Sunday, August 23, 2015

Your Writing Style

The world is full of opinions, and the internet is where they're left to echo.

I'm not an expert. I've simply tried and failed at many things. Maybe that makes this one of those awful opinions you should avoid, but on the off chance this may help, I figured it was worth the time this post will take.

Yeah, that's the tactful way of saying there's a lot of crap out there not to follow. You should try lots of things until your style comes to you and even if you *HATE* your methods, it's hard to stare into success as a denier.

My style is painful. I obsess, and have minor panic attacks because I am sure that I have no idea what happens in this scene.

See, I'm a little bit plotter, little bit pantser. I can see the events at the 5000 foot view. I even know how certain parts play out in my mind, certain things the characters say, but that doesn't always work when it his the page.

I worry about how it is all going to come together and get me to the end of this scene without it being certified crap.

It's always crap.

Maybe you like really rough drafts. I mean placeholders, notes to yourself, ideas that are general concepts, but that doesn't work for me. I save those for my outlines.

When I *draft* I tend to write the scene as far as the events go, maybe some base emotions, and it is stilted and wrong. I stop when the scene or bank of scenes that fit together are done and then I wait.



Even weeks at times. I know, it's so frustrating.

But I've gotten better enough to where the time between can be shorter unless I've gone so hard I burned myself out and can't even get in touch with what my characters are feeling or why...

That's when I have to step back and I hate that even more, because of all the pressure people say where you have to write. You HAVE to write. Every day.

I call BS on that, but I digress. (Fairly stated, it helps if you get into a pattern of writing more often, because it is easier not to write if you've not been writing).

 When I come back I look at word choices. See things like repetition and overstatement and cut those out immediately.

I'm big on something I call cadence, but others call rhythm. [Spelled that right on the first try. Booyah]

The flow of words matters more than what some people say you should or shouldn't do, like use extraneous words or adverbs. This is doubly important when dealing with dialogue.

You don't want things to be florid, or stilted, or just feel like a jumble of onomatopoeia. Maybe you do. I can't speak for everyone. It doesn't work for me, and that's the point of this post.

Find what you do and make that approach better.

Shave off the time between starting and finishing, because finishing is the goal. Getting to The End and having something you can be proud of.

In my case, that means rewriting a scene several times over. Fixing. Adding in anecdotes and observations rather than constantly stating how someone feels.

Maybe my first draft isn't a first draft at all. Maybe I kill my first draft one scene at a time, and that's not how you write.


Do it how you work best.

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Three Forms of Writing

Has anybody ever talked to you about the Three Forms of Writing? No? Well, grab a chair. This should be a treat, because that's what this post is about, and I'll be going over all three of them.

Form 1 -- Stating

Stating is the weakest form of writing. We all do this from time to time, and in small bursts, where it isn't going to carry any real point of the story, you can get away with it, but it really should be avoided.

Know all those posts that talk about abuse of adverbs, purple prose, or other things to avoid? This one matters more than all of them.

I'll give an example, based on the same general topic for each form at the end.

Form 2 -- Telling

Now, I know you have all been told that telling is weak, it should be avoided, and you should show everything. Lies.

You just don't have enough words in your story to justify showing us everything in such grand detail. People who read have different tastes, and some may want to know about the intricate filigree of the monarch's ring. The one that proves they are the true heir to the throne, but honestly, you can probably gloss over bits of that and tell them, like I just did.

Form 3 -- Showing

This is your bread and butter. The money maker, and lots of other cliches as well. You should focus on showing the major events of the story, and when you can, use it for depth of character interaction, their wishes, wants, motivations, and even for the setting.

Overuse can get you into trouble. It can make for that dreaded purple prose, or overdone exaggerated detail that loses the reader because they've forgotten the page turning tension that you've been working so hard to instill in the story.

Now, for that example I promised earlier.

My take on two people, getting hot and heavy, on a couch, with a cat that doesn't want to move aside:


Jack and Jill walked to the couch. They sat down and he reached for her bra. She swatted him away, and the look in her eye was playful. The cat was taking up the middle of the couch. Jill had to push him away.


Jill had wanted to kiss Jack's red lips all night long. "Let's move to the couch," she said, and gave him a smile.
He fumbled with her bra, and she told him no.
As she leaned back, they heard a meow, and the cat jumped over their legs onto the floor before licking himself.
Still kinda meh, right?


Jack slammed Jill backward into the couch cushions, landing almost on top of her. Jill's grin was unmistakable when her ass smacked the upholstry, sending the sofa two feet away from where they'd started.
He fumbled for her bra before she slid his hands away and answered him with a head shake. "You're going to have to earn it," she said, grabbing his head and thrusting his lips against her own.
All the while, Jill's brown tabby sat above them, digging his claws into her sweater until he'd gotten himself stuck, having to drag all eighteen pounds of fat, fur and whiskers toward her until he was free, only to be swatted away.
"Not now, Felix. Mommy's. Getting. Lucky."

Not my best work, but it's what I could come up with in about 10 minutes.

So, in short, try to work toward mostly showing, telling some to expedite, and avoiding stating things for the most part.

Write well.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

That part you should have left out of your story

It's no secret that I'm a bit of a geek. I love computers, games, and all sorts of odd things here and there that we need not get into right now.

Know what that makes me? A character in my own life.

Know what else I am? I'm a wizard. (First person to do a crappy Hagrid impression gets a fist in the eye. You're no Robbie Coltane)

My magic power is spinning words into feelings, which brings us to the word of the day (I'll apologize right here. I'm going to use this word a lot, and I may have before in my blog. Too bad. You're reading it again).

That word is: Evoke

There are likely parts of your story you hold dear to. They took you a long time to write, to come up with the best way to phrase it, with the comma in the right spot so everything moves at the speed of mud.

Cut it. You don't need overly florid descriptions, or lots of extra back story hanging around your work like an anchor. Know it. Memorize it, but for the love of Cthulu, leave it be. (Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh)

Paint the image of what you want the reader to feel when they get to the scene. Don't worry TOO much about the general rules that say not to use adverbs, or certain phrases, or even Chuck Palahniuk's precious post about unpacking (Which I adore, and if you are a writer, you must read. It's that good, so why am I saying ignore it? Read on).

The first step toward writing something worth reading is to get them to understand what you are saying, and that doesn't happen by telling them, or in some cases, showing them. They have to feel it. It's a universal translator.

Evoke. It gives you magical power over readers, and that's the key to writing something special.

The unpacking, and all the other parts will come with your ability to make those feelings happen. They feed off each other. Go do it.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Everybody hates queries at some point - Part One

Wanna know what one of the most often asked about topics coming from writers is? Queries.

Most writers I know have, at one point or another, cursed, spit, shouted and cried about queries. They're the Valentine we send to agents and editors, screaming LOVE ME, damn it. My book. Here's my book. I've spent so much of my time, my dreams pouring myself into the pages and you are going to spend exactly 81 seconds before going "nah, not my thing," and move on.

Well... I think it's time to admit we have a problem, writers. Do you know why queries suck?

They're not our passion. They're not our book, our story, the thing that makes us tingle when we think about it on the drive home, waiting to slam open the lid to the laptop, or flip on the monitor, or for you sadists who write with a pad and pen, that.

I have a secret I'm willing to share. The first of what I hope are many.

Queries CAN suck, but they can also be made easier, and make you stand out.

The first trick assumes you are a writer who works well with characterization. If not, stay tuned, I'll probably get around to one of the other strengths in a while, but with the holidays coming up, who knows when that'll be, so pay attention.

So let's say you are good at letting people know this guy's a dirtbag, or that girl is wounded and needs someone to make it all better, and you can do that in about three lines of dialogue. This is for you.

Treat the query as a character.

Now, that doesn't mean you should write in first person. That's a bold move, and not one a lot of people agree on. Most agents and editors I have seen comment on this say don't do it. Then they actually take people who do (Because honestly, the biggest draw is if it's good. If you are that good at writing a query, all bets are off, and why are you wasting time and bandwidth reading this? Go be famous already.)

The query should be another character without a name. Your story is its back story. Don't tell me what happens. That exists between the pages, or maybe cut and dry in the synopsis, where those standout hooks don't have to catch an eye in the amount of time it takes to warm up a latte in the microwave.

There's love in your pages. Your love, and it bleeds out when you show how someone feels. There's no reason a query can't do that.

Here's an example that I just made up:

Dino has always wanted to see space. His dream is to be an astronaut, and when he gets a call from space camp, he can't wait to go.

Sure, it tells you what Dino wants, right? Boring!

Ever since Dino was a little boy, he knew he had to fly. Space was out there, calling to him. He was going to be an astronaut, no matter what, so when the space center called and told him he'd been admitted into their program, Dino was already on top of the world.

Which one reads better? Which one do you want to pick up, regardless of whether or not you care about space?

Go... Write a query. Practice on an idea that's NOT your book. Maybe that will help you see the differences you can't see because you're tooclose.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Storytelling: An Unfortunate Series of Events

Have you ever tried to plot a story?

It usually ends up being a series of interconnected events that charge the story onward until that final THE END moment where you expect the reader will stand up, slap the book closed, with a heavy breath and go "OH MY GOD" (Insert other deity or whatever you happen to believe in) and then follow it up with phone calls to the nearest 87 relatives telling them about what an awesome book they just read.

And stop...

So that is unlikely to happen, for many reasons, but that's not the topic of this blog post.

If you're anything like me, you may try to see that as a story. Sorry friends, that one has jumped up and bitten me on the ass so hard I have trouble sitting down to write.

Think back a minute. Storytellers, the good ones, didn't get a bunch of people around a campfire and go on about shrimp tacos, shrimp grits, shrimp fritters, and the like until the defining moment.

They were showmen (and women) and they livened it up. They brought the characters to life within themselves. The plot didn't happen. It came alive, through inflection, faces, dramatic effect.

Well, you're a writer, so you don't have any of that stuff available to you, though I welcome you to make all the funny faces you want for the pictures on your back covers.

What you do have, and the point of this post, is to explain HOW it should come together. A series of events are like the bones of a plot. You need meat on them, ligaments to connect them together, and then ultimately, the biggest draw is how you present it, the skin, the part that everyone can see, though they may not agree completely on what is inside (And that's a good thing. It gets people talking).

To sum up, what I am striving toward, and what I'd like other writers to do is to make sure they have more than event A >> event B >> event C.

If it feels stilted to you, it probably is. No, this doesn't mean give me explosions, incest and drama on every page. Good God... The Little Engine That Could doesn't need that crap. What you do need is to make sure that people are following along for the ride, with the characters, right there waiting to know what happens next.

Set the scene. Let them know the smell of the wind, the color of the girl's hair in front of the boy. The way that an ice cream truck's jingle makes the old man feel right before he knows he's going to die.

Then you have the reader hooked, and once you've done that, the game begins. Writing is a game. It's where you play with the reader's heart, and you make all the rules save one. They can close it at any time. Make them pick it back up, not out of a feeling of accomplishment of getting through your 900 page tome, but because they rush back to it, wanting to see, and smell and be that character, or be with them.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Voice and other indescribable things

So let me start by saying everybody likes to talk about voice when it comes to writing. It's one of those intangible things that makes everybody stand up and take notice, but not everybody seems to have a grasp of what voice is.

In reality, it's more than one thing.

Characters have a voice. If they don't, then everybody you write is the same person: You, but a poor copy of you.

Distance yourself from your characters. You can share traits with them, feel their pain, revel in their joy, but the bigger, more important thing to consider is how the reader will do all those things.

You should be able to write a person who disagrees with your world views without becoming a caricature of that perspective.

It is not easy, but how do you create a reprehensible villain without being one yourself? Which... by the way brings me to a quick side note. Reprehensible villains are great for Disney. They make for stilted fiction.

Give the villain a cause, a reason to be, otherwise they are simply twisting their mustache while chaining the hero to the train tracks. Most evil things don't think they are evil. Maybe they don't care. Maybe their morality is twisted onto a different plane. For an example, see Damon on The Vampire Diaries. He's done some nasty crap. People love him.

Back to the original point, however.

The next type of voice is the author's voice. This is where you, as the creator of works of fiction, straight from your imagination and into pixels and pages, get to shine. You have a way with your words that is hopefully your own.

Sure, you may emulate a famous author, to some degree, but you should strive to be yourself. Learn from yourself as much as you learn from others. Pick up hints as to how to make your writing better, but trust in your inner voice to shine and when you hear the same thing over and over again, work to make your voice better, clearer, and work out your style.

Beta readers, critique partners, they may try to change you toward their own style, and in some ways, finding a compromise could work, but you have to be true to yourself... that is, unless you suck.

If you do, don't worry. We have all sucked at writing. Some of us still suck at some aspects of writing. No one person is all things. No one character is all things.

Write. Improve. Edit.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Taking Feedback

Dear Blog... It's been entirely too long since my last confession. I am here to make amends with a new post about how to take proper feedback and be respectful.

Sure, all of us at one time, and I'm speaking to writers specifically, have written that little nugget of joy that puts a smile on our face. We look at the clock, see it's 1:00AM and go to bed proud. We may even send it off to a critique partner, a friendly writer, or a spouse or sibling.

Desperately we are wondering if they love it too, and how it will fair in once our words hit their minds. If you're anything like me, you are hoping they'll gush, tell you that you're next in line for a Hugo and how wonderful you are.

If you're like me, when they tell you that they found a few mistakes, and that some of the word choices conflicted, or that they thought there needed to be a bigger build up, more description, or other little nitpicks, you have at least at one point wondered how they couldn't see how brilliant you were.

I mean, there were subtleties that wouldn't be apparent for 30 chapters, dialogue that had secret hidden meanings, and obscure words found 3 pages deep on

One of the hardest parts of being a writer is learning how to take feedback. Sometimes, the reader is flat out wrong. Not everybody likes every genre, every style, POV, or any of the various things that set books apart. However, themes should be something to watch out for. If you are hearing the same thing over and over, it may mean that you need to check out your little darlings with a critical eye.

You are not married to a scene. Very few authors want to publish a line of dialogue. The story is important, and while you must stay true to it or it can cause you immeasurable grief in things like tears, lost sleep and stress, you need to look at the picture from a different perspective. Don't argue. This is the truth from their perspective. Thank them for the feedback.

I have false started my current novel at least five times, perhaps more. I am going on a pace of about 8000 words per week, and meeting or exceeding that goal every week if only by sheer will and the fact that through the thoughtful critique of my trusted friends, family and peers, I can now see things with a different set of eyes and find the things that are not working, or when I do miss them, find the way to listen to them and fix the problems without putting my own value on every word in my manuscript. 

The last thing I'll leave you with is this. When getting feedback from a loved one, don't be confrontational. Many times they are only trying to express themselves in ways that make sense to them. Take the pain with the love and make yourself a better writer as a result.