Once again I will start National Novel Writing Month. I say start because I haven’t “won” since 2010. So it’s my tenth anniversary! I missed the last two years but I am giving it the ol’ college try again this year. It will be good to get back into a daily writing practice and if you are so inclined you can join me and be my one of my writing buddies!
If you don’t know what NaNoWriMo is I’ll briefly explain. It is an annual writing challenge to “write a 50,000 word novel” in one month. The timer starts at midnight of Halloween and goes until midnight of November 30th. In order to stay on pace you have to write 1667 words a day. It can be a daunting task. I know the year I “won” it took almost every free moment I had, and my wife was not happy at me. At all. I vowed I wouldn’t do that to her again, and I didn’t. And it really is about writing every day. 50k words is not really a novel either. That would qualify as a novella. The year I “won” I felt like I had written half a novel. it could be a series of short stories. Or essays. The entire point, again, is to write every day. Nobody is coming to your house to make sure you are following the “rules.” Jut have fun with it and write what you can. If it’s only a 100 words a day, then that is still 3000 words by the end of the month. And that is 3000 words more than you had before you started.
I use it to springboard a new story usually. Sometimes I take an old story out and try to add to it. I haven’t hit the 50k mark in a decade but this might be the year. If not that’s okay, too.
I am officially giving up the chase for an agent, at least for now. I have finished the edits for my manuscript and have sent it off to an editor for one last looksee. Then it’s getting published. I have the cover all done and will be doing a reveal in a few weeks. It should be done before the holidays so you can order the book for a loved one. I need to work out a signed edition. Lots more to come. Follow me on Goodreads here.
I’ve also added a popup for signups to my newsletter. I promise not to spam your inbox.
It’s not like I haven’t heard the advice to create a strong antagonist to make for a strong contrast and conflict for your protagonist. But so far, my first four novels haven’t had much of an active antagonist. They have been more of an agency or an off-screen mover behind the scenes, or simply the situation itself. I can see where that might be part of my issue with trying to sell the stories. I have yet to develop a story with a classic antagonist.
I have even made plans for a mystery series, and don’t have any ideas about antagonists for that really, other than the overarching plotline, but even that one is off-screen for the entire series of books.
I’m trying to beef up the antagonist in my current WIP, and he continues to get stronger. I think this story is very close to finished and it has been a long haul getting here. Three major rewrites, multiple POV changes, from third to first and back to third, a gender swap for nearly every character. All these things informed the story and made it better.
But it seems my mind tends to find stories that don’t have a classical bad guy. Most of the ideas I get are hero vs environment. I’m not sure why that is.
How do you start your stories? Do you outline? Doing this intentionally by plotting it out in advance is probably easier. What do you think?
This is from April 2011. I had been on a writing hiatus here for some reason. I noticed a big slowdown in posting here as well. I have learned a lot since I wrote this, and realize that relying on the muse is not something a professional writer can afford. When things aren’t sparking and you have a deadline you still have to write. There is where understanding how the craft of writing comes into play. The are no hard fast rules for writing, but understanding structure and story design are a must.
Writing regularly does spark ideas. Think of it as a lubricant. It does create a more fruitful mind for creativity.
Not writing has been a weird place for me. I think about the act of writing during most of my free time now, but my muse has been strangely silent. I think about the fact that I am close to finishing and know I have a few scenes left to put together, but there is no spark. This leads me to believe that writing, the actual act of putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard actually sparks the muse and keeps the creative juices flowing. The more you write the more these creative pathways open up and tap into that right side of the brain and free the little fireflies of imagination.
I have often heard people ask writers where they get their ideas. I’ve had people ask me that very question, but from everything I’ve read or every time I talk to other writers they all say the same thing, ideas are the easy part. Writing seems to snap into place a cable in your mind that lets the creative side of your brain be heard over all the stuff the left side of the brain is dealing with on a daily basis, trying to get you through your work day. (unless you are an artist of some sort of course).
The answer to where do the ideas come from is, they come from the writer’s brain. It’s almost like a muscle though, it needs to be exercised. You need to read…a lot! You need to actually write, not just think about writing or talk about writing. You need to actually do it! World building is fun and is a nice creative outlet, but don’t stop there. Create some characters and give them a problem to solve and write some scenes. You will be surprised what your mind will come up with if you give it a chance. The more you do this the more other ideas will pop into your head, stuff you never dreamed of. Then you get to connect the dots or rearrange the puzzle pieces to make a story outline. It’s really that easy to get started.
This goes back to March 2011. I was pretty tough on my own skill. I have improved. I can write a nice scene, even a descriptive scene. They don’t come naturally to me, but there is this thing called craft. I am working on trying to write descriptive snippets, in the style of William Gibson. Snippets are fine. They are good in my humble opinion, but there is a point when the description goes overboard. I have seen wonderful writers, whose work I admire, go off the rails. Well, you can read this for yourself.
You know, I have a lot of respect for authors that can write wonderful prose. I know I’m not one of them, but not for a lack of trying. I think they have a gift for using picturesque words and putting them together just the right way to evoke an image in your mind. The really good ones make it so it’s hardly like reading at all, more like experiencing the story. Then there are those that have a great gift for creating imaginative and off the wall ideas that mere mortals just shake their heads at in wonder and amazement. Some are actually gifted with both and they are the great ones we all admire.
I just finished reading a book by one of my favorite new authors and he has a gift for dialogue. He has some amazing ideas for setting and his characters are layered, complex and interesting. His plots are full of twists and turns too, he is really very talented but I have a nit to pick. Way too much description! I mean WAY TOO MUCH. Paragraphs of detailed minutia. I actually skipped entire sections because I just didn’t care. I started in, but the things he was describing were so complex that I wasn’t able to see it clearly in my mind’s eye. After a while I just quit trying. If he started off on another wave of informative adjectives I just escaped to the next paragraph, and then the next one often times. They were superfluous to the story, but he apparently felt I needed to understand how many great ideas he had that he was compelled to share with me. I understand this desire. Authors fall in love with the worlds they create and the more different from normal they are, the more the desire to describe increases.
This is a lesson many of us need to heed. We just spent an enormous amount of time building that world with all kinds of cool environments that nobody has ever thought of before and we are just dying to share them with you. But the only description we should be sharing with you is stuff that is germane to the story and the character that is carrying the perspective. Some description is of course necessary, but the trick is not going overboard with long paragraphs of stuff that will have no impact on the character or affect the flow of the story. If anything I tend to be too sparse with my descriptions, so it really bothers me when someone goes the opposite way and loads up on the description. Where do you fall on the description scale? I know I’m way on the side that has very little.
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Something I’ve been working hard at in my writing is getting rid of filter words. Filtering is using words that put space between the reader and the protagonist to remove you a step from the point of view. Think of words that are basically internal sensations or ways that you would connect to the external world, words like thought, felt, saw, heard or realized. They may keep the reader from connecting with your protagonist.
Not a big deal to include these in your first draft, but you need to look for them on the editing phases.
They should only be used when they are critical to understanding the sentence. Notice I used “should.” There are no hard, fast rules when it comes to writing, but you take a risk of pushing your reader back a step or slowing down and possibly even pulling them out of the text so it feels more like reading instead of experiencing the story. It might be that you want to add in a few syllables for pace or poetic use, but you need to understand the risk you are taking. Sometimes you can simply move the offending word into dialogue.
Tom had the impression that it was reaching out for them.
It seemed to reach out to Tom.
Or with dialogue: “Is that thing reaching out to us?”
Hopefully that gives you the idea. It can be quite insidious. I find myself doing it all the time. See? I did it right there.
This from Feb 18, 2011. Stacy has published several books now. She has done very well. We haven’t worked together since I started my Master’s program. I was simply too busy to work on other stuff, but we have kept in contact. I’m very proud of her and a little bit jealous. I need to get busy and knock out a few more novels!
Natalie Whipple has written a lot of books as well and her blog is still going.
This week I had something nice happen. I connected with a new writing partner! I’m very excited about it. She is a little farther along in the writer metamorphosis, she has two novels completed already, but has agreed to work with me. We shared some of our chapters and did line edits for each other and it was very eye-opening. I met her over on Natalie Whipple’s blog: http://betweenfactandfiction.blogspot.com/
She set up a Writing Buddy matching thing, which seems to have really taken off and is no longer on her sight. I feel very fortunate to have wandered over there at the right time.
I learned that it is much easier to edit someone else’s work than your own. This is likely for at least two reasons I can think of off the top of my head. First, it is material you aren’t familiar with. I can tell you my first chapter has been edited so many times I’ve lost count. I’ve rearranged it half a dozen times also. I’m intimately familiar with the story, so much so that I have a hard time seeing it clearly now. It really pays to have a fresh set of eyes on it.
The second reason it a little more esoteric. It’s not my story, and I have nothing emotionally invested in it. I haven’t spent 3 years toiling over it and stroking it and coaxing it to life. I can see sentences and structure and see things that are slightly confusing because I don’t know what the writer had in mind when they created it. As the creator you know the entire story of every character, at least as far as you care to. You know what they are thinking when you’re in their head, but the reader only sees the words and sometimes as writers we can get a little lost in there. It helps to have someone able to show us where the dots aren’t connecting properly.
I hope you have a writing buddy, if you don’t I am highly encouraging you to get one. We’ve just started working together and I am already reaping the rewards of that contact.
Pinning down five writers is pretty difficult (so I add a few more.) These are my current top five, but they may change over time.
5. Ann Leckie – Ann has only written five novels so far, but broke out of the chute to win the Hugo on her first release, Ancillary Justice. It started a trilogy, with Ancillary Sword and Ancillary Mercy. She followed that with Provenance, which is a standalone in the same universe. Then she broke from SF with a fantasy story, The Raven Tower. All of them are wonderful. She has a unique voice and is on my auto-buy list.
4. Hannu Rajaniemi – Huge brain on this Finnish mathematician PhD and Quantum Physics Thinktank leader. He wrote one of the best debut novels of all time with The Quantum Thief. He followed it up with Fractal Prince and Causal Angel. Probably the best posthuman stories written thus far. It is wildly imaginative and an immensely brilliant trilogy. I wrote about it here. He then broke from science fiction with a standalone novel called Summerland. I would call it weird fiction, as it deals with the newly dead and an alternate history 1938 and is set as a spy thriller. It was not my favorite, but it was brilliant in its own way. I look forward eagerly to his next release.
3. Rosina Lippi writing as Sara Donati – She holds a PhD in Linguistics from Princeton and was a tenured professor for twelve years at the University of Michigan. She writes fiction and non-fiction, but Sara Donati is her fiction pen name and she wrote a six book historical fiction series beginning with Into the Wilderness. It carries on where James Fenimore Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans left off, but introduces new characters then follows them through the end of the Battle of New Orleans. These are absolutely fantastic. I learned a lot. They are chock full of historical moments, adventure, and a dollop of romance. I wrote about it here. She followed this series with another that carries on with a young woman trying to make it as a doctor in the big city in the 1800s. It begins with The Gilded Hour and continues with Where the Light Enters, which comes out next month.
2. Caroline Cherry writing as C. J. Cherryh – SFWA Grand Master. She has written more than 80 books, two of which won the Hugo award, Downbelow Station and Cyteen. Otherwise she is probably best known for her prolific Foreigner series. She writes fantasy and science fiction and her Alliance-Union series is my all-time favorite. She writes smart, personal stories that really analyze human psychology and motivation. Fabulous world building and memorable characters are her hallmark. She also was instrumental in getting me on track early in my writing career with kindness and good advice.
1. William Gibson – He created the new subgenre cyberpunk with his debut, Neuromancer. It won the Hugo, Nebula and PKD awards. He was born and raised in the US but lives in Vancouver, Canada now. He has written eleven novels and co-wrote one with Bruce Sterling. He started his career by promoting futuristic cybernetic enhancement and artificial intelligence. He coined “cyberspace” for the propagation of Virtual Reality. His first two trilogies were in this theme, the Sprawl and Bridge trilogies. He followed these with the near future Blue Ant trilogy. His writing gets better with every novel. He has a knack for seeing below the surface and then creating a world and character to carry his prescient vision forward. He has been my favorite writer for more than half my life and I don’t see it changing any time soon. His next book, Agency, comes out in January. I think I may go back and reread all of them before the new one comes out.
Max Barry – Australian author of Syrup, Jennifer Government, Company, Machine Man, and Lexicon. He stuff is generally aimed at the lunacy of the corporate world. Lexicon was a departure and was an outstanding novel. I wrote about it here. He has a new book coming out in 2020 called Providence. Biting satire is his forte. I have read everything he has written and will continue to do so.
Peter Watts – I came to Canadian Peter Watts late. I have only read three of his novels so far, but he blows me away every time. His is brilliantly intelligent and writes in a way that exposes that in a cool way. He doesn’t write down to the reader, but it is not so high concept that a novice can’t follow along. His stuff is hard SF. The science is impeccable and the prose match. He has written 24 novels so far, with some of these being tie-ins for other worlds. Freeze-frame Revolution is his latest, which I read. He is best known for Blindsight, which should have won the Hugo, and Echopraxia. I have read both of these as well. I have a lot of catching up to do with his novels.
Who are your favorites? I really want to hear about them.
This originally posted Jan 28, 2011. I still believe it. Words are magic. They allow the writer to talk to the reader telepathically, from anywhere in time to whenever they pick up the book. And names create an image, whether it might be the name of a business or a new gadget or a person you just met. It shapes your perception, maybe a little and maybe a lot.
I have a question for you writer’s and aspiring writers out there…do names matter?
I know there are many approaches to actually writing a novel from outlining to discovery, and every iteration between those poles. NaNoWriMo taught me to write every day, and I’ve read over and over again that when you write you should just keep going, letting it flow out the right side of your brain and fix it later in the editing phase. But my brain is already full and if I learn something new I have to forget something to make room for it, and I have no idea what that lost tidbit is going to be. It might be the great idea I had for the edit that I didn’t take the time to fix earlier.
I’m one of those people that have to fix it on the spot, if I can. I can get hung up on a scene if I’ve introduced a new character that I wasn’t planning on, and I don’t have his/her name. So much is wrapped up in a name; their whole essence is in that name. I’ve heard the horror stories of editors or publishers demanding a name change! Don’t they understand what you have invested in that name!?! You might have spent hours or even days trying to find just the perfect name. And it’s not just characters, it’s ships and planets and weapons and continents and lakes. You get the idea. This is world building, but to me it’s more than that, it’s world CRAFTING. I’ve heard people say that names don’t matter…WHAT IS WRONG WITH THESE PEOPLE!?! We world builders know different! We’ve put our blood, sweat and tears into those names, they have power!
Okay, maybe I’m getting a little carried away, but I do think it matters. Names set a tone and paint a word picture when they are done well. If I name my main character Rupert or Sterling, it creates an image in your head. Doesn’t it? What about Mad Dog or Killer or Whysk?
Names anchor the ambiance of your setting, whether it’s grim and dark or whimsical and magical. They evoke image and imagination. They have soul or lack soul. Names alone won’t make your story good, but I do think they can help both the writer to imagine and the reader to get absorbed. I would love to hear your opinions on this, unless you disagree with me you cretin!
It’s Day Two of GENCON 2019. I’m there as this posts. Spent most of the day yesterday there as well, and I’ll be there tomorrow, too. What makes it so awesome? Well, here is a short list:
It’s the largest gaming convention in the North America. Over sixty-one thousand people attended last year. It takes up most of the downtown convention area in Indianapolis, including the football stadium. The focus is on non-video games, i.e. role playing games, like Dungeons and Dragons, card games like Magic the Gathering, and board games like Sorry or Risk. There are so many variations on a theme. They cover miniatures and video games too.
They have a wonderful writing track, one of the best in the country according to some authors. They have workshops and classes that go the entirety of the convention. This year The GENCON Writers Symposium has eight featured speakers and dozens of others lined up, from all aspects of the writing community. The guest of honor is Cherie Priest! They have remarkable writers every year.
The Exhibit Hall is amazing. All the big gaming companies are there and so many of the smaller ones are also there. They have T-shirt vendors, Dice vendors, costume paraphernalia of all sorts, demo games that haven’t been published yet and about anything you can imagine that is involved with gaming. There are artists and novelists there as well.
The games. Duh. They have games that go all night long, all weekend long. That does speak to one of the problems, though. People don’t stop to take care of their personal hygiene (Some people need to bathe.)
All sorts of Cosplayers attend and they are everywhere. Some of the best in world can be seen and some do little skits. You can get your picture taken with every imaginable hero or character.
It’s close to me. I only live a little over an hour from the venue, so it makes it hard to come up with excuses not to go. I know a few of my friends are going, so that is a bonus as well.