The Fictorians

Archive for the ‘Rewriting’ Category

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 | No Comments » | 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

Not Another Edit!

13 October 2014 | 2 Comments » | frank

EditsMost non-writers, and many new writers, have no idea that finishing that manuscript and typing END is anything but the end. I know when I started writing, I couldn’t see beyond reaching that final scene. Of course, that first novel was a 300,000 word monstrosity that took me over two years to complete, but the principle is universal.

The first draft is not the final draft.

That truth is even more daunting when we consider how few wannabe writers actually reach the end of their first draft. Of those who do, many lack the determination to see the project to its full completion.

It’s easy to assume the tragic artiste pose and proclaim in an awful imitation of an accent from some European country, “This is my Art and the muse must be honored. The words were given to me like this for a reason.”

Not if you want to sell it and actually have someone read it.

This becomes the dividing line between those who like dabbling in writing as an enjoyable hobby and those who are serious about becoming a Writer as a career.

Some first drafts are pretty good, but pretty good isn’t enough. Every successful author I know recognizes they will need to make several editing passes through each novel before it’s ready. One of the reasons we’re encouraged to write what we love is because if we don’t LOVE our stories enough to work through them at least half a dozen times, we’re going to HATE them before the process is complete.

Many new authors don’t understand this and unfortunately in today’s ebook world, it’s all too easy to complete that first draft and throw the book right up on Amazon.

I for one have read some of those stories. After wading through the piles of novels that make me cringe when I look at the cover or read the first page, I’ve selected one that looked like it had real promise. Many times those ebooks turn out to be pretty decent, maybe have a great concept and tons of potential, but where the author wasn’t patient enough to really finish the work.

I find it tragic when I complete an ebook like that. When I think, “You know, that could have been a really good book. But it was only about 90% finished and needed more polishing.”

What a waste.

Not only of my time, but of the author’s time. They worked so hard bringing that novel to life, only to not put in the effort to get it that last 10%. It’s like Frankenstein stitching together the perfect monster only to not bother raising it up on the platform during the lightning storm. That last 10% is what infuses the story with it’s real life.

That’s one of my fears: that my novels won’t be ready.

I cringe when I think back to my first monstrous novel. With how little I knew about the industry, about editing, I was convinced it was a great work and totally ready to go. Had the ebook revolution already been underway, I probably would have self-published it.

I would have destroyed that story.

I’m glad I didn’t have that option and that the dozens of rejection letters finally clued me in that there was something missing. I’ve since thrown that novel away and rebuilt it from the ground up. The resulting story is ten times better and is one of the eight books I’m preparing for publication in my upcoming “Eight Books in Eight Months” publishing blitz.

Before I pull the trigger on those novels though, I’ve dedicated the time to rewrites, I’ve gathered honest feedback from beta readers, and I’ve worked with professional editors (including Joshua Essoe and Evan Braun) to make sure they’re really ready.

Even so, I still have to wonder, are they really?

This time I feel a lot more justified in saying, “Yes.”

The Patience of Writing an Onion

6 August 2014 | 2 Comments » | Ace Jordyn

Writing a good onion, I mean story, takes time and I don’t just mean the time to think and type the first draft. Becoming and being a writer is an evolution, a process, and we need to be patient with ourselves as we learn the craft and apply it. But what does being patient mean and how can we apply it in a meaningful way? Here are three areas where I’ve learned to apply patience:

Creating the story
One day, I heard one writer critique a story. “Sheila is a patient writer,” he said. I was dumbfounded. What did he mean? I read Sheila’s piece and then looked more carefully at the author’s I liked. Slowly, I figure it out and my writing improved immensely.

Patience in your writing means taking your time to explain things where and when they need to be explained. For example, a story which starts with a lot of back story tells of an impatient writer. Knowing when to sprinkle in the details and saving some of them for later takes patience. It also means taking the time to explain things clearly when the opportunity presents. That can be with setting, character description, with action or dialogue. If you are clearly grounded, then the reader will be as well. Take time developing that scene. Show the situation, the feelings, and focus on the important points and explain them as clearly as needed. Don’t rush it unless there’s a good reason for doing so. If you over-write, you can edit it down later. If you are patient with characters you will make them memorable. If you are patient with your story, you will ground your readers and hold their interest.

Learning new skills
You can’t learn everything from a book, a workshop, a conference or a course. The secret, I’ve learned, is to take one thing that stuck with you and apply it to your story, scene or character. That one thing is usually an aha! moment and because of that it means you’ve become aware of something you never realized before. It’s another layer in writing the perfect onion. Apply that new understanding to your work and suddenly it’s transformed in ways you couldn’t have imagined. The truth is that how-to books are long and cumbersome and workshops are intensive because they try to cover enough points so that everyone will get something from it. So, take one thing and apply it.

Deciding which hat not to wear
The first draft can never be perfect – you’ve heard this before but what does it really mean? If you strive for a perfect first draft, your story will never be written and it’s an impossible feat. It’s impossible to wear both the creative hat and the editor’s hats. Yes, plural hat for the editors.

There are three editorial hats: conceptual where the larger elements of the story such as plot and structure are examined; line by line where every sentence and word are examined for clarity, word choice and content; and copy editing for grammar, spelling and punctuation. Then there’s the creative hat. Wearing four hats? Suddenly that sounds silly, doesn’t it?

Your first draft can be augmented by some planning (outlining) and your current writing skills. As you’ll write, you’ll learn more up skills along the way which makes new works cleaner and more cohesive. But that first draft will never be a perfect finished work. Every successful writer knows that. Don’t believe me? Check out their acknowledgements pages. First readers, proof readers, editors – they’re all thanked because they’re all there for a reason. Creativity needs its own hat to weave unexpected twists and unfetter your imagination. The weight of four hats will give you a headache and ultimately, writer’s block. So be patient. Wear your creative hat and come up with an exciting, moving story. The wear each editorial hat in turn. As you wear each one, that’s a good time to apply new skills or insights about the craft. A trick is to have cheat sheets with points or questions for each of the editors.

Patience can best be described as creating an onion rather than peeling it back. Layer upon layer must be built before the story is completed to our satisfaction. So perhaps the hat analogy doesn’t really work. The creative and editing processes are about layering the story to add density to the concept, the plot, to character, to our voice and mastery of the craft. An onion grows from a small seed and layer by layer with watering and patience, it forms a solid bulb and so too grows a story.

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