Monday, June 17

How To Survive And Thrive As An Indie Writer

How To Survive And Thrive As An Indie Writer
This post was finished then my word processor ate it! Yes, I know, I know, it's my fault for not saving. In any case, what follows is a shortened version.

Here's how to survive and thrive as an indie writer: Write good books, make sure they've been copyedited--either by a professional or a fellow writer--and publish.

I've just read two excellent posts on how to survive and thrive as an indie writer.

1. Kris Rusch: The Business Rusch: The Stages of An Indie Writer.

2. Hugh Howey: What do Self-Published Authors Need?

I'd like to add my own piece of advice: Read as many indie success stories as you can and examine what they did.

I'm not suggesting you do exactly what anyone else has done--Amanda Hocking once lived off of Red Bull and sweet-tarts for a week while she wrote Switched--but it shows you that the one thing they all had in common is that a) they published and b) they didn't give up in the face of criticism.

Here are a few stories I was inspired by:

Amanda Hocking: An epic tale of how it all happened.

Karen McQuestion: The Self-Publishing Bestseller On 'How I Did It'.

Joe Konrath: Independence; How To Sell Ebooks.

Hugh Howey: Hugh Howey: Self-publishing is the future — and great for writers; Author Hugh Howey gets richer by giving away his work;

The main thing is to do it! Don't edit your work forever. Put it out there and let readers give you feedback. I often publish stories on Smashwords first; I've found the feedback from readers there is excellent.

Whatever you do, all the best!

Photo credit: "cat daddy" by Robert Couse-Baker under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Thursday, June 13

Vladimir Yakovlevich Propp And The Narrative Structure Of Folk Tales

Vladimir Yakovlevich Propp And The Narrative Structure Of Russian Folk Tales
Today I'd like to talk about the underlying structure of stories; specifically, folk tales.

I've been meaning to write a blog post about this for some time, but Vladimir Yakovlevich Propp identifies--as Shawn Spencer of Psych fame would say: wait for it--31 plot points.

That's a lot of plot points!

Still, it's valuable information. So I'm going to take this in chunks. I'll start today with the first plot point and then pick the topic up again in a few days until I get through all 31.

Vladimir Yakovlevich Propp's Morphology Of The Folktale

0. Introduce the hero

This isn't one of Propp's steps but, as the author of Vladimir Propp's Morphology Of The Folktale writes:

A folktale usually begins with some sort of initial situation. The members of a family are enumerated, or else the future hero is introduced (i.e., a soldier) in some manner; either his name is revealed or his status is indicated. 
By the way, what follows draws heavily on the above article. All I'm doing here is laying out Propp's points with a bit of commentary.

 1. ABSENCE. One of the members of a family is absent from home.

This can come in many forms:

a. Absence. Someone, often a parent or hero him/herself leaves

Here are a few possibilities:
- The person absent is a parent or caregiver
- A ruler (prince, king, etc.)
- Merchant or business person who goes off on to ply his/her trade
- Hero goes to work
- Hero goes exploring (into the deep, dark, forest; into a bad part of the city; into a diary/journal that isn't his/hers)
-  Soldier goes to war
- Hero's parents leave (one way they may leave is through death)
- Children walk over to neighbors/go fishing/explore an old mine
- Children go for a walk in the forbidden forest (the bad side of town) to pick berries (to see a movie)

b. Interdiction. Hero is told not to do something

- "Take care of your brother, do not venture forth from the courtyard."
- If someone you don't recognize comes to the door, don't talk to them. (Or, more simply, 'Don't talk to strangers.')
- King/merchant/father: stay in the tower and do not leave.
- Do not pick the apples in the neighbor's yard/Do not get your ball if it lands in the neighbor's yard.
- Do not open the chest.
- Do not kiss the girl/boy.

However, rather than being told not to do something, the hero may be given a command:

- Bring your father/mother his/her lunch as he/she works in the fields.
- Take your brother/sister with you when you go fishing/to the amusement park/out to the movies with your friends.

c. The possibility of misfortune

The possibility of misfortune is what is nascent in (a) and (b), above. Combining the two we have:
- The merchant has a tree that produces golden apples but the moment he or his offspring injure another tree it will die. The merchant tells his son/daughter to stay out of the woods, fearing they will inadvertently injure a tree. One day when he is out of town ... You know the rest.

Generally, this seems to be the formula for this first of the 31 points: If you X then your prosperity will end, but you're not allowed to tell anyone why. For instance, the merchant with the tree that bears golden fruit would not tell his children why they couldn't go into the woods.

Well! That's the first of Propp's 31 points and we've just gotten started.

Photo credit: "Surfin in the Sun" by Zach Dischner under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Wednesday, June 12

3 Ways To Fan Your Creative Fire

C.S. Lakin writes:
It’s not easy to translate concepts that feel like hot sparks of brilliance into words that actually ignite a reader’s soul .... Those of us who know how special that feeling is—when the passion of our story emerges in a seeming explosion of inspired beauty—want to be able to “get to that place” as often as we can. But is there a way to do that?
The answer is yes! And C.S. Lakin helps guide the way:

How to fan your creative fire:

1. Change the scenery.

"Nature can spark passion. Immersing yourself in beautiful surroundings might help your creativity.

"And maybe it’s not beauty and sublimity you need. Perhaps for you, sitting in a crowded cafe in a foreign land does wonders for sparking ideas—the fresh change of scenery an inspiration. The point being—getting out of your rut and routine can sometimes be the antidote for mundane writing and uninspired thinking."

2. Write at a different time, perhaps early in the morning

"You may feel you only write well or can concentrate early in the morning. Try setting the alarm and getting up a few hours earlier. Take a shower to shake off your sleepiness and then in the quiet before dawn, try writing that scene you have planned to tackle. If you can’t write at night because you’re just too tired, try taking a walk to invigorate yourself (or some other type of exercise) and then sit down after dark and try writing. You may surprise yourself. Sometimes by attempting to write at a time you normally don’t can fire up your little gray cells."

3. Read before you write

"Some writers, like my favorite mystery writer Elizabeth George, spend a half hour or so reading a great book before beginning to write for the day. Reading really well-written books, whether novels or nonfiction, can inspire and spur some on to passionate writing."
You could always try a combination of ways! Take an early morning walk to your favorite coffee house, perhaps buying a cinnamon bun on the way, one fresh out of the oven. After you've ordered your favorite beverage, read for a bit before you write.

I think these tips by C.S. Lakin are marvelous. I already read before I write, but I like to read books that are similar to what I'm writing. For instance, something in the same genre written from the same point of view.

How do you keep your creative fires burning?

Photo credit: "Ode to Birds" by Zach Dischner by Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Tuesday, June 11

Musing About Movies

Musing About Movies

This is a writing blog, not a movie blog, but I've always wondered why some movies--movies with the same stars in them--do well and some don't. For instance, Old School and Wedding Crashers cleaned up at the boxoffice but The Internship is struggling to compete.

Movies are just stories told with images and sound while books are stories told solely through language. At some level, a story's a story. All things being equal, we'd like to sell our stories, our books, as widely as possible, so understanding what readers/viewers like couldn't hurt.

If that's possible.

Google: Can Predict Box Office With 94% Accuracy

The finding that Google can predict box office with 94% accuracy indicates to me that, most of the time, the decision whether to see a movie is made solely based on marketing rather than word of mouth. That is, it's made before anyone sees the movie.

I wouldn't be surprised if it is similar in the book world. Readers want a book in a certain genre, or by a certain author, or one that's like another book.

I've been using Box Office Mojo to track movie stats; how much a movie was made for, how much it grossed, and so on. It looks like The Internship, the latest movie by comedy duo Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, is going to be lucky to break even.


Is it the subject matter? Was the subject matter of Vaughn's earlier movies, Old School and Wedding Crashers more primal? These earlier movies were about life transitions, marriage, death. But, in a way, so is The Internship. The movie explores the lives of two guys displaced by technology, two guys who are struggling to succeed in a rapidly changing world that deems them obsolete.

Well, when I put it like that, the movie seems a bit depressing! (grin)

What do you think is the biggest determinant of whether someone will see a movie or read a book?

Photo credit: "București #23" by Thomas Leuthard under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Monday, June 10

The Power Trio: A Trope

The Power Trio: A Trope

Let's talk tropes.

Years ago I began a story based around the structure of one of my favorite Star Trek episodes, but I got stuck. Toward the end of the story, what my characters needed to do was different than what the characters had done in the episode; I needed a slightly different structure but got stumped.


A couple of weeks ago I picked up the story again and everything came together, everything except for the most important bit: the ending.

I didn't know what to do so I surfed over to and read about Kirk, Spock and McCoy. Let me just say: Wow! I'm probably not going to use all the information I found in my story, but I'll use some of it.

One thing I love about studying tropes is being able to give a certain situation, one that recurs often, a name. Anyway, I thought the following was just plain fun (as well as useful) so I wanted to share.

The Power Trio

We've all read and watched countless instances of this trope but before I get to examples lets talk about psychology. Specifically ...

Freudian Trio
Among a Power Trio of the "two Foils + balance" variety, one of the most common subtropes has the three characters have psychological positions based on the Freudian idea of the Id, the Ego and the Superego.

Freud defined the human psyche as consisting of three parts: the Id, which represented emotional and instinctual desires; the Superego, which represented the logical and intellectual reasoning (or rules and social conventions, which is how Freud actually used the term); and the Ego, which reconciled the Id and Superego. Likewise, the Freudian Trio consists of three characters: one who acts emotionally and instinctively, one who acts with cold, passionless logic and one who reconciles the two conflicting ideals. (Freudian Trio)

The Kirk 

Rounding out the archetypal Freudian Trio with The Spock and The McCoy, The Kirk must balance these opposing personalities while being able to take their advice and choose between them (or literally, choose "between them") without being overcome either by emotion or dispassionate logic, representing what in Freudian psychology is called the ego.

Usually, The Kirk is The Captain or a similar leader who needs to be practical rather than emotional or distant. It's not impossible for a show to have The McCoy or The Spock as the leader, but they'll have to be far more ideologically flexible than they would otherwise. (The Kirk)

The Third Option

In any situation Spock and McCoy are pretty much guaranteed to be at loggerheads. McCoy looks at the world through his feelings, his emotions, while Spock is dispassionately logical. Or at least that's the setup.

Often this problem is solved by choosing a Third Option:
In most Power Trio scenarios, when The Spock advocates one course of action and The McCoy insists upon the other, The Kirk will be particularly fond of using this method as a solution to the problem of the week. This is also the best way to deal with a Xanatos Gambit. A true Magnificent Bastard will have anticipated that, though. (Take A Third Option)

Kirk Summation

A Kirk Summation is ...
A speech made by the hero to the villain just before the climactic fight in which he points out exactly why what the villain is doing is wrong, and begs him to forswear his ways.

This rarely works but he had to try: that's what makes him the hero. (Kirk Summation)
If the Kirk Summation doesn't cause the Big Bad to give up in a fit of despair, the Villain might give the hero a Breaking Speech.

Breaking Speech

This is often achieved by a kind of "The Reason You Suck" Speech, telling the other character how pathetic they are or perhaps how guilty of something terrible, perhaps Not So Different from someone unpalatable, but there are other ways of breaking someone down by talking. You could for example instead deconstruct the world, other characters, or their relationship with the victim. The important part is that they can't deny your words, at least not in the heat of the moment, and you gain a psychological advantage over them. Uncomfortable truths (or at least half-truths) and logical arguments are effective for making claims hard to deny, but hitting emotional weak spots is also important and can work even if your statements are not truly reasonable. (Break Them By Talking)
Here is an example from

"You look like you're going to spend your life having one epiphany after another, always thinking you've finally figured out what's holding you back, and how you can finally be productive and creative and turn your life around. But nothing will ever change. That cycle of mediocrity isn't due to some obstacle. It's who you are. The thing standing in the way of your dreams... is that the person having them is you."
— xkcd, "Pickup Artist"

Harsh. Great speech though. You might also want to take a look at The Reason You Suck speech.

If you're stumped and you're looking for ideas, is a fabulous resource.

What is the trope you most often come across in your reading/viewing?

Photo credit: "Batman Extreme" by JD Hancock under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Friday, June 7

The Basics of Good Storycraft: 5 Tips

The Basics of Good Storycraft: 5 Tips

In How to Publish Your Book and Sell Your First 1,000 Copies Joe Bunting lays out the basics of good storycraft. He writes:

1. Your Protagonist Must Choose

A protagonist who doesn’t make important choices that determine his or her fate isn’t a protagonist at all. He or she is a background character.
Have you heard of Dan Wells? Although he's a well known author, to me Dan Wells will forever be the fellow who explains the seven point plot system for short fiction.

Today I read an article by him, The Superman Problem, and my bet with my brother, where he talks about the Superman problem, and the importance of making your character make difficult choices. He writes:
[The Superman Problem:] If your main character will always make the right decision and can always defeat any bad guy, your story is boring because it has no tension.  (The Superman Problem, and ...)
Not so, Dan Wells says:
Here’s the thing about The Superman Problem: it’s a complete and utter fallacy. No character actually has this problem unless they’re being written poorly. The best writers will always find ways to put their characters into situations where there is no clear “right” choice, and will strive to pit their characters against conflicts and obstacles they can’t easily overcome; this applies to Superman just as much as it applies to anyone else. Yes, Superman can beat up any villain–so what? Is every good story in the world solved by the main character physically dominating everyone else? If we truly believe what our mothers tell us about violence never solving anything, Superman’s ability to punch bad guys is arguably the most useless super ability ever; a good Superman story, like a good anyone story, will test his wits, his judgment, his will, his emotions, and so on.
Great stuff. Makes me want to see the new Superman movie.

2. These Choices Must Be Hard

The most important decisions we make, such as who to marry, whether to change careers, when to have children, are difficult, and we rarely make them in a moment’s notice. Your protagonist shouldn’t either.

3. Cut Superfluous Characters

Stephen Koch says, “The warning sign of a story that is growing disorganized is likely to be too many characters.” It’s difficult to cut characters or merge two together—these are your creations, your friends, after all—but it will tighten your story and add drama.
Just today I read Janice Hardy's wonderful blog post, Does Your Novel Have Too Many Characters?, which steps you through an exercise to help you determine just this. Well worth the read.

4. Set the Scene

Readers shouldn’t be confused about where or when your scenes are taking place. Unless it’s already clear, make sure you describe the setting and time at the start of every scene.

5. Three Drafts

Most professional writers write in three drafts. The first is for figuring out what your story is about, the second, for major structural changes, and the third is for polishing. One draft is rarely enough.
Yesterday I set up my writing schedule (using Excel and Google Calendar) for the next month or so and noticed that's what I've started to do: three drafts, just like Joe says.

That's not written in stone, I could see longer projects taking four or so drafts, and shorter projects perhaps only requiring two--or even one! But if it seems a story is going to take more than, say, five drafts I need to think about either doing a rewrite or putting the story away for a bit to get some distance.

But part of the beauty of writing is that it's not the same for everyone. What works brilliantly for me may not for you. What are your basics of good storycraft? Please share. :-)

Photo credit: "Berry Hard Work" by JD Hancock under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Thursday, June 6

Stupid Writer Tricks: How To Be More Productive

Stupid Writer Tricks: How To Be More Productive

Ernest Hemingway and Chuck Wendig are two of my favorite writers: Hemingway for his stories and prose, Wendig for his writing on writing.

Ernest Hemingway On How To Write And What To Read

Every year I re-read Hemingway's short story Hills Like White Elephants and marvel. Many times an author will have prose I love but I don't care for their stories/plots or they'll write a great story/plot, but their prose is unimaginative. Ernest Hemingway was brilliant at both.

So when Hemingway gives writers advice I take notice.

Here's a quotation from Ernest Hemingway Creates a Reading List for a Young Writer, 1934:
“The most important thing I’ve learned about writing is never write too much at a time,” Hemingway said, tapping my arm [a young writer named Samuelson] with his finger. “Never pump yourself dry. Leave a little for the next day. The main thing is to know when to stop. Don’t wait till you’ve written yourself out. When you’re still going good and you come to an interesting place and you know what’s going to happen next, that’s the time to stop. Then leave it alone and don’t think about it; let your subconscious mind do the work. The next morning, when you’ve had a good sleep and you’re feeling fresh, rewrite what you wrote the day before. When you come to the interesting place and you know what is going to happen next, go on from there and stop at another high point of interest. That way, when you get through, your stuff is full of interesting places and when you write a novel you never get stuck and you make it interesting as you go along.”
Hemingway also gave Samuelson a list of books and short stories he thought the young man should read:
“The Blue Hotel” by Stephen Crane
“The Open Boat” by Stephen Crane
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Dubliners by James Joyce
The Red and the Black by Stendhal
Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann
Hail and Farewell by George Moore
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The Oxford Book of English Verse
The Enormous Room by E.E. Cummings
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Far Away and Long Ago by W.H. Hudson
The American by Henry James
Hemingway also ...
... advised Samuelson to avoid contemporary writers and compete only with the dead ones whose works have stood the test of time. “When you pass them up you know you’re going good.”

Chuck Wendig's Stupid Writer Tricks

Let me just say that Chuck Wendig's writer tips and tricks are far from stupid. I've benefited enormously both from his advice and his example (writing 3,000 words a day) and I know other writers have as well.

But I guess if he called them his fabulous writer tricks he'd seem immodest!

Here's Chuck Wendig's tip for how to help yourself get back in the groove the next day:
The Tiniest Outline Of Them All: The last 50-100 words you write at the end of your day should be a note to yourself detailing just what ... you should write tomorrow. (“HORACE MURDERS LORD THORNJIZZ AND THE LITHUANIAN DETECTIVE CIRCUS IS ASSIGNED TO THE CASE”). (Adult language warning--> Ten Stupid Writer Tricks (That Might Actually Work))

Using Excel to track one's progress

I never thought of using Excel--or any spreadsheet program--to track my writing progress (daily, weekly, monthly), my goals, before I started reading Chuck Wendig's posts on writing.

But it works.

I also create events in Google Calendar that send me updates throughout the day reminding me what my goals are.

I know it probably sounds weird/strange, but I find it helps if I get my calendar to nag me!

Often I'll get caught up in a task and not want to stop, but that's exactly what I need to do. For instance, I'll need to stop editing one story and move on to putting more words down for the first draft of another.


BOTH writing and editing (though not on the same manuscript, that would just be crazy-making) need to be done each day.

Of course you might be different, have a different method/workflow. There's no one way, whatever works for you. And, generally, we find that out by experimenting, so don't be afraid to try different things.

In your first draft, use a placeholder for things you don't know and keep writing

I started doing something like this after I became a beta reader for a writer who used this trick. Excellent idea!

Often I end up not using a bunch of stuff from my first draft so using placeholders for things I need to research not only prevents me from losing the flow of the story but it also stops me wasting a lot of time researching something I won't use.

I haven't been using an easy-to-locate code so I can find my placeholders easily. But now I will!

Chuck writes: 
The WTF Code: Sometimes you’re writing and you hit a part in the story where you’re just like, “Nope, no ... idea what happens here. Maybe they fight? Maybe they make love? I’m envisioning an orangutan for some reason.” Or maybe you reach a portion where you need more information (“Note to self: research the sewer tunnel layout of Schenectady”). That’s okay. Leave it blank and drop a code you’ll remember right into the section, a code that will specifically not be duplicated anywhere else in the text (WTF2013, for instance). Then when you complete the first pass of the manuscript, just do a FIND for all instances of YOUR SEKRIT CODE and hop through your many narrative gaps and chasms. FILL AND SPACKLE. 
Chuck gives great advice in (adult language warning -->) Ten Stupid Writer Tricks, and I encourage you to read it. I know I say that often, but this one's special.

Do you have a stupid writer trick that saves you time. Please, share!

Photo credit: "The Lonely Vacuum Of Space" by JD Hancock under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Tuesday, June 4

Tags & Traits: Characterization And Building Empathy

Tags & Traits: Characterization And Building Empathy

Why Tags & Traits Are Important

Tags and traits are an important part of characterization, and characterization is important because it helps create a bond of empathy between your characters and your reader.

Empathy And Creating Believable Characters

Jim Butcher writes:
If you can manage to create a vivid character in a reader's mind, then establish him as someone believable, you have a real shot at the Holy Grail of character design. If you do your job, you will create a sense of empathy in your reader for your characters. This is what makes people burst out laughing while reading. It's what makes readers cry, or cheer, or run off to take a cold shower.

Like V-Factor, empathy takes time to build and it relies heavily upon the skilled use of sequels. But if you can get the reader to this point, as an author, then you WIN. Big time. This is the ENTIRE GOAL of all this character work, because the reader's emotional involvement is the single most important factor in how well your story is going to fly.

Or put another way, if you can make people love who you want them to love and hate who you want them to hate, you're going to have readers coming back to you over and over again. (Characters)
If a writer can establish a bond of empathy between a reader and their characters then the reader is done for, they're hooked. As that expression goes: You've got 'em by the short and curlies.

Isn't that how it feels sometimes? There's a furor over G.R.R. Martin's latest episode of the Game of Thrones: The Red Wedding. This episode was particularly gruesome and some important characters died in shockingly horrible ways.

But I'm betting most people don't stop watching, or stop reading. Why? Because we are involved emotionally with those characters. We empathize with them. We're tied to them.

Tags & Traits: What Are They?

Jim Butcher writes:
But forethought and preparation will play a role in this process, too. Here's another cool craft-tool for you guys to use: TAGS and TRAITS

TAGS are words you hang upon your character when you describe them. When you're putting things together, for each character, pick a word or two or three to use in describing them. Then, every so often, hit on one of those words in reference to them, and avoid using them elsewhere when possible. By doing this, you'll be creating a psychological link between those words and that strong entry image of your character.

For example; Thomas Raith's tag words are pale, beautiful, dark hair, grey eyes. I use them when I introduce him for the first time in each book, and then whenever he shows up on stage again, I remind the reader of who he is by using one or more of those words.

This is a really subtle psychological device, and it is far more powerful than it first seems. It's invaluable for both you as the writer, and for the construction of the virtual story for the reader.

TRAITS are like tags, except that instead of picking specific words, you pick a number of unique things ranging from a trademark prop to a specific mental attitude. Harry's traits include his black duster, his staff, his blasting rod and his pentacle amulet. These things are decorations hung onto the character for the reader's benefit, so that it's easy to imagine Harry when the story pace is really rolling.

Similarly, Bob the Skull's traits are the skull, its eyelights, his intelligence, his role as a lab assistant, his obsession with sex and his wiseass dialog. It works for the same reason.

Seriously. Before you introduce another character, write some tags and traits down. You'll be surprised how much easier it makes your job. (Characters)

John Yeoman And Choric Orchestration

I was reminded of tags and traits by John Yeoman's article: Guest Author John Yeoman: Three Great Tips From An Old Crime Writer.

Here John talks about the power of traits--behavioral traits--in characterization and story building.

John writes:
As soon as Lady Glanedale ‘elevates her eyebrows’ at the master detective Sage, without deigning to reply to him, we know she’s a wrong ‘un. Whenever Sage ‘mechanically’ fingers his fountain pen, or a paperweight, or the pages of a book, the reader can deduce that he has stumbled upon a Clue.

While he listens to witnesses, with no obvious interest, he compulsively doodles. ‘He drew a cottage upon his thumbnail.’ With each doodle, the reader expects him to sketch the face of the true culprit. Maddeningly, he never does.

The behavioral tics of Sage and his characters dance around the stories like a demented chorus, singing: ‘Pay attention! This bit is important.’ Remarkably, it works.
Good stuff!

Using tags other than "he said" and "she said"

John Yeoman also talks about how to use tags other than "he said" and "she said." For instance, he gives these examples:

‘She whispered softly’ --> ‘I strained to hear her
‘He said, gruffly’ --> ‘His words sounded like gravel in a cement mixer.’
‘She lisped, delightfully’ --> ‘I heard the wings of an angel, flying low.
‘He replied, angrily’ --> ‘His voice was broken glass.’
‘She said, in a beautiful voice’ --> ‘Her voice reminded me of summer nights in old Castilia.’

Using body actions to convey emotion:

‘She wept’ --> ‘Her body shook with silent sobs.’
‘I said, thoughtfully’ --> ‘I pulled meditatively upon my right ear lobe.’
‘She snorted, derisively’ --> ‘She elevated one elegant eyebrow.’
‘He gasped’ --> ‘He twirled his fingers with bewildering rapidity.’
‘He asked, bemused’ --> ‘He tugged the end of his beard as if he could tease from it some answer.’

 Using a mini-story to set the stage

John Yeoman writes:
This tactic is very useful. It lets you unfold a little story--ominous, amusing, or whatever you wish--behind the surface narrative, to add nuances to the main event. The elisions [...] indicate passages of intervening dialogue.

‘He counted upon his fingers’ ... ‘He ran out of fingers and flapped his hands’ ... ‘He closed his fist abruptly’

‘She toyed with a paper clip’ ... ‘She bent the paper clip into a little man’ ... ‘Her paper clip had now acquired two devilish horns’

‘I traced the outline of a hand upon a sheet of paper with a charcoal stick’ ... ‘I showed him the outline of my hand’ ... ‘I smudged the charcoal outline’ ... ‘“The picture is not the event,” I explained. “By itself, it tells us nothing.”’
Tags and traits, using body actions to convey emotion, using mini-stories to help dialogue flow, I've got a lot to practice tonight!

Happy writing.

Photo credit: "RD & KD BFF" by kevin dooley under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Monday, June 3

Dean Wesley Smith On What Makes Writing Fun

I love Dean Wesley Smith's posts--especially the mini series he did as he wrote a 70,000 word book in 10 days--but I have a feeling this one is going to be my all-time favorite: Success, Failure, and Caring: A Personal Note.

Ignore The Bad Reviews, The Rejections

In Success, Failure and Caring Dean talks about what makes writing fun for him and how he can ignore the bad reviews and the rejections. Dean writes:
So as a way of helping readers of this blog understand the type of person I am, why I can take the risks, ignore the bad reviews and rejections, and fight through the down times, I want to tell you a short, but personal story that few know. I think it is illustrative of how the ability to just not fear failure is part of my nature, a nature that has allowed me to keep taking chances with writing and publishing.

And how that ability, my very nature, colors everything I write here.
I've heard of students putting themselves through college by waitressing, or working at a supermarket--one student I knew paid for her tuition by being a mail carrier.

Dean, though, put himself through college by playing poker. That's right, by being a professional gambler!

This is what Dean says in one of the comments:
[M]y attitude from a very early age (and I have no idea where it came from) was that I could never see a reason to do any kind of job I didn’t like. Of course, I was broke many times over my life, and homeless a couple of times, but strangely enough, I never once put together a resume for a job. (I wouldn’t begin to know how to do that.) I just always had the attitude that if it wasn’t fun or worthwhile or educational, why bother.

Now, this attitude will cause friends and family no end of grief, especially early on when they think you are wasting your life and your (evil word) potential. And it drove a couple of wives nuts along the way as well. (grin) Kris now, after twenty-seven years, just laughs and says, “That’s just Dean.” The reason we are still together after 27 years I suspect. (grin)

Do I think other people in the real world should be like me. Oh, heavens, No! But do I think writers should learn how to let go of the fears with their own writing, focus on learning to be better writers, focus on having fun with their writing. Oh, heavens, Yes!
I've sort of jumped the gun by putting Dean's comment up there, before you hear his story, but it was too good to bury.

Dean's Story

Here's Dean's story:
So I ... caught a ride with three great guys heading for Lovelock, Nevada, in an old Volkswagon van.  When they dropped me in Lovelock, (south of Winnemucca) it was about two in the morning.  I went into the only open hotel and casino on the main street of town and asked how much a room was. I really, really wanted a shower and some sleep. But rooms cost $45.00 and I couldn’t talk the guy down into giving me one for $20 for just a few hours.

So I wondered over into the small casino, bought myself a candy bar and a soda with the change I had, leaving me with $22.00. Then I stood against a pole and watched the only blackjack table going. A single-deck game with a sloppy dealer who didn’t shuffle well and only one drunk customer playing dollar chips sitting in the last chair.

The pit boss came over and talked to me after a bit. Friendly guy, so we talked about me headed back to school and that I had gotten road weary and needed a break. (I never told him I was hitchhiking. I let him think I was driving.) I seem to remember he had a kid going to college in Reno. It was that kind of conversation and he didn’t seem to mind me standing there. He was facing a long, boring night, and I was a distraction.

All the while we were talking, I was watching the table and the cards. And when the deck turned in the player’s favor after a bad shuffle and the drunk taking some of the bad cards off the top of the new shuffle, I shrugged at the pit boss, said I might as well spend something, before heading back out onto the road. I got out my last twenty bucks and sat down.

At that point the deck had gone to a dreamed-of level where I had about a 60% advantage on the house, which meant, in reality, I would win 6 out of 10 hands under normal conditions, played over a million hands. The dealer changed my last twenty into chips and I put five bucks on the line.

I lost the first hand, put out another five. The deck was even better now. (That means it was filled to the brim with face cards and aces.)

I won the next five or six hands in a row, doubling up on some of my bets and all the time laughing with the pit boss and talking about his kid. He had no clue I was counting the deck. When I had exactly seventy bucks and the dealer went to shuffle again, I pulled my winnings. “Oh second thought, I’m too tired to go any farther. I think I’ll get a room and get a few hours sleep before heading on.”

The pit boss laughed and told me that was a good and smart idea, gave me a chit that cut ten bucks off my room. I tipped him five, paid for the room, slept until eight, had a great breakfast and hit the road again, making it to my mom’s house outside of Boise by dark. And with more money then when I had left Reno.

I could have just as easily have lost $15 of that twenty, spent a cold night on the street, bought a light breakfast with the remaining money. That was the risk I took. But I had a skill and I understood the chances and the risks and I was willing to take the chance and the risk for the reward of a hotel room and a shower.
Now that's a great story!

Don't Worry About Failure, Just Write What You Love

You might be wondering what it has to do with writing. Dean continues:
[O]nce I finally applied that same attitude to my writing in 1982, after really understanding Heinlein’s Rules, I have had little or no problems. Sure, my career has crashed a couple of times, but I’ve also had fantastic years, one year alone I published fourteen novels. Sure, I’ve had books tank and bad reviews, but I’ve also had wonderful reviews and have sold over eight million copies of my books to wonderful readers. Sure, I’ve been rejected more times than I care to think about or count, but I’ve sold more stuff than I can almost count as well. [Emphasis mine]
.  .  .  .
When you step back and look at everything, the risk with this writing business is little, the choices are many, and the fun is great. I will write some great stories and some stinkers, I’m sure, as time goes on. But what does that matter? The readers will let me know one way or another. For me, now, what is important is having fun with the writing.
.  .  .  .
And why do you think I remember that incident way back in the early 1970s? Because even though I was risking a cold night on the street, I was having fun with the risk.

Just as I have fun every time I type in a new title and start a new story that I have no idea where it is going or if it will work.

I always do the best I can and failure is always an option. The key is to train yourself with your writing to just not care.

Enjoy the hand, enjoy the play.
THAT's the attitude to have.

Life's not a stage, it's a poker game. (grin)

Dean's article is well worth the read.

Photo credit: "behold the mask" by Robert Couse-Baker under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Saturday, June 1

3 Things I've Learned From Blogging Every Day For A Year

3 Things I've Learned From Blogging Every Day For A Year

Yes, it's been a year!

Last April I started blogging once a day and then, in the middle of May 2012, I started writing two blog posts a day, even on weekends! That was intense ... okay, crazy ... and I went down to one post on Saturdays and Sundays.

I've cut back the past couple of weeks, now I'm blogging five times a week, but I thought I'd write about what blogging every day for a year has taught me.

Great and wonderful things blogging has done for me:

1. Helped me get through writer's block

It sounds silly when I put it like this, but blogging every day has taught me that I can write every day.

Blogging every day helped me get over my fear of the empty page by helping me develop work-arounds.

For instance, I now know I have a much more difficult time writing a first draft on my computer than I do in a journal. If I write my draft long-hand I rarely get writer's block. If I write my draft using a keyboard ... well, that's a non-starter. I'm not sure why this is, but having discovered it out I go directly to my journal.

It takes longer to write all my articles, all my stories, out longhand and then transcribe them into my computer, but the work gets done and that's the important thing.

2.  Taught me I'm a horrible judge of what folks will like

I think I have a pretty good handle on what folks find moderately interesting, but I regularly fail miserably at guessing what people will think is tremendously interesting. Articles that I thought would be of interest only to myself and a couple of other cave dwellers have been my most popular, and articles I thought would be insanely popular turned out to be no more popular than average.

What is more interesting, though, is that every single time I felt I was writing uninteresting drek the article was at least as popular as average.

The lesson is that even if everything is screaming at me saying I'm writing drek I need to keep writing. Nine times out of ten the feeling passes and, even if it doesn't, even on my worst day, my writing turns out not to be as terrible as I had thought.

3. In order for me to write about something it has to interest me

It is difficult for me to write about something that doesn't, on some level, interest me.

This is one reason editing is such a chore. At some point in the editing process I begin not only to loath the story, but the very sight of the manuscript gives me hives! Okay, maybe not hives, but I do begin to find reasons, any reason, not to work on it.

My fix? Put the manuscript aside for a time and go on to something else.

How long? It depends. At some point I'll be sitting down, my mind will be wandering, I'll be thinking about future projects and I'll remember a story I put away. Its incompleteness will bother me, like an itch that needs to be scratched. Then I'll reach into my "down time" drawer, pull out the manuscript, and begin working on it again.

Coming back to the story with new eyes is like starting over. And chances are it'll be much easier for me to spot, and fix, its weaknesses.

I realize this--putting your manuscript away in a drawer and forgetting about it for a week or a month--isn't always possible for folks who have external deadlines, but I do think that taking some time away from the work can often help improve it.

The downside of blogging every day:

1. Takes time away from the kind of writing that pays my rent

That's it. That's the only downside, but it's a big one.

Periodically bloggers write about whether folks should blog, or how much folks should blog, but I think it's probably different for every person. Each of us must struggle to find that comfortable medium where we reap a benefit without taking too much time away from the work that puts food on the table.

And, next week, I do promise to write that post about book promotion! (grin)

Why do you blog? What has blogging taught you?

Photo credit: "It's all about love" by kevin dooley under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.