Category Archives: Narrative Voice

Welcome to December – 2017 Year In Review

This month, the Fictorians and a few guest bloggers will share their successes, lessons learned, and their challenges as we collectively pursue our writing careers. I hope that some of their stories and posts resonate with you. We’re all at different places in our journey, but the idea that we’re all stepping forward is critical to remember.

Every year, I set Writing Goals. Those goals have become more ambitious over the last few years and I’ve been challenged to get my butt in the writing chair to achieve the things I wanted to at the beginning of the year. I opened up my schedule to attend more conventions and events, I ambitiously took on a new project that was not on my writing goals at all, and I managed to get two books published in the last half of the year. I’ll share more about those projects later this month, but there were two things that happened this year that harken back to something that Kevin J. Anderson talks about: “Popcorn Theory.” The idea is that as writers, we can’t treat our stories like a single kernel of popcorn. If we were hungry, we’d starve cooking one kernel at a time. Having more projects going breeds creativity and creates unique opportunities. This year, I’d decided to take a break from writing all short fiction to focus on writing/editing two novels. Yet, opportunities knocked and I listened.

The first was an opportunity I’ll discuss more in a couple of weeks, but I received an invitation to submit a story for an anthology in the bestselling military science fiction series of the Four Horsemen Universe. I had a blink in my schedule, so I wrote the story, turned it in, and saw my whole calendar for the year derailed when not only did editors Chris Kennedy and Mark Wandrey love my short story but they asked me to write a novel with my character Peacemaker Jessica Francis. But, more on that later.

Very soon, AVATAR Dreams – An Anthology Inspired by the ANA X-Prize, will be published that features some of the biggest names in science fiction. Edited by Kevin J. Anderson and Mike Resnick, this collection features stories from Jody Lynn Nye, Todd McCaffrey, Martin L. Shoemaker, Tina Gower, Marina J. Lostetter, Brad R. Torgersen, Josh Vogt, Dr. Harry Kloor, Andrea Stewart, Ron Calling, Kay Kenyon, and Kevin Ikenberry. That’s right – me. Opportunity knocked and I was in the right place.

Kevin J. Anderson looked across the table at me and said, “I need another story for the AVATAR Dreams Anthology. Can you get me something in two weeks?”

Yes, I could.

From story idea to turn-in was seven days. It was a crazy, hectic time but I had a story crystallize in my head that combined the movie “The Fast and the Furious” with Isaac Asimov’s Fantastic Voyage. With the help of my friend Lou J. Berger, some bacteriology tutoring from my father (putting that PhD to use), and a couple of late nights, I turned in a story faster than expected. Hearing that it was a great fit for the anthology was icing on the proverbial cake. But, my take away from the experience was that I could take a short-notice opportunity and do something good. It’s the fastest I’ve ever written a short story and I’m pretty proud of “That Others May Live.”

So, as we go through the month of December and hear different stories, there’s a chance you’ll hear opportunity knocking. Don’t be afraid to answer the door. Everybody on the blog this month has been listening, I’m sure.

Ready, Set, NaNo

A Guest Post by Wayland Smith

It’s creeping on towards fall again, and that means it’s time to start thinking about NaNoWriMo (www.NaNoWriMo.org). I don’t claim to be an expert, but I’ve successfully complected it nine times, plus several CampNaNo successes. So I at least know what works for me, which I’m more than happy to share. Hopefully, some of this will work for you as well. If not, maybe it will spark some ideas that will.

While I try not to obsess over my word count, I do like to have an idea how I’m doing and where I need to be. I find the graph on the site a bit hard to read at times, especially if I’m staying up extra hours to write. So one thing I do is create a daily chart of my progress next to where I should be. It goes something like:

Day Target Actual Count
1 1667 2003 (If I wrote 2003 words that day)
2 3334 4107 (presuming 2104 that day) etc.

You get the idea. It’s simple, and I’m sure there are a lot of other ways it can be done, but I’m a big fan of simple. I set it up with the day and needed count for the whole month, and just fill in the right as I go.

With word count potentially under control, on to the next potential problem. One of the things that breaks my writing stride is names. I’ll be writing away and a new character, or place, or business, or whatever appears, and I’ll come to a screeching halt as I realize whatever it is needs a name. So as part of my preparation, I try to name as many characters, places, streets, businesses, and the like as I know about going in. It’s not writing in advance, so it doesn’t break the rules, it just smooths out a spot I know trips me up.

There’s a lot of talk about outlining vs not. Among writers it’s almost as bad as politics or religion. The two sides don’t get each other at all, and usually try to persuade the other that they’re wrong. I personally don’t outline. I have found it doesn’t work for me. Listening to professional writers talk, it seems to be split among them. I’ve found that favorites of mine are in both camps, and there’s no pattern that I can see. The right way to write is the one that works for you. Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise, especially if you’re just starting out.

The first year I tried NaNo, I sat down as Halloween ended, midnight rolled around, and November began. I had no idea what I was doing, no idea, no plot, no title, no outline. I managed the fifty, barely. That’s not a brag, that’s telling you it can happen, and not to get discouraged if you don’t everything set up in detail when you get ready to start.

What I use is a system I call landmarks. I don’t try to get the minute details worked out ahead of time, as my ideas, and even my characters, tend not to cooperate when I do that. But, if I know there’s an important plot point, I’ll jot down a few of those. “Hero gets to forest, goes through with monster fights,” “hero finds heroine, flirts, looks like idiot, she laughs,” whatever is appropriate. I’ll write down several of those in the rough order I think they should happen, and stay flexible. Some people use the term “pantser” which I find juvenile and annoying, truth be told. Dean Wesley Smith, a writer who certainly knows more about it than I do, calls it “Writing Into Darkness,” and I kind of like that term. Again, find what works for you. This theme will keep cropping up, because it’s important.

Where you write, and your environment, is totally up to you. Some people insist on absolute silence with just the right lighting. Louis L’Amour, one of the most successful and prolific Western writers, won a bet and proved a point by writing a story on the median strip of a major city street, with cars zipping by. Personally, I can write almost anywhere (I’ve never tried the street experiment and don’t really want to). I prefer some music when I write, often movie soundtracks and tv themes, since they tend to be instrumental pieces. Again, find what works for you.

The NaNo site gives you a chance to look into regions, and if you do that, you can find people from your area to chat with, share frustrations with, or look for mutual encouragement from. Often there are “write ins” where people get together and write. I’ve gone to a few of those, and I’ve enjoyed them, and gotten work done. As much fun as fellow writers might be, the goal is to get those 50,000 words minimum down, not make new friends or chat. If you’re taking a break, by all means, socialize a bit. But if you do that the whole time, you just managed to lose writing time. That’s a judgement call you need to make for yourself.

Breaks are important. You should occasionally stretch, eat, drink, shower, all that good stuff. Go ahead and laugh, but if you really get in the zone, you can lose track of those things. Trust me. Fortunately I have someone to throw things at me or say things like, “Save what you’re doing in the next few minutes, because I’m going to turn off your computer until you eat.”

Which is another point. Talk to your nearest and dearest and tell them what you’re trying to do. As a rule, they’ll be supportive, even if they don’t “get it.” But if you want to hit 50,000 in a month, you need time to write, which usually means less time for other things. You might have to let that favorite show go to DVR. You might need to not watch (or play) the game. If you give people warning ahead of time, they’ll generally understand when you say, “I can’t go out tonight, I have to hit my word count.” Plan your time, and remember Thanksgiving happens in November. If you have a big family gathering planned, you need to take that into account for your writing goals.

My last suggestion, which is a very strong one, is turn off your editor. The goal here is words on page. As many have said, “You can fix a bad page, you can’t fix a blank one.” As others have said, “Give yourself permission to suck.” Your first draft won’t be a publishable, salable story. It’s not supposed to be. It’s the base for making a good novel later. And it also might be that it’s not as bad as you think it is. Don’t reread what you just wrote, don’t go back and rewrite, keep going. You can polish it later, after November ends.

So there you go. Lay in the snacks, stock up your favorite liquids, clear your social calendar, and get ready. To paraphrase a wildly popular tv and book series, “November is Coming.” Give it a whirl, and remember: if you don’t finish, if you only get 1,000 words for the whole month, that’s still 1,000 more than you started with. Which is an accomplishment.

I write under the name Wayland Smith. My NaNo site name is Kingsmythe. Feel free to look me up. Good luck, follow your own path, and see what you can do. You just might surprise yourself.

Home As Setting and Theme

When my debut novel, Sleeper Protocol, was released in 2016, many of my childhood friends, family, and even my teachers commented about my use of “home.” Where I call home is a long way from where I live now, but every time I’m there the feeling of peace is as palpable as wrapping a blanket around my shoulders. I was born and raised in upper east Tennessee in an area called the Tri-Cities. My family actually lived very near a small community known as Midway – it was Midway between Johnson City and Tennessee’s Oldest City, Jonesborough. The Appalachian mountains filled the eastern horizon, running in a roughly southwest to northeast line. It’s a beautiful place.

And I never intended for my story to go there.

As the story of a cloned soldier trying to find his identity unwound from my brain to the keyboard, I initially struggled with “What’s the point?” or even Eric Flint’s famous guidance of “Who gives a $^#@?” I needed something to make the character’s emotional struggle hit home and that’s where the inspiration hit. So, I took my character home. In the third act, he descends Cherokee Mountain, crosses the Nolichucky River, and ends up on a small knoll where a farmhouse once stood. All of those are real places and the knoll is where my family’s homestead still stands. My cousins own “The Farm” as we call it, and it’s wonderful to know that it’s still there and open for my family to visit any time we want. That openness and warmth led me to bringing my character to an very different emotional level. I gave him a sense of place, a sense of a home that he’d once had and was very different than the future one, but a place he could identify with fully and embrace his identity. Once I’d opened that door, I proceeded to move him further along the path by having him stand over his own gravesite in the Mountain Home National Cemetery.

The journey to find his “home” was really the key to unlocking his identity. My first ideas to bring him through familiar territory to help with my description and emotional resonance gave way to something else entirely: a theme I’d never intended. Our sense of home is a large part pf our identity. Even our home nation, or state, or municipality is much more than a common bond to our neighbors. We identify ourselves to that place forever. No matter where I go, when I am asked where I’m from I always say that I’m from Tennessee and just happen to live elsewhere.

My point is this – write about your home or wherever you consider your home to be. Pull that emotion and identity into your own writing. Your voice will improve, your characters will seem more grounded and real, and your readers – especially those who claim the same sense of home – will keep asking for more. When you’re not writing about your home? Put that same warmth and emotion into the characters who are there. It makes a difference to the story and to your characters.

A Good Sauce is Worth Experimenting With

Julia Childs Quote

The posts this month have been amazing. Not only did we explore great works and what made them great, but described aspects of our own writing, and ways to improve our personal secret sauce.

Please browse through the month and read the posts from the Fictorians explaining our special sauce, our unique voices, and how we developed as writers. These excellent posts offer great insights into the Fictorians and the process of developing as writers.

As the famous Julia Childs once said, “No one is born a great cook. One learns by doing!”

In addition to those great posts, I’ll point out a few of the other highlights this month:

Research Until Your Fingers Bleed by Sean Golden

Hiding Your Secret Sauce by Guy Anthony De Marco

Using Voice to Set Yourself Apart by Kristin Luna

Adding Realism – Military SF by Kevin Ikenberry

Jayne Barnard and Adria Laycraft – Creating Successful Author – Editor Relationships by Ace Jordyn

Wisdom in abundance – The Characters of Daniel Abraham by Greg Little

So keep working on your own secret sauce, and feel free to update your recipe books with some of the wisdom shared this month.

Keep writing!