Tag Archives: deciding

We All Have Heroes, and Models

Standard

Who were the writers you imitated (or imitate!) in your pastiche phase?

Much as I loved and read Andre Norton, I never seemed to do anything her style. I had a definite Lester Dent phase, resulting in my first finished novella, then went into a Weird Tales swords and sorcery phase, with REH plots and CAS language (oh, my poor teacher), then moved more into the style of Fritz Leiber.

After that, I actually started finding my own style. I think the continued factors of “my style” are characters one recent critter described as talking as wittily as he wished real people did (based largely on myself and my friends: we really did and do try to be amusing) and a reality-based mixture of the wonderful and the gritty.

An analogy for that looks in the window at me: a beautiful crescent moon in a dawn-painted frame of clouds, above ranks of dusty rain-streaked storage containers with peeling warehouses in the middle distance and container cranes beyond, all laced with power wires.

Everything else, whether my language is plain or fancy (level of language), whether it’s all dialogue or all action, the genre — that varies. Bits of CAS’s vocabulary creep in, but my critters will tell me where they go “huh?”

What’s your style? What do you wish it were? What do you need to change to get there?

A Peep in the Warehouse

Standard

Okay, so what was the nitty-gritty of SKU for 1000 tree books and 2000 orderly bundles of electrons?

Already, we looked at the database and what fields it needed. At that level, no difference between the two.

In the real world, I had to designate the physical locations by some method. First step was to list the room (bedroom, office, frontroom, kitchen), then where the books stay (say, in the office, Bookcase A or B, the little bookcase on the other side of the room, the shelf in my computer desk, Patrick’s alcove, the music book bag, &c). In a bookcase, there’s the shelf designation, from 1 at the top to 5 on the bottom, and a final small “b” means that it’s in the back row.

Having printed out the partial list I had, I stood at the bookcases, pulling out books and making notes on the backs of anything without any entry. Others, I just updated the location. When things got too messy, I went back to the keyboard, keyed it all in, and printed it out anew. The whole thing is only half an inch/13mm thick, printed prettily and tucked into a D-ring binder of a close size.

Some time I would like to invite the total chaos of storing everything by size. As it is, segregation by project still dominates location. I just wasn’t up to wholesale removals, though I did some shuffling inside a room.

Ordering the e-books was simple and straightforward. Their storage is on the terabyte drive, under “Ebook Library.” Looking at the picture probably tells you the most. After all, I am the promoter of sub-files. Read the rest of this entry

Why Not Cookies, Coffee, and Maize?

Standard

… or, Why exotic modern foods are out of place in most herofi or highfy.

The first reason to avoid artifacts of our post-renaissance worldwide culture is atmosphere. If you want your reader to immerse in your medievalesque world, don’t keep swatting them in the face with things that don’t feel medieval. If you want a feel of the Orient, don’t bring in New World stuff and if you want a Mesoamerican ambiance, keep European stuff out of the mix.

Particularly, I recall objecting to characters eating cinnamon cookies in a northern mountain culture, in a ms I critted for a workshop. The author’s attitude was that they were technologically possible, so why not? My objection was that “cookies” were unnecessarily shoving 21st century America into a world so alien it didn’t have dogs or horses. The cookies weren’t necessary to the plot. They were merely cosmetic, and in this case the wrong cosmetics. I mean, in the same village, you might as well serve tamales or have the children play basketball.

They’re just as atmospherically wrong, though technologically possible. They’re just not technologically plausible.

“Cookie” is a specifically American and modern (last couple of centuries) word. “Sweet biscuits” or “sugarcakes” could have served the same purpose without swatting the reader out of immersion.

But are they technologically possible? Read the rest of this entry

Exotic Pet Ban: Delete Your Pets

Standard

The traditional term among writers is often “murder your darlings.” This phrase is not always understood and does repel by its overly dramatic word choice. These days we delete files, unlike the old days when the technical term and the code command was to “kill” a file.

What you are looking for, in order to change or delete, are words, phrases, scenes, characters, or subplots that are too brilliant, too clever, too glow-in-the-dark, so that they don’t fit into the prose or story organically. They stick out like that cupboard door left open at eye height. In revision, you need to close the door.

These are often hard to see for yourself, especially after several revisions. You become work-blind to them. You can best find them by watching your own reactions.
Read the rest of this entry

Time for a New Year’s Change

Standard

If your present methods of work are producing you a stream of stories that are finding homes and an audience — as they say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

But if there’s something that isn’t working for you, it’s time for a change.

This includes sheer boredom. If you want tedium, you can find plenty of wearisome ways to spend your time that are much easier work than writing fiction and marketing it, and probably bring in more money or status to boot. (Say, dumpster diving for items to sell on eBay. Game stores and upscale neighborhoods with designer label trash seem to rule YouTube dumpster vids.)
Read the rest of this entry

Revision 05.1.1 — Make a Star to Follow

Standard

I started using this in 2004, and it works for me as part of the revision process. Using this, I actually find I don’t loathe writing synopses, either. Working from the shorter ones up seems to help. So does simply doing more of them.

Step 1 — Write what the book is about in 25 words or less.

Yes, “less” is a joke. Avoid conjunctions, particles, etc., as you can, but it must read like a sentence, not a computer randomization of disconnected words and fragments. This focuses you from now on.

What you describe here would be the most important part of the story, the aspect that made you write it, the reason you’re here. Try writing Read the rest of this entry

Revision 05.1 — The Method

Standard

Just what you’ve been waiting for — “Now that we have templates and genres and stuff, what do we do with it?”

First off, re-read every good how-to you can get your hands on. Yes, you already wrote the damned thing. If you had remembered everything in the how-to list, in theory you wouldn’t even need to revise. So you want to re-stuff your head, re-activate your Inner Editor, and keep close watch for where you dropped the ball. That includes where your characterization is inconsistent, where you gave the reader too much or too little information (you’ll have to figure out somewhere to stick in that bit of background that foreshadows how the climax works), where dialog is stilted or if everyone talks alike, where you can drive a Diamond Reo through the plot holes, etc.

Writing is re-writing, and that means re-writing, revision, is a case of Read the rest of this entry

Revision 03d: The Plot Indecisive

Standard

Sometimes you reach a point in a story and you can’t figure which way to go. Sometimes, oh allergic to writing things down pantsers, we forget what was supposed to happen, after a hiatus. Sometimes we read a blog that decries our choice we haven’t even written. Sometimes we have too many ideas.

If you can’t remember what your plot was, the grim reality is that if you can’t recover it through meditation, free-writing, or hypnosis, it’s gone. Take the pieces you have and make a new plot, cursing all the way, because we always know that the one that slipped our minds was just fabulous. Except it probably wasn’t or we’d remember it. It probably just seemed clever at the time. Very often, after you’ve written a new version, if you find the steno book or disc with the missing plot notes, you find they’re just so-so and you’ll be happy with the new one.

If the markets and your ideas conflict, you will discover one of two things. Either you are the kind of writer who can enjoy working to plan and modifying your ideas to suit — you lucky dog! — or you are the kind who is stuck writing what you have to write. (This does not excuse bad plots, junk characters, or derivative settings as being what you “have to write.”) What you will likely find is that after you have written one complete draft, you can put that away as “the true story.” After that, you can write “the fictionalized version” and feel free to modify it any way it needs to go. That, or you may find that you were thinking of the wrong market for this, and it’s really some other genre.

Sometimes you reach the middle and you know your ending, but you just can’t decide by which road to get there. Sometimes you reach a point in the manuscript where you realize that, at this point, you could go for one of two endings, either of which is good. Or a character could be one of two things. In all cases, both are good — it’s not like one is soggy or undramatic or unsatisfying — but it makes it a very different book.

Worst of all is when the character, as you’ve been writing, has revealed itself to be something you’re not sure would be in some planned plot situations. Even though you had been decided on the plot, the character has made it all questionable.

Read the rest of this entry

Revision 03c: Ant on Mount Everest

Standard

When you look at the place a scene needs to go and go blank, suspect this. I don’t mean a weary turning away from boredom: I mean where part of your brain is admitting “I don’t know how to do this. I want the scene to do these things, but I don’t know how to make it happen.”

Everything has a learning curve. Just because you can mix colours doesn’t mean you can paint a real likeness in a portrait or make a landscape not only convincing but dramatic. Equally, just because you can write sentences and paragraphs and have a good vocabulary doesn’t mean you know how to make a scene work dramatically or make a dialog zing.

Alas, the only way to learn to write a scene is to write it. If you don’t like what you get, keep the parts that work (not necessarily the cleverest bits) and rewrite it. Over and over. Trying again in a new way is what all creative artists do to get it right, to approach closer to their vision for the work.

It may be you have bitten off more than you can chew. Read the rest of this entry

Revision 03b: Face the Fear

Standard

Image

Before I could sell a book, I had to face why I was afraid to sell it. You may have to face your fear in order to finish your story.

Anyone not fearing one of these doesn’t understand what could be wrong with something as good as selling a book. Lucky them.

It’s usually about other people and your relationships. Try these on for size, and see how many apply to you.

“It will make someone I hate happy and able to brag that they know me if it sells.”
And they will, while ignoring or dissing you still. To their friends, you become part of their status. The cure: Quit cutting off your nose to spite your face. Imagine how they’ll get cornered when asked, that if they’re your great good friend, why their copy isn’t author-autographed or why their friends don’t get to meet you. Their bragging will actually boomerang on them. Smirk about it and get on with your work.

“It will make someone, whose goodwill I want, despise me for writing something they won’t approve.”
A lot of romance authors, let alone erotica authors, use pseudonyms. In other genres, serious academics may not want to be caught writing college comedies, heroic fantasies, whatever. If you’re a lay teacher at a parochial school, you mayn’t want to be associated with your Wiccan detective. This is what pen names are for.

“I’ll have to revise it and then try to sell it.”
That’s a lot of work, apparently more than you want to do. Remember, you control your writing. If it’s for fun, just do it — especially if it’s to learn how to write. You have to learn how to write before rewriting, and just learning to finish a novel is a challenge without stressing about quality. That’s what revision’s for. Have your fun, write it, and go on to the next. Revise if you feel like it. Share it with your friends. You never have to do more than you want. Really. I officially excuse you from having to do more than you are willing to do.

“It will make someone expect me to do more to meet their expectations of what I’m capable of.”
Especially a likely fear if your parents were/are perfectionists who demanded you live up to their ideals. But you don’t have to. You control your writing. If you write, sell, and publish this, you never have to write another single thing again except as it pleases you. This is another reason for pseudonyms: if you don’t tell them you sold a book, they can’t nag you about another.

If you fear you’ll never come up with another story after you finish this one, I assure you, I have never heard of someone who finished a novel who didn’t have another idea, connected or not, in a bit. If they lack sequels or prequels, they just invent a new idea to love writing about. It’s only the people who marry a series for ten years who forget how to dream anything else. That’s another reason I suggest beginners write three disconnected novels first. Then you won’t fear this.

So talk it out with a friend, your pet, or your journal. You deserve to get that story finished!