Wii Game Reviews

Mr. Moore and I have been contemplating the purchase of a Wii.

We bought an XBox360. Unfortunately, it seems that we bought it mostly for the playability of one or two games, as it spent more man-hours playing netflix instaqueue to us than it did as a video game machine.

We’re also aware of the Kinect for Xbox and its imminent arrival to the gaming landscape (seriously, have you SEEN Kinectimals? I’ve died twice from the cute already and I haven’t even played the game.).

Why buy a Wii when the Kinect is like a controllerless Wii?

Clearly, the answer is because we’re gluttons for punishment.

However, in the interests of avoiding buying yet ANOTHER gaming system for just one or two games, we decided to demo as many games as we could before deciding.

Behold!

Tami’s Tiny, Biased List Of Wii Game Reviews

based on limited play time and three adult gamers

Wii Sports Resort

4 out of 5 stars

With that many mini-games, there’s something in there for anyone. Even if you only like two or three of them, you’re still left with two or three incredibly fun games to play. My favorites were bowling, archery, and canoing. Great party game, and low-key enough for the whole family.

MarioKart

5 out of 5 stars

I’m a fan of the original MarioKart (yes, the REALLY old one) and this game reminds me of how much fun I had way back then. Unlocking new levels, modes, carts, and characters ensures that the completionists in the crowd won’t get bored with it after only an hour or so of gameplay.

RockBand

7 out of 5 stars

I haven’t actually played RockBand for Wii, but the Xbox360 version rocks my socks off. I have no reason to believe the Wii version would be any different.

Okami

? out of 5 stars

This one took so long for the backstory to let you play that we didn’t actually PLAY it much. What little we saw and played was incredible, though. Gorgeous graphics and fun controls. This one’s almost certainly going to be a win for us, but I’d feel bad starring it when we didn’t even finish the first level.

Deadly Creatures

5 out of 5 stars

I got this one on a lark, I’ll be honest. To my surprise, it was hellaciously fun. You trade off levels playing as a tarantula and a scorpion, and the control system was incredibly fun. You use both the wiimote and the nunchuck – and you REALLY use them. Every button and motion does something for this game, and it’s really beautifully done. I didn’t even care that Billy Bob Thornton did some of the voice acting for the human’s storyline – I was too busy eating grubs and killing crickets!

Tetris Party

5 out of 5 stars

This one, I’m rating on behalf of Mr. Moore and my mom, who spent a LONG time playing it. They loved it. I was busy playing Deadly Creatures at the time. *winks*

Cooking Mama

1 out of 5 stars (yes, these are actual ratings – the other games just happened to be awesome)

Slice, dice, peel, and cook your way to fantastic food. Unfortunately, the controls with the wiimote were incredibly difficult to actually maneuver and the instructions were so vague that we were often left flailing about, trying to figure out what the game wanted us to do. The idea is good, but I didn’t enjoy the game much at all.

Samba de Amigo

2 out of 5 stars

I’m giving this one the benefit of the doubt. We may have been standing too close to the sensor when we tried it, which would result in it not picking up the outer “maracas” motion. Even so, I managed to throw so much “arreeeba!” into my maraca swings that I hurt my elbows after only a few songs. It was fun and crazy, but I think it would get old fast.

Super Smash Brothers Brawl

2 out of 5 stars

That’s a pretty low rating for a game this fun and popular, but bear with me. When we started, none of us had a clue what we were doing. CHAOS. None of us really enjoyed it, though it was certainly flashy. As soon as one of us would learn a move or three, we’d totally annihilate the others. If everyone playing this game was adept at it, I think it would be fun. If anyone in the group is new at it, I think the fun flies right out the window.

Super Mario Brothers Wii

3 out of 5 stars

I may be rating this one too low. This is another where a less proficient player is going to be left behind in a hurry. I like that there are elements of working together, but there are also a LOT of ways to make sure the people you’re playing with aren’t having a good time – even if you don’t intend to. I don’t know how long it would take for this game to get boring.

Monster Hunter Tri

?? out of 5 stars

This is the game that Mr. Moore and I keep coming back to, thinking that maaaaaybe a wii would be worth a single game, if it was worth this one. Unfortunately, we were unable to try Monster Hunter Tri during our marathan playtime. We still hold out hope.

Summary

We still haven’t made a decision, although right now it looks promising.  There definitely appears to be more than one game we’d enjoy, though we’d still like to play Monster Hunter Tri before deciding.

Tech Lounge

If you’re anywhere near Steven’s Point, Wisconsin, I cannot recommend the Tech Lounge enough. They allow gaming on any system (and they have everything all the way back to atari!) based on an hourly, per-person cost. They’ve also got delicious, low-priced coffee drinks for those crazy folks taking advantage of their Friday Night 9-midnight special (like us!).

We were able to hang out, drink coffee, and play a ridiculous number of video games. I look forward to our future visits!

Close Third Person Point of View

As a writer, one of the most fundamental choices you need to make with regards to your projects is point of view.

The point of view (or PoV) that you write in can change the tone and readability of your writing drastically.

The PoV you choose is a lot like … deciding where to set up a Psychic Camera. You, the writer, are only allowed to write what your Psychic Camera can pick up.

Narrator

For convenience sake, I’m going to call the “person we are following around” the “narrator” for this post. Whoever is tied to your Psychic Camera is your Narrator.

Don’t Skull-Hop

Skull-hopping within a single scene is bad*, mmkay?

Skull hopping is when “the person we are following around” suddenly changes and we are treated to thoughts, feelings, or reactions that our narrator would have absolutely know way of knowing. In effect, we have multiple narrators.

“If it was such a simple request, why not do it yourself?” Melanie sank lower in the kitchen chair, setting her chin. She really hated it when her mother got all het up about nothing. She’d gone out and picked up the stupid milk, hadn’t she?

“I thought that since you had the afternoon off, it wouldn’t be too much to ask that you get a gallon of milk so I can make breakfast for you tomorrow.” Edith took another drag of her cigarette. Every day, she vowed to stop smoking, and every day, Melanie gave her plenty of reasons to pull out another cancer stick. That girl would be the death of her.

It’s jarring. Who should we care about? Melanie would know nothing about her mother’s vows to stop smoking and her mother wouldn’t consider her own behavior to be “het up about nothing”.

Back to our Psychic Camera – as a writer, we just detached the camera from Melanie’s shoulder and then slapped it on Edith’s shoulder in the middle of the scene. That’s bad mojo. Our readers need to be able to trust us, and they can’t do that if we keep changing the narrator on them all willy nilly.

First Person

A common choice for PoV is First Person.

“It’s just MILK, mother. What difference does it make?” I dropped the offending jug of the wrong percentage of cow drippings to the table.

“I,” declared my mother with fully dramatic lip-curling, “am on a diet! It matters!”

First person is written as though the narrator is actually the person telling the story.

The Psychic Camera is installed inside their head. At that range, it has full access to all of the person’s thoughts, emotions, and experiences. The emotions, thoughts, and experiences of OTHER people are all filtered through the Narrator’s eyes and biases. All the narrator can do is GUESS at the motivations of the bizarre behaviors of the people around them.

Much like we have to do in our own lives. =]

Third Person

Another common choice for PoV is Third Person. (What happened to Second Person? Don’t ask me, I’m not the one who numbered the things)

(EDIT : I know there’s actually a second person. My attempt at humor here clearly missed the mark, so I apologize if it was confusing. Second person is “You do this and then you do that.” I find it incredibly jarring and I can’t imagine enjoying a novel written that way).

Great. Now she was going to be treated to an hour long diatrabe on health, using the crap science her mother picked up from those giggling harpies she met with at the salon every week. Melanie had done her own research about health. Using actual science from actual scientific journals to back it up. For a brief moment, she was tempted to respond with a lesson on macro-nutrients and the difference between carbohydrates and protein, but the urge passed. Her mother never listened to her.

Instead, she stood. The sound of the chair legs grating against the linoleum floor silenced her mother just long enough for her to say, “I’ve decided to become a vegan.”

Third person is written as if the narrator is watching the scene. Instead of “I” “me” and “my”, Third Person has “she” “him” and “hers”.

Our Psychic camera is OUTSIDE the narrator’s head, floating near them like a balloon on a string.

How Long Is Your String?

The TRICK comes in when you realize that there are different depths even within the Third Person umbrella.

Very distant third person gives a piece a vastly different feel.

Little did Melanie know it, but those fateful words were the last ones her mother ever heard.

The most distant third person (the Psychic Camera Balloon is on a very, VERY long string) comes across feeling more like a voice over from an old TV show.

On the other end of the spectrum is my personal favorite, the CLOSE Third Person Point of View (see, your faith in my ability to title my blog posts has been rewarded!).

Her mother’s blue-shadowed eyelids widened and twitched. FINALLY! I’ve finally said something that made it through the thick layers of cigarette smoke, perfume, makeup, and drama to reach her!

Melanie’s smile faded when her mother’s right hand reached up to clutch at her chest, long vinyl fingernails looking more like talons than ever before.

“Mom?” Melanie stepped forward, alarm sending fingers of ice down her spine. “Mom, stop that! It isn’t funny!” She stepped forward and caught her mother just before she collapsed, the still-burning cigarette falling to land on Melanie’s arm. She didn’t even notice the pain, her eyes tracing her mother’s too-pale features as she lowered her to the floor.

Hands shaking, Melanie slid her cellphone from her pocket and dialed 9-1-1. Please, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Please be okay. I’ll get the right kind of milk, I swear, just be okay.

The string on this particular Psychic Camera Balloon is so short that it’s pretty much attached to the side of her skull. It has a lot of the ELEMENTS of first person, while still maintaining just a little bit of distance.

Why Third Person

If I like Close Third Person so much, why not just write in First Person?

With First Person, you should not skull hop between scenes, either.

The reader gets to know who “I” am. They associate the “I” in this book with that narrator.

With Third Person, the writer is allowed more freedom to have multiple narrators in a single book. Much less confusing to go from “he” to “she” than from “I” to “I”.

There are other, more subtle reasons as well, but they are less concrete. Sometimes, I find myself irritated with “I” narrators who think and feel in ways that are so different than my own. It’s almost as if there’s a tiny voice in the back of my head throwing popcorn at the screen of my mental image of the book, shouting, “No I don’t! I would never! Stop telling me what to think or feel!” Additionally, even close Third Person allows more leeway than first person with regards to things the writer can point out or take note of.

Dangers of Third Person

One of the biggest dangers of Third Person is a wild string.

You must control how far you allow your Psychic Camera to drift throughout every scene in the project. And by “control” I mean “staple that sucker down”. Don’t allow drift between Close and Distant Third Person. I know they’re both technically “Third Person”, but it’s dizzying and confusing for a reader to be batted around like a balloon on a string. Establish the depth of your Point of View early and stick to it.

A Trick

A trick for writing in Close Third Person is to first write the piece in FIRST person, and then go through and edit it. You may end up doing more than simple word replacement (“I” to “She”) but your end result will feel more consistent – you’ll have “stapled” your Psychic Camera Balloon to the side of your character’s head.

Sitting in that bland, plastic waiting room, all I could think about was that stupid milk. This was all the milk’s fault.

I knew that was stupid. It wasn’t really the milk’s fault, but it felt good to blame someone. Better by far than it would feel to think about what the doctor had just told me. Better still than to have to call others and let them know.

“I wish I’d never even bought that stupid milk! I’d give anything to take it back” I said, covering my eyes with my hands.

“Is that so?” purred a low voice.

I looked up, startled to find a tiny man, no larger than my hand, seated on my armrest. He wore a smart green suit with a green felt bowler hat, a tiny wooden pipe held in one hand.

“What…who?”

“I grant wishes, dearie, but only for a price.”  He grinned then, lifting the pipe to bite down on the stem with crooked, yellow teeth.

“What kind of price?” I asked.

turns into

Sitting in that bland, plastic waiting room, all Melanie could think about was that stupid milk. This is all the milk’s fault.

She knew that was stupid. It wasn’t really the milk’s fault, but it felt good to blame someone. Better by far than it would feel to think about what the doctor had just told her. Better still than to have to call others and let them know.

“I wish I’d never even bought that stupid milk! I’d give anything to take it back” she said, covering her eyes with her hands.

“Is that so?” purred a low voice.

Melanie looked up, startled to find a tiny man, no larger than her hand, seated on her armrest. He wore a smart green suit with a green felt bowler hat, a tiny wooden pipe held in one hand.

“What…who?”

“I grant wishes, dearie, but only for a price.”  He grinned then, lifting the pipe to bite down on the stem with crooked, yellow teeth.

“What kind of price?” she asked.

YMMV*

Everyone has their own preference, as a writer AND as a reader, for the PoV they enjoy.

What’s your favorite? (Either to write or to read)

* Skull Hopping CAN be acceptable if the Point of View chosen is a very distant one – an omniscient narrator might be able to “taste” each of the personalities in a scene and lift out knowledge of what’s happening. In my highly biased opinion, this is FAR less fun to read than when an author sticks to a single narrator per scene.

* Your Mileage May Vary

Rebel Tales

Holly Lisle is embarking on a new endeavor – an e-zine style publishing company called Rebel Tales.

What is Rebel Tales?

Rebel Tales will be a purchasable e-zine (not paper) that will deliver serialized content and short stories to the paying public (as well as having an elite back-stage pass version for those interested in seeing first drafts, interviews, maps, and the sort).

Why Did Holly Make Rebel Tales?

Holly took a look at the publishing industry as it currently stands and decided that it was flawed.

Moreover, she took that declaration a step further and is actively offering a solution.

For Writers

Holly is offering a clear, clean, open payment system for all accepted writing. Money flows to the writer based on sales. If someone buys a copy from two years ago that you wrote in, you still get paid.

Holly is treating published writers and unpublished writers as equals in this. If you’re struggling to get your name known, you have just as much chance of making into the pages of Rebel Tales as someone with five years of published novels under their belt.

For Readers

Holly is being VERY particular, not only in the editors that she’s hiring, but also in the specific details about the kinds and quality of writing she will allow into Rebel Tales. There’s no such thing as a guarantee when personal preference comes to play, but she seems to be taking pains to make sure that she delivers the best quality stories to her readers. This is no offramp for the slush pile rejects that publishers won’t touch. This is for all of the quality writers being pushed aside or abused by the current publishing system.

Status

Rebel Tales is not yet accepting author submissions. Holly is still looking for editors (so if you’re an editor looking for a paying gig, maybe take a peek) but she won’t open the floor for writers until she’s got a solid staff of editors.

That also means the first issue isn’t available for purchase, but it DOES mean that if you’re a writer (or editor) looking for a lifeline, this might be exactly what you’re looking for.

To Learn More

I HIGHLY recommend you read more on this. My post is only a high-level review. Holly goes into as much detail as your little heart could want … and then a little bit more. =]

New To Me

The idea is new to me, too – but as far as I can tell, it seems solid. It has Holly Lisle’s name behind it, which counts for a lot in my book. I have a great deal of respect for her, not only as a writer, but also as a TEACHER. She gives a lot of herself for other writers.

I only know what I’ve read, and what I read sounds honest.

I don’t have anything pre-prepared along the guidelines that she’s looking for … but I do have an idea for something I might focus on and submit. It certainly can’t hurt, right?

NaNo2010 > Snowflake Spine

I’ve had a breakthrough with Stained!

What helped me? The Snowflake Method, Mr. Moore, and confronting the fears that have been holding me back.

The Snowflake Method

Specifically, a blog post on the Advanced Fiction Writing Blog emphasizing using a five-sentence paragraph to focus on the book’s major plot arc.

Although I recommend checking out the blog and reading more on the Snowflake Method if you’ve never heard of it, I’ll give a bit of a teaser for you here. The five-sentence paragraph is structured as follows (quoted from the website) :

  1. Write a sentence to tell who your lead character is and their initial situation in the story.
  2. Write a sentence that summarizes the first quarter of the story, ending in a disaster which forces the lead character to make a decision on how she wants the story to end. This defines the Story Question: “Will she get it or won’t she?”
  3. Write a sentence that summarizes the second quarter of the book, ending in a disaster which makes it look like the lead character won’t get what she wants.
  4. Write a sentence that summarizes the third quarter of the book, ending in an even worse disaster which makes it appear that all is lost.
  5. Write a final sentence that summarizes the ending and tells whether the lead character gets what she wants or not.

Trying to write a snowflake method five-sentence paragraph immediately highlighted the weak portion of my outline structure. The framework on either side of the weakness suggested methods I could use to strengthen the saggy middle of my story.

Mr. Moore

Armed with all the planning we’ve already done combined with this new way of looking at the plot, Mr. Moore and I brainstormed during the long car drive up to visit my mom this weekend. Like kids sitting on a mound of legos, we alternately built and tore down several options for fixing the plot hole before finally ripping the whole thing apart and starting from scratch.

I knew the premise that I wanted to start with. The original spark that made me want to write the book. (I wrote that down way back when all this started. Did you?)

From that spark, we began to build.

If THIS is true, what then must be true about this other thing?

We tried fitting various half-constructed plot points into the new structure and if they were weak or did not fit, we discarded them or altered them.

In the end, we emerged with a plot and five-sentence paragraph for a book that feels much more alive than the one we entered the conversation with. We’d re-used some previously discarded characterization options and the modified ending is much more powerful.

Most important of all, the middle no longer sags and sways in the slightest breeze.

Stained now has a spine.

(And no, Mr. Moore is not available for public plot fixing. He’s mine. I saw him first. <3)

Not Gonna Share

I’m not going to share Stained’s five-sentence paragraph.

First off, it’s ridiculously spoilery. Secondly, it’s not been polished enough for public consumption. Thirdly, I am very aware of the fact that it may yet change before Stained becomes publicly available and the last thing I want to do is bombard you with eleven different versions of the thing before it’s complete. Bad enough that I bombard myself with them.

You’ll find some examples (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, among others) on the Advanced Fiction Writing blog.

Never Give Up

I imagine every book will be different and every book will have its own difficulties.

This is NOT the first time I’ve hit a saggy plot middle – but it IS the very first time that I’ve doggedly pursued a fix for the problem. It is the first time I have refused to give in to self doubt, despair, boredom, or the lure of a new idea. It is the first time I have been determined to fully plan out a book before writing it.

I did not abandon Stained, and I believe it will reward my faith long before the journey of this book is complete.

Fear

I am not going to gloss over these past months with Stained. Sure, I’ve been busy with other things in my life, but those were just very convenient excuses.

The main reason Stained hadn’t progressed is because I was afraid. What if I fail? What if I can’t solve this plot problem? What if you guys find out just how much I’ve agonized, how many ideas I’ve tried and tossed out? If I can’t fix this, what makes me think I can be a writer? What makes me think I have a CHANCE at being published?

Failure loomed large in my mind, mocking and hateful.

I did not turn away from it. I didn’t bother trying to deny it or hide from it. Maybe I’ll never be published. Maybe I will fail. Maybe I won’t even get this ready for NaNoWriMo. Maybe I’ll fail at that too. These are very real possibilities. Acknowledging the seed of truth at the center of my fears defused its weaponry against me, because after agreeing with it, I was able to modify my agreement.

I’ll never know for sure if I don’t try. And even if I don’t get published, I will always want to write. I will write. There will be more ideas, more books. Even if Stained becomes a total wash, I am determined to learn from it and my mistakes.

I want to know how to build a book with a solid plot spine, and if YOU, looming fears of failure, are not going to help me, then you can get out of my way.

And they did.

Protection

My fears aren’t my way of trying to sabotage myself. They are my way of trying to PROTECT myself.

Like a parent, obsessively calling a teenage daughter during a weekend party. Don’t drink anything that has an open top and has been out of your sight because you might get slipped a roofie. Don’t get in a car with someone who is drunk behind the wheel. Be careful how you dance with boys, so they don’t think you’ll put out. Watch out for your friends to make sure they’re safe and having fun. Wear a seatbelt. Don’t put on too much lipstick. Those heels are too high and that skirt is too short. Do you have enough money for cab fare in case you need it? You have your cell phone on and fully charged. You’ve got my number, right? Don’t forget to eat. Take an extra change of clothes in case you drip bbq sauce on your shirt. Wear clean underwear. Do you have sunscreen? ….

I will take reasonable precautions, but the only way to be safe is never to live at all. Failure isn’t the worst thing in the world – it’s just a learning experience.

Anything worth having is worth the risk.

Motivation

If you find yourselves in a similar situation – please, don’t give up. If your story seems unfixable or your plot has gotten out of hand or you’ve forgotten why you ever thought this story was worth writing – don’t give up.

Have faith in yourself and have faith in your story.

I could tell you that you don’t suck and that you are a great writer, but we both know I can’t guarantee that. I’ve never even read most of your writing. Furthermore, I still suck from time to time (though thankfully less often than I used to). What makes me qualified to comment on the quality of your writing?

Instead, I will tell you that you WILL improve as a writer BY WRITING.

You will not improve by giving up, abandoning story lines, telling yourself you’ll never make it, or by never facing your weaknesses as a writer.

You will improve by DOING. By writing. By practicing, by sucking, by learning, and by confronting your weaknesses head on.

“Never give up. Never surrender.” ~ Galaxy Quest

“Keep moving forward.” ~ Meet the Robinsons

Opening the Floor

What problems, doubts, or fears have been keeping you from advancing in your goals? It doesn’t even have to be a writing goal – the same cycle of self doubt plagues every facet of our lives.

Do you know what you need to do in order to move forward?

750 Opportunities

I mentioned this briefly in my previous blog post, but the more I use it, the more I think it deserves its own post.

750words.com

What is it?

750words.com is a website that encourages you to write 750 words every day. Your writing is private, uncensored, unfiltered, and unjudged. It keeps a running tally of your word count in the lower right-hand corner of the page, and notifies you when you’ve reached the site goal of 750 words.

It also keeps track of the days you write and don’t reach 750, the days you don’t write at all, and the days you reach your goal. It assigns points and badges to keep you motivated.

It’s simple.

The minimalist user interface for the site is nearly nonexistant. No ads distract you from your work. The entire focus of the site is exactly where it promises – on the writing.

It’s private.

It’s not a blog. Nobody else can see your work unless you give them your login information or copy/paste somewhere else.

It’s effective.

The points system and the running tally of writing streaks is VERY motivating. I look forward to writing and try to pace myself so that I don’t burn out with a day of frenetic effort. The days I can’t write, I feel like I missed out on something fun, rather than feeling like I got a great break.

It’s challenging.

For achievement-whores and people who need goals in their writing, the badge system is a great motivational tool. The site also has monthly challenges (don’t miss a day!) that encourage the nanowrimo mindset of consistent output.

It’s relaxing.

The site encourages you to write whatever you want. Random writing prompt? Go for it. Trying out a new genre? Have at thee. Want to privately journal about your feelings or work through a difficult emotional place in your life? Nobody needs to ever know.

I didn’t realize how often I pressured myself with my writing until I finally allowed myself just to write…whatever I felt like writing.

It’s friendly.

I’m signed up for the daily reminder emails. The programmer behind the site adds in fun, friendly reminders to write, along with a few testimonials from other users. There’s always a P.S. at the end, where he encourages you to reply to this email on the slightest whim, because he loves getting feedback.

What a refreshing change, after so many mailing lists that say “Do Not Reply To This Email.” I’ve replied twice, and gotten a friendly, happy reply each time.

I recommend it.

I had my doubts at first, but by the end of the second day using the site, they all disappeared.

The results speak for themselves. I am writing more, and I am having fun.

The rest is up to me.

NaNo2010 > The Blockade

No, I haven’t forgotten about the NaNo2010 posts.

Nor have I been ignoring it, too busy to think about it, or any of a HOST of perfectly valid-seeming excuses I could give you.

Excuses that I have, to be honest, been giving myself because I didn’t want to face the truth.

The truth, gentle readers, is that I find myself staring at a blockade.

Step 1: Admit You Have a Problem

I can’t move past the blockade without acknowledging its existence.

Ignoring the issue and hoping it will resolve itself over time is no longer an option.

Step 2: Ferret Out The Root

I have sat down to work on the plotting and outlining over a dozen times and gotten no farther. That is (in a way) a very good thing because I’ve got a dozen test cases. I’ve approached this problem from multiple angles and gotten the same results.

What is stopping me? What is causing the problem? WHERE am I hitting this blockade?

The answer lies in the squishy middle of the book.

The Squishy Middle

I know how I want it to start, I know how I want it to progress for the first few chapters, and I know how I want it to end.

I do not know what conflicts I’m going to toss up in the middle bit to shake things up and keep the characters on their toes.

This is a REGULAR PROBLEM for me.

This isn’t new. This isn’t related to just this one story. This is something that hits me every time I have tried to plot a story.

Step 3: Mark The Paths

Multiple solutions present themselves to me.

1) Give up now.

(Hey, I didn’t say they’d all be GOOD solutions)

The Justification: When faced with a problem you don’t want to deal with, the first and easiest solution is to walk away. Maybe this story isn’t worth the effort. You can write this OTHER story* instead. That’s not the same thing as giving up, right? That’s just shifting focus!

The Retort: If your story is truly beyond all hope, then DO let it go. Walk away. You have to ask yourself honestly if you’re leaving the story because you CANNOT fix it or if you’re leaving a story because you don’t want to put forth the effort to fix it.

2) Leave the middle squishy.

The Justification: Who cares if the middle is a bit soggy? The beginning is crackerjack, and we all know that a story changes as you write it. You’ll probably come up with great conflicts to shore up that squishy middle as you write the beginning!

The Retort: I have done this. I have finished a manuscript and royally screwed up a second. Even when this works, it results in a LOT of extra effort after the manuscript is over during the revising process. Having gone through MULTIPLE ROUNDS OF HEAVY REVISION let me assure you that extra work before writing is so. incredibly. worth. the. time.

If you are capable of firming up a squishy book middle while you write without going insane, then I encourage you to follow whatever path you choose.

For me, leaving it squishy is a bad idea.

3) Confront the Problem

The Justification: None. This is the hard way. I rarely try to wheedle myself into doing things the hard way. Mostly, I just sit in a dark corner of my brain and pout.

Something is keeping me from moving forward on plotting this book. If I operate from the assumption that I am NOT a moron and that I AM capable of plotting a book, I can work through this.

If I assume that I am not good enough or too stupid to fix this problem, I am crippling myself from the outset. I will never trust myself when the work gets harder.

I need to stop staring at the blockade and start picking it to bits until it crumbles.

Maniac McGee

Have any of you ever read the book Maniac McGee? I read it in middle school and I still own a copy. One of my favorite scenes from Maniac McGee is when he untied The Knot.

You see, McGee had a talent for untying knots. Give him a tangled shoe string or fishing line and he’d have it freed up lickety split. A local pizza parlor had an ancient rope outside its door with years of tangling and weathering. They offered free pizza to anyone who could untie the knot. Nobody ever could – until McGee.

McGee spent DAYS unraveling that knot. He didn’t rush, didn’t hurry, didn’t get frustrated or give up. He picked away at it, tiny bit by tiny bit and at first, it didn’t seem like he was actually accomplishing anything.

In the end, his patience and skill won out and he untied the knot.

(I really did not do justice even to this one scene in the book. If you like Middle Grade fiction, I really recommend the story.)

I am going to hold McGee up as my example. I have made a right mess of my plotting somehow, and I will find a way to unsnarl it.

And maybe I’ll reward myself with some pizza when I finally figure it out, in the spirit of Maniac McGee.

Concrete Examples

Oh, sure, “Confront The Problem” sounds all well and good on paper, but I’m talking about a book plot, not a neighborhood bully. I can hardly pants my plot and steal back my lunch money.

So what do I intend to do?

1) Pen and Paper. Sometimes, I just think better with a pen in my hand. I modified my Outliner** application so that it has a “simple print” feature and I can print out my outlines and work with them on paper.

2) Journalling. Mentally thinking about my problems is tracking me in circles. I need to write it down. Do some stream-of-consciousness writing. By pinning down my worries and my thoughts and my ideas, I make them more real.

Bre recently got me interested in simple web app called 750Words.com which encourages you to write every day by rewarding streaks and keeping track of your word count – while still giving you absolute privacy on your writing. So far, I’m enjoying it and the rewards system is a great way to encourage myself to write every day. Doesn’t matter if that writing is plot journaling, writing prompts, Choose installments, or actual book writing.

3) Entering the Monastery. That’s what Holly Lisle calls it, anyway. Mentally (or physically) distancing yourself from the world and finding a quiet, distraction-free place to FOCUS on your plot. Whether that will be five minutes, half an hour, or half a day, I do not know. But it seems that if I do not force it to do otherwise, the world likes to interrupt me after about two minutes of solitude. It’s a wonder I can concentrate on anything at all, some days.

Guarantee

There’s no guarantee that this will work. I certainly hope it will, but if it doesn’t, I’ll find another way to work through my issues.

As a fake starship pilot once said, “Never give up! Never surrender!”

You

I’m sure we’ve all hit a blockade at one time or another, whether it be with writing or some other activity.

If you feel like it, I’d love to hear about a time you were blockaded and how you dealt with the issue. Are you blocked now? What are your plans to get past it?

* Beware the Shiny New Story Distraction. You’ll get bitten with it every time you get tired or frustrated with your current book. You’ll be convinced this NEW story is much better than the one you’re currently working on and you’ll wake up from a plot-induced binge years later, surrounded by half-finished manuscripts.

** I think the Outliner app is finally ready for other folks to play around with, if you’re interested. It probably won’t stand up to a lot of really hard testing, but if you just want to play with it a little, I don’t mind sharing the link. It is just a side project for me, so I can’t guarantee the safety of your data. All I can say is that SO FAR, it has worked very well for me. Outliner

Of Cars and Snow

The Problem

I live in Wisconsin.

It snows in Wisconsin every year, without fail.

Unsurprisingly, some of that snow ends up on roads.

My work does not shut down for snow/ice days and although I can take a personal day to avoid having to drive on the roads, most snowy days find me in my car, clutching the wheel and terrified of sliding into a ditch. Again. Once was plenty, thankyouverymuch.

My Car

I love my car.

I am not a car-loving person. I don’t get all warm and happy when I see a classic car on the road or hear the bass purr of a finely-tuned engine. (Horses are a whole different story, but this is about cars).

I love my car because he’s CUTE, TINY, gets GREAT gas mileage, and doesn’t frighten me. Blue (You’re my boy, Blue!) is a 2001 Toyota Echo. He has been a fantastic car with very minor needs beyond regular oil changes and despite pushing the big one-oh, he’s still running strong and looking great.

I love how small he is – I do not have a well-developed sense of “space” that tells me where his edges are while I’m driving him, but he’s small, so I am able to park him and drive him without incident.

The only complaint I have, actually, is that he is terrible to drive in the snow.

Solution 1 : New Car

The first solution tossed at me for this problem is to buy a new car. Something with AWD (all wheel drive) or 4WD (four-wheel drive) to keep the tires from spinning uselessly when I hit the gas. (Only it’s snow, so I’m tentatively applying pressure to the gas, not “hitting” it.)

The reasons I have continually fought against this solution are no less potent for all that they’re relatively minor.

  1. I don’t want to buy a new car. I love Blue as much as I can love a car, I think.
  2. I don’t like the way any of the existing AWD or 4WD vehicles look.

All of them are larger than Blue. Sure, there are a lot of cars on the market with AWD, but most of them have that boring sedan look to them that I’m so ho-hum about. There are some smallish truckvancars* available, like the Rav4 or the CRV – but even the smallest of those feels cumbersome to me after tiny little Blue. They make me feel like a gnome riding a kodo.

As a matter of fact, while doing my searching for a new car, the ONLY car that I am excited about is a Smart Car – which does not come in AWD or 4WD and is likely to be even worse in the snow than Blue.

Still. SO tempted. How adorable is this car? Mr. Moore is not terribly pleased with my fascination – he says it’d be like driving a go-cart. The fact that this makes me grin even wider pains his classic-car-loving soul.

Right. Anyway. Despite there being a LOT of cars to choose from in the AWD and 4WD market (including some that are semi-cute and many that are smallish) I haven’t found anything that I like even half so much as I like Blue and I hesitate to spend that kind of money on a car I will be unhappy driving.

Solution 2 : Snow Tires

Interestingly enough, the more I read on AWD and 4WD, the less I understand it as a method for snow driving safety.

Don’t get me wrong. It beats a regular car, but in a way that doesn’t really make sense. AWD and 4WD keeps your tires from spinning uselessly when you accelerate – but they do NOTHING for turning and stopping.

Guess which parts of driving are more likely to toss you in the ditch? I’ll give you a hint. It’s not accelerating.

The recommendation I’m reading online seems to be much more toward snow tires, which DO help with stopping and turning. They’re not magic wands, but they’re a MARKED improvement over all-weather tires.

A regular car with good snow tires, the internet assures me, is actually safer than an AWD with all-weather tires.

(It would seem an undisputed fact that an AWD/4WD with snow tires is the safest thing on winter roads, but please see Solution 1 for why I am hesitant to try this.)

So even though people are telling me I should get AWD – the internet tells me that I can keep my beloved Blue and drive more safely than I currently do if I just invest in a new set of shoes.

So that’s what I’ll do.

I’ll get Blue some snow tires.

If this winter finds me still clutching Blue’s steering wheel and breaking out in a cold sweat because his backside is fishtailing every time I try to park, then I’ll pay a visit to the local Toyota dealership (there’s an Aggie there who sells cars, believe it or not!) and see if they’ve got a snow-tired RAV4 that I could test drive.

It’s possible that I’ll be hopeless in the snow even if I were driving a sherman tank, but I’d like to see whether or not I can feel even a little bit safer on the roads this year.

Who knows, maybe that means I’d have enough Personal Time left from work to actually take a vacation next year!

* You can call them SUVs if you want. They’re truckvancars and they clearly have some identity issues.

Re-Un-De-Railing

Busy. Busybusybusybusybusy.

Massive, giant, very big, not-enough-time-to-get-it-done project at work as basically consumed all of my energy and nearly all of my time for the past two weeks (including the weekends).

While I worked on that project, even THINKING about trying to write was exhausting.

Stained hasn’t progressed an inch, and Choose was delayed a week to give me some breathing room. Writing feeds my soul, but work pays the bills.

BREATHE!

However, the project is (mostly) over now and my work schedule is back to normal. Time to get back into writing.

Only … I’ve been off the writing game for a long time. Those of you who think two weeks off writing isn’t much, please realize that ANY habit, while being formed, can be severely derailed even by a single day off schedule. Doesn’t matter if it’s a diet, a workout plan, quitting smoking … or developing a writing habit.

The Pause

Deliberately pausing writing was a lot like stopping a train. I just pulled off the main track on to a side track, turned off the engines, and left it dark and quiet while I went away and did what I needed to do so that I could pay the bills and keep up my food eating habit.

Every day I was gone found a new layer of rust on the train and tracks and a few more inches of choking weeds grasping at the wheels of my locomotive.

The Return

By the time I returned, birds and small fuzzy rodents had built nests in the rusting behemoth. A small pond had formed under one of the wheels and a chorus of frogs chirped an alarm as I approached. A dragonfly the size of my hand buzzed close and zoomed off, wings thrumming the air against my cheek in what almost seemed a warning.

Getting that train moving again was not going to be easy.

I looked behind me and saw comfort and ease. With work no longer contributing stress, I could go back to gaming or tv watching or finally learn to knit or play guitar.

I looked before me and saw work. I could see how much effort it would take to get the train running – and writing is like having a train headed into the unknown. The future is black and uncertain, but the map leading to publication shows dangerous curves ahead. Rejections, critiques, failure – all this and more awaited me more certainly than blue skies and easy weather.

Was it even worth all the hard work and struggle I knew I faced?

Real Life

I blinked and the train was gone, a figment of my overactive imagination as it tried desperately to avoid facing the truth.

The blank Scrivener file on Athena shone up at me – pristine and waiting.

I had no idea what to write.

That’s not quite true. I did have an idea of what to write. I knew one or two events that I wanted to happen in the next Choose installment. I knew what needed to appear in the final project.

But I was uninspired. Listless.

“15. [Something],” I titled it, hoping that would help, that the act of typing might un-stopper the creative block.

Nope.

I answered a few emails.

Still nothing.

I washed a few dishes.

Unsurprisingly, still nothing. One day, I will find the magic thing that turns dishwashing into a creative fountain. For now, it just results in clean dishes, which I suppose is reward enough.

A Little Push

Mr. Moore tapped my shoulder. “Can I read it yet?” he asked.

I gave him a pitiful look and turned Athena to face him, so he could see the still-blank screen.

He gave me an encouraging smile. “You can do it. Try this. ‘Remora sat.'”

I blinked at him. He gave me a wink. “‘alone in a room,'” he added, turning the laptop back to me, then departing quietly.

A Tiny, Sarcastic Voice

I set Athena down and sighed at her screen. That’s not how the installment should start, I thought to myself.

It’s better than what you’ve got so far, a snide voice in my head piped up.

I had no argument. I began typing. “Remora sat alone in a room,” I typed, then sighed, staring unhappily at the screen.

You realize this has to be done before Wednesday if you’re going to edit it so it can be posted on Thursday, right? the snide voice added. Who cares if it’s perfect? You’re going to disappoint more people by typing nothing than you will if you post something you’re not in love with. “Full of Suck and Proud of It!” isn’t that what you and Bre say?

Stop picking on me! I pouted.

Stop being a ninny! the voice countered.

Again, I had no argument.

Writing Again

So, kicking and screaming and pouting all the way, I began to write.

About 100 words in, I began to enjoy it.

About 200 words in, I lost track of time.

About 600 words in, I realized that I was doing a lot of flashbacks, and maybe I could go ahead and spawn off an installment that happens before this one. I tapped Mr. Moore on the shoulder and asked his opinion, which he gave without so much as a single “I told you so” smirk (sorry ladies, he’s aaaalll mine).

Movement

I will write again tonight.

The train is still a bit rusty and tufts of uprooted weeds spurt from the wheels as they turn, making uneven slapping noises against the track while I pick up speed.

Shoveling coal into the firebox, I pause to tip my head out the window and let the passing breeze tangle my hair and cool me off. I catch myself smiling.

How can I possibly keep forgetting how much I love this train, this ride?

Your Train

If your train (or whatever metaphor you favor) has been lying in a fallow field somewhere, gathering rust and sprouting weeds – I hope you’ll go back and take a second look. I’m not saying you should dust it off and take it for a spin if you don’t want to …

… but don’t let fear (fear of failing, fear of sucking, fear of the unkown, or hard work) keep you from doing something that you love.