Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Well, I put together my package for my next attempt at finding an agent. Now I just get to wait and hope again and meanwhile
go on with everything else. Probably polish the story I'm pitching some more. I can go over it a dozen times and still find
typos that spell check won't catch, weak phrases, even scenes that could use major tweaks.
28 jun 11 @ 9:39 pm
And more notes from the conference. If I don't post them soon, my notes will be nearly incoherent. There are a lot of romance
authors but an increasing number of alternate history and what I might call adventure histories - the ones that focus on battles
and the men (and women) who fought them. This year they added some combat readings on one night (they have a regular late
night romance reading session on Saturday, with hot and steamy scenes).
I was impressed at the tight presentation that made big battles and small fights seem equally personal to the combatants.
I think my own large battle scenes are mostly a little more distant, with just small bits where one character or another
is shown lost in the midst. While that distance gives a better picture of the battle as a whole, I think most readers want
the more personal touch as if they were right there in the midst of it, even if they aren't quite sure what's going on much
of the time. And if that part is done right, they'll figure out most of it in the end, anyway, if the author leaves enough
What do you think? How do you like your fights and battles?
Writer's challenge: Plan out a battle or a multi-room fist fight and send a character through it. then send another one
through from a different direction.
Monday, June 27, 2011
HNS Conference notes
My notes are even more eratic than usual. Some of the material wasn't new but was valuable as a refresher, as idea generators,
and plenty gave me ideas for resources, places to check out, and i wrote those ideas as much as what the speakers actually
said. And of course there is the stack of free books and adds (post cards, book marks, glossy fliers and brochures, etc.
- lots of ideas for advertising when the the time comes!). I highly recommend it in the future for those who write historical
fantasy or future fantasy or science fiction as, in its way, it is a lot about world building.
27 jun 11 @ 8:07 pm
One of the things that both surprised me and didn't was the difficulty of piecing together enough about a historical event,
but on thinking about it, the reason is obvious enough. History books tend be biographies about one person or general histories
about big events, not all the players and their individual lives, so if you want to do a thorough bit of historical novel,
either about real people or about a fictional personal interacting with real people or events, it takes a fair amount of reading
to find out enough to make it all work - the people, the timing down to the hours and dates of real events, the culture in
which they are operating. Authors presented the opinion that they mostly try to use what's known, with the expectation that
people interested in the era will catch the erroneous bits but be thrilled to have the gaps filled with fiction (and author
notes which point out which bits are fictitious have become common). On the other hand, other authors were much more free
and loose with dates (like the Braveheart movie, where some of the characters were shifted in time in order to let them interact
and develop romances at appropriate ages, as a way of "improving" the story or merging characters for simplicity).
Where I see a lot of common ground with fictional worlds comes in with some of the cultural norms and expectations. One speaker
pointed out that polygamy was unlikely in a temperate climate where survival rates are high, and that it would come across
as unbelievable as a result. Maybe, maybe not; how many people notice every anthropological pattern of human development?
But real cultures do provide believable models that can serve as starting places, and real stories are full of fascinating
novel material. Some speakers even mentioned that they commonly found real events that were so full of coincidence or were
just so bizarre that they were removed from stories as being unbelievable. Others used these oddities as the basis of stories,
focusing on developing a background and characters that would explain the oddity, such as a secret love affair or personal
disaster causing a distraction at a key moment. It takes research, reading time (how many of us have much of that?)! But
the results could well be worth it for finding that great story.
Writer's challenge: Take any history article or book you like, study a page, and think about the people participating in
the events. Ask yourself, what was this one's day like, before the event described, during, after? Whose presence was only
implied but not really mentioned? (Wives, soldiers, servants?) What if one of them had a magical ability, a miracle touch,
or a time traveler's knowledge?
Friday, June 24, 2011
conference followup and a question
At the conference, i was able to schedule a brief and pleasant interview with Marcy Posner. It was billed as a "pitch"
and I did that, too, but it was more like a very pleasant interview. She was very kind though she doesn't take on fantasy
and in a couple of different ways she asked me to compare myself to other (published) authors. i couldn't think of any that
really apply. Some authors I'd like to compare myself to, maybe, but not ones where it really applies, and most of them authors
I grew up with, not current authors. I need to read more and its hard to do that and write, too, but also the things I've
read are so different... mostly dark, almost horror-like, or else way more complex (and sometimes soap-opera like) than I
expect of young adult, which much of my writing is, and much of what I've read recently is, too.
24 jun 11 @ 1:22 am
So, if any of you have browsed my other blog and the scenes I've posted there, what do you think? I make no requests for
comparison of quality though I like to think I'm publishable, but howabout flavor, style, theme? What categories would my
writing fall into, and what published works fall into the same grouping?
Writer's challenge: If you have a piece in work, finish at least a first draft. If you've been thinking about writing down
that story you've been thinking about, pick up a pen and paper and write something.
Sunday, June 19, 2011
The conference has been great and woul be great for fantasy and science fiction writer's too. Historical novels are a lot
like world-building, the only difference is that there is sometimes some information on which to base the world. Issues of
consistency, logic, character-building, technical an unfamiliar terminology are all much the same whether the world is the
future or the past, the terminology related to sailing ships or space ships.
19 jun 11 @ 3:19 pm
The atmosphere is upbeat, the genre's widespread (and less romance-dominated than the first of these I went to, not that that
was a problem...) and the setting very peasant (except for broken elevators and reservation confusions). Next year's is in
London. I have lots of notes, observations, and lessons learned from new and experienced writer's, agents, and editors, and
I will sharing as I get the chance in the next few posts but I must be away.
Writer's challenge: consider what you know of past "worlds" - real historical places and cultures that have some
similarities to the future or imaginary worlds you are building. Read a little history about the people, considtions, geography,
and events there. Consider what makes your world the same or different. Write a scene that incorporates something that is
the same or similar.
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
A quick note on evil before I go
I'm always concerned that my bad guys aren't bad enough, but one of my readers pointed out that most of them aren't really
shown as being all that bad; however, good, reliable characters say they are bad, there is frequent mention of their nature
and the bad things they have done in the past, and they are "bad" in other ways, perhaps intended to be seen as
bad in a subtle way or to offer a lesson in behavior, once their evilness is established. She pointed out that many bad guys
have bad habits and obsessions that aren't particularly evil necessarily (though sometimes they are, like a habit of hitting
people for little reason). If they're suave and polite they smoke like a chimney or throw pistachio shells everywhere or
they're obsessive about some mean animal, or about delicate dishware or something else that annoyed their minions.
15 jun 11 @ 9:50 am
Besides being a memorable character trait to hint at a character's presence (the trail of shells), it allows the reader to
see that they are bad without having them beat up the main characters both unrealistically and unpleasantly to the reader.
If the good guys are beat up too badly, I stop reading (or watching), especially if hope isn't built in along the way that
they can somehow get out of it. The tension, doom and gloom of bad portents, and hopelessness take away from the joy of reading
(as opposed to tension with hope and anticipation which will keep me awake reading all night).
And as always, word choice can make a big difference. It comes very naturally to some writers. I have to work at it. I
have to consciously replace "clever" with "conniving" for the bad guys, "fierce" with "cruel",
"strong" with "powerful" or "brutish", "friend" or "ally" with "minion".
Of course, overuse of adjectives and adverbs is discouraged in favor of showing, but when characters are distance, they can't
be shown, only described.
Except through minions. That can be subtle, especially if the association with the bad guy is intended to be uncertain, but
sometimes the minions can be known and stated to be minions and anything they do bad will be reflected on their boss overall
unless they say the boss won't like it (and generally they say the boss won't like something they've done that was soft-hearted).
A lot of these are tropes and some of them reflect older books when it seemed to have been easier to get fantasy and science
fiction published (there's a lot of B-rated stuff out there that is, none-the-less, a fun read and worth it to the reader
to have been published, if not always a big money maker for the publisher). Still, I find that patterns and typical expectations
are good to keep in mind when revising, and such patterns are more subtle than character tropes (such as the young thief helping
the lawful-good protagonist - we have at least three of those in our small collection and I'm sure there are others).
Anyway, that's longer than I wanted my quick note to be. Expect even more irregular posts in the next while as I don't know
when and where I'll have internet access or time to myself save on the train.
Writer's challenge: make a list of activities that your friends and family would find annoying, bad, or evil and give one
from each category to an evil character and/or his minions.
Friday, June 10, 2011
I'm traveling by train again shortly so I find myself looking for a scanner to listen to train chatter (and talking signals).
A week ago I didn't know it was possible to hear train chatter, much less that signals could talk to engineers and tell them
things about their trains. You never know what you might learn if you let the possibilities in and I'm sure it can be converted
to other uses, especially if I succeed in getting a scanner and listening to the chatter. a great way to learn believable
lingo that can be translated to other fields (like space freighters) with just a little play. The shopping is proving more
problematic than I expected. This isn't a major new hobby, so I don't plan on spending several hundred dollars, the local
stores have a notable lack of anyone who knows the slightest thing about the equipment so that I could figure out what my
options might be, and the numbers I had to call took me to answering machines. Sometimes the lemons dry up. We'll see I
have several opportunities to come for listing to the trains.
10 jun 11 @ 8:00 pm
And I have fuel for stories. I too often have characters either find something or not, without this two steps forward two
steps back, sideways steps, and shuffle in the wrong direction that I've been going through on my little search. Stories
get more complex with just a little shuffling.
Writer's Challenge: Consider some moderately emotional moment in your day - a frustration, a cheer, anything. What is the
story around it? Use it in a scene.
Tuesday, June 7, 2011
Remember the word Forces
It was a it of an exaggeration to say that I was done with the paper version. I was done going through it with a red pen,
but I still have to put the rest of the changes into the computer and that is a process of its own and not super quick, though
quicker than revising. The quickness has its own impact on how I view the story as a whole and I began to figure out some
of the places I could strengthen the story.
7 jun 11 @ 9:08 pm
Forces. Forces are the things, attitudes, characters, conditions that push the story toward conflict and therefor toward
climax. I had set up as many forces as I needed at the beginning, but I wasn't using them through the story. My pirates,
for example, just disappear until nearly the end the crisis, while they would do a better job helping the story build toward
the crisis by playing a more active role, like all forces of change. They also add texture, a little more adventure, and allow
the elimination of a few bits of informative dialog better expressed through action. The same with the Seven Worlders, who
I've tried to make interesting characters but who weren't acting in their full capacity as a force of change toward crisis,
when really, the characters are such that they wouldn't be sitting passively--however emotionally--by during the minor crises
along the way. They would be acting in whatever way they could find, and inevitably charging up the situation without successfully
solving it, or causing a new problem for each one they solve. That, as much as any wordsmithing I can manage, should help
the story get where I want it to be.
Writer's Challenge: Note the characters/forces you've introduced in the beginning of your story. For each one, note what
drives them, and how they push for change and toward crisis in the story (or how they get in the way of other forces). (If
they aren't a force in some form, reconsider their role and the nature of their character)
Friday, June 3, 2011
Finally got through the paper version edit - except the last section which is already out-of-date as I've changed it around
in the computer and expanded and all. Toward end, more and more changes, including figuring out which POV to stick with in
some scenes. Along the way I noticed a neat little side effect of changing/fixing the POV. It made me rethink the scene,
which in turn made it much easier to make the big changes that needed to be made instead of minor word smithing. It also
helped me identify and fix scenes where I sensed there was a big problem, but couldn't figure out what was wrong much less
how to fix it. Having to rethink the narrative, the focus, the points of interest to correspond appropriately to the POV
character made me realize where the dialog just didn't matter (i.e., lame) or out of character or carried the story in a wrong
direction. (You can't end a scene with a decision to go introduce some people, and never do anything with the people or the
introductions or even introducing new characters to the story).
3 jun 11 @ 8:18 pm
The next step is to type in all the changes. I inevitably do a little more editing as I go but mostly tiny stuff, to accomidate
changes in sentence structure that I didn't fully account for, spelling, etc. I don't understand how anyone can write a story
end-to-end from scratch though i understand some writers do. i image those are the story tellers, who have the story in mind
from the start and just build the pieces to present it. That they succeed without a lot of wordsmithing means they are really
talented with words or that the word smithing just doesn't matter, not nearly as much as the story and the key characters.
Not a good sign for those of us who prefer the wordsmithing.
Writer's challenge: Take a scene and add a new POV character or, if the story only has one POV throughout, add a character
not previously in the scene: what does it tell you about the scene? What roles can that newcomer play in adding conflict
or changing the progress of the story? Do they fit or is it such a tight fit that you have to squeeze them in?
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
Summer has struck
And summer is already looking crazy and irratic. Not just the weather but my schedule. I'm going from no travel to several
trips in a row and would be doing more if I could divide myself into several copies. Everyone seems to have chosen the same
couple of weeks for all the conferences and meetings that I'm interested in (writers, science fiction, work...). Alas, my
clones are uncooperative so I'm combining what I can and sending others to the rest with the hope they might take a few useful
notes. (Those who have watched my blog longest know I take lots of notes; up to them whether they are useful or not).
1 jun 11 @ 8:02 pm
Meanwhile, no more quilting! A little crochet and decorating and maybe quilt piecing... and the book revision continues
a little more slowly. The hardest part, I think, is recognizing what just needs to be deleted in its entirety and I've been
deleting scenes and sections of scene that just don't convey anything new. It's especially hard when I finally have polished
a good verbal argument or clever reparte, and will now need to leave them out or convey the conflict or friendship through
some other scene with more value information-conveyance wise. No point in having an argument about issues and information
the reader already knows very well. More often, it's just explanatory phrases or a few lines here and there that I drop for
being overly or repetitively informative, and that's easier both to recognize and to delete. I ease the pain of deletion
by cutting it over to an "unused" file. Besides not having to really permanently delete that way, once in awhile
I find a useful turn-of-phrase that can be used to convey some other, new bit of information or I might just read a deleted
scene of a certain flavor to get into an appropriate writing mode for conveying the tone and mood to some other scene.
I don't think I could really explain how to show that someone is angry or cheery, gets along, or really doesn't, but once
I get into the swing - thinking about the appropriate sorts of gestures and actions, remembering that some mood is going to
decrease the dialog in favor of action or vice versa, and getting into dialog that is non responsive instead of sensible (to
show a "I'm not listening to you" frame of mind) - often by reading something of the same, it comes a little easier.
If I can even get started in the right direction, I can edit and revise in such a way as to make it more of the same.
Anyway, deleting was where I was aiming. One of the better workshops I attended a couple of years ago, the teacher said that
most people started by eliminating words (to polish, make less verbose, and shorten, always desirable in the view of publishers)
but that when we could start eliminating in chunks, we were probably more in the ball park. Keep what NEEDs to be kept, including
what clarifies or achieves more than one thing (descriptions that convey mood and foreshadow as well as giving the reader
an essential image of the scene), and delete the rest.
Writer's challenge: take a scene or short story. Shorten it by one third, one half. What's really missing, now?