How I Figured Out Twitter (For Now)

I resisted the Twitter thing for a long time.  I didn’t quite “get” it, and didn’t really have the time to devote to another social network.  But in preparing to put myself out into the world, I figured that I needed to at least stake a claim, so I opened up an account in September and started using it in earnest in May.  And now I’m finally starting to feel like I get it.

First of all, if you’re a writer going after traditional publication, holy shit you need to be on Twitter.  I can’t really speak to how it allows you to connect with readers (although I’ve had a number of lovely interactions with my favorite writers this way), but as far as connecting with professionals in the field, it’s a gold mine.  Editors and agents are on Twitter, and they’re openly discussing what they’re looking for and what they’re seeing, providing updates on where they’re at with queries, and even answering people’s questions about the process.  And that’s not even touching on the pitch parties (which I’ve discussed before).  So yeah, get your ass over there.

Of course, management can still be a problem.  On G+, I will scroll backwards through my stream and just keep going until I start recognizing posts.  G+ gives you call kinds of circle and volume controls to try to keep it reasonable (and I’ll have to discuss circle management some other time), but with Twitter, following someone is largely an all-or-nothing proposition.  So, here’s how I handle it.

First: Tweetdeck.  I started using it because I needed something to schedule tweets for SFFPit.  It works well for that, but what I really use it for is the column feature.  (Note: There are many other clients and tools available to assist with Twitter, but this one is working well for me for now.)  I’ve got mine set up with nine columns:

  1. My “Can’t Miss” list – This is a private list I set up that includes people I have a personal connection with (so the people I follow for them and not just their content) as well as the agents who currently have my materials.
  2. #tenqueries – Several agents use this to tweet about their slush pile.  Quite fascinating.
  3. #MSWL – ManuScript Wish List.  Agents and editors talk about the specific (sometimes extremely specific) things they’re looking for.  So if you have something that fits, you know who to put it in front of.
  4. #pubtip – and…
  5. #querytip – Various insights into the process.  These hashtags are somewhat prone to abuse, which makes the Mute feature extremely useful.
  6. #askagent – Occasionally agents will announce that they’re going to be open to questions using this hashtag, so it’s a good chance to find out specific information about the process.
  7. Monday Blogs – I love Monday Blogs as a thing, but having it incorporated into my main feed was getting a bit overwhelming and made it harder to see everything else happening on a Monday.  So, within Twitter, I have this account set to not show retweets.  (That way if it posts anything directly, I still see that.)  Instead, that account has its own column in Tweetdeck, so I can go through specifically looking for things to read and RT, separate from my normal reading.  5 sanity points restored.
  8. #SFFpit – Although the event is over, there’s still some occasional chatter, so I keep this column open.  Plus, it’ll be all set for the next one!
  9. FBK – This one is a collection, which is a special sort of Tweetdeck column where I can add specific, individual tweets.  I’m using this one to gather my inspiration pictures for Camp NaNoWriMo so I don’t spam my followers with them and can find them again easily.  Very useful.

It’s a lot of columns, but most of them aren’t very active, and the touchpad on the Chromebook (which is a magic rectangle of happiness) makes it just as easy to scroll horizontally as vertically.  So it’s very easy to read those thoroughly and get caught up.

(Edit: Tweetdeck lets you combine searches!  It’s actually quite simple; just shove OR in between your hashtags.  So now I have the following combo-columns:

Many people seem to use variant hashtags to cover basically the same content, so this lets you track them without getting columnsplosion.  Ain’t technology grand?)

So that leaves me with the main Twitter feed.  Since I know that all of the important stuff is in Tweetdeck, I can scroll through very quickly, skimming and looking for good stuff.  I also give myself a time limit for how long I’ll spend at a stretch.  Once that time is up, I close out of Twitter, even if there’s still stuff I haven’t read.  It’s a constant pep talk I have to give myself, trying to remember that I can’t see everything cool on the internet, and that’s okay.  If I don’t want social media to take over my life, I have to set limits and be smart about how I approach it.

Of course, I’m only following a couple hundred people at the moment.  As I continue to develop my presence over there, I’ll have to continually re-evaluate this strategy: adding and adjusting lists, reprioritizing hashtags, perhaps moving to different tools as my needs change.  The biggest thing to remember is that I cannot let Twitter, or any social media or stuff that isn’t day job or writing, dominate my life.  I have to limit how much time I spend there, and then figure out how to maximize that time so I’m using it most effectively.

How about you guys?  Any tips or tricks I should be trying?  Anything that works really well for you?

Chaos Theory – Admin post

For the last few weeks of #saturdayscenes, I’ve been sharing bits from the first draft of Chaos Theory (my version of Alice in Wonderland) as I mull over what to do with it. 

Recently, I decided that one of the things it needs is to eliminate the current protagonist, because it’s just not working out.  It’s not you, darling, it’s… No it’s basically you.  While most of the other characters and a lot of the ideas are still sound, this means that the actual draft I’ve got so far is now pretty much unusable for a cohesive novel.

But it’s perfect for sharing delightful little snippets!  To that end, I’ll be posting all of the good bits (and there are some really good bits) of the current incarnation, right up through where the draft ran out.  This means I have to go back and add a couple to the current progression, starting today.  They’ll go up weekly over on my Google+ profile.  I’m discontinuing the blog updates for Saturday Scenes in favor of adding them to the shiny new Fiction section of the site after they’re posted to G+.

Also, I am thrilled to announce what is becoming a rather large project will feature illustrations from the fantabulous Laura Toivola!  You guys, I absolutely cannot wait to show these to you.  They’re seriously amazing.

Just wanted to get all of this administrative stuff out of the way.  Actual snippety goodness can be found here.

Case Studies: Megamind and Fridge Logic

Case Studies: Megamind and Fridge Logic

(Standard spoiler warning applies to Megamind.)

Megamind is one of those movies that I think was really hindered by its marketing, and specifically the desire to be overly coy.  The impression that I got from the ad campaign was of a generic superhero movie, except the focus is on the villain.  Interesting, but not terribly riveting, especially since it came out right around the same time as Despicable Me, a supervillain movie that at least had a clear premise.

But I caught it on cable a while back, and was impressed.  See, they wanted so badly to push the whole “Hey, Brad Pitt’s a superhero” angle that they held back the most compelling detail: he dies ten minutes in.  What looks like a generic superhero movie actually has a fascinating and largely unexplored premise: what happens when the villain wins?

Anyway, it’s a really good movie, and for a while it entered my sleepy-time rotation.  (I need background noise in order to fall asleep, so a nice, familiar movie often fits the bill.)  When you watch a movie over and over again every night, you tend to notice certain things.

To rewind a bit: One of the things this movie handles really well is its gadgets.  None of this James Bondy one-and-done nonsense where the cool gadget serves precisely one purpose and then disappears.  Instead, there are two or three of Megamind’s (Will Ferrell) inventions that reappear throughout the film and drive the action.  One of these in particular is the watch pictured above, which generates a perfect disguise, including height, build, and voice.

Megamind uses the watch to escape prison at the beginning, then to disguise himself as Bernard, a curator at the Metro Man Museum, to avoid being caught in his pajamas by Roxanne Ritchi (Tina Fey).  He ends up pursuing a relationship with Roxanne in the Bernard disguise… but still voiced by Will Ferrell, even though the few lines of dialogue that Bernard speaks as himself are provided by Ben Stiller.

This, of course, opens up a bunch of plot holes.  Why did the voice duplication fail that one time?  How did Roxanne, who’s been kidnapped by Megamind repeatedly, not only fail to notice the change in Bernard’s voice (after all, she spoke to the real one almost immediately before he’s replaced by Megamind), but place it?  And hell, wouldn’t the real Bernard have been reported missing at some point, and wouldn’t Roxanne as a reporter have gotten wind of that?  Noticing one inconsistency opens the door for a bunch of others, and starts to pull down the delicate house of cards that comprises any story.

Of course, there’s a very good extranarrative reason for this: without a consistent voice actor, it might be harder for the audience to track the character’s growth throughout the film.  But my point, and a good takeaway for writers, is that extranarrative reasons aren’t enough.  It has to work within the narrative as well.

It wouldn’t have been that hard, in this case.  Have Will Ferrell voice both characters.  Have someone comment that Bernard’s voice changed.  Have Roxanne mention that he sounds kind of familiar, but dismiss the thought.  With this, as with a lot of similar cases, half a moment’s acknowledgment would have been enough to smooth it over.

Obviously, this is a minor thing.  I didn’t notice it at all until after repeated viewings of the film, and it doesn’t prevent me from enjoying it.  (That’s what makes it fridge logic–the kind of thing that only occurs to you much later–as opposed to a plot hole that immediately jolts you out of the story.)  But I think that minor inconsistencies like this are what prevents a good movie (or book, or play, or comic) from becoming a great one.  Granted, getting caught up in trying to create something “great” is a dangerous trap that prevents creators from actually finishing their stuff, but learning to recognize these little nuances is a big part of how you develop your instinct for what makes a story work.

Cleanup in Progress

Administrative note: I’m doing some slight retooling to create a section for fiction, which will include the Saturday Scenes excerpts as well as a few other things for which I’m not currently seeking markets.  So the blog posts for that stuff may get edited, or may even disappear, depending on how I end up deciding to do it.

Thanks for your patience.  The whole site is still pretty new, but I’m hoping to get it all settled soon.

Saturday Scenes – Chaos Theory (part four)

Time once more for Saturday Scenes! Here we have another snippet from Chaos Theory, my Wonderland story from NaNoWriMo a few years back. (You can see the first, second, and third parts at the links.) In this bit, we’re switching perspectives and introducing some new characters.

In her chamber high above the entrance of the manor, Lady Galona stared out over the courtyard. The sunset finished its spectacular performance, leaving a deep, bloody stain across the darkening sky. She wanted to see that sunset as a good omen, she really did. She’d never had quite the knack for interpreting omens, but they could still come in handy if you could be sure of them.

It had not gone well.

She hadn’t expected much, really. She had thought that the summit was a foolish, desperate chance at holding things together in the absence of that silly nitwit who called herself the queen. Nonetheless, she had immediately stepped forward and offered to host, because desperate fools were always useful tools, and Galona had not gotten to where she was today by passing up such opportunities. Her estimation was that controlling the circumstances and surroundings of the meeting might allow her some measure of control over its outcome. She hated being wrong. People who tried to make fools of her usually ended up making the acquaintance of the headsman.

The torches went up around the courtyard, illuminating the figures milling about the red-veined white stone. Recognizing people from above always presented a bit of a challenge, but the most prominent of them, the heads of their unofficial delegations, were easy enough to spot. No one could have possibly missed the Duchess of Conroy’s massive, hideous black headdress — a ridiculous confection of ratty lace and cheap looking jewels — even amidst her obscenely large entourage, more than twice that of everyone else. A small army of black coaches pulled up, and without a word or a look back at anyone, she disappeared into the first and most ostentatious of them. Griff’s people prowled around the edges in the darkness, the lionesses’ gold armor glinting in the firelight, causing the nearest of the guests to nervously shy away toward the center. Griff himself had the manners — unusually for him — to walk upright and keep his wings mostly folded, though he kept fluffing their feathers unhappily as he conferred with Morska, who clung to his side, her dull, flat eyes wide with alarm. Off to one side, George and Giovanni, their mirrored corpulent forms encased in garish suits, argued animatedly while everyone tried to say out of the way and avoid any stray punches.

It had never been possible to reach any sort of consensus, of course. Hells, it had almost come to blows then and there, treaties be damned. Galona wasn’t particularly interested in consensus; wars always kept things interesting, changed up the landscape, brought out all sorts of delicious strife and animosity. The peace of Relidran bored her to tears. Indeed, if she hadn’t been able to reach across the divide and manipulate things in the mortal world, she might have died of sheer ennui centuries ago. As eager as she was for a proper dust-up, she had to admit that it certainly would have been easier if everyone would just agree that she had by far the best claim to the throne, better than even that brainless chit Rowanys, and stand aside.

But no, they couldn’t even agree that someone should step in and take over, despite the fact that it had been weeks now with no one on the Scarlet Throne, tipping their world further out of balance with each passing day. The Duchess in particular kept insisting that there was no need to take any sort of action, because Rowanys would be returning soon. This was the thought that held them all in check: while they all clearly suspected each other of being somehow involved in the queen’s disappearance, none gave any indication that they actually knew where she was or what had really happened. Had any of them really known the queen’s whereabouts, they would be much more willing to make an open move. Galona supposed that the whole charade had been worth it just to learn that much, but it was small comfort. As long as Rowanys was somewhere out there, possibly to return any moment, any power play held significant risk.

But biding their time grew riskier by the day. Despite the Duchess’s ravings that Bruadair had things well in hand, as though the royal consort held anywhere near the same sort of power as the sovereign, the cracks were starting to show. The land in Relidran had always been restless, shifting to suit its own whimsical, ineffable moods, true enough, but a strong and sure hand could keep things more or less in order. The lands normally under Rowanys’s care were starting to go berserk. A traveler on the road in that area might find himself making camp in the middle of a verdant field, waking up at the top of a mountain, and somehow ending the day on a tiny island in the middle of a powerful river. And the effect was starting to spread. At this rate, it wouldn’t be long before holes started cropping up as the realm ripped itself apart.

These were all very good reasons to have an interest in returning someone to the throne. Truth be told, Galona didn’t need any sort of reason, good or otherwise, to want a chance at the crown. She had been robbed of it, all those many years ago. Of course she was going to take any opportunity to correct the grave injustice, no matter how unlikely or remote. She had hoped that by playing the gracious hostess, she might demonstrate her fitness to rule, and perhaps gain at least one ally to support her claim. Before many words had been exchanged, it became painfully clear that there would be no coalitions or allegiances. Everyone who had even the slightest possibility of claiming the throne seemed determined to do so.

Griff roared a command to his people, and they disappeared into the shadows in streaks of tan and gold. The twins now stood alone in the courtyard, save for their few attendants, dressed just as horribly as they. In unison, the two looked up at her window, staring deeply through her. She locked eyes with them in turn, until they broke off and headed back inside. Galona slipped back into her high heeled red velvet shoes, patted at her pile of brassy curls, and hurried back out into the hall. Perhaps it hadn’t been a wasted day after all.