Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A Writer's Frustration: Much Ado about Prologues

It goes without saying that breaking into publishing is not an easy thing.
I've had all kinds of difficulties attributing to it and almost always, it's my ego and confidence that takes the biggest hit.

Regarding "Jonas," I must have sent a dozen queries and gotten half those replies back. 
An associate that worked with Stephenie Meyer's agent, he told me that the submission pile is so huge that I'm not likely to get a reply. That's one of the few things I really went through the trouble to make my query letter sound great because I actually knew this person and what her material was and so on.

After that, it's nothing but generic BS:
"not the right fit"
"we do not feel strongly enough about it to move forward"

the most thoughtful reply I got was: "I'm afraid I was just not hooked enough to want to ask for more. "

That at least gave me something to work with.
Naturally, this is not enough time in the day for anyone to give specifics about the rejections, if they bother to formally send them at all. I get that.

But how does one break into this business if you're not told how to improve?

In my inbox today, I got an article from one of my writer's subscriptions and it was on Agent Pet Peeve. Some of it I knew already. 
Agents want to be hooked right away and want to read more to see what happens. They don't want a lot of exposition to start something. They want it to be believable and for us not to fall until clichés.

It's when they attacked one of my go-to methods when I really lost my mind and sanity for a good 5 minutes.

I almost hate to say it, but Jonas's greatest strength IS his prologue, his origin story. I've worked with the first couple chapters, trying to add more to Nina, what she's like before she goes into uncharted waters... a brand new high school.
I meant for her to be a blank canvas that girls who read about her can see a little of themselves in her, so I really didn't give her too much definition. This is going to sound really bad, but I'm wracking my brain to figure out what I have defined about her aside from shoulder-length blonde hair and hazel eyes.

I'd been away from the project for so much. Right now, I just plain exhausted trying to think about it. Makes me want to quit moving forward.

Rejection is a very taxing thing, especially when I'm scrambling trying to revise what I think is leading me wrong. 

I refuse to believe that NO agent will take me simply because I start with a prologue. It's a backstory, an origin story of Jonas and the adversary he was summoned to defeat. That is the best part of my story for quite some time and my hope has always been that people will be so wowed by it that they'll continue forward with Nina, while being curious as to how that story fits into the grand scheme of things.

Sure, my prologue is long enough to be a chapter onto itself, but I really fail to see the sense in that. Chapter 1 taking place EONS ago, and Chapter 2 takes place in the present... the distance between the two points is so vast, how does that work other than having the backstory being in prologue?

Shortly after replying tearfully to that post, I thought about Harry Potter.
To be technical, the first chapter takes place 10 years before the story actually begins, with Harry on the verge of turning 11.
That transition ran fine. So technically, I guess I could turn the prologue into chapter 1... but it sounds much less epic... I hate even considering that idea.

Whenever I'm setting up a romantasy backstory with my characters, I need the prologue.
Orion, who I originally intended to be a distant cousin of Jonas, was reincarnated a number of times before his spirit took on the form it was meant to take. The first few scenes were inspired by the Greek mythology-inspired segment from Fantasia.
Then Orion, after being a faun and a centaur became this human who'd been wheel-chair bound since he was 3, finds his calling as a merman, something that happens completely by accident, but turns out to be the right form for him to take.

Although I find it a little ironic now, looking back, that Zeus made so many mistakes creating him and picking the forms for him to take... he's THE god of Greek Mythology, he doesn't make mistakes... unless of course you take his promiscuity into account... 

Chihiro's backstory is even longer... and I'd been considering toying around with it...
I'd just had very little brainpower to really work on my writing at all. I'd been so busy rereading some of short projects, reliving this and that. 

It's frustrating and even more exhausting... I'm still very exhausted right now and I really don't know why that is... that I want to be a writer, to make a living as a writer, really haven't aspired to anything else aside from getting published, and I'd been stuck in this rut for a very long time. 

At least when it comes to my movie blog, I have some to go back to every week. While I'm still going through this list of my favorites, I still have something going on.

Maybe the thing I'm frustrated with the most right now is I feel like my voice isn't being heard by anyone but the people closest to me. My friends and family know how much I want to pursue this and so on, but my voice is not being heard by anyone that can help me achieve much of anything. 
I'd been semi-active on Twitter, but nobody replies to me on anything, even when I'm paying all kinds of compliments. 
Sometimes I want nothing more to scream to all the people whose attention I'm trying to get:
"Acknowledge me, dammit!!" 

I realize it comes off really rude, I shouldn't be so pushy, etc, but I'm just frustrated right now.

I don't want to hear that agents hate prologues... it's the best storytelling/exposition device I have, and if I can't take that route, I really don't have much else I can do to get anyone's attention.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Girl Power: Exploring Female-Centric Storytelling

Going as far as back I can remember, everything I wrote had the same formula.
Girl meets guy that is usually very mysterious or simply is unlike anyone they'd ever known before. Whether it's the first time they're opening up to another person (Jonas), they're a softie under a tough exterior (Lucas), it's always the fascination about the guy that drives the story. Then it's something that has to do with them that propels it forward.
I keep writing to find out what happens to them.

At the same time, although there's always a love story in whatever I write, my focus is almost always on the guy. Like the guy is my main character and the girl is the observer who become a key source of inspiration slash love interest.

I've just always had this issue with writing female characters because they have a little too much of me in them. I see my flaws pop out in them, whether it's brashness I'd never act on in reality or my insecurities.
Just for the heck of it, in a few short stories/sketches I wrote in 2011-12, I vented through my character, who was caught up in some kind of depression, just so I could work through something I was feeling. After a while, though, I just got sick of it because it's always the same thing. Kinda like my life at this moment, but I'm hoping for things to shake up a little next week.

Another issue is the mere fact I didn't have that many female friends.
This is gonna sound super crazy, but I think I can literally count the number of girlfriends I'd had in my life on one hand.
Of those 5 really substantial girlfriends, we're all Facebook friends, but don't really talk all that much... we occasionally comment on each other's statuses (more common with some than most)
but the latest addition, Sam, who I met so many people/friends through... we still keep in touch semi-regularly and for her friendship, I'm extremely grateful. 

None of them were the kinds of girlfriends you see in the movies where there're always trips to the mall, trying on clothes, checking out boys and all that.
It's nothing like what they show in the movies. I enjoy my favorite movies despite the fact I don't have that in common in reality, but all the same, I wouldn't mind something similiar in addition to what I have.

Anyway, there was a reason why I was going into all this... and it does involve something I wrote. Unlike the previous short story I discussed, this one shakes out a lot better with the logistics and the storytelling and such. I thought it might be a good idea to try expanding beyond the usual stuff I wrote with a girlfriend-type story.

It'd bring into some small things from my own life, but I wanted a friendship between girlfriends to blossom through a time of crisis that makes them besties for life.
It was one of those many whispers in the back of my head of something I wanted to attempt, and it was a matter of the right muse showing up to get me started.

That muse happened to be American Idol Season 8 alum Alexis Grace.
So much time had passed now that... aw, who'm I kidding? I literally forgot every other performance of hers after she slayed Dolly Parton's "Jolene." 

I only remember her "Dirty Diana" cover the week before because it was the top 13... I have zero recollection of her semi-final performance or even what song she did, but she was labeled a dark horse after whatever song she did.

In my view, it was a perfect marriage between her and that one song, and I was shocked that she went home as quickly as she did. One of the most devestating American Idol eliminations I experienced... and I'd include Clay Aiken missing out on the title in that discussion.
The only thing substantially more difficult to swallow was Colton Dixon last season going home in 7th... and for the life of me, I couldn't get why Phillip Phillips got all the votes and went on to win... I didn't get him... I still kinda don't, but I have warmed up to his original material.

Another writing trend I went through in these past couple years, after I couldn't put forth the effort to write something of novel-proportions... is that something would come up, either on TV or in a movie, I'd get really attached to a character or person and something happened to them, and I put down on paper (figure of speech, it's always via keyboard) how I saw them so I don't forget what they were like.

This was the first time I went through that process.
I'm kinda amazed, and perhaps there will come a time where I'll kick myself because of this, that considering how much I missed Colton after his elimination, I didn't fall back into the same pattern... write a little something about him.
I might hate myself in a few years for not getting his essence down in paper in the form of a character, although I did write lengthy reviews after each week of American Idol and continually say that, even though I wanted it to be a girls' year, he made me fall for him week after week.

Luckily, he got a record deal and released an amazing album, so there is zero chance I'll forget him entirely.

With Alexis, several elements came together... and it started with her physical description and the few lyrics of "Jolene" I could remember, despite having listened to her sing it half a dozen times, between the performance night, the "save me" performance and on YouTube... 
going by the song as a whole, she could have turned into this girl of unsurpassed beauty that my character would develop a strong relationship with, but then a guy would come into the picture and his attention would be taken up by her...

other than "she was a beauty beyond compare," none of the other lyrics ever went into the story I ended up writing. the "Jolene" Dolly sang about had auburn hair, and supposedly was a bank teller that astounded her husband with her beauty, and she made a big thang about it by putting it in song. Somewhat of an overreaction, I'd say.

Alexis just had this look that set her apart and of course, she had a charming voice I adored. 
I guess you could say she'd go on to join a list of "girl crushes" I procured over the years.

Elements clicked into place little by little the story practically wrote itself over the course of almost 3 months
22 pages, 10,905 words

The end result that blossomed became more than I could have ever imagined. 
I found a pretty good vehicle for myself in Casey Carlton, who began this story as Nick Carraway getting glimpse of Gatsby, that type of narration. Then she stepped away from being the observer, going on about all these things about this girl Jolienne Carine (its a little redundant, both names are derived from words that meant pretty/beautiful), to seeing her for herself. The one time they meet, they hit it off right away, and suddenly she disappears.

Enter the meat of the story: 
Jolienne is hospitalized with leukemia, dropping the name she adopted (according to her, "I traveled abroad one summer for my French class and Pierre, one of the boys in my host family, gave me the name. When I first arrived, he kept telling me how I was ‘jolie,’ which is French for ‘pretty’ or ‘beautiful.’ Somehow, the name caught on and nobody’s known me as anything else.), and seeing as Casey happens to be a volunteer at that particular hospital, their friendship grows little by little.

Supposedly, her reputed popularity was an illusion. She got this reputation because nobody else in their school looked like her and she exuded this electric vibe everyone wanted a piece of. Now that she was off the map, though, her existence as "queen bee" was forgotten about.
Naturally, she is nothing like her rep, and is a down-to-earth, extremely sweet person that got dealt a bad hand with this diagonsis. 

Without Casey's friendship, she might not have survived all the treatments and such... heck, she might have been on the bone marrow donation list until it was too late to save her...
although in a later draft, I might have to change up a few facts cuz, supposedly, you have to be 18 to donate bone marrow, and I may have written them as high school freshman... 

Interestingly, they said that you must be 18 and due to the voluntary nature of this procedure, they don't allow a parent or guardian to sign a release form for it... you learn something new everyday. 

I doubt I'd ever be enough of a people person to follow the example of my character, getting in volunteer hours at the hospital to take down information, change IVs and such, and be a source of moral support to people who don't get regular visitors. Later on in another story, I write that she is gearing towards becoming a psychologist for cancer patients.
I wasn't aware at the time that people do do that kind of thing for a living. Anna Kendrick plays a character who has that exact position in that Joseph-Gordon Levitt film "50/50."

Casey's kind of a blank canvas that I could put in a number of situations. I'd even considered redoing this story so she and Jolienne/Alex were hospital room mates when Casey had her procedure done that would go on to inspire her decision to do the volunteer work and so on.
Taking a paper out of my own life, she had surgery to take care of her scoliosis.

Supposing I were to do it all again with that part of the story, Alex's leukemia came back years later, and only when they meet in the hospital again, under different circumstances, they recognize one another from years ago, getting all the more closer.
With all that, I could make the story twice as long as it is.

Or maybe years later, I could have a number of stories done with those two characters, with a few extra additions.
If I were to take it to the publishing routes, I'd have to change at least one name in process because when I reunited the two of them, I brought a character from "Less than Zero" along for the ride.... although the movie moreso than the book.
Speaking of things I had trouble getting over... but that's another story entirely.

Quite possibly, despite the relationship blossoms between my character and his, I could play with the idea of Alex/Jolienne and Casey going beyond friendship as well. Really playing up the "girl crush" thing and playing around with the possibilities of that.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Revisiting a Hack-Job: The Ghost of Leo (2005-7)

I'd been getting more in the habit lately of revisiting stories I'd written ages ago. 

on my movie blog, I'd been going through a list of what I consider my favorite movies... or at least some of them.

Just in case I hadn't posted the address yet.
I'm up to #85 (out of 101) and it was the Reese Witherspoon/Mark Ruffalo romantasy flick "Just Like Heaven."

Great movie, especially if you've got a box full of chocolates.
Just kidding. But it is a pretty engrossing film that I personally enjoy a lot.

Going through the synposis and such, I remembered that part of it inspired something I wrote, if only the last page or so.

Shortly before I started college, I began a story that was originally inspired by "Danny Phantom." Man, that was a great series.
Anyway, I thought about this mysterious character with a ghostly outline and these glowing green eyes.
I started going from stream of consciousness more or less, but little by little, I put things into it that just sprang to mind.

Anyway, after a while, school happened, my interest and focus tapered off and I found my way back to writing fanfiction, this time about "InuYasha." Great animé series, I'd mentioned it a few times.

One year, I made it my mission to complete everything I'd written and if there was no chance, I was going to "throw it out" or in the case of the PC world, delete.
And I'll be honest. I regret throwing anything away nowadays.
However little sense it made and how much copyright I might have infringed, I wish I hadn't gotten rid of this one story... where this guy was the only member of his family to survive a house fire, he's taken in by his Aunt Clarissa, who runs an animal rehabilitation place. He's having these fantastical dreams about dragons and such, but really, everything that came out was from the Playstation game "Spyro the Dragon." Which I still play to this day, even though I'd been through it thousands of times.

The gist of it was that, supposedly, in the fire he'd forgotten his name. It is never mentioned, merely alluded to, but ultimately, his name would have been the same of the small dragon he'd dreamt about based on Spyro himself. 

As for Leo, I got so far with the story, then decided later on I would severely shorten it because I wasn't coming up with a lot of ideas.
To be fair, the logic in my storytelling was always really sketchy. That's what I get for writing a story from an idea that isn't fully realized. Heck, my logic with Leo himself was extremely lackluster. 

The first scene had him materializing the bedroom of this girl he was in a relationship with. Technically, this story is told from Tricia's POV more than his. She spends the first part of it trying to figure out who he is or was to her.
Supposedly they were separated by this big accident. He lost his life saving her from it, and meanwhile, she received so much damage in the accident that she literally lost the first 13 years of her life.
The only life she knows is of the last 4 years... she's 17, a junior in high school. She lives with foster parents and has no memory of her real family.

There's the trauma of the accident itself, but supposedly an air-conditioner fell on her head from a second story window, which accounts for the other half of her amnesia and loss of long-term her memories.
With that alone, how much sense does all that make? Honestly, I haven't the foggiest.

According to Leo, they were neighbors with degree of age difference between them... 6 years. Supposedly they met when she was 11 and he was 17... how much sense that makes, I really don't know. He talks about how he had feelings for her that he had to keep to himself because with the age difference, it would be frowned upon, but after a certain point, he didn't care anymore. 

An issue goes on throughout as to what Leo is. He appears to Tricia a couple of times when she's rendered unconscious, either at night while she's asleep, or when she starts blacking out for no apparent reason on a school day.
First she believes he's a spirit or ghost of someone she knew. Then she keeps defending the fact that he isn't a ghost. I had a severe lapse in judgement there, obviously.

During this school day where it all starts, Tricia kinda starts to realize the illusion of popularity. She's surrounded by all these girlfriends, but realizes she doesn't know any of their names or anything about them other than them being cheerleaders, volleyball players and whatnot.
The logic is that Leo managed to create that illusion so Tricia would have security and stability, something she lost in the accident. Not sure how much sense that makes either.

The only thing that she maintains from her popularity is the attention of this guy, Wes. Seriously, the first name that came to mind... at the time, I really liked the name, but I don't remember where I got it.
Geesh, that statement isn't even accurate. She had a crush on him for years, but they'd only said a couple of words to each other. Suddenly, it's as if they're close friends because throughout the disorientation plaguing her mind (with everything being an illusion and such), he has her back no matter what.

She falls ill and luckily, at this specific time, the school is evacuated because of a bomb threat.
This isn't completely random, though. I think in September or October of my first year of school, we had to evacuate, take the stadium seating and we were forbid to use our cellphones (easy to say for me cuz I didn't have one at the time).
This is is merely a vehicle for Tricia and Wes to bond, and he's a gentleman for driving her home. 

Supposedly Tricia has the flu and throughout this time, her memories are attempting to come back through Leo. But the logic completely falls apart when she immediately gets better the next day and Leo materializes. 

The story that follows is that Wes is distrustful of Leo, who apparently came back into Tricia's life out of the blue. He sees him as being a few extra years older than Tricia does. From a destination, to Wes, Leo exudes the age of 25.

After that, I drew from another source of inspiration from my life.
We had faulty fire alarms in the college dorms and it would go off whenever someone burnt popcorn. There was one night, 1/24/06, where I woken up in the middle of the night by the alarm, but I was so tired that I decided not to get out of bed.
As the alarm blared louder, I started to suspect after a while that there might be an actual fire and I might die... because I was too stupid and lazy to get out of bed.

Luckily, it was a false alarm. 

I put the idea of a faulty alarm in the story earlier on, and later decided to incorporate that incident into the story as its climax.
To get the proper setting, I decided that Tricia was doing so well in these advanced placement courses that she had the opportunity to study at a local private school where credits for the advanced courses counted towards college credits. 
Throughout this, Leo tells her that he has a bad feeling about that place, "people change" when they go here, and so on. She doesn't buy into any of it.

Again, all randomly thrown together.

Then in the climax, the fire happens. Tricia doesn't bother to get up and out because she thinks its a false alarm. Leo breaks in to save her life. But Wes, who decided to transfer there because his parents happen to be really rich but he decided to stick to public school until now (how convenient!), confronts him and says that he saw him light the fire himself.

Then comes the biggest load of crap I ever threw together... and at the last minute, no less.
Even more convenient, this is when Leo is revealed to be a ghost. Wes tries to throw a punch, but his fist goes right through him... and seconds earlier, Leo had carried Tricia out of a burning building.
Age comes back into question and Leo confesses that he should be 24, but he is 19 based that was his age when he died. So Wes got a vibe from him that he was older than 19, even though he appears that way... again, my logic sucks.
But to save time and more meandering on my part, I'm going to copy/paste this part so anyone who reads can judge its legitimacy for themselves.

While they waited for the fire trucks to come and put out the flames, Leo explained the story of what happened. In his later years of high school, he went to that private school, but rumor had it that it was cursed. It had been built on ancient Indian burial ground. Those were also the years where his feelings for Tricia were the strongest. Due to the influence of the cursed spirits, Leo felt like he was developing another personality, a dangerous one that could hurt Tricia. At times, he’d have blackouts and wake up somewhere, not remembering how he got there.
Several months past and the blackouts were getting more frequent and he couldn’t remember anything he did over longer periods of time. At the same time, arsons were happening in the area close to the private school. Leo found himself waking up closer and closer to the scene of the crime. A few times, he’d be out cold for days at a time. He started to check a map of the area to see if there was a pattern. He circled each of the targeted houses and noticed that they were at different points off of a circle of homes around the private school. When he drew a pattern, the four houses were part of a pentacle symbol with the private school standing in the middle of it. He looked at the point above the school and Tricia’s house was the one above it.
When he found that out, he told Tricia and her parents to take a trip out of town for the weekend. She asked what was going on since she was seeing less of him. He told her that he’s been checking into the arsons and it’s had him up for the past few nights. He worried that her house was going to be next, but she thought he had nothing to worry about. Luckily, they had already planned to see family that weekend. Before they left, Leo took her into his arms. She asked, “Leo, you’re shaking, what’s wrong?”
“Tricia, I love you so much and I’d die if anything happened to you. I couldn’t live without seeing your beautiful face.” He gave her a kiss before they broke apart. During that weekend, Leo looked around for evidence. He then went into the private school’s dumpster and found some of his old clothes in there. He found that all of them had been singed at one point. He gasped when he realized that he had been the one setting the fires. He rummaged through his things and found plans that apparently his dark side had sketched. He too had drawn the pentacle pattern in his blueprints.
To see if this had any connection to the private school, he decided to Google “pentacle”. He found that the tribe of Indians that lived in this area was cursed by another tribe. This enemy tribe was a bitter rival of the residing tribe and since they were unequipped to defeat them in battle, they used the underhanded tactic of hexes and curses. The curse could only be broken if a pentacle was burned into the ground where their territory once stood.
The Sunday that Tricia was returning with her family, Leo was experiencing headaches and he had one last blackout before night fell. He felt something foul was in the area and it was coming from the school itself. He sensed that the restless spirits wanted to take this into its own hands because his feelings for Tricia were so strong that he couldn’t bear to put her out of house and home.
He saw the headlights of Tricia’s parents’ car go by the school, but suddenly it was acting strong. The car started careening out of control, almost as if it were under the control of the spirits of the Indian tribe. He rushed out of his dormitory, quickly realizing that he wouldn’t make it in time. All of sudden, he felt a new sensation. He started running after the car, steadily gaining speed. He could barely comprehend what was going on, but he had caught up with the car. He knocked on the window, telling Tricia to roll it down. He urged her to tell them to hit the breaks, but they weren’t working. He followed alongside the car until it came towards Tricia’s house. In an instant, it crashed into the gas main and the car burst into flames. Completely acting out of instinct, he opened the left passenger car door, grabbed Tricia and dragged her out just as the car exploded.
He realized that he had taken the impact of the blast. Tricia slowly woke up while Leo was dealing with severe 3rd degree burns. Not only that, but he was dealing with severe pain as well. She was all over Leo, asking a million questions at once. “Are you all right? How were you able to keep up with our car? Why’d you do that?”
Leo quickly figured out that the Indian spirits had possessed him in order to break their curse, but also to help him save the one he loved. He was cringing with pain that seemed inconsolable. Tricia realized that her parents had been incinerated in the blast and Leo was slowly dying from his injuries. His dying words to Tricia were that he wished only for her safety and her happiness. After he died, Tricia completely lost it. She didn’t want to leave Leo’s side and couldn’t believe that her family and her one true love had all died and she was the only one who was spared. So shaken by the incident, she was unable to move or sense that the trouble wasn’t over. That’s when the air conditioner came down from the 2nd story window and hit her on the head.
Leo said to Tricia and Wes, “I didn’t want you to come back here because I thought I’d set another fire to finish breaking the curse.”
“But how were you able to come back?”
“It’s hard to explain, the spirits of this tribe have called my spirit to different parts of the country to break other curses. I wanted desperately to return to see you once more.” He stroked her cheek, “I’m so sorry for all of this, but all I wanted to do was protect you.”
“So, did these ‘so-called spirits’ help you fix things so Tricia would have the ‘perfect life’? Like with her popularity and everything?” Wes asked. Leo nodded, “Regrettably so. I wanted her to be happy because of this incident. She lost everything she knew in one night and I wanted her to get past that.”
“Now that your spirit has completed its mission, are you going to return to the spirit world now?” Tricia asked, on the edge of tears. Leo nodded, “I’m afraid so.” He stroked her cheek, “I was so glad that I got to see you once last time. I love you.”
“I love you too. I wish you didn’t have to go.” He nodded before kissing her once last time. The moment their lips lost touch with one another, he was gone. 

so there you go.
The story ends with Leo disappearing, Tricia and Wes have a relationship through college but go their separate ways.
The final scene is inspired by the rooftop scene at the end of "Just like Heaven." Tricia meets William, a native american man with glowing green eyes,  and the two have an immediate attraction as if they met in another life.

I know reincarnation doesn't happen that quick, but it makes a little more sense than some of the other stuff in here. If I had room, I'd post the whole thing here, but if anyone else wants to filter through my so-called logic, they can contact me and make of it what they will.

The story isn't all that bad, really. It has a lot of good elements that could be made better with a little more focus, but the execution of it all is just ghastly.
But to fix it and make it legit, I just wouldn't know where to begin.