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This blog is 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.

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Monday, January 30, 2012

Working on the climax again
The cutting of several scenes and side lines enabled me to see better what scenes could be put together to form the climax and what was still needed to complete it. As with most climaxes, several things are still happening all at once despite all that I've chopped away. I have several POV characters to work with so it isn't a matter of following just one character and them seeing what is going on around them. Instead, it's a series of short scenes from several points of view and the trick is to make sure each scene has enough to be a scene and carry the story forward in order to build the full picture of what is happening and where it is could be going, then where it is going and to get there with the characters.

The why should no longer be needed. If explanations are needed, then something has been built sufficiently well before the climax. How should be all action and not mechanics (for science fiction, all the technology or scinece should already have been introduced: again, the climax is no place to be explaining). Because I awlays explain in my early drafts (if only to tell myself what needs to be inserted earlier on revision), building the climx can entail a lot of shortening of scenes and elimination of scenes that have become no more than redundant explanation if I've revised the rest properly. If my scenes were mostly two or three pages earlier, the climax will have half-page scenes. If I can do that, and still have the feeling that the story is moving forward, then I figure I'm doing well. Sometimes pieces are unclear: if the characters are experiencing chaos, the reader can experience a bit, too, but generally they should not have to ask what is happening: who, why, where it's going, all those might be in question (hinted at earlier, explained earlier, but not in the climax) until the climax starts to form into the conclusion, then the bulk of the answers can be made clear.

Even then, I think the possibility that the reader missed something is okay, even necessary for a good book that reders will want to read a second time. Not everything should be spelled out even for very young readers. Points can be subtle, there for the reader to discover in the reading and re-reading rather than told to them. What's more important is that the answer, or the information needed to come up with the answer, all be there somewhere in the book, once, if they paid attention and if they look for it again later.

Afterwards, a few things can be explained through dialog, but by no means everything. Indeed, the lack of an explanation is more tolerable than the lack of evidence behind the explanations that are provided. The most frustrating books were those where the conclusion include phrases that explain things for which no evidence was previously given, such as mention of a love triangle when the interest of a third party was never expressed as anything but friendship, or a super hero capability that is never mentioned until it becomes a miracle save.

Writer's challenge: Draw a picture at the center of the page. this is the climax. Draw several lines form the outside toward the center. Label them with characters and their intentions and goals as they charge into the climax. Do you have a scene or two that captures each of these lines?
30 jan 12 @ 9:23 pm

Saturday, January 28, 2012

I sometimes feel like I spend a lot of time writing and revising, but when I write letters, i tend to tell people how I spend my days, and writing is all too often low on the list, something that I only do that last hour of each day and not much of the weekends. The hour or so at the end can accomplish a lot, but it's not helping make progress on submitting proposals to agents and publishers and it's not nearly as much time as want to be dedicating to fiction writing. For now, it can't be a full time job, but somehow I need to increase that fiction writing time if I want to really make progress where it counts.

But how and where? Here are some ideas (implemnting them... we'll have to see how and if they can translate into reality)

Use the little notebook I always carry more often
Lunch breaks with notebook
Replace some of the less interesting tv shows (which I'll watch as something to watch while doing hand crafts; so essentially drop some craft time in favor of writing time)
Plan the tasks associated with the agent and publisher part of the business as I would plan bill paying (necessary for business but not relaxing and not something I can do right before sleeping, so scheduled time earlier) Maybe on the days I don't blog.

Writer's challenge: what part of the business side of writing do you need to improve in your life? Take one step toward improvement.
28 jan 12 @ 8:32 pm

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Still chopping
Still expanding some scenes and chopping others. i could tell the story sidelines that weren't going anywhere - thin early on and almost non-existent at the very end. Some sense of logic told me the story needed the sidebars, the excessive length and my own disinterest in developing those scenes eventually told me they weren't needed, weren't going to add anything, and could make it less unique and more predictable, neither particularly desirable. I think part of the reason I tried to add it was a desire to have a more specific "bad guy" - I have instead people with individual biases and opinions not getting it together, failing to form a concensus or do the right thing, to their own potential detriment. I waffled a lot but decided eventually that that is okay. Man against himself is legitimate opposition, too, especially if the characters are strong enough to cause conflict, internally or externally or both. It's more obvious, and sometimes more convincing and acceptable to have clear bad guys and good guys, and sometimes I have those, but it just wasn't going to happen in this story and I just hope the characters that I'm keeping are strong enough and distinct enough to catch the interest of readers. (I can do what I think is exaggerated characteristics and still get feedback of flat characters on occaaion, so that is always one of my big concerns, but complicating the plot isn't a real fix.

Writer's challenge: take the pieces about a single character and look at them separately: actions, descriptions, dialog: do they fit together to make a clear character?
24 jan 12 @ 10:19 pm

Saturday, January 21, 2012

essay writing and current trends
I used to, and occasionally still do, write what I consider proper essays: artistic writings about something that isn't in the form of a story or an opinion article nor unpolished plain words (like blogs tend to be). I used to think that I could do a series of essays and have an audience that appreciated the literature of it, but not only do I think the form is not currently appreciated (like what I think of as proper science fiction), I think we have run out of audience that even knows what it is beyond a composition exercise for school children (if that: do they teach composition in school anymore? They weren't teaching much in the way of English grammar when I was in elementary and middle school, though it was assumed I would know it when I reached high school English: fortunately I learned a lot as a side-effect of learning foreign languages).

It's not necessarily a bad thing. Arts and crafts have been lost over the centuries and found again, reinvented and renovated, and essay writing will likely be much the same. It's fun to write and often fascinating to read if it's done well, and there are still a few true essayists out there. I found one that used the essay form very effectively to write about the work of several famous artists, putting some aspects of their style into the way he wrote about them and their work. Andy Roony gave a generation or two of audiences a taste of the oratorial version at the end of 60 Minutes each week, though most oratory is now associated with motivational speaking or religion, and stage performances, like writing, is almost exclusively in story form if it isn't musical these days. Perhaps it will gain a resurgence through blogging, some of which are far more like essays than any other writing format found these days.

Like many art forms and genres, it will probably require a "school", as in school of thought rather than as in a place of learning; a collection of people with a shared vision (even if they've never met) and among them a few successful writers (or speakers) who will aide in making the whole set more popular, whether new or renewed or shifted in a new direction.

Some of the science fiction I grew up with and the essays I learned to love from generations earlier are both lost to a culture that has other interests and directions for their energy, tucked into the shadows like incandescent light bulbs as spot lights shine on vampires and zombies, tweets and the complex stories that are neither adventure nor soap opera but something of each. Eventually times and artists and the ways of the cosmos will realign, florescent bulbs will come and go, and essays forms and orators will come again into the light, and perhaps wear a different face than before or glow under a different bulb.

Okay, the last got a little out of hand in my effort to avoid trite and tired metaphors, but there you are. Such is the life of a blogger.

Writer's challenge: make a list of things that make today different from five or ten or twenty years ago. Make a list of things that could be different ten years from now, or that you would like to be different or would hate to be different. Write a story that focuses on one or two of those changes and incorporates two others.
21 jan 12 @ 2:30 pm

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Chop chop
When my "unused file" grew to over a hundred pages, I noticed I'd been deleting a lot form my book, more even than I realized: about forty thousand words over the last couple of months, along with three side characters and two extraneous side plot lines. Yet I've only shrunk my book by about ten thousand. I knew I'd been fleshing out a couple of weak scenes and added a couple that were no more than "this needs to happen there" and such notes. I think it will be a better story, for the young audience I intended. The story line will be simple, possibly too simple for the taste of some of the agents and publishers, but I haven't noticed the really complicated plota and multiple-central characters working all that well either, so I opted to not worry about that as much as keeping what seemed to be the most interesting science fiction elements and scenes and letting the rest take care of itself. complicated plot was requiring too much chatter and scenes that just weren't going where I wanted them to. It doesn't have to be a complex story. It does have to be an interesting one, and Sometimes the characters to their own way. Maybe another story, another time for them...

Writer's challenge: Look at one scene in your story. What does it achieve? Is it fun or otherwise interesting? Does every character in the scene have a role in this scene? What if a browser (reader checking out a book, not the software thingy) turned to this scene: Would this one scene convince the reader that the rest of the book or story will be a good read?
19 jan 12 @ 9:10 pm

Saturday, January 14, 2012

A book is like a loaf of bread
Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Hertzberg and Francois is more how not to write a book than a good example, but they do have lots of interesting recipes so I started experimenting this weekend. The first one I tried was as crusty as advertised on the outside and more literally custard-like on the inside than I expected. The texture was right but overly moist even thouhgh it was fully cooked, and I kept thinking that despite it lacking sugar, it would make a better bread pudding than munchy bread.

The bread was, I decided, a book still in need of revision. The crust is the story line: it can be well formed and firm but encircle an imperfect content. The odd interior is scenes and characters still in need of polish, the descriptions that need to be more crisp, the dialog less waffly. On the other hand, a weirdly shaped loaf with a floppy or tough crust but tasty luscious bread inside would be a story that needs work around well-developed characters and good scenes that only need better sequencing or direction.

The story I'm currently working on is more of the latter. Their are plot elements that are just not quite right though most of the scenes are shaping up well (except for a few that are still in first draft as I try a refit on the story line). A few of the characters falter late in the story but more because I haven't given them a clear role in the ending scenes than because their nature and choices are weakly defined.

My next step is to step back and talk to them again, ask them what they would DO on their own given the chance, more than how they would react, which is where the focus of their actions and dialog currently is. For some characters, reaction is appropriate, especially when events are changing in the beginning and other characters have the initiator role, but I have characters who would try to gain control of the situation and their selves--if they were behaving according to the nature I've given them--who are still just reacting well into the events. I had a plot in mind, but a weak one in the latter third quarter, and am thinking that the characters need to take charge for awhile. If I have the right character set, and the right setting (I think the set up is solid, so not the problem; the oven is hot and ready) they'll take care of the plot for me, like the yeast in the dough.

Writer's challenge: write about a problem you are having with a story as if telling a friend. Do they need to respond or just listen?
14 jan 12 @ 11:54 am

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Writing the right thing
Back in December, I was hoping to do a writing marathon in January, then in January decided I was crazy as I have too many other things that have to be done now. As the month goes on, it's still crazy, but I realized I was writing more than I realized, just not the fiction that was the aim: nonfiction at work (including instructions and advice, like how to edit and give feedback ;-), letters at home, budgets and travel itineraries and of course my journal and blogs. It all adds up. It's all practice for writing, and they all offer opportunities to learn writing techniques, and even some creativity and imagination, but still not writing fiction.

There's something differnt about creating a world from scratch instead of from facts, information, knowledge. I think sometimes when we struggle with fiction it's because we are trying to keep a story "real" or "realistic" when we need to be letting our imagination flow freely. Oh, eventually some facts might be thrown in, some realism, to keep the story grounded, to make the make-believe believable, but look at cartoons, comedies, spy movies. Where is the realism in those? Yet they are fun romps with sometimes impressive stories and deep, complex messages that we remember and rediscover for generations. It's not the realism that makes a story, even a "realistic" "historic-based" one. It's the vision the writer has created that makes the difference, their creativity and subtle insight that comes from allowing all the knowledge and experience come together not logically but freely in the unique mind of the writer. It's been too long since I've been able to sit and really write something new - lots of revising, lots of polishing, but not writing something new and letting it flow through my fingers (where my creative souls seems to lie, tirggered by holding a pen) and Ilook forward to something more than the fifteen minutes before I crash to sleep each night and more freeing than facing a computer with an endless list of nonfiction tasks at hand.

Writer's challenge: find three empty hours away from likely interruptions and take up pen and paper. Doodle. Or not.
10 jan 12 @ 8:08 pm

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Now I remember why I don't do resolutions
Maybe if I were retired or independently wealthy and didn't have a day job, I could, but with a day job, I have all these great ideas for my time, then everybody gets back to work from their vacations and trod all over my plans and enthusiasm. No huge deadlines I couldn't readily meet, no complicated messes, few demands on my time and energy except those I was putting on myself to accomplish my own goals. That's what I had at the end of last year. At the end of this week... long hours and headaches and hardly the energy left at the end of the day to communicate coherently, certainly not to get anything done that I hoped or planned. i had been considering trying to do a January write more since there was no way I was going to do in November. Now I'm thinking February... I wrote, but it was mostly revisions and not more than fifteen minutes a night. The rest was blogs and a couple of half scenes (revising is lots of deleting but also gap-filling). Maybe 2000 words at a guess. I could write more on a one week trip between chatting, photos, and driving than I expect to get done in January, now.

Writer's challenge: Take a five minute break each hour and write at least one sentence. Repeat for at least one week of days (Don't break up your sleep. Creativity requires proper rest, too.)
7 jan 12 @ 1:32 pm

Monday, January 2, 2012

Character building
Not too many character-building resolutions for my new year, except my story characters. In the past, some readers found a couple of my characters weakly built, though I had a strong vision of them, so I watch for opportunities to show the characteristics I envision. Here are some I've found:

How they deal with minor as well as major defeats, before or after the event, such as a game where defeat is clear before the game has ended.

How/if they finish projects they are interested in (or not so much) e.g., known to leave things unfinished, slow while daydreaming, more quickly (if less effectively) if they dislike it...

How they deal with children, pets, other animals and annoyances

How they deal with with undervalued, lower-class, elderly, handicapped, or otherwise vulnerable persons

What they collect, keep, remember, forget, neglect

Who they notice or respond to differently than others (often certain family members, leaders, rivals, starlets, etc.)
-- response to a pushy sore clerk or technician can reflect response to aggressive bad guy later.

Meals and food-related behaviors might show up in a wide range of settings and provide opportunities to present a wide range of character elements. Common meal types include home, formal dinners, business parties, grab-and-go. Who eats first? Who invites whom? What food do they choose to eat or disdain and why? Manners? Conformity?

Morning routines (stable routine, variable, extensive, careful, brief and careles, morning attitude, chaotic or organized.

Personal space (bedrooms, private apartments, work areas, hobby areas, other paces for retreat for retreat/alone-time): messy, neat, contents that reflect interests, philosophic and religious practices, history, values, who was important.

Public "face" - how different from when they are alone or with friends? Appearance, dress, behavior, mood/attitude, are they energized or wearied by interaction?
Practice/training sessions for exercises physical or mental skills, including relationship to fellow exercizors, coaches, trainers, and can include skills, dedication/effort, newness, complexity, level/success.

A feature that is important to understand about characters but often subtle in portrayal is loyalty hierarchy. For example, I was made aware of this feature in a discussion of the US civil war. Someone pointed out that in many ways, the sides were defined by their loyalty hierarchy. Both might (or might not) put God first, but thereafter:

North: Country first, state, locality, family (at least certain aspects thereof)

South: Family (or at least family/clan leader) first, locality, state, country only is so far as it didn't over-ride local and state views.

More contemporary, some cultures might be described as loyal to Son, brother, father, friend in the same context as some western cultures would say Parents, spouse, chlldren, friends (Siblings fit in their somewhere but more variable, depending on age, circumstances, and personalities).

Writer's challenge: Take a character and invite him or her to visit you in your own kitchen, living room, and bedroom. How would they react to the familiar or unfamiliar surroundings? How would they react to you? Your friends or family?
2 jan 12 @ 7:39 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.

Every word should be an experience