Thursday, 14 July 2011

Keep it Tense: Action Scenes

Have you ever been frustrated writing a tense action sequence? What should be tense and immediate wanders slowly to an ending like an explosion in slow-motion. The truth is it’s not difficult to make your action scenes stand out, if you keep a few things in mind.

Length
Long action scenes are boring. Action scenes are often packed with information, move and counter-moves that will leave the reader breathless. The longer you drag out the sequence, the more likely your reader is going to lose that sense of immediacy and just move on.

Description
This is not the time for flowery prose. Wax philosophical about the moon some other time, right now all your character knows is he’s in trouble and he needs to act now.

MRUs
For me, the discovery of the concept of the MRU improved my action scenes significantly. The idea of the MRU is that you break up the action of your story into two-beat units of motivation followed by reaction. This is a deep point of view trick that is even more important for action scenes. The basics are simple: Something happens, and the character responds.

Motivation
Keep the danger immediate and real. Don’t bother with the motivations of the scene’s antagonists, just describe their actions so that the reader knows the threat presented to the protagonist.

Reaction
In fight scenes, the reaction will be active. Movements and immediate decisions make for realistic responses. Thoughts should be short, feelings should be displayed through their action, and dialogue needs to be even more crisp than normal.

Tie all of these together and you’ve got a fight scene that should be well liked by your reader. Just don’t go overboard, too much of a good thing can spoil.

Monday, 11 July 2011

At Least I Have Good Storage

An author I follow, Alicorn, has two things on her site which confuse me: two projects she notes on her list of other writing as being embarrassing to her.

It took me a few minutes to work out why, because I couldn't fathom putting forth anything by my best.

It occurred to me then that having the full scope of an author's work is always interesting: Jane Austen's Lady Susan came out after her death, as did Robert Heinlein's For Us, The Living. The only difference, then, is that Alicorn is not entrusting her early creations to crumbling paper, but keeping them on the internet with her other works. She's not keeping drafts and things she feels she's grown out of just for family and friends. It makes sense, as nothing else she's had up was restricted in that way: her distribution is entirely online, from what I know.

And it gives us a chance as readers to note how much she's grown as a writer without having to wait for her to die and dig through her things, which is always a plus.

I have a similar, if more private, archive in my Google Documents. I think it's probably a sign of the generation I come from that I consider it more indestructible on a collection of servers than in hard copy.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Writing To An Audience

I'm participating in this contest. It's a fun contest, an endurance competition as much as quality. And the thing about having an endurance competition is that you get to know your audience, the judge, pretty well.

I've found that freeing in a lot of ways. Most of the other writing I do, I have in mind for a wider audience. I want to communicate my ideas clearly to a wide range of people. With this, I only need to appeal to one.

That came to the forefront with this round, which included a prompt for a poem. I wrote my poem and had four people read it. Four people who were not the judge, one of whom was also a participant in the contest. Of those four people, only one of them understood the subject matter of the poem, which was particularly dense and opaque.

If it were for any situation other than this contest, that would have sent me into paroxysms of editing anguish.

But this poem was for this contest, to be read and parsed and understood by one judge. I knew he'd get it, so I took their comments about flow and meter to heart for my revisions and tweaked it before submitting it, ignoring their suggestions to make it less opaque.

My faith turned out to not be misplaced: the judge understood the subject matter. I'd gotten through to my audience.

Most of the time, most of us aren't lucky enough to be writing for an audience of one. But what would our writing be like if we were?

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

There is Nothing quite as wonderful as Money, Money, Money

One of my friends is completely and utterly baffled at the fact that I don't want to write for a living.

Now, a lot of my friends don't believe most of the things I say, for their own reasons--usually because they can't wrap their head around what I'm saying. I don't begrudge them that, by the way; I can't fathom some of the things they're talking about either. But why do we have to turn everything we love into a moneymaker?

I don't want to write to get published. I never did. I don't write to inform people, or to persuade them. I don't write to churn out the next Great American Novel, or New York Times bestseller, or international sensation. I don't write to be controversial or edgy, or to make people think deep philosophical things.
If I do those things, that's a great side effect. If you do, good for you. But that's not why I write.

I write to entertain. That's all I've ever done. All I want to do is tell a good story--or even a bad one. If people like it, it doesn't really matter, does it?

Now, I'm just going to come out and say it. I've had a really hard time writing lately. Haven't written a thing in months, in fact. Why? Long story. I'll try to sum it up.

It's incredibly pathetic, but I got broken. In the past, I've forgotten why I write; just every now and then I'd stop and go, "wait, this isn't fun anymore. Why am I doing this, again?" And I'd think, and I'd remember why. And I've been trying to cling to that. Then I made the mistake of taking some people more seriously than I should have, and I convinced myself that their goals were what I should have been after, and made them my goals. Did this negatively affect my writing? You bet your ass it did. For a while there I just threw up my hands and gave up writing altogether, because the stories I wanted to tell just didn't work for the new goals.

I lost my love for writing, and in forgetting why I write I lost a part of my soul. And it hurts. It hurts something terrible, because I haven't gotten that love back yet. I'm remembering my goal and trying to keep it close, but the passion's been broken and it's going to be difficult to get back. It's not something that just magically returns when someone admits "just write the story the way you want to," or when they say "but that story's great, you should finish it!"

This is why I decided, years and years ago, that I didn't want to turn writing into my career. I love it too much to turn it into a career. If I turn that into a money making endeavor, then I'm going to have to be constantly writing, constantly researching, constantly marketing myself and trawling the freelance markets for pittance just to stay afloat so I can finish writing my novels. Writing doesn't pay well unless you hit it big, or constantly whore yourself out, and I knew I wasn't going to strike gold the first time and I didn't want to do the latter.

And what I feared came to pass. I stressed out about my writing and became so obsessed with twisting and warping this story I had loved into something that the mainstream market would accept and pay me for that I stopped loving to write.

Some people can write for a living. If you can, good for you. But I can't.

I just love it too much.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Herding Cats

I've seen it done, in cartoons. It's that symbolically difficult bringing together that has become an easy throwaway line.

It's also often compared to organizing writers.

We like to think of ourselves as all strong-minded individualistic souls who refuse to compromise, who go our own way, who go where no man has gone before and do it better, faster, harder, stronger. We like to think of ourselves as isolated, the starving writer in his dark office churning out small bright gems to change the world.

We're all fantasists.

Every novel in production is a team effort: author, editor, publisher, agent, designer, printer and everyone in between. Anthologies and magazines and writers' societies and guilds and federations and forums and support networks even more so. Group blogs, too. They all require cooperation and communication and consideration. And they happen, every day, which rather negates the statement that organizing writers is like herding cats: with purpose, pettiness can be set aside, because glittering results are all that matter.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Burnout

Everyone experiences burnout eventually. As a blogger, I experience burnout whenever I constrain myself to a tight little circle of subjects. For example, my gaming blog only kept up as long as it did because I wasn't focused on just games, but on game design, running and playing games, and general game theory. That's a lot of ground to cover even if it all falls under 'games.'

In writing, I've always experienced burnout eventually, since blogging about writing is a very solitary thing. Every person who writes about writing puts out information only from their point of view, a highly draining exercise for an introvert (I'm generally introverted, don't let my blog or twitter presence fool you!).

So how do you overcome that problem?

First, don't get tied down to a single concept of what you're talking about! Seriously, if you start with writing, get more specific. Are you talking about copywriting? Blogging? Grammar? Make sure it has enough depth to talk about for a long while!

Then, spread out. Pick some related topics, things that tie into the core of your content, but are interesting and give you room to explore. A number of people I know who blog about writing also blog about movies (As an audience member). This is a great relationship of topics since a stronger understanding of the one helps the other!

The last tip only works if you're blogging for branding purposes (Meaning your blog is about you, not about a topic), don't worry if you change up to other things that interest you once in a while!

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

The risks and benefits of free

About a month ago, I compiled some of my best flash fiction pieces that were sitting around not doing anything, and released them as the free collection Sunset on Mars and Other Stories, a Smashwords exclusive. So far it's had 115 downloads, but here's the kicker ... that didn't correlate to any increase in sales for my related novel, Flyday.

Sure, it's sold copies since then, but every time someone buys it, they've told me (or my marketing expert) why they did: they heard one of us talk about it and thought it sounded interesting. They didn't read Sunset first. Some possible reasons? a) The free collection is really short (at 1500 words, the size of a small short story even); b) Smashwords just isn't as popular as something like Amazon, where it would have more visibility; and c) I didn't promote it as much as I promoted Flyday.

It's definitely being read. But if it isn't drawing readers toward my book as well, I need to change my strategy. Maybe I'll post the stories directly onto my blog, to draw in readers who prefer to read something short on a screen. Or work on more short stories, add to it and put it on both Smashwords and Amazon for $.99. But I think it was good practice to format another ebook, and was a good refresher for when I'll release my next novel later this year.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

So I said last week that I was going to make a miniature figure of one of my characters.

Guess what?


Bam. He doesn't look like much right now, I'll admit, but that's because he's all white sculpey still, at this point. I haven't even cured it yet. (By the way, I'm thinking of boiling instead of baking--any opinions?)
All in all, I think he looks pretty awesome for being the first mini I've ever made.

Can't wait to see him all painted up.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Everything I Know About Foreshadowing I Learned From Homestuck

Have you read Homestuck?

Well, 'read' is an inadequate verb, as Homestuck has a soundtrack, and animation sometimes. And an intense and involved fan community, whose wild mass guessing is more or less key to some parts of Homestuck.

First among the things I learned is that foreshadowing can be more opaque the more people you can get to try to shed light on it. There is an extensive wiki for Homestuck and an exhaustive TVTropes page, which all add background dimension to the story. If it weren't for the foreshadowing being obviously there but not obviously leading to something, I wouldn't have gone to the wikis and - and this is key - I wouldn't be as invested in the story and the series.

Second is that you can baldly tell someone what is going to happen, in detail if you want to, and then proceed to tell the story that leads to the events you told them about, and, if you've done well, and gotten the reader involved in the story and made them care, they will still be shocked.

Other things I learned about writing from reading Homestuck I'll have to tell you later in another post.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Betas - care and proper feeding

If you're an indie writer, you're going to need betas. A beta (literally, "the second in a series," after the Greek letter) is a person who reads a writer's story and offers comments. Betas are usually a writer's friend, and they read and critique a story for free (or a low price). New writers often can't afford professional editors or proofreaders, so the beta's job is an important one--catch errors, and offer an opinion for revisions.

I rely on some betas I've met through writing forums, and we use Google Docs to share our work and read comments. Docs is easy to get started with and the files read like Word documents, but with the additional capability of letting other people edit or add thoughts in real time.

However, in the early days when I was writing, I had to print out files for some of my readers (friends and family) and physically deliver or mail them.

I thanked four of my betas in the dedication of my first novel, and everyone who helped with the novel got a coupon code to download the completed book from Smashwords, or a printed novel if they were really instrumental in getting Flyday polished. And I offer critiques to my betas' work as my schedule allows (although I have less and less time for this lately).

The writer/beta relationship is a great one, because every writer needs a second set of eyes before a story is ready for readers.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Getting it out

I have a confession.

I'm a perfectionist.

No, seriously, I'm that horrid type of perfectionist that if I can't get it RIGHT I won't do it at all! It's horrible.

Over the years, this has affected how I write. I now outline. Very detailed, scene by scene breakdowns of everything that should happen to make the story work. I also play with the characters in my head for a long while before starting that outline.

Then I start writing, often editing as I go. This always produces the same issue: I produce a damn fine scene. . . and then I burn out. It's hard to be 'done' all the time.

On my current WIP, I changed my pattern. I wrote down the cool ideas and made a scene, and I'll get back later to firm it up, add where it has holes, and will make it like the first scene (Oh, yeah, I still 'perfected' the first scene. Old habits and all that!) and present it to betas then.

So I'm here with a plea: Get it on paper. You have all the time in the world to fix what's already written, but ideas are often fleeting.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Switch Media.

Page 99 of The Observation Deck by Naomi Epel.

I won't sum up what those two pages say. I don't have to, it's all in the title. (I will briefly plug the kit, in that I believe it's worth a look-at. I got it for Christmas one year and have loved it ever since.)

I've given up writing and I'm going to make a miniature of Forever Moore using a wire armature and Sculpey and acrylic paint. Maybe I'll be able to finish the story when I have a thumb-tall figure of the narrator giving me sad looks from whatever surface I perch him.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Metaphor

So, I was going to write this long post comparing writing a novel to a love affair, but I was having some trouble elucidating some of my points, so I turned to KB to bounce ideas off. After discussing it, I had to discard it as an untenable metaphor. It wasn't something I could make make sense to someone else. Not coherently, not elegantly, despite it being a very simple idea to me.

Metaphor is one of my favorite tools, so it saddened me to not be able to make this one work for me. But one of the most important aspects of metaphor is to know when to stop, know when pushing it farther will make it all fall apart.

Some metaphors are easy cultural shortcuts, like the apple not falling far from the tree as reference to heredity. But the stronger ones, that will stick with people after they finish reading, are always going to be the ones that don't take the shortcuts.

We remember freshly blazed trails. Well-worn footpaths require something fresh to stick out. Which, in terms of metaphor, does not mean Newton jokes.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Just finish it!

Allan Edwards wrote a great post called "Oh, Just Publish the F---ing Thing Already" on his blog, and it really struck a chord with me. I am one of those writers who has to write and rewrite over and over again before I'm pleased with the final product. Then I have to show it to 3 betas. Then one will have a concern and I'll rewrite a scene. Then I'll show it to three more people...

The fact is, you can't please everybody. You can show a story to 10 different people and all of them could make a different suggestion. It's when many people point out the same issue that you need to start rewriting. If one person has a concern and two other people don't, you can probably let it go.

And writers do need to write a lot. So with that in mind, I'm going to write my second novel without worrying if it's perfect--I'm just going to write a great story.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

The Profit Motive Is Good For You

I’m kind of a late comer to the party of the ‘e-book pricing debate’ but it’s really getting out of hand. One side literally is racing for the bottom. Make it as cheap as possible; more people buy it that way. The other thinks that the price each individual buys a book for somehow denotes its worth. Both groups are dead wrong!

The race for the bottom group thinks pure numbers are the key to worth. They think every person who buys into their book boosts them up some imaginary totem pole of writing. Good for them. Unfortunately, numbers don’t denote value in the world of art, and generally the wider the appeal, the lower the literary merit.

The ‘price for its value’ crowd isn’t likely to live off their writing either, though. If you think your book is worth 20 dollars, ask for that, and the numbers fall where they may. But don’t tell me that you priced it based on its value. You, as the author, don’t get to make that claim.

So, if it’s not the ‘ask for its worth’ and not ‘how low can you go?’ where is the real price we, as artists and craftsmen, should be asking for?

The obvious answer is ‘that depends.’ I don’t like that answer, but it’s the truth. But it doesn’t depend as much as you think!

There’s a concept called elasticity of demand. It’s a basic measure of how many fewer customers you’ll reach by increasing the price a certain percentage. It’s a useful tool for clipping in to an equation to find your ‘one true price.’

The problem? That value is always an estimate. You can’t guarantee the elasticity of demand on any product, but you can do your research and ball park it. So in the e-book market, which factors should you be considering before settling on your price?

Competition
Look at your genre. What are other authors putting out, and at what prices? Don’t look at the bottom: look at the range, look at how well they’re selling (Especially if you have competitors like J.A. Konrath who so kindly shares his sales numbers), look at the standard deviation of the group.

These numbers are all important. They tell you what the market is allowing people to price at.

Uniqueness
All right, serious discussion here: Anything they can get from you, they can get from another author. Except for you. So how much of a brand are you? Do you know you have 10,000 people willing to buy what you wrote? 100,000? Only 1000? These are all things to consider when you start thinking price.

Not sure what I mean by becoming a brand? Check out Kristen Lamb’s blog on social media for writers.

Royalties
Money, folks, it makes the world go round. And royalty rates can run a very interesting scale. Especially if you’re an indie publishing using Amazon’s kindle Direct Publishing. The basic idea here is you need to compare your potential reader base with how much profit you can make from them.

That’s right, folks, profit motive. It’s the greatest thing we have in this new digital age. Our books are as valuable to us as we can make monetarily in putting them into the world. So be smart, do your research, and run a few calculations. You’d be surprised some times.

Just because I know someone out there is going to ask me to put my price out there, based on some baseline assumptions (Straight line loss of readers as price increases, floors at approximately 10% of readership somewhere around the 10+ dollar range.) the optimal price in a vacuum is approximately $3.99. Of course, that’s my baseline, there’s room for movement both ways in the scale.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Terry Pratchett

So Sir Terry Pratchett is going to kill himself. Maybe. No, really.

And you know what? I understand. I can't blame him. He's got early onset Alzheimer's, for all of you who live under rocks. And for those of you who don't know what that means, it means his mind is going and he'd eventually end up drooling and unable to feed himself, nevermind be able to think and compile the masterful fantasy-comedies he's been writing for years.

A mind is a terrible thing to waste, or to see waste away. So when it's all said and done, I can't blame the poor guy for wanting to end it when he wants to, before that brilliant mind is swiss cheese. Yes, I understand that there are more variables than just wanting to die, that assisted suicide has a lot of political, social, and moral implications to consider. I'm not saying I advocate it, or that I'm dead-set against it. I'm not here to preach about my own views or whether or not I believe he should do this.

I'm just saying I understand why, and should he choose to do so--and is allowed to do so--I will still respect him. Good luck, Sir.

Monday, 13 June 2011

The Importance of Being Referential

True Names takes a notable line and makes it their topic sentence. To anyone familiar with the referenced text, it's a synopsis of parts of the story to come and also the theme and the genre. It's an easter egg. It made me giggle softly in a public place, startling the man sitting across from me. I read the sentence twice, just to revel in it.

What, you might ask, is this paragon of sentences?

"All across Beebeself, it was a truth universally acknowledged that a singleton daemon in possession of sufficiently massive computation rights must be in want of a spawning filter."

To be perfectly honest, I also read it twice to be sure I was parsing it correctly.

The source material that this sentence references is the first line of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice; "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."

This is a case where building on a widely culturally recognizable landmark, such as one of the most famous opening lines in the English language, adds to a text rather than subtracting or distracting. It provides context: the rest of the world of True Names is fascinatingly alien, but drawing this connection to a staple of English romantic literature makes it relatable, gives us a frame of reference for the reading.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Covers

I’m a writer, but I’m an artist too. Not much of one, I’m still in school, but an artist to some degree. I’ve done a couple of covers this year for friends and fellow bloggers Eileen and Laura. Both have been freebies, since they’re friends and I owed ‘em anyway. Eileen “commissioned” me to do the cover for the online litmag she’s part of (this was the more exciting of the two freebies) and Laura I did the cover for her trio of flash fiction stories.
I’m going to take the side of the artist right here and say that if you have a particular vision for what you want the cover to look like, why not mention it to the artist? (If they shoot it down, ask why, and be nice.) I can’t speak for other artists, but I personally like having some parameters to work in, because then I know that what you’re getting is something that a) you will like and b) will fit the story.
When I did the cover for the litmag, I had pretty much total control. I was told to do something “apocalyptic” so I went with a photomontage style, with a tank and planes and all in black and white and gray. I liked it. It wasn’t perfect, but it was serviceable. But when I sent it off, I got the response that it wasn’t what they’d been looking for. Ah. The words “steampunk” and “train” got dropped, and I latched onto those—my parameters. Would have been nice to have those beforehand, but ah well. I cranked open Photoshop and got to work. (And then when I was about done with the second version, PS crashed and I hadn’t saved. Yippee. Always save the file, people.) The second version was what they wanted and what was used, and all was well with the world.
The second cover was a favor, and as such I had a fair bit more freedom over it, since I was doing it of my own free will. I wouldn’t even be offended if Laura decided not to use it. I whipped something up and sent a couple versions of it to her so she could pick which one she liked, if she liked either. Well, one was a big hit (I liked it, she liked it, win-win!) and is in use.
Writers, talk to your artists. We can’t read minds, and if you give us free rein then we’ll take it, and you have to deal with what comes out of that. If you want something, mention it (or insist on it, if you must) but please keep an open mind. What you want might be too difficult, unclear, or just plain bad.
Artists, talk to the writers. Listen to what they ask for and don’t get frustrated if they nix your first design. Make sure to ask if they have something in mind, and see if you can work with it if they do. Don’t be afraid to explain why their ideas might not work.
(Again, I am NOT a professional either of those things! These are just my thoughts on the subject.)

Friday, 10 June 2011

Word Choice Drools

"Waves broke against its supports. It had a skyline as intricate and twisted as a city's. Above the three leg-pillars was a cluster of seemingly random spires, and cranes moving like clawed hands; and over them all a huge minaret of girders soared and drooled fire." -China Mieville, The Scar

I read this book years ago, but some of the descriptors have stuck with me--first and foremost China's use of the word "drooled." In the above paragraph it's fire, but that's not all; water drools, blood drools, venom drools. It's a slow, sluggish, grimy word. I imagine the water to be almost more solid than liquid, slowly spreading out like gobs of glue.


Now, we've all heard it before; how you write and what words you pick are important. And they are, they really, really are.

Take the above example. How would the imagery change if the skyline was solid and blocky, the cranes moved like dead trees in the wind, the minaret was a tower, or the fire was spat? Maybe it's not that big a difference. Or maybe it's the difference between "died" and "was murdered."

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Live and Share

Readers just want a powerful emotional experience.

Give it to them.

You’re human, too. Push the buttons you know work so well. If you have siblings, you know precisely which buttons to push; you’ve been doing it for years.

You’ve got dreams. Hell, if you write, your dreams are probably grander than most people. Invite them on a journey they’ll only take in their dreams. Let your characters do the thing your reader wants them to do.

You understand set-backs. Again, you’re a writer; you know what it’s like to get frustrated in your goals. Share it.

My point is: Go out and live life, then show that life to your readers. They’ll thank you.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Debut

I have two stories. One is a space adventure masquerading as science fiction, dealing with aliens, monotonous space travel, kidnapping, and interplanetary ecological activism. (It’s not as interesting as it sounds, trust me.) The other is a mystery/thriller/SF/fantasy revolving around death, drugs, madness, and a doomsday clock. (A lot better than it sounds.)

The first one, Glitch, was written over the summer of 09 and is far more lighthearted than the second one, Blue Star; but in some respects Star is the superior work. They’re both good, but as an author, which one do I debut with?

First impressions are everything. This is especially true for continuing works—series in particular, but writers as well. Most writers tend to have a niche, one genre that they’re good at and stick with. This is great for marketing, because the audiences of those particular genres will find those authors and read their work and, more importantly, stick with it. Your loyal army of fans.

This can be great, fantastic, the best—if you have a niche, a genre, a place to snuggle in and let your readers chase you down. For genre-hopping authors, however, it’s not such a great thing. This is why Stephen King wrote romance novels under a pseudonym. (What, you didn’t know that?)

Do I start chronologically, with my more lighthearted tale of kidnapping in space, and alarm readers who pick up Star expecting more of the same, or do I begin with my admittedly better but far darker story of a hunt for a serialkiller and let down readers who picked up Glitch hoping for another tale of intrigue? If you can’t stay consistent for your fanbase, you might not end up having a very big one.

Readers like more of the same. It’s why people have favorite authors; so that they can follow that name, pick up a book, and get what they want and, admittedly, expect. Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t experiment. Personally, I believe that exploring genres helps one grow as a writer. But if you plan on genre hopping, like I do, maybe you should use a pseudonym or be ready for your readers to be confused or betrayed when they pick up your romance novel after reading your horror one.

Monday, 6 June 2011

The End

Endings are hard. They're as hard as beginnings, and sometimes harder. With a beginning you have a blank slate, with nothing but the reader's expectations. By the end you have an entire story to deal with on top of those expectations. You can't let the reader down by just slapping an ending on there or letting them decide.
Here are a few articles I read, just to give you an idea of what research I did for this.
Sometimes you have the ending planned out--the entire story was building up to this, this one moment. Sometimes you figure out the ending as you write, and the story leads you on to a place you didn't expect but know in your heart is right. And sometimes--sometimes you have to choose.

I'm admittedly leery of using Blue Star as an example for this post, because it's a mystery, a thriller, and the ending is, well, spoilery. So I'm not going to say details, just vague stuff.

Star has a Punnett Square ending choice. (For those of you who never took biology, this is what I mean.) I had different variables, different things that could happen to the setting, the main characters, so on and so forth. There were two massive variables that would affect the entire story. I'll call them X and Y, for brevity's sake.

So now I have this.


X HAPPENS
X DOES NOT HAPPEN
Y HAPPENS
X AND Y HAPPEN
Y HAPPENS, X DOES NOT
Y DOES NOT HAPPEN
X HAPPENS, X DOES NOT
X AND Y DO NOT HAPPEN

So which ending do I give the story? What message do I want to send? Things will be very different depending on which one I choose. Which ending does the story deserve?

It can be a tough choice, and an agonizing one. I managed to get input, and talk it over with some of my betas, getting input on which endings would sour the reader or make them feel like they got shortchanged. In the end, though, it's my story. No one else can write it for me, and I have to take these opinions and my own and pick the ending I feel is best. Don't feel you have to suddenly make the hero and heroine get together. If the story ends with the bad guy winning, then the bad guy wins, and maybe you can write a sequel. Haha. Sometimes you can give your readers the happy ending.

But sometimes, they don't live happily ever after.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Carrots for Asses

The reward system.

I love it.

I love it and I use it and I advocate it. It helps you write! (And do other stuff!)

You want that cupcake. You know it's there, and it's yours. You're gonna eat it and love it and when you're done you're gonna sit down and write--WAIT! Don't do it! Use it as a reward! Write first! When you get maybe 100 words written, or whatever arbitrary goal you set, THEN you can eat the cupcake. It's a reward for doing a good job--or at least for doing something.
(Think "positive reinforcement," if you want.)

Fine, you think. But I shouldn't eat the cupcake anyway, I'm on a diet. So now I don't have to write, ha!

But you do. And you know why? Because I'm going to dare you. I'm gonna lay a challenge at your feet and slap you with a white glove. I challenge you to a word war.

The word war is a simple thing. Anyone who's tried NaNoWriMo has probably heard of it. And it's simple as hell, so you have no excuse, really. Here's what you do.
  • Get a partner. You can do it by yourself if you're dedicated, but having a fellow writer helps immensely. Plus...well, it's a war. They can be free-for-alls, too. I've been in a war with four or five other people before.
  • Set a time limit. I like five minutes, personally, but that doesn't mean you have to do it. Some people go for ten minutes, or an hour. Just set a duration. (For example, :10 - :15. )
  • Get ready, get set, GO! Set everything else aside and just write for the duration of the war. The aim is to get as many words down as possible. They don't have to be perfect. They shouldn't be. Turn off the inner editor and write.
  • Compare. When time's up, share how many words you wrote with your partner. Whoever got the most words wins! (Note: there is typically no prize for winning, other than the satisfaction of having written more than the other guys.)
I love these. I've had days where it's just war after war after war, and I get way more written than I might have otherwise. Word wars are fantastic for people with a competitive streak.

But I have no one to write with, you complain. No one's here and the internet's out!

Fine, fine, I'll feed you, baby bird. Grab a kitchen timer, set it for ten minutes, and do nothing but write for those ten minutes. Or you can just sit there and stare at the paper/screen for ten minutes. Whatever floats your boat. The only stipulation is that you can't do anything else. At all. No internet, no phone (stop texting and turn the damn thing off!), no reading, no nothing. Either you'll get bored and start writing, or you'll sit there and sit there and sit there.

I'm just gonna sit here, you say.

Fine, I give up. I guess you'll never be a writer.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Procrastination Ain't All Bad

Okay! I'm here to tell you why procrastination can be a good thing! Yes, you heard me right. It can be a good thing.

This study, while not about writing, shows that people are more productive when they aren't agonizing over something and constantly thinking about it. This is why a lot of the time people say that they'll sleep on it. Sleeping is how the brain figures out a lot of stuff--but that's going into neuroscience and I don't know a whole lot about that, so I'll shut up about it for now. I'm sure you guys can find some more information if you need it.

Anyway!
I'm not saying procrastinate all the time. That's counterproductive and bad. I'm saying that if you've written yourself into a corner, don't sit there and torment yourself trying to figure out how to undo it. Let it sit. Sleep on it. Do something else. Then come back, and maybe now, having let your brain rest and take a break, a solution will appear!

Also, taking breaks helps ease burnout. No studies to back that one up, just personal experience. My first novel took me six years to write. Why? Because I was stupid when I started and didn't know what the hell I was doing, being a dumb teenager. Taking breaks and going at my own speed helped me grow. I was reading and writing and learning during that time, and all that time meant I had plenty of, well, time to think over how the story was going to proceed and end. And this was a good thing. A really, really good thing. At one point I was going to kill off a major character and have a downer ending--but I didn't like that, so I kept thinking about it and thinking about it, and eventually the story went "well, hey, what about this?"

And I said, BRAIN, YOU'RE A GENIUS!

I'm not entirely sure if this post makes any sense to anyone but me. I guess what I'm saying is "go at your own speed, don't force yourself if you don't want to, and allow yourself time to think things over."

Friday, 3 June 2011

Dedicated to burn half as long and twice as bright

We've all done it at some point. You're writing, chugging along happy as can be, and then one day you wake up, sit down, and think, "Damn, I don't wanna do this."

Congratulations! You've burnt out.

This is different from writer's block, if you ask me. Writer's block is 1. an excuse used by writers when they're being lazy and don't want to write or 2. when you've painted yourself into the proverbial corner. For the first one, I recommend just kicking your ass into gear. (I'll talk about that later.) For the second, I recommend thinking. Beware of the Deus Ex Machina, and think about all the ways they could get out of this mess you've put them in. Sit back and think about it for a bit. (Hang on, I'll come back to this too.)

Burning out is when you know exactly what's going to happen, exactly what you want to do, but you just don't want to do it. You don't give a damn. You simply cannot write.

Go do something else. I'm serious. Get off your ass, stop staring at the paper and/or screen, and GO AWAY. Take up a little hobby. Work in a different medium. Exercise. Let your brain rest and recuperate, recharge your batteries, and then when you feel like you can tackle it again, come back to it.

Anecdote time!

I finished writing my doorstopper in June 2010. It took me six years, mostly because of inexperience and taking breaks. But I finished it, goddammit. And then I started right in to Star. I managed to crank out about 50 pages, throwing myself headlong into the story and blazing along with all the energy of a chihuahua on crack. And then I tripped, stumbled, and burned spectacularly.

I didn't write for months. I simply had no desire to be a storyteller whatsoever. I knew I'd burned out, and I knew I'd come back to the story when I was ready. In the meantime, I read books, relaxed, sunned, biked. I held onto that little flame and I gently nursed it back to health, and then when I felt the burn I eased myself back into writing.

Go as fast as you can, if you want, but don't fear the explosion and ashes. Think of yourself as a phoenix instead.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

In the Beginning...

"It was a dark and stormy night."

"I told the boys to stay quiet while I went to fetch my gun."

"It was little more than three miles from the Wall to the Old Kingdom, but that was enough."

Your first line is everything. I'm not kidding when I say that. This is literally, after the cover and perhaps the back cover, the first thing that the reader will see of your story. It's gotta pop. It's the hook. This is the thing that the reader sees and goes "huh, wait, this is interesting. Let's read more."

The summary can do a lot for bringing a reader in, but the first line is the story. It's the style. It's you. You gotta be able to pull the reader in and say "This is worth reading." It doesn't have to be big and dramatic. A Wrinkle in Time starts off playing with a cliche, and weaves it seamlessly into the story. Yeah, it's a dark and stormy night, and we chuckle seeing this line because it's the starter for every proverbial story. But we keep reading.

What about a bait and switch? Twice Shy does this. Turns out the narrator is a teacher, the boys are his class, and the gun is an airgun, being used for a demonstration. The first line makes us go "wait, what's going on?" and then we keep reading, and it's turned on us, and we laugh. Clever! Well done! It got our attention, but wasn't out of place. And yes, the gun gets fired by the third act, don't worry.

Finally, what about something mysterious? Sabriel promises a different world than we're used to, something strange and mystical. The Wall? The Old Kingdom? Why is three miles enough? We're curious at these tantalizing hints, and we want to know more.

"Oh no!" You think. My first line isn't like that!

DON'T PANIC! You don't have to have your first line be absolutely perfect the first time around. That's what editing is for. It took me three or four tries to get Blue Star's first line to something that would be intriguing and hooking, but still fit. The first time it was good, if a little wordy.

"No one knows why, one fine morning as the express was passing through, Angelica Moore took a stroll off the platform."

A good start, but it gives too much away right off the bat, and it doesn't work with the first scene. My betas didn't really like it, either. So I changed it.

"My cousin Angelica Moore killed herself."

Another good start, but it still didn't work--betas pointed out that the narrator doesn't know this at the start of the story! Dang. They suggested adding stuff ("I just didn't know it yet") but I wanted my first line to be alone. So I tweaked it again.

"I died for a living."

That's good. It gives you some insight into the story but doesn't give too much away, and makes you wonder what's going on. For now, it works. I might end up having to change it again, I don't know. But that's what editing is for.

What's your favorite first line? Why?

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Suwrimo

What is Suwrimo? Put simply, it's like NaNoWriMo, but less stressful.

It takes place from June 1st to August 31st. You set a goal (wordcount, completed stories, whatever) and attempt to reach this goal before time's up. It's simple, and a relief for people who can't participate in Nano.

This will be my sixth year doing Suwrimo. The first three years I was working on my first story, and set wordcount goals, all of which I managed to meet, and even go over a little. The fourth year I wrote Glitch--it only took me a month after Suwrimo to finish it, making Glitch my fastest ever novel written. Last year, my fifth year, I decided to make my goal a little more interesting--I was going to finish my first novel, which was taking forever. So I did, and then I started in on Blue Star when I met that goal. This year, year number six, I will be finishing Star.

I love Suwrimo. It's the time of the year when I get the most writing done, because I don't have to worry about doing homework at the same time. I can sit down, plan, and then take off when June starts, and have a little community to help me keep going.

Now, Suwrimo started on Gaia, but this year we're trying to branch out a bit, and there's a forum you can join in with. Don't worry about time; you can still join even though it's already started, and you don't even have to go in for the full three months. If you don't want to join, there's no pressure to, but I have to say that it's wonderful motivation to get writing and stay writing.

I hope to see you there!

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Full Fathom Five: Farm Factory Fiction?

For centuries artists have been banning together to create masterpieces. In 1816 Mary Shelley, Percival Shelley, Lord Byron and John Polidori hung out at Villa Diodati, a mansion by a lake in Switzerland, smoked lots of opium, and composed some of the most memorable literature in modern history. Recently, with the rise of self-made-fame, Youtube has become a place for aspiring actors to create they own mini-companies to highlight their talents and the talents of their friends on a collaborative channel. This seems to be in order to generate more page and video views than they would be able to collect separately. Heck, that’s what we are doing together, here on this blog. So what’s the big deal with the Full Fathom Five? The Full Fathom Five is a collection of aspiring writers who are joining together to produce popular commercial fiction concepts they hope will make them rich. Sounds just like the scheme many Youtubers have devised, right? however, there seems to be a darker side to the FF-5 that makes it distinguishes it from Youtube, blogging and other collective art forms… You might not get credit, or a paycheck for your work. FF-5 is the project of author James Frey, well known for his ‘memoir’ A Million Little Pieces that dominated the bestseller list and was even endorsed by Oprah’s bookclub…until it was discovered much of the novel was sensationalized, causing many in the literary world to question, just what constitutes as a memoir? Now, Frey is visiting many Ivy League creative writing programs to recruit writers to produce commercialized fiction and ideas for him. The idea in itself doesn’t sound too bad; a distinguished writer takes aspirating writers in and gives them a great start in the world of publishing, but the actual execution of such a plan is where the problem arises. The darker side of the FF-5 was explained in an article that appeared in the New York Magazine on November 12, 2010 which spelled out what the fancy words in the contract actually mean for writers thinking about getting involved with this.

http://nymag.com/arts/books/features/69474/ - The book (that the writer and others created) would be published under a pseudonym - The writer would not be allowed to speak publicly about the project or about your involvement - The writer would be financially responsible for any legal action brought against the book but would not own its copyright. - Full Fathom Five could use the writer’s name or a pseudonym without his or her permission, even if the writer was no longer involved with the series, and the company could substitute the writer’s full name for a pseudonym at any point in the future. - The writer was forbidden from signing contracts that would “conflict” with the project; what that might be wasn’t specified. - The writer would not have approval over his or her publicity, pictures, or biographical materials. - There was a $50,000 penalty if the writer publicly admitted to working with Full Fathom Five without permission. - Absolutely NO negotiations with the contract. Basically, you write for Frey, he will own your writing, and if the Charlie Sheen of writing suddenly decides to get some one else to write it, or decided not to pay you, you’re Screwed with a capital “S”. I don’t think there is one of those points in the contract that is not extremely disturbing. This isn’t even mentioning the moral dishonestly and deception of the public. Books produced by the FF-5 like “I Am Number Four”, carry the pseudonym of one author who is not even a real person, but several people. As far as we know (and a widely held belief is) that the major commercialized novels that Frey is trying to emulate here like “Twilight” and “Harry Potter” were composed by one author and one alone. Discovering that your favorite book was published by a writing farm is kind of like find out your favorite pop star was lip syncing at his or her concert. You feel cheated, lied to, deceived. And Frey doesn’t even care. He was quoted as saying (with a smile): “I’ve got nothing to lose.” Frey defended his project by citing Andy Warhol’s Factory as an example of conceptualizing an art form. The difference: Andy didn’t compose soul sucking, ambiguous contracts. And for a final word; should we really be aiming to imitate “Twilight”, folks?

Monday, 30 May 2011

When We Should Settle

As any artist, of any discipline, will tell you that in order to really excel, you have to take the craft seriously. Pride in their work is what makes the greats great. And yet, there’s a group who still believe that because perfection can’t be reached, we should just accept it.

Why?

Why do we allow ourselves to settle for imperfection?

Learning writing is a long road. I set out long before I understood what it meant to become a professional. It’s good I did! If we understood the road before us before we had the passion for it, most of us would have given up.

After we have that passion, we need to take it seriously. We need to learn what it is that makes us the best we can be. That takes study and vision. We need to know we want to be the best we can be. We have to take the steps to get us there.

For writers, the editing and rewriting process is part and parcel of the task. Nothing goes without some form of tweaking. If you can rewrite it one hundred times and keep improving it, do it.

With that understood we have to remember: we’re business people, too. Eventually, we have to push the product. We have to give up and let it stand. At that point, and only then, we can settle for imperfection. We have to settle or we’ll drive ourselves crazy with the mistakes!

After that, though, we need to move on. We need to be better the next time.

We’re consumers, too, though. As consumers we shouldn’t settle either. We need to hold those we give our patronage to as high a standard as possible. Tell them where they can improve. We can encourage our craftsman to better heights merely by demanding they hold themselves to a higher standard. The adage is true. Nothing is ever perfect. That shouldn’t stop us from giving it our best.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

5 things I wish I'd done before I released my book

1. Start tweeting. I do have a Twitter account for my music news, but I hadn't set up an author one until after the book was out. This was a lost opportunity because Twitter is a great way to connect with people and both send and find out information instantly.


2. Blog about writing. Ditto above. I've been writing for years, and if I'd had a blog, I wouldn't be working from the ground up right now trying to find a niche.



3. Send out ARCs. I had no idea what advanced review copies (ARCs) were until long after I released my book. Turns out there are a TON of book bloggers who love spreading the word about books, but who often have a backlog of 1-3 months. Sending a copy early ensures a review can come out closer to the release date, building buzz. I'll try to do this with my next novel, rather than have reviews trickle in.


4. Learn more about promotion. I have a shelf full of books and magazines about writing and all of them are outdated. The new methods of promotion are changing faster than people can write books about them. And sure, ebooks about the subject are helpful, but sometimes I find out more about promotion just by watching Twitter streams like #writechat.


5. Set my goals higher. When I released my book, my goals were very modest--eighteen sales. After I hit that I was wondering where to go from there. Hopefully over the next few months I can iron out better plans for my next novel, so it can reach more people who would enjoy it.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Relationships - No, Not That Kind

I talked about worlds the other day. They're my primary building-block in writing. The other basic that forms the backbone of writing is relationships. Sometimes called conflict, there are three basic relationships: interpersonal, intrapersonal, and environmental, sometimes referred to as man vs man, man vs himself, and man vs nature. I don't like to break it down that way, as it's not a simple matter of 'versus'.

Interpersonal relationships are the heart of my favorite genre. Romantic relationships are simple and easily mapped and a lot of fun. But other levels of interpersonal relationship include families and friends and colleagues and people brushed by on the street and forgotten. Interactions with other people are the most visible form in stories from Romeo and Juliet to My Sister's Keeper to Twilight.

Intrapersonal relationships are how we see ourselves. It can take the form of akrasia or contemplation or Hamlet's famous soliloquy.

Environmental relationships are how we interact with our world. Is it snowing and cold and impossible to be outside in, or gorgeously sunny and warm? Is the atmosphere even breathable oxygen? Is our local world full of meth heads and drunks or puppies and white picket fences? Is the main character an eco-loving vegan or indifferently concrete-bound?

Obviously world-building plays an important part in the last, but it plays just as important a role in the other two relationships. With interpersonal relationships, it is a fairly clear-cut role: a romantic relationship might be proscribed or directed by anything from caste to location to politics. With intrapersonal relationships, the degree of introspection expected of an individual will vary wildly between cultures, which will inform that relationship.

. . . Oh, right, I was going to talk about something that wasn't world-building. We'll try that next time.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Covering the Basics: Ebook Covers

You might think about your cover as a promotional tool, but it is. Your cover is the first (and probably only) ad that your reader will see for it. It will be used in any promotion you do--guest blogs, interviews, etc. So make sure it's eye-catching and appealing.

One of the oldest writers' laments was "My book has a terrible cover!" But for self-pubbers, the ball's in your court. You can make or commission a cover that's perfectly suited to your book. But what constitutes a good book cover? If you're not an artist, how do you go about hiring someone for one of the most important decisions of your book's publication?

Look at books. Seriously, walk in a bookstore and look around. Which covers grab your attention? What makes them stand out? How is the text arranged? What colors do they use (or don't use)? Are they simple or complex? And how are covers designed within your genre? You don't want to copy everyone else, but you do want your book to fit in and give a quick visual clue as to what it's about. For romance novels, a cover with a photo of lovers in a steamy embrace is normal; for a book on economics, not so much.

Decide what you want. I sketched my cover in pencil to get a general idea of what I wanted, well before I hired an artist. However, if you can't think of anything, an artist will probably be able to come up with ideas for you. Be prepared to have a description of the book or characters ready if you want a portrayal of one of these on the cover.

Get a budget. A full, hardcover print layout could cost a thousand dollars; a simple ebook cover might be commissioned for under $100 by an experienced artist or for free by a new artist working to build up a portfolio. Ask around and see what people are paying and charging. And when you get an artist, make sure you agree on the cost (many artists work by the hour, but they should be able to give you an estimate) before the work is started.

Find an artist. A lot of writers' blogs will list the artist who does their covers, and failing that, it's often listed in the front matter of a book. Look around. I approached my artist initially because I admired a cover she'd done. And it paid off: many people say my novel's cover is one of the most professional indie-pubbed covers they've seen. If you have friends who do artwork, as if they would do a cover for you for a low cost or in exchange for its inclusion in their portfolio.

With a little bit of legwork, you can get a perfectly suited book cover that will work as a great promotional tool.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Blog Restructuring

We're doing some restructuring of the blog right now to better accommodate those things people call 'lives' and 'summers' and also make some of the series available in chunks as opposed to stretched out over weeks. What this means for you is that posts by certain authors won't be up on predictable days anymore, so if you have a favorite author, the easiest way to find them will be by author tag. You can find the author tags either at the bottom of posts or in the cloud tag to your right.

We will still be posting new content every day, so keep coming back!

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

I am not a psychic plagiarist, or how I ripped off a game without being aware of it's existence.

One thing that I noticed is that fiction can have strongly similar elements to other aspects of art. I have never noticed that Blade Runner had been inspired by a film called Alphaville, I thought that it was a truly original film. The same thing happened when I found an old project I had written.

The basic gist of my old project was that a group of assorted friends were given the ability to powers from Norse gods. It was aimless and it had some unfocused content, so I never finished it. Instead I worked on refining my writing skill.

A few years later, I encountered Shin Megami Tensei and its spin-off Persona. I loved how the games in the series kept up a balance of realism with video game mechanics for an engaging gameplay experience.

Then I encountered some notes taken from my old project. The setting of modern realism and preternatural oddities whammed at me like a locomotion train.

Sure, I could have rewritten the entire project to be very different from the Persona games, but I have decided to leave it be. I intended the project to be written in it's own way, and I learned something. Just because fiction is similar to another piece of work, it does not mean I should rewrite the intended message. Otherwise it would be something like a picture build in the sand, changing as the winds moved.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Full Fathom Five

I haven't seen I Am Number Four yet, but I want to. It has young, attractive action heroes with superpowers, what's not to love?

Oh, right. The author whose brainchild it is isn't allowed to claim it as his. That kind of sucks. Actually, it sucks a lot.

He's a member of Full Fathom Five, James Frey's book factory. I rather like the idea of it, in general. A writing community focused on getting things out there, with support and brainstorming from fellow writers. A think tank focused on stories. It'd be fun to work in a place like that.

But then I run into the hard realities of Full Fathom Five: the writers are overseen by James Frey, and write to his request. The writers are published under assumed names. Which'd be neat, if the whole thing were branded as a community. But it's branded James Frey, and even Oprah hates the man. Branding myself with someone else's shame isn't a particularly appealing prospect, especially since I wouldn't be making my own mark at all: I'd be contractually obligated not to.

That makes the whole concept spectacularly unappealing.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

We as writers?

My thoughts upon publishing: Either I'm a true artist or I'm a failed one.

I feel a strong need to comment on the idea of writing for the market. This is why Twilight knockoffs became so popular. This is why stuff like this happens. I understand why it happens, and it breaks my heart. Breaks my little goddamn heart.

Now, maybe I'm misunderstanding this all, but I just feel like...am I a failure for not recognizing these markets and tapping into them like everyone else? Am I missing out on the chance to become big by not following the herd and joining the saturation of the market by doing what is popular? Are YOU?

Are we failed writers because we don't give the public what it wants NOW, or true writers for sticking to our guns and writing what we want to write regardless of who wants to read it?

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

You Need Twitter

Or Facebook, or Digg, or Reddit, or LinkedIn, or. . .

As writers, we need social media.

You don’t believe me.

I can hear you out there, telling me I’m wrong.

Look, I know it’s hip to hate the revolution. Really, I understand. I was that guy once. Wouldn’t sign up to Facebook, you can’t make me! I got better. Now, I still don’t like Facebook, specifically, but I’m on Twitter.

You think “I’m a writer, hermit life is the way,” right? Wrong. Increasingly, you need to be a leader of a group of devoted followers. You need people who want to hear what you have to say. Where do you make these connections?

Not as a hermit, that’s for damn sure.

There is good news. You can have the best of both worlds! Get to know people in your underwear, with a cup of your favorite caffeinated beverage next to you. Social media offers a way to live your own life, and connect with real people.

Now, I’m not going to say learning social media is easy. In fact, it’s chaos! Let me show you a picture.

Monday, 16 May 2011

No Such Place

Few people study enough Greek anymore to realize Sir Tomas More's book was titled less-than-idealistically. In Utopia he describes an ideal society, but the word 'utopia' itself means 'no such place.'

Puts a much more realistic spin on the whole thing, doesn't it?

A truly perfect society would be a eutopia, with the same root word as euphoria.

Educational pedantry aside, setting is important. To which profound statement you say 'orly?' and I say 'ya, ttly.'

Does chatspeak exist in the world you're writing in? What about Greek? Did Sir Tomas More? How does that effect your world?

The most fun parts of a world to play with are tech and magic, at least for me. But our world is ours not just because of those but because of politics and history and fashion and literature and art and natural disasters, and they change things in ways so subtle we don't notice that everything fits into a new paradigm.

And with a new paradigm comes new language.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

When research attacks

This post started in my mind when I was talking with a friend, and said, “Although, I must admit--it would be fascinating to have a psychotic break from a research point of view.”

When you have a thought like this, it confirms you are a scientist. Or a writer.

A good writer wants it all to be as accurate as possible. Or, I want it all to be as accurate as possible—I can’t really speak for the rest of you. But if you have ever gotten wasted to experience your character’s hangover, or stood outside in the rain in the middle of a summer storm to see how quickly it takes your underwear to get wet, or tried keeping yourself up to see what hallucinations are like, then you might have a similar madness to my own.

The internet is great for factual research, but when it comes to subjective encounters, nothing beats some personal first-hand experience.

This gets bad when you wonder how your character feels when they accidentally put their foot in their blazing campfire, or has a psychotic break, or takes a tumble down a steep slope.

Have you ever wanted to do some up-close-and-personal research, or does common sense usually get in the way (as it should)?

Have you ever actually done something for the sake of the story? I know I have. It wasn’t pretty.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Lies and Truth

This is a great talk on the idea of wrongness. The important part for us, as writers, starts at 11:30.



“Miracle of your mind isn’t that you can see the world as it is, but that you can see the world as it isn’t. We can remember the past, we can think about the future. And we can imagine what it’s like to be some other person in some other place.”

This is a remarkable idea.

Since we can get things wrong, we can produce remarkable other worlds, and times, and people. It’s what, for all intents and purposes, allows us to be writers. But she doesn’t stop there!

“As readers, we eat this stuff up. We love things like plot twists, and red herrings, and surprise endings. When it comes to our stories, we love being wrong. But you know, our stories are like this, because our lives are like this. I thought this one thing was going to happen, but something else happens instead.”

This is an important point in my mind. We can imagine the most impossible as possible, write it all down, and we can sell it, but only if the impossible is tempered by those same beats that we know as life. People know that we do things because of drive, even if they can’t express it. People know that things rarely happen like we plan. People know that even if your characters can warp reality on a whim, they’re still human.

And that’s the key to a great story, isn’t it? Using a couple lies to tell the truth.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Sneaky Themes

Have you ever read over a piece of your writing and suddenly pick up on some underlying theme or symbolism that you had no idea you included? This happened to me recently when I was reading back over my novel...probably because I had just come from an English class final. But it make me wonder, just how much stuff did these authors of old really intend to stick between the lines of their novels and how much just ended up that way?

Everyone knows that English teachers like to take symbolism to the next level. Sometimes the curtains are just blue because the author liked the color blue. It doesn't necessarily have to be a sign of someone's deep inner turmoil and confusion or repression from the outside world. But, I noticed when I read over a part of my story, that during a sad part or a dark part, I subconsciously made the metaphorical curtains blue. Objects matched the mood. I guess that's how it is supposed to be, but wouldn't it be interesting if there were hot pink or sunshine curtains while someone is mourning the death of a loved one? What implications would throwing images and symbols in that don't seem to match, have? I purposely did this in a few scenes and it resulted in interesting contrast that could be left open to several interpretations.

Also, I've spoken to a few other writer who said that they write with a particular theme or message in mind. To me, this seems hard to do without being preachy but their stories ended up to be well rounded and interesting. I don't think I have ever done this it would probably be something interesting to try.