Category Archives: Dave Heyman

First steps

Beginnings are a mix of excitement and fear for me. The beginning of something is the point where all the options are open and all the possibilities still on the table. New book, new house, new job. Whatever the ‘new’ thing is, that first moment is filled with options. Then you start making choices, and with each choice you set yourself down a path. Doors open, doors close. The wide open space becomes more linear.

As they say, watch that first step- -it’s a doozy.

I find myself at several of those first steps as we enter 2017, each of them filled with that same mixture I described above. For starters, I am having my work professionally edited for the first time. I am about three years into writing and have submitted a few short stories to magazines but this is the first time I have let a professional see my novel length work. We’re two weeks into the manuscript being in his hands and he hasn’t sent me that email I always imagine at 3am – you know the one that says “Dave, you really shouldn’t be doing this.” When the sun’s up I know that email is not coming, but 3am is a different story.

Never having been through this before, it will be opening a world of new possibilities when I double click that attachment and open up his edits. I’m sure my ego will take a few hits during the process, but I’m also sure there’s opportunity there for me to become a much better writer. Within a few weeks I’ll have his edits back and I will be starting another new beginning: my first real novel revision.

In the interim, I’m standing at another first step: the start of a new story. I need to keep working as there is no value in me twiddling my thumbs while waiting for those edits to come back. Thus I’m starting my prep work on a new novel in a new world, thinking about all those blank spaces and faces that will take shape in the weeks to come. That’s always a very fun part of the process for me.

The most important threshold I’m crossing though is one of intent. Prior to this year, the focus of my work was primarily about building my skills as a writer. I chose projects more for the growth opportunities they afforded than any publishing potential they might have. I was looking for exercises and challenges, ways that I could find my voice and build my writer’s muscles. In short, I’ve been working out.

This year is about putting those muscles to work. My primary goal for the next twelve months is to be working on stories that I intend to publish in some way. I also now will be choosing my projects based on how likely they are to achieve that goal for me. For example, the more traditional fantasy novel might get the nod over that more experimental novella I’ve been tinkering with. I still won’t work on anything that doesn’t excite me but as I have an embarrassment of riches where story ideas are concerned, it’s now important I choose the ones that are the best use of my time.

What have I learned from this reflection of beginnings? I suppose that they are the thresholds we cross that unlock the opportunities for us in the future. You have to start with that blank page or first day of the new project if you are ever to reach the end, when all the choices have been made and questions have been answered.

Then you begin again.

See you next time!

 

The power of motion

Hello all! I’m excited to be back for my second post of the month. As I’ve already presented my year in review <link> for this post I’m allowed to write about any subject I want. I’ve decided to cover what I feel is a very moving subject in writing fiction: motion!

Now, I don’t specifically mean the physical motion of characters (walking, running, etc) as much I as am referring to the motion of your characters through your setting and your story. For the purposes of this blog post, I’m going to call that concept ‘story motion’ and I feel it is a really great way to keep your reader engaged.

I recall one of the first writing workshops I attended was David Farland’s Writing Mastery n beautiful St. George, Utah. (Aside: I can’t recommend Dave’s workshops enough! Here’s a <Link>. Check them out!) One of the first things I remember Dave discussing was the setting you used for your scenes. Dave recommended never returning to the same setting twice, as this will lend a sense of motion to your story and keep your reader from getting bored seeing the same places over and over again.

As advice, this really stuck with me as an excellent idea. To illustrate this idea, let’s use that pop culture touchstone / yardstick: Star Wars.

If you follow Luke Skywalker’s scene-by-scene progress through the movie, you’ll see that he never goes back to the same place twice. Below is just an example of his actions on Tatooine:

  • Tatooine: Market outside Sandcrawler*
  • Tatooine: Owen / Beru’s Farm*
  • Tatooine: Jundland Wastes
  • Tatooine: Ben’s Cave
  • Tatooine: Sandcrawler after Empire attack*
  • Tatooine: Owen / Beru’s Farm*
  • Tatooine: Mos Eisley
  • Tatooine: Cantina
  • Tatooine: Docking Bay 94

Note: In a few cases (marked with a *) it is technically the same location, but the setting has fundamentally changed, these cases due to violence. A writer would need to describe the changes to the settings, thus making them ‘new’ for the reader.

This is just Luke, just in one part of one movie. Across all three movies, he really only leaves and returns to exactly the same place once, without the setting having fundamentally changed in the interim: Yoda’s hut.If you look at all of the original Star Wars movies, there is this constant feeling of progress and movement. Presenting the viewer with new and interesting settings has a lot to do with this.

This process is by no means uncommon, in fact I can see this pattern in many popular movies. Oddly enough though, I’ve read many books that followed a more television-style model where characters have a home base setting that they keep returning to. There is nothing wrong with this, of course, but it raises the need for other elements to hold the reader’s interest. The Hall of Justice is only interesting the first time you’ve had it described to you, after that it’s just a place with some computers, tables and a big screen.

I’ve come to realize that I subconsciously plugged Mr. Farland’s advice into most of the writing I’ve done since. In that time I’ve written two novels, a novella and about eight short stories. Almost all of them have this motion pattern to them. Often the characters are traveling from one place to another in my stories, but even when they are not they are visiting new scene settings inside that same location.

I think the lesson is this: Never ask the reader to look at something they’ve seen before when you can show them something new. New places and settings keep the interest fresh and allow a sense of movement and progression that keeps the reader engaged.

See you next time!

View from the summit of 2016

It really is hard for me to accept that 2016 is almost over. In many ways, it still feels like the year just started a few weeks ago. This year has been one with a lot of changes for me: personal changes, professional changes and changes to my writing life. Change can be scary, but it can be positive too.

WRITING MY WAY UP THE MOUNTAIN

On the writing side, 2016 is dominated by Under Everest, a mountain (ha ha) of work that has been the primary focus of most of my creative energies this year. Merely a concept back in January, it is now only a few weeks from first draft completion. Working on this novel has been an education in itself, a series of fits and starts as I hammered out an outlining and writing process that works for me. The first novel I’ve ever written with the intent from Day 1 of publishing it, I’m very proud of what it has grown to from the small hill of ideas it started as. I’m approaching the summit, with a descent into revisions come early 2017.

Ok, enough mountain puns. I know there’s been an avalanche of them already. 

In other writing progress, I’ve joined the Fictorians as you can see! I’ve been happy to guest post here in the past and was extremely flattered when I was asked to join full time. It’s been a fun experience so far, and I’m very fortunate to be writing alongside such talented folks. (They’re nice folks too!)

I did write one short story this year, an attempt at landing a slot in the Dragon Writers (Makes a great gift!) anthology, which benefits the Don Hodge Memorial scholarship fund. While I did not get accepted, I received very nice comments from the editor and was proud to have been in the running for a while, considering the whole story was written in about a two day period. I wish I could have had my idea earlier before the deadline, but that wasn’t the way things work. It was still a great experience, and I have a story I can polish up and send out some day.

All year long, I had the pleasure of an amazing writing group running alongside me. All of us alumni from a 2015 Mary Robinette Kowal workshop, we have been meeting bi-weekly ever since. As talented and kind a group of people as I have ever known, I continue to benefit from their feedback and friendship. Coming up in January of 2017 – our second anniversary!

Back in February of 2016 I attended my second Superstars workshop, this one being just as fantastic as the first one. Even better, since I got to attend the entire session this time, and even braved my unusual diet to attend the VIP dinner. Everyone was (as always) super-nice and I’m excited to come back for my third in 2017!

PROFESSIONAL CHANGES

On the professional side, in March I said goodbye to a job I had held for eight years. It was an amicable and emotional departure. It was hard to leave a group I personally had started in 2008 as the first engineer on the team, only to build that group to a 50+ strong global organization over the next eight years. I couldn’t be prouder of all those awesome folks, and I’m still their number one fan. The time had come for me to take a break though, and I am very fortunate that hard work, sacrifice and a little bit of luck gave me the ability to do so.

THE PATH AHEAD

Looking forward to 2017, I have a lot of plans. Under Everest needs revisions and then a publishing home, finding it one will be a fun, new process. My whiteboards runneth over with more ideas: novel-sized, novella-sized and short story sized as well. I’d love to polish off that fantasy novella I was almost done with before Everest took over, I do have a whole series idea I’d love to start on, and more Everest ideas as well. One problem I never have is what to write!

Whatever comes, I’m lucky to have so many wonderful writers in my life cheering me on, offering me feedback and advice, and just being great friends. I am also tremendously fortunate to have the love and support of my family, who want to see me get these ideas and stories out into the world just as much as I do.

I hope everyone has a great holiday season and here’s to a fantastic 2017 for us all!

Playing in the sandbox

Another month brings me another really interesting subject to blog about: adaptations. There were certainly a lot of directions I could have gone with this, lots of movie and television options to consider for example. I’ve been a big fan of adaptations over the years: books that became movies, television series that became books, expanded universes and spun off realities. Despite this, I knew pretty quickly what kind of adaptation I wanted to cover- -a type that requires no contracts, no licensing and is usually done just for the pure enjoyment of it: fan fiction.

Wait, come back.

Look, I’m aware that fan fiction has something of a reputation and it is true that many examples of fan fiction can contain writing elements and prose that are… let’s call them underdeveloped. This is not true of all fan fiction of course, there’s some marvelous stuff out there. Addressing the ones that are a bit rougher to read though, I’m here to submit that this very rough nature may be as much a feature as a bug.

I’m not going to discuss the definition or the history of fan fiction, not when you can read all of that here <link>Rather I’d like to discuss my own view of the concept, and why I think it is both an excellent writing tool as well as one of the purest forms of creation out there.

spockanalia2

I think many of us started with some version of fan fiction. This was certainly true for me – The first stories I ever created were fan fiction. Before I could even write, I was dictating stories to my mother of G.I. Joe’s adventures in the jungle, hoping she’d send them to Hasbro where they’d be made into new toys. (Back in those days Joe had ditched the Army and become more of a Indiana Jones type complete with kung-fu grip!) Later I would draw my own Star Wars and Star Blazers comics as well as write my own Battlestar Galactica short stories.

Many years as an adult later the writing itch began to come back to me. I had a novel I had been carrying around in my head for a long time, but I still didn’t feel ready to attack that yet. I needed a warm up, something to get the writing muscles in shape. I decided to join an online fan fiction writing group, writing shared stories within the Star Trek universe. I wrote with this group for a few years, creating several characters and learning a great deal about duilding tension, working with character dynamics and crafting satisfying endings. It was a great experience and really prepared me for the full blown fiction writing that lay ahead for me.

Looking back on that now, I see the value fan fiction had for me as a fledgeling creative writer. When you write an original piece of fiction, the sheer amount of creation you need to do is very daunting, especially in the speculative realms. Not only does the plot need to be worked out, but you must create the characters, locations, backstories, technologies, and so on. It can be overwhelming.

With fan fiction, much of that work is done for you. It is a sandbox where everything you need to play is already set up for you. You still need to create the adventure, but the rest is already done. This allows the new writer to just focus on the story creation, let’s say by creating a new adventure for Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise. Later, the writer could expand things by adding a new character of their own creation, or sending the ship to a new planet they’d have to invent. In this case, they are taking on world building and character design in nice bite size pieces, learning to crawl before walking. Fan fiction allows a new writer to step into the world of story creation slowly, working at their own pace and adding skills one at a time. There is a freedom there that I think had a great deal of value.

Additionally, I admire fan fiction for the pure honesty it represents. These are writers who will never be paid and will never see their work in print. They write instead to see their favorite universes in a more personal light; allowing for a broader range of stories, representation and scenarios that often are simply not available in the ‘canon’ universes. Viewed in this light, fan fiction might be the the truest adaptation form of all, one done for the sheer love of the source material. These writers are writing for the pure joy of creation, and I find that compelling.

It is easy to look down on fan fiction as something ‘lesser’ than paid fiction, but I feel doing so overlooks a very special and unique category of adaptation, one that had a great deal to offer both reader and writer.

See you next time!