Category Archives: Making Progress as a Writer

Conquering First Draft Fear: How to Proceed with the First Round of Revisions

You’ve done it! You’ve written the first draft of your book! A very merry congratulations to you, and you deserve a beer. Maybe even a vacation. At the very least, a trip to the gas station to buy three packets of candy. If you feel proud of yourself, you absolutely should. If you don’t feel very proud of yourself, then congratulations again, that just means you’re a writer.

Any good writing website or book worth its salt will tell you your next step is to revise the sucker. Yes, you must do this step. Yes, everyone else hates it, too. Some books or fellow writer humans will advise you to put the book down for a set period of time to let it “rest,” like a good yeast bread needs a good rise. Unfortunately for your book, it doesn’t keep getting better in that resting period like bread does. No, no. It’s still the piece of crap you left a few weeks ago. So instead of the story rising like bread, think of it this way: YOU’RE doing the rising. You walked away for a few weeks and grew wise enough to rise above the piece of crap you made in order to come to a place where you can look past your subjective love of the story and objectively say, “Ah yes, indeed, this is a piece of crap.”

That might sound a bit dreary, but I know you. *winks* I know you because you’re a writer like me, and although you see what you’ve written as a piece of crap in front of you, you still love it and will do the work necessary to make sure it’s a remarkably great piece of crap instead of just a regular, old piece of crap.

First, may I just confirm what you’ve already been feeling? Yes, it’s hard. It’s going to be difficult at times. But let me reassure you as well: if you’ve already written the first draft, you can certainly complete these revisions. Not only that, you can do it in less then ten years. Maybe even less than five. If you’re lucky and ignore all of your adult responsibilities, a month.

Let me tell you the secret of doing revisions. You’re going to be surprised, because you’ve already learned this lesson when you were writing the first draft.

Ready?

Here it is.

You make yourself do them.

Just like you made yourself sit down and write when you didn’t feel like it, when you didn’t feel inspired to do so. You get yourself in the zone however you did when you were writing. You sit down with your cup of tea. You put on the music that gets you going, and you do it.

Everything else is just details. Should a comma go there? Is her hair dark brown or more of a medium brown? Do I italicize internal dialogue? Is the book long enough? Will people like it? Will I ever make it through all these stupid edits?

All of those fears and questions? Just the details.

Keep yourself focused on the big task in front of you: Just. Do. The. Revisions.

Ending a Series

Years ago, I started Garth Nix’s Keys to the Kingdom series. The first book, Mister Monday, was so great. Intriguing, strange, fun and imaginative. It set up so many mysteries that I could hardly wait for book two to come out. Then book three…

But after that my attention waned. The plot become convoluted. I struggled with the fact that each book posed more questions, but did not answer them. By book five, I didn’t bother to read it until a friend had reminded me that it was out. In the end I finished the series. Monday through Sunday. Seven books. The first two or three had captured my imagination. The rest tried to soar, but didn’t get far.

By the time I got to the last book, I remember distinctly giving the great big reveal—the thing we’d been waiting for since Arthur had been dragged into this whole mess by Mister Monday—a slow blink.

Really? That’s it? All this trouble, and ruining this kid’s life, for…that?

Now I’m not here to diss on Garth Nix, because he’s pretty much brilliant. What I’m here to address, is the difficulty in keeping a series going. A multi-book character journey is not as easy to write as one might think. Because your characters need to grow and learn each book, but they still can’t be perfect. They still can’t quite get over it, because if they do, then there’s nowhere for them to go at the end.

How many of us were slightly disappointed by Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows? Either because the Hallows seemingly came out of nowhere, or because the big reveal didn’t shock us? Again, I’m not putting J.K. Rowling down. She’s amazing, and somehow kept her sanity while writing seven books of one of the most successful series of all times.

Think about it. How many times have you been let down by a series finale? Either on Netflix, in a book series or a last movie?

I used to wonder why that was, but now I have a few ides.

I started my Jagged Scars series four years ago. I was vaguely familiar with this problem, so I combed through the internet to find answers. One woman had a brief synopsis of each Harry Potter book and Harry’s character arc in it. This was most helpful, and I used it as a guide to outline Wendy’s journey through Jagged Scars.

Here’s what I came up with:

  • Fractured Memories: After a bitter betrayal, Wendy learns to trust others again.
  • Severed Ties: Wendy learns to trust herself.
  • Shattered Dreams: Wendy finds love, and feels worthy of it.
  • Crippled Hope: Wendy has to face the fact that not everyone wants to fight their way through life, and that that’s okay.
  • Broken Worlds…

Well, I had a plan for book 5, the final book in the series. I thought it was brilliant, but as I started writing the book, it felt forced. The journey I thought I wanted to take Wendy on turned out to be someone else’s journey, and I literally spent nine months writing the book four times—each time finding at the end that it lacked.

People around me accused me of needing the perfect story, and that it was probably fine. After round four, I sent it to my beta readers…and as I had suspected, they hated it. Every conflict I had tried to shove in felt forced, even to them.

So I started again. Only this time I decided that the book was a finale, and I didn’t need a big character arc for Wendy. I’d write the dang book and then see where it took me. Which I did. And as I did, I realized that I’d let Wendy grow too much in the other books. She’s gotten over her fear of the Skinnies, and of the monster inside her head telling her to be horrible. She can think about her dad again and she loves people—something she couldn’t do at the beginning. She’s even started to understand others when they’re not like her.

I’m still not quite finished with the book, but I think I understand how to fix it. However, the next time I start a series, the first thing I’m going to decide is what the main character’s overall arc is going to be. Once I figure that out, I’m going to make sure I have a really good, but hard, place for the character to go in the last book.

Because the reason we read books or watch TV is to see people overcome, and the stories that stick with me are those in which the character overcomes themselves, in addition to the big bad. The moment when the character chooses teamwork over winning the big game. The moment when he/she chooses family instead of fame, or the moment when they let go of their hate, and learn to love.

 

 

 

 

Flash Fiction-It’s Not About Barry Allen

I’ve always admired people who can write short stories. Packing everything needed for a good narrative into less than 10k words is a skill that I struggle with. Besides some success I’ve had with horror short stories, short fiction is not my forte. Plus, I always want to put a silly surprise at the end, which a lot of editors don’t love.

Last year I went to a conference and heard a couple of people talk about Flash Fiction.

Flash Fiction is a story in 1,000 words or less.

Yes, you read that correctly, 1,000 words or less.

During a session at the conference, the presenter gave us some randomly generated story parts (character, setting, genre) and then gave us twenty or so minutes to write a flash fiction story about it.

Can I just say that I loved it? It was liberating staring at a blank page, typing my “parts” at the top, and then trying to put them into a cohesive story that would only last 1,000 words.

I don’t usually struggle with commitment, but I tell you what, these little things are commitment free, and highly addictive. I was hooked after one, wrote a horror flash fiction for an anthology the next day, and then decided I would adopt the platform of Flash Fiction on my website.

Now I kind of stole the randomly-ish generated theme, genre, character…idea from the presenter. I came up with my own five categories, and filled them up. I then dig into my husband’s D&D dice bag and I see what fate has in store for me this week.

Voila, Flash Fiction Friday!

The great thing about it, is things have to connect, but not everything has to be explained. You don’t have time to go into a great deal of background, so to say the character is an angry mobster bent on revenge is enough. And the narrative is so short that it almost has to be a snap shot—a moment where something changes. Or when something should change, but it doesn’t. Get in, tell the story and get out all in less than two pages, single spaced in Word.

If you’re interested in writing, try it. If you’re having trouble with writer’s block, try it. If you’re looking for something new, try it. It’s like a cookie verses an entire cake. Take a bite and walk away.

Welcome to Podcasts

Podcasts. They’re the new digital frontier of talk radio, full of informative content. The perfect way to kill time on a long commute. Trust me, I would know.

But podcasts aren’t all non-fiction in focus. There is a small but growing population of podcasts devoted to telling fictional stories, like the radio serials of yore. Move over The Shadow. Make way for Welcome to Night Vale.

In truth, we at Fictorians have been remiss. This post is long overdue. Night Vale has a been a Big Deal for several years now. Something like a local radio news show as written by Stephen King, Welcome to Night Vale tells the story of, in their words, “A friendly desert community where the sun is hot, the moon is beautiful, and mysterious lights pass overhead while we all pretend to sleep.”

With a healthy dose of both horror and humor combined with a sneaky dash of heart, Night Vale has brought audio storytelling into a new generation. It’s a process that entails some challenges. As I mentioned, the show is done in the format of a local news radio station, only set in a town where every conspiracy theory is real and anything horrific you can imagine is probably happening at that moment. Whether it’s mysterious hooded figures marching and chanting at the local sports stadium, the discovery of a mysterious subterranean civilization beneath lane five of the local bowling alley, a doorless and windowless library inhabited by monstrous librarians that defy sane description, or a city council that appears to be comprised of the same group of individuals that founded the town several hundred years in the past, Night Vale is given all the worldbuilding depth a storyteller could ever want.

The radio host, Cecil Palmer, is the voice of the podcast and the radio show within it. Because the show is broadcast from the Night Vale Community Radio station, all action that doesn’t take place at the Night Vale Community Radio Station must be described second-hand by Cecil, who is not generally witnessing it at the time. This flies directly in the face of that age-old writing adage, “show, don’t tell.” With the exception of when Cecil broadcasting on-location or is manning his mobile broadcasting studio, all he is doing is telling you, the listener, about local events, the community calendar, and whatever existential nightmare threatens to destroy his beloved Night Vale this week.

To make matters even more challenging, the climax of an episode’s plot generally occurs “offscreen” during the news show’s “weather” segment, which (contrary to its name) is always a song from an independent music artist. Once the weather concludes, Cecil returns and explains to his listeners how the crisis was resolved, and the episode wraps.

It’s a recipe for storytelling disaster if handled poorly. Yet somehow, Welcome to Night Vale’s writers, Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, make it work. Much of this credit goes to Cecil Baldwin (the actor behind Cecil Palmer). Without someone with his gravitas (his deep voice recalls trusted anchors of days gone by even as his frequent weirdness and goofiness reminds us what era it really is), the show’s format would absolutely fall apart. But the writing style is pitch-perfect for the format, and framing the story as a news segment, something we are all used to hearing told to us in the past tense, is a big part of why it works as well. This serves as yet another example of how for every rule of writing, there exist innumerable exceptions that succeed just fine.

The podcast picks and chooses its conventions well. In the past, seasons would generally have an overarching plot that played out in the background of the more focused, single-episode stories. Only in the last few episodes of the “season” (which spans a full year of real-world time, roughly 25 episodes, much like a network TV season), would the overarching story move into the foreground and come to a head. With the most recent season, they have broken the stories into a series of three-parters which have little connectivity beyond the characters and setting. And in the best tradition of shows like The Simpsons, they’ve populated their town with lots of quirky, lovable characters who grow and change with time.

But the show also experiments quite a bit within the confines of the format as well. In one episode, they recommend wearing headphones, because they play with which ear you can hear the audio feed from. It proves effectively creepy and disorienting, especially if you are listening alone. In one early episode, one of my favorites, they address the entire episode (titled “A Story About You”) to you, the listener, casting you as one particular resident of Night Vale who is having, shall we say, a bad day.

They’ve also created a series of live shows, where attendees can go experience a specially written, extra-long episode which changes every tour. These episodes are written specifically with live audience participation in mind, and with the assumption that attendees may never have listened to the show before. I’ve been to three of these shows myself, and they are a unique experience while still being utterly Night Vale.

Storytelling is a constantly evolving art form. Sometimes, an old form of storytelling, the oldest form, in fact, comes back in a new and different format. Some things about it change while others stay the same, but if done well, the total result is something new and special.

I’ll close with one of my favorite Night Vale quotes, and quotes in general, of all time:

“Before everything, before even humans, there were stories. A creature at a fire conjuring a world with nothing but its voice and a listener’s imagination. And now, me, and thousands like me, in little booths and rooms and mics and screens all over the world, doing the same for a family of listeners, connected as all families are, primarily by the stories we tell each other.

And after, after fire, and death, or whatever happens next, after the wiping clean or the gradual decay, after the after…when there are only a few creatures left, there will be one at a fire, telling a story to what family it has left. It was the first thing, and it will be the last.”

Welcome to Night Vale, Episode 71, “The Registry of Middle School Crushes”

 

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 (all right, during) classes. His novels Unwilling Souls and Ungrateful God are available now from ebook retailers and trade paperback through Amazon.com. His short fiction can be found in The Colored Lens, A Game of Horns: A Red Unicorn Anthology, Dragon Writers: An Anthology, and the upcoming Undercurrents: An Anthology of What Lies Beneath. He lives 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.