Sunday Reads: 5 August 2012

Looking for some reads to inspire you? Check out these.

Brian Keene – How to Write 80,000 Words in a Weekend

Erin Bowman – Facing the Blank Page

Guest Blogger Patti Larsen at The Other Side of the Story – One Writer’s Process

James Scott Bell – Successful Fiction Begins With a Great Concept

Roger Colby – 5 Ways to Work With Stubborn Writing

Kyle Wiens – I Won’t Hire People Who Use Poor Grammar

Rachel Aaron – A New Look at Plotting

Amanda S Green – And Now We Wait

Dystel & Goderich – What Really Happened with the Pulitzer

Alison Strachan – Writing Goals: Learning How to Learn About Writing


Missed any Fictorians articles this week?

Evan Braun – Interlocking Pieces (a.k.a. The Martin Effect)

Leigh Galbreath – How to Make Highway Robbery Work for You

Matt Jones – Distractions – Stop Working Against Your Technology


Distractions ““ Stop working against your technology

One of the most common complaints I hear from fellow writers is how hard it can be to write and be productive with all the distractions prevalent on the information superhighway. While the usual advice “Just Write” still burn strong, when you write every day the temptation can be too much. It can be an email notification, or just a quick pause to look something up. Next thing you know you’re lost in the throes of reddit and the time you allotted yourself to finish this chapter ended hours ago. If you’re one of these types that often find the allure of the web a little too much to resist, here are some ideas that may help. I’ll start out easy and move to the most extreme so you can choose a solution that works best for you.

  1. Close all programs that distract you. This means your email program, instant messenger windows, web browsers, and other alert programs. Keep a notebook in front of you to write down all ideas that pop in your head or items you want to research. Stay in your writing window as much as possible.
  2. If you absolutely need to have internet access for research, but find yourself always clicking on those same websites, look at getting a browser add-on that blocks websites for certain time limits. Examples are leechblock for firefox and StayFocusd for chrome. These apps let you choose a website and set up access restrictions. You can block the site for the entire writing session, or grant brief access to the site for 10-15 minute breaks every other hour or so. While this method is easy to circumvent, it will remind you to write when you absent-mindedly click on that reddit or facebook link.
  3. If nothing else works, block the problem sites permanently. Almost all routers have an access control functionality. The access control pages, much like the plugins, let you choose a website and a time period. If you have it in your schedule to write every morning from 7-9am, you can have your router block these pages during that time. You can even specify the computer so your family/roommates aren’t blocked as well. You can even turn off the internet during this time so there is literally nothing online to distract you. If you’re really desperate, bring a friend in and have them change the password to the router. That way, it’s blocked from the router and you’re free to work.

While this won’t solve all distractions, it does help get you away from the ones online.

How to Make Highway Robbery Work for You

It has often been said that the best way to learn how to write is to read. As Evan pointed out in Monday’s post, reading the master like George R.R. Martin can teach you more than any book on writing. Looking closely at how they do it, figuring out what tricks and techniques are used is a talent that any good writer should cultivate and use.

I don’t know about you, though, but it’s a talent I’ve never quite gotten a handle on. I get lost in stories too easily. Even my own tales tend to run away with me. So, I’ve had to cultivate a different talent.

The brazen art of highway robbery.

Okay, so “highway robbery” might be a bit strong of a term. I guess mimicry would be closer to the truth, but it’s not enough for me to simply look at a piece of prose and figure out how it was made. I have to carry it off, with a grin on my face, and dissect it piece by piece.

I first did this with one of my all time favorite authors, Neil Gaiman. One thing that Gaiman is famous for is his use of humor. So, I took a short story I was writing and after much re-reading of Gaiman’s work tried to copy his rather unique tone and style. What came out was a story about an angel and demon hiring a private detective to find Satan, who they need in order to start the Apocalypse. It’s a silly tale that will never see the light of day, but the people who have read it laugh at all the right parts. It proved a learning experience I don’t think I would have gotten any other way. I learned that humor, in Gaiman’s work, comes out of his choice of details, which is, quite frankly, brilliant. Now, I enjoy using that very technique not just to show humor, but any other emotion I might desire in a scene.

I did the same with Elmore Leonard and his use of dialogue. By mimicking his style in a story I learned how restraint can make dialogue more believable and how subtext can work far better than paragraphs of spoken exposition. Less is more with Leonard…or rather, less is everything.

The drawback, many would say, is to lose a bit of your own style and tone. Some might think that, by mimicking another author, you run the danger of letting their voices overcome your work. The idea here, though, isn’t to steal their voices. It’s to steal their technique. To take on a particular writer’s style, see how they put the words together, and then let it go. The reason it worked for me, I think, was that I had no intention of ever publishing my experiments. They were learning tools that I easily shoved in a drawer and left behind.

So, I invite you. Find a writer you like. Get out your chosen writing device, whatever it may be, and see if you can recreate something from your own mind in their words. See what comes out. I’ll bet you’ll learn something you didn’t know before.



Interlocking Pieces (a.k.a. The Martin Effect)

I happen to be a voracious reader, as I believe most authors are. While it’s true that my main purpose in reading is for the sheer joy of it, I also learn a lot from other writers. It’s one thing to be able to point to a book and express your appreciation of it; it’s another thing, however, to break it down and be able to analyze the specific things about it that worked so well. The ability to analyze technique is important for any aspiring storytelling.

Over the years, no author has taught me more than George R.R. Martin, through A Song of Ice and Fire. His books are brilliantly conceived and executed on every level. Praise for them is almost universal.

One of the many things I’ve learned from Martin is the art of juggling multiple characters and points of view. The means by which he intertwines his stories requires a deft hand, and over the years I’ve taken note of how he does it. One such method I’ve observed is that even when his characters are divided by entire continents, his novels are held together by powerful overarching themes.

And yet not all readers agree that Martin has successfully managed this aspect of storytelling in the two most recent volumes in his series. After bringing his third novel to the edge of a precipice, his fourth novel has been accused by many fans of being a letdown. Boring. Filler. In fact, if you were to poll Martin’s fanbase, you would probably find that a majority holds this opinion.

So, what happened?

This summer, I dove into a reread of the series. As I was coming to the concluding pages of that dramatic third novel, I came across this, a proposal for combining the fourth and fifth novels of Martin’s series and reading them concurrent with each other. The two books take place at the same time, each of them featuring different sets of characters but both proceeding as direct sequels to Book 3.

I decided to alter my reading plan. Instead of tackling the books separately, I decided to intermix them. Let me just say that my reading experience was educational. In a hundred little ways, it becomes clear that these two books and their disparate storylines were never meant to be disparate at all. They are thematically linked. They play off each other in surprising ways. They inform each other. Together, they form one of the best epic fantasy novels I’ve ever read; separately, they’re serviceable parts of a yet-incomplete whole. In short, there’s nothing boring about them.

To me, this serves as an illustration of the importance of stories complementing each other. Intertwining stories and character arcs is a delicate, sophisticated business, and when you mess with this balance the overall work suffers in ways that can be complicated to pinpoint. A great story is the result of many interlocking pieces.

My current work in progress has six viewpoint characters spread across three or four disparate plotlines (depending on how you count it). In order to shrink my novel to a more manageable length, it was suggested to me that I could extract several storylines and split them into different volumes. I thought about this, then divided the chapters, reorganized the material, and found that while the separate storylines were complete in and of themselves, they weren’t nearly as strong as when taken together.

Incidentally, if you feel the individual storylines in your work in progress could stand on their own two feet without the support of the larger volume, you may want to ask yourself whether or not these storylines are as strong as they could be. Perhaps the more interdependent and symbiotic the various aspects of a novel are, the better. In the future, I know I’ll be using the so-called Martin Effect as a gauge.