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Welcome to my blog!


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. 

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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

It's easier, in some ways, when I start with one story that becomes three books. Then the challenge is to make each book a distinct story, even though the overall story continues. Actually, stories have been published that don't finish even one story line until the trilogy ends (Fantasy trilogies of this sort used to be common but these days, most agents and publishers don't advise it and theoretically won't allow it as a general rule), but I figure it is only fair to the reader to give them something so that not EVERYTHING is left hanging for a book that the publisher may be slow to get around to publishing.

With my books that start as their own one story, the challenge is totally different. The first book creates a world, some characters to work with, a new set up... and no story, so I'm at square one when I try to make sure I have that second book (series are popular for commercial fiction even if a lot of publishers insist on that stand alone first novel for a new author. They just mean the complete story arc, not that they aren't going to want a second book in the same world if it works. (Some successful authors hae complained that they have several worlds waiting in the wings, but their publisher demands just more of the same for the sure sales. I wonder how typical it is to have different series being worked by different publishers...) Anyway, I want to be ready for that second book, at a minimum.

But there are elements that I have to keep in mind that come naturally when it starts as the same story, like establishing some continuity, even if the situation calls for lots of new characters, settings, etc. Usually, I have kept to the same character, one prequel, a couple sequels. The one that could be a same-world, different protagonist actually started as a different world, but one that was going nowhere fast.

Putting that character in the other world gave me some settings and rules that have helped define the nature of the problem, which gives me at least the framework for a story, though I haven't dedicated the time needed to make it more than that, yet. I created continuity with organizational structures and interaction with the other protagonist and others in her role, even if only in passing. Setting up the conditions to make it seem natural created other elements of continuity and fleshed out some of the settings.

I have to also both maintain the rules I've created for the world and use at least some of them as story elements, in order to keep the reader in the same world. Too many new rules draws the reader into the new rules as if it were a separate world, and the sense of being part of a series gets lost. A series is allowed to drift by stages, but no one is going to be happy if the sense of being the same world is lost by book 2.

The main thing, though, is to some up with a new story with a developed world, when normally I come up with a story and develop the world around it. Both approaches work, but its a real challenge to go from the one that comes naturally to the approach from the other direction entirely.

Writer's challenge: Change an aspect of your writing to its opposite, for example, if you usually have a male protagonist, write a scene from a female POV. If you usually start building a scene by writing the dialog, start with a narrrative description or the action instead.

Writer's prompt: Take a scene and write a scene from a character's past that could be used as a backflash. Write another scene that uses the original as a backflash.
25 apr 12 @ 8:50 pm

Friday, April 20, 2012

E-books and editors
Someone posted a request for a proofer on one of the facebook writing groups and one of the generic rejects i received was on the rude side (unlike most, it implied not just a difference in tastes and market trends that the agent deals with but a lack of quality, which seems rather egotistical for a generic reject The rest I've gotten have usually politely suggested that it might do better with an agent with different interests and preferences). Together they got my mind going along a common thread--quality, editing, and the impact of the e-book on writers and the world of literature.

It seems to be true that fewer hard books are being bought and of necessity that will result in fewer being published despite that translation software and global trends have widened the number of reachable readers and customers. As with other things, the growing population doesn't mean there will be more rising "stars", just that those who make it to the top will be more famous, more rich. And yet it won't be for lack of more writers. Like other internet opportunities, it does mean less quality control as a general rule, amateurs and unrecognized professionals succeeding where other professionals have failed, and dilettantes and lesser amateurs cluttering the band width.

It has its advantages and I don't blame even the dilettantes for the clutter. Fresh ideas are useful when they can make it through and around the super-famous million-hit sites and when readers can be persuaded to explore a little wider instead of only going to those sites recommended by a million people. but I see two problems with the whole mess of the e-world (besides that I'm going to have to invent a new word in order to get around the trouble with e-nominclature: I had a whole different meaning for e but no one will get past the electronic association, now). One is that the modern and future Hermann Melville's will be hard pressed to be discovered and the world will lose out as a result. The other is that the less successful amateurs will be under the illusion that they are professionals and not understand why they are failing.

The line is at best blurry anyway in the writing field. Large percentages of successful, professional writers didn't come up through the writing program in their local colleges and I don't even know if writing is treated like one of the creative arts; it is generally accepted that people can learn to write if they seriously want to, and many do, and many become writers as a sideline to capturing in words whatever their "real" profession or hobby, as a means of sharing knowledge. Creative writing is a little different, but the best non-fiction writers use plenty of creative writing techniques to reach out to their audience, and not necessarily because they've been trained how to write creatively.

But one of the things that publishing (hardcopy) did for the writer was to apply an effort at quality control, set expectations, and provide experienced staffs of generally acknowledged professionals to whom people could reliably listen and learn. There is an expectation that once the e-industry sorts itself out, it will of necessity have to exert some of the same elements to the industry as a matter of necessity to gain control and make a profit, but I'm not sure that's true, or that the profit will come from the books (and brand toys and such) the way they do from hardcopy books. Yes, they'll be sold for some modest fee, and the brand products are as likely as not to be as many internet-based toys as physical ones, with interactive, graphically-enhanced and animated 3-D versions of the books and their surrounding web-pages to provide a source of higher incomes (more than just movie or tv rights, these days, especially in the unlikely but not impossible event of getting author creativity and presentation skills together with computer savvy in effective combination!). But the money sources will diversify, not narrow, unlike the publishing industry, and that will place different forces on the writers than those applied by the hardcopy publishing market.

It could, for example, encourage shorter books and stories with more visual elements, easily translated into what the e-customer can appreciate on their ipad, turning books into less a reading experience and more a full-sensory experience, guiding writers toward script-like writing, with more emphasis on the concept and less on the writing at all. Or automated translations and foreign readers could be so dominant (I hear that the Chinese are the biggest buyers of English science fiction, for example, though I've hardly ever heard of anyone marketing it that way or considering it in the sell-ability of a science fiction book) that spelling is key but grammar expected to be simplified for ease in translation. (I'd almost say that flowery writing might then be discouraged, but sometimes I believe it's the choice of similis and metaphors that enhance cross-cultural interest in written material, even if it doesn't enhance cross-cultural understanding of the material). The possibilities are nearly endless, and so are the opportunities to publish so much crap, that the writers of the crap are likely to never know if they failed because what they wrote was crap or because their wonderful writing just didn't have the right key-word get noticed by the million.

Writer's challenge: get someone to read one of your completed pieces and give you feedback. Repeat.

Writer's challenge: Take a scene and setting and describe them as you might to a cover artist or web page designer.

Writer's prompt: One character is giving feedback to another about something they've just done.
20 apr 12 @ 8:53 am

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

I'm back, mostly
Holidays, travel, a bad cold doing it's usual series of symptoms have all kept me off line but I've pulled together some energy for this evening. I've managed some writing adventures meanwhile. For one, I made the mistake of revising one story in two different versions, so I've been doing a manual comparison of the two. It's not perfect I'm sure, but if any change caused a change in the number of digits in a line, or at least enough to visually change the alignment from one line to the next, I think I found the changes and combined all the best ones, fixed a couple I changed my mind about, made some more fixes along the way. It's still longer than I was aiming for, but looking at some of the books I've been seeing, the length may not be as much of an issue as I thought, especially for an adult book. They just aren't short, and a quick estimate shows many of them to be not just over 100,000 but overe 150,000, so maybe 120,000 won't be too much of a stumbling block despite advice I've heard repeatedly to keep them under 100,000. (On the other hand, some of the long ones have way too much description and detail, slowing down the plot and making them harder to muster the patience to plow through, no matter how well polished the verbiage.)

I've also ben checking out my sequels and other books that are nearing readiness for queries: sequels in hopes that the queries not yet rejected (two generic rejects so far, four queries with no responses yet from the latest batch) might go through; the other ones, just to prod myself along, finish, and continue the publication effort. Also, working on sequels gets more of my stacks of notes typed into the computer, and that has benefits on many levels, not least helping me gather the notes I continue to write, prevent their loss, and helps me neaten several rooms a little at a time. Multitasking is good. Identifying gaps that need new scenes is always fun and gives me things to fill more notebooks with.

Writer's challenge: Check your latest notebook. If you haven't written something today, do so. If you haven't written anything in a week, tsk, tsk: write for an hour.
17 apr 12 @ 8:36 pm

Friday, April 6, 2012

Bite off more than you can chew
It's usually something advised against, but I usually find that settling on needing to get more done than I can possibly do prods me into more than I would have dome by being realistic. For one thing, many of the things that we dread are physically and time-wise easy. it's the emotional part that is hard, the commitment, the risk, the courage to do something that we haven't done recently. Even if we aren't aware of those aspects, our subconscious is. Having too much to do increases the awareness of ease and pushes past the hesitation as being worth getting on to the next task, completing the list, being done and free to do what we want afterwards, guilt free.

Also, having too much to do prods our lazy bone into action, helps us find ways to do it quicker, easier, simpler, and often better in the process because the way we know might be complex, inefficient, and not necessarily the way to achieve the best possible results. You wouldn't think it mattered in writing, which can be a time consuming task, but I find that the feeling of having little time to write prods me into "jotting my ideas down" and what I end up doing is roughing out scenes that, when I had time, weren't coming at all, weren't telling me that they needed to be there, weren't acknowledged as missing. When I don't have time to write, the ideas flow because intead of thinking about writing, I'm thinking about the story and how to get on with it.

And because I'm a bit of a slob, being short on time prods me to organizing just a bit, and inevitably in the process of organizing I come across things I'd misplaced and forgotten about and suddenly I find why a scene I thought I had already written didn't seem to be there, because it was jotted down earlier and here it is on a piece of paper. I discover I don't have to come up with something new: here it is and I just have to type and polish it. A few of those and suddenly the long to-do list is half done and what we thought was an impossibly long list becomes a shorter one.

If you let it get too far (If I'm ill or stressed, my mind will conveniently forget that I have things to do in favor of taking it easy, then when I get some energy, the list will be massive at first), it can be a stressful mode of operating and not recommended for those with weak hearts and high blood pressure. Rest and water and food have to be on the schedule, too. But beyond that, don't be afraid to take on something more. You'll be surprised how much you can accomplish.

Writer's challenge: draft a rough synopsis (1 to 20 pages) for a story you haven't written yet. Once you've started, don't worry about finishing it. Just keep writing.
6 apr 12 @ 6:18 am

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The weekend was less about witing than usual
Having got a bunch of queries sent and having a bunch of other life to catch up on, I joined a "shop hop" this weekend and we actually managed to hit all the stores (which qualifies us each for drawing). For those not familiar, a shop hop is a bunch of stores, especially out-of-the-way hidden stores of a single theme, in this case quilting stores, that get together and sponsor a quest for a weekend, with both store and overall prizes for finding them.

Fabric store shop hops (quilting stores are specialty fabric stores, some of which have long-arm quilting machines) typically include free block patterns, usually on some theme, and most include a variety of other give-aways such as pens, needles, note pads, or small notions besides tickets for the drawings. In some cities, the collection of patterns form a single quilt when combined, usually with a suggested fabric series or color theme (to encourage shopping...)

The St. Louis one we went to was a little different. The fabrics were very specific and included a St. Louis themed print, but each store had a different quilt on display using those fabrics, as a suggestion. They used their own store's free pattern, and some of the others, sometimes, but none of the displayed quilts used all the patterns and none were the same, or even the same size, so it was kind of like idea shopping, wit a push for a very specific fabric set. I did get lots of ideas I liked, but more from other quilts on display that weren't part of the shop hop set. If we win any of the fabric prizes, maybe we'll try the patterns we picked up on that fabric.

Writer's Challenge: Write a story about a normal activity, and give it a twist. Compare how you presented it to how you present a totally fictional story. (Hint, the structure and tone of the familiar life one is usually what we should be aiming for in the other).
3 apr 12 @ 8:58 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