August 21st, 2007

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Long way down

The ultra-vivid dreams continue!

Among the highlights of last night's episode:

Attending a special event at the observation deck at the Empire State Building. All the lights in NYC had either been turned off or dimmed (war black out?) and with ESB being the highest thing around and also having no exterior lights for the event, it actually was catching all kinds of moonlight! I was going around with this old woman who'd been visiting the observation deck all her life and she was like, "Whoah, this is so creeeeeeeeeeepy." It was pretty cool.

Later on in the dream, I was going back down from the deck and decided to take the stairs. My brain even created an image looking down the stairwell and seeing a vanishing point somewhere around the 20th floor. Eventually I discovered the staircase kind of petered out and I got lost in some steam pipes. Meanwhile I was just waiting for Homeland Security to come bust me for being the in a "secure" stairwell and posing some terrorist threat.

Sheesh, now that I write this out, it sounds like a Bob Dylan song.
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Novel Plans - Tarimur

Now that I'm feeling more myself again and have hacked through the forest of other sh*t I had to do first, I'm thinking about at long last getting back to writing -- REAL writing, as in novels. I have multiple projects that have either been languishing or are in embryonic form but have yet to go anywhere. Not sure what I should work on first, to be honest. So I'd like to se if I can organize my thoughts on the various projects. I'll start with one and move on to others in another post. Any feedback or advice is welcome, whether you're familiar with the project I'm describing or not.

Tarimur
Key plot points and keywords: aliens, parthenogenesis, alien sex, "anthropologial" sci fi, soft sci fi.

This is the "big idea" original sci-fi novel I started, what, 5 years ago? I did quite a bit of work on it, writing and revising four chapters, getting feedback, and then doing a lot of work creating appendices, both for the use of the reader and to force myself to do some worldbuilding work. I also sat down and did some detailed plot planning, setting out what the actual conflicts and crises of the story would be, how things would resolve, etc. I even did some vision work, which allowed me to come up with some great ideas as far as building the characters goes. So it was all there, sort of laid out for me.

However, with all that done, I ran into two problems, one being my mood (depression really did a number on my writing), the other being some misgivings about the writing approaching -- as detailed below.

In the drafts, I had chosen to use a third-person omniscient, focusing entirely on the main character, seeing the world through his eyes but with a narrator who is providing description, background information, etc. The overall tone was rather formal and heavy, and deliberately so, and it was something I really had to warm up to every time I wrote, because it's not my usual style.

Now that my mood issues are smoothing out, I'm considering changing my approach.

One of the things I've considered, even back when I was doing the drafts, is switching to a first-person narrative, from the main character's POV. I consider myself very good at first person work and I personally love reading first person work, so that appeals to me. With this particular story, there is so much mental and physical drama going on with the main character that it makes sense to get inside that character as much as possible. Plus, a lot of the story is showing the main character new things, new environments, new situations, and since the reader is experiencing the world for the same time, with a first person POV they would be able to experience it along with the main character, through his eyes.

There are some things I'll need to think about before I commit to rewriting from this new POV, however. For example, in my mind, if the character is writing out their story, there has to be some framework that explains why they are doing it. Is it a diary? Is it a memoir? Is it a report? This is something I often ask when reading other first-person narratives. Like with the first Wraeththu trilogy, when and why do Pell, Swift and Cal each tell their stories? It's something that sort of bugs me. In other books there's some type of set up that explains this.

Another thing to consider is who the report is for? If the narrator is talking to somebody in his own culture, there are lots of things that can be glossed over as a given. But if they're writing for a bigger audience, they have to give more detail and explanations for things, or else it just won't make sense. And if you're writing a novel like Tarimur, about a totally alien culture, the first person narrator should, in my opinion, have some reason for going into a lot of detail. The audience is important.

The idea I'm tinkering with is to have the narrator writing at the request of some kind of intergalactic federation like the Ekumen in Ursula Le Guin's work. It would make a lot of sense, as the Ekumen for example do a lot of anthropological work and would be very interested in what the main character has to say. The character is also very high-ranking, almost like a head of state or a celebrity, so it wouldn't be a stretch to imagine him being asked to write something. ("Hey, what do you say to a book deal?")

Of course I can't steal the Ekumen and would have to make something up, but assuming I did that, I'd just have to create bookends to frame the memoir in those terms. An introduction at the beginning would be one end and the other end would be the appendices, which I was planning on doing anyway -- glossary, background on government, guide to Tarimurian reproductive biology, etc. Having those appdendices makes much more sense if the book is presented as an anthropoligical document. In that I really am a lot like Le Guin; I want to think of my world and my culture as real and see the story as a "document" rather than a story that exists nowhere but the printed page.

I've thought about having the main character writing the book for his own people, but that doesn't really work. He would leave too much out (as "obvious") and anyway I'm pretty sure their culture isn't at the level of having books really distributed widely anyway. They're sort of more at the Renaissance-y stage, not a culture of mass production or media. If he did write something for his own people, it would be on request of the state archive or something like that, and to me that just doesn't have the appeal of say, having him writing it for the benefit of the space visitors (Ekumen-type group) who have, since the time of the story, made contact with them and are looking for someone to document their culture through some sort of instructive narrative.

I have to admit, the task of starting over on this novel is rather daunting, but I have a feeling that I will find it a lot easier to write if I do switch the POV. Also, there are many things I can steal straight from what I already have, as while there will be major changes due to the POV-shift, I won't have to trash every bit of dialogue and every description. I will be able to pack so much more drama into things by having the major playing describing it himself.
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Questionnaire: Do You Have Autistic Tendencies?

SUMMARY: Researchers at the Cambridge University's Autism Research Centre developed this questionnaire to measure autistic traits in adults. Higher scores indicate greater autistic tendencies.

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COMMENT: I scored very low on this, only a 9. I would guess this is because despite the odd social quirks and obsessions I have, I am very good at interpreting social signals, reading between the lines, exercising tact, etc. I'm also very imaginative and have a great deal of empathy for people. So forget the fact that as a young child I'd sit for hours humming at the top of my lungs so I could focus on my drawing :)
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Panic at the Wiebke

I continue to be very impressed with the cognitive therapy self-help book* my doctor prescribed. It is so unbelievably helpful in the way it explores the idea of distorted thoughts leading to distorted emotions, it's like a magic wand almost. Every day I can tell that the lessons I'm learning are helping me deal with a whole bagful of negative emotions and life patterns -- depression, anxiety, anger, annoyance, repetitive thoughts, and more. I'll start to go off into one of my mood fits and then think, "No, wait, hold on... there's something I can do." And I think about what's going on, logically, and use of the techniques the book gives to dispel the stupid thoughts, and they just go away. It's pretty awesome.

Today I read about anxiety and panic disorder and boy was that a lesson! I've been aware that I have some anxiety issues, some panic issues, and a number of times I've come down with major anxiety-related disorders that had me going to various doctors. Yet now that I'm reading about what the symptoms of anxiety and panic really are, I realize that I've been having them since I was in elementary school and just thinking that was normal.

When I think "anxiety attack," I think about somebody shaking and hyperventilating and having a hammering heart. That's not quite what happens to me, however, so I just discounted it. I have bizarre panicky symptoms on a very regular basis and just thought of it as a personal quirk. Or I thought it was because I have an excess of imagination. I've gone through periods where totally ridiculous notions will drive me into a frenzy of panic nearly every day, while I just don't know what to do.

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People might say, "Wait, I've never seen you anxious!" But I think I do a fairly good job of masking what is going on inside my head. I'll read or stare out the window or pace or just avoid people. I probably seem more "preoccupied" than anxious.

Anyway, I certainly appreciate gaining the insight to realize that a lot of crap that goes on with me is coming from my own thoughts. Now hopefully I can learn to change things!

* The Feeling Good Handbook by Dr. David Burns.
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Crimes Against Beatlemanity

Jesus... Just when I think I've heard the worst of worst Beatles covers, something comes up to make me revise my opinion.

Right now: David Bowie covering "Across the Universe." And I adore Bowie and he's done great covers I've loved ("Pablo Picasso") but ughghghhgg, in this cover he sounds like a drunk Billy Joel! Within the first five seconds, I was like "What IS this horrendous crime?! Arrest the perpetrator!"

Earlier, one I've heard before that never fails to make me shudder: Cover of "Come Together" by -- ugh! -- Robin Williams and Bobbie McFarin. It's NOT a spoof, it's supposed to be serious. Ughghghg.