A Few Good Blogs

My post this week is a bit delayed due to laziness combined with the game Castle Age on Facebook.  (Curse you Nicole for introducing me to a game I enjoy!  Wait…that doesn’t sound right…. Never mind.  We return you to your regularly scheduled post.) 

In addition to being lazy and goofing off, I have been reading various blogs lately, some of which I found to be highly informative.  I thought it would be  good idea to pass on a few quick links for those interested in the art of writing.

First Up: Between Fact And Fiction

Natalie Whipple wrote a post  entitled Revision Reference on her blog, Between Fact and Fiction.   In addition to being very interesting, this post made me feel like the slowest writer in creation.  She casually mentions that last year she wrote first drafts for 6.5 books! and that this is to be “The Year of Revision”. 

After I popped my eyes back into my head, I went on to read what she described as “The little ticks that bog down” her writing.  I saw in her list many attributes I have learned to avoid thanks to the Magic City Writers’ Group

Such tidbits include Hedging (“she almost ran to the door” versus “she ran to the door”) and using Tags such as angrily, sadly, vehemently,  and so forth instead of describing actions that imply the emotion. 

Natalie goes on with a list that includes Chattiness, Repetitiveness, Overstaging, and other items good writers shouldn’t do.  It is a very well-written, highly informative post that I can easily recommend to anyone wanting to improve their writing skills.

Second Up: There Are No Rules

I have sung the praises of Jane Friedman and her blog, There Are No Rules, before and I do so again.   This week she mentioned the release of a book in a post entitled, Form The Perfect Critique Group.

The book is The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide: How to Make Revisions, Self-Edit, and Give and Receive Feedback.  Given that this blog is dedicated to a writers’ group, I think you can see why this caught my attention. 

I’ll let Jane’s post explain why this is a good book to have.  For myself, I plan to sucker someone into buying it, and then borrow it from them.  (Nicole, you owe me for Castle Age!)

Third Up :There Are No Rules, Again

Yes two posts from the same blog.   It’s a good blog.  This time I am highlighting a guest post by Jim Adam entitled Story Structure: Beginnings, Middles, and Ends

This post focuses on the Harry Potter series as a way to highlight good story structure.  It is a first rate analysis and part of a larger series of guest posts he is doing using the Harry Potter series to discuss various elements of storytelling.

In this installment, he points out how both the individual books and the series as a whole have layers of structure designed to draw the reader in and give them a sense that the story is “going somewhere”.   He also underscores how J.K. Rowling includes details, scenes, and incidents that at first seem minor, but become important to the plot.

This is a post that makes you think of stories at a higher level. That requires you to step back and think about how the small details give rise to a pattern that readers subliminally understand and respond to.  For new writers, such as myself, Jim’s post is thought-provoking and provides insights easily overlooked when casually reading the Harry Potter books.

Th…Th…Th…That’s All Folks!

There were other great posts I read this week, but I am behind on my list of 3-trillion things to do, so I shall sign off till next time.  Have fun and party down.

The Hidden Danger of Epic Tales

I read an interesting post on Jane Friedman’s blog, There are No Rules, entitled Telling a Story: One-Sentence Stress Test. It is a post well worth reading, but I want to focus on one thing she wrote.  It is some advice that might have helped me over twenty years ago, but now comes a bit late.  I provide the out-of context quote here because I think it is worth repeating.

For most first-time novelists, however, pursuing a story that resists the one-sentence stress test is perilous. Stephen King didn’t start off with The Stand; his first book was Carrie. Meanwhile, George R.R. Martin only undertook his complex fantasy cycle late in his career when his skills had reached full maturity.

Complex books like these should come with an FDA label: “WARNING! Trained professionals at work. Do not attempt this at home.”

Struggling writers who wave off such warnings often pay for their hubris by producing a novel that simply doesn’t work.

My own work over these many years is a testimony to the wisdom of Jane’s words.  If I could go back to my younger self and give some writing advice it might well be something like her warning above.  “Start with something simple.  A straight forward tale that fits in one novel.  Something easy to tell.  Delay working on the complex epic until you have the skills to tell it properly.”

I had simple stories in my head back when I was in college, but I didn’t feel the urge to write those stories down, to tell them quick and fast.  Instead I was lured by a disjointed series of ideas that felt right together, and so became fascinated by a complex puzzle of a tale that I could only glimpse at out the corner of my mind’s eye. 

Over time I toyed and tweaked with the various ideas I had, arranged and rearranged them next to each other, trying to discover how the fragments fit together to form a greater whole.  I knew I was trying to write something big, something complex, but I had no idea how big or how complex.  I didn’t have the skills needed to tell my epic, nor those needed to find the thread of a story that connected one item to another. 

Over the last several decades I gained the abilities needed to tell the epic I call Gods Among Men.  I know my story now in ways I couldn’t in my youth, and I know what I must do to tell it.  It is a daunting task, and if I had other books under my belt I would feel more confidant in my ability to do my story justice.  To tell it the way it deserves to be told.

I said Jane’s advice comes a bit late.  When I was younger it might have been possible for me to choose another story, a simpler tale that I could have focused on and finished.  Now I cannot turn aside from Gods Among Men.  Day and night I think on it; it fills my daydreams and is the center of every effort I make as a writer.  Call it passion, or obsession, or just plain stubbornness, but the end result is the same.  I cannot tell another story until I have Gods Among Men “finished” in some sense of the word.

I take solace, however, in a different thought: had I been more experienced, had I realized early on how complex and difficult it would be to tell Gods Among Men, I might never have found the nerve to to try writing it down. 

Gods Among Men is the work of a lifetime, my lifetime.  And the truth is I love this tale.  It isn’t effort to work on it, to think on it, to write and edit for hours at a time.  Well, sometimes it is an effort; but often I lose myself in a fantasy world of my own creation.  A brutal world, a beautiful world, a complex realm with characters that defy simple labels such as “good” or “evil”.

Perhaps I shall never finish this tale of mine, that it will be nothing more than a monument to my own hubris.  If so, that will be a shame, but not a tragedy.  A tragedy would be if I had never tried to tell this story, if I had never accepted the challenge of telling one great, truly original, tale.

The Hidden Danger of Epic Tales

I read an interesting post on Jane Friedman’s blog, There are No Rules, entitled Telling a Story: One-Sentence Stress Test. It is a post well worth reading, but I want to focus on one thing she wrote.  It is some advice that might have helped me over twenty years ago, but now comes a bit late.  I provide the out-of context quote here because I think it is worth repeating.

For most first-time novelists, however, pursuing a story that resists the one-sentence stress test is perilous. Stephen King didn’t start off with The Stand; his first book was Carrie. Meanwhile, George R.R. Martin only undertook his complex fantasy cycle late in his career when his skills had reached full maturity.

Complex books like these should come with an FDA label: “WARNING! Trained professionals at work. Do not attempt this at home.”

Struggling writers who wave off such warnings often pay for their hubris by producing a novel that simply doesn’t work.

My own work over these many years is a testimony to the wisdom of Jane’s words.  If I could go back to my younger self and give some writing advice it might well be something like her warning above.  “Start with something simple.  A straight forward tale that fits in one novel.  Something easy to tell.  Delay working on the complex epic until you have the skills to tell it properly.”

I had simple stories in my head back when I was in college, but I didn’t feel the urge to write those stories down, to tell them quick and fast.  Instead I was lured by a disjointed series of ideas that felt right together, and so became fascinated by a complex puzzle of a tale that I could only glimpse at out the corner of my mind’s eye. 

Over time I toyed and tweaked with the various ideas I had, arranged and rearranged them next to each other, trying to discover how the fragments fit together to form a greater whole.  I knew I was trying to write something big, something complex, but I had no idea how big or how complex.  I didn’t have the skills needed to tell my epic, nor those needed to find the thread of a story that connected one item to another. 

Over the last several decades I gained the abilities needed to tell the epic I call Gods Among Men.  I know my story now in ways I couldn’t in my youth, and I know what I must do to tell it.  It is a daunting task, and if I had other books under my belt I would feel more confidant in my ability to do my story justice.  To tell it the way it deserves to be told.

I said Jane’s advice comes a bit late.  When I was younger it might have been possible for me to choose another story, a simpler tale that I could have focused on and finished.  Now I cannot turn aside from Gods Among Men.  Day and night I think on it; it fills my daydreams and is the center of every effort I make as a writer.  Call it passion, or obsession, or just plain stubbornness, but the end result is the same.  I cannot tell another story until I have Gods Among Men “finished” in some sense of the word.

I take solace, however, in a different thought: had I been more experienced, had I realized early on how complex and difficult it would be to tell Gods Among Men, I might never have found the nerve to to try writing it down. 

Gods Among Men is the work of a lifetime, my lifetime.  And the truth is I love this tale.  It isn’t effort to work on it, to think on it, to write and edit for hours at a time.  Well, sometimes it is an effort; but often I lose myself in a fantasy world of my own creation.  A brutal world, a beautiful world, a complex realm with characters that defy simple labels such as “good” or “evil”.

Perhaps I shall never finish this tale of mine, that it will be nothing more than a monument to my own hubris.  If so, that will be a shame, but not a tragedy.  A tragedy would be if I had never tried to tell this story, if I had never accepted the challenge of telling one great, truly original, tale.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and Talk About Things To Come

I’ve been swamped lately, which is why I’ve fallen behind on this blog.  Given the rush with which Christmas is approaching  (and bringing assorted guests) I suspect this will be my last post before the end of the year.  After that I think my schedule will settle into a new normal that will make it easier for me to focus on writing in general and keeping up with this blog in specific.

As I write this, I am sitting in a hotel room in Atlanta as part of an unplanned trip.  Unplanned,  but surprisingly beneficial in that it gave me a chance to plow through a pile of emails that became unmanageable some time ago.  Which led to me exploring the multitude of other blogs I discovered thanks to FeedBlitz and Jane Friedman.

FeedBlitz Is Not One Of Santa’s Reindeers

FeedBlitz is a service I discovered while setting up my new website, http://www.Gods-Among-Men.com.  It lets people sign up to receive email updates from blogs and newsletters.  I added a FeedBlitz email signup box on my website, then used FeedBlitz to signed up to receive Jane’s blog, There Are No Rules, which she writes for Writer’s Digest.

Some of Jane’s posts contain links to other blogs.  A treasure trove of information from a broad swath of writers, editors, agents, publishers, and so forth.  Simply skimming over all these blogs is a daunting task.  As I went from blog to blog, reading what professionals were posting about, I began to have better understanding of the direction I wanted to take with this blog, and with the one I am going to be doing for Gods-Among-Men.Com.

Where Do We Go From Here?

In the coming new year I am going to focus first upon what others are posting about.  I plan to state the positions I agree with, and argue against those that I don’t.  I will discuss how the comments and thoughts on these sites are affecting my own growth as a writer, and my understanding of the profession which calls to me. 

I shall also strive for more brevity.  I know I have a tendency to be verbose, which can be tolerated to a certain degree in novels.  But blog post should be short and to the point.

And with that thought, I shall close today’s blog by wishing everyone a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, Crazy Kwanza, and a Blessed New Year.   I’ll be back in 2010 with a host of topics to post about.  Hang onto your seats; the party is just getting started.

A Decision Has Been Reached

As those who have been following my post are aware, I have been in a quandary for some time about whether or not I should posts parts of my epic fantasy/science fiction series, Gods Among Men, onto the wild and wacky world wide web.   I have dithered and dallied about whether I should post at all, or if I should only post out of context vignettes, or if I should post on a different blog or website than this, and so forth. 

I sought the advice of friends and searched the web for the opinions of those more professional than myself.  In the process, I stumbled across Jane Friedman.

Who the Heck is Jane Friedman?

Jane Friedman is the publisher and editorial director of the Writer’s Digest brand community at F+W Media.  She oversees Writer’s Digest magazine, Writer’s Digest Books, and the Writer’s Market series. 

For those who don’t know, Writer’s Digest is one of, if not the best, resource and community for writers.  For almost 90 years they have published the best-selling annual reference guide, Writer’s Market.

Jane herself  is the author of Beginning Writer’s Answer Book and maintains a blog on the industry as part of the Writer’s Digest community, called There Are No Rules. 

So What Does She Have to Do With Anything?

Jane’s blog posts contain a wealth of information, and I was impressed with how clearly she covered complex topics.  I wrote  to her asking for advice, and she was kind enough to reply.  What she said deeply affected my  internal debate, and I thought it would benefit others like myself.  I asked her if I could include her reply in a blog post.  She agreed, and so I shall.  To give her answer context, I shall also include my original missive to her first.

Here is What I Wrote

I am an amateur writer with delusions of grandeur.  I am working on a very long, very complicated story that I hope to have published some day.   I have a public blog at http://magiccitywriters.blogspot.com/ where I post regularly.  The blog is ostensibly for my writers’ group, and others do post there on occasion, but the vast majority of posts are written by me. 

Recently I have been considering posting parts of the first draft of my story as I write it.  I believe doing so would motivate me to complete my first draft faster.  Also, I think I can organize my work better by assigning appropriate search tags to my posts.  As a side benefit, I might be able to generate interest for my story among those who stumble across my blog and read the sections of the story that I post.

I am concerned, however, that by putting parts of my work in a public blog that I will harm my chances of later having my story accepted by a publisher.  I fear that I might be rejected simply because significant portions of my story are in a blog, either public or private.  And I am uncertain what effects such post would have on my rights and copyrights concerning my story.

I have tried to find information that could offer guidance on this issue, but have not had much success.  In the process I stumbled across your blog, “There Are No Rules“, and was impressed by the quality of your posts.  This in turn prompted me to ask for your advice on this subject. 

I understand, of course, that your advice would simply reflect your opinion.  That said, you are a professional writer with significantly more knowledge and experience than I have. Any help or insight you care to offer would be much appreciated.  I would also be interested in any web sites, books, or other materials you know of that might enlighten me on this subject.

Thank you in advance for your you time and consideration.

And Here is Her Reply

Thanks so much for writing.

I hear from many writers who are concerned about making their work available online before publication, but you really have no need to worry.

On my blog, I’ve touched on this topic, e.g.,:
http://blog.writersdigest.com/norules/2009/06/30/AreYouNeedlesslyWorryingAboutYourWorkGettingTOOMUCHExposure.aspx

Always keep in mind that the online world (and the audience you might find there) is often a good start to developing a fan base, but it’s a very different audience than what a traditional publisher would typically reach through bookstore channels, and rarely will a publisher see your online following as a detriment. In fact, it’s often a big plus.

Scott Sigler (www.scottsigler.com) is an excellent example of someone who has made his work available for free (as podcasts) and used it to succeed and land a traditional publishing deal.

By posting your work online, you are not relinquishing any rights to it (you still hold copyright), and you can always take it down later if it becomes advantageous to do so.

Hope this helps. For new writers trying to get established, the more exposure, the better.

And My Final Decision Is…

It is hard to imagine someone more authoritative giving advice that is more clear.  The post she links to is even more explicit and addresses exactly the questions I have been wrestling with.  I recommend all aspiring writers read it.  

Ergo, I have decided to make parts of my story available online in the very near future.

In the process of making this decision, I have also concluded that this blog is not the right venue for me to post my story.  It would be impossible to organize Gods Among Men in a way that would make it easy to follow here.   Plus, I just don’t feel right about co-opting this forum to that degree.  This blog is supposed to be about science fiction and fantasy writing in general, with a focus on the Magic City Writers, plural.  It is about the challenges commonly faced by writers, not a soapbox dedicated to my personal self-indulgent preening.

The posts I have written about whether or not to make my story available online do raise legitimate topics for discussion here.  The choices I have faced reflect decisions all writer’s must grapple with at some point.  But if I were to post my stories themselves here it would dilute the purpose of this blog more than I believe is acceptable. 

I could start another blog and force it to reflect my story’s structure,  but that isn’t terribly easy to do, nor does it address longer term needs that might arise. 

Instead, I have decided to create a web-site dedicated solely to Gods Among Men.  I have purchased a domain, Gods-Among-Men.com, and have begun developing a place designed to host my story appropriately.  Right now the site is nothing to look at, just a few lines of text that I scribbled out to create a home page and a WordPress hosted blog.  I have published my first post on that blog, but that is all I’ve had time to do so far. 

I will organize the site so that it is easy to follow Gods Among Men in sequential order, or jump to specific chapters. I will start with posting my most finished chapters, then later post first drafts and even partial drafts of scenes and chapters.  I shall label each accordingly, so those who decide to follow the development of my story can see the transition from drivel to final version.   I shall make blog posts there as well as here on a regular basis.  On the new site I will focus my post at that site on the details of my story (such as the background mythology and my insights into the plot and characters), while here I shall focus on the problems faced by writers in general.

Fear not, I shall keep you informed as my new site develops.  I will, no doubt, face many challenges common to other writers in my position.  Such problems are topics worth discussing here and may well be valuable to others.

I will let you know when the new site is ready for visitors.  I hope you will come and visit it often.  Until next time, have fun.