The Fictorians

Archive for the ‘Rewriting’ Category

The Upside to Being Messy and Unfocussed

6 January 2015 | No Comments » | Evan Braun

RubiksCubeFor the most part, I’m a gardener. And proud of it! If you’ve spent any amount of time in the writing community, you probably know what this means: I explore my story as I go along, finding my way to the ending through a process of trial and error rather than moving through the book strictly according to a preordained outline. I don’t eschew outlining entirely; I do keep fairly detailed outlines of the two or three chapters ahead of wherever I happen to be in the story on a given day. Working this way gives me confidence in the story’s immediate future, but beyond that I admit it can get a little murky. I only have a general idea of how I want the story to resolve while I’m in the midst of it (usually it’s a solid, workable idea, but nonetheless I only work out the details very generally).

This doesn’t mean the endings aren’t well-earned or carefully orchestrated. In fact, I feel that working this way forces me to spend a lot of time considering how satisfying various plot and character developments will be when push comes to shove. If any particular idea isn’t panning out, I don’t have qualms about jettisoning it in favour of an alternate approach. In my experience, this allows my books to get better, stronger, tighter as I work through them, solving them in the same way one might tackle a Rubik’s Cube. (Full disclosure: I’ve never managed to solve a Rubik’s Cube, so I guess that’s a bad example.)

So what does this have to do with character? Everything.

When you don’t have an airtight outline guiding you through the storytelling weeds, you have to create potential in your characters. In the earlier stages of writing a novel, it’s profitable to spin dozens of little threads that may or may not pay off in the long run. You don’t have to tie them all together. Once your story is worked out, you can trim the book down to focus only on the threads that coalesce. At the beginning, though, the key to creating great, story-propelling characters is to pinball them off other characters and events to see what sticks. In my experience, this leads to a host of options which can be exploited down the road.

This can feel messy and unfocussed while in progress, but a lot of the detritus doesn’t make it into the final cut. I end up writing a number of early scenes that don’t see the light of day, because they don’t lead anywhere interesting. But I often won’t know if particular character combinations work until I attempt them. So Margaret clashes with Fred, and Fred makes a pass at Steve, and Steve can speak with the ghost of a long-dead alien consciousness from Europa, and the long-dead alien consciousness from Europa… The point is, none of these may be central to the premise of my story—at least to begin with—but the few threads that really click create enormous depth and interconnectivity to my characterizations in the long-term. And several of them likely will become central to the premise by the time I type “The End.”

Knowing what will come together and what won’t is a mysterious, unscientific alchemy I have yet to master—and maybe I never will. But in the meantime, I’m going to keep the gardening the hell out of my characters and sees what sprouts up. Sometimes it’s this. Other times? Not so much.

That Moment it went from Hobby to Career

11 December 2014 | 1 Comment » | Jace Killan

researchWhen I picked my topic for this month (titled above) I didn’t realize the title of my first Fictorian post this year, “Keeping the Day Job.” The two titles definitely describe where I was and am in my writing and I’m happy to see the progress made this past year due in part to my keeping goals.

I wrote everyday. There might have been a month or two that I didn’t hit 20,000 words, but there were others that I surpassed that. I did not submit something each month, but I submitted 12 pieces for publishing during the year. I finished a novel, my first, The Broken Amulet, and am in the stage of cleaning it up and editing. I went to Phoenix and Salt Lake City Comicons. And I attended David Farland’s writing workshop.

It was there that writing changed for me from a hobby to a career. In that workshop I was able to see how I could actually make money at doing what I enjoy. I’ve started working on a new book. David Farland helped me see how to craft, research, and frame the story and I’m confident that I will have it in the hands of an excited publisher by the end of 2015.

There was a moment in the workshop that I realized that I could be a successful author if I continued to learn and grow and develop as a writer. There wasn’t a month last year that I wasn’t a better writer than the month before.

So I’ve set some new goals and have developed a bit of work ethic. Here are some things that I am doing different now.

  • I set up an author email, jacebkillan@gmail.com that I use to keep all my writing stuff in one place. As I have ideas for short stories or plot twists in my novels I email those to myself with a descriptive subject line so that I can find them later, but I don’t spend too much time thinking on new things and forsaking my current work in progress.
  • I set up an author profile at Wattpad. At some point I will share a short story or two. It seems to be a great tool for aspiring and published writers.
  • I write at least a couple blog posts each month. This gives me a break from my work in progress and allows me to process things on my mind. It also helps in developing a readership.
  • I started outlining my novels. This was a hard thing for me as I’m a prancer or discovery writer, but Farland’s workshop helped me get some direction without losing interest in a story once it’s laid out. Another great tool is Farland’s Million Dollar Outlines.
  • With a good outline, I’m able to research with direction. I’ve spent the last month scouring old books, the internet, and museums for research on my work in progress. The picture above is of my readings this past weekend. In my hobby days of writing I would have taken the lazy, less expensive, less timely road of just making it up. Actually, I wrote a chapter of my current work in progress before Farland’s class.

The scene takes place in Milan, Italy in 1774, where the protagonist is enjoying chicken parmesan after having travelled a great distance from Nice, France. After Farland’s class I learned through research that Milan, Italy didn’t exist in 1774 but belonged to the House of Savoy in a country known as Sardinia. And tomato sauce wasn’t really used in Italian cuisine until later. And Nice wasn’t yet a part of France either, but also belonged to Sardinia and it wasn’t until a few years later during the Napoleonic era that Nice was annexed. So I rewrote the chapter and it no longer reeks of novice.

  • I started using Scrivener to keep track of my research and keep my thoughts and outline organized.
  • Every movie, television show, book that I experience is now analyzed for its story telling features.

To wrap up, my goals for this next year are as follows

  1. Finish my work in progress
  2. Find an agent
  3. Submit at least once to Writers of the Future
  4. Finish editing The Broken Amulet
  5. Outline another novel
  6. Attend two cons
  7. Attend two writing workshops
  8. Register for Superstars in 2016

I’m confident that I will become a published writer and professional author because I continue to improve, I continue to learn, and I continue to write.

 

 

 

When to Walk

23 October 2014 | 1 Comment » | fictorians

Guest Post by Josh Morrey.

walkI’ve been writing for almost ten years now. And I mean actively pursuing the coveted title of “published author”. Early on I was bitten by the Writers of the Future bug—my first submission earned an Honorable Mention—and I’ve submitted more than two dozen stories to the contest over the years. I am pleased to report that my efforts have garnered three Honorable Mentions and a Semi-Finalist, so it hasn’t been entirely in vain; but I have yet to actually win.

Granted, for the first several years I didn’t seek feedback on my work before submission, or even write a second draft. I would crank out a story each quarter, read through the draft once making grammar and structural corrections, and then ship it out to the contest. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I started actually making an effort to learn about the craft of writing fiction. I began attending cons, joined a writing group, became active on some online writing forums, and *gasp* even submitted stories to places other than Writers of the Future. And it’s been great. I’ve learned so much since I really got involved in the writing community.

One aspect of my new involvement that I really enjoyed for a long time was being active on the online forum for a short fiction podcast. On these forums, we would discuss the stories published each week on the podcast as well as writing in general. At one point, someone suggested creating a private writing forum where we could share our work with each other and receive feedback. This was a great opportunity for me, because several members of this forum were either professional editors or multi-published short story authors. It was a great way for me to learn from those more experienced in the professional field.

Over the next year or so, I submitted several stories to this group for critique, as well as critiquing many stories submitted by others. After a while I started to notice a pattern. To begin with, I found I didn’t connect with many of the stories I reviewed. Most of them were stuffed with metaphor and alternate meanings that I failed to pick up on. At the same time, not one of the stories I submitted was ever met with even a hint of approval. That’s not to say the critiques were harsh, most of the people on those forums I still consider friends. Nevertheless, my stories were never good enough.

Now, I’m the first to admit I’m still learning my craft. I’m still essentially unpublished. (I have one short story published in an online journal that has already gone out of production.) But, after more than a year of never pleasing any of these readers—even though my regular writing group really enjoyed many of them—I became very driven, almost obsessed, to write a story that would please the members of this forum.

Finally, I wrote the story that I wanted. The one I knew would wow them. It had depth; it had emotion. Members of my regular writing group hailed it as the best story I’d written yet. So, eager to finally get a thumbs up, I posted it in the forum.

Once again, it was met with apathy and criticism.

It crushed me. I mean it really took the wind out of my sails. I had worked so hard on this story, and had such high hopes for its reception, that another harsh criticism was more than I could take. I crashed hard. I spent the next several days in a depression, wracking my brain for how to finally please the members of this forum. Then I finally came to a realization. Though I very much enjoyed my time on these forums, and made many friends…these people were not my target audience.

I feel almost pretentious saying that, as if I’m crying, “You people just don’t understand what I’m trying to do here!” But the fact is, the members of this forum are much more literary in their writing than I am. And that’s ok. Some people enjoy literary writing. Me, I enjoy a good story told in a fun way. I’m not looking for deeper meaning, I’m looking for entertainment. And there are a lot of people out there looking for the same thing. Just look at Larry Corriea. Do you think he worries about allegory or literary depth? No, his biggest concern is how many monsters will die with the blimp explodes. And he sells a LOT of books. Some people just like that.

So, with this realization in mind, I made a very hard decision and I left the forum. I still keep in touch with a few of my closer friends from there, but for the most part I’ve moved on. See, my time there had shifted from productive to destructive. I wasn’t learning to improve my craft anymore; I was simply trying to please a very specific audience. And once you start writing for others, and not yourself, you’ve defeated the purpose. At least, I defeated my purpose; which is to write stories that I find fun and fascinating. Not to preach some deeper message or wrap my tale in metaphor and allegory.

Maybe I’ll never get published. Maybe my writing will always be too shallow and straightforward. Maybe no one will love my words outside of a few members of a small local writing group.

But as long as I have fun writing it, I don’t care.

JoshWriter, artist, gamer, husband, and father, Josh has been writing fiction for nearly ten years. He is a member of the Word Vomit Writers Group, which group blogs at The Writer’s Ramble. Josh has one story published in Issue 2 of Promptly and has earned three Honorable Mentions and a Semi-Finalist in the L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future contest. He is currently developing a space opera webcomic based on a short story he wrote for NaNoWriMo 2012. It will eventually be seen at www.lostintransitcomic.com. Josh lives in Utah with his amazing wife, two beautiful kids, and two tiny dogs.

One Horn To Rule Them All: A Single Spark

22 October 2014 | Comments Off | mary

unikarkadan2 (Image of “Azazel” by Stephanie Bajema.)

I remember sitting in the 2010 edition of Superstars Writing Seminars when Kevin J. Anderson gave his now-infamous professionalism example: “If you agree to write for a purple unicorn anthology, be a professional and write the best damn purple unicorn story you can, no matter how dumb you think the concept is.”

Surveys agree: most people think purple unicorns are pretty ridiculous.

But I’m a Firebringer Trilogy fan (as I wrote about back in May) and a My Little Pony fan since 1983. Purple unicorns are serious business to me. I knew I could write a purple unicorn story straight-up: no irony, no metaphor, no punchline. The challenge, to me, would be to show a reader what purple unicorns look like through my eyes.

And when the Purple Unicorn Anthology , One Horn To Rule Them All, became a reality, I had my chance. This would be a collection of short stories, the sales of which would fund scholarships for deserving future Superstars, showcasing our storytelling talents.

I played a game during my preteen and early teen years, when I went down to my grandparents’ basement with Fashion Star Fillies and Barbies. The toys were avatars – symbols of a sort – for a fantasy epic I conjured in my mind. I imagined the colourful talking unicorns from the Firebringer Trilogy, the exotic desert setting from The Black Stallion Returns, the warrior women from The Secret of the Unicorn Queen and spun these concepts into a universe all my own, a game I called simply Unicorn Warriors.

If I could write what Unicorn Warriors looked like to a fourteen year old girl, I knew I’d have my purple unicorn story.

On the other hand, I had to fit those teenage emotions and concepts through the experience I’d accumulated since. One thing that experience told me was that “writing an adventure” the way I sat down to a game of Unicorn Warriors wasn’t going to be enough. I had to show a character growing and changing, not just dash off the short story equivalent of a half hour cartoon, and though I knew the world of the Unicorn Warriors inside out, a new reader would be coming to it without any background knowledge. I was going to have to be explicit about the setting and the themes; I was going to have to craft a definitive beginning and ending; I was going to have to make my characters feel like real people.

I don’t have any memory of creating origin stories for any of the Unicorn Warriors. I think a lot of my original character concepts were partly borrowed wholesale from popular fiction (a little bit of She-Ra, a little bit of Xena) and partly thinly veiled versions of myself and my friends. I didn’t need to introduce these characters because I already “knew who they were,” so most of their time was spent seeking out treasures, fighting monsters and outwitting evil kings. By writing my Purple Unicorn story as an origin for one of the Unicorn Warriors, I could introduce readers to the world through the character’s eyes. I could also show the character’s growth as she makes the decision to join the Warriors. And I made the character the same age I was when I started to play this game.

I also had to decide what aspects of my original game to leave in and what to cut out. In an early draft of A Single Spark, there’s a teryx–a fabulous bird–circling overhead, watching the main character struggle. The teryx is a friend and ally of the Unicorn Warriors’ leader, and in my games, the teryx allowed the Warriors to learn about things that happened when they weren’t present, as long as the bird was watching. When I started writing, of course I wrote in the teryx. But on my third version of the draft, I realized that the teryx didn’t serve any function in the current story. It was just there because it had always been there in the games. And I was writing long. The teryx was cut. Maturity and experience taught me that “because it’s awesome!” isn’t, in itself, enough to keep something unnecessary in a story.

Another benefit of the decades between the Purple Unicorn anthology and the original Unicorn Warriors was an understanding of research. I did some actual research on Persian culture and the desert environment instead of relying on stereotypes and other works of fiction. I gave my Warriors and their unicorns new names, with considered meaning behind them, including that of my protagonist, Sharareh, whose name means A Single Spark, which is also the title and major theme of my story. And instead of using generic unicorns, I found real-world unicorn mythology that would make my unicorns as culturally distinct as their riders.

Because if you dismiss a karkadann as ridiculous fluff, you do so at your own peril.

To support Superstars Writing Seminars scholarships, meet the Unicorn Warriors, and enjoy a great anthology of speculative fiction, you can get your own copy of One Horn To Rule Them All in print and e-book formats right here:

Kobo

Amazon – Paperback

Amazon – Kindle

Barnes & Noble

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