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Welcome to my blog!

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This blog was my online wordsmith workshop, where you'll find notes on my writing experiences, excerpts from my fantasy and science fiction novels, and essays of a more homeworld flavor.  Some of the advice therein may still be of interest to new writers so I have left it here but due to technical difficulties, I no longer post here regularly.  You can look me up on Dreamwidth, although I do not post frequently. 

Feel free to share a link to this site. If you opt to download it or share content, please give due credit to this website and the author: Emmalyn N. Edwards. Thank you--Emmalyn

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Friday, October 28, 2011

for teen audiences
continued conference notes:

when writing for teens, the following may help kee their interest:

lots of little mysteries

titles for chapters that raise curiosity

let reader know things the characters don't

cut chapters mid action, not at end of action

don't give characters a real break

deep details about key events focus and provide tension: shorten sentences for the good stuff

story as a series of mini climaxes, each more than the next: the flavor and presentation are more important than the action and story

Some links that were recommended, though I haven't had a chance to check them out myself:

www.cindachima.com

www.tofp.org/get/index.htm (not sure of my writing on that one - try query for "the open fiction project"

Some of speakers noted that there was rather a lack of under SF fans in the US (at least among the traditional con-attending fans) partly because of changes in what SF seems to mean, because of what publishers are picking to print and label as SF, because of a lack of "beginner level" SF writing, and because right now the whole culture doesn't have the sense of new discovery and delight in science that we had up to twenty or so years ago. (The last is happening in China, though, and most SF magazines and many books are translated into Chinese)

The potential is there, though, and many (not necessarily publishers) see the potential of using science fiction books to both teach basics of science (students are easier to teach if they have the right general idea rather than a strong bad concept of the science) and to garner their interest and inspire them to go into the sciences. (Its fine for technology to be a magic box for the majority of the public, but someone has to understand what goes on inside). For SF writers, that means the science has to matter to the story, because that's what gets the attention and focus. For example, utopia/distopias; in the best ones, the people aren't just victems or passengers, things are the way they are because we made it that way, some science made it that way, and that science impacts all that happens afterwards. On the other hand, that kind of real science fiction (as opposed to the incidental science fiction that appears in spy books or crime stories or the like) remains in the wider public's minds a thing of geeks, not quite socially acceptible as pop fiction (except horror, vampires, the pseudo and non-science "science fiction")

One other note about teen fiction: despite all the hype and growing awareness of the digital age and all, school and public librarians, teachers, and chain bookstores can make a break a book because they are often the ones that make the decisions on what is available and what is recommended to teen readers.

Writers' challenge: if you are a parent with access to a school library (most of the rest of us aren't allowed in the school), check our the fantasy and science fiction section: what are they carrying? what are they missing? What are student's reading?

Alternate: read a current magazine article about something technical. Can you use it in a scene?
28 oct 11 @ 9:23 pm

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

unique weaknesses
I'm thinking WEdnesdays are going to work better than Tuesdays for my regular posting day but we'll see. Fall and holidays are always crazy at the best of times but it may mean I get online more rather than less the way things have been going.

Writing fiction, I've been mostly typing and making chunk changes including following the advice from one of the workshops I attended about teen readers and sex scenes: much though talk of teens and sex seem to go together, as readers they aren't looking for graphic sex, they, even more than adult readers perhaps, are looking for the inuendoes, the trash talk, and the foreplay, the emotional interchange, the fears and anticipation and emotional roller coaster, all of which might culminate in the delightful passion and ecstacy of a first tentative kiss.

Some other tips from the workshop:

Something very odd makes a good start, and not only in science fiction and fantasy. The reader, especially perhaps the young reader, wants to be transported away from their own life. The oddity can be an odd attitude on the part of the character, quite often an important element of what makes the lead or other important character unique, and also often a cause of that character's problems (the thief in Lady Hawk, for example). If the POV is third person intimate, the writing can reflect how the character would speak, potentially an interesting oddity in itself that will attract attention, but this can be difficult to maintain if the speech style is too far from normal.

A common mistake when writing for teens (and writing as a teen) is to dwell on clothing. While teens are known for their attention to appearances, the writing still has to balance detail and narrative with action, and teen readers will have plenty of their own ideas about dress: give them a few details to work with, then let them fill in their own blanks for the rest. Also, appearance is far more than clothes, and a lot in a story might be about the character's view on appearances: pride and ego, status and position, their view of their own skills, abilities, self-expectations versus how others perceive them, and what they can actually accomplish when it comes to it, the learning process, self confidence. A character might do things in an effort to appear confident: everything from a jaunty nod, a hand on a hip, or taking on a task that more skilled and experienced characters wouldn't attempt alone. The effort to do what is impossible (without help) is the bulk of many teen and young adult stories and sets up its own conflict nicely. (I have the problem of occasionally giving characters too much ability or not hard enough tasks, and then wonder why the plot is weak and how to create appropriate conflict. It doesn't work Attempting the impossible works far better, even if finding a solution seems a daunting task for the writer as well as the characters.)

And along the way, leave the reader confused. Not a problem. Never let the reader have all the answers until the end of the book. That's what the ending is for.

Writer's challenge: what is your character worst at? Give him or her a task that would normally require s/he be good at that thing. Ready, set, go.
26 oct 11 @ 7:52 pm

Saturday, October 22, 2011

tips for editing and revising
Here are some odd bits from the conference that constitute tips rather than any coherent advice:

Avoid verbosity. A detailed and lengthy description has its place, but there are ways to write even a long description with fewer words without losing a single detail:

--choose the right verbs, avoid helper words, avoid caveats and modifiers. “There are” and “there were” constructions can almost always be eliminated and replaced with better, if only by dropping the “there” and moving the “were” to after the subject. The resulting construction will also make it easier to spot places to put a better verb and make a sentence more active.

--Be grammatically correct as often as humanly possible. It’s easy to say “but its not natural, it doesn’t fit my character", blah blah, and that may be true, but often it's merely an excuse to be sloppy and less clear than we could be. Make it correct first, then decide as a conscious choice to make it wrong. Don’t let it be wrong out of mere carelessness. Every rule has exceptions, but make them with good reason, not just because it “seems right”.

--It’s okay to give your story to someone to read but its better to read it to them. If you’re nervous about reading aloud (it used to be a common practice at school but has become more rare), start small, perhaps with fellow writers at the end of a free write, or just a random paragraph to get a reaction. Most people will enjoy being the audience, which is what makes books on tape so popular, but if you are really nervous, read it aloud to yourself (I actually find that harder as I rarely talk to myself, but I do talk to the cat or my computer at times, and they make safe audiences as well as more comfortable ones than an "empty room”. I assume the act of speaking or listening triggers different parts of the brain, but whatever it does, it works, especially for editing and to a lesser degree for revision.

--Talking is also an effective way to draft a troublesome section: tell someone what you are trying to present in a scene, then write down what you tell them, as close to the way yo tell them as possible. Often that verbal version makes a good draft for structure and content of the scene. Else the difficulty of the process will tell you that you were aiming in the wrong direction, missing a step or three (often if I have trouble with a scene, and with nonfiction writing, the problem is that I was trying to incorporate too much simultaneously and it needed to be three scenes instead of one.)

--Revision is often about cutting, even if that isn’t the goal when we begin. One of the most common things writers do is try to write it all down, and that’s great for a first draft or two, but its not what you want to give the reader. It is sometimes called “writing for the writer” and that is a valuable process, but it’s not the end of the writing process; it’s only the beginning. Now that you have written everything you know, it’s time to consider which pieces the reader really needs to understand the story. The rest can be dropped to the floor (or as I do it, cut and paste into a “unused stuff” file, which makes it easier for some of us that don’t like losing stuff permanently, in case we might want it back.

----The need to cut severely is especially true of descriptions. Sometimes rich details well presented are very valuable and part of the reading experience. I think this is especially true in fantasy writing, but a lot of it is just part of that first effort to put everything we thought of in writing, to help the reader to see everything that we see, when the reality is that readers have good imaginations and need only enough details to frame the scene and setting into a framework that they can thereafter fill in to their own liking. One of the reasons that movies are often not satisfying is that the cinematagraphers are not creating the scenes exactly as every reader pictured it, yet they may be as true to what the writer wrote as our own vision of the world. That might seem to argue for more detail, but the truth is that the more a readers can make it their own, the better they will be able to relate to the story, the better the writer can reach out and touch the reader’s soul.

----In science fiction, this often means focusing the writing on those elements that are different from contemporary life of the reader, to help them shift their perspective away from their own world to that of the novel. It also means that, however tempting, the writer shouldn't add differences merely for the sake of differences, with no role or value in the story. Too much difference is hard to relate to. Use the pieces that are meaningful differences for the characters, the story, the setting that impacts mood and direction. And use the similarities to earthly worlds of the past and present to help the reader get there. If you have dancing girls, a few words reflective of color and music and bare bellies might be sufficient to bring to mind the tv and movie dancing girls most of us have seen. Make it different, add more, only if it is important to make a distinction, for example to make it clear you really meant something more like ballerinas (toe shoes, orchestra, formal stage, full skirted costumes or a more mixed performers and audience...) or more like pole dancers than a harem...

--A little more may be needed for changing scenery. Fantasies often pass through several biomes with their different weather, plants, ground conditions, and the rest, but a listing of every kind of plant is less important than a sampling to indicate difference: ferns and tall trees or lichens and stunted trees, rocky ground or wet, and other details can be incorporated as the characters interact with element of the scene. Tolkien didn’t describe every rock formation, every twist in the path, just enough to let the reader form a picture of the area through which they were passing or struggling at any given point, key features such as the high peaks and their towers or the deep snow that made the slopes a problem. An established published author is likely to get away with more unnecessary detail but not necessarily to the benefit of the book.

Writers' challenge: pick one of the items in the list above and apply it to any story. Did it help?
22 oct 11 @ 7:47 pm

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Plotting and such
Besides needing a clear goal (which can be achieved early on so long as by then a bigger goal is identified), the goal(s) need to have stakes. It is, in fact, usually the stakes that determine how "big" the goal is: not the bigness of achievement, not the difficulty of achieving it, but the penalty for failure. That is why an initial goal is often replaced by a bigger one: tension is built by increasing the stakes. by the time the initial, selfish or at least personal goal is achieved, it is made trivial (or potentially turned into something bigger) by graeter threats to the individual or by threats to greater groups (family, society, the world, the universe...).

A great story doesn't require that the universe be threatened; it does require that the stakes grow and that tension building along the way. Achieving interim goals can actually add tension by creating conditions in which some characters think all has been solved and are relaxing while others, even friends and allies, are getting fired up over some new or "the real" problem.

Tension can also be built by remembering that you control what the reader knows, and they don't have to know everything. They especially don't need to understand everything. They can be given facts without explanation of why they matter (usually should be given facts and rarely need explanations; the lack of explanation keeps the reader interested, anticipating, keeps them coming back for more because they want to figure it out for themselves). The initial goal can be known up front. The bigger goals should be made known to the reader through setting, circumstances, character interaction, events, etc, not through explanation, preferably not even explanation by one character to another until after the reader has had a chance to realize the problem for themselves.

I always explain in my first draft--which in any case is always written for the writer--if only so I remember why some bit trivial to the scene is important to the story. But it has to get chopped in later drafts.

Writer's challenge: take a scene. Trim it by one third, leaving only what needs to be there.
19 oct 11 @ 7:56 pm

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Workshop Notes - Plotting
Not a hundred percent sure where I took these notes, but I think it was a bit over a year ago at Archon or some other SF Con with a good selection of writing workshops.

I must have ben at least somewhat annoyed by the speaker, but I get that way when a lot of new things are thrown at me, including in this case a new "recipi" format for plotting that I found a little questionable. I wrote in the margin of my own notes "this "flaw" focus sounds too comic-book."

In retrospect, maybe not so much. Part of the "recipi" was that the lead character or characters should have at least one noteworthy flaw. In other classes, the same message was that the main character (none of the characters) can be omnipotent (unless God is a character in the story). For one thing, characters that can do anything with ease and without consequence gets boring fast. A super-skilled character needs super opponents. With that line of reasoning, "flaw" could potentially be used to draw the characters away from the comic book super hero role as much as maintain the classic super hero recipi of having a weakness for the villein's to exploit.

Other notes (not all of them are legible) indicate that I saw other impacts of the concept being presented: the need for obstacles (individual characteristics that make the challenges more difficult than they might be for others as well as the challenges themselves), conflict (flaws causing bad choices or at least not the "one correct choice" in every instance--or in any instant). (I think I have some of my characters making the right choice too easily: but the right path is often difficult to take, sometimes difficult to see, less appealing in some way (and so impossible to see in automatic self defense), bad in the short term for the character choosing, etc. Otherwise we would all always make the right choice because it was easy, obvious, and to our own apparent benefit).

One way to test the plot is to check every scene and define a conflict, the role the character flaw(s) play, and the change that occurs in the process. This can be used to help make the decision to throw a scene out, to revise it to make it worth keeping, and to help make sure the story continues in interesting (not too straight and easy) directions.

Another way to test progress is to identify themes and motifs for your story and check for their role/presence in each scene. Some common (generic) young adult motifs include loss of innocense, love and friendship great journey, coming of age, and quest. There are many more specific ones: define one for your story and make sure that the theme at the beginning has something to do with the theme at the end and doesn't become a B-movie candidate by changing mid story

When trying to express a theme (some publishers ask for this and it's hard to check for it if yo can't properly define it), don't be saying anything about characters, focus instead on premise and scenario. If you are stating a sentence with "Two young lovers", it might be a plot description, but it isn't a theme.

Writer's challenge: does your story have a theme or motif? Does it have the same one at the end? Do the scenes between support it?

18 oct 11 @ 6:47 pm

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Computer Back Up
Just a quick note to let my readers know I'm back on line. Between travel and computer problems, I've had a lot of offline time: the good news is I found some conference notes I hadn't yet shared and drafted a couple of blogs on other matters related to writing besides playing with how to solve the problems of my recent novel attempts, so I'll have material for many posts to come, and not too many upcoming trips to get in the way or posting regularly.

One quick observation: as you know, I advocate handwriting, especially for early drafts but if you go this route: remember, keep track of where you put your story notes and make time to type them up. In the absence of online time, I did some extra house cleaning, and everywhere I turned I found small notes and notebooks half-filled with story notes that I hadn't yet typed up, including those dispersed through my trip journals, old and new.

Writer's Challenge: find a notebook size and style you like and pens that are comfortable to write with; stock up and find a place to store them, empty and full notebooks and pens ready to be used or tuckd into every purse and travel bag.
16 oct 11 @ 3:32 pm

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Be sure to get in touch so I know you're out there! See contacts page or e-mail wyverns(at)earthlink(dot)net.

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