Walking Backwards into the Future

NaNoWriMo count so far: 31747.

The scene I just finished was a great example of the improv rule: Everything you need has already been improvised in a scene. I managed to tie together three previously unrelated details I’d mentioned for the sake of scenery and ambience, but now integrated them into a character action as well. It made the scene feel not just organic, but added a sort of “OH, THAT’S WHY” penny dropping moment to this chapter.

In Improv, there’s a game called Walking Backwards into the Future: http://www.unexpectedcommunications.com/the-unexpected-blog/walking-backward-into-the-future

The way we played it, you would pace off and somebody would improvise a space-object and hand it to you and you’d then incorporate it into the story. But after five objects, that was it. You could spin off of THOSE objects, but the idea was to keep yourself from frittering away down new and novel paths and instead wrap back to the story and offers established. You justified those offers and they all reinforced each other.

You’ve probably seen that improv where somebody, trying to be funny, keeps throwing new and random shit at his partners for them to pick up. At first the juxtaposition can amuse, but it wears on because none of the old offers matter in the face of the new offer. That can be very frustrating.  Whereas when you found a way to tie two established offers together in a NEW way, the whole scene raised to a new level.

So here’s my writing tip/suggesion/thing to try for your NaNo or for the next time you get stuck: Is there a detail you’ve overlooked or some fruitful bit of world building that you’ve already established that you can link to another seemingly unrelated detail? Look back and see what you’ve written and let it guide you into the future.

Writing Report: On the Lake

Tonight I strolled down to Lake Union, sprawled next to the dock, and wrote by hand in my purple notebook of outlining-ness. I wrote some motivational scenes from a character’s viewpoint, I wrote some emotional stream of consciousness, and then I did an analysis on whether or not the snakes should be united in hating Jason (Meg’s boyfriend) when the book opens or divided. United they slither means that Megs has immediate opposition in all things, which raises the stakes for her, since there is nothing worse than having your family hate your boyfriend. But it’s so early in the book’s structure. And divided gives them a chance to display the opposing personalities of all three characters early on: Megs, Elaphe, and Ignatius. Or I can have all three of them kibitz on the subject and have Eph and Igs come to a reluctant agreement over Jason for differing reasons. Which is what I’m tending towards.

Problems I’m worried about: A) Making Megs unlikeable by not being spined up enough to leave Jason already and holding onto what is evidentally a dying relationship and B) if this would be inconsistent with the rest of her personality which is rather bold otherwise. I wonder how much of this is self-sabotage–she does have insecurities, even if she gets prickly and defensive and not-giving a fuck outwardly–and how much is her realising he is a toxic douchebag at this point. (Not an irretrievable toxic douchebag, mind you, but Jason’s salvation is NOT going to come via Megs.)

When not writing Snakes stuff, I wrote descriptive sentences about the waterfront. I even parlayed some of those back into the narratives for Meg’s emotional landscape, as the idea of boats and wakes was evocative emotionally speaking.

Tomorrow night is another improv night, so bound to be a bit light on the writing front, unless I manage during lunch.




When the world tilted upwards and away from Gerald, he kept on trudging. Diligently onwards and upwards. Gerald didn’t have horizons, he only had summits, he said, which was the sort of thing I suspected him of stealing from motivational posters. He made rather a virtue of his persistance and delighted in the Sisyphean.

I didn’t have horizons either, if only because my entire view seemed to be one long downward slope. If I looked forward to anything, it was kicking Gerald in the shins, right on the bone, the next time he opened his mouth and made one of his fatuous pronouncements.


Photo: MINE! (Taken at Seattle’s International Fountain.)

On Zanclea Station

The great Scythe of Zanclea Station arced against the blazing bulk of the mining planet, Aítne. From Veatriki’s angle of approach, the very blackness of the station made it seem as if a great blade had swung out of the star-filled heavens and neatly sliced the planet in two halves. The illusion fell away as she drew on to the planet, and could see the massive gap between planet and Scythe. The seeming smoothness of the station walls began to manifest protuberances, fractal in nature.  Blunted black polyps budded and branched. Each seemed nearly identical, although by the time she was only a hundred klicks away, she could see the blinking sector beacons of her home beckoning.

She opened the communit relay. “Sestos Tower, this is the Picket Ship, Owleye. Pilot: Veatriki Leonides. Have I permission to land?”

Her cousin’s familiar face resolved on the vid plate. “Permission granted, Pilot Leonides. Please proceed along the vector I’m sending to the bay provided.”

“So formal, Hera,” Veatriki teased. “You could at least wish me a happy return. Is Uncle there?”

“He is,” said Hera primly. “Did you have a message for him?”

“The Zaragozan flagship is very near, not quite three AU when I left them. They hope to refuel and rest on Zanclea, make use of our shipyards. I left them to limp into orbit–the Owl’s speedier in-system.”

Her uncle leaned in over her cousin’s shoulder. “Good to see you again, niece. Have you lost any of the drones I sent with you?”

“Few of any kind. None with names.” Veatriki shrugged.

Bonus points if you can guess the inspiration and references without googling. 🙂

Improv Night: CROW and Other Lessons

I’ve been taking improv courses since last year and just restarted up with a new company here in Seattle. Even though I’d done about four or five levels in SF, enough time had elapsed that I was feeling a bit rusty, so I started back with the beginning level improv. Which is good because we’re revisiting concepts but I get to see a fresh new take on them with a new set of teachers.

So now I’m trying to take my improv lessons and see if they can’t be applied to writing. In improv, we’ve got a concept for building a scene: CROW. It’s an acronym* for Character, Relationship, Objective, and Where.

Character refers to the individual characters we choose to play. We can endow them with history, mannerisms, voice. On stage, we occupy their bodies, we build their physicality. We slump, we wrinkle our noses, we occupy the space they do, we can expand or pull in tightly, we can be sloppy or strait-laced, we can be arrogant or nervous, so many personality choices, and so many ways to physically inhabit those traits. In writing, the voice, the dialogue, the choice of words and the character’s actions all inform the character.

Relationship: How our characters interact or are positioned to each other. This can mean Actual Relationship, like father-and-son, or sisters, or teacher-and-pupil, or lawyer-and-criminal. It can also start building off of character, and inform how the character behaves. This is where we set up dynamics, hierarchies, power–who has it, who doesn’t. A character by themselves may be one person around their mother, but another around a lover. (Unless their mother is their lover, Oedipus.) They might be pleasant in the office, but take out frustrations with family.

Objective: What do our characters want? Whatever they want. It should raise the stakes. You can get great dynamic scenes by having wants in opposition with the other character’s wants. Tonight, our classmates enacted a scene–a husband and wife going out to eat. They go to the restaurant–not a fancy one–and they conceive a need to sit at a particular table. Why? How does this relate to what we know about their characters and relationship? Why is this particular table important? Most importantly, what will happen if they don’t achieve the objective?

Where: In improv, knowing and defining where you are is important. One improv game we play involves five short snippets of dialogue. Hi. Hello. How are you? Fine thanks. Glad to hear it.  That conversation can sound completely different based on where you are AND who you are. Imagine that conversation held first at church, then at a prison. Knowing where you are can give your character obstacles or define their objectives. In writing, this can be setting.

Anyway, I’m trying to run my Snakes and Ladder scenes through CROW in order to see if each of these things are clearly addressed in the scene. If it turns out my character doesn’t have an objective or that isn’t expressed in the scene….that’s something for me to focus on. Does it feel like my characters are consistent to their history and voice? Do their actions and dialogue BELONG to them? What relationships do they have with each other and how does that change their objectives? What stakes are there? What will happen if they don’t achieve their objective? Do they inhabit the world or are they talking heads spouting dialogue?

This isn’t meant to be wisdom from on high or anything. This is just me attempting to make use of my improv class. Obviously there’s other tools to be used here, like try-fail-try-succeed cycles, but I’m cannibalising from class and seeing if it can’t help push me along.



Today’s favourite bit of writing advice: Outline til it hurts. From Charlie Jane Anders One Weird Trick.

And outlining backwards is magic. Start with the end, and then put “because” after that, and keep going back. This happens because this happens, because that other thing happens, and so on, back to the beginning. If you can’t stick a “because” between two things that are supposedly causally linked, that’s a bad sign.

Omega point outlining! I like it!

*Not an initialism, honey!

Don’t Sell The Dreams You Should Be Keeping

Prompt: Take a line from a song that you love or connect with. Now forget the song, and turn that line into the title or inspiration for your post.

Ginny cursed under her breath. Last day of the month meant rent coming due and her CD racks were as bare as her bank account. Her classic vinyl had long gone, shortly followed by her decks, and just last month, she had sold her CDs to make rent. She reluctantly hefted her stereo, wondering if it was pawnable, covered in stickers and beat up as it was.

“Fuck,” she said. 

She couldn’t borrow the money. Her parents lived on disability checks and were in near as dire straits. Her friends, what few she had left in this city, were already owed more than smiles and promises. No way would Ramon give her an advance on her paycheque. Stingy bastard.

So that left Angela. Fuck.

She had promised Angela last time, that was it, never again, and Angela had smiled and said, “Sure, Ginny, I understand. You know where to find me if you change your mind.”

Which was why Ginny found herself taking the Muni down to the outer Sunset, running through opening gambits in her mind, reminding herself not to seem too desperate. Of course, it wouldn’t work with Angela–it never did. If you were selling to Angela, you were desperate. It was a buyers’ market.

Angela lived at the far end of Taraval in a squat white-walled house with barred windows and a dirty iron-grilled gate. Ginny buzzed the doorbell and shivered. Even though it was summer, the winds off the ocean were able to whip up perpetual mist, and even when it was sunny downtown, it was often grey out here. Angela liked it, although she made enough money that she could afforded something nicer, Ginny was sure.

She waited five minutes and was about to walk away, more than a little relieved, when Angela’s door creaked open, and Angela herself descended the stairs to meet Ginny at the gate. She looked amazing, thought Ginny resentfully, as she eyed Angela’s draped jewel-toned top and tailored slacks.

“Hi, sis,” said Angela with the wide insincere cheerfulness that was her trademark. “What brings you down this way?”

Ginny bit her lip.

Inspiration: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6myNbk15sMs