Category Archives: The Fictorians

What Does It Take To Perform Under Fire?

I’ve been involved in the Martial Arts for over ten years. I have a black belt, and if I hadn’t become a writer on top of my day job I would be a second degree. But I got distracted by writing, and that’s that.

Belt tests are some of my least favorite parts of the martial arts. I love class. I love my lessons. I love punching and kicking and knife techniques and sparring and sometimes I pretend to love forms. But belt tests are a different animal.

In short, the instructors—who are usually cool people—turn into demons that are there to push you until you’re teetering on the edge of your endurance and sanity. I can do techniques all day long, but make me run around the building or scale a wall and I go to pieces. Other people lose it if they have to do defense techniques quickly, or spar more than one person. (Most people don’t do well with that, by the way.) Whatever it is, the instructors will find it. And then, once you’re barely standing and thinking about quitting, they ask you to do a form. Or spar. Or defend yourself from them.

On some level it’s awesome. Especially after you’re at the end looking back. There’s nothing like knowing that you did every single Defense Maneuver you have flawlessly against guys taller and stronger than you. Or that you didn’t get stabbed when they brought the fake knives out.

But in the middle of it, there isn’t time to think, and if you do think, it’s usually about how much some part of your body hurts. Sometimes that includes your brain.

I’m short and round and don’t look much like a black belt, but when I’m in practice, I’m pretty darn good.

And that’s the key to passing a test. Being in practice. Because if you’re in practice, then when a fist is coming straight for your face, no matter how tired you are, you will do something. It might even be the right thing. Either way, you won’t get hit, and the next moment the other guy will be on the ground and you’ll think, “Hey, that really works. Oh crap, there’s another guy coming.”

I feel like this relates to writing. Lately I’ve been extremely busy, and my writing has been suffering. It’s only been in the last few weeks that I’ve thought about the fact that I’m out of practice. I work part time and write part time, but I haven’t been consistently writing. I work on marketing or editing or blogging or putting together a newsletter or a giveaway. I pour words onto the page when there is a deadline looming, but not every day. I’m out of practice. Which is silly, because I know how important it is to write each day, and yet I’m not doing it.

So that’s my suggestion. Write each day, even if it is just 200 or 500 words. Write something. Stay in practice. Get a list of writing prompts off the web if you don’t have any ideas on what to write about or you don’t want to work on your current work in process. That way, when the pressure comes, and it will come, you can crack your knuckles and go for it.

Writing Stories – One Layer at a Time

Shrek - LayersI love in Shrek when he tells Donkey that ogres are like onions. They have layers. Even though Donkey suggests layered cake would be a better image, the onion analogy really works.

Books can be like ogres, onions, or cake, depending on the day and how your current scene is going. They’ve got lots of layers, and sometimes discovering a new layer can dramatically affect how we approach a work in progress.

Diving deep into a new novel during a focused writing burst like Nano can really help the story come alive in ways impossible to do when we’re outlining or planning or just writing a chapter a week. When we get deep into the zone, we can see things about the story we might have never imagined. We peel back the outer layers of plot, setting, and outer conflict to some of the deeper layers of motivation, inner struggle, and world view of our characters that shape their decisions and how they react to the world.

Those moments of discovery are awesome for both pantsers and plotters, and they’re key to ensuring that a story is deepened as well as broadened. We need to feel the heart of a story and make sure all of those layers align. Until we know those layers and make sure they build upon each other in a solid, optimized way, there’s at least one more draft that still needs to be done.

I’ve learned the hard way that even when I thoroughly outline a story, I don’t really know that story until I’ve worked through all those layers. I might write a huge 200,000 word draft that only touches on the outer layers. It’s not until I begin working edits and diving deeper that the true story emerges. Sometimes that requires some pretty substantial rewrites, but that’s a necessary price to pay for producing a professional quality story. If we quit before that, we’ve cheated the story and ourselves.

Here are a few things to ask yourself about your story to check your progress and make sure you haven’t missed any important layers:

  • Is your plot finished? Do you have a solid arc, including your plot points? Do you know the ending?
  • Is your setting well defined? Are the locations where scenes take place fleshed out with sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch? Is your blocking clear and easy for readers to follow?
  • Is your main protagonist’s challenge clearly defined, with a clear antagonistic force in place, with rising stakes.
  • Do you know what motivates your protagonist? Your antagonist? Other main characters? Why do they see the world the way they do, and are they open to changing that world view, learning, and growing, or are they fixed, closed-minded, and set in their ways?
  • What is your protagonist’s inner struggle?
  • What do other characters struggle with? How do they handle stress? How do they handle change?

If you can answer all of those questions with confidence, you’re well on your way. Keep charging ahead to the end. If you’re not sure, take a few minutes to think about these layers and consider how answering them might add depth and meaning to your story.

About the Author: Frank Morin

Author Frank MorinRune Warrior coverFrank Morin loves good stories in every form. When not writing or trying to keep up with his active family, he’s often found hiking, camping, Scuba diving, or enjoying other outdoor activities. For updates on upcoming releases of his popular Petralist YA fantasy novels, or his fast-paced Facetakers Urban Fantasy/Historical thrillers, check his website: www.frankmorin.org

You’re Halfway There!

It’s the midpoint of NaNoWriMo. How are you doing so far? Are you way ahead of the curve? Have you fallen behind? Fear not, fellow writer, because there is plenty of time to get that 50,000-word first draft completed on time!

Remember to tie your editor muse up and stuff him into a cupboard under the stairs. Let your writing muse work her magic on you. Don’t worry about typos or if you want to change the name of a character from X’lat’on to Nhylat. There’s plenty of time and space after NaNoWriMo is over. Focus on getting words on the virtual page.

Make sure you enjoy yourself. Why not get a giant bucket of cappuccino, or maybe a delicious chai tea? If you work well with caffeine, keep a cup at your elbow filled with your favorite version. Light a nice scented candle. If you’re The Funky Werepig, light up one of your trademark underwear-scented candles. Put a drop of essential oil where you can breath it in.

In the end, no matter how many words you’ve written, you ARE a winner because you’re X number of words closer to your finished manuscript.

Are you stuck? Have a character do something unexpected. Have someone betray the fellowship. Set a python on your annoying cousin Dudley. Do that in real life, it’s fun and you can stream it to YouTube. No, wait, don’t do that in real life, it will take you away from writing.

Have someone important to the quest get lost and write a short separate arc that gives the reader more insight into the character’s character.

Keep at it, because in the end, this is what you may discover on your desk in the not-too-distant future:

 


 

About the Author:DeMarco_Web-5963

Guy Anthony De Marco is a disabled US Navy veteran speculative fiction author; a Graphic Novel Bram Stoker Award® nominee; winner of the HWA Silver Hammer Award; a prolific short story and flash fiction crafter; a novelist; an invisible man with superhero powers; a game writer (Sojourner Tales modules, Interface Zero 2.0 core team, third-party D&D modules); and a coffee addict. One of these is false.
A writer since 1977, Guy is a member of the following organizations: SFWA, WWA, SFPA, IAMTW, ASCAP, RMFW, NCW, HWA. He hopes to collect the rest of the letters of the alphabet one day. Additional information can be found at Wikipedia and GuyAnthonyDeMarco.com.

The Secret Lessons of NaNoWriMo

All this month the Fictorians have been talking about one of my favorite times of year: Nanowrimo! As I’ve discussed in the past, Nanowrimo was instrumental in my transitioning from desiring to write to actually producing work I was really happy about. What I’d like to cover in my post this month are the ‘other’ lessons Nanowrimo can teach you.

First, let’s cross off the two well-discussed one’s: ‘writing every day’ and ‘turning off the internal editor.’ Several of the Fictorians have covered these this month and there’s a ton of discussion out there about them, so I won’t belabor the point.

I’ll just add that I agree that you don’t *have* to write everyday to be a writer and that word count goals are at best a double-edge sword. For me, Nanowrimo was huge and I personally try to write every day. What works for you is for you to find, of course.

Beyond these two though, I’d like to introduce what I feel are the secret lessons of Nanowrimo. Four years after my first Nano ‘win’, these are the instructions I learned that first November that still stay with me and keep me productive:

GOALS HAVE VALUE

Moving away from a goal of writing x words in y time, any kind of goal is a fantastic motivator. Over time I’ve come to move away from word count goals and into scene goals. Each day I lay out the scenes I want to accomplish with that day’s work and then I don’t stop until I get them done. Chasing that carrot keeps me going, even through sleepy afternoons and days when the screen wants to stay blank. I need to get that goal, so keys get hit and words start to happen. Without a goal oriented approach, I’m doubtful I would get as much done.

WRITING IS AN ENDLESS EXERCISE

When I completed my first Nanowrimo, I had written 50,000 words. I wasn’t done though, there was much more novel to write. I added another 80,000 words and the story was finally complete. But I wasn’t finished, it was a first draft and a lousy one at that. I revised it several times, but I still wasn’t finished, because I needed to get some beta reads on it. After the beta reads came more revisions, and on and on. In truth, it’s never finished. At some point you decide the project it done, that additional work is not going to push the needle much farther.

Then you start the next one.

KNOW WHO YOU ARE AS A WRITER

Before Nanowrimo I didn’t know how important outlines were to me. I didn’t know if I could write 1,000 words a day, or 2,000 or 5,000. I didn’t know if I could write in public, or if I was a better writer in the morning or the evening. Writing every day really answers all those questions for you. After that first Nano, I knew that outlines would be critical to my success. I knew that on a good day I could write 4,000 words, but that I’m unlikely to be a coffee shop writer.

One of the things I love most about writing is that there is no one way to do it. Each of us can learn from other writers, we can read books about writing, we can attend classes and participate in national writing-based exercises. Yet in the end, we each have to find our own method that is uniquely ours. Nanowrimo is a fantastic opportunity to learn what process works for you and start yourself on the path to being a more productive writer.

See you next month!