The Curious Evolution of Jennifer K. Oliver
A stroll through the mindfields
entries 
jenniferkoliver: (Death Note | L)
Just made my first check-in for [community profile] getyourwordsout. January was a strange month, not nearly as writerly as I planned. This is mostly because of a pretty horrible health scare (not me, but someone very close to me) which was a big distraction, among other life things that tried to keep me from the laptop. I did manage to get to the local cafe where I enjoy writing a few days last month, however, so my word count isn't zero, but I'm glad I signed up for the 75k challenge this year rather than the 150k! February will be more productive. :)

My favourite Korean boyband has been making new musics and pretty videos and I have to share a couple of them here, as I am digging the beats and feeling the love all over again:

♫ "Monster," by EXO.

♫ "Lucky One," by EXO.

Funnily enough, ex-member of EXO Luhan is starring in up-coming blockbuster movie Great Wall. I don't know much about his role but it's good to see he's still active.
jenniferkoliver: (Quote | Zombie Brains)
If you're reading this at LiveJournal, I'm jenniferkoliver at Dreamwidth. Everything has been imported and moved over, and from now on I'll primarily post to my DW account with content being mirrored on LJ. I'll still answer comments and check a few communities at LJ, but it feels inevitable that gradually we'll all transition to DW. It's sad to see so many people deleting their LJs but I completely understand why. And though it's the end of an era for many, hopefully we can continue to build new memories on DW / other social sites and keep in touch with each other. :)

[community profile] getyourwordsout has kicked off for 2017! I believe you can still sign up if you haven't already, but be speedy - I believe the deadline is tomorrow (15th of Jan) unless I'm mistaken. I'm already loving the posts going up at the community, the sense that people are jazzed and eager to meet each other and talk writing and creativity. This is one of the best resolutions you can make this year if you're a writer.

Gods and Monsters, by Lana Del Rey.
17th-Dec-2016 09:56 pm - GrumpySkeletor, Lifeish, and Old WIPS
jenniferkoliver: (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
Before anything else, I have to point to GrumpySkeletor on Twitter. This account is a parody and if you're a child of the 70s or 80s, yes, it might tarnish your nostalgia but it's so entertaining.

So Christmas is just over a week away. Where did the last two months go? So much has changed for me since the spring, and it seems to have flown... Saying that, I'm so excited about spending Christmas with my boyfriend. We met at the end of April, and became officially official at the end of July. It's been amazing. It took a long time for us to find each other, but my friends and family were right - never give up hope, there is the perfect person out there for you.

I've also rekindled my romance with writing. Looking at old stories with new, slightly older eyes is doing wonders for my creativity. I see things I didn't before, and more importantly I see things beta readers pulled up that at the time I didn't agree with. It's OK to disagree with feedback sometimes, be it in your own mind or with a critique partner, but time works wonders for perspective. I put a lot of stock in being patient and broadening the mind.

Writing feels open and fresh again, which is what I had been hoping for. And yes, it took longer to come back than I thought (or wanted), but it's one of those things. Now I can add my new experiences to it and make a different flavour.

I love this feeling. Disconnect is horrible, even when you tell yourself not to fret too much and be patient. Doubt sets in when you can't remember how it felt to be creative and you begin to think all that other stuff was a fluke. In my case, I believe personal life things bogged me down and snuffed out my creative energy. It happens. But again, I truly think that if you are a storyteller - or any kind of lover of writing - it will come back.

So I'm cannonballing towards 2017 with enthusiasm and a growing sort of joy. I hope everyone has an excellent year. :)

The Dreamer, by Anna of the North.
jenniferkoliver: (Stock | Typewriter)
Usually, when a writer has finished a story or taken a story as far as they can, they send them out to critique groups or beta readers for feedback. As the author, it’s difficult disconnecting from a story’s headspace, and that makes it tricky to judge if everything is working. This is where critique groups and betas are invaluable: the fresh eye, the new perspective, the telling reactions. These all help author see where a story might still need work.

But there’s a big difference between a critique and an edit, and sometimes authors get back one when they really need the other. I’m going to talk about why, break down each one, and suggest things writers should do when approaching someone for feedback.

Critique:
A critique is an evaluation. It’s a review where you look at the bigger picture and consider things like pacing, clarity, character motivation, character arcs, plot and plot holes, weak dialogue, unnecessary exposition, theme and motif. This is where you think about whether or not every chapter, every scene, every paragraph advances the plot. You ask if all the characters are pulling their weight. You ask what the writer is trying to get across. Think: bigger picture, overall story.

Edit:
An edit focuses more on grammar, style, and punctuation. It picks apart paragraphs and sentences and looks for inconsistencies, repetitions, misused words, typos and spelling errors, awkward sentence structure, etc. It can expand to include suggestions on characters, dialogue, pace and plot, but these are generally smaller observations, on a paragraph by paragraph (or line by line) level. Think: details, fine tuning.

When you send stories out for feedback, be clear about the following:

1) How ‘finished’ is your story. It’s no good getting line edits on a first draft–it wastes everyone’s time. Ideally, you don’t want line edits until you’ve fixed the plot and characters. Plot and characters come first, and they should be analysed in a critique. Often revision is required, which can lead to whole chunks of a story being rewritten. How awkward when you have to explain to a beta reader who just spent two hours line editing your work that you’ve had to rewrite the entire story from scratch.

2) Be clear about what type of feedback you need. Specify the elements of a critique if your reader doesn’t know the difference. Ask questions (put them at the end of the story so as not to influence the reader before they start), and get them to write down their reactions as they read. Did their attention wander at any point, and if so, when? Were the character motivations clear and believable? Did the ending satisfy and tie in, at least a little, with the start? Was anything confusing? If the reader has never critiqued before, these questions will help guide them through it.

Writers become better writers much quicker through writing, reading, and critiquing. Editing will help teach you when to use commas instead of semi-colons, but it won’t teach you how to develop an engaging character with clear, compelling motivations, or sharpen your use of metaphor or motif, or just tell a damn good story. Semi-colons generally don’t sell fiction. Good stories do.

(Not, I want to add, that there’s anything wrong with a semi-colon! I ♥ them.)

If you’re a fiction writer, start critiquing. Do it every week. If you can’t find a fellow author to crit, then pull an anthology off a shelf and practise with that.

Here are some other excellent resources on writing critiques:

How to Critique Fiction, by Victory Crayne.

Nuts and Bolts of Critiquing, by Tina Morgan, posted at Fiction Factor.

15 Questions for Your Beta Readers, by editor and author Jodie Renner, posted at Kill Zone.

(Note: This post was originally written for Storyslingers. Cross-posted here in case anyone finds it helpful.)
16th-Apr-2014 11:27 am - Back online, finally!
jenniferkoliver: (South Park)
After three weeks of having no internet at home, and only sporadically being able to take care of important stuff using a friend's wireless, I'm finally back online. Aaah! There's tons to catch up with and I'm happy to be back, but there's a lot to be said for taking a few weeks offline:

I've written just over half of my new YA novel. As I said in my previous post (all those weeks ago), I'm using the Rachel Aaron approach and planning every chapter and scene before I write, aware of exactly what I want and need to get across before I start. I summarise the action, jot down small dialogue exchanges, list the themes/elements I want to shine, then I dive into the document. And my daily output has shot up—some days I'm cranking out 3000-4000 words, where before I was usually a 500-1000 words-per-day kinda gal. I'm sure things will slow down when the draft is complete and I start to revise, but for now, it's all jazz.

At the end of March me and a friend travelled to North Wales to attend the Sci-Fi Weekender 2014. We nerded out over some stunning cosplay, and got to watch live interviews with Graham McTavish and Royd Tolkien. I also especially enjoyed Festival of the Spoken Nerd, and Robert Rankin. I'm going to make a separate post for all of this, though, as there are a lot of pics and things I need to compile first.

I also dug two classical acoustic guitars out of the loft and I've been playing a little. There are some great sites that offer free user-created tab, pretty much any type of music you could want. I've found some obscure things and am having a ball relearning how to play between life and writing. It's been about thirteen years since I played guitar with any regularity, and it's amazing how much I still remember (I can even pick out an extremely slow, clunky version of Asturias, which is astounding. I mean, mine's terrible, but I remember the notes!). It's all tentative right now, but who knows, I might get back into it and start taking lessons again.

And there's a new EXO song teaser: Overdose. *squee*

Dark Star, by Fightstar.
jenniferkoliver: (Vintage | Stressed is Desserts)
As a long time Ice Road Truckers fan, and fan of big, Transformery-looking things in general, I'm happy to be writing short audiobook reviews for Trucking Magazine (UK). My first review is for The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I wanted to start with a favourite and a positive note, and I have to admit, I'm secretly hoping Optimus Prime sees it and gives the book a try, if he hasn't already, because ahhh, the human condition! Next up, I'm reviewing Damned by Chuck Palahniuk, which I'm currently working my way through (and feeling quite mixed about).

Totally unrelated, I've deleted my Facebook account. It's been a long time coming. Facebook's a network I've never felt comfortable using, even casually. I never wanted to share any personal info, even under friends or filter. I hated being tagged, particularly placed at a specific location, and I hated having to manually remove tags about me. I don't like the format or layout, and I dislike how difficult they make it to leave. It got to the stage where I despised even having to briefly log in to reply to direct messages. So it's gone.

Saying that, I still have a Twitter and Tumblr and Goodreads and Last.FM and YouTube and DeviantART, so it's not like I can't be found. I'm sure all those are enough to be going along with for now.

It's strange that I remove FB from my life right as I begin researching celebrity culture for my new novel. But thankfully I'm more focused on the A-List celeb beast, rather than the Internet fame type, although I know it'll come up later. I've been following this in the planning of the new novel:

How I Went From Writing 2,000 Words a Day to 10,000 Words a Day, by Rachel Aaron. I also picked up a Kindle copy of the e-book which contains everything in Rachel's post plus loads more specific to plotting and revising.

Right now, it's mostly plotting and developing characters, with little bursts of happy writing in between. But I desperately want to get stuck in and mash some words—even now I can already see an increase in my output.

Cafe Del Mar (Michael Woods Ambient Remix), by Energy 52.
jenniferkoliver: (Wolves | Blah Blah Blah)
I banned video games from my house so I wouldn't get distracted, then the other day at Storyslingers a friend handed me Beyond: Two Souls and The Last of Us to borrow. I mean, it would have been rude to say no, right? ;) Anyway, I've been tentatively playing Beyond: Two Souls and it's amazing. I'll do a separate blog post about gaming soon.

Previously I mentioned a crisis of faith about historical fantasy, but to be honest there's been a considerable crisis of faith about all my writing in recent weeks. So I dug out The Artists' Way by Julia Cameron and took myself on a Writing Date to a local cafe. There was mild bustle. There was hot chocolate. And there ended up being about 500 words, which doesn't sound like a lot, but for me at that moment was a breakthrough. I'm also in the swing of doing Morning Pages again, and have uncovered a couple of incidents from my past that I believe have been blocking me from consistency in writing. Being aware of these mental hurdles means I can try to get past them when they arise. It's not always easy, but it's definitely doable.

Plotting of the new YA sci-fi novel goes great. And I'm so happy to be able to say that! For a time my main characters weren't giving me anything, but now they're blooming and becoming interesting people, and I'm starting to really enjoy them. This, like my historical fantasy, is a dual POV (one male, one female). I seem to roll that way with long-form. I like alternative perspectives.

This is so silly, but do you remember Gizoogle? It was a thing back in 2005 (I can't believe it's been that long!), and I had no idea it was still online and working. Gizoogle will translate a web page, Twitter stream, or segment of any text into gangsta speak. I ran part of my very British, very Victorian-era novel through it and might subject my writing group to the results next meeting.

Swords and Sociology, Redux - great blog post by Kameron Hurley about how too much technobabble can pull you out of a story. From her post: "It’s this obsession with details that the POV characters really wouldn’t 1) know or 2) care about."

Jodie's Suite, by Lorne Balfe, from the Beyond: Two Souls OST.
13th-Feb-2014 06:04 pm - Planning For A Writing Life
jenniferkoliver: (Stock | Book!)
(This article was originally written for and posted to [livejournal.com profile] getyourwordsout.)

There are loads of reasons to be a regular writer. Writing regularly makes you a stronger writer. Writing regularly makes you a more focused writer. It helps with memory and recall, and with spelling, grammar and punctuation. It can be rewarding. It provides structure. It's brain exercise, and that can only be a good thing.

Trouble is, it's not always easy to get into the swing of regular writing. I've struggled with it in the past, and I still do. We all have down-times. Things happen in everyday life that are out of our control, and sometimes writing is simply impossible. Once you fall out of your stride, it's damn hard getting back into it.

But there are things you can do to ease you into a writing life. And if you plan to have a writing career, you really can't afford not to write regularly )

Love Until It Hurts (Aurosonic Progressive Mix), by Headstrong feat. Stine Grove.
jenniferkoliver: (Stock | Book!)
I forget about entertaining dialogue all the time. It's another one of those million things I'm still working on. I think that often when we write we convince ourselves we're writing snappy dialogue because the dialogue is fast-paced, but it needs more than just pace: it needs to distinguish character, show character ticks, traits, attitudes, and relationship dynamics.

I recently read "Genderbending at the Madhattered", a short story by Kameron Hurley, and ended up following the link to Kameron's blog because I wanted to see what else they'd written. And I found an article about writing character banter that's worth bookmarking, Who Cares? On the Importance of Banter and Character-Driven Narrative. I hope it's OK to post a brief excerpt here:

When I went back and looked at my own writing, I realized I was spending all my time trying to be a Serious Writer, and sorely neglecting all the humor and snark that makes life itself bearable. It was the revelation that maybe I should be spending more time figuring out snarky dialogue and fight scenes that eventually led me to write God’s War the way I did.

Sometimes we can get so caught up in something else – worldbuilding, or plot – that we forget about the people, and we forget that the world exists to make the people the way they are and the plot only exists because the characters move it.


(Also, I love that Dragon Age: Origins artwork has been used in the post, because Alistair and Morrigan are wonderful examples of character banter. Actually, I love all of the questing dialogue in DA:O.)

Black Dove, by The Daylights.
jenniferkoliver: (Stock | Balloons)
I'm back from New York, feeling exhilarated and happy and very refreshed. Now I'm home it feels like a dream—I can't believe I was there just a few days ago. Me and a friend flew out on Friday 13th (we figured there would be fewer superstitious types around that day) and came back on Saturday 21st. And the only thing I wasn't too keen on was the flying—everything else was incredible. My New York rambles include photos so I'll cut this for length to spare bandwidth and friends pages )

Oh, and P.S. [livejournal.com profile] getyourwordsout will be back for 2014! Sign-ups have begun and will remain open until 20th January. This is such a good challenge, especially if you want to increase your yearly word count. The community hosts tons of encouragement, games and discussions should you need them.

Sleepwalking, by Photek feat. Linche.
jenniferkoliver: (Bleach | Ulquiorra)
Here's a snippet from another of my new YA short stories. I'm attempting sci-fi again, this time with a horror edge. The two often go hand in hand for me, possibly because sci-fi alone scares me; I lack a lot of confidence in writing the genre. And even though I know deep down you don't have to be a science whizz to write it—reinforced by encouraging articles like this one by Andrew Penn Romine—I think you do need a certain tenacity to shine through. I'm working on that. And I'm having a hearty go at this one because I love the concept.

The stacks never sleep.

A rusty, unused rail track sidewinds across the land, snaking from stack to stack, factory to workshop, and down into the tumbled depths of monochrome waste. These rails were once used for collecting and carting debris, but the Machinists found that often the carts would get jammed behind obstructions, or get tossed in whirling, metal-shard cyclones.

But the Machinists have constructed more reliable transporters—efficient, self-sufficient.

And these new intermediaries do not need tracks.


I'm keeping characters under wraps for now, just in case I actually work this into something I'm not embarrassed to submit to a magazine. I think this marks my first venture into sci-fi not set on a future Earth. We'll see how it goes.

Terra Firma, by The Daylights.
9th-Dec-2013 07:13 pm - Building Sentences by Douglas Glover
jenniferkoliver: (Wolves | Girl with Wolf Hat)
Building Sentences is a short blog post by Douglas Glover up at National Post. I find his articles encouraging and thought-provoking as I hammer my way through various projects. (When I say hammer through, I think this manic writing spell has to do with my NYC trip; sort of an anxiety reaction that I'm trying not to analyse too much.) Douglas Glover has also written a follow-up post to the one above, Parallel Construction, in which he discusses the impact of the "but-construction" - a way to build tension on a sentence level. I'm a big fan of the but-construction. :)

I wanted to quote a bit from the Building Sentences article because it struck me as so beautifully simple, something we all should be aware of all the time but aren't because we're caught up in the million other things we're trying to do with our storytelling:

'You don't have to know what you're going to write ahead of time if you understand that the sentence is an adventure not a fact, that it is less about communicating than entertainment (in a deep sense), and that by creating then resolving an antithesis, the sentence invents something new, a fresh thought.'
-Douglas Glover.


Isn't that lovely? I need to keep this in mind as I construct my paragraphs, scenes, and stories. I forget this a lot. I want my sentences to be an adventure for readers as well as for me.

(As a side note, be careful clicking around National Post, because it will ask you to purchase a digital subscription once you've viewed a certain amount of pages.)

Starry Eyed, by Ellie Goulding.
jenniferkoliver: (FFVII | Sephiroth)
After two and a half long, dry months of little writing, a cluster of stories came and took over my life. Over Friday and Saturday I wrote two new short pieces, and then early Sunday I got hit by a third idea, something of a remix of an old, dead story that I shelved a year ago. And boom!

Looks like I'll be taking my notebook away with me after all, just in case. And to think, I almost announced a hiatus from short fiction a few weeks ago.

Here's a snippet from my Friday story, a YA horror/fantasy, currently untitled, still early draft:

"He cut his own hands off on purpose," they said, "so people would stop calling him thief."

Rumour is one of the oldest sources of ignition.

It starts at the heart of the common room after morning break, on the first day back to school after a searing summer. It begins with a spark—a tiny truth.

"I heard he was working weekends on Winfirth Farm so he could pay for that college girl to get a clean abortion," Chloe says before fourth period. She taps her pen against a Maths book graffitied with the names of the boys she's kissed, some struck-through, others lovingly bubble-written.

"What?" Rose says. She fans her face and neck with her book, whose cover is crisp and clear. "That's so much crap." It's not that she likes Xavier Bracken or wants to defend him. His tongue's as sharp as his cheekbones, and she's always thought his eyes too black and lips too thin. Plus there's the whole "Airbags" thing. She can't believe anyone would sleep with him, especially not a college girl.

And why would he cut off his own hands if he wanted to pay for an abortion?

"Do you want to know what I heard or not?" Chloe says.

"I—yes, go on," Rose says with only a second's hesitation.


SHIVER, by the GazettE.
31st-Aug-2013 01:19 pm - Synopsis, query, pitch. And Growl!
jenniferkoliver: (EXO-M | Tao)
I've been working on my synopsis, query letter and pitch, because I want to be a prepared bunny. Probably the most difficult one for me is the synopsis - and I think it boils down to the length, which might be related to my struggle with writing flash fiction. I love drabbles and micro-fiction. Give me 100 words or less, and I'm already formulating ideas. But give me between 100 - 1000 words, and I go blank. I've tried and tried and tried to write decent flash fiction over the years, and I still get the urge to flail my arms and throw sticks at my computer. For me, short stories are harder than novels, and flash fiction is definitely harder than short stories.

I haven't had the opportunity to pitch face-to-face yet, but I'm reasonably happy with the shape of my pitches (I currently have one single line, blink-of-an-eye pitch, and one slightly longer two paragraph pitch) and even though the notion is utterly terrifying when you stop and think about it, a part of me is drawn to the challenge. I'd probably have to be careful not to ask, "So, how was it for you?" straight afterwards, because that would be weird. Very, very weird.

The glorious EXO have been repackaged, just two months after the release of their first full album. Two months! Why so soon, SM? Oh, that's right, because you need more money like now. OK, but it's EXO, so I can kind of forgive. Mostly, I wanted to link to one of the new singles on the repackaged version of XOXO: Growl. This is one of my favourites yet, and the video is stunning (to be fair, it doesn't take much for their vids to be stunning...). There's also a dance only version here. As you can see, the 'rehearsal' version is almost as polished as the official. EXO are so shiny.

Comets & Violins, by Kidneythieves.
jenniferkoliver: (Stock | Kitty Love)
A lot of folk have mentioned Welcome to Night Vale and I'm going to add my voice, because it is unique and clever and just plain rollicking creepy fun. This is the blurb: Welcome to Night Vale is a twice-monthly podcast in the style of community updates for the small desert town of Night Vale, featuring local weather, news, announcements from the Sheriff's Secret Police, mysterious lights in the night sky, dark hooded figures with unknowable powers, and cultural events. Turn on your radio and hide. Great thing about Night Vale? It's free to download. Other great thing? It's extremely well produced and acted. And did I mention rollicking creepy fun?

I've had an idea for a new novel. Cheers, brain. I'm not done with the current steampunk novel and I've only just started outlining its follow-up, but now I have this third monster—a YA sci-fi about celebrity culture and self-identity. It was originally a short story I wrote last year that never quite came together or felt complete. And now I know why.

And it got me thinking: Sometimes you have a fully realised world and you try to work it as a short story, and you're sure there must be a way of showing what needs to be shown super subtly, in a condensed form. But some stories can't be pushed into small packages, and I think you have to go with your gut rather than struggle with them. Writers agonise over keeping things lean, but it should never be to the detriment of story.

Occasionally I would try to squish a story to fit the guidelines of my favourite magazines, but not so much these days. It wasn't healthy, for me or my fiction. Now I go with my gut, and try not to freak out too much if I realise that short story I've been bouncing around is actually a novel. :)

John Scalzi's Convention Harassment Policy - That the convention has a harassment policy, and that the harassment policy is clear on what is unacceptable behavior, as well as to whom those who feel harassed, or see others engaging in harassing behavior, can go for help and action. There's also a post where you can co-sign this policy.

I've never been harassed at a convention, but I've been inappropriately grabbed before, and I would hate for something like that to colour a fan's enjoyment of an event that should be a safe, welcoming and exciting environment.

Ashes to Ashes, by David Bowie.
24th-Jun-2013 02:25 pm - Conference happenings, and links
jenniferkoliver: (Stock | Shoes)
Winchester Writers' Conference was exhausting, but in the informative, busy, fun way. The opening speakers were Julian Fellowes (who wrote this little British TV show called Downton Abbey) and his wife, editor Emma Kitchener-Fellowes. I only took one photo, mostly because the day was so packed with workshops and talks and meetings that I forgot to take more ) Fellowes is entertaining and inspiring and has so much energy. His enthusiasm set Saturday off on the perfect note.

The day consisted of discussions, workshops and one-to-one appointments. I went to five talks: Settings to Die For, Self-Editing Before Publication, Means to an End, Making a Drama Out of a Crisis, and Not Another Vampire Story )

The one-to-ones were probably my favourite part. I got great feedback and each one was extremely encouraging. I came away thrumming with writerly delight.

It's not the cheapest conference in the UK, but in my experience it's definitely worth going to if you can.

NASA’s Sci-Fi Vision: Robots Could Help Humanity Mine Asteroids - from Universe Today. More sci-fi future nerdery, but an exciting prospect. So if Armageddon really does happen like the movie, we won't have to send Bruce Willis up there to blow it up. That's a relief.

Losing You, by Phaeleh.
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