A to Z Challenge 2013

Friday, May 29, 2009

Research - How Much Should We Do?

I got to thinking about this thanks to a post by Lost Wanderer. Her post involved writing what you want to write, remembering to use the passion you have to get the story out. Don't ask me how I got from that post to this tangent, but that's how it worked out. One problem I sometimes have when coming up with an idea is realizing how much research I might have to do to get it right. For example, my current WIP involves a number of issues, such as alcoholism, homelessness, and child welfare. And that's just some of the issues that affect the MC. So how deeply do I research the topic? I want my readers to really feel they are in the situation, that they are side-by-side with the MC. But I don't want to deluge them with facts either. While it might work well enough for Tom Clancy, it's really not the style I'd like to adopt.

I have a short story I'm working on that I shared a while back, and I had initially intended to tie it in to real world concepts and ideas. My fears of getting too much wrong or treading on truly sensitive material however, have made me change my mind. I'm now planning on making the entire material fictional in nature. It might mirror other real concepts, but I don't want to go through the pain of research in order to tell the story.

The question I pose here is how do we as writers deal with research (in fictional works)? Sometimes the sheer amount of information available to the populace makes me blanch at the thought of including any of it, if for no other reason than the worry of getting any of it wrong. Since I'm a new author, I wager there will be much less tolerance for error than if I were say, Stephen King. Of course, he probably wouldn't get much wrong either, but that's beside the point. How do you deal with research in your writing? How much is enough (or not enough)?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Writing Is Work

A new follower (thank you Johanna for joining) had an interesting rant about readers of books. Near the bottom however, she begins to talk about how we as writers agonize over finding the right word. This hit a chord with me, because it's a habit I've taken great pains to overcome - and I still do it from time to time. I will be writing along just fine, and suddenly I want to convey a particular image or piece of dialogue. Rather than settling with:

The sun set in a mirrored sea of reds and oranges, gasping out its last breath before vanishing for the day.

I will agonize over whether "reds and oranges" is good enough, whether that really describes the visuals adequately. I actually like this example, but even now while I'm trying to talk about this phenomena, I paused for a few moments before typing the second half of that one sentence. Yes, I'm willing to admit it. When we're dealing with an entire novel full of pauses, the writing process can break down.

I've tried to explain to my wife (who is incredibly supportive despite the fact she hates to write things herself) how difficult writing is for me. She gets this blank look in her eyes like I'm trying to spin a yarn, con her into buying beachfront property in Nevada. She's waiting for the punchline, because obviously a writer complaining about how hard writing is must be a joke. Despite the implication that writers write effortlessly, the truth is that it's harder for us than anyone else. That's a hard truth for us to recognize. It's even harder for us to acknowledge the fact and let the words form on their own. Have you overcome this particular habit? Or have you been lucky enough not to be plagued by indecision?

Avoiding Cliches In Our Writing

How many times have you started out with a great topic and found it meandering down well-worn paths? If you think about how many books have been written over the ages, the probability that your particular story is fresh and unique is fairly low. That's not to say that a story cannot be interesting, and even contain new elements. But it's safe to say that there are redundancies in literature. It's a generalization to be sure, but one that rings true in some respects.

So how do you take your particular tale and break new ground? One problem I find myself encountering time and time again is this. I have a great idea for a story. I start writing it out, I get some portion of the way in, and then I start to struggle with avoiding becoming "one of the masses". After all, I want my story to be unique, but unlike alot of writers, I rarely know where my story is going to go after it leaves the starting gate.

We can even make this more simplistic than the grand view of a story. How do you avoid cliches in sentence structure, in turns of phrase? Do you edit as you go or do you just let the cliches fly across the page? I think it's probably quite difficult to avoid our own tendencies towards certain words, certain phrases. That's what makes writing so difficult (at least one of the aspects of writing, anyway). If anyone has exercises or advice on how they deal with this, I'm all ears.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


A while back Elana had a post about dialogue, and it got me to thinking about my own abilities (or lack thereof) to use only dialogue to describe a scene. I have crafted the following scene with that in mind, trying to keep my descriptive sentences to a minimum.

"The necessity of vision in today's world demands you concede, my dear." His voice moved around, disorienting Kathryn.

"I'm still a human being, regardless of the law. You can play your damn games all day long, but you can't ignore that."

"Ahh, but indeed I can ignore that. You seem to forget where you are. You are nothing but a reminder of the frailty of humanity. The general populace doesn't need nor want you left alive. They have enough troubles to worry..."

"People hide their real thoughts because of you, because of your kind." She could hear his irritation rising, so she plunged on, "No matter how you paint it Garing, it's still prison. Just because they ignore the bars doesn't mean they don't see them."

He teased her right ear with a flick of his tongue, "I will enjoy watching my brethren consume you. You do realize we take our time with such things."

"You haven't managed enough stability here for such an outrage, and everyone knows I've been taken. If I don't reappear soon, your fragile control will shatter and you know it." The power in her voice did not mirror her frantically beating heart.

She could hear his grin, "Are you so sure that humanity is destined to be anything other than a slave race? This world was once owned by reptiles. It's only fate that the true rulers should return. Enjoy the silence of this room, Kathryn. Rest your voice. We enjoy the screams of our meals almost as much as the taste." The whispering sounds of his feet echoed in her mind long after the door hissed shut.

What are your thoughts about this excerpt? Does the dialogue flow nicely or is it hard to follow? Do you have some good visuals of what is going on or are there more questions than answers? Would this excerpt hook you enough to keep reading? And what could I do to improve on things?

Friday, May 22, 2009

Stunned On A Friday

I popped in this morning to see how the blog world is going and I was stunned to see a post by Brian over at The New Author. I had alot of fun working through yesterday's post, but I had no idea I would help inspire others with it. It was for me just a mental exercise to work through the concepts. Being acknowledged alongside other writers like Rebecca Woodhead and Jo-Anne Vandermeulen has just left me spinning. I've known about Rebecca's page for some time and have always found her advice and posts incredibly insightful. I had not visited Jo-Anne's page prior to this, but I have since added her to my list of must-reads. It amazes me how many gracious authors there are out there, and how much fun it is to be a part of this vibrant community. So thanks Brian, you made my day.

On another note, I put up a post about a writing exercise the other day and I indicated that I would let everyone know where the imagery came from. I'm a Coke fan. No, not the white line on the mirror. Coca-Cola. I have accumulated a few Coke collectibles over the years, from a tall lamp to a little lunch box to a miniture refridgerator. One of the items I have on my desk however, is a Coca-Cola clock. It's a tall thing, about a foot or so high, and underneath the clock there are people on stools sipping the almighty beverage while they rotate around in time to the ticking of the minute hand. Over the top of it is a plastic cover (yes I know I said glass in the story, but go with it). I started to think about the idea of how these people would react if they were actually alive, held prisoner and forced to sit on those stools forever, completely unable to drink the beverage held tightly in their little hands. When I finished writing the post, I realized two things. First of all, I had stumbled on a new writing exercise I can do whenever I'm feeling stuck and out of ideas. And second, I figured out just how far I can stretch my imagination when I put my mind to it. It was a really fun time, and the comments I got were really fun to read through as well. If you haven't checked it out, you should. Better yet, try the exercise yourself and see what you can come up with. Then let me know so I can stop by and see how it went for you.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Thursday Thoughts - Metaphors and Similes

I'm trying to get some regular posts going here, hence the "Thursday Thoughts" name. Today I'd like to work my way through the idea of when to use metaphors, when to use similes, and what makes them effective. I need to put out the disclaimer however, that I am not classically trained in English literature. I am hopefully not going to be spouting nonsense, but feel free to correct any obvious mistakes.

Simile construction consists of using the word 'like' when comparing two things. An example would be "The tension cut like a knife." While this particular example is fairly cliche, it works well enough to explain how to use a simile. A metaphor however, is a comparison where you do not use the word 'like'. An example of this would be "His car was a bullet, flying down the highway with no regard for obstacles." The difference between the two is this: When using simile, an author is comparing the two concepts or objects side by side. When using metaphor however, one object or concept is being completely overlaid by another, becoming that object figuratively.

The rule-of-thumb is to avoid similes whenever possible. The idea is that a metaphor is much stronger in a literary sense than a simile. It conveys the comparison with greater emphasis, particularly because you are replacing part or all of the original object with a new figurative description. You are adding to things, enhancing them in a way. Similes are straight comparison, and most of the time they impact the reader less. Consider the following example:

"Her hair was like an unkempt haystack."


"Her hair was an unkempt haystack."

While the change is very subtle, the second example doesn't imply that her hair was a haystack; it states it emphatically. There is no possibility that the reader will mistake what her hair looks like, because the sentence describes it in crisp, clear words. This is what we want as authors, after all. We want our readers to completely visualize the story, see it through our eyes in all its splendor.

So when should you use a simile? This is a much harder question for me to answer. The entire time I've been writing this post, I've been trying to come up with a good reason. The only one that comes to mind is if using a simile is necessary in order to stay true to the story. For example, if someone is speaking, describing something, and they don't usually talk in metaphors (i.e. they aren't as intelligent, aren't as verbally proficient, etc), then a simile is necessary. You can even use this idea if the person is just thinking about things, since we often think using the same words we speak in. Other than that, I would advise using a well-written metaphor whenever possible instead of a simile.

So have I missed anything here? Are there other instances you can think of where a simile would be appropriate?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Writing Exercises For The Stuck Writer

Thanks to Elle Scott, I found a great post about writing exercises for the writer who needs a little help. The idea is to pick something random like an image, a ordinary object, a scene between two people, whatever. You then write something about it. Don't dictate the true nature of the object, but instead use it as a launching point to leap from. Or describe the scene as something entirely different than it actually is. There are numerous ways to work through this exercise (explained so much better over at Apollo's Lyre, of course), so I will do my best to pick something and run with it. Feel free to comment on what I have or continue where I leave off.

"We've been sitting on these stools forever", Jodi complained. "I thought you had a plan for getting us out of here. I swear, this constant swinging back and forth is going to drive me over the edge." The air rushed by as they turned, her body rigid as steel.

"Shhh". The reprimand came quickly, Robert begging her to keep still. "I don't think he knows we can move yet, and I'd like to keep it that way, okay?" His eyes slid to the left and right before staring her down once more. "Those two get it so why can't you?" The young woman to his right was an impeccable statue, as was the man to his right. Each of them had a hand on the counter, a murky glass in their grasp. They dare not drink however, no matter how appealing the cold liquid looked. There was no way to replace even a single drop of the precious fluid, and Robert was sure it would be noticed. After all, their captor lifted the glass walls every week, checking the machine that kept them in perpetural rotation. The constant motion of their seats was wearing on him as well, but tonight that would end. One way or another, they were getting out.

The day dragged on, each click of the machine taunting his brain as it turned them. Jodi was cracking; He had to get her out or they were all doomed. Another week of this and she'd make a break for it with no regard for anything. Martin and Heather were silent as usual. After being placed on the stools and watching the glass walls slam home, the pair had fallen into despair. The smiles pasted on their face was a facade, just like the ones he and Jodi had to maintain. He wasn't even sure he could convince his friends to join them, but then he realized it was out of his hands. They would either recognize the opportunity and snap out of it or they'd be stuck here forever. His hand ached as he held onto the glass. He hadn't let go of the damn thing for what must be years. He didn't even know if he would be able to move his fingers when the time came.

Finally the light outside vanished, their jailor striding away humming some strange tune. Robert still didn't move, despite Jodi's eyes boring into him. The clicks became hammers, reverberating against the walls each time they turned. The darkness around them was a black sea, puncuated only by the rhythmic motion of the machine. It turned them this way and that, its robotic constancy grating on his skull. "I'm going to jump", he whispered. Though she didn't nod, he could see the acknowledgement in Jodi's eyes. Martin and Heather were stone, their breathing barely noticeable. Robert gathered what little energy he had left and pushed off with his feet, letting himself slide backwards off the stool. Pain tore through his hand as it was ripped from the glass, mirrored by a thousand needles of pain throughout his legs. The swinging motion threw him violently against the glass wall, and he blacked out as his head met the crimson floor. Jodi was off her own seat with a scream, not faring much better than he as she attempted to leap free. Martin and Heather however, sat numbly on their perch, their eyes locked on each other.

After long moments, Robert was able to open his eyes. He rubbed life back into his legs, hoping he could still walk after sitting for so long. He opted instead to kneel, not wanting to waste any of his energy needlessly. His head was spinning from the impact, but he searched the darkness for Jodi's limp form. She was across the way, apparently lifeless. Hugging the curving glass wall, he crawled towards her body. Her long blonde hair was in disarray, her soft blue eyes closed as if in sleep. "Jodi". Robert touched her cheek with his fingertips. "Talk to me, baby. Don't give up now." With a flutter, her eyes opened a crack. "Promise me we'll never have to do that again", she moaned. Robert helped her sit up as he nodded, "I promise. We're getting out of here as soon as you can walk." She smiled as he embraced her, their mutual body heat the only source of warmth. "Then let's get the hell out" she replied with a grin.

Robert turned towards the glass, his fingers searching the lower edge for purchase. Sure enough, he was able to worm his fingers underneath. The weight of the glass was painful, but he no longer cared. With a loud groan, he lifted the heavy glass a foot, his arms straining with effort. "Martin", he yelled. "I can't get it high enough without your help." Martin tried to look in his direction, his neck straining. The turning of the machine kept him from seeing his friend however. He would have to jump off this crazy ride if he was going to do anything. With a loud crash, the wall came slamming back down on Robert's hands. A scream tore from him as the pain intensified. "Martin dammit, help me!" He knew he had only moments before it was too late, before his hands were crushed.

I've ended it here on purpose, because I'm curious where other writers would take it to. I will reveal the source of this inspiration later on, because I think you'll find it an interesting surprise. But give me a few sentences if you're up to it, or a paragraph even. Or feel free to start your own writing exercise. This was really fun, so I may make this a normal Wednesday thing. Who knows.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Vile Villains

Continuing with a previous post about heroes, it's time to talk about villains. Villains for me are just like heroes. They cannot be omnipotent, incredibly charismatic, and perfectly evil. A proper villain however, shouldn't be ignorant either. After all, if the villain were really as stupid as is so often portrayed by Hollywood, anyone could catch them. The truly diabolical villains appeal to me greatly. The people who hide in the shadows, surprise me by being behind the master plan without me suspecting at any point. A perfect example is the villain in Angels & Demons (which I will be reviewing tomorrow). I won't spoil the story because I think everyone who enjoys that type of book really needs to read it. But the major villain in the story is someone you would never expect. I didn't have even a hint of it as I was reading, so that when it was revealed, I was stunned. That is what I call a great villain.

Another villainous type I enjoy is the truly evil. Sometimes writers seem to find it difficult to describe someone who is pure evil. Homicidal destruction all wrapped up in a cannabilistic rage. There are lines that many writers will just not go beyond, but I'm not so naive as to think there does not exist vessels of pure evil out there. I also don't think it's a terrible thing to examine this facet of humanity in literature. Call it a morbid curiosity towards an aspect I personally could never (nor would I, of course) experience. Stephen King is one writer that consistently explores these deeper wells of evil, and obviously he does a great job of it. If you haven't noticed by now, King is definitely one of my larger influences. Whether I'll ever be able to write as well as he does remains to be seen, but let it be known that I purposely drink from his well whenever possible. The man is pure genius for drawing out the diabolical.

I don't think it really matters to me whether the villain is human, space alien, or an insect. It doesn't matter. What matters is how well the author creates an understanding between the written work and myself that I am in the presence of evil undeniable. Don't give me hordes of simplistic goons in zoot suits or the Supreme Overlord in black. The more unique and interesting the villain is, the more likely it is I'll be entertained.

So how about yourself? What makes a great villain? What makes a poor one? And when was the last time you truly felt afraid of a villain being real (figuratively, of course)?

Monday, May 18, 2009


Nisa over at Wordplay, Swordplay had an interesting post about villains. It got me to thinking about what type of heroes I like to create. So here's my take on heroes in writing. I harbor a particular dislike of "goody goody" heroes a.k.a. Johnny the Mountie who always gets his man. About the only thing this type of person is good for is comic relief, and I rarely am in the mood for writing a comedy anyway. I suppose it would be a true challenge for me to create a hero of this nature and make him/her truly interesting. It's something to keep in mind anyway.

No, what I really like are the heroes who would rather not be a hero. The distant and reluctant hero who wishes to stay out of the conflict but ends up being the hero in the end. I don't think they necessarily need to have this inner spark of goodness just waiting to come out. I'd rather they end up "saving the world" because they have no other choice. Because really, they're not a hero and have no desire to be one. Why do I like this? I really can't nail down why it appeals to me, but it just does. Maybe it's because I believe that all of us have the capacity to do good, whether we follow through on it or not. We would all like to think that given the opportunity, we'd do the right thing. I find it more interesting for someone to do the right thing, because they have to rather than some internal desire to do good. It's too easy to say someone will do what's right because they know it's the right thing to do. Too cliche for me.

What about you? What is your idea of the perfect literary hero? Tomorrow I'll take a more in-depth look at what type of villain appeals to me.

Editing post

Cindy has a great post on editing that hit home for me. Since I'm currently in an editing mode on one of my projects, I found alot of good advice here. This is a short post, but I found this to be really useful and worth sharing.

Contest News

Joyce over at The Novice Novelist is holding a contest to celebrate her expanding cult following. Since I enjoy her stuff, I thought I'd put in a good word for her. Yes, it does enter me into her contest (once I go comment on her page), but I think it's always good to support other blogs. After all, so many of you have supported me through all my ramblings, so it's time to give back. Take a trip over to her blog and check things out. I'm sure you'll find she has some interesting things for you to read, as well as this celebratory contest.

Different Kinds Of Writing

The title might make you think I'm going to start talking about genres, but that's not where I'm headed. One of the classes I have left involves a huge senior project. The very first portion of that project is a technical writing "class". I put class in quotes, because really the project is 3 "classes" that together form my capstone. Anyway, my project involves setting up a fictional dentist office with a network, including hardware, software, any training, security, etc. One would think that since I am at least a halfway decent writer, I could blaze through this. Add to that the fact that I'm already working in the IT industry (and have been for over 15 years), and you'd expect I could really blaze through this.

Alas, none of this is true. While I have lots of experience (both theoretical and practical) setting up networks, technical writing is something I abhor. It's like torture to expect me to do this kind of work. I'm not exactly sure why this is either, since I know I already have the know-how. It got me to thinking though, about what I like to write and what I don't like to write. If you were to ask me to crank out some poetry, I would be hemming and hawing all day long and maybe get one stanza down. But if I were allowed to just tell a story, I imagine I could get along just fine. There is also the problem that this is a graded assignment, so there's a little bit of pressure there as well. In my mind, I guess I envision it to be similar to a critique circle, except that the graders are holding hot pokers and I'm strapped to an interrogation table. So how do I overcome my angst with writing a style that I'm not comfortable in? That is the question that plagues me today. I have a very easy-to-follow template provided by a professor, but I just have been unable (or unwilling) to type the first word. How do you deal with writing outside your comfort zone? How do you change your mindset for a moment so that you can still write with the same energy and excellence you display in other works? I haven't come up with an answer yet, but I guess I'll just have to start with one sentence and go from there. Here's hoping my muse can quiet down and get to work.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Just a quick post

I have something more I'd like to put here later this afternoon, but I wanted to make everyone aware of a neat list created by Martin over at From Sand To Glass. I found alot of useful tips here, some of which I do all the time without thinking about it. It has to do with things you want to remember while writing. Check it out.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Dreaded "ly", Dialogue, and Writing Better

I had an epiphany during lunch. You see, I'm one of those terrible writers who use words ending in "ly" in all the wrong places. Like this:

"That was the greatest moment of my life", she said happily."

Yes, its attrocious, and having been told about it recently, I know I shouldn't do it. But I hadn't yet had the opportunity to "really" learn the lesson. Today I was sitting at lunch reading Angels and Demons by Dan Brown (a great book I'm enjoying, by the way), and I started paying attention to how the words were structured. I was still reading along, still following what was there, but it was the first time I really SAW how writing should be done. I know I can be blockheaded at times, but wow. I don't know how it is that I have missed what is so obvious before, but all of a sudden I started seeing so many things I could be doing better.

Another thing I struggle with is dialogue. I find myself too often trying to come up with a dozen ways to say someone is talking rather than showing them talking. Like so:

"It's about time you got to this", he said.

"Hey, I was working on it as fast as possible", she replied.

"Yeah, well your work isn't fast enough", he yelled.

Yep, pretty boring writing. It was rather nice then, to notice how real dialogue SHOULD be described rather than my usual attempts. That's not to say that suddenly I'm going to be able to sit down and fix all of my little foibles. But at least for a moment, I was seeing structure and flow in a way I hadn't before. I have a much better grasp now on what has previously eluded me. With a little work and practice, I'll be able to go home today and weave it into my current projects. I'm not promising of course that an "ly" won't slip in there somewhere. But hey, it's a start.

Have you had moments of insight like this where the lightbulb finally shines?

Realizing How Much I Don't Know

I recently had a friend beta-read a portion of the novel I've been slaving over, and I started to read through their comments. First off, I have to say that this is a person I have a great deal of respect for. I've read their work as well, and I have always been impressed by the quality of their writing. I realized fairly quickly just how much I have to learn about writing well. It's really a daunting feeling, to see just how much there is I should know but don't. It got me to thinking about my own writing process, about how many things I'm not doing that I probably should be doing. I went through all the usual arguments. Maybe this person is just being opinionated. No, thats just writer's ego. This editor has said quite blatantly that its nothing personal. Maybe she doesn't understand me, my muse, my writing. Well, then thats an obvious indicator that I'm not writing well enough, isn't it? In the end, all of the arguments I could come up with against the editor's advice point to the fact that I need to improve my writing level.

Now I could decide to quit, because to be honest, the amount of change I feel like I need to make is really scary. But that's merely my own self confidence taking a hit. Maybe the story I'm trying to tell isn't really as good as I think it is? This is a sign that I need to show this world to the reader, invite them in, and make them believe why my story is worth telling. Because one thing the editor did say enough times is that there is something there, but she couldn't really feel it no matter how much she wanted to. That points to a lack in the writer, not a lack in the story itself. After taking some deep breaths and really understanding what was being said, I realized this is just another step I have to take if I want to become a serious writer.

I bring this up not to vent about my own slight disgrace, but to talk about how we as writers deal with rejection or criticism. I've read an insane number of blogs and posts that talk about queries being rejected, agents being harsh, publishers being rude. This may be true. The problem with that argument is this. If your writing is really that good, how is it possible that so many (arguably) respected people in the industry can't see it? At some point (just as in so many other areas of our life), we need to take responsibility for our own writing. That doesn't necessarily mean that what we're writing is crap, but criticism doesn't have to be the bane of our existence either. We need to evaluate information we receive about our writing with the same critical eye that we expect from everyone else. And we need to be willing to realize just how much we don't know, coupled with a willingness to fill that gap in our own knowledge before sending our work out again.

So how do you deal with criticism, or the realization that you have more work to do?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Celebration Time

As you may or may not have noticed, I haven't been as prompt or regular in my postings here lately. The reason for that is I've been cramming for an exam over the last few weeks. I'm five classes away from graduating with my BS in IT. So yesterday I had my exam, and as luck would have it, I passed with flying colors. Whew. It was a certification exam on databases (something I don't do on a regular basis), so there were definitely areas that were hard to memorize. But now I'm done with that one and starting the next - Security. Yeah, this one is even harder, but I only have two more tests left. Then I have three classes that consist of a 50 - 70 page project, my capstone. I'm taking on the project of how one would go about setting up a networked environment in a dentist office. I got the idea because my wife aspires to be a dentist some day. So I'm hoping by the end of this year to get all of that done and be walking across the stage with diploma in hand.

I've been going off and on to college for like 20 years, fitting in a class here and there where I could. Its been tough, but I switched colleges (from Metropolitan State College of Denver to Western Governors University) halfway through. This has turned out to be a good thing, because WGU is a completely online program. This has been much easier for me to do my classes. It's also competency-based, so I don't get letter grades. Instead I have to pass industry certification exams or write papers showing my competency in a subject area. Let me tell you - the math area was a bear for me to get through. It's never been one of my favorite subjects. I didn't discover my love of writing until very recently, so while I should have worked towards a degree in English Lit maybe, I'm already too far along to change it now. Who knows, maybe I'll take a creative writing class sometime. I've been working in IT for over 15 years though, so at this point it just makes sense for me to finish up my degree. Ironically, I've made to a high position without my degree, but since I'm a govt worker, maybe that makes sense. All of you out there groaning about us govt workers need to just quit complaining. Not all of us are lazy good-for-nothings. I won't argue that there are plenty of prime examples, but there are some dedicated people too, just trying to do what they can to make it better.

In any event, I've been flying on clouds since I passed yesterday afternoon. Now I have to buckle down once more and start memorizing security protocols. I will try to make future posts however, about writing instead of the IT world. Trust me, it gets boring for us admins sometimes too so don't feel so bad.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Changes At The Muse

I've decided to use a new template for my site. I hope everyone likes it. The colors are more me, and the layout is more pleasing (at least in my humble opinion). I had also been restricting the list of displayed posts to three, but I've changed that a bit. Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you all like it.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Illusions Of A Deity

The title here is completely off the cuff, but I'm going to put down an idea I have had brewing in the back of my mind and see where it goes.

The sound reverberated across the vast but empty room. Silence was one of the few amenities Thiron enjoyed. The corner of his mouth twitched at the disruption, but he pretended to ignore Keros hovering nearby. "How much longer before you achieve sentience, Thiron?" Shaking his head, Thiron concentrated on the mottled sphere in front of him. Things were progressing nicely, though the timeline was a bit tight. He had to find a way to stimulate growth again without disrupting the entire ecosystem. Or maybe he just needed to start over. He decided to give it a bit longer.

Thiron spun around, trying not to let his aggravation show. Keros was a Publicant, completely at odds with research and study. But he was important, particularly if Thiron wanted authorization to continue his project. Sentience was the only useful aspect, and if he couldn't achieve that, the entire thing would be scrubbed. "Timelines are hard to judge", he answered. "The line is developing at an expected rate, but there are too many variables involved to give you an accurate estimate." Keros' frown was disconcerting, as was his need to be constantly managed. Too many interruptions meant less time spent easing things along. He slipped a hand into his pocket, trying to look nonchalant despite his irritation. "How are the climate changes going?" Keros asked, leaning to the side to peer over Thiron's shoulder. He sighed with resignation. Might as well show him or he'd never leave.

Thiron gestured slightly and lights dimmed. "See for yourself", he said as he brought the image back into focus. Two thirds of the mottled sphere were blindingly pristine, a white cap that covered both ends. The band in the middle however, was a vibrant mixture of greens and blues. "Here you can see the landscape left behind as the ice recedes. The process is necessarily methodical and slow however, since it's a fairly fragile species." Keros nodded, his hand reaching out to glide above the upper quadrant. Thankfully, he did not attempt any manipulation. "I expect a full report in two cycles, Thiron", Keros said imperiously. "This project is consuming a great deal of my time". Without another word, he turned and walked out, his blue robe billowing like a parachute. Another sigh escaped Thiron, and he turned back to examine the image once more. He gestured with one hand, concentrating carefully. The landscape changed gradually, pearly white giving way to deep sapphires and darkened emeralds. His last attempts at sentience had failed, but this latest creation was unique. It exhibited actions that went beyond instinctual survival. Thiron even thought he heard organized vocalizations, but that was hoping for too much. He needed proof, some indication that progess was being made. Just as he was about ready to leave, something caught his eye. Was it possible? He homed in, increasing the resolution to maximum. He wasn't imagining things. The creatures were hunting in packs. Even more important however, was what they held in their hands. Without another thought, Thiron backed out and began to document furiously. The impact was astounding, but he had to be calm, had to be thorough. It was quite some time before he stood upright once more, his head dizzy with success.

10 Thing To Avoid In Writing

I just stumbled on a very good post regarding writing habits, particularly things we should avoid. While I spent a decent amount of time reading through it (time that I could use working on my WIP), I don't consider it wasted in the least. This post is well written and an absolute necessity for any writer - even published authors. You may be surprised at the examples provided, since some of them include mistakes taken from blockbuster authors and books. Okay, time to get busy with my own writing.

What Have I Done?

The year is already one quarter of the way gone. In honor of that realization, I'd like to recap what I've accomplished so far this year. For those who didn't know, I have been involved in a writing challenge. The goal I had initially set was to write 500 words per day. For the first week, I exceeded that goal every day. I then decided to up the amount, setting a goal of 1000 words per day. I probably should have just been happy with my meager 500 words per day, but I was excited and determined. Looking back, I was able to successfully write over 1000 words on 24 out of 30 days. I am unsure of the exact total (due to editing while writing), but its somewhere in the neighborhood of 24K or so words. Thats not too bad, all things considered.

Along the way however, I ran into two huge stumbling blocks. The first stumbling block was when I realized that my storyline really wasn't adequate; I was ignoring a HUGE problem that my MC needed to deal with. So I began draft 2, rewriting the entire first chapter of the book and melding that with what I had already created. The second stumbling block happened yesterday, when I realized (through research) just how far off of reality I am with what else this MC will need to deal with. Luckily I don't have to start over again, but I do need to make massive changes in where things will go from here. Editing has become the bane of my existence, and I understand now why some people hate it so much. Editing other's works is so much easier for me than editing my own.

During this first quarter of the year, I have also educated myself greatly about the literary industry. There are countless bloggers, agents, and editors that provide so much information for a prospective writer. Some of it is daunting (like when I think about writing my first blurb and query), but I see hope and light at the end of the tunnel. For the most part, the decent agents and editors are professional and interested in the same thing we all are - to get good writing published. There are lots of sob stories out there to be read, about how the process broke down for another potential author. But I think (after having read so much) it boils down to your own optimism and drive to succeed. I've never before encountered an industry that demands such determination from an individual, but I still believe the reward in the end is worth the effort.

I've had the pleasure of meeting (figuratively, at least) so many wonderful people, authors striving to hone their craft as they seek publication. I've also had the pleasure of doing my first author interview, an exercise I found extremely fulfilling. I've gotten to read and review a couple books, an interesting journey that made me look at a book from an entirely different perspective. While I still read books for enjoyment, I am now noticing things I never did before.

In summary, this quarter has been a learning experience. I'm developing new habits, making new friends, and struggling to become a useful member of this industry. As always, I cannot say enough how encouraging it is to see the comments from you all. My goals going forward are to maintain at least 750 words per day (not merely 500 but not striving for 1000), learning to keep editing separate from writing, and having a finished draft before the end of this next quarter.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Interview With Jamie Ford

Jamie Ford is the outstanding author behind Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, but this is merely the culmination of true writing talent waiting to be recognized. The winner of the 2006 Clarity of Night Short Fiction Contest, first runner up in the Midnight Road Reader's Choice Awards, and a proud survivor of Orson Scott Card's Literary Boot Camp, Jamie is a very down-to-earth author whom I've had the pleasure of interviewing. So without further ado:

The story told in Hotel is an emotional tale, not always bad but not always pleasant either. There are some similarities between Henry's background and your own. Was there any point in the process that you found it difficult to tell the story because of the subject matter?

Ah, the Joan Crawford/Mommie Dearest question. The funny thing is, I set out to write a love story, but this painful, father & son dynamic just sort of elbowed its way onto the stage. I didn’t intend for it, it just happened. And to be honest, my own father and I didn’t always see eye to eye, especially after my parent’s divorce. But I’d say we were more like the characters of Marty and the older Henry, rather than the culture war between young Henry and his own father. That part of the story was strongly influenced by my dad’s relationship to his Chinese mother (my grandmother), who was very stern. She was so strict that my dad wasn’t allowed to speak English at home, which obviously made it difficult for him to invite any non-Chinese friends over to the house. He had a rough go of it…

You've indicated that Hotel started out as a short story initially. Did you find it difficult to expand that into a full-blown novel?

It was actually surprisingly easy, like rolling downhill. There was a certain direction and gravity to the story since it was wrapped around historical events. I just had to hang on and pray for a soft landing.

You use a somewhat unorthodox mixture of writing and editing, ending up with a finalized product in one draft. Did you have to stumble through a few misfires before realizing this worked well for you? Does this cause more work for you, since you have to "get it right" before you can progress from one section to the next?

Most of my misfires were on my real first book, the one under my bed that will never see the light of day. I rewrote that thing four times before I put it into a medically induced coma and began Hotel. By that time I think I’d learned how to tell a better story, and how to tell it with fewer authorly embellishments. The process of writing and editing became simpler, which I think ultimately means less work. But, I could be wrong.

The cover for Hotel is perfectly in tune with the tone of the story, from the colors to the imagery. Knowing your experience with graphic novels, did you have a hand the cover's creation or was it handled by others?

With my design background most people would expect that I would have a larger hand in the cover art, but I didn’t.

When I was working as a full-time art director, I hated it when clients had a spouse or mother-in-law with design experience. It always constipated the design process and made it a painful experience for everyone involved, so I took a very hands-off approach. My editor asked for my input, and I mocked up some little thumbnail ideas in Photoshop, but that was about it. I really deferred to their designer, who did an amazing job. If I’d have hated it, I would have said so, but I didn’t. It was love at first sight.

Are you enjoying the book tour or are you looking forward to being back at home for a while?

Touring is great. I love meeting readers and spending time in bookstores and libraries. But––the airports and the traffic, not so much. Also, I try to do as many drop-in signings as I can while on tour, so in addition to an evening event, I might hit as many as 15 other bookstores that afternoon. It’s a lot of work, and a lot of fun, but as Dorothy said, “There’s no place like home.”

You were a willing participant of the Orson Scott Card literary boot camp. Can you share your thoughts on the experience?

The year I went (2006), it was held in Buena Vista, Virginia. I called ahead to ask what there was to see and do in the area, you know, in case I got bored and had a little downtime. The person on the other end of the phone laughed. That was my first sign that this was going to be an intense week.

Boot Camp is the antithesis of your typical writers’ workshop where you critique work that you wrote months ago and you basically hang out and commune with other writers while holding a glass of merlot. At Boot Camp, you write. And it’s not that it’s a competition, but you obviously don’t want to look like a schmuck in front of your fellow writers, so you write hard, and sleep becomes an afterthought. Plus Scott Card is very honest in his critiques as well, and he’s a great story doctor. It was extremely liberating to focus on the craft of storytelling rather than the craft of writing.

What books(s) are you currently reading? Who are your favorite authors?

Hmmm…favorite authors? I’m a huge fan of Harlan Ellison, especially his non-fiction––his essays from the 70s are amazing. Fiction-wise, probably Sherman Alexie, whose honest, lyrical writing never gets in the way of the story.

As far as what I’m currently reading, I just finished Alexie’s Flight, while on a plane to Chicago. The book has a chapter with a plane crashing into a Chicago neighborhood, so that was timely. I also just finished Astonishing Tales, a splendid, uber-geeky biography of comic legend Jack Kirby.

Thank you very much Jamie, for allowing us another peek into your world. I hope you don't mind me "borrowing" the photo of you from your site either. For those aspiring authors out there, I can tell you that Hotel is a training tool and a book to be treasured. Reading through it, I found many examples to learn from. If you'd like to know more about Jamie Ford, check out his site.

Dead Stories

No Gupster, this isn't a post about the undead (although maybe I'll have to write one in your honor sometime). This is a post regarding a phenomena we all run into while writing - the act of killing a story, putting it down, hiding it under the bed, or using it for target practice to release our frustrations. I was thinking about this idea recently and I can sympathize with writers who feel the need to just get away from a story. For whatever reason, the story just isn't any good. But is killing the story really the best answer? The analytical part of me argues that this isn't always necessary. What should we do instead? Since I'm on a roll with lists, here goes another one:

1. Storyline is idiotic - This might be the ugly facet of your particular story, but that doesn't mean you should shoot it with a twelve gauge. Sit back and outline the basics of your story. Figure out what it is that doesn't really work and (god forbid) change it a little. Nobody says you have to completely re-write the story, like changing a blue sky planet to a red sky asteroid (although maybe this would be enough). Just take what positive things you can from it and run with them.

2. Main character is terribly created - This might be one of the most difficult aspects to change. We all fall in love with our characters, draw them up within our minds and make them real. Thats how they (hopefully) live for our readers as well. But if something isn't working, it isn't working. If your main character is just not what the story needs, strip 'em naked and hand 'em a gun. Give 'em a new haircut and a badder attitude (yes I know badder isn't a word, work with me here). Do what you can to salvage the character before you start all over.

3. No visuals, can't seem to "see" your world - This is harder to qualify but possibly easier to rectify. If you aren't seeing the world your story exists in, the reader definitely won't be seeing it. Start by asking yourself some of the basic questions - Who, What, When, Where, How. Sit back without writing anything and talk over (or scribble madly) the answers to these questions. Once you have a general idea, let your mind guide your hands as you detail it further. You may be surprised at how easily you can build your world through words, once you have a decent baseline.

4. No clear antagonist/wrong antagonist - I had difficulty with this particular item in my current WIP. I was looking for a "hook", something for my MC to struggle against. Then it dawned on me; She already had an antagonist, the demon inside herself that needed to be conquered. Sometimes we need to take a step back and define just what it is the MC is fighting against. Then we need to evaluate whether that idea makes sense, and if so we should run with it.

5. Its all been done before - You get started on your story, you have all of the above nailed, and then it dawns on you that this tale has been told before. Its Romeo and Juliet all over again - in space this time. Surprisingly enough, every possible tale has already been told in some manner or other, if you think about it. So don't think about it. If your tale is good, people will want to read it. Concentrate on making your story worthwhile, and don't worry about whether the same storyline has been told before. Someone is bound to find some similarity between yours and a previously written one. Its inevitable. But if you feel strongly enough that your story needs to be told, work your magic and make it a story worth reading.

This is not even close to an exhaustive list. There's a multitude of reasons for a story to be considered "bad", but that doesn't mean it always has to stay that way. Some stories can be resurrected from the dead, with a little work. But if you DO have to kill a story (hide it under the bed, shred it into little pieces, etc), learn what you can from it so that your next one is that much better.

What are your experiences with killing a story? How long did it take you to decide to pull the trigger?

How Deeply Affected Are You?

One of the distinctions of a good book is the ability to pull your reader deeply into your world. I recently had a wonderful experience with this while reading Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. I've already reviewed it, so I won't go into too many details. I do want to talk about how I know its great writing. I'm not talking about the structure either. I'm not talking about Jamie Ford's ability to put a sentence together, nor the adjectives he uses throughout the work. I'm talking about the ability to make your reader feel the story. Let me see if I can describe the sensations I was going through upon reaching the last few pages.

The story comes to a close (like so many others) with a great deal of emotional impact. Now I consider myself a manly man (I ride a loud motorcycle, encased in leather), but I willingly admit to a pulling at my heartstrings by this book. I could feel Jamie's MCs, I longed to find out more, and I ached because I knew the story was over even though I really didn't want it to be. This is when I know that a writer has done their job and done it exceptionally well. There are good books, and then there are exceptional books. So the question to us as writers is this: How do we transcend being able to put a few words on a page in the right order to making our story so full of impact that the reader can't help but be affected? Here are some quick thoughts I have on the subject:

1. Tell the story. While this may sound completely obvious, it has to do with concise writing. Sometimes we get off on a tangent and the story loses focus. I'm as much a culprit of this as anyone. Sometimes our tangents are really good too, but we need to know when to cut the fat.

2. Describe adequately. Again, this sounds like another easy concept but its often enough hard to master. We have to learn to describe our realm well enough that the reader feels the wind on their face, hears the birds in the trees. We don't however, want them so inundated with description that they get bored or lost.

3. Make your characters human. Now those of you who write Sci-fi or fantasy are probably up in arms. I don't mean make your characters human, as in what species they are. I mean, remember that perfection in a species is rare (or unheard of), and the flaws in a character are what make them so likeable. Even the super model hunk, captain of the football team with more muscles than Schwarzenegger has a flaw. Don't leave it out.

4. Write from your heart. I don't mean your book needs to be the next great romance novel (unless thats the intent, in which case keep chugging). When a writer begins a story, its hopefully something they care a great deal about. We need to allow our love for the story to shine through, even when we're working on our 7th draft and dreadfully tired of editing.

5. End the story. This is maybe the hardest one for me personally - getting to the end. We write a story, we care about the characters, and we cherish the world we have created. All of this is great, but just like our children growing up, eventually we need to let go. Don't be afraid of the story's end. Every story has an ending, and even if its a dark one, its a necessity.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. So what did I miss? What do you think is necessary in order to really affect your reader?

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Xmen Origins Frustration

Okay, I usually keep this blog about writing, but today I have a need to vent. The topic is the movie Xmen Origins: Wolverine. I had been anticipating this movie so much, because (in my fairly informed opinion) they did a decent enough job on all the rest of the Xmen movies. The story behind this origin is so compelling, I figured telling it on the big screen would be awesome. If you are in any way a fan of the previous movies or knowledgeable about the comic books at all, DO NOT GO SEE THIS MOVIE! Yes, the caps are a bit overdone, but this is about as emphatic as I can get. This is your one and only spoiler alert. Don't read on if you still want to see it. I have an extreme need to vent, so its not going to be pretty.

Okay, lets start with the idea that Wolverine and Sabertooth are related. Yes, this idea has been hinted at in the comic books throughout their history. It has never been put right out in the open though that they were brothers. The whole mystique of the idea is what kept people coming back to find out. It would have been nice had they kept the same concept during the film. You know, make people wonder a bit why these two are always around each other. No, they waste no time exposing that mystery in about two minutes flat. The cliffhanger just became a speedbump.

How about Wolverine's claws? It was stated quite emphatically in the series of previous movies that Logan got them during the adamantium replacement process. Lets not even bring up the comic books in this one. So if thats true (according to previously made films), why would you give him "bone claws" when he's a child? And how is it nobody in the 1800's is at all freaked out by a kid who exudes bone claws out of his fists, especially since 10 minutes ago he was sick in bed and unable to stand? As for his adamantium skeletal structure, its fairly well known (both in the comics and in previous movies) that they completely replaced his skeletal structure with adamantium, not "covered his existing bones in it". Interesting that the replacement process takes only 10 minutes too, in a laboratory thats about as grim as Barney the dinosaur's playground.

Okay, somehow I'll look past this stuff concerning the clawed beastie. Lets take a look at some of the other problems. Wolverine's girlfriend is a mutant who can influence people's thoughts by touching them (only he doesn't know it somehow). Stryker (you remember him, the guy who made Wolverine into the adamantium titan he is) has kidnapped this girl's mutant sister and is forcing her to lie to Wolverine, trick him into coming back to work for him. And why didn't the girl at some point just make Stryker do what she wants, if she's that powerful? Like maybe release her sister and never bother them again? Lets not mention that in the previous Xmen movies, Stryker was a short overweight guy and here he's well over 6'. Did he lose his height and add it to his mid section?

How about Cyclops? You remember him from the Xmen series of movies? Well, we get to see Cyclops attending public school with red shades on. The teacher asks him to take them off and he refuses, so she sends him to detention. How many times could this kid possibly say no before some teacher rips the shades off his head, causing him to destroy half the school thanks to his powers? At a later time in the movie, they show Cyclops and Gambit (another superhero) side by side. Only one problem. Cyclops and Gambit were supposed to be near the same age. Did Cyclops get held up for a few years in a time warp? Yes, I know those of you who never read the comics wouldn't know this, but lets be honest. The fans of comic books are what make these movies really good, because just like a Star Trek movie, its the core fans who will make or break a movie like this.

I started out wanting to really love this movie, but 5 minutes in (when Wolverine exuded bone claws as a child), I was lost forever as a fan. It went downhill from there, and even the halfway decent fight scenes couldn't bring me back. I think its probably a good time for a beer, because I'm so furious I could strangle a movie exec. Bastards!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Blog Chain Writing

Elana has thrown down the gauntlet once more, and the topic is 'Flowers'. Here goes my foray into this peculiar topic:

Sunflowers are evil. They're crusty brown bug eyes on stalks, with yellow flames all round. They've always creeped me out for some reason. And here I sit in an entire field of 'em. My hands are tied behind me, my arms wrapped around an old cedar post. A splinter is trying to work its way across my wrist, and a daddy long leg has decided to park itself on my sweaty forehead. The trickle coming from my left nostril has stopped thankfully, but Nico'll be back to get it going again soon anyway. Shoulda known better than to trust that weasel Mitch. That's my life though; stupid decisions made while sucking down one too many shots of bourbon.

I can just turn my neck a bit, but my eyesight is still a bit fuzzy. It might be the effects of last night's binge, but probably not. The bruiser has been workin' me over a while now, but there's really not much to cop to anyway. Mitch must have taken the bags and run. I should've let him go in first. He should've stopped to help me up when the first bullet caught me in the leg. Too many things should've happened, but it doesn't matter. By now, he's high-tailing it to someplace south, sportin' his usual half-toothed grin while I sit here busted up. "Ahh, you're ready for more." The fist comes around the left side, the sound of flesh upon flesh mingling with my own savage groan. The punches he dealt me earlier has damaged my ears too much to hear him coming alongside. The pain in my head is beyond excrutiating, and its becoming difficult to concentrate. "You still don't have nothing to say?" The guy's accent would be laughable under different circumstances. The whole situation is like something out of a bad action movie, but there won't be any rescue from Chuck Norris sportin' a Texas star. I already know these guys are gonna kill me. They have the edge, the hardened gaze that cuts right through. They figured a local yokel like me wouldn't hold out this long, that I'd be spilling my guts by now. I may be some small town cowboy, but I'm going down with my boots on.

I look away from the bruiser, eye the sunflowers all around me. Don't know whose farm this is. Maybe its Hal's. Ol' Hal slipped me a spare key to their room for a cut. I wasn't planning on coming back to pay up anyway. I just never figured they'd be so alert at 3 a.m. I turn my head to the right to eye Hal's mishapen form nearby. One of his legs looks wrong; the knee is bent at a weird angle. There's a deep purple bruise across his face, and flies are dining on the crusted blood where his left ear should be. I never thought he could smell worse, but I was wrong. I almost wish my nose was busted completely so I couldn't smell the God-awful stench. The bruiser is standing in front now, blocking my view. "Where did your buddy go? Where were you headed?" His voice is harsh, his patience wearing thin. I can see it in his stance, in the way he rubs the brass knuckles. He's readyin' them for the next blow, wiping my blood off so's I only feel the metal.

"Forget it", his buddy says from behind me. "We'll track the other one down easy enough. Finish him off, Nico. He's useless and we're running out of time." Nico steps to the side, but I don't follow him with my eyes. Better off that I don't see it coming. I can hear the whisper of metal as he slides in a clip. The sunflowers in front of me are still starin', bug eyes watchin' over me. They sway from time to time, probably laughin' at my stupid luck. Wonder if -