Category Archives: Rewriting

Leaving Books Behind

[For those interested, my book Unwilling Souls begins a week long Kindle Countdown Deal at 8 AM EST TODAY, February 2nd, 2016! For the next two days, it will be just $0.99 on Kindle, with the price going up steadily every couple of days after that. So act quickly!]

Owing to my post last month which directly related how experience shapes writing, I’m going to take a slightly different tack in approaching the topic this month. Show of hands: how many of you have read Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series? It’s an interesting set of books for a number of reasons. The first is that fantasy isn’t generally King’s genre. I’ve often found that talented writers who don’t usually write straight fantasy then choose to attempt it come up with very unusual entries into the genre. It’s as if not being immersed in the rules of the genre, both written and unwritten, means they approach a fantasy story with a very different mindset. Justin Cronin’s series The Passage has similar traits.

But I digress. The real reason The Dark Tower is such an unusual series of books is that King published them over a period of twenty-two years (1982 – 2004, and thirty years if you count The Wind Through the Keyhole, which came out in 2012). And since books 5-7 were published within a year of one another, the publication frequency became even more lopsided.

This is an impressive feat. Keeping the enthusiasm for a series of books up for that long is pretty much unprecedented, at least recently. As much grief as George R.R. Martin gets, his series has been ongoing since 1996, so he’s just second place on this list of two I’ve generated. There were plenty of Stephen King fans who, prior to 2003, thought they would never get the end of their beloved series.

It’s tough to keep up enthusiasm for one idea for that long. To be a writer requires a lot of enthusiasm, because there is very little in the way of positive feedback, especially in the early going. Certainly there’s no monetary feedback. It’s almost impossible to put fingers to keys if you aren’t excited about the ideas you are putting down, or at least excited about finally finishing those ideas. What readers ended up getting with The Dark Tower was a series of four books, each of which was written in a different style and with a vastly differing plot. No two of those first four books were really anything alike. Each was its own, unique animal, with strengths and weaknesses that largely differed from any other entry in the series. The overarching plot connecting them was very loose and free-form. By contrast, King wrote books five through seven back-to-back-to-back in an effort to finally put the series to bed. As a result, those last three books demonstrated a much more uniform style and a renewed focus on the overarching plot of the series. In the end, the main seven books of the series were written by five different versions of Stephen King over a period of a quarter century.

Talk to enough writers, and you’ll start to hear the same refrain over and over again: ideas are easy, execution is hard. And it’s true. My friend Gama Martinez is famous among his friends in the writing world for being able to take any weird or random notion you throw at him and sketch out a story concept within a few minutes. Most every author has more ideas knocking around inside their head than they can ever write about. And the sad truth is that plenty of those ideas, as excited as you may be about them when they pop into your head, may wither on the vine before you get to them. People change. The things that interest or excite them change too.

After my first Superstars seminar, I returned home with renewed writing vigor. Over the course of two months, I wrote a 100,000 word first draft of a superhero novel. It flowed out of my brain faster than anything I’d every written before. Then I started looking at it and realized how many problems it had. Ultimately, it was a series of mostly cool scenes and chapters that didn’t really fit together into a single, cohesive story, and I wasn’t sure, at the time, that I could find a way to make them fit. I put the book aside and began work on something new, my burst of excitement over my superhero story fizzling.

I told myself I would come back to it, rewrite what needed rewriting to fix the structural problems and not waste all that time I spent coming up with that world and those characters. And yet here I am five years later, and I still haven’t rewritten that novel. I’m neck deep in a four book series, now, unwilling to break my momentum with major side projects. After that’s done, the possibilities of the blank page may call to me more than a massively flawed novel first draft.

Time marches on. Our lives take us in different directions, and the topics we focus our thoughts on shift in compensation with these changes of direction. Sometimes, as writers, we outgrow ideas, or even entire stories. That’s okay. In fact, it’s perfectly natural, change being the only universal constant and all.

Write down your most exciting ideas when you have them. Even if you can’t get to them for years, you may find a way to spin them together in another story. And if nothing else, they are a snapshot of the kind of writer and the kind of person you were at the time.

 

About the Author: Gregory D. LittleHeadshot

Rocket scientist by day, fantasy and science fiction author by night, Gregory D. Little began his writing career in high school when he and his friend wrote Star Wars fanfic before it was cool, passing a notebook around between (sometimes during) classes. His first novel, Unwilling Souls, is available now from ebook retailers and trade paperback through Amazon.com. His short fiction can be found in The Colored Lens and A Game of Horns: A Red Unicorn Anthology. He lives in Virginia with his wife and their yellow lab.

You can reach him at his website (www.gregorydlittle.com), his Twitter handle (@litgreg) or at his Author Page on Facebook.

 

 

A Prancer’s Plight

imagine

I was in elementary school when I first recognized that I hated outlining. I didn’t see the point. I remember watching The Return of the Jedi with a misperception that each scene was written then shot sequentially. I thought that George Lucas dreamed up Endor after he had already filmed the demise of Jabba the Hutt.

Writing after brainstorming always felt bland and shallow. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized my condition had a name. I am a discovery writer.

I’d rather get a root canal than put together Ikea furniture. I can’t stand building something from plans. There’s absolutely no joy in it for me. My wife on the other hand loves these type of projects. She likes seeing them develop exactly as they should. When I cook, I seldom use a recipe. If I have a recipe, it’s more of a suggestion tool than a plan. In fact, I make a note to deviate from the recipe. I think that the reason I don’t like Ikea plans and recipes are the same reason I don’t like to outline. For me, the fun is discovering the end result. With recipes, plans, and outlines I can easily visualize the ending and so the final result isn’t gratifying, it’s just expected.

But discovery writing while fun and enjoyable is probably the least productive form of writing. I knew that I’d have to face these demons if I ever wanted to be a successful writer.

David Farland wrote a book called Million Dollar Outlines. For it’s title alone, I avoided it like a plague thinking that it would chastise me for being a prancer and seek to take some of the fun out of my writing. A couple of years ago, after months of less than productive writing, I consulted this book.

First off, it doesn’t push you to outline or discovery write, but helps you recognize your writing tendencies. Second it gives a ton of information on how to use your style to write really good stories.

After reading Million Dollar Outlines, my productivity shot through the roof. I realized that everything I had written before was pretty much garbage, and I started integrating tips from the book to help my stories develop.

Before the book, I had this hangup where I viewed anything that I discovery wrote as “artistic inspiration” and therefore was off limits to modification. After reading the book I was able to give myself permission to make adjustments that greatly enhanced the story.

A little over a year ago, I came across a story idea that I just had to write. Before He Was Commodore is a middle-grade historical fiction based heavily on actual events. In a way, the actual events provided an outline. I was able to map out a skeleton of the story and then discovery write parts of the tale that were missing. Even though I kind of knew how the story went, I still experienced it as I added the meat to the bones.

Another problem with being a discovery writer is my WADD-writing attention deficit disorder. I am currently writing four novels simultaneously. It’s absurd, I know, but I’ve learned how to make it work. The trouble is that what I read, what I watch, what I play, all has influence on my writing. Two weeks ago I was working on my novel Veil Breaker because I was also reading Maze Runner and something there pricked an idea. This week I am watching Breaking Bad and Reading a John Grisham novel which means I am working on my thriller Unknown Soldier. Mistborn and Way of Kings lead to me working on The Broken Amulet. Steelheart to me working on Biverse.

I use to get frustrated with my methods, but now I realize that this is how I eat an elephant, or four. One bite at a time, off whatever one sounds appealing in that moment. All four stories are progressing and I know that I can finish them, as I finished Before He Was Commodore.

I’ve given myself permission to take it easy. I can discovery write a bunch of crap and that’s okay because I can tune it up in the the second and third and fourth passes. I’ve given myself permission to write what I want when I want. I’ve written near thirty thousand words this month and edited another thirty thousand. Even though that word count was across four different stories, they are all further ahead than they were last month. I’ll get there eventually, just got to keep writing.

 

jace 1I live in Arizona with my family, wife and five kids and a little dog. I write fiction, thrillers and soft sci-fi with a little short horror on the side. I’ve got an MBA and work in finance for a biotechnology firm.

I volunteer with the Boy Scouts, play and write music, and enjoy everything outdoors. I’m also a novice photographer.

You can visit my author website at www.jacekillan.com, and you can read some of my works by visiting my Wattpad page.

 

To Con or Not To Con: The Write Question

For years, I’ve gone to conventions all over the continental United States. Some were genre conventions such as MileHiCon, Radcon, and Archon. Others were more media-centric, such as Denver Comic Con and Salt Lake Comic Con. Toss in a World Horror and a few writing conventions such as Superstars Writing Seminars and you’re looking at most of my traveling expenses over the years.

I’ve decided to pull back on the conventions this year. I’m only going to go to two – MileHiCon, because of a series of panels on anthologies that I help to produce with author Sam Knight, and possibly Archon St. Louis. Going to conventions has helped to get my name out there, and I sell enough books to offset some of the costs of traveling. I made quite a few friends along the way, and was able to get on panels with some of the best authors and editors in most of the genres that I write in.

Now it’s time to start getting work out the door. I wrote rough drafts for five novels during NaNoWriMo last November, finally breaking through one million total NaNo words. I am working on getting at least four of my novels finished, polished, and sent to publishers. I’m halfway through two non-fiction books that are new, plus a rewrite of a short handbook that will be republished soon. Add in some short stories for different anthologies and I’m on my way to having my name in at least eight titles this year. If that isn’t enough, I’m working on the artwork for a graphic novel script that I wrote last October.

It’s going to be a very busy year, assuming there are no medical issues.

I’m sure you’ve read authors saying that you just need to sit down and write. This is the year I focus on that task. Hopefully, one of those projects will be the kernel that pops, according to Kevin J. Anderson’s Popcorn Theory of Writing. If one of the projects can get some viral recognition, I’m hoping that the inertia will get my name in front of convention programming directors for the 2017 convention circuit. It would be nice if they were asking me instead of the usual me asking if there were any panel slots available. I’ve been the Guest of Honor for one convention so far, and several others have paid for my hotel. I’d enjoy the opportunity to visit places I haven’t seen yet, and there are still seven states I require to get all fifty — and luckily, I’ve already been to Hawaii and Alaska, although I wouldn’t turn down a return trip.

So, for me, it’s time to put up and shut up. Much of the hard work is done, since I have so many rough drafts to polish and rewrite. If I take breaks from the long works by cranking out several short stories or poems, I expect to increase my title count from the current 47 to well over fifty. Who knows, if I have enough short works, maybe I’ll also put together a collection to get closer to 60 titles to start off 2017.

Wish me luck!

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® finalist; 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.

Scenes: It Ain’t Just the Cliffhanger

This year, the editor of my Ronin Trilogy gave me an incredible compliment: “In Spirit of the Ronin, every scene does exactly what you intend it to do.” On a day when I was dreadfully worried about whether the newly finished draft of the novel was any good, this came at the perfect time.

I’ll quickly avert my gaze from the implication that apparently I didn’t quite hit that mark every time in previous books. Chalk it up to the learning process.

A lot of know-how about writing scenes is packed into this one sentence, and it comes in levels and/or number of trunk novels.

Level 1 (Chum/Sharkbait, 0 novels): “What’s a scene?”

A scene represents a discrete chunk of a narrative’s time wherein a mix of stuff appears: character interactions, things happening, background information delivery. Changing scenes is useful for switching characters, locations, or time. Shakespeare divided his plays up into acts and scenes, and even numbered his scenes, so I should have scenes, too.

Level 2 (Remora, 1 trunk novel): “I understand that scenes are a dramatically useful way of dividing up a story, but what do you mean you can use them to propel the plot?”

Scenes can propel the plot along if you can end them at compelling moments. Cliffhangers are the most obvious example of this, but not every situation is appropriate for them. Some scenes are more introspective, reactive. Sometimes in a scene, Things Happen. Sometimes, the Character Reacts to Things That Happened.

At this point, think of it this way. To propel the plot forward, end every scene with either a “Yes, but…” or a “No! And moreover…”

To build dramatic tension, the protagonist must be constantly striving and failing against the antagonist, who should always have the upper hand, until the final climactic moment when Everything Hangs in the Balance. You can have the protagonist occasionally succeed at some dramatic moment, but their success should be thwarted or minimized in some way by a worsening of the situation. This represents a “Yes, but …”

Every time the protagonist fails, the antagonist’s advantage is strengthened. Protagonist tries, fails… and then things get even worse. This is the “No, and moreover…”

The reader should leave every scene with a major dramatic question. This question makes them hunger to know what happens next.

Credit goes to Odyssey Writing Workshop’s Jeanne Cavelos for this wisdom.

Level 3 (Tiger Shark, 2 trunk novels): “I understand how to set up scenes with cliffhangers or dramatic questions at the end of each one, but what do you mean scenes have structure?”

The vast majority of stories in the Western storytelling paradigm are structured in three acts. Just like stories, scenes have a Three-Act Structure. Movies, novels, short stories, all have a Three-Act Structure (the nature of this is a whole other topic). For our purposes here, we can break scenes down into mini-acts, each representing the Beginning, Middle, and End of the scene.

Each scene follows one of two patterns.

  1. Goal (what the character is trying to achieve is established at the beginning of a scene)
  2. Conflict (the things against which the character struggles in the middle)
  3. Disaster (the way everything goes to hell at the end of the scene, the cliffhanger)

OR

  1. Reaction (at the beginning of this scene, character reacts to how things went to hell in the previous scene)
  2. Dilemma (in the middle of the scene, the character is placed in an even worse situation)
  3. Decision (at the end of the scene, the character chooses how to move forward)

This pattern is often called Scene and Sequel—a potentially confusing choice of jargon—developed by Dwight Swain in his book Techniques of the Selling Writer. This is not the same kind of scene as Level 1, nor does sequel mean the next movie in a series. Use of Scene & Sequel has become relatively widespread or at least familiar to most professionals.

Level 4 (Hammerhead, 3 trunk novels): “I understand how each scene needs to have a beginning, middle, and end, but do you mean each scene needs a purpose?”

During the revision process—not the composition process—ask the question: What is this scene for? What do I want it to accomplish? I say during the revision process because this is the kind of thinking that is not always helpful when you’re trying to open up your subconscious and let the story bubble out. This is too much thinking, not enough feeling. You may be skilled enough that it happens naturally, un-self-consciously, but if not, this is for the polishing phase.

An effective scene requires it to do at least three things from this list.

  1. Advance the plot
  2. Develop character
  3. Develop the story’s world
  4. Pique the reader’s interest for the next scene

If you’ve managed the previous levels, #4 is pretty much built in, so you only have to worry about the other three.

And if you can hit all four, every time, that makes you a Literary Effing Great White, and you’ve either passed beyond the Trunk Novel Stage to some serious publication—or you soon will.

Unlocking Levels Beyond

There are doubtless higher skill levels. Becoming a better writer is a lifetime pursuit of excellence. I have not yet unlocked the Mythical Megalodon and Literary Leviathan levels so I don’t know what revelations they contain. I am only vaguely aware of their existence, in the way I was only vaguely aware of the higher realms when I was Level 1 Chum.

One of the hardest parts of writing is not knowing—really not knowing—whether your work is any good. You have to believe it is, even if it might not be—and when you’re shown it isn’t that good, to find a way past this particularly hard knock and keep striving to get better. Keep studying. Keep practicing. Keep learning. It’s all any of us can ever do.

Apparently, unbeknownst to myself, something clicked with Spirit of the Ronin, and my editor saw it. Having someone point it out to you is like ambrosia on the parched soul. There wasn’t anything specific that I learned, or studied. My only explanation is that study and practice came together.

The hardest part is wondering when it will happen again.

About the Author: Travis Heermann

Heermann-6Spirit_cover_smallTravis Heermann’s latest novel Spirit of the Ronin, was published in June, 2015.

Freelance writer, novelist, award-winning screenwriter, editor, poker player, poet, biker, roustabout, he is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop and the author of Death Wind, The Ronin Trilogy, The Wild Boys, and Rogues of the Black Fury, plus short fiction pieces in anthologies and magazines such as Perihelion SF, Fiction River, Historical Lovecraft, and Cemetery Dance’s Shivers VII. As a freelance writer, he has produced a metric ton of role-playing game work both in print and online, including content for the Firefly Roleplaying Game, Legend of Five Rings, d20 System, and EVE Online.

He lives in New Zealand with a couple of lovely ladies and a burning desire to claim Hobbiton as his own.

You can find him on…

Twitter
Facebook
Wattpad
Goodreads
Blog
Website