Category Archives: Ace Jordyn

Increase Your Writing Momentum with Group Think

Recently three other writers and I formed a writing group. Our initial goal was to support each other’s efforts in mystery writing.

Good mystery writing requires lots of planning – knowing the crime scene, knowing the victim and knowing the sleuth. It requires carefully planting the clues and the red herrings. Equally, it requires knowing the cast of characters who the sleuth will encounter.

Because we’re all speculative writers (science fiction and fantasy) with a goal to write cross genre, none of us really knew how to write a mystery. We decided that collectively, we were stronger when we shared what we knew. Then, good fortune smiled on us and sent us a mentor who shared her knowledge with us.

When our group meets, we each have half an hour to talk about our project – about where it’s at, where we want to go. Sometimes we talk about an aspect of craft. But always we always end up brainstorming and making suggestions which allow us to see creative options to enhance our stories. We do this by asking questions about the story – plot, setting and characters and sometimes we provide options to solve story problems.

How does group think relate to writing momentum?

We know we’ve got someone to help us when we get stuck.

We encourage each other and we expand our craft.

We learn new skills from each other.

And we are accountable. We set goals. Then we write to meet them.

But most importantly, through group think we don’t let a story problem or craft issue slow us down. Problems don’t have a chance to give us writer’s block because we know we’ve got a safe and supportive place to work out the story problem.

However, this is not a critique group. Crit groups have their place, but much later in the process. Eventually, we may read each other’s work and provide crits. But for now, this is an imagination group – a story building, not refining group.

Support. Accountability. Brain storming. Problem solving. Those are the momentum builders. As is laughter, enthusiasm and encouragement because when one of us succeeds, we all succeed.

If you’re having problem staying on track and getting the words out, start or find a support group which will encourage, share craft and brainstorm. From this words will flow and stories will be written.

Happy Writing!

Finding Writing Momentum by Stopping

I was part way into the book ad things seemed to be going well. The story was coming together. My protagonist was active. He was in a tree and I kept throwing rocks at him. Somewhere, somehow, he had to muster the strength that would make him stop being on the defensive and get on the offensive.

Then my protagonist and I hit the proverbial brick wall. Ouch! All the momentum I had, the three thousand plus words I wrote every day stopped. My brain became a repository of mush, not great ideas. My energy was but a whisper of a breeze unable to flutter a tiny leaf.

I had to figure this out.

What had I done to prepare?

  • I had done some planning. I knew the character, the climax, the villain and where I wanted the story to be by the end.
  • Distractions were minimal. I had the hours I needed every day to write.
  • My chair was comfortable. (sounds lame I know but those Excuse Gremlins can be weird at times)

The problem: the momentum was gone.

I was still certain I had a good story and I wanted to write it, but what was wrong?

I was a few chapters in so I did a chapter by chapter outline. The progression seemed logical enough. But, I found a niggle, the tiniest one. Why would my character have acted this way? Actually, the question needed to be reframed: what motivated him to do this? He is trying to tell me something, something I hadn’t realized in my initial thoughts about him.

It was time to re-examine my protagonist, to ask him more questions, to delve deeper into his background and the society in which he lived. It was then that I discovered that his father had instilled in him values I hadn’t been fully aware of. From those values came his struggle. What he had grown up to believe wasn’t holding true. So, now he had conflict and I the writer, had theme.

I went back over those first chapters, re-examined them in the context of the theme, his inner struggle and discovered that although I had an okay plot, the protagonist’s struggle wasn’t being reflected in some scenes and it didn’t serve to motivate him to act or not act in situations.

Aha! moment in hand, I rewrote those scens, thought through the novel once more.

The take away? My writing momentum stopped because I didn’t have enough knowledge about my protagonist to proceed. For me, knowing what’s at stake, what my character’s inner conflict is, what motivates him at the core, drives my story telling. Knowing this speaks to theme and helps create a stronger villain. In other words, the rocks I’m throwing up the tree are a lot bigger and hurt a lot more. Knowing the character’s inner conflict also helps create better secondary characters: some who enable, others who derail, and others who hold the mirror of truth.

With deeper understanding and greater potential for conflict realized, my writing momentum returned.

My advice:

1)When momentum lags, re-examine your protagonist and maybe the villain too. Find what excites and moves them and most importantly, what their deepest conflicts and influences are.

2) Determine what your story is about (aka the theme). If you know that, then your characters are the instruments to explore that theme with all its inherent conflicts and consequences. If you’re having trouble figuring out your theme, then re-examine key characters deeper still.

If you’re having trouble maintaining your momentum, stop wrting and take a moment to think about what motivates the protagonist and what his inner conflicts are. Look at theme too for understanding that will keep the story from being derailed as all scenes and characters will somehow speak to it. And, you never know, maybe your subconscious was trying to tell you something about another story problem which you aren’t yet consciously aware of. Stopping, and taking a bit of time to reflect, will not only help you to regain your momentum, but to also keep it.

When Settings, Like This Title, are Boring

Ho hum. Yawn. This story world is boring. YIKES! What does this mean? How do you fix it?

A boring setting means that the story world is dull and that the character’s interactions with it aren’t interesting. Who wants to read about a character’s morning routine (let’s call him Ted) – getting out of bed in the morning, making coffee and toast for breakfast seated at his table and munching and slurping as he reads the paper. (I am yawning, aren’t you? But stay with me, this story will pick up soon!)

Setting, or world building, involves not only the time period, genre expectations (science fiction, fantasy, historical, steampunk, to name a few), the milieu but also the ‘invisible’ things such as economics, politics, stability (war, peace, civil unrest, dystopia). From these are borne personal beliefs (may include religion) and values (for something, against something, or taking pains to be neutral). Mix these elements together to create opportunities for conflict which spurs characters into action.

Back to Ted. Let’s add an alarm clock and let’s make it a nagging hologram. Hologram – that’s futuristic. Ted has been partying the night before because today was his day off from his job as a strategist for the Space Army. Only the hologram won’t let him sleep and it’s nagging him to contact his commander – code confidential and urgent. Only, Ted isn’t thinking clearly yet so he tumbles out of bed, hits the dispenser for coffee and it’s not working yet again. He stumbles back into the bedroom, searches for his laser gun and notices a lump on the bed. He rips the sheet off and sees a woman obviously dead. A hologram of the commander appears to tell him to get his sorry self to a meeting. Secret Agent Alvaret is missing and along with her, key information that will compromise Space Army’s plans to stop the advance of the Slimy Worms and to save Space City.

Ted’s world now holds the promise of a futuristic science fiction world with an impending war and a murder to solve. We have the sense of the politics, the chain of command, and although the economics and daily lives of inhabitants are somewhat sketchy at this point, there is a lot of opportunity to create something interesting. The murder victim provides an opportunity to explore and to learn about the world through the investigation of her murder (Ted will have to figure this out because he’ll be blamed, and as he searches for clues, we’ll get to explore the world through his eyes).

Someone may argue that what I’ve just created is a premise not the setting. Boring Ted in a boring setting wouldn’t have an opportunity for a dead body to appear in his bed let alone have the fate of a space nation in his hands. He’d likely just have read about it in the paper and then gone to work. But that does not make a story.

However, if it’s boring Ted you still want, he needs to somehow be made a character readers will want to read about. He may be an ordinary man thrown into extraordinary circumstances. He’ll need quirks, issues to overcome, a reason to overcome them in a setting/world which won’t want him to overcome them. So although Ted may be your ordinary man, he’ll still have to function in extraordinary circumstances. Those circumstances are setting, with attention to detail even if it’s set in current times. Again, that means paying attention to details and taking nothing for granted about time and place. For some great examples on how to do this, read current mysteries set in modern times.

If the setting you’re creating feels boring, here are a few things to consider:

1) You don’t know the setting well enough yet.
Settings, like characters, can become cliché and trite. In Ted’s case, the author would need to know something about military strategy, about life on a space station/city, how the science operates, who the Slimy Worms are (background, aliens, humans) and why and how they pose a threat. In short, we need to know how the world works and what the character’s place is in it and how he sees it and himself. If these details haven’t been thought through, the setting won’t be rich enough to hold the reader or for the character to interact with.

2) You know the setting well and have thought through the details.
You know it but does the reader? Have you shown it as best as you can? Have you shown us the important details and not assumed that we can see what you can? Find ways to integrate the description into the story. For example, pinpoint tangible details using strong nouns and verbs along with dialogue and action. This will help strike the balance between showing and telling.

3) Too much telling and not enough showing.
Too much telling can be boring. Description after description after description! Is that information important? Sometimes it is. Telling can be in the form of exposition, narrative summary or static description. There is a place for it but it must be used sparingly: if there is information that a reader needs to know: actions or time need to be sped up; or showing would be too long and would slow the story down. But always, avoid adjectivitis! Too many adjectives, too many descriptors, can bore readers and slow the story. Always consider if the details are important. If not, cut them. If they are important, use strong nouns and verbs.

No matter how and when you describe setting, how you show it through dialogue, emotion, internal monologue, action or exposition, setting has only one purpose. That is to help move the story forward.

When editing your story, ask these questions:

1) Is the sentence showing or telling?

2) Note if you or your beta readers feel themselves skimming over information. Ask: Is it info dump? What purpose does this information have?

3) Is the sentence too long? Does it contain too much information? Is it important? What do I need to say to move the story forward? How much impact or punch does the sentence have? This means accuracy, clarity and brevity. However, as Ken Rand notes in THE 10% SOLUTION, if accuracy and clarity (therefore more words) are needed to tell a story, then brevity must take a back seat.

Setting need not be boring. It is only if we don’t explain it well enough, or use it properly (either in info dumps or without clarity) in the context of the events in the story. Know your world well and explore it with your protagonist as you write. Use the editing process to determine if there is sufficient information about the setting and if your characters are serving not only the plot, but also to reveal the world to the reader.

Now, to do something about that boring title …

When Setting Sets the Scene for a Publisher’s Rejection

or

I Forgot Where I Am or Why

or

Zzzzzzzzzzzzz…………..

Fortune Favours the Bold at Tyche Press

What’s the recipe for a successful small press? Vision, a love for stories, a desire to discover new voices in story telling, a passion for speculative stories which awe and excite the imagination. Mix that with visionary Margaret Curelas, a lot of hard work and a small press specializing in science fiction and fantasy is created. Margaret’s authors speak highly of her and Tyche’s reputation is stellar. For these reasons, I had to interview Margaret about her experience owning a small press.

Tyche is an intriguing name with an unusual by-line Fortune Favours the Bold. What is the story behind the name?

We wanted to have a name that reflected our interest in both science fiction and fantasy, and Tyche (pronounced tie-key), does that. Tyche was the Greek goddess of luck and fortune. There’s also a planet in the Oort cloud named Tyche, which is the connection to science. And, with the goddess of fortune guiding us, the by-line followed quite naturally.

Tyche’s vision is indeed bold – that can be seen in the design of the book jackets and in the stories you’ve published. The book jackets are stellar – poster quality actually! Not only do they capture the spirit of each story but the jackets are also eye-catching and captivating. You take a lot of care in the design and presentation.

 

Thank you! Yes, our art director, Lucia Starkey, works very hard on the covers. After she reads the book, she’ll come up with a cover concept. With the concept in mind, she’ll contract artists best suited to that style and vision.

 

 

 

Your website does an amazing job of letting people know where your books, audio books and ebooks can be bought. However, distribution is cited as an issue when it comes to competing with the big firms. How do you ensure that the broadest number of readers have access to your books?

Print book distribution is not something we worry about. Most of our book sales are digital. Print books are available, of course, and in addition to the local brick-and-mortar stores stocking them, readers can ask their stores to order in a copy (or just order a copy online). Ebook sales are stimulated by discounting books, purchasing advertising for them, and participating in ebook bundles.

Anthologies are part of your repertoire and I see you have another one being produced this year. Is there a difference between producing an anthology and a novel?

I really enjoy the anthologies–I read a lot of short fiction. After not publishing one for a few years, it felt like the right time to publish another one, especially since Rhonda Parrish is the editor and her proposed theme was one I couldn’t resist.

There certainly are differences in producing an anthology versus a novel. The anthology requires more administrative work and higher upfront costs because of the number of people involved. Often an anthology will have twenty people or more, who all need contracts, to be paid, copies of the book, thing like that.

 

You do what few small presses do – your line includes audio books and also books written or translated into French. What was your business strategy in doing this and what has the reception to the expanded product line been both by authors and book lovers?

We started producing the audiobooks and translations because we wanted to try something new. Because we’re small, we’ve had to find cost effective ways to accomplish this. For the audiobooks, we worked with narrators who were looking to bulk up their portfolios, so they didn’t charge us an arm and a leg.

It was a similar situation with the French translations. Catherine Dussault wanted to apply for a translation grant, but in a Catch-22 type situation, she couldn’t apply for the grant until she already had done some translations. We were able to work with her because she needed that credit.

The new formats are hard! The audiobooks have done all right, but the French books have floundered, mostly because promoting in that market is a skill set we don’t have, and don’t have time to cultivate. As a result, our audiobook production has slowed, and we aren’t planning any additional translations at this time.

What advice would you give to anyone wanting to start a small press?

A small press takes a lot of time and energy, so I would recommend not starting one when you have a young child at home like I did. But, you can’t let the press consume you either–make sure to carve out time for yourself, your family and friends, and your hobbies.

What are the advantages of publishing with a small press?

I think the biggest advantage is that we know our authors. They’re not just names.

 

 

 

 

Margaret Curelas lives in Calgary, Alberta, with two humans and a varying number of guinea pigs. After several years working in libraries, she’s now the publisher at Tyche Books, a Canadian small-press specializing in science fiction, fantasy, and related non-fiction. You can find Tyche Books on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/tychebooks/) and Twitter @tychebooks, plus on the interwebs at http://tychebooks.com.