One Word

Everything starts from one word. A subject, an action, a sentence, and then a paragraph, a page and a chapter. Do it again and make another chapter, and then…

A book is a series of short steps that add up to a walk that details a favorite season or a glimpse at a world you’ve never seen and it doesn’t have to be an imaginary place. Just a never before seen event or moment. Something new, something old told a different way.  Whatever the moment, place or thing it does have to make you feel exactly what you should in that moment. Or more correctly, exactly what the character your reading would in that moment. You need to feel what it’s like to skydive if you’ve never done it before. What’s it like to belong to the mile high club? Live like a prostitute? Be a man, or a woman, an architect, or a priest; a Point of View you’ve never experienced before. How close do you get your readers to this state of existence.

If you’re not making your reader forget her problems for the ten minutes or tens hours it takes to read your work then you’ve done something unnecessary. Too much detail slowing the action. Not enough, making the world to sparse to see and touch.

This is your goal as a writer. Or one of them, at the least. There are a lot of parts to writing a book, all of them solvable, all of them possible, and in many different ways. Dependent on how you learn. This is a very individual thing, but like anything there are rules and structure that make it easier. Recipes if you will.

Step up and put a word on the page, add a sentence, then a paragraph. At first, don’t look at the four hundred pages it takes to make a book. Look to knowing the steps that you need, but don’t be daunted by 60,00 words or 80,000 or more. Just write. Figure out your outline and write towards that, a beat sheet to progress through. An ending. It’s important to know where you’re going, but you may not know right away what it is or how to get there. It helps to figure it out. I’ve learned a compromise. I’m an organic writer, which means most of my stuff flows from the writing itself, just the act of putting words to a page. I’ve spent a lot of time on works in progress only to find that I rewrote things to find something out that  would have been easier if I knew where i was going. With the help of books on craft and structure, I’ve learned to find the ending of a story by plotting it out, and it doesn’t have to be in absolute detail. It just helps too know it. Another tool to use.

Don’t deprive yourself. Work with how you learn: figure out how to compromise; learn a new trick, tool, or system. Add them together. Throw out what doesn’t work for you. Don’t stop.

Be kind to the world, to your self. Take a step, whether new or old, take a step.

Scams

I’ve recently taken up ghostwriting, and consider myself lucky with the clients I’ve found. But the net isn’t a safe place. I’ve had several people wanting me to give out my bank account so they can pay me. Is it just me or or am I the only one leery about giving this number out. Because the people that are doing this scam keep doing it because it’s worth their time.

I had one insist he could only deposit money through the Royal Bank and only if he had my account number. I gave him two options that didn’t involve my account and he thanked me for being so kind, and then once again insisted he could only do it his way and that I should even open an account for him to make it possible. He went away when I left the other choices as his only option.

Another scam is the payment some places offer. Here is an example that is fairly common: 100 short articles, 200 to 400 words, fully researched. They offer ten dollars for all the time that goes into it. Or maybe thirty dollars. In case you don’t know this is about one to one and a half pages per article x 100. Most people make up to twenty dollars an hour in whatever work they do. The rate involved in this job doesn’t even come close to a wage.

If you’re writing for craft and quality then the people wanting that will offer a fair price. If your price is negotiable, so be it. We all have to pay our bills, but at the rates above I can’t see it happening. The net is full of these kinds of offers.

I just shake my head.

Someone that knows what writing is worth is going to offer a serious dollar, they may want the best price possible, everyone does that, but it will have the means to pay you for your time that is at least equatable. It won’t be 3/one hundredths of a cent per word. It will, at the least be 10.00 an hr. still not the right price but that’s more acceptable. This may be at the point where it’s worth your time to decide if you can work with the project and how long it will take you. A larger project, more time intensive, should offer a better pay. Don’t sell yourself short, if you’ve put the time in to be a better writer on a long term basis then that has value.

You have value as a writer.

Smile at someone today. Even if it’s only the dog that wags its tail at your presence.

Something New

I recently read a friend’s story, one that was accepted to On Spec, the magazine. I don’t have permission to use her name, so I won’t. Suffice it say, it was a brilliant story; beautiful structure and word usage. Strong female character. Good tension and…it was brilliant, but that’s not what this is about.  As I read it, in the side column, were comments from someone else that had proofed it for her. Her comment; put changes to voice and emotion before speech so the reader didn’t have to go back and see if the words fit.

I’ve done this as a reader, had to go back to see what someone meant. It breaks the flow of the narrative. Not always, but enough. I thought it was a great idea. Have I seen it before, I’m sure, have I noticed it before, no. But that’s the point of good narrative, keeping the reader in the story from front to back.

Personally I’ve always put this kind of information behind the speech, thinking I didn’t want it to get in the way of conversation, or to add impact to the conversation itself.

So it was new. And I’ve started using it in my own work. I find it makes some things more powerful, others, it adds clarity to the speech. These are good things.

So, not only did I get to read a great story, I learned a new trick to mix in with the others I know.

I’m sure I’ll get to know when my friend is published and I’ll let you know. At that time it should be okay to use her name but I will still get her permission.

Information comes from everywhere. Stay open to it.

It’s nice when it comes from someone who really deserves it as well. She’s good at her craft. I wish her every success.

 Be Kind. Be Loved. Read / Write. Do all of them, often.

Progress

Today, I’m no longer an amateur writer. I’m a ghostwriter. Striding forward.

And, I got a nibble from the Donald Maass Agency, wanting fifty more pages from the Samhain Murders.

So…I’m ecstatic.

Editing

Editing is a part of writing. It’s more than using a spellchecker, though they are invaluable for people who misspell, but they don’t help with legitimate words that are used wrong or out of context. They don’t help with missing words, usually. If your fingers move faster than your brain or your brain is quicker than your fingers like mine – I won’t say which version – you need to double check your work.

I checked the previous post, twice before I posted it, and still missed something. I went back and fixed it, but it  happens. It happens to everyone. Even professionals. And it can stay in print till a second edition if you’re not lucky enough to catch it. I’m sure a good publisher would help with this, insist on it even. I think.

But editing is more than spelling, it’s the flow of words and the structure of a sentence. It’s word choice and placement on a page. It’s more than just the sentence and the paragraph and the scene on any one page. It can be setting and ambiance or the creepiness of the story coming through. What emotion are you trying to convey in the story, to the reader? Is it related to theme?

Getting the ideas onto the page are important. Editing smooths those ideas and concepts out so that the reader can see them clearer. It’s the weeding out of the garden so only the product you want is visible. Ever write something so clunky that it made no sense to you till you managed to edit the meaning into it. Or smoothing it out made it so much clearer to you, and then the next sentence jumped into place even better because of that.

Here’s a few things that might help:

1) Speak it out loud, if you stumble over the words in a sentence, you might need to rewrite it.

2) Get someone else to look at it. This, at it’s heart is why people do writing groups, fresh eyes point things out to them. Things they didn’t see or were to close to see because it is their work.

Some people just won’t pass up the opportunity to correct you; might as well get something from it if they do.

3) Print it out, the eye sees things differently on paper than a computer monitor.

4) Put the work away for a time, then go back to it, you’ll see things you didn’t.

You’re writing will never be perfect, that’s not what editing is about and it’s not what I mean by this post. But if your world-building and structure and lack of noticeable mistakes – because you went back and edited your work – keep people in your world, you’ve accomplished something magical.

Striving is the goal here, that and progress. Everything you do to improve your writing, will make you a better writer. You may never run a 3 minute mile, that doesn’t mean you have stop exercising.  Then again if you keep adding a foot to each run, another second of speed, every day, then you might reach that goal. And the possibilities to your writing improve just the same way with every word choice, edit, revision or rewrite.

Don’t be afraid to take your work apart, to add flesh, or bones, or even take some of those things away. But, like Larry Brooks says, “Don’t take away structure, all stories need that.”

Edit.

Be Well, be kind. Smile at small children, run away if they cry.

There are Basics

Start writing, and becoming critiqued, or doing research and you’ll soon get the basics that everyone hears about: Elmore Leonard has a list of ten. Do a search on the internet for it. But here’s my take on several of the basics, in no particular order, and why they matter.

1) Writers write: They do, and they do it a lot. And this is important, because for most people without this kind of practice, they don’t get better, or they make the same mistakes over and over. Should I say it again. Okay, I will – “and over again.” Writer’s write. But don’t let others define this for you, it can be too aggressive or intimidating if you do. Write to your own pace and dictates and eventually, you will write more according to your passion. If you’re serious about this craft you will do more.

2) Don’t give up: For most people criticism hurts, for some writer’s I’ve met it hurts a lot. After my first rejection slip, because someone didn’t think I was brilliant enough right off the bat – and doesn’t that sound egotistical – I gave up. For a while. Because I’m insane and have to write, I got back to it. Don’t give up, this is your dream and no one else has a right to dictate that. They may not help you though, or they think they are, but that’s where persistence comes in, stick with it whether you’re getting help or not, eventually the tools you need will show up.

3) Do Your Research: See the bit above about Elmore Leonard.  There are other things to this – see rule 4 – for now you will find that you need to do research to make your worlds and characters believable, even if you’re writing fantasy. Because it has to hold together like a well defined puzzle. If you don’t know the motivation for your characters actions, how will someone else get it. if your world has red skies, what makes it so, not the color of the dirt you’re standing on. Not usually.

4) Punctuation and Grammar Matters: And don’t let anyone tell you different. The only way to know how to break a rule is to know it in the first place. I’m not published yet. I’ve had a dozen rejections so far this year alone and no, I don’t submit enough, so I can’t speak for what editors want but I listen to people that have been published. Your craft has to be 90 to 95 percent polished to be accepted. If your story is absolutely brilliant, they may do more to help, but if what you write to open the door isn’t polished and correct to a high degree…you see where I’m going with this. Here’s another point, if your writing bad grammar on purpose, as part of a character’s speech, it helps to know  what good grammar looks like. And it needs consistency. That’s another thing rules teach you.

5) Read Your Competition: Learn from them. How do they do things technically? Structurally? How do they define their characters. There are trends that flow with books. One day it’s vampires,  the next it’s the psychokinetic antique dealers. And if you have favorite authors, their style and voice might help you find yours. In no way am I suggesting plagiarism. Period. Ever. While there are no new ideas under the sun, how people put them together, and in what ways, is part of what makes an idea original or an authors signature idea or concept. So be careful with that. If you’ve never read your idea in print it’s one thing – think of simultaneous discovery, the radio comes to mind – but if’ it’s on purpose it could be a world of hurt.

6) Don’t Repeat Yourself: Yes, there are times and places where it’s necessary, especially with ideas, concepts, and sometimes emotions, but the less you do it with individual names and places and items, the better. Writing to this rule alone will teach you to improve how you say things in your writing. The idea is to think about it. Of course, once you become published this rule matters less. Published authors break this rule all the time, even the good ones. This is a proof of concept rule for new writers. For the most part – live with it – it’ll make you a better writer.

7) Write What you Know: You’ll hear this one a lot, but what does it mean, especially if you write fantasy or aliens ate my brain type of stories – really, that happened to you, once. In some ways it talks about what you know, the actual knowledge – what it means to build a bridge or blow up a tree, but mostly, I think it’s about emotion and how that affects you and the people around you. We know this one, we know the gut wrenching fear of being punished for doing something wrong at the age of five. Remembering it might be another matter. We know what it feels like to get a job, lose a job, be rejected – fall in love. Write what you know, research the rest. The point, support your writing with emotions, because when you get right down to it that’s what people want in a story, to feel; and to have it done so well the rest of the world goes away. For a few minutes, anyways.

8) Don’t Write the Boring Bits: There is a reason we don’t see Heroes or Heroines going to the bathroom, unless a snake is crawling up out of the sewer. Same goes for brushing teeth, or the long detailed walk to the first fight in a story. Get to the point and make it matter.

9) Show  – Don’t Tell: Impossible. Show where and when you can, it is important, it makes us feel the character better, puts us in their view point and makes us care. But it’s impossible to show everything. See rule 8. But when you have to tell, tell well. It matters too, just don’t make it irrelevant to the work at hand, or add details not needed.

10) Read Books on the Writing of Craft: It’s part of the job. I never would have gotten a grasp on story structure if I didn’t do this kind of thing. Yes, I mean Larry Brooks, and Donald Maass, Stephen King, and Lynne Truss just to name a few. Mind you, I got some of this from conferences and workshops, so they are valid avenues as well. Just don’t think that reading only in your genre is the way to go. Writing has a never ending learning curve. It’s more knowledge in your toolbox, more support for your ideas. It makes you a better conversationalist, too.

Be well, be kind. Kill your children. NO, I do not mean your actual children. I mean the books that are your children. It means listen to what people have to say about your work. Call it rule eleven. If more than one person says they don’t understand or feel what you mean at a particular place in your writing, chances are those people, plural, are pointing out something you need to know.

Being Telepathic

I’ve been writing for years now, and the one consistent thing I find that new writers do is write these great ideas, scenes, and stories that only they understand fully. And it usually means that the greatness of their writing is lost to the reader. It’s the terms they use, or the world-building, describing something in an awkward way or even, if it’s sci-fi, the alien races or concepts used. To them it makes perfect sense, and if I was in their head it would to me too. But that’s the thing, I’m not in their head. They have to get into my head.

Not as tall an order as you might think.

But it’s done with care and purpose. Deliberation. And it’s not the lack of this ability that makes a bad writer, because it’s a teachable concept. No, it’s just the vision the writer’s have isn’t fully formed for their readership. They haven’t explained it with a precision and conciseness that leads to understanding.

And this is important.

A friend once told me that it’s one idea to a sentence, not the three or four that I see in some new writers work. The professionals I read (King, Modesett Jr., Butcher, Brooks, Harrison) these writers lead me along, with precision, to the point they are making, the idea or the concept, so it takes form under my imagination and tells me exactly what they wanted me to know. Stephen King called this a form of telepathy. Taking the single idea / sentence concept further, a paragraph would add detail to the first sentence, refine it for our senses. And then the author would lead us on to the next thing, be that scene, or character detail or plot point. But each sentence, paragraph, scene, and chapter has this concept in mind: a clear understanding of the elements of the story that the author wants us to see the way he or she does.

Here’s an obtuse example: read a tech magazine, or any mag, on a subject you know nothing about. The language, jargon in this instance, are words you may know, but they are being used in a context and a way that may make no sense to you, but if it’s an engineering manual, the engineer does know it. This is what a truly good author knows and understands when they write; not everyone knows what they know. The writer lends their knowledge of language to make understandable a subject that isn’t normally comprehensible. Like that alien race that can transport instantly to anywhere else, but the author doesn’t use the term Translocation Malleability of the Universal Constant of Dark Matter Jump Quotants to tell you what he means – I made that term up, make what you will of it – No, he tells you that the creature can relocate itself in space, and maybe time, in such a way that you know a scene change has taken place. And you know it’s the creature that has motivated that scene change. It’s true this becomes a balance act between giving out to much information as compared to not enough.And what to give out when.

But that’s another blog post. Today, it’s about telepathy. Yours, mine and what comes in between. A small hint; keep this to your writing, do it with family and friends and they will stop hanging out with you.

Be telepathic.

Be kind. Write well, and don’t give up.

Mistakes

We all make them. See them published and wonder how they got there.

It happens. From writing too fast, or using a particular typing technique for so long mistakes are promoted automatically.  Or just being in front of a monitor for most people, see, the eye gets fooled by display monitors in ways it doesn’t on paper.

Or the ever important deadline.

It’s a distraction though, when our favorite works have a mistake in them and it throws us from the story. And yet, in the last ten years or so, I haven’t read a book that didn’t have some kind of typo in it. Before that I don’t remember seeing them, ever. But then editors jobs are changing as fast as the publishing industry, well, maybe not that fast. There used to be only one way to publish a book, though. Now it’s different.

And maybe it doesn’t matter anymore, short-form typing for social networks is a norm for many people, nowadays. What would have been a mistake could now be an accepted form of speech: WTF…you say.

No way.

Way.

Of course if you’re older than forty chances are it’s unacceptable, too. I sort of live in both worlds; my age is of an era when spelling was more important, my sociability is more of a culture that says it’s okay. But I strive for the purity of language that comes from an age even before me. Where sentence flow, and word choice mattered.

Does it stop me from reading, not a typo, no; but a destruction of sentence structure that makes meaning and concept unclear. Yes, I toss that kind of book aside all the time. I want to feel the emotion and the world of the writer in their details and that’s only possible through concise writing, in the many forms it takes. Because there is more than one way to write, more than one way to convey a story or the meaning behind it. That’s part of the vision of writing. But if the meaning becomes unclear because of mistakes too broad to accept, that’s where I draw the line. I try to emulate and learn from some great writers. LE Modeset, Frank Herbert, Asimov, Anderson, King, Jim Butcher, or even Brent Weeks. The first book of his I read had about fifty typos, I’m sure it was a deadline kind of issue, because his later books in that series improved to show the usual one or two mistakes that are common today. But the story was great, well worth reading.

My point here; mistakes are okay, we all make them, even the writers we consider great. Even the publishers, but don’t stop striving to be a better writer, because it’s a never ending learning curve that’s about…

Story.

Be kind, be well.

God is in the Details

Writing is about perception. Yours, and the characters you write about. What you see, personally, as a writer and a human being, How someone smiles, how they show anger, passion, or love. Your reactions in response. It’s the details you give that speak to your audience. It’s those same details in character that make them speak. And I’m saying this the easy way, because detail is more than how a character puts on his pants in the morning. It’s about layering, it’s the reasons behind the details and and how those minutiae  transform the character within the story. How the story makes the character change. Because your character has to change, all of them to some degree, even the secondary characters. It’s how good authors produce characters we like, or hate.

It’s how many authors tell their story, through the characters eyes. And that’s perception. Can you describe your landlord in a few lines that gives someone the idea of who they are and your relationship to them. How about the woman, or man, that you love? Would that description show someone how you feel. Would they get the one thing that keeps you with that person, the connection that transforms you when you see them every morning for the first time. Does it exist after a year, two, twenty. What’s the difference between the first sight of that person and the last? Is there regret, hope, a quiet companionship?

You get to choose. You have control over these details and what they mean to yourself, your reader, to the story itself. That probably being the most important part of the equation, and then the reader. I would put self last in this equation because you’re not telling a story about yourself, unless it’s a memoir. You’re telling a story about something else: a moment in history, a character that influences countries, and governments, or even a theme that moves individuals to change.

But it’s the details that show this, and you have to do it in the right place and time in the story so that your not dragging down the action, or making the hero a hero before he has any right to that lofty title. He has to earn his stripes and that means the details have to come in the right place. The right order.

Think of a movie that made you cry in all the right places, that made you stick to your seat and want more, but in the end you felt absolutely satisfied with the story as you wiped your face and tried not to let anyone else see that effect. Your friends just wouldn’t understand; unless they were moved the same way. You’ll know when that happens. Because the story was told right. The details were there.

When your descriptions in the written word hold the same visual context as a movie you’re putting God in the details, or the Devil, if you prefer that particular saying instead.

Look at your perceptions, break them down into components, put in the details you never have to include when it’s a thought or picture in your own head. Because you understand what your thinking, does someone else? That’s the trick about good writing. Someone else will understand it as well as you do, better,  they feel it the way you do. That connection will exist for them. Steven King calls this a kind telepathy between writer and reader.

I agree with him.

Write well, tell well. Give us the juicy details in between.

Be kind. Just not to the characters you write about.

Knowledge of Craft

I deal with several workgroups where I get to meet with some really great writers. They keep me honest, they show me my mistakes. They encourage me to become a better writer, sometimes by what they say, sometimes by what they point out as plot holes or inconsistencies in my work. Because lets face it, nobody sees everything.

They can’t, it’s impossible.

And yet I know people who insist they do. Not usually writers though. Some of what they’re doing is their own form of voice, I’m sure. It’s the way they speak, or the syntax they use, even the tense. And for some it’s their passion, and they insist other people see life through that filter.

I can get down with the passion, we all need that, somewhere, somehow. But here’s the thing, that insistence, I’ve read a lot of characters that do that very thing in the context of their story.  The author wants you to believe, needs you to believe, for the story to work or to accept the protagonist or antagonist, the character that can draw you into the book faster than almost anything. Pushy people in real life don’t always work, how often will you not associate with someone that is always telling you how your life should run and how it’s wrong if you don’t agree with them.

For some people it’s almost dogma, that insistence.

But in a story, voice, passion, and believability is important. That “dogma” might be the difference between a great character or someone the reader just hates. It’s a fine line, and a good book on writing will help you learn the things you haven’t thought of, or didn’t see right away. Knowledge of your craft, if you’re aspiring to be a writer is a never ending lesson.

Here are several books on craft, all of whom I’ve read and agree with:

For Grammar:

Strunk and White’s: The Elements of Style, Lynne Truss: Eats Shoots, and Leaves

On  Craft:

Stephan King: On Writing, Donald Maass: Fire in Fiction

On Story Structure:

Larry Brooks: Story Engineering: Mastering the Six Core Competencies

There are more, but these are are the ones that held my attention because they were well written by passionate people who knew how to say more about the craft and keep it interesting than many I’ve read.  They’re worth listening to, and learning from.

Keep writing, keep being kind, smile at children, pat the neighborhood dogs.  Dream with applied action towards your goals. See you on the shelves.