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.

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.

Dithering in Space and Time

I have been delaying writing my next post, not because of a lack of subjects but because a lack of time has intersected with my propensity to dither. 

Time is Not on My Side

I have previously written about a few of the distractions I am currently coping with.  There are others as well, various personal commitments that individually don’t require significant amounts of time, but which collectively drain away the minutes and hours of the day.

Even poor writing requires time and effort.  Lately I find that when free time bubbles to the surface of my schedule the idea of settling in front of computer to spend hours writing seems to require more effort than I can summon.  It is easy to say, “Not today, maybe tomorrow.”  And tomorrow becomes the day after, and the day after that, then next week, then next month.  Once I managed to let the days go by one at a time for so long that two years passed without me writing a word on my story. 

My self-imposed requirement that I maintain my blogging efforts has forced me to return to the keyboard.  To stare into the unforgiving white page and cover it with words.  It isn’t fiction writing, it doesn’t directly advance my efforts to tell the story that dominates so much of my mind.  But it is writing, and the effort alone counts for something.  Only so many days are allowed to go by before I must express a thought or emotion, describe an event, or simply write something and publish it to the world.

NaNoWriMo Is Not Something Mork Said

This is National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo.  (No, I have no idea why they went with that terrible abbreviation.) The idea is that you are suppose to dedicate yourself to writing 50,000 words in the month of November.  This equates to about 175 pages of prose.  Given my tendency to verbosity, that is a long chapter for me.  I exaggerate, though not as much as those unfamiliar with my writing might think.  One of my chapters qualifies as a self-contained novella.

The point of NaNoWriMo is to write as fast as you can.  To pour words onto the page with abandon.  To not worry about whether you use the right words or write characters consistently or believably or any of the other issues that can slow writing to a crawl.   To just type as fast as your fingers will allow.

To break my logjam, I decided to throw my hat into the NaNoWriMo ring and begin work on the second book in my Gods Among Men series, …Demiurge, Unbound,….  The first book, At the Lady’s Behest Comes…, is written, though much of it is still terrible.  (No, this is not false modesty, just an honest appraisal of the vast bulk of the novel that has not been properly edited.)

My reasoning when I started was that, while I have plenty of ideas and requirements  for …Demiurge, Unbound,…  precious little of it has actually been written down.  If I were to generate 50,000 words on that novel in a short period of time then at least I would have something that I could edit and improve on later.  Plus, I thought the effort would help me practice  pantzing character interactions, something I had been planning to do anyway.

So How’s That Working Out For You?

I think it is safe to say I will not achieve the stated goal of 175 pages by the end of the month.  Ignoring the fact that I started late, the truth of the matter is I have too little time.   My slow typing speed alone is enough to prevent me from putting 50,000 words on the page in the remaining time.  With dedication and effort I might reach 20,000 words, but even that seems unlikely to me.  Still, it is a goal worth trying for.

In the process of writing on …Demiurge, Unbound,…, I was struck by a thought.  It was a glancing blow which, no doubt, will heal in a few days, or perhaps a few weeks.  In the meantime, the aftereffects of this thought bothers me enough that I continue to pick at it in my mind.   If I am not careful it will leave a scar.

The thought was simple enough: Why limit myself to the end of the month?

I want to be clear here.  I am not trying to break the idea behind NaNoWriMo.  (Seriously, whoever came up with that abbreviation needs to avoid both writing and marketing as their chosen profession.)  I am seeking to expand the idea and incorporate it into my writing methodology. 

A Time to Edit, And A Time to Write

I have been struggling for some time to discover how best to tell my story.  To call it a “work of a lifetime” is is not quite correct.  At the rate I am currently churning out finished pages it will take considerably more years to finish writing Gods Among Men than I likely have left to live. 

I am faced with the clear fact that I must write faster or Gods Among Men will never be complete, meaning actually written down.  I don’t think it ever shall  be complete in the sense that I will be fully satisfied with my telling of the story, but it is possible for me to write the story arc in its entirety from beginning to end.  To construct a first draft that expresses the plot, describes the characters and their relationships to each other, and reveals the world that consumes so much of my waking thoughts.

I want to go beyond arbitrary deadlines (50,000 words by the end of the month, so many words each day, etc…)  and avoid the bog of infinite editing.  I want to bring the phase of endless planning to its long overdue end and find a structure that forces me to move the story forward at a steady pace.  A way to whittle down the mountain of complex plot and characters and construct a draft that has all the elements required to tell the story, even if it is not told particularly well.  I want a structure that forces me to write and removes the excuses that allow me to dither and delay putting words on paper.

Oops, There Goes Another Rubber Tree Plant

To that end, I am going to perform an experiment pulling together several threads of thought that I have been toying with for some time now.

In essence, I am considering broadening my idea for writing character vignettes.  Instead of limiting myself to out of context scenes, which I was having great difficultly doing, I would instead spend time each week crafting a first draft of Gods Among Men.  To write as quickly as possible and tell my story from beginning to end.   I would not edit any of the new material at this time, just strictly focus on the flow of the story and the character interactions.

To keep myself honest, I would regularly post what I have written.  Perhaps not every word; I reserve the right to keep the worst tripe safely hidden until I can replace it with something better.  Still, if once or twice a week I am required to post something then by incremental steps I will make concrete what currently exists solely in my overactive imagination. 

This also allows me the opportunity to practice the various skills in which I am less than adequate at the moment, most notably character interactions.  Also, it would let me write my mythology out as part of the story in which it fits.  To weave the relevant details into the dialogue and descriptions in a way that hopefully would be both clear and natural.

I would continue to edit my existing chapters as well, polishing that text until it is of acceptable and perhaps even publishable quality.  But, while I am improving on what exists, I also need to create new material that completes the story arc the existing work begins.

I have Issues. Yeah, I Know, You’re Shocked 

There are two questions which I must resolve before I begin this effort. 

The first question is whether this blog is the proper place for this material, or should I start a separate blog dedicated to posting my fiction, à la Kathryn’s blog about her story, Moonlit

As originally constituted, this blog was about writing in general and the efforts of the Magic City Writers’ Group.  I am the most prolific of the posters on this blog, but I am not the only person contributing to it.  And, while I have often indulged myself by posting material relevant only to me and my story, the effort I am proposing may be inappropriate for this site.  Which raises the question that perhaps I should move all of my story specific material to my own private blog.   But doing so would require a fair amount of effort, and would mean that I would have to maintain two blogs instead of one.  In a word, yuck. 

The second question concerns the content of what I post.   Namely, should I also post completed or recently edited sections from the first book, or constrain myself to just new material as it it written.  My purpose is to create a complete first draft of the whole story, which would suggest posting only new material. 

But the new material would be confusing to those who have not read the earlier material, which includes everybody other than me.  (The writers’ group has read only the early chapters, and even Kathryn has not read the last several chapters.)  In addition, the blog (whether this one or a new one) shall over time become a reference source for me.  A place I can go to find scenes and other materials that I have stored with tags to make them easier to find.  These facts suggest that I should include the older material for the sake of completeness.

No doubt I shall dither and dally over this a bit more before making my final decisions.  I am interested in the opinions of others on these questions.

Until next time, have fun.

Happy Birthday, Alex!

All Together Now.

Happy Birthday To You,
Happy Birthday To You,
Happy Birthday Dear Alex
Happy Birthday to You!

A Special Birthday Wish

Today, Sunday November 11, is the birthday of Magic City Writer member in absentia, Alex.  As in the person I like to tease in my ongoing segment titled, Let’s Torture Alex by Mentioning What We Ate.

Alex was a member of the group before we started calling ourselves the Magic City Writers.  Her snarky humor and insightful comments made her a valuable member and a dear friend. 

Some time ago, the vagaries of life led her to a far off land populated by strange people with unusual customs.  I think the natives of this distant northern realm call it “Rhode Island”. 

Since then we don’t see Alex too much, though we do receive text messages, e-mails, and Facebook post from her from time to time.  Some of these conversations get a little weird, such as the one where I promised to sign a llama for her, but that is a part of her appeal.

On behalf of all the members of our little group, I offer the following birthday wish:

Alex, I hope you have a great Birthday today and many, many more in the future.  May happiness follow you throughout your travels, brining you as much joy as you bring to others.  And should you ever wander close by, please feel free to stop by, for we would love to see you again.  Heck, let us know in advance and we might even feed you.

Take care and Have Fun.

When Last We Met…

On Sunday October 19, 2009, the Magic City Writers met and ruthlessly savaged my second chapter, …Awakens The Outer Circle…, leaving me a broken shell of a man (again). 

But first, lets talk about the food. 

Let’s Torture Alex by Mentioning What We Ate

The food, as always, was excellent. 

Kathryn baked fresh pumpkin bread (with a hint of orange flavor) and banana nut bread, both served with apple butter.  She also baked tandoori chicken, made with various herbs suspended in Greek yogurt and drenched over juicy chicken breasts.   

Nicole also displayed impressive culinary skills by improvising a tasty recipe for curry fried rice with stir-fry veggies on the spot. 

Needless to say, we were all well sated by the end of the meeting.  And best of all there were leftovers for me and Kathryn to dine on for the next couple of days.

And Now Back to the Savaging

With regards to the reviews of my new and improved chapter two of Gods Among Men, I am saddened to report they were mixed.   The chapter is substantially improved over last time, and some parts are quite good.  Unfortunately, only some parts are quite good.  This is not to call the rest rubbish, merely not good enough.

My most serious problem is structural.   The climax of the chapter requires an ambiguous point of view that is hard to get right.  There are multiple characters interacting in a way that creates two sequence of events happening at the same time.  I switch back and forth between different character’s perspective several times.  My intention is to help the reader understand what is happening and how the characters are affecting each other.   However, the switch between the different points of view, as written, is disconcerting and disrupts the reader’s ability to become absorbed in the scene. 

The group had few suggestions on how to resolve this point of view problem, and there was no consensus on the right solution.  None of the proposed solutions felt satisfactory to me.  I fear I may have to be satisfied with minimizing this problem rather than eliminating it.  My best hope at the moment is that once other problems in the chapter are fixed this point of view problem will not be as important as it is now. 

Another prominent criticism was that my secondary characters don’t feel real enough to maintain the readers suspension of disbelief.  Essentially, the group felt that I was forcing the characters to act as I wanted them to act and say what I wanted said, as opposed to the characters doing or saying what a real person would. 

This problem with the secondary characters is addressable by fixing certain key interactions.  As I reflected on this criticism, however, I concluded this problem was indicative of a weakness in my overall approach to writing. 

Houston, We Have A Problem

The first time I submitted any of my initial chapters, the group complained my characterizations were all over the place and unrealistic.  I fixed the main characters and the secondary were still problematic.  I fixed the secondary characters and tertiary characters continued to have similar problems. 

I am, by nature, a plotter, which means I first came up with the major concepts for Gods Among Men and from those concepts determined the details that must occur.  From there I extracted broad themes and formulated a complex tale, complete with an in-depth mythology of its own.  Then I focused on descriptions of settings and other such imagery.  It is characterization that I let linger until the very end. 

Given the type of tale I am trying to tell, I think  focusing upon plot and mythology to a certain degree is warranted.  But the result is that my skills for describing people in a realistic fashion is wanting. 

Perhaps this is an advantage of the “pantzer” style of writing.  If you focus only upon the situation at the moment and your characters’ reactions and interactions, with no thought as to where the story is going, perhaps you get truer characterizations.  I don’t know for certain that this is true, but it is worth considering.

How Do You Get To Carnegie Hall?

Practice is what makes perfect, and practice requires a consistent devotion of effort over a long period of time. 

I must practice writing characterizations, focus on each character and discover their individual voice.  Learn to describe  them in ways that captures their mood and emotions in an honest fashion.  I must discover the words they would use, the sentences they would say, and the actions they would take.

I have considered using blogging as a solution to this problem.  My reasoning is thus:  A fixed schedule is the best way to ensure that effort is maintained.  I intend to keep putting up new blog posts, preferably twice a week.  (Though lately it has been closer to once a week.)  Since I always need something to write about I could use some of my time blogging to write small scenes and out of context conversations.  Vignettes from my world that I may or may not keep.   Posting these experiments on the blog also has the advantage of organizing them with attached tags I can use for looking them up again later.

I am still in my waffling stage on this idea.  It might work, or it might be a total waste of time.  The main point here is that I am searching for ways to improve my ability to write realistic characters.   Suggestions are welcome.

The Remains of The Day

After eating and editing, we sat around for a long time talking about various subjects.  Then we went upstairs to watch/listen to the RiffTrax for the movie Daredevil

A RiffTrax is an audio file of snarky comments that you play alongside a movie.  The worse the movie, the better the RiffTrax that goes with it.  Given how truly putrid Daredevil is, the RiffTrax for it was absolutely hysterical.

After the movie/RiffTrax, Lindy had to go to work.  Nicole, Kathryn, and I finished off the evening by watching episodes of the new Battlestar Gallactica.   I personally believe this series is the best science fiction show of the last decade, and one of the best and most daring television shows of all-time.

That concludes the summary of our latest meeting.  Kathryn is set to submit her first draft of the third chapter of her story, MoonlitShe will be mailing out copies of that chapter to the group in a few days.   Our next meeting will be on November 1st, again at my house.  As always I shall try to describe what happens in an interesting or at least entertaining way.

Until next time, have fun and party down.