One of the minor pleasures of writing is setting up your major characters to have not just rocks thrown at them, but a major rock slide. Metaphorically speaking.
And for maximum impact, you want the reader to say not “Where the hell did those rocks come from?” but, “Oh, of course that was going to happen, I should have seen it coming.”
For that, you need to keep the reader aware of these stresses and hot buttons that make your characters particularly likely to walk under that cliff, and the clues that tell them the cliff is dangerously unstable. It’s the difference between having your character knocked out by a random rock slide, and having him knocked out by a rock slide in a place clearly labeled Fallen Rock Zone. After he’s made his speech about how modern civil engineers never, ever make a road cut that leaves unstable masses above the road.
Okay, now to specifics.
That question, or some variation of it, is one we hear too many times to count during the course of our lives. What do you want to eat? What do you want to do? What do you want to be when you grow up? What do you want to come from X, Y or Z? It is a question each writer needs to ask at various points of their careers — what do you want to write? What do you want to be, indie or traditionally published? What do you want, money or awards? What do you want to be, a genre writer or a literary one? Read more
Is there an Arabic speaker on the blog?
That’s a serious question. You see, for the next book in the Pocketful of Stars series I’m positing a terrorist splinter group that has split off from Al-Shabaab and is based on one of the offshore islands of the Swahili coast. If necessary I can give it a Swahili name, but the fact is that Arabic has more prestige in Swahili culture even though hardly anybody actually speaks the language. And after a few days of tinkering I have reluctantly concluded that one year of intensive Arabic many, many years ago is not going to suffice for making sure up an authentic name, at least if I want to get fancier than “al-[Arabic word].” So… anybody want to help?
This question is only one of the many ways I’ve found to spend too much time on research. It started with reading up on Swahili beliefs in djinn and demons. That’s one aspect of Swahili culture I know nothing about firsthand, because in my time on the coast I found it politic to stay far, far away from discussions about these matters. It was an earlier and less technology-oriented age (no cell phones, and my tape recorder was the size of a shoebox) and I had enough trouble already with people muttering about jinni and shaitani when they heard their voices coming out of the shoebox.
What do you do when a new character starts talking to you?
You transcribe, of course, and thank the Muse politely and hope this state of affairs will continue.
However, when the character starts by telling you her name – and it happens to be the name of the Greek Muse of Comedy – don’t be too surprised if she finds it screamingly funny to get you five chapters deep into a story told in first person and then to point out that she didn’t actually witness certain crucial scenes and what are you going to do about that?
Recently my old acquaintance Tenebra came to visit. I came across her sitting by the fish pond.
“How come you always show up when I’m three-quarters done with a first draft?”
“It’s the perfect time to visit you,” she said. “If you listen to me, not only will you stop writing this book, but you’ll have wasted the time you already put in on research, plotting and writing.”
“That doesn’t make me more inclined to listen to you.”
“No? Then why are you sitting by this pool, chatting, instead of going indoors and writing?”
First of all, thanks for understanding about the post being late today and for the topic recommendations. I am still waiting on the contractor but it has given me time to do other things — like try to figure out who to go with for our electric supply. Grumble, grumble, stupid companies that punish loyal customers instead of encouraging them to remain loyal. Any way, that’s a post for another blog. So let’s talk pen names.
When I first started getting serious about writing, one of the things I looked at was whether or not to use a pen name. I had a long discussion — actually, a number of discussions — about it with Sarah. At that time, indie publishing was just beginning and the rules of traditional publishing still held sway. There were a number of reasons then to have a pen name, many of them no longer applicable. But one explanation for why you should have a pen name I learned at RWA. To be honest, it is the only reason why you would want not only a pen name but a closed pen name. Read more
Anyone who has been a long time follower of the blog knows that we don’t believe that there is any one “right” way to write. Everyone’s process is different and, if you’re like me, that process changes from project to project. So, when I came across this post by best selling author John Grisham, I found myself staring at it and shaking my head. Then I laughed and then I got angry. Why? Because he writes about what works for him in such absolute terms that there will be someone who believes it is the only way to be a successful writer. Read more