“Your Name” – A Fantastic Film

My wife and I just got back from seeing this film on its opening night here in the States. We went with a couple of friends, one of whom is just getting into anime. The theater we went to had listed our showing as the English Dub (The first trailer below), but we ended up with the Japanese version, which suited us all just fine. We all prefer to see anime in Japanese for the most part, but I doubt we’d have been disappointed if it had been English. Funimation has a habit of putting out high quality English dubs, from Psycho-Pass to Attack on Titan just to name a couple. And the theater was almost full, which was nice. It reminded me of when we saw Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale a few weeks back. It certainly beat how we were the only ones in for the live action Ghost in the Shell.

Anyway, I won’t give too much of the plot away in my review (Or any future reviews), but just in case I will post the meat of the review right after the English Dub Trailer below. First, a synopsis taken from Funimation Films‘ site:

“The day the stars fell, two lives changed forever. High schoolers Mitsuha and Taki are complete strangers living separate lives. But one night, they suddenly switch places. Mitsuha wakes up in Taki’s body, and he in hers. This bizarre occurrence continues to happen randomly, and the two must adjust their lives around each other. Yet, somehow, it works. They build a connection and communicate by leaving notes, messages, and more importantly, an imprint.

“When a dazzling comet lights up the night’s sky, it dawns on them. They want something more from this connection—a chance to meet, an opportunity to truly know each other. Tugging at the string of fate, they try to find a way to each other. But distance isn’t the only thing keeping them apart. Is their bond strong enough to face the cruel irony of time? Or is their meeting nothing more than a wish upon the stars?”

 

 

As you can see from the trailer, the animation is gorgeous. I have yet to see anything as smooth and detailed as what I’ve seen in this film, and that includes Disney films of days gone by, and even Studio Ghibli, although Ghibli would be the closest to compare it to. For this reason alone the movie is worth seeing, at least if you’re a fan of animated films.

The plot and setting are both solid, with aspects of the setting (The small country town that the heroine Mitsuha lives in, especially) fully explored and used to drive the main story. For instance, a couple of minutes is spent early on in the film showing Mitsuha and her sister carrying out a ritual at the shrine their grandmother maintains, where they make sake from rice that they are chewing and then spitting into containers. These containers are then sealed and given as an offering to the god that watches over their town. You initially think it’s just a bit of interesting worldbuilding with the added bonus of self-conscious Mitsuha being mortified when she realizes that some of her classmates witnessed the ritual. But, this cool little bit of worldbuilding and culture sharing is instrumental in the story’s ultimate resolution.

The amount of high schooler hijinks is kept to a level necessary to provide much needed humor in a story that grows increasingly tense without going overboard. Mitsuha and Taki swap bodies with one another for an entire day at a time, meaning that one will go to sleep Sunday as themselves, spend all day Monday as each other, and then return to their original bodies in time for Tuesday. This does not go unnoticed by family and classmates, who see the switches in personality and mannerisms as explainable only by “Well, s/he is a teenager, so…” The humor stays mostly clean, although there is a bit of boob-groping on the part of Taki pretty much whenever he wakes up in Mitsuha’s body, but without any actual skin showing. Be warned, though, if that is a problem for you and/or your children.

The music was great to the extent that many times I didn’t notice it separate from the scene unfolding before me. It was just another part of the experience, blending in perfectly with the animation, the setting, the characters, and the tension (or levity) of the scene at hand. About the only time it really stood out were during the scenes where vocal tracks were used.

Without blathering on any further, I’ll just end it with saying the movie was fantastic, I’d like to go see it again, and I hope others will do the same.

If I have to have a rating for the movie, it’s A+.

 

 

Writing Every Day vs. Binge Writing vs. Some Combination There-Of

The title says it all: how do you prefer to write? Do you like to write a little bit each day, setting aside whatever time you can between activities? Or, do you save up all your writing time for a couple select days and just write for hours and hours?

I’ve discovered that I do both. At first I thought I needed at least an hour – preferably more – to get any real writing accomplished. Then I got a job in a city and had to commute back and forth by subway. The individual legs of the journey would take anywhere from 15 – 25 minutes, and I used to spend that time engrossed in whatever book I was reading at the time. But, that changed one day when I was riding home and just had the urge to write an opening scene to something. Didn’t know where I was going with it, but I knew if I didn’t write the scene down then I would forget about it. So, I put the book away, pulled out a notebook, and started jotting things down.

10 minutes later, as the train pulled in, I had an entire page written. The prose wasn’t very good, but it was a page! A full page!

I started doing this every day, getting several pages written during each commute. I would then go home and transcribe them to the computer. It was a great setup, and quite a bit got done during those days.

But, jobs changed, schedules changed, and I suddenly found myself with more free time to write. And that, as most writers know, is both good and bad. I find I need just a little bit of pressure in order to write efficiently. Too much time and I dawdle, thinking I have plenty of time to get stuff done and – oh, wait, it’s already 4:00 PM and a paragraph’s been written?

My solution to that has been to time myself, either with the stopwatch feature on my cell phone or the handy dandy Online Stopwatch. When drafting I will time myself until I complete a page, and then attempt to beat that time during the next page. My goal is to do at least six pages an hour. The first couple of hours tends to be the slowest, but as the hours creep by the word count per hour rises quite a bit. I’ll average 1,000 words in an hour at first, but by the end of an 8-10 hour writing binge I’m doing upwards of 1,500 words an hour, if I’m really into the story and have enough notes prepared to carry me that far.

I love these long stretches of time. Not only does my overall productivity climb, but I find that I become more immersed in the characters and the world at large and insights occur to me that wouldn’t come in a much shorter session.

I need those short moments as well, though. There are days where I can’t devote even a solid hour to writing, especially now with my work schedule. If I keep myself from writing even a little bit during these busiest of days I start to feel like crap, like I’m no longer a writer. While I don’t believe that all writers must write every single day if they want to hold onto the title, for me this is a must. Something must be accomplished every day, even if it’s just a single page or a short scene.
So, what works for you? Or, have you figured it out yet? If you haven’t I recommend trying to write several different ways and see what works best.

Killing My Darlings (Also: Putting Them in the Freezer for Later)

Still adjusting to the new work schedule, but things are finally starting to shape up. I’m working about 50 hours a week on the day job, and am slowly working in time for about 40 hours of writing each week. Realistically it will probably be closer to 30-35, since it takes an hour or so for me to shift gears from working to writing. Maybe my brain just needs to relax for a bit or something, but that first hour is always so inefficient that I might as well not count it.

Anyway, along with this schedule adjustment comes a major change in my writing plans for the year. Well, a couple of changes, but chief amongst them is my decision to switch to a new novel, and it pains me to do so. The Wendigo novel is something I’ve been planning for years, off and on. It’s a universe and concept that’s very near and dear to me, and it’s something I want to get absolutely right.

That’s paralyzing.

I’ve written a short story about it. I then brainstormed/outlined how I could expand it into a novel. After that I wrote the rough draft of the novel, which was a very illuminating experience. Though I never went and edited it I learned a lot about pacing and story structure as well as what I was missing from my earlier outline. There were a lot of gaps in the world-building, from the magic to the history to even the geography. I knew where Points A, B, C, and D were, but what was between them? Pfft, who cares, right?

Right.

I’ve since outlined and re-outlined it, working in new characters and taking out old ones that just didn’t work anymore. I’ve most recently gone back to the drawing board on the magic system, and I did this just as I was sitting down to finish my outline and start writing the second rough draft of it. And then there was-

Starting to see the pattern here? I’m throwing up roadblocks, slowing and ruining what forward momentum I had. It’s fear of getting it wrong, of failing at something I’ve spent so much time on.

pizza-rollsSo, I’ve killed the story for the time being. Killed it, sliced it up, put it into food saver bags, and placed onto a prominent shelf on the freezer. It’s not stuffed away somewhere so I’ll forget about it. I very much want to write this story, this series. But, not today.

Who gave me this idea? Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler over at Writing Excuses. (I have yet to get to the seasons where Mary Robinette Kowal becomes a regular, but her discussion on puppetry and how it relates to storytelling is amazing. Go listen to it!)  My day work involves a lot of mindless data entry. That means plenty of time to listen to writing podcasts. In the last week and a half I’ve burned through the first three seasons (20+ hours) and have amassed 42 pages of detailed notes. A lot of the writing principles covered are things I’m aware of, but much of it’s been eye-opening.

In several of the episodes they discuss getting stuck on pet projects and ultimately getting dragged down by it. Their advice?

You guessed it. Shelve it and try something completely new, and not something else that’s been sitting for years and years and has lots of excess baggage.

That’s exactly what I’m doing.

No sooner did I make this decision on Tuesday morning (And it was a tough one, believe me) that new ideas started coming to me, and from all over the place! A new world, new characters, and new conflicts. I’m overflowing with ideas for a brand new book. In just an hour after the first ideas came to me I already had 8 pages of notes. Since Tuesday I’ve doubled that count, and as soon as I finish this post I’m diving headfirst back into the brainstorming process.

It’s such a liberating feeling, even if it is a little bit frightening and frustrating at the same time. I have this huge blank slate to start working with, and I have to realize that I’m now a month behind on any kind of novel writing schedule. I will either have to pick up the pace on this novel, or scale back my realistic expectations for the year. I’m going to hope for the former and prepare for the latter. It’s just how I operate. Always plan for 200%, then when you only get half accomplished you can still say you did it all.

With all that said, I need to be careful of two things on opposite ends of the spectrum:

  • Jumping into the drafting process before the brainstorming/outlining is finished (In too soon)
  • Succumbing to the alluring temptation of World-Builders Disease (In too late)

There’s a fine balancing act to be had here. Start too soon and I’ll be writing in white space and make dumb plot decisions that won’t hold up inside a well-crafted setting with well-planned characters. Start too late and I’ll never get any writing done. To avoid this I’ll judge how progress is going over the next few days and determine a hard deadline for the ending of brainstorming and the beginning of outlining. The outlining process itself I want to take no more than a month, once more following Karen Wiesner’s “First Draft in 30 Days” format. This format really helped me with the Wendigo outline. With a fresh start I expect this will be even more invaluable.

To help me build characters, I will start up again with Michael A Stackpole’s “21 Days To a Novel“. I love this book. There’s so much to learn from it.

So, that’s the big update for the moment. Lots of work to do, with the focus shifting mostly to novel writing for the foreseeable future. I still want to write short stories, but I do not think I will be writing them at the pace I intended to. Same goes for reading. I wanted to read two books a week, but I don’t know that there will be time for that. On the plus side these craft podcasts can sort of count as nonfiction book reading, but what about my fiction reading? I need my epic fantasy!

I think my posts from here on may go more into the nuts and bolts of my writing process, from brainstorming to outlining to drafting to editing. I’m hoping to have the first and possibly edited draft of the book ready by sometime in April, so I will be a month behind my original plan for the year. Let’s shoot for that, and see where it takes us!

An Enjoyable Craft Book: Rayne Hall’s “Writing Vivid Settings”

I don’t know that I will make this a regular part of my blog, but I do want to take a moment to post a review I wrote for Rayne Hall’s Writing Vivid Settings that I received from her a couple of weeks back. I took it with me to my wife’s dentist visit and blazed through the entire thing in a single sitting. I’ve since gone back several times as I’ve worked at revising scenes written.

Description isn’t really something I have a problem with writing, other than my focus is sometimes not on the right things. I love rich description of settings when I read, so I try to emulate that when I write. With longer fiction, anyway. Shorter fiction doesn’t allow for as much prose as one would always like, but that’s the nature of the beast.

One of the areas where I lack is tickling all five senses. I’m good with visuals and good with noises, but sometimes texture, taste, and smell go by the wayside when I’m drafting. This particular book helped remind me of how important all the senses are, both for grounding the reader into the setting but also for building atmosphere.

Here’s the review I wrote on Amazon and Goodreads:

This is an excellent book to read if you are a writer trying to improve your descriptive prose. Rayne Hall writes about several areas where description can be improved, such as focusing on smell, sound, light, and color. Further, she details several techniques within each subsection that one can use to make a scene or setting come alive.

I was working on a short story at the time I read this book, and my opening scene was set in a bland office with a pair of characters who might as well have just been talking heads in white space. The detail just wasn’t there. After reading this book I was able to insert description about the light of the sun filtering through the windows and the aroma of the coffee in one of the character’s hands, and so on. The scene really came alive and was far more interesting to read than my original draft.

Further, she goes beyond the description of just the base techniques and areas of detail to focus on and applies them to different kinds of scenes: openings (Like the one I was working on above), climaxes, action scenes, and fight scenes. Different details are needed for different kinds of scenes, both to set mood and to also ground the reader into a believable story. A fight scene doesn’t lack believability when it’s set in a fantastic setting. A fight scene lacks believability when the man fighting for his life is pausing to smell the proverbial roses.

All in all, an excellent read and one I will return to again and again as reference during the revision process.

 

 

Adjusting to New Schedule

Not much activity on the site over the last week or so, but stuff has been happening. I can guarantee you that!

I’m adjusting to a new work schedule, and I’ve been trying to figure out the optimum way of doing things. There’s a project I’ll be working on for the next 3-6 months that needs to get finished, but writing also needs to get done. The project will take up a lot of hours, as will the writing. We’re looking at 70-80 hour weeks. I’m not complaining, but I’m trying to juggle it from a logistics standpoint.

So, with that said, I don’t know how much I’ll be posting of my regular writing accomplishments. Likely weekly or twice weekly, but not daily like I had been attempting to do. There just won’t be much to report some days, especially if I focus on this project one day and write the next, rather than try to do both on the same day. We’ll have to see, but I am still alive and active! Just not as active (Writing-wise) as I would like. But, bills have to get paid. And as long as the writing gets finished in the end, that’s all that matters!

With that said, I’ve noticed I have a plethora of drafts for stories (Anywhere from second drafts to fifth drafts), but nothing I’ve started in 2015 has been finished and submitted. I have another draft I’m working on now, but I might put it aside this week and focus on getting one or two of these other stories really finished. There’s also a story from last year I want to rework into something better. I rushed it to get it sent in somewhere and, as you would expect, it wound up getting rejected out of hand. Word of advice: if a story’s not ready, don’t rush it. Do everything you can to get it done, but hey. Sometimes it just needs more time.

Pausing to Learn

I have a bad habit (Well, numerous bad habits, but specifically in this instance…) where I tend to focus solely on writing to the exclusion of anything else. Editing takes time, and even though that’s where the real story appears it sometimes feels like a waste of time. I feel pressured to get back to drafting and redrafting, and creating something new to start the process over. I also sacrifice time spent reading and learning new things in order to draft more. Writing more is always good, but without involving learning in the process I’m just spinning my wheels in the mud. I’m not getting anywhere.

I wrote a ton of flash fiction pieces back in 2011, when I had a good bit of spare time. Every other day I was cranking out a few drafts of a 1,000 word story then sending it off to somewhere. And rather than read someone else’s work or try to learn a new process or technique, I would dive on into the next story idea. And guess what? Stuff was getting rejected left and right. At the time I just assumed it was because it was good, but not good enough to get published.

No, actually, it was all crap. Half-finished ideas, second-draft rather than third-draft material, world-building exercises rather than full stories (Still guilty of that one from time to time). I was doing everything wrong, and not learning a thing from it.

That’s bad.

Today my intent was to brainstorm ideas for an upcoming Black Library submissions deadline. I didn’t get any of that done. I spent my exercise time listening to a couple of Writing Excuses podcasts and came across a great video series on story structure by Dan Wells. He outlines a story structure he came across in a roleplaying game manual, something that works for any genre and really any medium (He uses both books and movies in his examples). The videos totaled up to just shy of an hour, but I spent nearly three hours going through it, taking notes, and basically absorbing everything I could from it. It was very illuminating, and I’d recommend it to anyone.

Suffice it to say, I didn’t get to work on my brainstorming, nor did I get to work on my own novel. But, I did learn a new method that I believe will help tremendously, with short stories and novels. So, a wasted day? I think not.

Work begins again tomorrow! Stay tuned for more updates.

 

Writing in Public 2015: Day 18, Month 1

Not much to report on today, from a writing perspective. I spent a good deal of the afternoon working on “Evaporated Ocean” some more. It’s been fully transcribed to the computer, and partially edited at the same time. I’m going to let it sit for a couple of weeks while I focus on drafting a new story next week, and work on a line-by-line and scene-by-scene edit of my Writers of the Future entry.

That’s really it. Wanted to work on my novel, but the short story ate into a lot of time. Also, I don’t think tomorrow will be much of a writing day. My wife and I are both off from work, which is rare. We’ll likely spend a good deal of it together, and some of that time will include reading. Maybe I can get caught up on Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson.

So, that is it for the next day or so. See you Tuesday!

Blog Posts: 187
Planning and outlining: 0
Short Fiction: 0
Novel Fiction: 0
Salable words: 0

Total Fiction for Month: 14,400

Total Salable for Month: 1,000

Total Fiction for Challenge Year: 14,400

Total Salable for Challenge Year: 1,000

Writing in Public 2015: Day 17, Month 1

Saturday’s mostly over, and a good bit was accomplished on all fronts except the novel.

  • Short Story Writing: The first fully completed draft of “Evaporated Ocean” is done! As I said, quite a bit of the changes have already been implemented in the three different outlines I made before ever putting pen to paper, so I’m fairly happy with the way everything’s turned out. It’s been transcribed, and now it just awaits more research on my part to tighten everything up. I’ve done a fair amount of the research, so I’ll implement the changes I can think of tomorrow into a pseudo final draft. The real final draft will come in a couple of weeks during the final editing phase.
  • Short Story Editing: The first round of “The Lone Blue Strand” has been completed and kicked back to Venessa Giunta at Fictionvale. This bit of extra editing during the week taught me that I can get short stories written and edit short stories at the same time. So, I’ve figured out how I can better get short stories finished, I think. I’ll get a story drafted up as much as I possibly can (3rd or 4th draft) during its week of creation, and then set it aside for a minimum of a week. Then during the “edit” week I’ll spend at least an hour a day working on it, getting it as tight as possible. Then, and only then, will it be submitted to its final destination. With that as my goal, next week I will finally finish my WOTF entry for Q2 and get it submitted.
  • Novel Outlining: No new work again. Hate falling behind, but those short stories knocked out my day more than I thought they would. Sometimes, short stories aren’t so short! Not on the time investment, anyway.
  • Fiction Reading: Read another chapter of Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson. Still not as quickly as I would like, but I plan to spend some time doing nothing but quality reading soon.

 

Blog Posts: 320
Planning and outlining: 500
Short Fiction: 2,750
Novel Fiction: 0
Salable words: 0

Total Fiction for Month: 14,400

Total Salable for Month: 1,000

Total Fiction for Challenge Year: 14,400

Total Salable for Challenge Year: 1,000

Writing in Public 2015: Day 16, Month 1

Yay, it’s Friday! Except, not yay. It’s another day, and Saturday will be just as busy. So, get back to work!

Not too much to say about today. Most of my time was spent between two different short stories, “Evaporated Oceans” and “The Lone Blue Strand.” Unfortunately my novel time got eaten up through a combination of chores and general time mismanagement. But, as always, stuff was accomplished:

  • Short Story Writing: I started what should have been the second draft of “Evaporated Oceans” and ended up becoming a redrafting of the outline and the beginnings of the third draft. Interesting how things develop that way, right? I had just written a line of description on page one, only to have that single line turn the story in a completely different direction from what I’ve planned. Because of that I lost a lot of my actual writing time and only completed four pages. But, I’m in a good spot to finish it tomorrow, and then get to work on the first round of edits Sunday.
  • Short Story Editing: I’m still down to the last couple of scenes here. Got some stuff accomplished, but a few paragraphs bogged me down for much of my time. Still, I’m on target for finishing it tomorrow.
  • Novel Outlining: No new work today, other than reading over stuff that was done before and thinking on some different ideas.
  • Nonfiction Reading: Writing the Blockbuster Novel by Albert Zuckerman. As expected, I didn’t get any of this read today. Shame, but such is life. I’ll at least finish a chapter tomorrow.
  • Fiction Reading: Read another chapter of Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson. Going slower than I would like, but even with the 3-52 challenge reading takes a backseat to writing. Maybe I should just schedule a catch-up day and that’s all I do.

 

Blog Posts: 805
Planning and outlining: 500
Short Fiction: 1,100
Novel Fiction: 0
Salable words: 0

Total Fiction for Month: 11,650

Total Salable for Month: 1,000

Total Fiction for Challenge Year: 11,650

Total Salable for Challenge Year: 1,000

WIPika Fridays: What Draft Is This Again?

Another week, another bit of productivity.

First on the block is the editing for “The Lone Blue Strand” for Fictionvale. I received the edits on Sunday night, and have spent an hour or so every day this week working on it. There’s still a little bit left to do tomorrow, but for all intents and purposes it’s finished. I’ll send it off tomorrow morning and wait for the second round of edits to come back my way.

Second accomplishment has been the short story codenamed “Evaporated Ocean.” It’s actually a rewrite of a short story I wrote back in 2012 that didn’t go anywhere with publishers. Looking back on it, I understand why: it’s unreadable! There are aspects of it that are neat (Such as the setting), but the characterization and plot were blah. Not coherent in any way, shape, or form. The core setting is largely the same, but the characters and plot have been changed almost completely. I’ve completed three outlines of it, and have started on what could be the second/third draft of it. I plan to finish that tomorrow, and then Sunday work on heavy edits for it.

First line from it:

Jisan paced along the dry ocean floor.

The name of the story will have nothing to do with evaporated anything, so I hope the idea of the ocean floor being anything other than wet will stand out to readers and make them want to continue on. I try to start my stories either with a conflict, or with a strange premise that grabs them. Don’t know that I succeed at it, but I know I’m a lot better than I used to be.

That’s something I should post up one day. A list of story first lines, from my earliest works to now. Should be amusing for somebody, at least.

The novel outlining has had its ups and downs this week. I’ve completed more than I probably would have had I not been on any sort of schedule, but I’ve officially gotten behind. I don’t know that I’ll be able to make up any time Saturday, but Sunday I will have to put my nose to the grindstone and get caught up. Even if it takes all afternoon and evening, it’ll have to get done! Fortunately we have leftover pizza that we made last week, so dinner’s sorted.

Where reading’s concerned, I’m also behind. I had hoped to finish with Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson before the weekend, but that’s just not happening. Same goes with Writing the Blockbuster Novel by Albert Zuckerman. I want to take my time with them and really read them, so it’s taking longer than expected. Alas.

Still, not bad for the second full week of adjusting to a new writing schedule. I need to hold onto this level of productivity, and ratchet it up. As long as I don’t slide backward, it’s all good from here.