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So You Want to Be a Writer

Lately I’ve run across a bunch of people who want to be writers (usually because they want to be indie) but genuinely have no idea how to go about it and ask for help.

And it occurred to me it’s been a long time since we did a post for bare beginners here, so here goes (and sorry it’s so late, wordpress has been driving me insane this morning.)

So… you want to be a writer.  Okay, here are some steps I’ve found essential for me and other writers (pretty much every other writer I know.)

Let’s begin at the beginning, what Dave Freer hit on on Monday: do you read?

Look I don’t want to doubt you, but lately Ive been reading a lot of indie authors whose thought process seems to go something like this:

“Hey, if I write a book, those dupes who like [name it, romance, science fiction, mystery, vampires, etc.] will give me tons of money.”

That’s not how this works.  That’s not how any of this works.  If you start from your height of self-conceit and despise the people you’re writing for it will come to grief.  The exception to that is GRRM, and that niche is filled.

As someone who reads all fields, I’m tired of say, science fiction writers thinking it’s easy to write a romance, main stream writers thinking sf is troppish and ‘easy’ etc.  Most of what these people envision in the genres they don’t read is at least 50 years out of date, and sometimes more than that.  (There might be a time when SF was a matter of “lizard men raping hot naked women” but it was never the norm, never the main thing, and if this happened with any frequency it was in the early 20th century, almost 100 years ago.  But that’s what Margaret Atwood thinks we are.) Heck, even the guys who go all slitty eyed and laugh knowingly and say “romance is porn for women” have it wrong.  The “hot” or “red” romance is porn for anyone (and often very wrong about women’s responses, which is funny.)  But there is a growing market for “sweet” or “traditional” romance, and frankly you misunderstood the “porn for women” part.  Relationships can be as addictive for women as porn for men, period.

Forgive the digression, what I’m saying is don’t try to write a genre you despise, particularly without reading it.

Let’s assume you don’t despise your readers.  Go and read the genre.  Ask friends who read the genre for reading suggestions.  Make sure they’re th sort of people who read things you’re likely to write.

Don’t be afraid you’ll “steal the style” of any one author.  Sure, it happens, but it’s fleeting.  Later, when you’re a grown up writer, you’ll find if you write in multiple genres/series, you’ll re-read yourself or listen to your own audiobooks, to get back “into that head” but it’s not a permanent thing.  (Or you’d not have different styles.)  Also worse things could happen to you than have a style mimicking best sellers.  (Won’t happen, though.  Nor more than a week after you finish the book.)

Make sure you read a wide variety within the subgenre so you absorb the expectations of the readers.  Then you won’t write whodunnits where the only solution is “the demons did it.” And people like me won’t curse loudly at your books.

Second, go to Amazon and buy Dwight Swain’s how to books.

I, myself, the older son and husband went from amateur, hit or miss writers to professionals after reading Techniques of the Selling Writer.

Someone recently pointed out that Swain’s fiction doesn’t sell very well now, and weren’t his techniques perhaps outdated?  Um… no.  What he gives you are the basics of how to write a story.  He never sold very well.

I know, I know, I say there is no such thing as talent, but there is SOMETHING: an innate disposition of the mind to write saleable fiction.  Mr. Swain seemed to lack that.  He’s famous only as a writing TEACHER.  Perhaps they’re not unrelated.  Because I had to acculturate to the US before I could write for Americans, I learned way more craft than other people did, because their journey was easier.

Never mind that.  If you’ve written or paid attention to books at all, you’ll start that book and think “But this is obvious”.  And then suddenly you’ll come across something, some small thing you’ve missed completely.  For me it was scene structure, despite a degree in literature.

(Speaking of: eschew degrees in writing and literature.  Arguably they’ll hinder you.  Took me years to rid my head of all the dross I’d picked up so I could write understandable — let alone enjoyable — fiction.)

If you have problems with characters — iow if your writing people involves more than someone showing up in your head, fully formed and telling you their story — try Swain’s Creating Characters: How to Build Story People.

There are a ton of other books on writing, but right now most of them are on how to sell to the fast-dissolving traditional publishing markets.  I.e. how to sell to a publisher not a reader.

The only thing I can tell you about really successful indies is that their writing is like better-written pulp, and that it’s advantageous to write fast.

Be aware that it’s normal in the first novel or two to leave most of it in your head.  I.e. description or even thoughts.

Be aware that while big words are cute, the most successful writing is transparent and people forget they’re reading and just live the story.

When you’re done, get your friends that read the genre, and have them read your book.  Have a list of questions for them to answer, and tell them to ignore proofreading.  That’s separate.  If you have ten friends and three of them agree (independently) you might have found a problem.  Go back to your reading and study how to fix it.

Oh, yeah, and write every day.  If you want to be a writer, write.  As close to every day as you can.

And when that first book is done (and get it done.  More than three revisions and you’re actually kill it.)  write another.  And another.  And another.

Eventually you’ll get pretty good at it.

That’s about it.  Any questions, ask below.

 

 

104 Comments
  1. I’ll second Swain (as usual). And re-read it. Once I finish the draft of the WIP, I’m taking some time to review some things that have started slipping (per knowledgeable reviewers that I trust). If you are of the plotting persuasion, you could probably use Swain as a guide to a darn good story outline that just needs some details filled in. If you are less closely tied to writing things out in advance, just keeping his basics in the back of your head makes a world of difference.

    August 29, 2018
  2. Solid advice.

    I can also recommend J. M. Bickham’s Scene and Structure. Solid stuff that made me go, Ah yes!

    August 29, 2018
    • Mary #

      I found it somewhat useful but recommend a salt shaker, because he’s often very absolutist, and you need a LOT of grains of salt.

      August 29, 2018
  3. BobtheRegisterredFool #

    Techniques is a great book. Sure, some it struck me as answers to problems I don’t have, or techniques for learning something I am probably already good at. As far as I can tell, it has good coverage of everything. I definitely had some ‘aha’ moments.

    5/5, will reread as soon as I’ve practiced enough to get more out of it.

    Swain was an Okie. Possibly New York publishing was discriminating against regional voices even then. But a good instructional writer isn’t necessarily a great storyteller, and a great storyteller isn’t necessarily a good instructional writer. I’ve no idea what he was like as a storyteller.

    Swain speaks of disposition as a factor that seems to make the difference when it comes to teaching the material to someone, that can’t be easily and objectively evaluated for. He speaks of staying current, so one is able to write what will sell to the current market. He speaks of degrees of success.

    The sections on research might be outdated, but I still found a great deal of use in them.

    August 29, 2018
    • “But a good instructional writer isn’t necessarily a great storyteller, and a great storyteller isn’t necessarily a good instructional writer.”

      Oh lordy yes. You just reminded me of why I hate outlines for fiction. It’s because I’m a pretty decent writer of instructional manuals, and if I outline fiction, it sounds like an instructional manual.

      August 29, 2018
  4. I was thinking about this before I even saw your post. For not quite newbies who have written a bit but want some guidance, when is the right time to look for some kind of mentor relationship?

    August 29, 2018
    • I don’t have some experienced-bestseller kinda answer, as I’m neither of those two adjectives, but what I did was I made friends and friendly acquaintances. And then, when I had something I was ready to show them or ask ’em about, I asked my friends, and friendly acquaintances. And some never got back to me because life, and some got back to me and gave me advice that didn’t gut-feel as right (it took over a year to figure out that one was cuing on a different genre than I was writing – romantic suspense vs. scifi with a romance subplot), and some gave advice that I instantly went “oh!” and advice that I went “huh?” at the same time…

      And on the second book, I sent it to a smaller subset of the list above, mostly folks whose advice I had found as really helpful for growing in craft and whom I knew had time, and of the fewer still who got back to me, I got some really good help. So it’s sort of evolving that way into having some folks willing and able to mentor, and some folks who are only a little bit ahead of me and very happy to pass on lessons learned so we can all rise together.

      So, long story short: make friends all the time. Ask for help when you figure you have something worth showing that they can help with.

      August 29, 2018
  5. Everything that I’ve told fellow aspiring writers (I consider myself that because I’ve sold some of what I’ve written, but I haven’t put a novel out there-my next goal) is this-

    1)Write. Every day. Your goal is an hour a day and five hundred words a day. Try to set one time and work for an hour. Even if all you write is “this sucks” two hundred and fifty times. Even if you’re writing Princess Celestia/Twilight Sparkle slash fic that shouldn’t be anatomically possible. Even if you’re writing how you want to see every attendee of WorldCon get hit by a Clue By Four upside the head. Write.

    Sanity Catch-The goal is to write, as regularly as possible. If you’re sick, if you’ve got twins that seem to be the Evil Twin and the Even More Evil Twin, if your job has you working sixteen hour days…just hold on. But, don’t put it off. Write whenever you can, wherever you can.

    2)Find the people that write in the genre that you’re working on, and read all their work, as much as you can. Make notes, as you can. Sometimes they’ve found solutions to the problems that you’ve had, and sometimes they’ve done things that you go “that is just horrible.” And, you know what not to do.

    Sanity Catch-If someone writes something that you’re working on, and it’s horrible…read it and leave it. Make notes of “this is wrong” and don’t do it in your writing.

    3)Find people to read your stuff. Or, more accurately, find people to read your stuff while you’re writing it. Everybody has their own system-I use a “alpha/beta” system. Alpha readers read the story as I’m working on it, what I’m missing, what I’m doing wrong, etc, etc, etc. (They get free lunch and drinks when I get a chance.)

    Beta readers are when I’ve finished the book. They do the same thing, they just get to the stage of “giving them the whole thing, sight unseen” like a reader on the bookshelf. (They get dinner.) Treat your alpha/beta readers well, ’cause the ones that will read and respond are amazingly rare when you’re staring out.

    Sanity Catch-Genre again-if you’re writing a story and your alpha or beta readers aren’t into it, kind of accept that you’re going to not get a lot of comments back and/or not a lot of useful comments. Sometimes…you might be surprised.

    Also, and sadly, if your readers are not anywhere near you (i.e. not in range to easily travel to and punch), and/or you have any reason to doubt them, get an NDA with a notary seal before you let them in, for each book. I’ve heard enough horror stories (i.e. >1) of someone reading a story you’re working on, find/replacing the names and some details, and publishing first. They are absolute assholes, but they will make some money, and you’ll have to prove that you’re not copying them. And, it provides protection for your readers, as well.

    August 29, 2018
    • This might seem dumb, but how do you find that genre. I mean, some genres are so broad that you need to drill down. At least some of what I write is stuff I’d love to read more of but has seemed to disappear 20+ years ago (Horseclans and similar for example).

      August 29, 2018
      • Horseclans was optimistic post-apoc. With lots of gore and sex, but more gore. Some of the more recent post-apoc, low tech might be a place to start browsing. (S. M. Sterling before he got too woo?)

        August 29, 2018
        • I have some of the Sterling and didn’t think of it but I can see how it might scratch the same itch for other readers.

          August 29, 2018
      • https://www.literature-map.com/

        Throw an author in and it’ll throw out other authors.

        August 29, 2018
        • Interesting tool, but if I plug in Robert Adams it gives me William Trevor, Anthony Powell, Anita Brookner, Kate Atkinson, and Margaret Atwood.

          Although I’m one of the rare defenders of Atwood here and Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time sounds interesting, if long, I don’t think that’s the Robert Adams I am looking for 🙂

          August 29, 2018
  6. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard #

    Of course, the best books on writing are useless if you don’t “get down to writing” which is my problem.

    It’s “easier” to let these stories “buzz around in my head” than it is to sit down and write it!!!!

    On the other hand, while I seem to write easier when I don’t worry about the plot, I am working on writing plot outlines to attempt to keep the story “on track”.

    My problem seems to be that “my plot outlines” are looking like I’m already writing the story. 😀

    August 29, 2018
    • I feel your pain, I do that too. 😀

      August 29, 2018
    • David Drake is (in)famous for writing plot outlines that are novellas themselves. S.M. Stirling said that the plot outline for “The General” series (four books that became five) was at about 50-60,000 words.

      Don’t be afraid of that, write the plot outline and go from there.

      August 29, 2018
      • My outlines must be sparse
        An outline that long and I’d never write the book.

        August 29, 2018
        • I don’t write outlines, but I have guide posts to where I want to the story to go.

          I think I would drive David Drake nuts if I ever had to work with him.

          August 29, 2018
          • I also have those. And I outline ten scenes ahead, staying flexible.

            August 30, 2018
        • At a con, the presenter who I was briefly in a writer’s group with, asked people to raise their hands if they were a plotter.

          I didn’t and she said I should because she had seen my outline.

          Said outline was a couple of dozen index cards with a single sentence and a number ordering them.

          What qualifies as a strong plotter seems pretty lax in some circles.

          August 30, 2018
          • I do plot. And I know where the story is going. But I never go more than 10 scenes ahead detailed, and sometimes that breaks at 5 scenes. Because there must be space for details and characters.

            August 30, 2018
          • SheSellsSeashells #

            I always know the start and “something that happens about 80 percent through”. So far the actual END is a surprise for me.

            August 30, 2018
          • It’s all about what works for you. (This is what makes most writing collaborations in fiction…interesting. I have a rough outline, mostly check points where I want my characters to go and where it should end. Some people fly by the seats of their pants. Some people write massive outlines.

            If 3×5″ cards work for you, make them work.

            August 31, 2018
            • Oh, I use what works but I found it even a handful of ideas on a 3″x5″ card was enough to not only disqualify me as a pantser, but make me a hard core plotter. It was like that was no middle ground.

              August 31, 2018
              • When someone tells you that, you put your kilt on, you bend over, you lift your kilt, and tell them to kiss that.

                This is one of the things I hate about “writing classes” like that-there is only “one true way” of doing things and if you don’t do it, you’re a bad puppy.

                August 31, 2018
    • Mary #

      Let ’em.

      I frequently put actual line of dialog in my outline. Don’t want to lose them.

      August 29, 2018
    • I struggle with outlines. It’s hard for me to find the balance between enough outline to keep me on track, and too much outline which I find becomes restrictive. Generally, I like to create characters then turn them loose, with the beginnings of a story in mind. Then I simply just follow them wherever the story takes them… This worked GREAT when I was writing shorter stuff, but now that I’m attempting to write novel length I tend to get bogged down.

      I’ve picked up Swain’s Selling Writer book on Sarah’s recommendation. I’m hoping that learning some actual writing methodology will help with this and other problems.

      August 30, 2018
  7. Sarah said: “Hey, if I write a book, those dupes who like [X] will give me tons of money.”

    You know, normally I’d doubt a statement like that, but I have actually heard that from somebody who “writes articles and books” for a living. The notion that they could rip something out in a genre they’d never read, and then “the stupid plebs would give them bags a’ munny” was stunning to me.

    I believe my rejoinder was “Are you kidding me?” But no, they weren’t.

    Which explains so much about publishing these days, eh?

    August 29, 2018
    • It also explains why, when one particular ‘style’ of book suddenly hits it big, there is a proliferation of obvious ripoffs suddenly appearing on grocery store (and bookstore) shelves…

      “Oh, people like sexy vampires now, so that’s the only thing we’re publishing. Oh wait, now they’re into BDSM with billionaires…”

      August 29, 2018
    • Kord #

      Seems to work for people writing in newspapers.

      August 29, 2018
    • I’ve heard more people like that than not among beginners.

      August 29, 2018
  8. Roger Ritter #

    Another best-selling writer has also published a writing class: http://warrenmurphy.com/index.php?page=writing-class

    August 29, 2018
    • Synova #

      I’m past lesson four at this point. It’s very interesting and he’s amusing, too. If you’re a person susceptible to “this is the one and true correct path” it would probably be ill-advised… unless you happen to accidentally be the person for whom that really is the one and true correct path. 😉

      I’m enjoying it so far though. And getting quite a bit out of the lessons. Lots to think about.

      August 30, 2018
      • BobtheRegisterredFool #

        I’m probably going to experiment with his plotting suggestions and Swain’s for a while before I start getting a feel for what works for me.

        August 31, 2018
      • BobtheRegisterredFool #

        I’m probably going to experiment with his plotting suggestions and Swain’s for a while before I start getting a feel for what works for me. They both correctly identify an oversight I made about plotting. I knew very well that an inventor doesn’t nail down ‘invent something’ as the project specification. My specifications for writing projects were and are lacking some vital details. I don’t like the prescription that I spend so much time and energy brainstorming for the specification, then the preliminary rough drawings, then the detailed drawings, etc… But however well I may have already trained my creativity, however little each individual project needs to be so strictly optimized, that may be the medicine I need.

        August 31, 2018
  9. Be aware that while big words are cute, the most successful writing is transparent and people forget they’re reading and just live the story.

    SO MUCH THIS. Look, I love words. And I love big words. But if it don’t make sense in the context of the viewpoint you’re using or the story you’re telling, stay the heck away from them.

    Some years ago I went back to try and finish a trilogy I’d encountered my freshman year of college, because I remembered liking it at the time, but the library only had the first two books. It was a fantasy trilogy. However, upon the reread (with me being much older and pickier about my reading) it got walled for a number of reasons, but the primary one was this: the POV character was a disfigured mute who had, until that point, been essentially the lowest of the low in scullery serfs. So here’s this uneducated mute whose only experience of the world has been stories told by other *servants*…and among the very, very lengthy list of descriptive words (many of them themselves fifty-cent words) the word “peripatetic” was used in conjunction with a minstrel.

    That was the last straw. I was already annoyed by all the characters stopping every few pages to tell each other fairy stories (taken wholesale, mostly, from Celtic folktales, and so I, at least, had already freaking read them dozens of times over the years), as well as pages and pages (and pages) of list-style description. Beautifully written, yes, okay, but even freaking Tolkien would have lost patience with loving description after loving description of ALL the things, everywhere, down to the very last candlestick and rug. All the same, I might have let those annoyances slide (after all, I do love Tolkien, who did this to a certain extent himself)…save that I could not and would not swallow an uneducated serf knowing what ‘peripatetic’ meant. (Heck, even I had to go look that one up, and I’ve got an extensive vocabulary.) It yanked me entirely out of the story, and although I limped on for some time after, it only got worse from there.

    (I think that author was a bit too enamored of her thesaurus, personally. I mean, honestly.)

    August 29, 2018
    • I thought I knew the series until I saw it was fantasy. I bought the first book of a sci-fi series way back in the early 80s (had job at the pub so 84-85). Within one chapter I found words I couldn’t use my Webster’s Collegiate Student dictionary to look up and had to hit up my school library’s big monster on a cart.

      Never did finish it and never bought another book by the author (whose name I still remember) despite her co-authoring with several writers I liked back then.

      August 29, 2018
    • Kord #

      Never got around to perusing the postpenultimate tome. Even the name of the trilogy felt contrived.

      August 29, 2018
    • SheSellsSeashells #

      I know the books you’re talking about, and flung Book 2 across the room because OY. It wasn’t even believability so much as “stop embroidering the story and TELL the story!” for me. Like reading the Thomas Covenant books, except that Donaldson’s ten-dollar words sometimes *do* communicate a hint of eldritch awesomeness. Sometimes. (I was notorious in the reading parts of my family for only reaching for a dictionary twice during all six Covenant books.)

      August 29, 2018
      • I never got past that rape scene in the first Thomas Covenant (which occurs, what, ten pages in?), but having read bits of Donaldson’s other writing…yeah, he likes his thesaurus.

        But yeah, that particular trilogy…I think the writer has potential, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything else by her. Possibly because the lists of ginormous words and so much nothing happening turned all the potential readers off. I mean, I went back and looked once, and there is a single descriptive sentence that takes up half of a page…and it was basically a list of things. Yowza. (And I’m not sure what was up with the ‘stop the action every few pages and have the characters tell each other stories’ other than a.) the writer really liked all those fairy tales she’d researched and was GOING TO SHARE THEM WITH EVERYONE, and b.) it was an attempt at worldbuilding that fell very, very flat. Telling is still telling, not showing, even when you’ve got characters speaking…)

        Literary language can be a good thing, used correctly, and it can be very beautiful and dreamlike, but it’s so rarely used correctly. Patricia McKillip is one of the few I’ve seen pull it off more than once…and even then, I’ve found a lot of her stuff to be hit and miss for me personally. Her books read like beautiful dreams, but that also means that they are NOT light reading, and so I rarely read them and I have to be in precisely the right mood for them.

        August 30, 2018
        • SheSellsSeashells #

          Exactly. And MY RESEARCH, LET ME SHOW YOU IT authors make me crazy. 🙂

          (I used to amuse myself by reading “literate RP” examples back in Livejournal’s heyday. It was…not literate. People using “pillars” and “pedestals” (!!) to describe the legs of a wolf, and that was the simple stuff.)

          August 30, 2018
          • The “I DID ALL THIS WORK I HAVE TO SHOW IT TO YOU ALL OF IT” is why I stopped reading Wheel of Time. Dude, I don’t care about minor cast member #2467 and what they’re up to and thinking about, nor do I want to read every excruciating detail of their journey to somewhere to do something…Of course, by that point, I’d also stopped caring about Major Cast Members.

            And I will admit, Tolkien did it too, at least insofar as going into excruciating detail of the journeying. (He at least stuck to the main cast.) I’m rereading the LOTR for the first time in a long time, and am struck by this, and have found myself thinking “Did he…did he actually sit down and make a map and do all of this?! No wonder it took so long to write.” I’m finding it slow going, and have read about six books in between finishing Fellowship and starting Two Towers, lol.

            August 31, 2018
    • The only place I’ve encountered “peripatetic” in the wild (as it were) was Gilbert & Sullivan’s operetta Patience, which, among other things, was making fun of self-important intelligentsia types.

      August 29, 2018
      • I recognize that I have seen the word in the wild, but have never looked up the definition, nor been able to determine its meaning from context.

        August 30, 2018
      • I use it when appropriate, but I’m strange that way.

        August 30, 2018
      • TRX #

        It’s an obsolete usage, but I’ve seen it often enough I don’t think of it as an unusual word. (at least, I’ve seldom seen it in anything newer than 40 years or so old)

        August 30, 2018
      • Evenstar #

        I saw it in a Calvin and Hobbes comic strip once.

        August 30, 2018
    • Azure&Green #

      September Fawkes just had a good blog post on thesaurus use–thought I would share:

      https://www.septembercfawkes.com/2018/08/how-to-use-thesaurus-properly.html

      August 30, 2018
      • BobtheRegisterredFool #

        That Fawkes essay reminds me an awful lot of part of Chapter Two of Swain’s Techniques.

        August 31, 2018
  10. “So You Want to Be a Writer”

    Um… yea. I am unabashedly, unashamedly a wanna-be writer. Working on it, and am grateful for the advice.

    My take-aways from this post (and earlier comments):

    – I need to start writing every day. (not just “when I have time”) Scheduling time to write has always been a problem for me. Job, kids, etc. Time to MAKE a place in the schedule and just DO IT!

    – “buy Dwight Swain’s how to books” I snagged Selling Writer and Creating Characters. From the descriptions, I’m hoping they will help me add some structure to my methodology (among other things). Thanks!

    I have always read a LOT, and I’m writing in my favorite genres, so THAT at least is covered.

    Just a thought: I wonder if I should pick up some of that ““sweet” or “traditional” romance” to help fill out my stories in that direction. No, I don’t expect to ever write in the genre, but I wonder if it would help make my writing in the genres I do write in to have more broad appeal. Suggestions appreciated.

    August 29, 2018
    • SheSellsSeashells #

      As a reader of the feminine persuasion, I would say that non-cipher characters plus relationship draw me in and make me enjoy the adventure/aliens/whatever more. Relationship not necessarily equalling romance; I’m *thrilled* when I can find something with a believable friendship, grudging respect, or anything more complex than “here is a love interest with whom I am now in love because Author Says So.” So I’d recommend books with believable development of interpersonal stuff…Lois McMaster Bujold and some of Steve Miller and Sharon Lee’s earlier works do nicely. Or Pratchett, because, well, Pratchett.

      August 29, 2018
    • It has its own … pace and such. Consider reading Georgette Heyer’s romances. I did, and that will help. (It helped me.)
      In no order Frederica, Sylvester… start there then branch out.

      August 29, 2018
      • Seconding the Heyer recommendation.

        August 29, 2018
      • Heyer’s Frederica acquired. Now, let’s see if I can manage through it. Just reading the description made my brain feel weird, which surprised me. I read a pretty wide range of stuff and have never had that particular reaction before. I think it was because Regency Romance is so far outside my normal wheelhouse that my brain will need a little acclimation.

        Looking forward to reading it! But then again, I once looked forward to interviewing a dominatrix – complete with getting beaten by a cat-o-nine tails just to see what it felt like – back when I did a podcast with some friends. For those who are curious (which is probably exactly zero people) nope, it didn’t do anything for me…

        August 30, 2018
        • Azure&Green #

          I had a similar experience starting The Unknown Ajax recommended to me on this blog a few posts ago. With the sudden influx of characters in the beginning, I considered grabbing scratch paper and drawing a family tree! I may still go back and do it. Perhaps, I should have started with Jane Austin. I’m not being critical of the novel, just that I can related to your feeling of being far from a set of familiar genre conventions–and I too read what I thought was widely. It’s a real treat!

          August 30, 2018
          • If you get past the introductions, you’re fine. It’s not the genre, it’s the time when she wrote these books. This was normal.

            August 30, 2018
        • Frederica is one of my all time favorites–in large part because it defies so many of the ‘usual’ romance tropes. In fact, the romance is pretty secondary to “Frederica’s siblings getting up to shenanigans and delighting the heck out of the love interest.”

          I mean, I love a good love story, but in this case the appeal was younger-sibling-shenanigans.

          August 31, 2018
      • The Reluctant Widow is also a good one to start with.

        August 31, 2018
    • I will certainly endorse the idea that reading cross genre helps you see more. I think my shift circa 2000 or so to reading more detective than current SF/F shows up in the heroic adventure fantasy (term my principle direct inspiration used) I’m writing. It also showed up in the first shot I made at horror space opera.

      Plus, you’ll never know what will click with you. I went through a lesbian sweet romance phase last year because the stuff just resonated.

      August 30, 2018
  11. And don’t kill yourself trying to write. I just realized that I wrote a 55K word novel in eighteen days. Which explains why I feel like death on toast. That’s too much for me with Day Job in session. (Or what Equestriaverse said about not pushing when Life hands you a turnip.)

    August 29, 2018
  12. 23 skidoo

    August 29, 2018
  13. Christopher Chupik #

    Please note: writing rarely involves sexy nymphs in the woods. Speaking from personal experience here.

    August 29, 2018
    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard #

      sexy nymphs in the woods

      Well, you could write about them.

      Hum, I think I have a story idea about that. It’d make a great little … Horror Story. 😈

      August 29, 2018
    • I thought she WAS the writer!

      August 29, 2018
      • Christopher Chupik #

        I didn’t see the pen in her hand . . .

        August 29, 2018
  14. Evenstar #

    c4c

    August 29, 2018
  15. Not every story needs to be a novel.

    I, personally, see a lot of manuscripts from new writers who want help in finishing their novel, when what they really need is help in editing their short story. It is true that the short fiction market has been in the ICU on aggressive life support for a while now, but I think it is starting on the road to recovery.

    Indie short fiction magazines are popping up all over, as well as indie published anthologies. Many of them won’t last–the first year survival rate of indie fiction magazines seems to me to be about the same as that of locally owned restaurants–but more and more people seem willing to take the plunge. Some of them will find their market and thrive.

    Short fiction also has the advantage that most markets buy only the right of first publication, which means that you can sell a story multiple times (usually there is a exclusivity period of six months or a year, but after that you can republish it.)

    I decided that I was going to spend 2018 concentrating on short fiction and so far I’ve averaged selling a story a month and while I’m not into quit your day job territory yet I have established enough of a reputation for delivering a consistently interesting product that I have editors asking me to contribute to new projects.

    I also have an anthology of my short work under consideration by a publisher. It’s going to be a mix of previously published stories and unpublished works and I think I have enough fans to make it profitable.

    Short fiction is an option and while it may not be as profitable as publishing novels I think it’s one that more writers should seriously consider. I know that my wordcount has improved since I began to take writing short fiction seriously, and I believe that my quality has, too.

    Am I willing to be considered a “short story writer”? Well, if it puts me in the company of Harlan Ellison, Ray Bradbury, Frederick Brown, George Alec Effinger, Clive Barker, and William Gibson… yeah. Hell yeah, in fact.

    August 29, 2018
    • Yeah, I’d be happy to ranked with any one of those guys one day.

      August 29, 2018
    • Azure&Green #

      That’s interesting. I didn’t know there was a short fiction market at all anymore. Can you give us a few links you’ve sold to and recommend as reputable? It would be good to read up on their submission guidelines, etc.

      August 29, 2018
    • Mary #

      You can sell your stories independently as well in the economy sized packages. My collections sell better on the whole, I think, but the shorts sell, too.

      August 29, 2018
  16. Azure&Green #

    And here I promised myself not to buy anymore writing books! *Thump, thud* There, I threw myself off the wagon again…

    I read daily–I couldn’t not. To create experiences like those I’ve known reading is the main reason I want to do this. But I want and need to make money at it in order to get the time to do it. No trust fund here and there are mouths to feed.

    But anyone strictly doing this for a quick buck is a poster child for conceited idiot. I think all you need to do is smile thinly and check back on them in a year or so.

    Okay, my question. I know there’s no straight answer to it, but I’m going to put it out here because I haven’t figured it out for myself yet, and maybe someone here can help. Oh and I’m a little desperate.

    How do you outline a creative work? Yes, I expect a range of replies…

    I can discovery write, write in the “flow”, or pants–whatever you want to call it. That’s easy for me, but I can’t control it beyond a scene or so. I have a number of false starts that stall at 10k words. My current novel attempt is stalled at 29k, but has two main points of view. So, I’m stalling closer to 14k words now.

    I bought and read Libbie Hawker’s TAKE OFF YOUR PANTS. A few things clicked, but I must be dense.

    I bought and am currently reading Katie M. Weiland’s OUTLINE YOUR NOVEL. It’s touted in the title that it will “map my way to success.” I’m all for that, but cynicism comes naturally to me.

    My degrees and current vocation may be working against me here. This is no academic paper by a long-shot, yet somehow my left brain needs to figure out a rational form for what my right brain is experiencing in prose. Or something like that. I think if I can just figure out how to get to a premise and a skeleton outline, I will have a metric by which to judge and guide my writing. To not have that guide, would it not be foolish and naive to expect a solid emotional experience can result?

    In ON WRITING, King talks about writing as opening doors. He eschews outlining. I get that, and see why. But unlike him, I can’t seem to find the book in the visions without wasting a lot of words. I hate wasting time. And I also love books that have twists, layers of mystery, and sudden reveals, so I would like to write those. Writing those without a plan makes buying lottery tickets seem rational.

    August 29, 2018
    • I said above that I hate outlining, but the truth is that I hate outlining on paper. What I have in my head is the basic story structure—a simple “this needs to happen, so what needs to happen to make it happen?” I’m very much a theatre person, so much of it is in terms of “motivation.” If I know why someone does a particular thing, it makes it easier to understand the fallout.

      This is also why a particular WIP is stalled out. I know a lot of the things that are supposed to happen, but I don’t know why the damned trickster character wants them to happen, so I don’t know what comes next!

      August 29, 2018
      • Mary #

        When I first started writing, I needed to write the story, and then look at it and deduce what the motivation was.

        August 29, 2018
        • Azure&Green #

          Thanks to both of you. That makes sense. I haven’t been focusing on motivation, but on the events as I go over what I’ve written trying to back out an outline.

          August 29, 2018
          • Mary #

            What helped for me was two questions:

            1. What sort of person would do all these things?

            and if that didn’t define enough

            2. What sort of person would be deeply affected by them?

            August 30, 2018
            • Azure&Green #

              Thanks, Mary!

              August 30, 2018
      • Haven’t read it yet, it’s on my list though. Dean Wesley Smith has a book called “writing into the dark”. He’s a big proponent of pantsing and not using an outline.

        August 30, 2018
    • BobtheRegisterredFool #

      Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer.

      A technical paper’s outline is based on what you do in a technical paper. Present background information, outline your argument, present your conclusion.

      For the broader audience, you build your story around emotion.

      You have a structured emotional journey that someone, usually the viewpoint character, is taking. Events are arranged to fit that. The character is pulled into the event by their motivation, their reaction to the event evokes similar feelings in the reader, and moves them forward in their journey.

      Swain breaks things down into digestible chunks while leaving enough structured training to reassemble the whole. But I seem to be on the plotting end of the spectrum, and have mostly been bad at it. Read Swain recently and haven’t had time to really implement anything.

      August 30, 2018
      • Azure&Green #

        Thanks, Bob. I look forward to starting it tonight. I read a book called THE EMOTIONAL CRAFT OF FICTION, by Donald Maass. It’s in line with what you’ve just said, but it left much “as an exercise for the reader.” Hopefully Swain is less lofty and more on my level as a writer.

        August 30, 2018
        • I haven’t read his Character-building book, but Techniques of the Selling Writer has advice broken down into easily-digestible chunks with examples to show how the pieces are used.

          August 30, 2018
          • I’m actually due to re-read it. Each time I find JUST what I need.

            August 30, 2018
            • Azure&Green #

              Thank you! I started Techniques of the Selling Writer last night.

              Wow. Simply wow.

              It’s like I finally found a good medical journal for this mental condition I have. Finally a writing book that isn’t vague, dogmatic, or chest pounding, and isn’t selling magic formulas! He’s honest. He’s even humble. I’m nodding along page, page, page, then he gives me something to chew on. This book, when applied, will definitely make me a better writer.

              So, please accept a big Southern hug of thanks! Um, Southern U.S. I know, I know, I’m in Oz. Just forget that for now–it’s too circuitous for a comment.

              August 30, 2018
              • Yep. That’s what made me a professional writer. Before that I was bumping into walls.
                Hey, I was naturalized in NC. I am a Southern girl. Ignore the accent, please.

                August 30, 2018
                • Azure&Green #

                  Ah, I love North Carolina. Though my wife and I are from Georgia, we’ve relatives there. If and when we return to the States, it would probably be to NC. Though I read that crime in the state has risen sharply over the last few years.

                  I was naturalized here in Queensland, which in many ways is Australia’s “South”. At this point you probably have a better Southern accent than I do!

                  August 30, 2018
                  • TRUST me I don’t. Apparently 1% of me is Polish Jewish (ancestry. yes, I’m joking, I know that’s not what that means. And there’s more than that Jewish, but not from Eastern Europe) It’s the accent. It really is.

                    August 30, 2018
  17. Draven #

    c4c

    August 30, 2018
  18. mrsizer #

    I just finished a series that is so time-compressed that it is nearly Mary Sue. Our intrepid hero picks up skills in days that should take months.

    I’m now in the middle of a series that’s the exact opposite. I get to read about every training session. It does get better. Book 1 was a total slog. By book 4 the plot at least moved faster than drunken snails. I think it was around book 6 that things started moving normally.

    Dan Brown’s characters never have time to eat. It’s noticeable.

    My point: Time and pacing is important.

    I can’t write it properly, but I sure can see it when reading.

    P.S. And don’t start every battle with an inventory sheet. “He looked out over his fleet of 50 destroyers, armed with Mk 2 Death Rays, Mk 7 Particle Cannons, and railguns with Herculanium armor; 32 cruisers, armed …; 12 battleships, armed …; 3 dreadnoughts, armed…” I’m not sure which is worse, assuming that the reader knows the difference between destroyers, cruisers, etc… or explaining it. Are dreadnoughts even a real thing? It is such a good series that I put up with it, but it was really annoying.

    August 30, 2018
    • TRX #

      An extreme case, which has become a running joke, is Laurell K. Hamilton’s vampire novels. That’s when you just flipped page 700 or so, and you realize not quite 48 hours have passed in story-time.

      August 30, 2018
      • SheSellsSeashells #

        “Let me test my understanding.”

        *flees*

        August 30, 2018
    • Dreadnoughts being a thing depends entirely on the sci-fi setting in question.

      Assuming FTL and spacedrives that make interstellar commerce viable, I think we’ll see three broad sizes of warship evolve.

      #1: Commerce regulation. Warships armed to either threaten commercial vessels or protect them. Coast Guard, more or less. Small, lightly armed, fast, and with small crews. Assuming wet navy terminology is employed, these might be called Sloops and Cutters. Alternately, they might get tagged with Air Force terminology, since the Air Force institutional expertise is best suited for a Space Force that flies short missions and sticks close to base.

      Corvettes and Frigates could also be included here, but because they’d be big enough for fleet action in specialized roles they’d straddle the line with the next size up.

      #2: Warships. Here we’ll see the Cruisers and Destroyers. I’m thinking that the difference between the two classes isn’t so much one of size but of philosophy, and perhaps the desperation of the Fighter mafia to remain relevant in an environment more suited to naval thinking. A Destroyer would be ships built for relatively short operations: Very heavily armed and armored for their size, with a small crew and _very_ limited amenities, able to fight extremely hard in a limited number of engagements before returning to base. (The crew would ordinarily live on base, only living on their ship during live training and missions.)

      Cruisers would be intended for longer-term deployments, and would have the increased size in comparison with Destroyers to match. Destroyers would be able to defeat Cruisers considerably larger than themselves, but Cruisers would be able to handle a much wider variety of situations.

      #3: Capitol ships. These would be defined as ships powerful enough to lay siege to planets, or alternatively ships powerful enough to fight those ships on equal or favorable terms. The Battleship would likely be the baseline design philosophy, but I could see a Dreadnought design emerging – smaller number of more powerful weapons for concentration of force – as a hard counter to Battleships. A Carrier design might then develop that could saturate a Dreadnought’s targeting ability, but which in turn might be vulnerable to a Battleship’s larger number of individually smaller weapons.

      Presumably there would be a considerable size gap between warships and capitol ships, but the smaller vessels – particularly Destroyers – would likely see use in fleet actions as screening elements and so on.

      I don’t think there would be new types being designated as ship size increased, but I suppose it’s possible.

      -Albert

      August 30, 2018
      • Another class that I’ve seen is the planetary-defense-only SuperDreadnought or Mobile Fortress, where it’s so large and slow that it really can’t some out and play with the fleet ships, but can destroy them from afar.

        August 30, 2018
    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard #

      The term “dreadnaught” started as a nick-name for Battleships as one of the first British Battleships was named Dreadnaught.

      In many SF Space Navies, the Dreadnaught class (or Super-Dreadnaught class) were “Bigger And Better Battleships”. IE Warships that made Battleships look small.

      August 30, 2018
      • Draven #

        And the ships immediately before the design change of the HMS Dreadnaught are called pre-dreadnaughts. Tho, I will state that the wikipedia entry related to this is on minimal value…

        August 30, 2018
        • Massie’s book is an excellent source – although oriented more towards the “why” than the “how.”

          August 30, 2018
          • Draven #

            there’s some really excellent dicussion of it in various wargaming YouTube channels.

            August 30, 2018
    • “Dan Brown’s characters never have time to eat. It’s noticeable.”

      One of my favorite things to write was a sequence of events by which my main character gets waylaid when she’s trying to go eat, because it happens to me far too often. (I’m a mom.) It actually happened by accident, when I realized that she couldn’t have had time to eat dinner the previous night, and just got a little ludicrous along the way. All of the things she did needed to happen, but it was just funnier to have her getting the hangries along the way.

      August 31, 2018
    • Mary #

      Except for a compressed interlude of a week or two, and one time jump, the events in my work in progress take place in five days

      I had to remind myself to chop ’em up to get that far.

      Fortunately, no skills are picked up. Only some deductions about a magical key.

      August 31, 2018
  19. Kord #

    And whenever someone tried to use their enormous number of small and obsolete battleships Honor Harrington thrashed them.

    August 30, 2018
    • Absolutely nobody can accuse David Weber of thinking on a small scale. Dreadnoughts, super-dreadnoughts, monitors (in what I call the “Bug War” series).

      Then you get up to the scale of Dahak (otherwise known as “Luna” or “The Moon”) and Captain’s Quarters described in terms of square kilometers…

      Probably a good thing he became a writer of naval military SF/F instead of a naval design engineer. Although we’d have ships that would scare the dickens out of our enemies, the coastal flooding from the displacements would be a problem!

      August 30, 2018
      • A thing I dislike about both the Starfire and the Honorverse settings is that he has Battleships, Dreadnoughts, Superdreadnoughts (and Monitors and IIRC Supermonitors in Starfire), but they’re just bigger and bigger versions of the same core concept.

        -Albert

        August 31, 2018
  20. In defense of Swain the fiction writer; many years ago, when you could still buy used pulp magazines two for a quarter, I found a magazine called Imagination. After these many years I can recall only a handful of authors from those magazines but one of them as Dwight V. Swain, as his fiction byline read. (Others I can still recall include Edmund Hamilton and a newcomer named Harlan Ellison; so, Swain wasn’t in such bad company.)
    I don’t know what I should think of those stories should I reread them now; what I recall indicates that Swain came to stf about a decade too late. In the 1940s he might have sold to the likes of Startling and Planet Stories. By the 1950s the market for Sword-and-Planet fiction had all but dried up. I suspect Swain decided the return was not worth the effort and moved on..
    I am tempted to try to locate some of those old magazines and see what I think of them now.

    August 31, 2018

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