Thursday, July 26, 2012

What does it mean to be a geek girl?

I'm going a little off topic today (which would imply I'm ever ON topic, which I'm not).

I read an interesting article on CNN (see the article here) about "booth babes" and their negative impact (according to the author) on the growth of the nerd culture. Basically the author's argument is that these model-type women who couldn't hack it in the real world have infiltrated the geek world to boost their own egos. They have no real interest in gaming or comics or cosplay, they just want to dress up in skimpy outfits and show up at conventions and be fawned over by men they wouldn't give the time of day to in the outside world. According to the author, they give true girl geeks a bad name, and set back their cause in geek culture.

On one hand, I agree with the author. I appreciate someone FINALLY calling out Olivia Munn, because I for sure don't think she's actually interested in anything nerdy. In fact, she's done a good job spinning her "geek girl" celebrity into other acting ventures and distanced herself from her original persona. Do I think she was ever a real nerd? No. And I'm not a fan of anyone leveraging a pretend interest in something just to get their foot in the door.

But what really struck me about the article were the comments. Good gosh are they horrible. Everything from people saying "it's fine if you use them, since they're just using you, just make sure they don't poke holes in the condom" to "geeks don't care what girls are into as long as they're hot and wear skimpy outfits." I have no idea who these people are, if they're just trolls looking to tear down the internet a little more, but it's horribly indicative of a disrespectful and potentially violent mindset. These kinds of comments aren't just opinions, they're pre-excuses for bad behavior. And coming from the "geek community," they're particularly appalling. This isn't a traditionally aggressive community (aside from all the primeval online slaughter).

I confess myself more than a little out of touch with this community. When I was a kid, a "geek" was anyone who preferred reading over the jungle gym at recess and was really good at math. Since then the definition has expanded into the digital world, and I'm afraid I've lost my street cred as a geek because I like reading and don't play video games. If there were tiers of nerdery, I'm probably toward the bottom rung.

Still, as someone with lingering nerd fantasies of mythical worlds and magical powers, I find these comments disturbing. And I find the idea disappointing that women have to battle again for their identity and their right to be part of a culture. I really think it messes with girls' heads to be told "be hot, but not too hot, and you only really belong if you meet standards we set for you." That's the surprising message I get after reading this article and the comments, and it makes me sad. We spend so much time deciding what other people should be, and we end up excluding or judging others for what reason? To claim true geekery?

For myself, I think I'm old enough and don't care about opinions not my own enough to say I am a nerd, and a geek if I feel like it. And the way I dress, or the ways I choose to define my nerdery, are not up to anyone else's opinion but my own.

Do you consider yourself a geek or a nerd? What defines the term for you? How do you feel about "booth babes" and their impact on geek culture?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Using your query letter and synopsis to identify plot holes

I'm in the process of editing/fixing/crying over/rewriting/preparing my latest WIP for querying agents. I learned a lot about the process and my own blindspots last year when querying The Librarian (including my own horrible titling skills). I'm honestly a little gun-shy this time around, which I think is a healthy thing. It's forced me to look at my work, really really look at it, because I don't want to screw up my one(ish) chance with this WIP because I didn't put in the due diligence. It was definitely my shortcoming last time around, and I prefer not to Napoleon my mistakes (i.e. repeat them).

One of the warning signs I didn't pay attention to last time that's screaming in my face this go round is the query letter/synopsis red flag. What's that, you ask? Well, gentle reader, let me tell you. It's the flag that gets raised in your head like a sopapilla flag in a Mexican restaurant (I might be hungry) when you're writing out that query and you can't figure out why something is happening. Or what drives the characters on to the decisions they make. Or what the inciting incident is in your story.

You know, things like that.

It's not so bad as all that, I promise. Well, sometimes it is. If I'd paid attention to the niggling thought in my head when I wrote the synopsis last year, I would have heard "Boy that sounds like a lot of subplots. Are you sure about all of those? And what is the MC's motivation? Why does she keep fighting what has happened to her?" But I didn't pay attention, and here we are.

The great thing about the query letter and the synopsis as editing tools is they quickly identify major story issues because you're consolidating down to the most essential elements of the book. It's easy to pretend like a subplot is super necessary because it's hilarious and you had fun writing it in 100,000 words, but it's hard to pretend the same when you've got 1,000 words to say the same thing.

Writing out my synopsis yesterday, I finally had to face that vague feeling I'd pushed away during all my last rounds of editing: that my beginning still wasn't working. It wasn't terrible, but it wasn't solid. It was good enough for me to convince myself that I didn't need to change it again, but trying to summarize it in two paragraphs and make it sound interesting blew the problem wide open.

I threw myself a little pity party for about thirty minutes, but then the most amazing thing happened. I thought of a better beginning. Similar elements to my existing beginning, but now that I had the whole story in front of me I could see the threads that I needed to weave in the beginning to make the whole story work. And after I'd hammered out what should happen in a mini-synopsis, this great weight lifted off my shoulders. Because it finally made sense. I still have the hard work of actually writing it ahead of me, but at least I know where I'm going now, and I know why. I'm not ashamed of that synopsis, and my query just got a whole lot more compelling.

Use your query/synopsis to identify just a few of these potential problems:

  • Unnecessary subplots, or subplots that actually detract from the main story
  • Missing character motivations
  • Sagging beginnings, middles, or endings (because if you get bored writing the synopsis, imagine how your reader will feel slogging through 50,000 words of it)
  • Dropped story threads throughout the book
  • Fluff chapters (because if you can skip them entirely, they probably don't matter to the plot)
Have you ever used your query or synopsis to identify further issues in your story? What issues have you found in your own story after writing the query/synopsis?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Knowing which manuscript to follow (not so easy)

I've had a lot of trouble lately staying focused on one particular story. I finished a WIP back in January and started on heavy-duty edits, the first round of which I finished up about a week ago (huzzah!). I've got a few more rounds of edits to go before it's ready to start querying, but I'm in that lull where I should be working on something new.

It's not that I'm not writing, because I am. I've been pretty consistent about writing 3-4 days a week for at least an hour, which comes out to 8,000 words a week. Not bad from consistency's sake. The problem is, I've started/stopped/started four different stories in the last six months. Stats below:

- 30K words on the first manuscript
- 15K words on the second manuscript
- 10K words on the third manuscript
- 2K words on the fourth manuscript (started this past weekend on a whim)

See, I've got the pretty decent makings of a full manuscript if all of those words were on the same story, but my brain keeps bouncing around. I don't know if I should just let myself go incrementally on each story and have several finish around the same time, or force my attention onto one until it's complete. Usually I move to a different story because I've stalled on a plot line, or I'm still trying to solve a big BUT WHY?!, or I've lost interest in the characters. In my previous experience, I've found that once I lose interest in something and keep trying to slog through the story, my readers will suffer as much as I did.

This weekend I went back to the first manuscript and read through it just for fun (because why not?), and discovered that it wasn't nearly as terrible or boring as I thought it was. In fact, by the time I reached the end of what I'd written I wanted to keep going on the story, like I'd been reading someone else's work and got jazzed up about it enough to continue the story. So maybe I'm being too hard on myself, trying to force something new and linear out of myself every day. The woods are lovely, dark and deep, and maybe (just maybe) worth the detour every once in a while.

How do you start new manuscripts? Do you stick to one story at a time or jump around? Do you ever pick up abandoned manuscripts and keep going at a later date?