No, this is not a new version of two-finger-typing for those endowed like Cyrano de Bergerac. It is about adding a new layer of reality and depth to your setting and scene description, and about playing up the differences between characters. Read more
Posts tagged ‘writer’s toolbox’
You’ve done all the research. You’ve mapped out (literally perhaps) your new world, and have crafted a story worthy of a Dragon, several other awards, and lots and lots of Benjamins*, but your alpha and beta readers say, “I’m just not feeling it. I can’t see your world.”
What went wrong?
Details. You need enough detail to make the world real, especially real to the characters who live in it, but not so much that the reader drowns. This is, alas, no longer the 19th Century and we can’t go on for pages and pages about fashion, food, or other things. Unless it is critical to the plot, or you are writing a milieu novel, and even then, see “the problems of the unrestrained info-dump.” Read more
Character stories seem to be some of the easiest for me to write, at least until the characters flip me the Hawaiian Peace Sign and head off into parts unknown-to-author.
What is a character story? Oh boy, I’ve found three different definitions, and I don’t entirely agree with any of them. One, Orson Scot Card, says that character stories are driven by the character’s desire or need to change something about herself or her situation. An English textbook says it is any time an individual is the main plot driver, and an academic paper went so post-modern that I gave up trying to understand what the author meant once I got past “the main character is also the protagonist.” Read more
I like my reference books and cookbooks in paper, even while I like my entertainment in ebook form. There’s something about using the physical memory of how far in, or underlining, highlighting, crossing out and writing and aside, that helps me to remember the information. (Or, in the case of the cookbooks, you can find that my crockpot chili recipe has about 7 more spices added, tomato sauce crossed out and tomato paste written in, “drained” written next to the canned items… because the end result is the perfected form of the cookbook’s basic suggestion.)
As I’ve moved from place to place over the years, I have often given away books – and sometimes gotten them again because I didn’t realize how much I’d use them. Others accumulate, because I think I’ll use ’em, or may need this or that hard-to-find information or recipe. But when I was putting the latest cookbook on the shelf, it collapsed.
Don’t know why. That cheap chipboard has held up through being disassembled and reassembled across five moves, over ten years… okay, maybe I know why. But after I went to the local itty bitty town’s hardware store and cleaned ’em out of 1.5 inch right-angle brackets, and ensured those shelves will have to disintegrate in order to collapse again, I did start taking a long look at what books I really use, and which ones I can let go.
I’ve kept all the cookbooks with stories. Lowbush Moose and Other Alaskan Recipes – great book, full of hilarious stories about the people and places in Alaska as it was transitioning to statehood. (Tired Wolf and Smokehouse Bear complete the series, and are also awesome. Good recipes, too.) I’ve kept the ones for research (Rocky Mountain Wild Foods Cookbook), and the ones that work with our current diet… and one of good South African comfort foods, for when my love really just needs an “I love you” in the form of bobotie and kerkpoeding.
While I was at it, I started on the next shelf down, with the writing reference books, taking out the ones that proved blah and keeping the ones that proved useful. Well, more useful. There are some where the purchase price of the book was worth the one sentence of insight, but I’m not going to keep the rest of the book for that.
Ones I’m keeping:
The Copyright Handbook by Stephen Fishman, J.D.
The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi
The Positive Trait Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi
The Negative Trait Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi
Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card
Meditations on Violence: a Comparison of Martial Arts Training and Real World Violence by Rory Miller
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Reni Browne & Dave King
Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain
What Every Body Is Saying by Joe Navarro
What reference books do you keep and use?
—And now, for the part where I encourage you to entertain yourself and support the author!–
For those of you who like to listen to your novels, I’ve got not one but two new audiobook releases for you!
Peter’s second in the space opera Maxwell series, Ride the Rising Tide, is now out in audiobook:
Trapped in the Dragon Tong’s search for a lost legend, Steve Maxwell finds a way out by enlisting in the Lancastrian Commonwealth Fleet.
If he survives long enough to earn a commission, he’ll be able to hunt down the pirates who killed his mentor. To get there, he’ll have to slog through rain-swollen swamps, dodge incoming fire on a ‘peacekeeping’ mission, and face down a gang of angry smugglers. Even far away from enemies, a mistake can turn a spaceship into a deathtrap.
It’ll take resourcefulness and courage to succeed…but Steve hasn’t come this far in order to fail.
On the Western front, Rocky Mountain Retribution is also now audiobook for you:
In the post-Civil War West, the railroads are expanding, the big money men are moving in, and the politicians they are buying make it difficult for a man to stand alone on his own. So, Walt Ames moves his wife, his home, and his business from Denver to Pueblo. The railroads are bringing new opportunities to Colorado territory, and he’s going to take full advantage of them.
Ambushed on their way south, Walt and his men uncover a web of corruption and crime to rival anything in the big city. And rough justice, Western-style, sparks a private war between Walt and some of the most dangerous killers he’s ever encountered, a deadly war in which neither friends nor family are spared.
Across the mountains and valleys of the southern Rocky Mountains, Walt and his men hunt for the ruthless man at the center of the web. Retribution won’t be long delayed…and it cannot be denied.
Welcome to June; almost half the year has now gone by. How are you faring on those goals you set at the beginning of the year? This is a good time to evaluate, regroup, and start again. For those of you who are or want to become full-time authors, and even those of you who don’t, now is a good time to put down your author hat, pick up your business manager hat, and answer a few questions for yourself.
1. What is your total word count for the last 6 months? For each month? Week? Day?
2. What is your average word count per month, week, and day?
3. How many hours did it take you to write the last story/novel? (Hours actually spent writing, not calendar time from start to finish)
4. What was your average words per (actually writing) hour?
5. What time of the day is the most productive for you to write?
6. Was that increase in productivity at home or away?
7. What other factors led to it?
8. How many hours a day do you spend on writing business other than actual writing (including research, billing, marketing, etc)?
If you haven’t been keeping track, then how do you know what will help you, what works best for you, and just how good you can be when everything is awesome? How can you plan a production schedule if you don’t know what it takes to produce your product? If your method of creating new work is to sit down at a keyboard, sometimes, and hope that a novel shoots out of your fingers… hope is not a business plan. Keep your day job a while longer, and get ready to quantify your creative side.
If you have been keeping track, or you can pull some rough numbers off files and blog posts, now is a good idea to take a look at the story that the numbers tell. Are you more productive in the morning or evening? When you have 4-hour blocks to write, or when you have an hour to squeeze in? When you’re at home or at the coffee shop? (Or, in one writer’s case, in the van at the grocery store’s parking lot, getting “one last thing I forgot” and really finishing a chapter without the kids interrupting?) Do you write better with music or without? Does it go faster if you can write every day for multiple days in a row? How often did you lose a week to being sick, or other emergencies?
This isn’t about forcing you into a rigid schedule. This is about helping you realize what you need to be at your best, and about how much time it really will take you if you’re trying to plan out the next book, the next series, the next year. It’s about “The cover artist needs at least a month, so between the beta readers, the copyeditor, the cover artist, etc. I’m looking at a release roughly in this month… and I can reserve a slot roughly by then, because I’ll know if I’m on track, which means the final draft won’t have to sit waiting for ‘next available’ slot with anyone else.”
Writing is a very personal thing, that takes place a lot in solitude and in our own heads. This means that the immediate moments, and the low points and high points, tend to overwhelm all the day-to-day, and the story we tell ourselves of how we’re doing and what works best for ourselves… may not actually match reality. This is why I like numbers: they take all of the crisis-of-the-moments and the unique cases and let you step back and get a bigger, broader picture. They also let you focus on things you can change, and do better – because what you measure, you can alter.
Sometimes they say things we don’t want to hear, like “You’ve only averaged one day a week at the gym in the last 3 weeks. This is why you’re not getting any better. It doesn’t matter what the reason is this time, last time, the time before… you’re not going to get better until you go three times a week.”
Sometimes they say things that we really didn’t expect, like “While you feel more productive writing at the coffee shop, you really are only pulling the same numbers as you do at home, and have the driving time and the extra cost of lattes.”
Sometimes just tracking forces a change in habits, like “If I start writing with my first cuppa, I can get 1,000 words in. If I check the news first, it’s hit or miss if I write anything at all… oh, look, I realized this and now I’m skipping news in the morning, because otherwise I have to record a big fat zero in my daily word count…”
And sometimes it’s simple little things like “My writing speed doubles when I get to the scenes I’m really excited about. Huh. Maybe I ought to find or make something about each scene that’s cool and interesting, or skip ahead… because if they’re boring me to write, are they going to be just as boring to read?”
You’ve got a little over half a year til 2018. What are your goals and plans for the second half? What are you going to track?
For an awesome goal accomplished, Tom Rogneby got three novellas rolled into an omnibus: Quest to the North, Lost Children, and The Lady of Eyre are now all available for only $4.99 in Coming Home! https://www.amazon.com/dp/B072M6JX5H/
It’s a good set of tales – if you haven’t been following the saga, and you enjoy heroic fantasy and the antics that small boys (and their dogs) can get up to, check it out! You don’t even have to pick up the earlier books in the series to enjoy this set – but once you read this, you might find you want more…
I have a day job that’s awesome. I’m not out on an airport ramp, kneeling in a puddle and having 34 degree rain (F, not C) trickling down my spine from the gap at my collar. (No matter where they park the airplane, by the time you have to work on it, it will be in a puddle.) I’m not balancing carefully on a waterlogged, half-rotten interior roof with a mask over my face trying to shield my lungs from the literal sheets of mold peeling off drywall as we hang tarps and lay pallets, because if we can kinda-sorta weatherproof the remnants of a building, we can use it to store the bargeload of filters coming in. (Nor am I back in that ruin and trying to pull case after case of filters while every movement of boxes or tarps sends a shower of volcanic dust everywhere, in everything.) I’m not in the field, up to my ankles in mud and up to my elbows in tobacco sap and bugs stuck on, trying to swing a machete without bruising or, heavens forbid, breaking any sap-stiff fragile leaves. I’m not stuck in interminable meetings where people are distilled down to their productivity, and all the drama, the tears, the emergencies, the hopes, the dreams, the good or bad luck… is given a thirty-second-per-employee reason to decide whether or not to fire them if they fall below an efficiency threshold.
Yeah, my job has drawbacks. No job is perfect. This job would be a living nightmare for many people… but for me, for now, it’s awesome. And you know what? Those other jobs – they, too, were awesome. There were some terrible moments. There were some wonderful people. They were some frustrations that soured entire weeks. What defines a job as awesome is not the job itself: it’s the mindset you use to react to it.
You should enjoy your job. Like breathing, the people who most enjoy their job are usually the people who were recently not blessed with one. (Air is one of the most underappreciated blissful joys of the universe, as anyone who’s had a malfunctioning regulator or asthma can tell you.) But that’s not just because of income and possibly health insurance. It’s because, as writers, you can also look around and see that your job provides you with close regular contact with people who are completely unlike you. What motivates them? How do they come to decisions? What do they want? How do they deal with problems, frustrations, and unexpected good fortune? What are their speech patterns, and what body language do they use?
When you’re creating worlds inside your head, you’ll be populating them with people, doing jobs. The more you understand why people make decisions that you wouldn’t, and reactions unlike yours, the more your worlds and characters will become real. The better you can describe their body language and replicate their dialogue, the more lifelike they’ll seem. And the more aware you are of the intricacies and minutiae, the conventions and processes of your job, the specific terms and phrases… the better you’ll be able to look for and provide those anchoring details to describe another job and make it come to life.
And if you don’t have a job? You probably have other ways you’re in contact with people, other groups you’re in. If you don’t? Study the movies. What details do they use that make another place, time, or people seem real? What just falls flat? Watch the same actor in two different films, back to back – and watch what he changes to convey two different characters.
…and remember to enjoy yourself, and count your blessings.