Monthly Archives: May 2011

P-pl-pl-plot-plotting?

WIP:  Agent of Fate

Today’s writing accomplishment lies in overcoming my fear of plotting.  I sat down with my whiteboard and the memories of my NaNoWriMo project and I plotted.

I had already laid out the basics (I usually sum up a scene with 1-4 descriptive words) so today was actually working with that information.  Where did it need work, where could I twist things more, what didn’t make sense and so on and so forth.  Had to use all four colours of my whiteboard markers, too.

Part of me still feels like I should do more.  The rest of me feels like I’ve got a good stepping stone to sorting out this WIP so I can get back to writing.

Guess I’ll find out when I start back into the writing.  But if nothing else, I’m a big step closer to figuring out how I plot.  And that, my dear friends, is the important part.

Okay, that and getting back on the writing train.  😉

My Fitness Pal

A couple of weeks ago I joined the iPhone generation.  Or am I supposed to be generic and say smartphone generation?

Naturally, the immediate discovery I made was the wonder of apps.  There really is an app for everything.  Well, almost everything.  Of the ones I downloaded on that first day was My Fitness Pal.  (Yes, they have a website and no app is required to enjoy this product, it just makes it more convenient.)

My Fitness Pal is a fitness, food and goal tracker.  And I’m in love.  For the first time making a concerted effort to manage my food is easy.  About eight years ago I made a concerted effort to lose weight and I lose about 50 pounds.

I was not, however, at my ‘goal’ weight.  I’ve always wanted to lose more but could never seem to really move anywhere.  During my recent incarceration (stuck at home due to herniated disc), I lost several pounds since I ate very little for many weeks (making food was too difficult and I wasn’t hungry anyways, yay drugs?).  This inspired me to want to make another concerted effort to lose more weight.  (Sadly, the weight lost during my incarceration came right back when I was able to enjoy food again.  Ah, well.)

The effort wasn’t getting me very far.  And then came My Fitness Pal.

First, it has a huge database of foods, so when out for a bite to eat it’s easy to get at least an approximation of what I decide to eat.  I’ve done meals from Pho to sushi, fast food burgers to cafe sandwiches.  Just a few seconds typing the query into the phone and I’ve got a selection of meal options so I can decide on the best match to what I’m eating.

Second, I can type in my own recipes and it will calculate what that meal (or meals if I’m making a large batch of something) has in the way of calories, fats, proteins and carbs.

Third, well, for third there’s all the other great things.  I can put it exercise and it calculates calories used.  It bitches at me if I eat too little.  I can copy meals from one day to another.  It encourages me to pay attention to my water intake.

I think I finally have a method of managing food that I can actually work with.  I hate counting calories.  I hate anything that makes eating ‘work’.  And this app makes it easy.

Now this isn’t meant to be an ad for the program.  No, it’s a celebration of finding something that works for me.  A tool I enjoy using to take control of an aspect of my life that has always felt like it is just outside my reach.  So far I’ve lost 5 pounds.  Yeeha!

You may have noticed that I’ve not used the word ‘diet’.  This is deliberate.  I don’t believe in diets.  I believe in habits, healthy and otherwise.  I believe in life choices.  I believe that I want to eat in a way that is healthy for me and that is permanently sustainable.

In this case, I’m deliberately lowering my caloric intake to encourage weight loss.  But I’m still eating in a healthy manner that will continue after I’ve reached my goal weight (which is a whole other topic, because becoming fixated on a number can be very hazardous to your health, physical and mental).  Sure, this is probably dieting, but I hate the word and what it implies.

There’s no guarantee, of course, that this will all work to perfection, that I’ll never break this happy cycle I’ve got going on (daily tracking for 2.5 weeks now), that my body will slip down to my goal weight without argument.  But I doubt there will ever be an easier road to take towards this goal.

Whiteboards rock!

In my work place (I work at a University), whiteboards are so ubiquitous that my office came standard with one, but I had to specially request a corkboard.

Now I’m addicted to them.

I’ve acquired 3 for home.  A small one for planning my week and keeping track of immediate tasks and planning.  Two for story planning.

It would have been one, but then I would have had to erase it to work on my plotting issues on the other WIP (work in progress).  To which I said hell no!  Besides they stack very neatly against each other, so there’s no problem with multiples.

So yes, I use them for plotting, story planning, world building.  Really, any kind of idea generation works so well on that smooth expanse of white.  Even post-its don’t work as well for me as scribbling notes that I know I can just erase, re-scribble and keep going with.  Maybe paper’s just too much commitment for me and my commitment phobia is resurfacing in a strange and peculiar way.  Or I just love being able to scribble where I want.  Either way, I find whiteboards the perfect way to work through all these story areas, particularly plotting problems (my personal bane).

It’s easy to switch colours for different concerns, straight lines for those scenes I’m certain of, dashes for those that may need to get reviewed, changed or moved.  Red notes on the places that I have questions.  Odd random notes in the corners for things I need to remember.  Different colour for the sections I haven’t written yet but have the basic, broadest strokes defined in my head.

Or in other words, whiteboards rock.  So much flexibility. And with digital cameras, it’s no cost and no effort to record whatever you’ve written down before wiping it away and starting all over.

So if you, too, are staring at blank post-its and wondering what to do, consider the power of whiteboards.  Just saying.  😉

Cocoa Cinammon Muffins

I needed a zen moment….and a goodie for work tomorrow.  So here’s the muffin recipe I went with (well, an experimental modified recipe).

Yield:  24 mini muffins (trying 18 minutes baking time, if go with regular size, probably more like 20-25 minutes and only 10-12 muffins).

Oven temp:  400F (200c)

Dry mixture:
2 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup cocoa
1/2 tsp cinammon

Moist mixture:
1 large egg
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup milk

Preheat over to 400F and prepared muffin cups.  In large bowl, combine dry ingredients.  In medium bowl, lightly beat eggs (I just use a fork), stir in oil and milk.

And moist mixture to dry all at once and stir until batter is just combined.  No over stirring!  Muffins hate that.

Fill muffin tins 3/4 full.  Bake.  Eat.

I’ll let you know how they turn out in about 15 minutes.

And the squirrel said…

Perspective shifting thought of the day:

Have you seen the movie Up from Disney/Pixar?  Not a requirement if you haven’t, just check out this you tube clip for a snapshot of what I’ll be talking about.  Okay, it’s just a weird jumping point for a random thought, but isn’t that what writers do?  Take some item in our world and then play with it, twist and turn and reshape it into something new, funky and hopefully entertaining.

Right, so the dogs in the movie have that classic distracted moment dogs have when something moves in the underbrush.  Squirrel?!  Is it a squirrel?  Is it something else?  I suppose in Up, if it really had been a squirrel the dogs wouldn’t have turned back to the conversation at hand.

But let’s presume for a moment that there is a squirrel there, irrespective of whether the dog confirms it and comes forward or doesn’t notice and turns away.

What would that moment be like from the perspective of the squirrel?

Would the squirrel pause with arrogant certainty that the dog is too stupid to realize it’s there if it just doesn’t move?

Would the squirrel panic?  Would it contemplate the existential reasons for what was happening?

And most a propos to the image that started this random thought, what would the squirrel say when it spotted the dog?

Recipe: Banana Nut Muffins

Yield:  ~10 muffins
Oven temp:  375 F, 190 C
Baking Time:  20 to 25 minutes

Dry mixture:
1 1/2 cup All-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup pecan pieces

Moist mixture:
1/2 cup butter
1/3-1/2 cup granulated sugar (this is to taste, in essence)
1 large egg
1 cup mashed bananas (~3 med bananas, and this doesn’t need to be exact to 1 c)
1 tbsp hot water
1 tsp baking soda

  • Preheat over to 375 F and prepare 10 muffin cups (I usually spray w/ cooking spray and fill empty cups with water to prevent tray bending and ensure even temperature during cooking)
  • Combine dry mixture in large bowl
  • Melt butter and mix in sugar (or you can not melt butter and cream these together, but I’m lazy)
  • add egg and mix well (i.e. whisk the egg briefly with fork and then mix it into rest of mixture; or if you used beaters for the previous step, use them here, too)
  • add mashed bananas and mix well (or use beaters)
  • dissolve baking soda into the hot water and immediately add to the moist mixture
  • add moist mixture to dry mixture all at once.  Stir until batter is blended but still lumpy
  • Fill muffin cups ~ 2/3 full
  • Bake 20-25 minutes until golden brown

Let cool enough that you don’t burn your tongue and enjoy!

Great Plotting: Eileen Wilks

My incarceration by physical injury continues and thus so has my reading blitz.  (Still recovering from a herniated disc.)

This week has been all Eileen Wilks all the time.  And I feel that I have been in the presence of a master plotter.  Yes, her characterization was great:  the characters appealing, realistic and experiencing understandable growing pains as she puts them through their paces.  And her magical world was interesting, cohesive and believable (in the way that all fantasy worlds can be believable).  I’m speaking here of her Books of the Lupi series.  But it was the plotting that blew me away.

To be fair, as a Panster, I’m inclined to be more in awe of someone who is excellent at plotting than perhaps of someone with great characterization.  That said, Eileen Wilks has mad plotting skills.

It wasn’t just the complexity of the individual books.  Though they had that.  The plots were well paced, the twists and turns intriguing.  It all flowed, coherent and tight.  And this woman is a master at ending chapters at a high tension point that has you compulsively going into the next chapter to find out what the <insert your favourite intense word> happened.

What truly awed me was the multi-book plotting that she did.  This author didn’t wait until a character would be necessary or useful to introduce them.  Oh, no, they became a small, integral part of an earlier book and when they appeared in a later book, it was logical and necessary that they be there.

It’s a little hard to talk about this without using examples, but I hate it when people give away spoilers, so please forgive me the generalities.

It also wasn’t just characters.  The advantage of reading a series back to back, or a series’ downfall, is that all of the details are present in the back of my head.  If the wrong age is used, I notice it (and I think that was about the only error I found in the books was a slight age discrepency, though there is a chance I mis-remembered the first mention of it).  If the character is not consistent in small preferences and attitudes, I’m aware of it.

And if they are consistent, I revel in it.

Ms. Wilks did that.  She planted seeds of motivation, of potential trouble, of inconsequential items that are picked up in the next book, or two later, or three later.  When those seeds sprouted and blossomed it made sense on some subliminal level so that as a reader I greeted those blooms enthusiastically because they had been planted so much earlier.  I never felt that she ‘cheated’ by bringing in a needed element at the last minute.

The Lupi books are a tapestry of plotting.  The weaving is complex and thorough and, frankly, if I can handle multiple books half that well–okay, two thirds that well, I’ll be truly pleased with myself.

And yes, in case it wasn’t obvious, I would recommend the series.

Samantha