Monday, February 27, 2012
structuring a story
Can't not write at all, even if I'm supposed to be working on letters and proposal packages, so I've been playing with a story
that I have been working on off and on for a while. It has a world -- a little too narrowly defined a world, with too little
flexibility for character interaction, but I've been playing a little with that. I have several characters that I think work
well. I have a lot of scenes, stacks of scenes. I think I have the making of a series. what I don't have is a story for
each book, and at the moment, it is essentially one of those endless series, where the characters never quite escape, where
escaping is even as problematical as not escaping, and where it's more realistic to think some successor generations in the
future might make the escape. I might play with that -- their escape not being enough to end the greater problem, but that
could be books further along and I still don't have a workable first book.
27 feb 12 @ 8:43 pm
Things I've been toying with are making one of the local bad guys more intelligent or at least more evilly clever rather than
terminally stupid and selfish, or else to make the stupidity more dangerous to the central characters. Either way, to only
hint at one of the series bad guys who is operating mostly behind the scenes. In the first book or three, he could even be
more or less helpful, the conniving, subtle evil, their Moriarty, while he is still looking like the wise professor, so long
as I have a strong enough local trouble.
I have also been considering book length. I think that what I have for a potential first novel is too long for even a longish
short story. It might be novella length, but knowing how I build scenes and story and side characters, especially if I can
loosen the structure and involve more side characters, which I think would make the world seem more complete, fully textured,
and all, it will grow into a short novel, but how short is considered long enough to bother with these days? Most of the
books I've been seeing, despite the official push to aim for 100,000 words or less whenever possible, makes me wonder if a
novel can to be too short to be taken seriously. Certainly having lots of characters--as seems to be popular these days==won't
work with shorter novels, so I have to keep the number of primary characters down (I have two human-ish protagonists and five
supporting roles not playable by human actors besides side characters and the antagonists in this one). But I wonder if that
I also wonder if the non-human roles fill fly, since so many publishers seem intent on aiming for blockbuster movie-able books
and despite movie magic allowing almost anything, I'm not seeing much besides human-like aliens/mythical creatures, monsters,
and live-action real-life animals in the movies unless fully animated. Hmmmmm, can I see it as a Disney feature cartoon...?
More likely a tv animated series for Saturday mornings, and that whole genre seems to have largely disappeared as well, with
a few notable exceptions.
Writer's challenge: use an inanimate object, an animal/beast, or a cartoon character as a key element in a scene, or create
a cartoon character verbally or by sketching it.
Friday, February 24, 2012
getting started after finishing
As far as I can figure, for each book I want to pitch (the first books of two fantasy series, and two stand-alone science
fiction novels, for now), I need to write "a" query letter - really, a couple of the central paragraphs that tell
something about the book and something about me: the first paragraph, that addresses the target and why they might like whichever
book I'm bringing to their attention, will be different for each one, depending on what I can figure out about their interests--not
much, so far, even when the provide little write-ups that seem intended to convey hints.
24 feb 12 @ 9:33 pm
They also each need several synopses of various lengths, as how much the agent or publisher wants seems to vary a lot. I
usually start with a long one, then see what I can chop while conveying a sense of what the story is like. That's been harder
and guidance has been kind of vague as well as inconsistent, everything from tell about every chapter and the tricks you use
to carry the reader along to blurb-like summaries as if you were writing the back cover or inside jacket to get the readers
interest, present tense--as for a book review--the story of the book or something that conveys the style of the story as well
as it's content...
I'd be happier if I thought it mattered less and that the real story mattered more, but a lot of the candidate recipients
of pitches don't want even a few sample pages of the book, just the letter and synopsis and I have yet to get more than a
generic rejection regardless of what I've sent so, as far as I'm concerned, the synopsis is everything and the writer must
telepathically know what is expected and desired, what the agent or publisher will latch onto and what will turn them off.
In one regard, knowing that allows a certain kind of freedom. I can jump in, make my guess, and hope for the best. And
I can't do anything about how they take it.
The last part is comparatively easy--make sure the first part of the book is polished to a gnat's hair and formatted correctly
and be ready to shop it at scene's end or chapter's end as needed for the length they are requesting. At the start of a book,
whoever would have guessed that was the easy part?
Writer's challenge: Whether you are done with the book or not, draft a synopsis by introducing the key characters and then
start at the start and work your way though whatever you have or have in mind. Note the gaps and any inconsistencies or discontinuities.
Writer's challenge #2: In a scene with dialog, swap two character's, so that they are each arguing/pushing for what the other
wanted/believed. Adjust the dialog to match the character. (If you didn't have to change much, reconsider whether your character's
speech pattern needs revising.)
Writer's prompt: character changes his or her mind
Thursday, February 23, 2012
Posting is likely to be erratic for the next few weeks, between vacation preps, catching up on the household stuff I've been
neglecting while finishing my latest novel, and figuring out how to tackle more serious efforts at getting an agent or publisher.
23 feb 12 @ 9:12 pm
First, there's the let down after finishing a novel, even if I tell myself it needs revision and polish, it's done end-to-end,
and that's about as anticlimactic as it gets. Doneness is always presented as something to cheer about, but I'll cheer when
it sells. Until then... "what's next?" is the only thing on my mind. Don't know if that's good or bad but there
Not that there isn't plenty. A small stack of quilts to finish, blogs, novels that are started but not finished, older finished
ones that need polish and need even more to be pitched around. That's not my forte but I've gotten some practice and a little
advice, so I'll be tackling it again and will of course report what I can of my progress (the hard part seems to be knowing
if I'm making any for weeks and months at a time: is another rejection progress because it's a possibility off the list?
(I've heard of authors practically boasting of how many rejections they've gotten, though only those who finally sold a book
or three.) I figure if I get 20 rejections this year, I've at least done my part in sending at least 20 queries, which is
more than I've managed so far. I find preparing the packages tedious and getting to the post office a challenge, as if it
were the proverbial dentist.
Writer's challenge: Look at story you've finished, polish it for about one hour if it's short, a couple of days if it's long.
Submit it to one journal, agent, or publisher, no matter how unready you think it might be.
Writer's prompt: Write a scene wherein one of the character's writes something, whether with a quill, a pen, a computer,
a paint can, a lazer, an electronic finger... you get the idea.
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
The Realms Thereunder review continued
I still haven't read as much as I would have liked for commenting (and will probably comment in later posts, post tour).
What I've read and skimmed includes lots of fun with illusions and magic, delightful characters, and a fascinating premise
that promises for a good series (The Ancient Earth Trilogy).
22 feb 12 @ 9:47 pm
As a wanna be, I always wonder if the publisher has actually bought the whole trilogy (to be billing it as such), and whether
it's all written (to know it will be a trilogy). I waited to even try to get mine published until the trilogy, then separate
quadrilogy, were complete and always wonder if waiting was the wisest course.
The writing is nicely polished, the vocabulary appropriate to young adult, the scenes well developed. If there is anything
that I would change (and as a writer, I can hardly look at a book without thinking about what I might do differently), it's
that I would take a hatchet to the dialog. I might be biased after recently spending a lot of time shortening an overly long
book of my own, but I thought the dialog longer than necessary. The dialog is realistic and believable, but a bit too much
so for my taste. It's a great skill, to make a dialog believable, but the reader usually doesn't need every step of a discussion
from meeting to departure spelled out. Chit chat to convey character is one thing, but to convey the normal... sometimes
it's enough to say they discussed the issue and decided...
On the other hand, they do say that dialog gives an immediacy of action more than narrative, and what works and doesn't for
today's young people... They may like the live play and it has more substance than many conversations I've heard in passing,
so this might be the abbreviated version. It does slow the pace somewhat, but it's a fairly easy read so probably not a serious
As to the labeling I mentioned yesterday - I think the scenes are well enough developed that the reader is unlikely to be
confused about the when's and where's of the action, so the labeled times and places and such are probably unnecessary. On
the other hand, they don't detract from the story and may be valuable to young readers who are reading the book over a longer
period of time.
For other opinions, check out the list on yesterday's post. If they haven't posted yet, try tomorrow, the last day of the
Writers' challenge: Record or try to transcribe a chat immediately after you've had it. Change some of the phrases to reflect
topics appropriate for one of your stories. Use it as the basis for a scene.
Tuesday, February 21, 2012
The Realms Thereunder - Book Review, part 1
21 feb 12 @ 9:10 pm
Don't know when I'll get to part 2 as I haven't finished reading it yet, but I wanted to post at least some basics and initial
observations. For more, see the list of links below for other people participating in the blog tour. For the book, see http://www.amazon.com/Realms-Thereunder-Ancient-Earth/dp/1595549099/
For information direct from the author, Ross Lawhead, check out the Authorís Web site - http://www.rosslawhead.com/blog/
Some readers will have recognized the author's name, then hesitated over it? That would be because you are familiar with
his father Stephan Lawhead, with whom Ross has done some collaborative work. The Realms Thereunder is his first novel, his
solo flight of fantasy, you might say.
It's contemporary and historical fantasy, with enough history to tease and intrigue some of my historical novel friends, but
the action starts in the present (or eight years back) and a nicely follow-able three central characters: Danny the homeless
guy, Freya, the student on psychotherepeutic drugs, and Alex Simpson the constable. They are all delightfully unique and
facing some interesting challenges and enemies from the start.
I would call it young adult, though these days that label doesn't always mean what it used to. Eight years ago they were
13 year olds, but but now the main characters in their early twenties, so both teens and college students will find plenty
to relate to. Other elements, not so much of the story but of the novel's structure seem intended to allow a younger audience,
with each change of scene clearly demarked with numbers and labels, dates, and other information so that the reader doesn't
need to puzzle it out. It also has a prologue (that as much confused as clarified, though it may make sense when I get further
into the book). Like many fantasies, I think age matters less than the interest in things fantastical, including illusion
and magic, mythical beasts, and historic realms where all the rules are different and yet to be discovered.
CSFF Blog Tour
Rebecca LuElla Miller
John W. Otte
Donita K. Paul
Rachel Starr Thomson
Writer's challenge: Look at your first chapter: Is is the start of the change that puts the story in action or is it background
for what is to come? Consider whether it could be a backflash or prologue instead.
Writer's prompt: Write a story that includes medicine, shadow, glass, and park
Friday, February 17, 2012
Story climax continued
I'm still working on the climax to my story but I think it is getting there. Much more than the rest of the book, it is as
much about cutting away as bullding, mostly cutting away anything that was explained or shown earlier, anything that slows
the pace, anything that doesn't add to the tension or start to resolve it into the final solution. A few explanations get
pushed to the tail end of the story, but most just get moved to the deleted file so that I can double check that everything
is as clear earlier as it needed to be (preferably through demonstration rather than explanation, but definately not in the
middle of the climax).
17 feb 12 @ 8:22 pm
Mostly with this one I have two problems: I want it to be partially battle scene but the main character is only an indirect
part of it. I'm never sure that's a great idea even if it's not really a story about space battles as much as alien encounters.
In this case, the ending I have in mind (all of the options I have in mind, even) require that she be where any participation
in the battle is either indirect or after the story ends, so who is where are even more troublesome than usual and I've had
to adjust many of the dialogs for changes in personnel available to participate, or at least arrange for comms links and appropriate
changes in who can see and hear what through which mechanisms.
Futuristic settings at least allow for a maximum of dislocated activity and conversation whereas historic fantasies require
more personal presence and consideration of travel instead of connectivity. The challenge is remembering to use those capabilities
appropriately and to make sure they are not sprung on the reader for the first time at this late date just because they are
needed. However realistic to the local technology, they will still be seen as deus ex machina if they aren't used earlier
in the story as well.
Still, it's finally getting there, the ending is getting sorted out a bit along the way, and then I'll be "done"
at which point I'll immediately go back to the beginning of the story to make sure the beginning and end are in line. Among
other things, I've found that the tone of the ending is polished whereas the tone at the beginning was not yet fully developed
and will come across poorly unless it's polished up to match the ending. Also, my vision at the start may have drifted, and
the ending and beginning need to relate in more than tone to be a complete story. First scenes are hard but they are easier
once the ending is more firmly in mind.
Writer's challenge: Take a story you struggled with or a novel that you remember being unsatisfied with. Read the last 25
pages (or last couple of pages of a shorter story), then read the beginning. Write a new ending or a new beginning that would
have made the book or story better, irrespective of any problems in the middle.
Thursday, February 16, 2012
Writing and communicating
In my journal I was lamenting that Facebook discussions are so often an illusion made of a bunch of people speaking a monolog
that shows up in one newsfeed, but even as I wrote it, I realized that it was nothing new, that the dialogs I was familiar
with, famous in history, were often much the same. for example, I studied the Russian philosophers (Belinski among others
whose names were less memorable) of the late 19th C/early 20th C for a course. I always thought of them as having a written
discourse or even a personal one, but the sources on them are mostly books and "book reviews" with each expounding
on their own views and commenting on others, essentially blogging but in a slower medium, often as the only ways they could
share their ideas at all across distances, borders, occasionally prison bars.
16 feb 12 @ 9:24 pm
In the end, all the computer seems to have done at times is make it go a little faster, which besides giving the illusion
of an interactive discourse, and of making it more aparent that those who are not participating are declining, rather than
unable to join in the discussion.
Still, even that seems about normal these days, even if I always imagined more being common in the past. I have had to learn
to be careful about debating even when I find someone who can handle it well and avoid it becoming too emotionally, because
observers will assume we are "arguing" even when we are both enjoying the lively discussion. I wonder if it was
ever really common and acceptable, though. Even the famous ancient discourses were usually written in the form of a dialog,
by a single person.
All the talk of "emotional intelligence" has convinced me that most people are aware of no more than the vague concept
but have never exercised it. We rarely practice intellectual dialog that is sensitive enough and controversial enough to
require effort at emotional strength and control and it's risky to try with the disapproval that is so often shown to those
that display their passion for an issue. If there is no passion, the discourse is no more than passing the time.
Writer's challenge: Pick a controversial topic and have two characters argue it, no holds barred except that it has to be
verbal. Change the topic to something pertinent to the story. Change the characters to those on opposite sides of the disagreement.
Look at any other dialog. Where is the point of disagreement? Make it a degree more passionate.
Friday, February 10, 2012
I was writing on my other blog about quilt-making and the on-again off-again relationship between piecing and quilting when
I realized that I was as much writing about story conflict and characters in conflict (or perhaps comedy romances which are
their own kind of conflict). They start apart, come together, but each have their own history, their own goals, and each
wanting to have things their own way, not always to the liking of the other, and if they are the protagonist and antagonist,
severely to the distaste of each other.
10 feb 12 @ 6:18 pm
So why do they even bother with each other if they don't want the same things? Most quilts have both mix of fabrics in some
pattern or chaos, and stitching to hold top, batting, and backing together, even if they (or their makers - the piecer and
the quilter) don't always agree how they fit together.
To have the interactive conflict that makes a good story, the antagonist and protagonist have to have points of need that
are shared, even if everything else about their interests and desires is in conflict. In the old westerns, the watering holes
might be enough, scarce as they are and everyone needing water. But other elements can be in common, too, like the owner
of jewels and the thief who sees the jewels as his way to wealth, or two people wanting the same third party, perhaps for
different reasons, such as wealth or love, leverage or protection. Those in conflict might also be essentially neighbors,
neiher wanting to leave in order to avoid conflict, especially if avoiding it has serious costs and consequences. That's
the making of a good story.
Writer's challenge: TAke two of your characters and lock them in a room together with the first food either have seen in
days or each their own puzzle with the pieces mixed together in a pile. Develop action, dialog, thoughts. Then replace the
food or puzzles with something more appropriate to your story.
Tuesday, February 7, 2012
I was cleaning and found, as I often do, a folder with some drafts. In this case, it was drafts I had been sure were around
here somewhere... so I took a brief break from my current novel revision to type the "new" pages into the computer
where they join a story that I suspect remains largely scattered around the house and in my head. It and another are the
top two on my list to follow the one I'm currently working on but may have to wait for me to write a stack of agent querries
and for me to figure out what to do with the mess I've created. Both stories have gotten piecemeal work and suffered, I suspect,
from my trying to compose on the computer. Well, that's the problem with the one. The other is sufficiently geeky a topic
that the computer work reminds me to use the technology that supposedly surrounds the characters. Still, I may write letters
on the computer and then take a break by handwriting more drafts (hopefully without further scattering them around the house)
until I'm sure I've found most of the older drafts and until I've figured out the plot a bit more.
7 feb 12 @ 5:14 pm
I have some great scenes. I have one great character and one that needs some more work and several side characters that don't
show up enough to be more than a brief entertainment on the side. I have goals, or at least stated goals. I'm not sure they
are the real goals of the characters (I have a suspicion that they are trying to make it a romance and I've toyed with the
idea of a tragic romance, then decided that I could do that for a second book in a trilogy or for the start of a second trilogy,
but i could never bring myself to let it end that way. I have an overly narrowly defined world (which you would think difficult,
spanning as it does half a galaxy). I have, perhaps, the material for five or six books of that sort of series where the seeming
main problem is always there in the picture frame but only localized problems ever get solved. It might make a good fantasy/science
fiction cartoon series... Do they make those anymore? Book plot, though? it's not quite there.
Meanwhile, it provides an interesting contrast for the book I'm working on (still struggling with the climax and avoiding
the much needed battle scene). It's like keeping your first attempts at a new craft (a practice I highly recommend): this
one has come a long way from it's cartoonish beginnings, come back from some long detours, and is more solidly in the teen
camp than I realized until I had the chance to compare it to the more adult cartoon story above. It's good to have the old
stories to hold up s a comparison to see how far you've come. (The drafts I was typing were from more than ten years ago).
Also, date your drafts. Very valuable, eventually.
Writer's challenge: take a character from one story or world and put them into another. If you're on your first world (time,
place, culture, whatever), take a character from there and put them out on the street in front of your own house. If you've
only written about your own neighborhood, put them in the White House. If you're writing and live in the White House, go
for a long stroll on the Mall. You need the break.
Friday, February 3, 2012
Fiction Friday ends
i was thinking of checking out the Fiction Friday prompt by Write Anything today, but it turns out they've cancelled them.
I'm not surprised. Most of their prompts the last year have been too specific to awaken the imagination, and while it might
seem to help guide the writing, first drafts have to be all about the imagination and not about fitting some guideline. As
a result, I've sometimes been one of only three or four participants, and that was on the weeks I thought to check them out
AND found a prompt I could do something with. I assume on the whole they haven't been getting the participation they hoped
for, and with concerns about copyright and potential publisher reactions to online posting, many participants have no doubt
kept their results of their writing to themselves instead of posting and commenting. I cou'nt get their post about its cancellation
to open, so they might have said more of something different, but that's my take. A disappointment but not a surprise.
3 feb 12 @ 9:58 pm
Well, for those who liked it, I will include prompts as I think of them among my writer's challenges. I have occasionally,
anyway, but mostly have found myself suggesting other writing exercises and related activities and not prompts. If they are
prompts that work, it would be nice to get feedback. If they are prompts that don't, that would be nice to know too.
Writer's challenge: look around the room and pick some object or color. Study at it for a good solid five minutes (but don't
watch the clock unless you've chosen a clock!). Write.
Wednesday, February 1, 2012
Finding time, some more
I'm managing to find a little time here and there to increase my writing time, so far indirectly. I found a few things that
take a few minutes each that, with a little planning, I can do on my lunch break at work. Not a lot of time saved for writing
in the evening, but a little bit helps and adds up, especially if it can add up to a good hour block of time sometime during
the week. In an hour I can do some research on agent and publisher submission requirements or revise a chapter, or draft
1 feb 12 @ 7:42 pm
Still working on the climax of my book, about 50-50 deleting and writing, partly removing remnants of the side plot I've removed,
partly removing notes and explanations and replacing them with the action to show it, lots of resequencing. Sometimes the
sequencing is an obvious fix - they can't react to something that hasn't happened yet. Other things, that are essentially
simultaneous are a little harder to sort for order. Mostly I work through all the key characters and what's happening with
them. Ultimately, I decide what feels right based on the mood in each scene: I like a little seeming success, then lots of
trouble in lots of places, characters struggling against each other to their own disadvantage before finally making progress,
like a miniature version of the story overall.
I think where I struggle most ismaking things go badly, characters making poor choices, or specifically choices that are reasonable
from their perspective but not for the parts of the story they don't know about. Occasionally, I'll find myself having a
character coming to the right assumption about what happened off stage, when really they have no means of knowing or guessing
what happened, even such simple things as "What did she say?" when the character had no reason to know the character
was conscious to say anything. The fix is easy: the question can be different but the answer the same. Identfying that it
was a problem in the first place? I read it through several times in varying sequences before I noticed that there was a
continuity where there shouldn't have been one. Before I'm done, I'll end up drawing maps of where characters are and who
they are communicating with to make sure they can move, know, and act the way I have them. But first I need a little more
order in place of the current chaos. I can more easily change who is available for a dialog and adjust the conversation accordingly
than I can come up with the whole dialog from scratch after sorting out all the characters. How about you? I suppose those
who can write a story from start to finish don't have quite the same problem?
Writer's challenge: pick any scene. List the topics of a dialog. List who needs to know what for the dialog to make sense.