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.