Category Archives: Dave Heyman

Readercon

Back in 2014 was when I attended my first (and to date) only true convention: Readercon. At the time I just had crossed into the ‘serious’ phase of my fiction writing. It was now something I tried to work on every day and attending a speculative fiction writing convention seemed like a good next step.

Readercon is a Boston-area science-fiction and fantasy convention that is pretty exclusive in its focus on books as opposed to the other forms of media. It is heavily attended by regional writers and readers of the genre, and at the time was being held in Burlington Massachusetts.

So even though I had signed up of my own free will, I was pretty nervous to attend. At that point I had written a grand total of two things: a 130k word fantasy novel and a 8k short story. I had also submitted a grand total of zero things, to say nothing of being published. While I had plans to attend a writing course, that had not happened yet – so I didn’t really even feel like I knew what I was doing. I also knew no one in the writing community.

In every sense of the word I was a neophyte. I suffered from a problem I think many new writers have: I didn’t think I ‘deserved’ to be there. Yet, I was going anyway. Getting myself to do things that make me a little nervous had certainly worked out in the past, and as I’d find it was about to work out well again.

My plan was simple, if lame:

  1. Get in
  2. Learn things
  3. Talk to no one
  4. Get out

I did learn a great deal, much more than I expected.

PANELS

The panels were lively and engaging and I learned a lot from the content. I also learned how different authors behave when they are on a panel. Some were respectful and appreciative, responding kindly to questions and were effusive in their praise of other authors. Others … were not. Both left impressions on me, teaching me what to do and what not to do.

BARCON / HALLWAYS / SELLER’S ROOM

Yes, there was a barcon. I don’t drink and I have pretty bad tinnitus so I can’t hear that well in those environments. I avoided the barcon.

I did see some authors I recognized walking the hallways, but I never approached them. I wanted to be respectful of their privacy and allow them to enjoy the Con too.

In the seller’s room though I found I had a great time. All of the authors there really wanted to talk about their books, but also their process and just speculative fiction in general. I think the big lesson I learned here was that enthusiasm sells. I bought more books from the folks who were excited to be there and excited to talk to me.

“TALK TO NO ONE”

Yeah this didn’t go so well, and that was a good thing! I was at a reading and signing (Brian Staveley and Max Gladstone) and sitting by myself and some of the other attendees just started chatting me up. They were both Viable Paradise graduates and got me to come out of my shell and talk about my writing. It was a really great experience, finally I was with people who I could talk to about my speculative fiction passions and they got it, because they had the same passions!

SUMMARY

It is worth mentioning I have not been back to Readercon since that time, nor have I attended any other conventions. This is not due to having a bad experience, but more to me moving farther north and just being too far away from the Cons I’d like to check in on. Maybe someday.

So in the end I had a great experience and I learned a lot about how I want to act in the future, both as an author and as an attendee. There’s a great community of fans, readers and writers out there – not everyone is nice but the vast majority are. I’m very glad I attended and I am sure it benefitted me greatly.

Point A to Point B

Hello everyone. I’m back with my second post this month regarding the subject of momentum. It’s been an appropriate subject for me to think about, as I am deep in a writing project with a very tight deadline and I have a strong need to keep moving, no matter what. Fortunately, the Fictorians have been front and center this month with lots of advice that I can follow. Hopefully some of that advice helped some of you keep moving on your projects too.

In this post though, I’d like to steer away from productivity momentum and rather talk about story momentum. How to keep that pace and tempo that will have your reader moving from one page to the next while never losing their interest. Here’s a few tips I’ve picked mostly related to my favorite kind of story: the A to B.

KEEP THAT TRAIN MOVING

I *love* a good A to B plot, and it’s a big feature of most things I write. Readers will feel what your characters feel, so if you keep your characters literally moving the reader will feel that motion. I’d much rather have my characters discussing something while riding through a field or climbing a mountain then sitting in a room. If I decide I am going to use this method, I will try to identify a destination as early as possible and get my characters (and therefore my readers) moving towards it.

Movement is momentum.

DIDN’T WE PASS THIS TREE ALREADY?

When you are traveling from Point A to Point B, it’s not much fun to see Point A again. One of the early writing lesson I learned from David Farland (Link) was to avoid repeating locations, and to make every location interesting. Bringing readers back to the same setting you have already presented them with kills that feeling of movement you were trying to build in the story. Each new setting offers a sense of wonder as well as progression, bringing the reader back to an already established setting will not produce that same effect a second time.

An exception to this would be to travel back to a setting that has been altered by the story in a significant way. A great example of this is that old standby Star Wars (Episode 4 or A New Hope for you young’uns out there).

This movie is in motion from go, and the main character (Luke) is always going from one place to the next, the movement is nearly constant. One of the only times a setting is repeated in the film is the brief return visit to the farm Luke grew up on. Seeing it a second time, with the farm destroyed and Luke’s Uncle and Aunt dead really changes the context of the setting and the story. It sets Luke forever off on his journey and gives us a real and brutal example of the Empire’s evil.

Also I’m sure there was a lot of spilled blue milk, but we don’t get to see that.

OKAY NEAT, BUT WHY ARE WE HERE?

While not strictly related to the A to B plot, nothing will kill your momentum better than a scene that doesn’t advance anything. This is a bugaboo I have to watch myself for, as I have been known to throw an action scene into my story without giving it a strong connection to the plot. Not every scene needs to move the main plot, but each scene should bring something new to the table in regards to a character or a subplot or setting that you need to illustrate. In the A to B plot, taking your readers to a new location but not using that location to move your story will just feel like filler.

IN SUMMARY

As always, your milage through the A to B plot as well as my advice in general will vary. Pacing and momentum are tricky things to manage, but in summary I find I have the most success maintaining story momentum by doing the obvious and just keeping things (and my characters) moving!

See you next time!

< Insert amazing blog post here >

Hello everyone! Momentum is a key element for success in completing any writing project, and this month has already be loaded with lots of good advice from folks who have been doing this a lot longer than I have. Some of their advice might contradict the advice I’ll be offering, but that’s part of the joy of writing. There’s no right or wrong way to do it – just the way that works for you.

I too have some advice to offer, something that works for me. This one simple trick, you might say, to avoid getting stuck in your path. (“Writer’s Blocks hate him!”) It may work for you, or it may not. In order to give my advice context though, I have to talk a bit about how I write. It’s a brief side road but I think the trip will be worth it.

Writers seem to be broken up into two general groups: the outliners and the pantsers. I have great admiration for pantsers, those brave souls who just sit down at the keyboard and make it happen live.

That’s amazing, but it will never be me. I am an outliner and I never sit down for my writing session with no idea what’s going to happen. I do several extensive outline passes of my plot and character arcs before I start page one. I often even have much of my dialog pre-written (or pre-recorded).

Once I start that first draft, I want nothing to stop me until I finish the novel. A story finished is a story fixable. I may be newer at this than some Fictorians, but I’ve had more than a few stories die from the blank screen of death because I stopped and just couldn’t get going again.

3,000 word days? Great. 1,000 words? No problem. 25 words? At least I moved forward. The only number I don’t want is zero. As long as I’m moving in any way, I tend to keep moving. It’s when I straight up stop that the problems begin

Yet even with the best outline you can run into issues. Maybe you realize a plot hole you didn’t count on, or dialogue that sounded great in your head just reads corny now that you see it on the page. Very common for me, you knew there was a fight scene here but you didn’t block it out and now it makes no sense.

Any of these can get me stuck, lead me to a zero day where the cursor blinks at me and I simply blink back. This is the one thing I don’t want. So, what do I do when I’m stuck?

I cheat.

I simply skip where I’m stuck by using my two best friends: left angle bracket and right angle bracket.

If you look at my completed first drafts, they will be riddled with these. A few examples from my first draft of SEAS OF EVEREST, Book 2 of the trilogy I am working on:

<finish this up>

<a little more here>

<describe the city>

<she gets upset>

<insert amazing mammoth fight scene here>

Yep, I used them to summarize an entire action scene. I was very stuck on the blocking of that scene (there was a wooly mammoth in it after all) and couldn’t just sit there and work all that out. I took a shot at it but realized my writer brain was not in ‘write action scene’ mode that day. I could stop and try to force it, or I could throw some angle brackets down and move on.

Move on. You know, keep my momentum. No zero days.

That’s exactly what I use them for. So I can maintain my momentum. Gots ta keep on keepin’ on or that book is never going to be finished. I knew that fight scene would come to me later, and it did.

When I finished SEAS OF EVEREST I went back and found I had 83 angle bracketed items to go back and fill. Some were quick and easy, others were decent projects. Closing those 83 items took me all of three days and I freely admit those days were pretty long.

But the book was done. The story was complete, I had got to the end of the tale. That is always the goal for me, get to the damn end. Once you’ve been there, you can always go back and clean up those items you left undone along the way.

If you stop and hammer out each one? Well, you might never get where you’re going.

I am vengeance! I am the night! I am a fluid and moldable setting that changes to match my protagonist!

For my second post this month I’d like to take a look at one of my favorite settings in all of media, Batman’s hometown of Gotham City. The angle I’d like to focus on is how writers and directors have used Gotham over the years, changing it like clay and sculpting so that the city is a reflection of the hero who protects it.

As Gotham changes, so does Batman. It’s more that just a fun exercise- -I think there is a lot here that we as writers can learn about using our settings to better frame our characters.

CONSISTENCIES OF THE SETTING

Let’s first take a look at four elements that stay consistent about Gotham in most interpretations:

The first two are somewhat trivial – Gotham is almost always shown as a coastal city in someway, and it is always located northern enough to get snow. The first one I suppose is to allow good waterfront scenes (and sell Batboat toys), while the latter allows you to have fun winter holiday issues.

The other two are more significant, and I think both tie to unchangeable elements of the Batman character.

  1. Gotham City is always represented as a very large city, both in population and geography.
  2. Gotham City is ridden with crime

I find these two very interesting, as I think they are interconnected to create a setting where Batman is a necessary element. Gotham is consistently depicted as a New York level city, in terms of population. This is as opposed to say Portland, Maine. We’re not talking about a hundred thousand people, Batman protects a city of millions of people. In a smaller city or a less crime filled one, Batman might have a chance at actually winning his battle. But Gotham City is too big and too filled with crime and corruption. One man could never win his war against crime here, which makes Batman’s quest to do so all the more compelling and tragic.

He fights a war he knows he can never win, and will someday lose.

So with those consistent elements in check, let’s look at how various media has played with the other components of Gotham City, and how those changes in the setting are there to reflect the version of Batman that protects it.

BATMAN – TELEVISION (1966)

The narration for this television show lets you know from the very beginning. Gotham is a “fair city”. Wayne Manor is “stately”. Of all the takes on Gotham, this is by far the nicest. It’s even daylight outside for most of the shots! With its blue skies and clean streets, this Gotham reflects its Batman perfectly. There is no brooding Dark Knight here. This Bruce Wayne is a fairly happy person; being Batman is a mission to him, but not a curse or burden as it is in most other takes.

It is also worth noting that this is the most generic looking of the Gotham versions I will cover. Other than Wayne Manor and Police Headquarters there are no iconic exterior locations, which gives the city a ‘everytown’ feeling. 

BATMAN – FILM (1989)

One of the primary challenges that faced the Batman movie in the 80s was washing away the image the public had of Batman a light and silly character, an image largely built by the television show I just mentioned. Director Tim Burton and his team gave us an extremely dark and fantastical city, which again reflected the much grimmer hero that protected it. While the television show depicted a Gotham that could be any city, Burton’s Gotham City could exist nowhere but in this film. It is seemingly always night there, everything is poorly lit and the architecture is gothic and grim. The setting of the movie is working hard to sell the change in the character before you even see him.

I find this to be the most hopeless and lost feeling of the Gotham Cities I’m reviewing, and its pairing with Keaton’s Batman is ideal.

BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES (1992)

Batman: TAS shares a lot of production aesthetic with Burton’s film. It is a very grim place where it is again nearly always nighttime. One thing about this setting that is different though is the strong art deco design elements that are married to modern technology. Airships fly overhead while people get out of vintage cars only to type on modern computers. It renders the setting with a feeling of being lost in time, which again is a spot on representation of this series’ version of Batman. Bruce Timm and the production team of this series cherry-picked components of the Dark Knight’s history to show a Batman that was not from one era, but from all of them. The setting here helps to sell that message.

BATMAN BEGINS (2005)

One of the initial conceits of Batman Begins was that this was a ‘real’ movie, in that this was supposed to represent a take on Batman as he might exist in a real world, as opposed to a comic book one. To help sell this, director Christopher Nolan and his team bring us a Gotham City that looks like a real city, really for the first time. There are a few fantastical elements, such as the Narrows and a city-wide monorail system, but those are the aberrations. You see real cars driving by real buildings- -cars that look nothing like the ones in the Animated Series and buildings that would never be mistaken for the dark gothic churches of Burton’s film.

The message here is that this Batman is real and not a comic book character, the movie altering the setting to help sell that to the viewer.

SUMMARY

Obviously there’s a lot more I could mine here and I made more than a few generalization, but my basic point stands. Your setting can just be a place your characters walk around in, or it can tell the reader something about your characters. A good setting will subtly reinforce the message you are already trying to send your reader, teaching them something about your protagonists even as they move around inside it.

See you next time… or should I say: same Fictorians-time, same Fictorians-channel?

Perhaps not.