Category Archives: WRITING: CRAFT

Working in Another Author’s World

What’s the difference between fan fiction and anthologies or collaboration? Well, one is for free without the author’s express permission, and the other is for pay, with the author’s express permission or active help.

Seems simple, right up until John Ringo starts writing MHI fanfic, and turns it into a 3-book deal. Well, by the time they are officially, formally published, they’ve undergone a thorough edit by Larry to make sure all events stay true to canon, and some extra background checking to make sure all details are correct. So things get a little blurry, right?

(Fun fact: when you are friends with authors and they think you’re an expert on a subject, you’re likely to get random emails out of the blue about completely wild and wacky improbabilities. The best response is: “What is your character trying to accomplish in this scene?” Then you can figure out something slightly more connected to reality. Random questions include, but are not limited to, mass production of holy water, mass evacuation on a primitive planet by helicopter, skydiving from a Cessna 172…)

Then there are anthologies. They’re a chance to play in another author’s world, with permission, and for pay! But they’re also a lot harder than they look, for the following reasons.

1.Worldbuilding: You can’t necessarily invent your way out of a pinch. If your character is going off the map that prior journeys walked, or interacting with the plants and wildlife in depth when the series author at most gave a brief paragraph to describe the entire forest… That requires double-checking to make sure you’re not constraining the original author with your worldbuilding, or that they didn’t stick conflicting description in some other episode, novella, or book you didn’t notice.

2. Characters: Much as you love the main story’s hero and heroine, the author probably has a planned character arc for them. While it seems obvious that you can’t make major changes (marrying them, burying them, or other major life events), there may be other things coming up in future books you didn’t even know you’d have to work around.

3: Timeline: Sometimes, they can’t be in Tiajuana fighting zombie college coeds because they’re going to be in Paris fighting demon-infested anarchists. Or because the zombie plague is cured by then. Or the planet wasn’t founded yet. Or it was blown up by the last emperor.

So, how do you do this? Well, the easiest way is to set a story in another part of the world, with new characters, especially at a different time period. Or to take minor side characters, or barely-mentioned background characters, and tell their story. If you set it in the past, somewhere completely different in the present, or the far future, then it’s not likely to change the current main-series plotline.

The Black Tide Rising anthology contained a lot of stories elsewhere, like Kacey Ezell’s story of cheerleaders and the team moms coming back from a competition when the outbreak hit. The Rogue One movie was spun out of the line “Many Bothans died to give us these plans.”

And then there’s Freehold: Forged in Blood.

Mad Mike opened up his world with the instructions that the story had to be tied to the sword that Kendra receives and uses in the original Freehold novel. This meant people could pick stories from the far distant past in Japan all the way to the far future, well beyond Kendra’s current timeline. He also picked the general time that he wanted each author to write – picking a guy who’s good at Japanese history for the sword’s origin story, picking my husband, who knows vicious predators and wild places to write one set in Grainne’s founding, and so on.

(To paraphrase Mad Mike, “Who do I know that’s dealt with combat vets, guns, and extremely vicious predators with no fear of men? Peter!”)

This was an interesting story for Peter to write, because it was set prior to any of Mike’s Current books in the series… but at the same time, he still had to read the series again on order to pick up the geography, geology, flora and fauna of the world, the arrangement of the solar system, the hints of what was founded where, when, and by whom.

Once he’d written the basic story, he sent it in to Mad Mike for a continuity & editing pass, and started in on typo-hunting as well as line-editing. Given he’s used to working with alpha & beta readers who come back with “your orbital math isn’t quite right here” and “this squad should be able to ambush that one at this point” and so on, it wasn’t that different to get back “this region actually has this and that as major predators and the biome is a little more like this…”, but it was new and amusing to get “and you’ll have to change this due to a book I haven’t written yet actually introducing this other thing instead.”

Still, after a couple passes, both authors were happy, and the story fit in very well with the rest of the anthology. Mad Mike has a good hand with the editing – in fact, one of the refrains in the reviews is that the stories work together so well that it reads like a novel, instead of an anthology. (This is a good thing!)

Here’s a snippet of Peter’s story:

After supper they watched with interest as Tom cleaned his sword, the first opportunity he’d had to do so since his field gear had been released from the secure baggage compartment before they disembarked. He drew a small wooden box from his pack and from it took three squares of paper, a little cloth ball on a short stick, and a bottle of oil. He wiped the sword with a sheet of paper, then dabbed it with the cloth ball up and down both sides of the patterned blade, leaving a faint trace of powder at each spot. This he spread carefully across the blade using a second sheet of paper.

“What’s that?” David asked.

“The paper’s called nuguigami. It’s soft, made of rice pulp for cleaning traditional Japanese swords with their folded-steel blades. In the old days, the powder in the silk ball would have been the residue from sharpening stones. Nowadays it’s a synthetic equivalent. It cleans and polishes the blade. This”—he nodded to the small bottle—“is choji oil—also synthetic; you can’t get the real stuff anymore. It keeps the steel in perfect condition.”

“Seems like you have to go to an awful lot of trouble. Wouldn’t a modern battle steel blade like Mika’s be easier to maintain?”

“Yes, but it wouldn’t have the history this one has.” Tom brushed off the last of the powder, placed a few drops of oil up and down the blade, then took the third sheet of paper and began to spread them. “My father asked an expert about it. He said it’s similar to museum specimens that are over five hundred years old. My grandfather came by it back on Sulawan.”

“I guess that makes it pretty special,” David said wistfully.

“It does to me. I hope I have a kid one day who’ll join the Army and inherit it from me.”

“And if none of your kids do?”

Tom shrugged. “Then I guess I’ll have to find a soldier worthy of it, who’ll agree to carry on the tradition in his own family when the time comes. This is a piece of history. It’s too important to be given to just anybody.”

At 0320 the next morning, Tom was jolted out of a sound sleep by a yell of alarm and a coughing, rasping snarl, seeming to come from right next to his shelter. Three shots sounded, rapid fire, and the snarl changed to a scream as something big and heavy slammed into the thin plasfiber wall, buckling it. As Tom and Mika frantically tried to get out of their sleeping bags, four razor-sharp claws slashed at the wall, tearing it open. A brindled head thrust through the gap.

Only halfway out of his sleeping bag, adrenaline coursing through his body, Tom grabbed the sword from next to his field cot. His left hand pulled the scabbard as his right tugged at the hilt. Flinging the scabbard away, he slashed one-handed at the head as it lunged toward him, jaws open to display a vicious set of teeth, its rank breath like a slap in the face. His blade cut right into the open mouth, severing part of the tongue and carving into the back of the jaw as he sliced across. The creature yowled in pain and tried to bite down on the blade as its mouth spouted blood, but the muscles and tendons that opened and closed its jaws were no longer working properly. More shots sounded from outside. Its body jerked and twitched as they struck home. It tried to back out through the tear in the wall, but Tom rolled onto his knees and thrust his sword two-handed up through the roof of its still-open mouth. With a final shudder, the beast collapsed.

Releasing his sword, Tom kicked off the sleeping bag and grabbed his carbine, lining it as he flicked off the safety; but the weapon wasn’t needed. The animal lay unmoving.

A shout came from outside. “Boss! You okay?” The voice was shrill, almost fearful.

Still shaken, Tom had to concentrate to keep his voice controlled and steady. “I’m all right. I’m coming out.”

He emerged to find his entire security detachment converging on the scene, carrying their weapons. One of the sentries on duty was waiting for him.

“I didn’t see it at all until it peered out from between your shelter and the next one, Boss. I reckon it musta snuck into camp behind the charging station, moving real quiet.” The guard nodded toward the serried ranks of capacitors from the construction vehicles’ power packs, being charged overnight by the camp’s mobile fusion microreactor. “I fired at it, but instead of running it turned and attacked your shelter.”

Tom nodded slowly, looking down at the dead animal in the beams of his team’s flashlights. He could see it was the same breed as the one that had snatched the body of the smaller predator that morning. “It nearly got me. Good shooting. I finished it with my sword.”

Read the rest, and stories by fellow MGC Jason Cordova, as well as Larry Correia, Tom Kratman, Michael Z Williamson, Kacey Ezell, and more by picking it up here on Amazon!
https://www.amazon.com/Forged-Blood-Freehold-Book-8-ebook/dp/B074Q1VF1S/

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Filed under FYNBOSSPRESS, WRITING: CRAFT

Return to the Extreme Pantser’s Guide: Meet the Internal Editor

(Work has Kate snowed under and she asked me to post this for her.)

You’ve finished your first draft, you’ve given it a decent amount of time to sit (trust me, for pantsers this is essential), and now it’s time to edit. As with all things pantser, particularly extreme pantser, it’s not that simple. Editor time is when you need to take this thing that’s lived inside your head for months, and put it through the shredder – and most of the pantsers I know (yes, including me) have major problems letting go enough to do this.

Probably the first and simplest tool in the kit for turning on your editor-mind is to phase-shift: to look at the piece in a different format than the one you wrote it in. Print-outs work for this. So does making a copy of the file and getting the copy onto your ebook reader or smartphone (preferably one with annotation or editing capability) and reading it there. The different format is usually enough to keep you out of writer mindset (or worse, “this is my baby” mindset).

Editing somewhere you don’t write is another tool that, while simple, works. The goal of moving is to put yourself somewhere your subconscious doesn’t recognize as writing-space. If you wrote the novel on your laptop while taking the train to and from work, don’t edit it there – or at the very least, don’t mark it up there. It doesn’t matter whether you mark up in approved editorese or not: you’re the only person who’s going to see this stuff, so you’re the only person who needs to worry about it. Highlights on a kindle with a one or two word note to say what it needs are just as effective as handwritten comments on paper, or comments embedded in a word processor file.

A word of warning here: if your word processing application uses any form of auto-formatting turn it off. There are multiple versions of Word in the wild, Word Perfect still happens, and then you’ve got Open Office and its clones, as well as any number of other applications that will create something more or less like RTF (aka “Rich Text Format” – which is text with fonts, bold, underlines and some other formatting, but not the fancy stuff). They don’t all use the same internal codes for anything that is not an obvious keystroke. What that means is that the beautiful file on your Mac ends up looking like someone threw confetti all over it with all manner of weird characters involving tildes and accents where you thought you had a quote mark.

Actually, that’s two words of warning. Do not use your word processor’s embedded comments feature. Not everything you’re likely to be playing with is going to be able to support that. My preference for this is to use something that won’t appear anywhere else in the manuscript as a flag character. So I’ll be writing along and there’ll be something like [add more description] in the middle of the text. That tells me what I’ve got to do and where I’ve got to do it. Sometimes it’s a plot note, sometimes flagging a really crappy sentence, and sometimes a note to remind me that a character’s name needs to change.

For stuff I need to research but don’t want to lose I use the same trick – a sudden burst of [research this] will get added to the story as I write. When I’m done the markup pass-through, I can search for [ and do what needs to be done. The benefit of this is that you can do it with anything, even Notepad (well, if the book isn’t too big – Notepad can’t read very large files. Although if the file is that big, you have other problems).

Okay, so you have your internal editor. Guess what? The editor popped over from Evil Bastard Central, and will cheerfully tell you what you’re doing sucks rocks, while leaning back in a recliner drinking your virtual booze. This is quite normal. I know it sounds like split personality, but heck, we pantsers already host a ridiculous number of personalities anyway. What’s one more?

Quite a few authors externalize the editor-mind, even going so far as to give it a name. Julie Czerneda calls hers the “Great Editor Voice” aka GEV, and posts interesting conversations between her and her GEV on her sff.net newsgroup.

You don’t need to go that far. If it helps to do something like this, go for it. Otherwise, don’t worry. So long as you can flip to editor-mind when you need to, that’s enough.

Of course, the other side of this is getting back to author-mind when you’re done with the editor-mind. That’s… interesting. It’s also crucial – you don’t want to be in editor-mind when you’re writing, any more than writer-mind is good when you’re editing. While the toolset is much the same, they’re used in different ways. The writer-mind is applying the paint, building the picture and framing it, while the editor-mind applies a scalpel to clean up the bits that got smudged, and takes the sander to the frame to smooth off all the rough places and hide the marks where the hammer didn’t quite go where you meant it to, and so forth. Not all writers are good at editing, and not all editors are good at writing.

Depending on how clean your drafts are (in the sense of dangling plot threads, odd byways you forgot to come back to, ideas that hit halfway through that you need to go back and seed and other such pantser oddities), you might not need much in your edit passes. Mine are typically pretty light: there’s a pass for plot/character issues where I’ll usually pick up most of the typo and grammar as well, and a second pass that takes a closer look at phrasing and tightening. After that will depend on what Amanda and Sarah, my long-suffering beta readers and in Amanda’s case editor as well, have to say. You might need dozens of passes to clean things up.

Or not. Pantsers have a horrible tendency to over-edit until there’s no life left. We really can’t edit our work until we’ve had a chance to forget it, and we’ve got to be careful about who we listen to. If you try to fix everything everyone says, you’ll end up with flat, rolled out tofu. Very dead tofu, at that. Instead, look for the possible problem that sits under what they’re saying, and work out how to address that.

And that, fellow pantsers, is that. Go thou forth and explore the pants.

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Filed under KATE PAULK, WRITING, WRITING: CRAFT

Who is to blame?

Last night, I started my usual prowling through the internet, looking for a topic for today’s post. Nothing resonated with me until I came across a discussion about indie authors. Even though the discussion remained civil, the disdain and condemnation was obvious. I’ll admit, I had a knee-jerk reaction where I wanted to go wading into the discussion to give the indie side of the argument. I didn’t because it would have gained nothing. The people taking part in the discussion are so entrenched in their beliefs, they wouldn’t have listened, no matter how convincing my arguments might have been.

You see, like so many who have been traditionally published, this group simply can’t fathom the speed with which a number of indie authors write. More than that, they can’t accept you can write, edit and publish a book in a month or two. They can’t wrap their minds around the fact that the year or more between books most authors experienced by traditionally publishing was an artificial delay in the production line. But, because this is the system they are used to, it is the only one they feel is valid.

Yes, that is a bit of an oversimplification. They understand that authors write at different paces. It is the rest of it that blows their minds. They have a hard time realizing it doesn’t take months to get edits back and have them finalized. They forget that indies don’t have to wait for publication slots to come open for release dates. Even so, when they start saying they fear for our industry, they point to the speed with which indie writers are putting out their product and assume the product must be inferior because it didn’t go through the same process their work did.

One of the authors pointed out that they had published something like 10 books in a little more than that many years. The author’s view was no one should be able to put out a quality product quicker than that. After all, there’s all that research that must be done, the careful selection of words, the crafting of the story, etc. No one should be able to put out multiple books a year, much less a book every month or so. Mind you, she had no idea how long the books were the indie author who published monthly put out. She simply assumed, just like she assumed they were poorly written.

That particular author’s attitude isn’t new. It’s something indies have had to deal with since Amazon first opened their KDP platform to us eight or so years ago. They’ve complained that we aren’t “real” writers because we didn’t go through traditional gatekeepers. They’ve decried the quality of our writing and editing. They do so, more often than not, without reading our work. They simply join their voices to the cries of outrage coming from the rest of the flock.

What did catch my attention in the discussion, however, was a comment that basically said that instead of focusing on the “bad writing” of indies, they needed to ask why the public is reading such crap. They pointed to 50 Shades of Grey as their examples, pointing out it had sold many more copies than the “classics”.

What that comment failed to note, possibly because it wouldn’t fit the narrative, was that 50 Shades did start out as an indie novel and then it was picked up by a traditional publisher. That traditional publisher put mega bucks behind the push for that book and its sequels. It even contracted for a new book in the series, this one from Christian Grey’s point of view.

The answer to that person’s question is simple. There are those who appreciate the classics and literary fiction but they are not the majority of the reading public. The majority of those who buy books or borrow them from the library read to be entertained. They want a story they can escape into. They want to be able to forget their worries for a few minutes or a few hours at a time. It really is that simple.

A look at this week’s New York Times best seller list tells the tale. Of the combined print and e-book list, four of the first five entries on the list are genre fiction. They are written by authors like Dan Brown, Stephen King (2 entries) and Nelson DeMille. The 5th book is a book of poetry. Looking at the hard cover list, none of the titles are what you might call “literary” fiction. Considering the fact this particular best seller list is determined by push and pre-orders (not completely, but to a large extent), it is obvious even publishers understand readers want something that has entertainment value to it.

Does all this mean indie writers don’t have challenges we need to meet headlong and overcome? Absolutely not. To start, we need to understand we have to put out the best product we can. That means our writing has to be good and it needs to be edited. We need to be prepared to take the slings and arrows of criticism leveled at us by those who have yet to realize there are more paths to success than traditional publishing. We need to develop a thick skin and be prepared with facts and figures when people come at us, telling us we aren’t “real writers” because we didn’t go through the gatekeepers. What those critics don’t understand is that our gatekeepers are our readers. If we don’t do our job well, readers won’t buy our product.

Now go forth and read — and write. If you read a book by an indie author, do them a favor and leave a review. Those help more than you realize. I’m off to find another cup of coffee now and then it is a day of writing. I can’t afford to wait a year or more between books coming out. Guess I’m not a “real writer”.

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Filed under AMANDA, WRITING: CRAFT

Return to the Extreme Pantser’s Guide: Pacing

Kate got caught up by real life and asked me to post this for her. This is the second in her “Return to the Extreme Pantser’s Guide” posts. You can find the first one here. — Amanda

This chapter is the first of several covering various aspects of plotting and characterization technique from the extreme pantser’s perspective. The thing to remember here, is that this is stuff that matters, and if you as an extreme pantser don’t ‘get’ it free, you’re going to have to work a lot harder than a plotter would to get there – but not necessarily work in the same way.

One of the more interesting things I’ve found as I’ve developed as a writer is that I typically have a vague, not terribly clear feel for the techniques, but I’m not applying them with any sense or consistency because I don’t understand what the heck it is I’m trying to do, much less what my subconscious is throwing at me. Those unfortunate enough to have read some of my early stuff know what I mean here. You can see the shape I’m after but it’s kind of like a small child trying to color inside the lines.

I still color like that, but at least I’ve got better at writing.

So, pacing. This is what makes a story feel fast or slow. Unless you’re planning on writing literary fiction, you’re going to want a variety in your pacing – enough fast sections to drag your readers along with you, and enough slower ones that they have time to breathe. SF and Fantasy, particularly recently, tends to want to start fast, then have something of a slowdown before a series of increasingly sharper accelerations until the climax of the piece. Most – but not all – authors will give a chapter or three of wrapup after that at a nice, gentle pace. Sarah refers to this as the post-climax cigarette.

Pace is partly influenced by vocabulary: short, sharp verbs with minimal assistance from adverbs, action verbs in the sense that someone (preferably your protagonist) is acting… these tend to signal ‘fast’ to readers. Polysyllabic with lots of descriptive usually signals ‘slow’. We as readers are remarkably sensitive to these – to the extent that a particularly fast-paced scene in someone else’s book is quite capable of having me breathing heavily and feeling as though I just outran a bear.

So… read what you can about pacing, but also read fiction with known pace. L.K. Hamilton’s first three books are close to perfect examples of fast-paced. Terry Pratchett’s pacing is generally more leisurely, but again, pitch-perfect.

What tends to happen is that after immersing yourself in well-paced books, the extreme pantser builds a feel for pacing that manifests as “Something needs to happen soon” or “My character needs a break” – also, “Slowing things down here will increase tension” has been known to occur. In my case, rarely quite that explicit, but I do still operate at this level.

I know this sounds very vague and almost – horrors! – frou-frou, but it does seem to work this way at least for me. I’ve had to learn to trust in the pants, not least because the bloody things know more about how this works than I do (As a side note, this is one of the reasons why I’m bloody dangerous when I’m over-tired. It’s not just the narcolepsy, although that doesn’t help. It’s that all the ‘this is not socially acceptable’ filters stop working – which leads to unacceptable truths being aired out, often loudly).

 

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Filed under KATE PAULK, WRITING: CRAFT

Blast from the recent past — Write like the Wind

(Sarah is at TVIW this week and asked me to fill in for her. Well, in light of some of the comments we received in the various threads asking what you’d like us to write about as well as some conversations I’ve had recently with other writers, I thought this post Sarah did back in April might be appropriate. — ASG)

Write Like the Wind

There was a time I wrote a short story in six months.  I took days to write it, weeks to lovingly polish it, MONTHS of agonizing over every word.  Then I sent it out.  And it was rejected.  (All but one, which was accepted eight times, but killed magazines and/or editors. No, I don’t know why.)

Then I attended the Kris and Dean Oregon Coast Professional Writers Workshop (the first) and in those two weeks we HAD to — had to — produce five short stories and two novel proposals.  I did.  Also, at this point all of those short stories have sold.

After that I launched into a year of a short story a week (while writing two novels.)  It was a challenge of my writers’ group.

We didn’t succeed.  I think I ONLY wrote forty short stories.

The funny thing was, recently, reading over my past stories (I was transferring things from diskette) that the quality difference, after about a quarter of a story a week, more or less, was marked, visible and obvious.  I was much better after a quarter of forced production.  And from that point on, pretty much all the short stories have sold.

Novels too started being much faster.  Honestly, if I can stabilize my health at some point, a novel a month is neither unfeasible nor unreasonable.  I once wrote two novels (Heart and Soul and Plain Jane) in a month, and finished another one, though I can’t remember which (might have been one of the Musketeer books.)  In fact the main reason I didn’t write a book a month back when I was healthy was that in traditional publishing there was nothing I could do with that many books.  (Ah, for a way to send my old-self a little note.)

One of you emailed me last week and asked me if writing that fast was some trick that could be taught.

Sort of.  I’m not sure it can be taught, but it can be learned.  It’s a frame of mind you put yourself in, a mental block you remove.  And the only way to put it firmly in place is if you PRACTICE it and set yourself deadlines and goals.

However to the extent I can help, there are some principles to keep in mind that might help break the barrier.

1- how long you take to write a story doesn’t make it better or worse.  My highest-selling book was written in two days, and the next-highest-selling in two weeks.  By the standard that counts “how many people pay out good money to read this?” my faster written books are the best.

2- nine times out of ten the things you’re agonizing about on the story aren’t really important.  No, seriously.  Things like passive voice, overuse of to-be and too many adjectives and adverbs are things editors and critics care about, but most readers don’t notice, not if your voice is confident and strong enough.

3- Keeping a strong voice is much easier if you write the story fast.

So, that’s why.  Now HOW to do it.

1- Write as fast as you can.  If you are a slow typist, try voice dictation.  Put your mind in the story and write as fast as humanly possible.

2- Don’t edit.  I can’t say that enough DO NOT EDIT.  Write to the end without editing.  If you typed teh instead of the, it will wait till you’re done.

3- To facilitate do not edit, DO NOT read back to see what you did yesterday.  For best results leave yourself a sticky note about where you are going next.  That way you don’t need to read what you wrote and be tempted into editing.

4- if you’re an outliner, have a complete outline before you start, and then mark on the outline what you’re doing tomorrow.

5- if you’re a partial outliner like me, outline what you’re doing tomorrow at the end of the work day.

6- Did I mention write as fast as you possibly can?  Short story or novel race to the end.

7- Once you’re done fix typos then let it sit for a week.  This is an excellent time to send it to your betas, unless like me your idea changed in the middle and your beginning and end don’t match.

8- Fix continuity issues.

9- Make sure all your foreshadowing points right.

10- Make sure you got all your points in.

11- Do not revise/get caught in rewrites more than three times.  Three times, and let it go.

12 – move on to the next project.

Now I can say all this till I’m blue in the face, but you HAVE to practice it.  You HAVE TO PRACTICE it.  But if you do, I guarantee you’ll get better.

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Filed under SARAH A. HOYT, WRITING: CRAFT

Hero or Superhero

Usually by this time on Tuesdays, I have an idea about what I’m going to blog about. Heck, I usually have an idea when I get up. Sometimes I even have the post written the night before. But not today. I blame yesterday for it. Between painting and taking down cabinets and an emergency plumbing repair (nothing serious, just threw off my timing on the other projects), my brain wasn’t on writing or blogging. To be honest, I needed a day like that. But, it meant this morning, I was scrambling for a topic.

So I did what I sometimes do in that situation. I went to other blogs, social media feeds, etc., and looked to see what folks were talking about. I came across a couple of different threads on different sites about what readers look for in main characters, especially in genre fiction. The phrasing was different but it all came down to one main question: do readers want heroes or superheroes for their main characters? Or, to put it a little differently, do they want flawed characters who have issues to overcome and who might grow some during the course of the book or story arc or do they want that perfect character who, like Clark Kent, swoops in to save the day and rarely has a hangnail, much less anything seriously go wrong in their life?

In one of the discussions I looked at, someone commented that they didn’t think you needed a character to have flaws or to “grow”. They pointed out characters like James Bond and Indiana Jones and asked how they “grew”. I think those two stood out to me the most and for different reasons. Ian Fleming wrote Bond, at least in my eyes, as the “perfect” man. He could get and bed any woman he wanted. He was the perfect spy. He was the man most other men wanted to be. There’s no problem with that. For the time when the books were written and for the genre involved, that’s what readers and publishers wanted. Besides, for every James Bond, you had a George Smiley. John le Carré wrote Smiley as an older man, one who had fallen from grace in the intelligence community. He was not the perfect man and he had a past to overcome. In my mind, in many ways, he was much more interesting than Bond ever could be.

As for Indiana Jones, he was far from perfect. While those imperfections didn’t cripple him, they were there. He was impulsive. He didn’t always think through the consequences of his actions, even when those actions might put others in danger. He had daddy issues. We see some growth, especially with regard to the daddy issues in the third film. (We won’t mention the fourth film. Please don’t mention the fourth film.)

But, where my mind went first when I saw the original discussion was my own reading and David Webber’s Honor Harrington. One of the things I loved about Honor from the very beginning was that she wasn’t perfect. Sure, because of her genetic background, she was taller and stronger than some. She was also a brilliant Naval officer. But she had her own ghosts and insecurities. Those could come close to crippling her. She had a temper and a streak of vengeance a mile wide. Both of which cost her as well, at least early into the series.

I loved seeing her shine as a Naval officer and then seeing the insecurities as a “normal” person. I’ve known people like that. They excel in the office or boardroom, in the surgical suite or at the front of a classroom. But put them into a social setting and they suddenly think they are unworthy, ugly, insecure, whatever. That was Honor. Over the course of the first three or four books, we get to see her grow as a person. She was already a strong officer but as a “woman”, she had a long way to go.

That did not make her any less of a leading character or human. Far from it. By seeing her able to put those insecurities or, in some cases, prejudices behind her in order to do her duty was refreshing. those flaws kept her from being a Mary Sue (something she has come very close to being in the later books in the series, imo).

What I noticed on each of the sites where I saw this discussion happening was that they rarely seemed to mention female main characters, focusing instead on male leads. Maybe their responses stem from the belief that men shouldn’t show weakness, maybe it came from something else. I don’t know. But, I think it comes down to a matter of degrees.

I don’t know about you, but when I say I want a character with flaws, I don’t mean I want a character who has been broken by life. Oh, there are places for that, but not every leading character has to be broken. They can be bent — hey! Get your minds out of the gutter! — or they can simply be human. Growth doesn’t have to mean a major change to their behaviors and attitudes. It can be as simple as learning to admit that they don’t know everything or that they might not be the best at something. It can be learning to let someone else into their lives, be it on a romantic scale or with regard to business.

Sometimes, we need characters with some flaws to make them believable. What is appropriate to one story or genre might not be for another. So, here’s my question to you; what books do you think do the perfect (or superhero-esque) character well and which ones do you think do the flawed character well? (Yes, this is also my way of adding to my TBR stack.)

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Filed under AMANDA, characterization, WRITING: CRAFT

A Change in Plans

A quick note before I get into today’s post. The series on formatting will continue next week. I want a little more time working with some of the programs I’m going to discuss before blogging about them. Sorry for the delay but I wanted to be comfortable with the programs before not only reviewing them but, in at least one instance, recommending them.

As for today, well, the title says it all.

Last week, I released Nocturnal Rebellion. It is the fifth book in the Nocturnal Lives series and the sixth title overall. This was the first series I started and Nocturnal Origins was the second book I published. To say this series and its characters have held a special place in my writer’s heart is to put it mildly. Because of that, I expected a few days, maybe more, of mourning after Rebellion’s release. Why? Because Rebellion brings an end to the current story arc and I’m not sure where the story will go from there — or when the next installment will happen.

Okay, that’s not quite right. I have a glimmer of a spark of an idea about where to go next but that’s it. Knowing Mac and company won’t be part of my regular writing schedule for a while is, well, odd.

Normally, I take a week or so away from writing after a book release to do some promotion and to simply get my head cleared of that book and ready for the next project. That’s when I try to catch up on my reading, reorganize my office — okay, cleaning it and getting it ready for whatever I’m about to start writing — sleeping and gaming. It is also when I catch up on those projects around the house that I put on hold while I got the last book ready for press.

This time, however, it didn’t happen like that. I took a day. A single day. Then I dug into my office, clearing away all the notes and research used during Rebellion’s writing. Once that was accomplished, I sat down and over the course of the next two days, made notes on the projects that have been floating around in my mind, those I knew I needed to get done in the next six months or so as well as others that, it seemed, had been lurking just below the surface until I finished Rebellion.

By the time I was finished, I had notes on 12 separate titles. 12. What the bleep?!? Fortunately for my sanity, not all of them are novels. More fortunately, some were for titles I’d already planned and, in a couple of occasions, are projects I’ve already gotten very rough drafts completed for — the next in the Honor and Duty series as well as the next in the Sword of the Gods series. What I hadn’t expected doing this were the several standalone titles that cropped up or the additional titles I hadn’t planned in the Eerie Side of the Tracks, including a novel that hit me out of nowhere but that I’m very excited to write.

So what’s the change, you ask.

First, and least important, is the fact I sat down and actually made notes on more than the current work in progress. I very rarely do that. While I’m not a pantser, I most definitely am not a plotter either. I’ve always fallen somewhere in-between. Whether this indicates a change in my process or not, I don’t know. I’ll admit, the prospect of my process changing is a bit scary. But it’s happened before and I adapted. I’ll do so again.

The second change is in the publishing schedule. Again, it’s no biggie. That is the joy of being an indie. I can shuffle my schedule as needed. But, in this case, there is no shuffling needed. I simply added more titles to it. In a way, that’s reassuring. It is also daunting because it means I can’t goof off and say “I don’t know what to write”. And yes, there was a teen-like whine with that quote.

The change is the obvious one. For the first time in more than five years, I don’t have a story with Mac in the hopper. Part of me mourns that. But it was time for this particular story arc to come to an end. Yet, even as I write this post, I know Myrtle the Evil Muse is thinking about what to do with our band of heroes next. She’s already teased (okay, tormented) me with a scene with a panicked Mac discovering she’s pregnant and wondering the best way to potty train the baby of two people who shift into jaguars. Do you buy stock in diapers or kitty litter? Do you buy teething rings or scratching posts?

You see why I call my muse evil?

Crap!

Even as I sit here typing in this post, I hear Myrtle cackling madly. It’s not enough that she inflicted me with a book that wants to be written NOW! I feel a new series coming on. In case you’re wondering, it’s a bit like feeling a headache coming on. Why? Because Myrtle isn’t subtle. She comes racing in with her combat boots and bullhorn.

Seriously, the change I refer to in the title is more of a mental change than anything else. I noticed something as I wrote my last couple of books. I was allowing myself to be distracted by the internet, by gaming, etc. I know the reasons why but knowing them doesn’t always mean I do anything about them. So, I made the decision to change one very basic and yet important part of my writing. I have switched machines. My PC laptop no longer is my work machine. I’ll still use it for a couple of post-edit functions because it has a larger screen and some of the programs I use after I finish a manuscript. But the actual writing now happens on the MacBook Air. So far, it has been a very positive change. It is as though my subconscious understand that when I’m on the Mac, it is “work”. the PC is “play”. We’ll see how long that lasts.

I’m not recommending everyone go out and buy a laptop or desktop that is a totally different OS from what you have now. What I do recommend is that you review how you write and be honest with yourself about whether you are allowing yourself to become distracted too easily. I know authors who have machines without internet connectivity that they use to write on. Others don’t put games or social media apps on their work machines. I finally am starting to understand why.

The other thing I’ve done is blocked off several hours in the morning and then in the afternoon where I don’t go online. I don’t check email and I don’t go to Facebook or similar sites. This is “work” time. That has helped as well.

In other words, I am practicing what I preach — I am treating my writing like my business. I’m still looking at ways to get better, both with time management and with promotion. Boy do I need to get better at promotion. How about you? What can you do to improve your productivity? What techniques are you using that seem to help?

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Filed under AMANDA, WRITING: CRAFT, WRITING: LIFE