Category Archives: Writer’s Log

Writer’s Log: 1751 Writing Wrong

No, not righting wrongs. I’ll leave that to the characters of our stories.

What I’m referring to here is practicing the craft but doing so incorrectly.

We all know, a “writer writes” (both Billy and Danny say this in the movie), but what if what you write is wrong? Poor form? Grammatically, technically, logically, or structurally wrong?

If you practice and practice, but you’re doing so in a way that you’ll need to correct yourself, perhaps severely, in the near future, what you’re doing is learning bad habits.

Bad habits are hard to break.

I was a fool when I began. I just dove straight in; the water was deep and dark and could take my plunge. Unbeknownst to me, there were snags and rocks and muck just beneath the surface — and boy did they hurt when struck. I’d been an avid reader, effectively watching from the sidelines as authors plied their craft. “I can do this,” I thought. “Swish”, “Goal”, “Crack” — the sports analogies are many. Fans feverishly following every movement of the hands and balls of expert players: “Sure looks easy from here.”

I’d been better served by writing small pieces and having them tortuously shredded by a fiction editor; take baby steps, careful, incremental progress. I’d have learned the right way to write. Instead I created an unstable foundation which I’ve had to deconstruct and rebuild over years now. I’m explaining this in the hopes that some burgeoning, aspirational writer takes these cues and adjusts the arc of their career such that they build a solid foundation — first.

Here are some corner stones I’d wish I’d learned early on.

  1. Grammar, dialog grammar specifically. Proper use of the m-dash, semis and contractions.
  2. Active vs Passive. When you write “was” or “were” outside of dialog think, “Can I say this with more action?”
  3. Controlled use of dialog tags. “He said, she said…” Scale back such tags. Instead use a character’s actions to link spoken words to a character.
  4. Describe don’t explain (or show don’t tell for most). Adverbs tend to tell, that’s why they’re frowned upon. When you explain you insert a layer of distance between the story and a reader.
  5. Maintain proper POV. Oy! what a bother. Learn your POVs early. Subtle intrusions into the minds of characters — whose thoughts we should not be privy to — are a no-no.

    These last few are more style and nuance and are never fully learned, only slowly perfected.

  6. Consistency of voice, both of the story and of the characters. If you write over time, months or years, on a story, you’ll need to keep the voice of your characters in your mind as you sit after a break and begin afresh. That’s why may writers say “write the whole thing in a flurry.” Well, I can’t do that. So re-entering a character’s mind is critical.
  7. Story mechanics: time accounting, flashbacks, dreams, travel, world building consistency. These will help your story become complex and engaging. Time serial stories are boring. Screwy physics or mismatched abilities will break your reader’s suspension of disbelief.
  8. Cycles of conflict, action, resolution, reflection. This is my personal preference; frame your stories as a sine wave of varying activity.
  9. Character arc: hidden angst, emotion, motive, doubt, conflict, result. A more advanced subject here. Good stories have odd and conflicted characters.
  10. Plot design and tuning: allusion, foreshadowing, subplots, intra-themes. Complex stories force the reader to work — and a working reader is an engaged reader.

These are points of advice I’ve learned from many editors and writers, here and elsewhere. You know who you are.


Writer’s Log: 1734 – If only…

For those of you who care to follow my writing progress, here’s a brief interlude:

A Paleo Friendship #1: https://goo.gl/Jsj7nn
A Paleo Friendship #2: https://goo.gl/YjLJC3

If I could slap a button, big, round and red, and send myself back to such a time – POOF! That would be the end of me.

POV: First Person
Era/locale: 25,000 years ago, North American Western Coast
I’m going for “Hunger Games” style action and description. This is just an experiment, a diversion. One I’ve probably wanted to write since I was 17. It’s just a teaser, but, well, judge it for any writerly-progress.

(It’s still not “my voice”, as PH is wont to call to my attention. And it’s still YA — for some reason I can’t seem to push myself into adult writing mode.)

 


Writer’s Log: 1732 Neil Gaiman

EXCERPT FROM “The View from the Cheap Seats”:

“I was, as I said, twenty-five years old, and I had an idea for a book and I knew it was a real one.

I tried writing it, and realized that it was a better idea than I was a writer. So I kept writing, but I wrote other things, learning my craft. I wrote for twenty years until I thought that I could write The Graveyard Book–or at least, that I was getting no better.

I wrote it as best I could. That’s the only way I know how to write something. It doesn’t mean it’s going to be any good. It just means you try. And, most of all, I wrote the story that I wanted to read.

~~~

And then, whether the work was good or bad, whether it did what you hoped or it failed, as a writer you shrug, and you go on to the next thing, whatever the next thing is. That’s what we do.

~~~

We who make stores know that we tell lies for a living. But they are good lies that say true things, and we owe it to our readers to build them as best we can. Because somewhere out there is someone who needs that story. Someone who will grow up with a different landscape, who without that story will be a different person. And who with that story may have hope, or wisdom, or kindness, or comfort.

And that is why we write.”

~~~

The above was from Neil’s acceptance speech for the 2009 Newbery Medal.

  • I had an idea for a book and I knew it was a real one.
    There you go. You sometimes just KNOW that an idea is a good one.
  • It was a better idea that I was a writer.
    Wisdom told him that he shouldn’t write this story ‘just yet’. Wow. How many of us would just blunder into it and write it anyway?
  • I wrote it as best I could.
    Is that not all everyone of us can hope for? To write as best we can — at-the-time?
  • I wrote a story that I wanted to read.
    Please yourself as a writer. Do that, and what you produce /may/ become something that will please others.
  • You go on to the next thing.
    Write. Edit. Perfect (to the best of your ability) — and move one. That is the single biggest lesson here. Just. Keep. Writing.
  • Someone there needs your story.
    The world is huge. And if you have a TRUE story to tell, unique, well conceived, and well executed — then there WILL be an audience for it. Maybe not in your lifetime. But someday. Would you deny them, that one person, in the near/far future who benefits and is changed by your story? No!Write your Story!

To live is to lie

Fiction is lying.

The fabrication of a make-believe story, perhaps without a shred of substantiation in the real world, is, in all meaningful ways, a lie. Some archeologists believe that the ability to lie, to tell stories, may be what set Homo Sapiens Sapiens apart. The imagining of an untrue event or situation is effectively self-deception. You lie to yourself envisioning the story and then lie to others in telling it.

Everyone lies. If you can create an imaginary world, if you can daydream of some future possibility or rework some past debacle or failure in some better light, you’re effectively inventing a temporary lie.

Stories which depict truthful characters, virtuous and pure champions are boring. As we all lie, creating a character who does not, conflicts with all of our natural understanding of human behavior.

Therefore, in writing fiction, lie. Lie with the telling and then have every one of your characters fib in some way, small or large. Double speak builds intrigue. Deceit is delicious. Layering speculation upon a character’s actions and speech seasons the reader’s mind with savory questions. The more ‘why’s you have, the more conflict you can drive into your story.

Secrets are lies, one could say. Given the opportunity to divulge a notion and failing to do so? Why? Is the information contained within that secret a form of leverage? Power? Did your character lie when they said they didn’t know of an underground passage out of the castle? So they could use it themselves? Why allude to an unloaded gun when simply by hefting it I can tell it’s got at least five rounds in it. Why whisper to me of your upcoming betrayal? To implicate me as well? To persuade me to lie upon your behalf when confronted?

To live is to lie. Our stories should be no different.


The Writer’s Stew

Imagine a tasty stew.

Savory meats, root vegetables, maybe some thick noodles or dumplings, a fine rich stock all simmering for hours on low. The aroma and unctuous anticipation of slipping some of that luscious meal down your throat just makes your mouth drip like Sobaki, Pavlov’s favorite dog.

That is how I think writing becomes art.

When you can savor your characters, mull their foibles, their idiosyncrasies, taste the strange way they walk, sit, talk, sleep — then you can simply write them into your story. There is no work. You sit there within your story stew, nestle up to a potato and describe its grainy texture, its bitter skin, the way it appears to take over the bowl but with the press of a fork, crumbles.

Imagining all of your characters, in the story scenarios you want to eventually place them within, is, I believe, a necessary stage in writing a truthful story. True in that your characters are true to your notions of them. That how they react and respond to the story’s plot events is not forced or unnatural. But smooth like a saucy soup.

I’m trying to live with the eleven characters who will make up the story “Iced”. That’s a bunch of people, and I have to slip them in gradually. Only I can’t. They all wake up together. And, of course, every one of them is a murderer… So, I have this stew being unpleasantly hot at times, and laced with shards of splintered bone in others. But, hopefully, no one will choke and die. Well, no reader will expire while slurping this sumptuous stew.

 


A themed universe

Something jelled recently.

Those of you who read Sci-Fi will know the name Larry Niven. He’s most famous for his novel Ring World. But more than that, what he created was a broad context for (nearly) all of his stories. It’s what he calls “Known Space.” What’s curious about it is that it’s fully cogent and rationalized. There’s a timeline and a physical domain that contains the “science” and the fiction.

Or rather, consider the Potterverse, one most of you are probably aware of. Jeanne created a world, a universe, which contains — yes her seven novel series — but more than that, it provides the potential for many more stories, some of which we’re seeing with the Dangerous Beasts movie series. Those and tens of thousands of fan-fic stories. And an entire dream world, made virtually real by Universal.

What jelled was that I’ve created my own post-apocalyptic world with a fairly complete, fairly cogent rationalization. And this Apoca-verse has room for much of what I’ve been writing as side stories.

  • Blue Across the Sea was #1. Red Into the Sea will be the sequel (and I’ve mapped out two more after that: Green and White…)
  • Shadow Shoals (unfinished) is also a story that takes place within this timeline and world-context. (I’ve been editing it over on Scribophile, and it’s been getting some good reviews.)
  • Recently,  I’ve returned to my Antarctic prisoner story, Iced, and — ayup — it also can be easily inserted into this same chrono-calamity and world situation.
  • Additionally, my story City Afloat, about a band of Bangladeshis who create a floating city and drift and live on the Indian Ocean, well… it also can be wedged into this same universe.

So, I’ll end with, if you create a complete, fabricated universe, that makes sense and has meaning to you and to the stories you tell — maybe you can create a themed foundational universe into which you can write.

Larry Niven is a Sci-Fi god. He’ll be 80 years old this April 30th. I wonder if he’d mind if I used his idea of a Known Space? Maybe I should call it Known Dystopia.

 

 


Club Internet

If you have a raw nerve exposed, you can bet I’m going to be one of those who tries to tweak it, maybe shock it. Certainly pinch it a bit. OUCH!

Yeah, sorry about that. (But not really.)

And this is of course an exaggeration. I recently, yesterday or something, wrote about all of us being bloggers. 100% of us. And how I thought that that was an issue. Now, many of us here wanted to point out that, and rightly so, it’s not an issue, “exactly.” It is a “thing” and blogging does exist as a club or a membership but, so what? That’s not a bad thing. It’s just a thing.

So, I thought about this, and sure enough, I’ve come to realize that the internet has become an array of vertical stovepipes of membership. It is now Club Internet.

Let me take you back… In 1995 when I first began to “surf” the internet, that’s exactly what I did. It was a wild, unorganized place full of strange and odd and interesting stuff. I recall spending hours and hours just bouncing from page to page. There were no “search” engines, just some primitive DMOZ style indexes and link-exchanges. And there was no membership. It was just a vast, crazy “Woodstock” sort of experience.

Later, when I learned how to code the web, and built my own Web Logging software, there was still not much membership or exclusivity built into the net. My “blog” was just this diary I hung off a few of my sites — as was every other “blog.”

Today? Today the web is nothing if not collectives of “potentially” like minded people who “belong” to membership oriented enclaves. AND THAT’s OKAY.

When I wrote about bloggers being a circular group of people — well, they are, we are. But so are instagramers, snapchatters, fadebookers (I suppose), WeChatters, and so on and so forth. (In fact, nearly every site out there expects you to become a member, or join them in some way, and if you don’t, you can’t participate — period.) But, in the beginning, it wasn’t like that.

I think I was just now coming to grips with the fact that whatever I write here… Yeah, it’s not gonna be read by the “public.” It used to be read (or could have been read) by the public. But today? Only bloggers will read this. And, again, THAT’s OKAY.