though she'd already undergone the procedure. Why is this? It's not like love and grief are the only reasons people commit suicide. In fact, the implication that she couldn't possibly have killed herself for any reason other than love is really insulting to those who have struggled with depression and/or suicidal thoughts.

Also, why are all of the characters rich/well-off? You see a couple of maids, meaning that there is some sort of socioeconomic division, but they're more set-dressing than actual characters. Nowhere do we actually learn anything about these women's lifestyles or how their demographic feels about the procedure.

Problem 5: The procedure

I'm not going to go to the trouble of analyzing the pseudoscience, but I do have one major question about the procedure: What happens when something goes wrong? Sticking a needle into someone's central nervous system is a very risky thing to do, so I'm definitely wondering how these scientists/doctors/government officials handle cases of disability and death.

Problem 6: Logical problems

1. [things previously mentioned by other people]: What about homosexuality (or non-gender binary individuals)? Why 18, instead of birth/puberty? How do people reproduce? Why is the gender segregation so half-assed? Why does no one seem to care when Alex takes Lena into her father's cell?

2. How is it that Alex managed to join the police force without having undergone the procedure? Is a fake scar really enough to fool people? What about things like medical records and background checks? I assume he found a way around those (forgery, hacking, connections, etc), but why did it never occur to Lena to ask? Even a girl who lives in a dystopia can't be that ignorant, right?

3. The fence is kind of a joke. I've seen more threatening fences around my neighbors' swimming pools.


I could continue listing other problems, but I'm sure you can already see my point. When you're building a world, you really have to stretch yourself mentally. Don't just add in a few cosmetic changes. Think about the greater implications of things. Talk to people who've studied anthropology or science or who come from different cultures. It's hard to step over your own boundaries when you don't realize those boundaries exist in the first place.

Worlbuilding is a challenge, but it might surprise you how much you can learn from it.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Book Recommendations: Half Bad

Back in March, I wrote a "summary reaction" post for Half Bad's blurb. The blurb left me very intrigued. But did the book deliver?

Yes and no.

I loved the writing style of this book, and I was very drawn into it. Nathan's a great character, and I love his voice.

However, there were several elements of this book that bothered me:

1. The shallow good-vs-evil themes: White Witches are the "good" witches and Black Witches are supposed to be evil, so of course, the author spends the entire book pounding the evilness and cruelty of the White Witches into your head. I suppose it was meant to be an observation on the nature of good, evil, and hypocrisy, etc, but it left me unimpressed.

2. The secondary characters: Many of them are quirky and fun to read, but none of them are well-developed. This is especially true for Annalise, whose entire role in the story can be described as "token angelic love interest."

3. The ending was too rushed. I supposed I might have cared more if any of the secondary characters actually had more than a single token personality trait, but as it was, I had very little reaction to it. (Though I did love the final scene.)

4. Come to think of it, there really wasn't much of a plot. The first half of the book was torture porn and backstory, and the second half was a series of weird secondary characters, some glossed-over action, and a LOT of buildup for the sequel.

Overall, this was a very readable book, and I think a lot of people will enjoy it. And while I wouldn't call myself "invested" just yet, there was enough this book did well on that I'm willing to pick up the sequel.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Book Recommendation: "The Extra" by Kathryn Lasky

I have so many book reviews to catch up on, and no excuse for not posting them until now. (I already wrote them and posted them to goodreads, but I've been too lazy to touch this blog.)

Edit 1/19/2015: Something I didn't realize at the time I wrote the review was that the term "Gypsy" is considered a slur. Since I wasn't sure whether the terms "Roma" and "Romani" could also be used for Sinti, I opted to use the word "Gypsy" when I was referring to the Roma and Sinti collectively. (I believe the book used the term "Gypsy." Then again, I don't believe Kathryn Lasky is from either of these cultures, so it's possible that she got some stuff wrong.)

After several weeks of being on social justice tumblrs, I've decided that I should rewrite this review in a less offensive manner. (From what I can gather, "Roma" can refer either to the specific Roma ethnicity, or to all of the different Romani groups (Roma, Sinti, Kale, etc) as a whole.) My edits are in bold.

I apologize for my ignorance on the matter.

This book tackles an under-explored perspective on the Holocaust--the lives of Romani who were forced to serve as extras in a movie produced by the Nazi regime. Despite all the hours I spent learning about Holocaust in Jewish school, all they ever taught us about Romani was that they also faced discrimination and were sent to concentration camps, so I'm glad I finally got to learn more about this particular group. (Apparently, "Roma" isn't a catch-all term for Gypsy--it only refers to a specific ethnicity/group of Gypsies (the stereotypical nomadic ones)(see above) The protagonist of the story is Sinti (craftspeople, middle class, more "assimilated"). I don't think I've ever heard of Sinti before, which probably indicates a serious flaw in my education.)

This book has a very strong "illusion vs reality" theme, as well as some themes that are sadly still relevant to modern times, like cultural appropriation and whitewashing. (The movie was supposed to be set in Spain, so dark-skinned Romani were an ideal choice for extras, although the main characters were played by pale-skinned Aryans.)

One element that stood out for me was the prose. It's very direct and minimalistic, which might not appeal to every reader, but I thought that it worked well. There were parts that felt almost like stream-of-consciousness, without being pretentious or overly trippy.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

WIP Marathon May Check-In

Last check-in: Partway through chapter 12 (42,931 words)

Currently: Finished chapter 12 (3924 words). 3165 words into chapter 13.

Current word count = 47,804 words

WIP issues this month: I re-wrote one scene, but I think I like the original better. I might send out both versions.

What I learned this month:

1. It's not that I don't describe things--it's that the things I describe are usually very focused. If two characters are having a conversation, the dialogue is usually broken up by descriptions of what those characters are doing and/or changes in facial expression. It's very easy for me to fail to describe the background. I've always known this to some degree, but it never occurred to me that this should be a problem--maybe it's just how I see the world? Maybe I tend to have a narrower focus?

But the thing is, that's not completely true. When I have a long conversation, my attention is always drifting off into different directions. Long conversations are the best time to notice things about my surroundings. I just need to figure out a way to translate this shift of attention into my writing without making it feel unnatural.

2. There is one conversation in this current chapter that I'm thinking about moving to an earlier chapter. I've gotten a lot of comments that my secondary protagonist doesn't feel very developed early on. If I move this conversation to the end of the first chapter, it will allow readers to get a better sense of who she is, but I think the conversation works better in this chapter. Yes, it means a delay in getting to know the character, but is that necessarily a bad thing? (I'll wait and see what CPs say about it.)

3. I have only one male viewpoint character, and apparently, he could use more fleshing out in early chapters.

4. Logical consistency, yo: (Read it. It's awesome.)

What distracted me this month: Final exams and going on vacation. I'm working during the summer (clinical research on pediatric autism and epilepsy), but so far, my schedule has been very lax, so I don't see this as too much of a distraction. I've also had a fair amount of critiquing to do. (Still do, actually).

This month, I finished reading Her Dark Curiosity (slow start, but turned out good in the end), The Extra (liked it), Half Bad (excellent writing and viewpoint character, but the plot and secondary characters were less than impressive), and The Secret of Isobel Key (bleh). I'm currently reading N.K. Jemisin's The Broken Kingdoms, sequel to The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. It's not as good as its predecessor, but I like that it's exploring the far-reaching consequences of the events of the first book.

June goal: I'd like to average 1000 words a day, meaning a final word count of 77,800 words. (Yes, I know my monthly word counts are pathetic. But it's summer, so now I actually have time for 1000 words a day.)
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