Category Archives: Writers Resources

Can You Change Your Pantster?

About three weeks ago I wrote a comment on a blog and used the phrase “sometimes you have to know where to stand.” When it was agreed that it sounded like a title, I wrote a quick three sentence synopsis of a non-existent movie. I liked the idea, so I sat down and wrote a 6,000 word story. I had no idea where I was going, I just had the phrase and a little off-the-cuff synopsis to use. I didn’t plan. I just wrote. Here is the story, which is pretty much a rough draft, yet passes as a finished story.

People often say that there are two types of writers, planners and pansters, i.e., people who write from the seat of their pants. My example above is pure panster. It is the method I use most often. I write for some of the challenges you can find on WordPress, and those are pure panster as well – I see the photo, perhaps read a key word, and write. I wrote two long novellas (25K + words) based on Writephoto challenges, so as I was writing those stories, I had no idea where I would go until I saw the next photo. I also wrote a full length novel this way! I have not published that novel, but it was written.

Most challenges are written 100% off the cuff as was the story described in the first paragraph, but more often I will write non-challenge stories when I am walking. I will at the very least get the basic idea, some major plot points and even whole chapters (if a book), but will often have the entire thing down, start to finish, in my head. I then will sit down and write it all out, like I am taking dictation.

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YA?

I have a few questions about YA. Of course, I am talking “Young Adult Fiction”, not Yearly Allotment or Yesterday’s Anger.

But just what is meant by “Young Adult”?

I remember a college student being angry because they enjoyed YA but most of the books they had read recently seemed to be aimed squarely at 12 year olds. What in the world is adult about a 12 year old? Not a thing. Technically, if we look at the world and society, a 21 year old IS a young adult, a 12 year old isn’t!

But the definition I see is “Fiction written for ages between 12 and 18”. If you have ever talked to a 12 year old and an 18 year old, they are very, very different beasts.

I did see one definition that called it between 13 and 18 (in the US that is 7th grade through graduating high school), which I like better, but I am going to say high school age. We can stretch it to Jr. High, but the difference between what a 7th grader reads and a sophomore in high school reads is much much larger than between a high school freshman and a high school senior. Same number of years between, but what a difference those two years makes!

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Random Rambling About (My) Short Stories…

I am in the editing stage of a book of short stories.  This will be different from my other two books of short fiction in a number of ways.  The other two were both pretty eclectic, while this is all science fiction.  Seasons of Imagination had 36 stories and totaled about 71K words.  Embers had 22 stories and totaled about 90K words.  This book will only have 11 stories and be close to 75K words, so the average story length, having jumped for Embers, has jumped again.

I like short stories.  I like to read them, and I like to write them.  Although I like the novels and longer novellas I put out, I think my short stories (and short novellas) as given in these three collections are my best works of fiction.  I know this format is not the best if trying to sell books, but…  Both Seasons of Imagination and Embers have sold better than The Old Mill or The Haley Branch and much, much better than my two fantasy novellas, so…  They also each have almost as many reviews (or at least stars) as those three put together.

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Politics and Fiction – Oil and Vinegar?

I have three general rules that I use when writing fiction, particularly longer form fiction.  I mean, there are more than three rules, but I want to talk about these three interrelated rules today.

The first is that if it doesn’t meet the needs of the story, it doesn’t belong.  I just read about a cool discovery on Venus.  Needed?  Nope, it stays out.  I discovered the meaning of life.  Needed for the story?  No.  Use it elsewhere. There are grey areas, of course, but usually they can be justified.  For instance, in fleshing out my characters, Bob might be an extreme astronomy nerd, so he starts a conversation with, “Did you hear about what they found on Venus?” instead, “Hi! How are you today?”  This tells you a lot more about Bob than it does about Venus. 

The second rule is that the author needs to stay out of a work of fiction.  The author seems to intrude in older fiction all of the time, but it doesn’t settle well in modern works.  The author (me!) can feel strongly about something, but it stays out unless it can be worked naturally into the story.  If I, as the author, just write in “Nazis are bad people,” it is jarring, but I can have, “Bob read Frida’s post and discovered she was a Nazi, and Nazis are bad people.” This is something Bob is thinking, not the author, so it isn’t jarring.  Unless you previously liked Frida.

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Silly Question on Blurbs

well

About two months ago I wrote a blurb for The Old Mill.  It wasn’t quite right, so I did a few changes.  Much better.  But then I noticed something.

The blurb was in present tense.

Even though most of my fiction is in past tense, I always write the first draft of my blurbs in present tense, though occasionally I have done an odd mix of tenses (ugh…).  One of the pluses about being in present tense, if I ask questions at the end of the blurb, they can be in present tense or future tense and seem fine: “With Amesbury entering a new “time of dying”, seemingly at the hands of the long dead Thomas Goode, the man said to be responsible for the first “time of dying” in 1821, will Gill succeed and perhaps drive off the black clouds, or will the evil forces streaming out of the Goode Mill, the Old Mill, win, destroying everything, and everyone, that he holds most dear?”. If the blurb is in past tense, can I ask such a question? You know, the action has already been resolved…

So a quick question for you: Should a blurb for a book written in past tense be in the past tense, or does writing it in present tense make sense?

After I write this, I will spend some time on Amazon and see what others have done, but I’d like to hear your opinion as well.

Killing Characters and Reality in Writing….

These two topics, killing off characters in your work and the amount of reality you need, can each take a half a dozen posts or more, but I was thinking about the intersection of the two.

My writing can be called “speculative fiction”: the majority is science fiction, fantasy, urban fantasy and horror.  Yeah, I’m often working with the supernatural, so how real do I need it? Of course I do put some reality in there to make it easier for the reader to connect, but every day things, like sleeping, eating and using the little boys/girls room is only put in if there is a reason.

My WIP, The Old Mill, is more on the horror end of the urban fantasy-horror spectrum. Not really a “real” genre ;)

About the time I finished my rough draft of The Old Mill, I read a blog post about killing characters in horror. Pretty much the idea was, if people aren’t dying, why would the main character, or the reader, be afraid? Of course you can ask how many people died in the scariest book I ever read, The Shining (not including looking into the past), but that book was written in the 1970s, not the twenty-teens! If you finish the book and six of your eight main characters are still alive, go back and kill four or five of them…

Maybe a little extreme, but she had a point. Continue reading

Drafting and Editing

Fiction

Typically when I write “The End” on a story, that is the beginning of the journey. Revisions and editing are a much longer, and to me, more difficult process than writing. Writing is a lot of fun! Editing? Not so much.

We each have our own methods and our own ways of doing things. I tend to get more granular as I write each draft. Ooops, but hold on. I really need to talk about how I define “draft” here, because it may be different than you think.

Draft Numbering

In ways my background as a computer nerd come to the surface in my draft numbering scheme. There are two or three components. There is the draft number and then the revision number and often a date-stamp.

I follow normal writing convention by calling my original rough draft “1st draft”. If I were really following the software model, this would be draft “0”.

I change the draft number when there are significant changes, usually end to end. This is typically rewriting chapters, deleting large blocks of text, adding chapters, adding large blocks of text, etc. Of course, as I said, as I go on it gets more granular, so I’m not adding or subtracting chapters at draft five! At that time, it is just a feeling that there have been significant changes since the last draft number. Continue reading

Conversations About Dialog

Fiction

What do you consider your biggest strength when it comes to writing?  I think dialog comes close to the top of the list for me.  I’ve had several people remark on it.  Yeah, I keep my mouth closed in real life, but my characters blab away…

Truthfully, I overdo dialog.  In fact, in the past I have had beta readers comment on my over use of dialog. Not all – I’ve had others that had positive things to say about it.

I have started editing “The Old Mill”, a book that I posted here as a serial.  One thing that I discovered, to my dismay, is that I have entire chapters that are 100% dialog.  Some are phone conversations.  Others are people sitting around chatting.  After I did one quick pass through the book I almost felt that it would be easier to make it into a play than a novel.  Not just a play, but an Elizabethan era play, with few stage directions. Or perhaps an opera.

Ouch. How do I fix that?

I am now in the middle of a rewrite. One thing that I am doing is changing it from all first person to third person.  Every chapter is in one person’s POV (well, for the most part), but the chapters can be in different POVs.  OK, most are in the main character’s POV, just third person. But I have added other POVs, which really helps develop the characters and makes the entire story more three dimensional.

Does this help with the dialog issue? Continue reading

Editing The Old Mill

I hate editing.

A few of you may remember my serialized novel, The Old Mill, that I posted a little over two years ago.  After finishing the book I decided to put it on the back burner and work on other things for a while.  One problem is that there are a few similarities with my book The Halley Branch and I wanted to put some space between the two.  So the rough draft, which I had posted here, was sitting, gathering dust.  For some reason i couldn’t get the inspiration to pick it up again.  In my opinion, the hardest part of writing is doing the second, third, fourth, fifth, etc. drafts.  The first draft is the easy, fun part.

A couple of weeks ago I picked it back up and started the next draft.  I haven’t made it very far….

The first thing I ran into had to do with names.  I changed the name of one character half way through and have already run into both versions of the name.  I don’t remember why I changed it and which is the final name.  I’m about 90% sure that I will have to make a third version of the name.  The problem is, a lot of names run in the main family of the book, so doing a search on the name is only partially helpful.  I may hit another character with the same name. Continue reading

Data Dumps

You have a great idea for a fantasy. There are four hominoid races that range from almost good but a little more on the bad side to very good, practically angelic. There are also corruptions of two of the races that are evil.  Of course there are also wizards that really don’t make a race, but are different from the others.  Plus, of course a handful of intelligent and semi-intelligent creatures and monsters, like dragons. They all have their own cultures, religions, myths, personality traits, physical characteristics, ways they use magic (or don’t), etc. And, of course, the world has a rich 10,000 year history plus the “Age of Myth and Legend” which gives another 25,000 years.

So there is all of that detail in your story.  But then we get to the story itself. Hold, though, we need even more detail… Continue reading