January 3, 2012

Resuscitated Ask Robin Aftermath


Mismatched Socks

How do you convert ideas for stories you have into believable plots?
I start with about 4 cups of good flour, 5 cups of warm water, a tablespoonful of dry yeast and another tablespoonful of honey . . .

And then you stir it all together, cover, place in a warm, draft-free spot, and leave it alone for a while, right? 

That’s right.  But story-yeast can be rather slow.  Sometimes it’s years before the sponge has bulked up enough.  You just want to keep it warm and comfy and add a little more flour and honey from time to time.   It will of course suddenly start raging out of its bowl when you’re fully occupied whacking the gorblimey out of some other dough.* 

Also, this made me laugh. 

Oh good.  That was the plan.  Because this question also illustrates one of what are probably the two main reasons why I let Ask Robin slip.  Reason one:  Impossible questions.  What on earth was this person expecting?  The Chinese menu web site for writers?**  There isn’t an answer.  If there were there would be even more books out there . . . but they’d also be better books.

            I don’t object summarily or comprehensively to impossible questions per se—most of writing is about what might magnanimously be called guided floundering and it can be reassuring to compare scars with other people who have slammed into submerged objects in the murk—but I do rather object to the impossible question being plonked down in front of me like a dead fish on a slab.  The entirety of the email that bore this question was exactly . . . the twelve words of this question.  I grant that email is different from other written forms of communication, and I don’t usually bother with salutations either . . .  but to a stranger I’m asking the favour of free professional expertise/attention of?  Um, yes.   I’d stick a salutation in.  I think a ‘Dear Robin McKinley, Would you be willing to talk a little about . . . .’ would be nice.  Plus your name at the bottom.  This is big steaming pet peeve of mine.  Put YOUR NAME at the bottom of your email.  Cheez.  You don’t have to tell me I’m your favourite author, or even your favourite author this week and next week it’s going to be E. M. Hull***.  But a quick genuflection at the altar of old-fashioned politeness?

            Yes.  Damn it. 


THANK YOU for validating the way I write. I spent much of junior high and half of high school traumatized by English teachers who insisted that you absolutely could not write anything worth reading, much less grading, unless you wrote an outline first, and then plodded through sticking exactly to that outline stage by stage; and required that you turn in the outline to prove you’d done it, then a thesis and topic sentence for each paragraph, then…. 

And this illustrates the second reason† I have let Ask Robin lapse . . . and how I was wrong to do so.  I’ve answered the ‘how I write’ question before.  Many times.   It’s almost as common as the much-dreaded Where Do You Get Your Ideas? ††  It’s another one I have nothing against rambling on about but I’m a bit conscious that I’ve said it all before (many times).  So I’m relieved that it’s new and interesting to someone.

            I am not a consistent human being.  On the one hand I don’t expect anyone to read this blog every night or to have memorised my FAQ and Author as Bitch from Hell on the web site.  I’m also extremely conscious that certain, ahem, themes appear regularly in this blog.  On the other hand I’m reluctant to recycle too blatantly.  One of the reasons I decided to drag Ask Robin out from under the bed and dust her off however is the awareness that after four (?) years of blogging pretty much everything is recycled to a greater or lesser extent and it’s a bit daft that I’m a writer and never talk about writing. 


To submit a question for Ask Robin, email askrobin@robinmckinleysblog.com

Ask Robinses are archived in the Ask Robin Archives, a veritable treasure trove of… Ask Robinses!

You can also wander over to Robin’s Web site and peruse the most excellent FAQ

— Blogmom, who doesn’t do New Year’s Resolutions either (except for one-word themes for the year)††† but will try to keep Ask Robin Archives updated regularly 

Diane in MN

I saw a sign at a colleague’s work station years ago: If a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind, what is an empty desk the sign of? Hah! Guess what MY desk looks like. 

We be of one blood, thou and I.  So, is this a genuine quote by Albert Einstein?  Because if it is it so goes in the Quote Thingy.  But the last time I tried to add an excellent Einstein quote that someone had posted to the forum—“But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid”—it turned out to be an urban myth.  

             It’s still a good remark.  Maybe we should put it, or both of them, up as ‘anonymous.’

Horsehair Braider

You mentioned doodles and I got mine!  YES! It’s totally gorgeous and I love it. I’ll probably put it in my will. . . . To any who are waiting, it is SO worth the wait. My book is a treasure, and if I ever have the opportunity to have one done again I will leap at the chance, even if I have to sell a goat to afford it. 

Oh good.  ::Relief.  Relief::   Hmm.  Maybe there’s a future bribery opportunity here:   any guest post used on Days in the Life eligible for free doodle.‡‡  But surely you’d only have to sell a few extra cheeses for the book??  I’d hate to be responsible for a goat being sold that didn’t want to be sold.


Quats: I was taught that way too, but evaded it: wrote the paper, then the outline, then the first draft, etc. and handed them in at the right times–in reverse order. 

Emphasis mine.  You are so ooooooooorganised   WhimperI can’t even begin to imagine being—or ever having been—enough ahead of the game to do this.  AAAAUGH.  I will now carry this picture of Superemoon indelibly etched in my frazzled mind as I labour back and forth between doodle-desk and writing desk. . . .

            And speaking of the latter, I bet I could get at least another paragraph or two of SHADOWS down before I terminally fall out of my chair tonight. 

* * *

* Nooooooo!  Not the Seventeenth Third Damar Novel!  Nooooooo!  

**  Column A:  Heroine.  Column B:  Hero/2nd Heroine/Other Romantic Interest Not Covered by the Foregoing.  Column C:  Heroine’s Best Friend.  Column C(a) If Column A is human, than Column C is Nonhuman.  These may be reversed if desired.  Column C(a)(1) animal (2) alien (3)  Supernatural/paranormal/fey (4) Other.^   Column D:  Villain.  Column E:  Secondary Characters Who Move the Plot Along.  Column F:  Secondary Characters Who Screw Things Up More. . . .

            This could be fun.  

^ Special considerations:  these categories may be suitably adjusted if either (A) or (B) is nonhuman.  It is however in the highest degree desirable that at least one of (A) (B) or (C) is not human.+ 

+ Oh, did I mention this is the Fantasy Writers’ Chinese Menu? 

*** In which case I will be compelled to hunt you down and force you to memorize The Complete Works of Shakespeare and of Edward George Bulwer-Lytton.  I discuss E M Hull and THE SHEIK with some emphasis on my web site. 

† All right, three main reasons.  Third reason:  indolence

†† It’s also another impossible question.  How I write also depends on the particular story.  But the beginning-to-end-three-times-in-succession is pretty much my basic bottom line.  With story-specific curlicues.  The minutiae of how and where I keep notes, when or if I ever pause or go back to edit or change something in the current draft . . . feh.  I have a strong, Don’t you have something better you could be doing than asking silly questions? reaction, but I tend to be all over the details of other people’s jobs because they’re not mine and I’m an inquisitive dork^.  So, okay, fine, but remember that if you’re another writer what I say about how I write has nothing to do with you. 

^ And also I may be able to put them in a story some day  

††† I like this idea a lot, except for the fact that the words that keep occurring to me are things like ‘multimillionaire’ and ‘thirtysixhourday’.  


‡‡ All of you who liked Horsehair Braider’s first guest post and are waiting hopefully for the next one . . . she’s sent me one^ and I’m such a mess I keep failing to get back to her about it.  Given how I keep whining about guest blogs, this should give you some clue what a basketcase I am at the moment. 

^ And it’s funny


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