Sunday, October 27, 2013

Population Growth

Where do these people come from?  I start off with a simple story about one (1) named character and set my protagonist off to perform a role, which brings the protag into contact with another, who must naturally be given a name as well - if only so they can have a conversation.  But there are consequences to having a secondary character as either protagonist or antagonist.  These newly introduced characters evoke their own back stories, which give rise to even more characters, more names, more interactions and then they, cascading is a chain reaction, explode into universes and societies, fabled reputations, lies and unpleasant truths, conflicts and peaceable reconciliations.

The simple tale has unleashed a tsunami of consequences.

Yet one must deal with this emerging fictional population. The most economical way some writers deal with it is by assigning names in relation to that player's impact on the tale.  Protagonists always have full names and carry fully detailed descriptions, secondary characters may get first or last names, and sometimes switch between these modes while getting short shrift on the descriptive element.  Characters of minor importance are graced with a single name, nickname, or only an insignificant descriptive passage e.g. "...a gray clad figure, casually glanced."  These nominal clues inform the reader in subtle ways, such as realizing that a fully named character in chapter one must be important even though that person may not appear until much later in the book.

These secondary, tertiary, and other characters often proliferate, scurrying across the pages, exposing themselves briefly before disappearing. Who knows their origins?  Did they emerge spontaneously from the Planck layer of a writer's subconsciousness or are they simply ornaments that decorate the plot? Regardless, they flit around the pages like silverfish in an old pulp mag, bothering the hell out of the curious reader and leaving only the chewed and ragged edges of their impressions behind.

And sometimes, to the dismay of the author, they rebel, grow, and make the story their own.


Saturday, October 19, 2013


Autumn has arrived and with it my annual bout of guilt regarding NaNoWriMo, wherein one promises publicly that they will write at least fifty thousand words in a month. This is supposed to simultaneously   spark one's creativity and eliminate one's internal editor from restricting the flow of words.  Perhaps some who engage in this masturbatory bout of self-abasement manage to create the beginnings of a novel or even finish one.  However, for many, the results are to fall far short of the goal, only to look back and wonder what they were thinking to produce such a stream of drivel that now must be edited again and again before it even achieves mediocracy, much less literary acceptance. I annually fall into this category.

For me NaNoWriMo is an annual call to return to that long novel I have been "writing" for three years. The work now stands at just over 50k edited words with but one third of the story told.  The remaining two thirds of the tale exists as a detailed outline,research material, character sketches and miscellaneous plans for the unfolding of the longer, tripartite epic.  It is daunting to look at the work and feel guilty that I have not fulfilled the promise of that piece but have written an equal amount of other words and even sold some of them.

What holds me back from completing the novel is that I am, at base, an impatient short story writer (who also suffers from PSS.)   I am constantly aware that fifty thousand words is equal to the amount needed to draft  ten short stories, six novelettes, or six novellas - all of which scream to be written NOW and not when the arduous work of writing the novel's middle sections will stretch my patience to its limits.

I always yearn to be finished.   Every time I start writing on the novel other ideas pop into my head - scenes, snatches of dialogue, plots, and even settings, although that is not my long suit.  Humor also raises its ugly head at inappropriate times, drains the drama, and is usually is too funny to ignore.

So I set my loins, determined to write the novel, maybe dash off a short story or two when I need  a break, and, when the New Year dawns I will still be staring at my unfinished novel.  At that point, if history is any guide, I will vow to finish the damned thing -  that is, unless a few short story ideas pop up to distract me.



Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Processes and Methods

I'm coordinating this blog post with Jamie Todd Rubin's so people would get a better perspective.  Last week at CapClave we gave a little (about 90 minutes!) presentation on On Line Writing Tools to illustrate how he, as a seat of the pants guy e.g. Pantser used his tools and I, a dull methodical planner e.g. Plotter, used mine.  Jamie has put part of his Evernote section in his weekly blog, which might explain how those first twenty some slides of the presentation actually looked when presented.

Both of emphasized at the outset that the audience was not to focus on the specific tools we used but rather to look beyond them to the general principles that drove our use. In the presentation we spoke a great deal of our development methods that employed the various tools and the processes we followed from conception of a story to it's publication and resale.  As I said in my Tools blog post, the most important element in both method and process was the creative mind.

What should have also been evident was that both of us, Pantser and Plotter, were both adherents of keeping accurate and timely records as we developed and marketed our short stories, even though our methods of doing so were very different.   Jamie Todd works almost entirely in Evernote while I use databases and diagraming tools - legacy of my consulting work - but both of us finish in Scrivener, perhaps the best writing program ever!

There are dozens of free and not-so-free writing tools out there to help almost any writer, but each has to find the tools that work for them, that free them of the burden and let them concentrate on the most important aspect, which is to write, write, and write!


Monday, October 14, 2013

Pushing Boundaries

There comes a time in every writer's life where they reflect on their work and often wonder what they might have produced had they gone a different way or tried a different technique. This inevitably leads one to wonder if they had become stale and predictable - basically repeating the same old formulaic material time after time.  This then leads to drinking, socializing, and spending time with the family - all to the detriment of their writing career.

Self reflection is often a good thing, something too many fail to put serious effort into.   Pushing the envelope containing your oeuvre is difficult, especially when one has a modicum of recognition in the genre.  It is easy to continue to crank out material based on all you have written before. In fact, mining one's rejected material and failed drafts is an honored practice among writers - where else could you find such gems? But the recycling of tired tropes grants no one grace and can make writing a chore rather than the unalloyed joy it should bestow.

The first time a writer bravely steps out of their comfort zone and attempts to craft something new it is met with failure i.e rejections.  But so was a writer's first submissions.  Better to try a second, third, or even a fortieth time if the goal is to establish a new writing niche.  Perhaps you will discover depths hitherto unknown, a new style, a new approach to developing ideas, or perhaps you will strike the gold of acceptance by appreciative readers.

One can always hope.


Sunday, October 6, 2013

Writing Tools

In the good old days, sonny, long before we  had these new-fangled things like pens and paper we authors would just sit around the fire and tell our stories, or repeat some favorite told by others and usually with some slight modifications to improve rhyme or meter.  The only tools we needed back then were a good memory and a lack of shame.

Things change and now we have keyboards and screens, software and hardware, and the intellectual wealth of humanity at our fingertips. Any one of us could scribe a tale or repeat (albeit in different words) many-told stories. Whether we are successful at this or not depends largely on our level of story-telling skills and our tools - and our lack of shame, of course.

Whoa: TOOLS? What does an author need save some place to record thoughts and dreams aside from the writing tools themselves - keyboards, blank screens, and software (and yes, there is still a place for pen and paper, kids)?  The answer depends on how hard a writer wants to work and the process they use to build the tale.

The finest tool at any writer's disposal is  the ability to plot - to lay out a story in a continuous thread that's easily followed by readers to a conclusion of some sort. Whether you build the plot as an outline, draw a network diagram, create a complex spreadsheet/database, or simply sketch it out on a page or two is a matter or personal choice. There are many free and costly software tools that facilitate doing each these tasks and each requires some degree of familiarity and skill before producing the best results.

Just as a chisel will not turn you into a sculptor, a paint brush an artist, neither will any writing tool somehow grant you magical powers of story creation.

That comes only from your imagination and intelligence.