On Overcoming Phobias

(In which my loving wife tries to reassure me as I leave for the hospital)
Cindy: "How about this? Would you rather get your blood drawn or go to the dentist?"
Me: "That's a mean question."
Cindy: "Well?"
Me: "All right. If it was just a tooth cleaning, then I guess . . . No, the dentist lasts longer."
Cindy: "See?"
Me: "Fine. I'd rather get my blood drawn than go to the dentist. There, I said it."
Cindy: "How about 'Yay! I'm getting my blood drawn!'"
Me: "Don't push it."

The Sadistic Choice

One of the things that can make fiction compelling is an impossible, sadistic choice. Like in Hunger Games, when you want both Katniss and Peeta to live, but you know only one of them can. Or like I said about Open Minds, where Kira has to decide whether to lie about having no mind powers, to mindjack everyone she loves, or to tell the truth and put herself in serious danger.

An impossible choice keeps you reading, because you don't know what you would do in that situation, and you want to know what happens. BUT, there are some guidelines.

Erasmo must decide whether to eat mango or papaya for breakfast. If he chooses the mango, the papaya will go bad, wasting his money. But he hates papaya. What will he do?

Compelling? Not so much.

Erasmo recognizes the cab driver as a convicted serial killer, but if he doesn't take the cab to work he'll be fired. What can he do?

How about call a different cab (and the police)? Nobody likes a dumb protagonist.

Once at work, Erasmo's boss forces him to clean the bathrooms with a toothbrush or he's fired!

Neither option is pleasant, that's true, but it's not hard to figure out what he'll do.

Erasmo reads Hunger Games to see who Katniss will choose: Peeta or Gale. He waits. And waits. And waits...

Putting off a decision is valid and practical, but there should be either a reason ("We're at war! Now is not the time!") or consequences ("I didn't choose either and now they both hate me.").* Don't expect your compelling, sadistic choice to carry the reader through your story by itself.

* For the record, Hunger Games did both of these, but I still felt like Katniss was leading the guys on unnecessarily.

After everything he's been through, Erasmo takes the day off. He'll have to make the same decisions the next day, but I don't want to write about it.

I guess this could be a wacky literary ending, but I've never been a fan of those. If you do leave things unresolved, do so very, VERY intentionally (see Inception; seriously, go see it).

At this point, it's important to mention how the Sadistic Choice is usually resolved: with a previously unconsidered Third Option. It needs to be said, because it's easy to drop a Third Option out of nowhere and think you are, by default, being original. You're not.

As soon as you present the choice, your very intelligent readers will be looking at all the options, including the ones you haven't presented as possibilities. Especially the ones you haven't presented as possibilities. This makes it very hard to do something they don't see coming (which is, after all, the goal). How you do that is up to you.

Or else it's another blog post. I don't know. I haven't decided.

Statistics, Milestones, and Statistics

As of this morning (last night for you in the Americas), the first draft of Post-Apocalyptic Dragon-Riding Ninjas (with Mechs!) is finished, and I can breathe a big sigh of relief. Not because the work is done (far, FAR from it), but because drafting is my least favorite part of the process.

To celebrate, I'm posting these pre-revision statistics on the four finished novels I have sitting on my computer. (What, you don't think statistics are fun? Perhaps you've mistaken this blog for someone else's.)

I also submit these in the hope they will encourage any of you who feel you write slow: It Gets Better.

Time to Draft: 4.5 years, both planning and writing (mostly writing).
Outline: None (GASP!), but lots of notes.
Draft Length: 76,000 words.
Avg Drafting Speed: About 1,600 words/month.

Time to Draft: 19 months.
Outline: 244 words.
Draft Length: 100,000 words. 
Avg Drafting Speed: 5,200 words/month.

Time to Draft: 9 months.
Outline: 5,500 words (if you think I'm proud of that, read on; it gets better).
Draft Length: 48,000 words. 
Avg Drafting Speed: 5,300 words/month.

Time to Draft: 4 months.
Outline: 9,100 words (<--- !!).
Draft Length: 79,000 words. 
Avg Drafting Speed: 19,800 words/month.

I'm not quite at NaNoWriMo speeds yet, but I am finally at a place where I feel like I could produce a book a year, if I had to. You know, if someone wanted to pay me to do that (do you think that's too subtle?)

In Which I Map Social Media to High School Like Everyone Else, but with an Actual Map

It's a little frightening to me how well my social media experience maps onto my high school ones. This is a picture of how. Your mileage, of course, may vary (particularly if you hung out in the gym -- for me, that was like one of the Circles of Hell).

 Classrooms: Where we did Actual Work. This is why we were at high school, but nobody wanted to admit it. And for sure nobody wanted to hang out here. If we could, we would've hung out outside all the time.

Rally Court: Our quad was loud, busy, and everybody could see what everyone else was doing (which was how some of the cheerleaders knew me as "one of those guys who plays cards all the time" (spoken with trademark patronizing giggle, of course)). But for the most part, it was easy to catch up with friends here.

For me, Facebook is like this. There are lots of people there, including old friends I thought I'd lost touch with. But mostly I go there to hang out with my family and real life friends. It helps that many of Facebook's features make it easier for me to maintain conversations across timezones.

Cafeteria: Like the Rally Court, this place was loud and crowded -- even more so because it was enclosed. You could never tell if someone heard you or not. But as I became more socially adept, I had new groups of friends who didn't hang out in the Rally Court, and this was where I found them.

Twitter. It's loud, crowded, and I never know if anybody's listening. But some of my best friends are there, and I like how quick and easy it is to follow people and read updates.

Academic Quad: This place was exactly like the Rally Court, but with fewer people. Occasionally a couple of us would wander there to get away from the noise, but mostly nothing happened there.

Maybe Google will figure out some magic feature to make everybody switch over, but I suspect that what most people dislike about the other social networks is caused -- not by privacy issues or odd features -- but by the sheer quantity of people. If Google+ ever goes big, it wouldn't surprise me to hear a bunch of the early adopters complain about it.

Library: This was where I preferred to be, though not for the reason you think. We played D&D in there. It was relatively quiet, and mostly only people who actually wanted to hang out with me came in there, much like this blog.

In truth, I think the particular features of a social network don't matter nearly as much as who is on it. At least that's how it is for me. If everyone I know suddenly migrated to Bebo or Wooxie or (God-forbid) back to MySpace, I'd be over there too.


So am I the only one who played games all through lunch? What was your high school like?

On the Art of Socializing

(In which my wife Cindy and I discuss taking our five boys to a local playgroup)
Cindy: "I don't know if I want to go to playgroup tomorrow. But the boys would love it. I feel bad."
Me: "They have snacks at playgroup, right?"
Cindy: "Yes..."
Me: "I'll take the boys."
Cindy: *smirks* "You'd have to socialize with people."
Me: "You'd be surprised how rarely you actually 'have to' socialize."
Cindy: *laughs* "Yeah, you'll just sit next to the snack table with your book, not even checking to see if the boys are getting in trouble."
Me: "I'd watch the boys!"
Cindy: "See, this is why you don't get to go."

(A little later)
Cindy: "I guess I'll go, but I'm so tired. I don't know if I want to talk with anybody."
Me: "You want some tips on blowing people off?"
Cindy: "Sure."
Me: *gets excited* "Okay, first you need to look like you're doing something."
Cindy: *chuckles* "Like your book?"
Me: "Yeah, you take a book or a notebook or pretend you need to discipline your kids..."
Cindy: "I could talk to you on the phone."
Me: "That would work. Or headphones! Headphones are great, because you can pretend you don't even hear the person. And if someone doesn't get the hint, you make them stand there until they call you three or four times, then you make a big show of taking your headphones out and blink at them and say, 'Did you say something?'"
Cindy: *stares*
Me: "I've never done that before."

How Needles Almost Killed Me, and How I Got Over It (Mostly)

I'm waiting to have my blood drawn as I write this. There's little else on my mind.

I hate needles.

I always have. Even in my late 20s, I had to look away and hold my breath while the nurse said, "This will only pinch a little."

When we were preparing to move out here, we had to get a couple of vaccinations. One time in particular, I was so freaked out I couldn't eat breakfast or even sit down in the waiting room. I just wanted it over with. Well, they gave me the shot, but on our way out the door, I nearly blacked out.

I thought maybe I had just gotten up too fast (I did sit down while my wife got her shot), so I put my head between my knees until it went away. I didn't black out, but I wondered if it had something to do with what they shot into me.

My wife needed some medicine, but in the line at the pharmacy, I started sweating like crazy. My wife told me to sit down while she got what she needed. While I waited, it got even worse. I had trouble breathing, and my hands were tingling. I watched my fingers curl into a tight fist, ignoring every message my brain was sending them otherwise.

My breaths came shorter, but I managed to call my wife and she called the doctors. I thought for sure the shot had killed me, like I was having an allergic reaction, or they put the wrong stuff in the syringe or something. Meanwhile, the doctors were calm as a desert.

After a while, my hands began to unclench and I could breathe again. The doctors told me it wasn't anything terrible. I just had a panic attack.

And I felt like an idiot.

The whole thing was in my head. Made-up. Pretend. I could've prevented it, even, if I'd just eaten something beforehand and sat down for the shot (which they patronizingly had me do next time).*

It's seven years later, and not only am I not freaked out (well, a little bit), but I can even watch the needle go in and my blood come out. I don't like it, but at least I'm not dying.

I don't know exactly what changed me, but I like to give the credit to my kids. I didn't want them to grow up so afraid of needles that they believed the doctors were killing them. So I tell them over and over again that getting a shot does hurt, but only a little, like getting pinched. I even pinch myself and them to show how little actual pain there is.

And somewhere along the line, I started to believe it myself.

Anything you're afraid of?

* Although the patronizing might have been all in my head, too.