Tag Archives: #amwriting

Hyphens #amwriting

When creating my world of Neveyah for the Tower of Bones series, I discovered that hyphens are the gateway  to writer’s hell. I put together compound words, hyphenated to make them specific to that world.

I did this, not realizing I would be stuck writing these words consistently hyphenated for years… and years….

Take my advice and do not use a hyphen in your invented words unless the universe will dissolve without it.

In the real world, if a compound adjective cannot be misread or its meaning is firmly established, a hyphen is not necessary.

Words that are single words and don’t need a hyphen:

  • backstabbing
  • backstabber
  • (a) breakup as in (a) divorce, break up as in taking apart
  • breathtaking
  • comeback as in succeeding again, come back as in return to me
  • counterintuitive
  • counterproductive
  • downright
  • herself
  • himself
  • hobnob
  • latchkey
  • mainstream
  • midweek
  • myself
  • nevertheles
  • newfound
  • nighttime
  • nonetheless
  • nonstop
  • overdo
  • overexpose
  • overpriced
  • overrated
  • oversized
  • roundup as in a rodeo, round up as in a review or the next highest round number
  • secondhand
  • selfish
  • sidekick
  • sightseeing
  • straightforward
  • woebegone
  • yourself

A few words do require a hyphen to ensure their meaning is what you intended:

Wikipedia says: Compound modifiers are groups of two or more words that jointly modify the meaning of another word. When a compound modifier other than an adverb–adjective combination appears before a term, the compound modifier is often hyphenated to prevent misunderstandings, such as in American-football player or little-celebrated paintings. Without the hyphen, there is potential confusion about whether the writer means a “player of American football” or an “American player of football” and whether the writer means paintings that are “little celebrated” or “celebrated paintings” that are little.

Compound modifiers can extend to three or more words, as in ice-cream-flavored candy, and can be adverbial as well as adjectival (spine-tinglingly frightening). However, if the compound is a familiar one, it is usually unhyphenated. For example, at least one style guide prefers the construction high school students, to high-school students.

Words that DO need a hyphen:

  • An English-speaking country
  • A time-saving device
  • A thirty-floor building

Some compounds are improvised to fulfill a specific need (on-the-spot creations). Permanent compounds start out as improvised compounds but become so widely accepted that they are included in the dictionary as permanent compounds. Examples of temporary compounds that have made the transition to permanent compounds are words like

  • know-it-all
  • heart-stopping
  • free-for-all (as in a rumpus)
  • down-at-the-heels

Context determines whether to hyphenate or not.  Ask yourself, “How will the words be interpreted by the reader if I don’t hyphenate?” If your intended meaning is clear without the hyphen, leave it out.

Wikipedia offers the following examples:

  • Man-eating shark (as opposed to man eating shark, which could be interpreted as a man eating the meat of a shark)
  • Wild-goose chase (a hunt for resulting in nothing) as opposed to wild goose chase, which could be interpreted as a chasing a goose that is wild.
  • Long-term contract (as opposed to long term contract, which in legalese could be interpreted as a long contract about a term)
  • Zero-liability protection (as opposed to zero liability protection, which implies you have no liability protection).

A crucial task for you as an author is to make a stylesheet that pertains to your manuscript. Create a list detailing words that must be capitalized, which ones are hyphenated, and include the proper spellings of names for all people and places.

Some people use Scrivener for this and swear by it. For myself, I don’t need a fancy word-processing program with a difficult learning curve—my life is complicated enough as it is. You can make a simple list or go wild and make a spreadsheet. I use Excel to make storyboards that are my style guides for each novel or tale I write, and for every book I edit.

You can do this in Google Docs too, and that program is free–the perfect price for the starving author.

Regardless of how you create your stylesheet, I suggest you include these elements:

  • List invented Words and all Names spelled the way you intend them to be written forever, noting whether it is two words (De Mal), hyphenated (De-Mal), or two syllables connected with an apostrophe (D’Mal)
  • Note the page number on which the word first appears so you can check back for consistency.
  • If it is not a person’s name, list the meaning and how it is used, for example, if the word denotes a city, or an animal, or plant, etc.

Refer to this style sheet frequently and update it with every change you make to spelling in your manuscript.

I learned this the hard way. Making a stylesheet for a book after it has been written is a daunting task, and most editors will ask you for one when they accept your submission. Some editors refer to this as the ‘bible’ for that manuscript because all editorial decisions regarding consistency will be based on the spellings and style treatments you have established for your work.

I do suggest you go lightly when it comes to hyphens and apostrophes in your invented words. The reader likely won’t notice them too much, but they can become annoyances for you when you’re trying to ensure consistency in your narrative. Whether it is a handwritten list, an Excel spreadsheet, a WORD document, or in a program like Scrivener, a simple directory of compound words and phrases that are unique to the world you have created will be invaluable to you and your editor.

 


Credits and Attributions:

Wikipedia contributors, “Hyphen,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Hyphen&oldid=824118099 (accessed February 11, 2018).

 

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#Writerlife101 Day 7: Worst writing advice #amwriting

Writing advice is good because beginning authors need to learn the craft, and simple sayings are easy to remember. They encourage us to write lean, descriptive prose and craft engaging conversations. The craft of writing involves learning the rules of grammar, developing a wider vocabulary, learning how to develop characters, build worlds, etc., etc. Authors spend a lifetime learning their craft and never learn all there is to know about the subject.

Writing advice is bad because it is so frequently taken to extremes by novice authors armed with a little dangerous knowledge.

  • Remove all adverbs.
    This advice is complete crap. Use common sense and don’t use unnecessary adverbs.
  • Don’t use speech tags.
    What? Who said that and why are there no speech tags in this drivel?
  • Show, Don’t Tell. Don’t Ever Don’t do it!

Quote from Susan Defreitas for Lit Reactor: Sure, hot tears, a pounding pulse, and clenched fists can stand in for sadness, fear, and anger. But that type of showing can not only become cartoony, it doesn’t actually show what this specific character is specifically feeling. In order to do that, you either have to relay the thought process giving rise to those emotions or you should have already set up some key bits of exposition.

  • Write what you know.

Well, that takes all the adventure out of writing. Did Tolkien actually go to Middle Earth and visit a volcano? No, but he did serve in WWI, and lived and worked in Oxford, which is not notable for abounding in elves, hobbits, or orcs. Your life experiences and interests shape your writing, but your imagination is the fuel and the source of the story.

  • If you’re bored with your story, your reader will be too.

Quote from Helen Scheuerer for Writer’s Edit: Your reader hasn’t spent the last year or more combing through your novel like you have, so that’s just silly. I’ve seen this advice everywhere in the last year, and it bothers me – it just doesn’t take into consideration how hard writing is. Yes, we love it, yes, we don’t want to do anything else, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a challenge at times, it doesn’t mean that it’s not work.

Bad writing advice goes on and on.

Kill your darlings. It’s true we shouldn’t be married to our favorite prose. Sometimes we must cut a paragraph or chapter we love because it no longer fits the story. But just because you like something you wrote doesn’t mean you should cut it. Maybe it does belong there—maybe it was the best part of that paragraph.

Cut all exposition. So, why we are in this handbasket, and where we are going? Some background is essential. How you deploy the exposition is what makes a great story.

Bad advice is good advice taken to an extreme. It has become a part of our writing culture because all writing advice has roots in truth.

  • Overuse of adverbs ruins the taste of an author’s work.
  • Too many speech tags can stop the eye, especially if the characters are snorting, hissing, and ejaculating their dialogue.
  • Too much telling takes the adventure out of the reading experience.
  • Too much showing is boring and can be disgusting. Find that happy medium!
  • Know your subject . Do the research and if necessary, interview people in that profession. Readers often know more than you do about certain things.

New authors rely on handy, commonly debated mantras because they must educate themselves. Unless they are fortunate enough to be able to get a formal education in the subject, beginning authors must rely on the internet and handy self-help guides to learn the many nuances of writing craft. These guides are great, useful books, but they are written by people who assume you will use common sense as you develop your voice and style.

Hack writers bludgeon their work to death, desperately trying to fit their square work into round holes. In the process, every bit of creativity is shaved off the corners, and a great story with immense possibilities becomes boring and difficult to read. As an avid reader and reviewer, I see this all too often.

Great authors learn the craft of writing and apply the advice of the gurus gently, producing work that stays with the reader long after the last line has been read.


Credits and Attributions:

The Ten Worst Pieces of Writing Advice You Will Ever Hear (and Probably Already Have), by Susan Defreitas April 11, 2014, https://litreactor.com/columns/the-ten-worst-pieces-of-writing-advice-you-will-ever-hear-and-probably-already-have,  © 2016 LitReactor, LLC (Accessed 05 February 2018.)

The Worst Writing Advice, by Helen Scheuerer, https://writersedit.com/fiction-writing/worst-writing-advice/, Writer’s Edit Copyright © 2018. (Accessed 05 February 2018.)

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To schedule writing time or to wing it? #amwriting

I think that to be a writer, you must be obsessed with your own art, taking and making time to write. There is no other way to produce a finished book.

But to be a happy writer, you must have a balanced life. What is the point of life if you’re so busy writing about fictional lives that you aren’t present in your own?

That need to be present in my real life is why I schedule my writing time.

Some people manage to fit short bursts of writing into their daily schedule, writing at work while on break or at lunch. Others must schedule a dedicated block of time for writing, by either rising two hours before they must depart for work or by skipping TV in the evening.

I fall into both categories.

When I am gripped with a new idea, I find myself stopping off and on all day as I go about the business of daily life, making notes, quickly getting down any thoughts that occur. This is a habit I developed when I was employed outside my home. Until 2012, I was like everyone else, with a job and commitments that took precedence over any writing I might have wanted to do. I saw very little television in those days, as evenings and weekends were my only time for writing, making art, or for reading.

Now that I’m retired from working outside my home, six in the morning until noon are my best working hours. Unfortunately, being retired means you are always available when a crisis occurs. Events happen that disturb my writing schedule, but I usually forgive the perpetrators and allow them to live. At that point, I revert to writing whenever I have a free moment.

I’m a less than enthusiastic housekeeper even when not writing, but I keep things dug out. I’m like every other person. I make a stab at vacuuming and dusting, and cleaning bathrooms. I do laundry and change the beds regularly. These are the tasks everyone does, chores that keep our homes livable. I fit these chores into my writing time the way I used to fit writing into my working life.

But there is one hard, inviolable rule in my home, a rule of my own making. Whatever else happens during the day, we sit down to the table and eat dinner together. We turn off the television and turn on quiet music and enjoy the meal as a family. Then we work together to clear the table and clean the kitchen, continuing any discussions that were begun during dinner. This time of the day is dedicated to keeping the lines of communication open and maintaining the connections that bind us.

When my children were in school, I made dinner a priority. After school activities and sports sometimes interfered but for the most part, the evening meal was the one sure meeting place for my family all through “the blender years” of child-rearing.

Balance is the key to a happy life. We want to feel productive and creative, and we want to share our lives and interests with others. Creativity applies to everything from making a meal, to painting, to coming up with a business plan. Your spouse or child’s creative bent may be wildly different from yours, but if you want their support, you must be supportive of them. Therefore, we who write should set aside a specific time to write, allowing us to be creative and still be supportive of our families who all have activities and interests of their own.

In many ways, to be a writer is to be supremely selfish—about every aspect of life. It also requires discipline and the ability to set aside an hour or two just for that pursuit, a pocket of time where no one is allowed to disturb you. It might be good to encourage your family members to use that time to indulge in their interests and artistic endeavors.

Write when and where you can, and the rest of the time you must live and love with the same intensity that you write.

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Chapter length #amwriting

Authors just starting out often wonder how long should a chapter be.

A good rule of thumb is to consider the comfort of your reader. Many readers want to finish a chapter in one sitting. With that said, you must decide what your style is going to be.

Some authors make each scene, no matter how short, a chapter. They will end up with 100 or more chapters in their books, and that is perfectly fine.

Other authors try to set a word-count limit. I personally have found that 2,500 to 3,000 words is a good length, and most scenes seem to average that. One series of my books has  longer chapters, as it is really a collection of stories surrounding the main character. In that series, each story forms a chapter and sometime they are longer than 3,000 words.

Within the arc of the entire story are smaller arcs, arcs of conflict and reflection, each created by scenes. The arc of the scene is like any other: it begins, rises to a peak, and ebbs, ending on a slightly higher point of the overall story arc than when it began. Once you have decided what length you are comfortable with for your chapters, longer scenes can be an entire chapter on their own, or several scenes can be chained together to make a chapter.

When you chain scenes together within one chapter, conversations can serve as good transitions that propel the story forward to the next scene. In literary terms, a good conversation is about something we didn’t know and builds toward something we are only beginning to understand.

That is true of every aspect of a scene or chapter—it must reveal something and push the story forward toward something.

With each scene we are also pushing the character arc, raising the stakes a little. Our protagonist grows and is shaped by receiving needed information through action and conversation, followed by reaction and regrouping. This allows the reader to experience the story as the protagonist does, and then to reflect and absorb the information gained before moving on to the next scene.

Some editors suggest you change chapters, no matter how short, when you switch to a different character’s point of view, and this is my preferred choice. I don’t think that is completely necessary in every case, but you should limit point of view changes. It’s easier for the reader to follow the story when they are only in one character’s mind for the majority of the story. If you do switch POV characters, you must change scenes with a hard, visual break such as two blank spaces between paragraphs, to avoid head-hopping. (Head-hopping: first you’re in his head, then you’re in hers, then you’re back in his—it gives the reader “tennis neck.”)

So now we come to a second question: Should I just use numbers, or give the chapter a name?

What is your gut feeling for how you want to construct this book or series? If snappy titles pop up in your mind for each chapter, by all means go for it. Otherwise, numbered chapters are perfectly fine and don’t throw the reader out of the book. One series of my books has numbered chapters, the other has titled chapters.

How do you want your book constructed? You must make the decision as to the right length and end chapters at a logical place. But do end each chapter with a hook that begs the reader to continue on to the next chapter.

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Hard truths about the industry #amwriting

I love reading,  and always review the books I enjoyed. For every book I feel good about recommending, I may have to read six that are just plain awful. I’m not only talking Indies here—large publishing houses publish many novels every year that are a waste of paper and digital space. These travesties should never have made it past the gateway editor, much less the eye of an experienced agent.

This goes beyond my not caring for the style or voice of the piece. I’m talking lack of proofreading, garbled sentences, lack of knowledge of how to use words like ‘its’ and ‘it’s’, and misspelled words. This happens in traditionally published work as well as Indie, which should be embarrassing to the Big 5, but apparently isn’t.

Some books are so badly edited it seems like the author is the only person who has ever seen the manuscript. One glance at the first pages of the “look inside” option at Amazon and the other large online booksellers can show how abysmal a book is going to be, so use that tool and don’t buy a book that you haven’t had a look at first.

Other novels are moderately edited but not by a professional or someone who understands the craft of writing. This is a flaw that can drive away all but the most determined readers, people who would ignore most typos and slight inconsistencies for a good tale.

My own first novel was published by a small press. It was a good example of bad editing: the unbiased eye of an experienced, educated editor could have made a great novel out of a promising tale. Instead, I paid for work that wasn’t done (having to pay your publisher for editing is a red flag, btw) and the book was published without my seeing the changes my publisher made. That experience was painful, but it was an education I have taken to heart.

Sadly, rushing to publish isn’t limited to Indies. It happens all the time with traditionally published books, especially when the first novel in a series has had good success. These publishers set impossible deadlines and race to launch what they hope will be a follow-up best seller, but because they were rushed, these books sometimes fail to live up to the hype.

I see this as evidence that editing and proofreading by the large houses for many successful traditionally published authors are sometimes overlooked in the rush to cash in on commercial success. And while this means that they publish crap too, Indie authors face a double-standard: the stink of bad editing and proofing washes off the traditional houses, but clings to the Indie industry as a whole.

This brings me to my point: The big 5 traditional publishers pretend everything they publish is sheer magic, while loudly pointing out the faults inherent in self-publishing. And, while it makes me laugh that they decry us as worthless but leap to publish us the minute we show any sign of real success, there are hard truths here we indies who are committed to the craft of writing must face.

Consider your readers—they deserve the best you can give them. For this reason, I refuse to attempt to churn out more than one or two books a year. Some authors can write three decent novels a year, but it takes me four years to take a novel from concept to publication, so I have three manuscripts in various stages at all times. I understand that romance novels are a different kind of animal, but I write for readers with different expectations.

Some general advice for authors who are first starting out:

  1. Learn the mechanics of how to write in your native language. Grammar and punctuation are essential, no matter what genre you are writing.
  2. Join a writing group and meet other authors, either in your local area or on-line. This will help you with steps 3 and 4. Enter writing contests and participate in the boards and threads. Ignore the trolls; they pop-up everywhere (usually with badly written ego-stroking crap to their publishing credit.)
  3. Develop a thick hide, and find an unbiased eye among your trusted acquaintances to read your work as you are writing it so you can make changes more effectively at an early stage. This way you won’t be overwhelmed at the prospect of rewriting an entire manuscript from scratch.
  4. Lose your ego. Your ego gets in the way of your writing.  Are you writing for yourself or for others to read and enjoy your work?
  5. Find a good, professional editor. There are hidden aspects to every great book, and they are all centered around knowledge of the craft. An external eye is essential to the production of a good book. Check their references, and when you do engage their services, do not take their observations personally—editorial comments are intended only to make a manuscript readable. This editor must be someone you can work closely with, who makes suggestions and allows you to make the changes in your masterpiece yourself. They must understand it is your work and you have the right to disagree with any suggested changes. If you have this symbiotic relationship, you will turn out a good final product.
  6. Don’t give up your day job. Even authors receiving hefty advances have to struggle to make ends meet. (Read Thu-Huong Ha’s article, A New Book Shows the Financial Cost of Leading a Creative Life.)

It’s far more affordable now for a dedicated reader to buy enough books to keep themselves happy, but making your way  through the many offerings in our eBookstores is a perilous journey. You can’t always trust the quality by reading the publisher’s label. You just have to realize that whether a novel is traditionally published or Indie, some books are frogs, and some are princes.

To write well, you must read widely, no matter what your favorite genre is. You may have to read a few books you wish you hadn’t on your way to finding the book that sweeps you away. In the process of reading for the purpose of writing book reviews, I have discovered many wonderful books by talented authors in all genres, and on both the indie and traditional sides of the industry. Finding those gems makes wading through the lemons worthwhile.


Sources and Attributions:

A New Book Shows the Financial Cost of Leading a Creative Life,  by Thu-Huong Ha, Jan 11, 2017, Flipboard

IBM Selectric, By Oliver Kurmis (Self-photographed) [CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

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A Dog’s Tale #FlashFictionFriday

I used to spend a lot of time in the backyard, howling. What can I say? I was young and impulsive in those days.

However, Dave bought me this new collar, which, while it’s nice to look at, has an inherent flaw. It becomes terribly uncomfortable when I howl or announce the arrival of that vandal who shoves trash through the slot in our door. He seems to be targeting our house. Since I can no longer yell at him to go away, I nip at his fingers through the slot. But he’s crafty now and doesn’t get close enough for me to do any damage.

I’m not complaining, though. I’m no different than any other girl. I’m quite partial to jewelry, but more importantly, I’m a responsible man owner. Since Dave is my human, I always show my appreciation for his thoughtfulness, even though he has no idea what sort of collar I’d really like. It’s the thought that counts.

Caring for a pet human teaches a dog to be patient and adaptable. Humans have a compulsion to keep redecorating their nests, and no amount of scolding on your part will change it—it’s the way humans are. Sure, it’s annoying to discover they have changed things around just when you finally had things arranged the way you like it. But putting up with trivial annoyances is part of the job of owning a pet.

Dave is no different than any other human, and it’s one habit I’ve been unable to train him out of. I don’t think he understands that the new cover he puts on the sofa when he leaves is not comfy at all. It buzzes and zaps me, so I just give up trying to get comfortable and sleep on the floor.

Dave seldom puts me in the kennel when he’s gone, the way some humans do. Bonzo, the dachshund from next door, spends all day in his kennel, which his human bought specially for him. Bonzo doesn’t like it but is too polite to complain as it was a gift. And there again, it’s the thought that counts. I’m only asked to sleep in mine when Dave and that woman have a sleep-over.

It took a while, but I have Dave pretty well trained now. He’s loyal, and never forgets to feed me, and he has never once left me alone in the car on a hot day. It’s a good life.

I’m feeling sleepy now, so I’ll just go nap by the front door, and wait for the vandal. He shows up nearly every day just before noon. Today, if he’s careless, maybe I’ll finally draw blood, and he’ll stop throwing trash into our house.


The Dog’s Tale, © Connie J. Jasperson, 2017-2018

This little bit of flash fiction was inspired by the above photo, found on Wikimedia Commons and first appeared here Feb 03, 2017.

Image: Pomeranian, By Chunbin (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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How writing drabbles develops mad skills #amwriting

Some of the best work I’ve ever read was in the form of extremely short stories. Authors grow in the craft and gain different perspectives when they write short stories and essays. With each short piece that you write, you increase your ability to tell a story with minimal exposition.

This is especially true if you write the occasional drabble—a whole story in 100 words or less. These practice shorts serve several purposes:

Writing such short fiction forces the author to develop economy of words. You have a finite number of words to tell what happened, so only the most crucial of information will fit within that space.

  1. You have a limited amount of space so your narrative will be limited to one or two characters only.
  2. There is no room for anything that does not advance the plot or affect the outcome of the story.
  3. The internet is rife with contests for drabbles, some offering cash prizes.
  4. Building a backlog of short stories gives you ready-made characters and a premade setting to draw on when you need a longer story to submit to a contest.

Writing a 100-word story takes less time than writing a 3,000-word story, but all writing is a time commitment. When writing a drabble, you can expect to spend an hour or more getting it to fit within the 100 word constraint.

To write a drabble, we need the same basic components as we do for a longer story:

  1. A setting
  2. One or more characters
  3. A conflict
  4. A resolution.

First, we need a prompt, a jumping off point. We have 100 words to write a scene that tells the entire story of a moment in the life of a character. Some contests give whole sentences for prompts, others offer one word, and still others no prompt at all.

A prompt is a word or visual image that kick starts the story in your head. The prompt for the following story is sunset.

In my previous post on writing short stories, I showed how I break short stories into acts. A drabble works the same way–we can break this down into its component parts and make the story arc work for us. We have about 25 words to open the story and set the scene, about 50 – 60 for the heart of the story, and 10 – 25 words to conclude it.

We sat on the beach near the fire, two old people bundled against the cold Oregon sunset. Friends we’d never met fished the surf.

Wind whipped my hair, gray and uncut, tore it from its inept braid. The August wind was chill inside my hood, but I remained, pleased to be with you, and pleased to be on that beach.

Mist rose with the tide, closed in and enfolded us, blotting out the falling stars.

Laughing at our folly, we dragged our weary selves back to our digs, rented, but with everything this old girl needed—love, laughter, and you.

The above drabble is a 100-word romance, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. The beginning places our protagonist on the beach with someone for whom she cares deeply.

The conflict in this tale? The mist and wind make it too cold for our protagonist to stay on the beach and gaze at the stars. A hard, cold wind and heavy mist are typical of the Washington and Oregon Coast in August, two things you wouldn’t think could coexist, but there, they do.

The resolution? A cozy evening indoors.

Drabbles are incredibly useful. They contain the ideas and thoughts that can easily become longer works. The above drabble, written in 2015, combined with a photograph I took while vacationing in Oregon with my husband in 2016, was the inspiration for what became a longer poem: Oregon Sunset, which you can read here.

Good drabbles are the distilled essences of novels. They contain everything the reader needs to know about that moment and fills them with curiosity to learn what happened next.

When you have a flash of brilliance, a shining moment of what if, write it in the form of a drabble. Save it in a file for later use as a springboard to write a longer work, or for submission to a drabble contest in its proto form. Spending an hour getting that idea and emotion down so you won’t forget it is a small gift you give yourself, as an author.

Whether you choose to submit a drabble to a contest or hang on to it doesn’t matter. Either way, the act of writing a drabble hones your skills, and you will have captured the emotion and ambiance of the brilliant idea.

That is what true writing is about.

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#NewYears Advice from Grandma #amwriting

A new year is approaching, and as the resident grandma, I feel compelled to let you know that you are loved and worthy of the good things in life.

Every now and then I come across an author who is devastated by a lack of reviews, or sales, and is desperate to move into the “big kid’s pool.” I was that kid, once.

First, let me say that I read because I am an escape artist. I want to be completely immersed in a world elsewhere, anywhere that is not this world. I write because my favorite authors are unable to turn out a book a week, which would be what I require to satisfy my reading habit. So, I write the stories I want to read.

But I am a ‘niche’ reader. I love Tolkien, and his epic style, and Tad Williams with his lush story development. I adore Neil Gaiman and his meandering prose. I liked Robert Jordan’s side quests and multiple story lines.

I also adore George Saunders, and Patrick Rothfuss, and Erin Morgenstern.

This means my work doesn’t resonate with everyone.

I know! I was shocked to discover this too!

When I was first published in 2011, I would read my hard-earned reviews and be alternately elated or depressed. It came to a point where I couldn’t write because I was so concerned about what readers who also review would say, and that overwhelming concern stifled my ability to tell my stories.

I had allowed my damaged ego to become a vampire, sucking the joy from my creativity.

My own grandmother was right—listening to your ego is always a mistake. Your best bet is to put a gag on it and lock it in a closet.

Nowadays I don’t read my reviews, good or bad. I ignore them because they either feed my despair and lack of self-worth or they artificially inflate my ego. These mental conditions can’t coexist with my true desire to just write what I want to read. I have embraced the fact that I am writing the stories I want to read, and this means I can’t care about writing in commercially viable genres.

What I do have to care about is writing to the best of my ability, writing the story that makes me happy, and learning as much about the craft of writing that I am able.

My work is weird, it’s odd, it’s “out there.” My early books each have flaws I wouldn’t repeat if I were writing them now, but despite the flaws inherent in these early novels, they have life and passion and characters who are real to me, and I still love those stories. My growth as an author has been gradual, but the growth is clear in my more recent work.

We all have this desire to have the work we have so lovingly written and struggled to produce be accepted, and be as beloved by the world as we think it should be. We all want to write award-winning bestsellers.

But that star-struck need to be loved by millions of readers is just noise, wind in your ears distracting you from your real task. Ask yourself, “Am I an author writing a story I am passionate about, or am I calculatedly producing a marketable product?”

When I noticed my books were not easy to market, I asked myself that question. I had to also ask, “If I am pouring time and energy into creating a marketable product, who is going to market it?” The answer was “No one.” I certainly don’t have time to become a marketer if I am creating the product, nor do I have the funds to hire a marketing firm.

My point is this: if I must be strapped to the millstone, grinding away on a book I don’t love, why would I even do it? I retired from that sort of work in 2007, and believe me, working in a data entry pool gives the word “boring” new meaning.

I have no problem pegging out a short story to fit the theme and parameters of a contest or an anthology. In fact, I enjoy doing so, and try to write at least one a month. But an entire novel written to fit someone else’s idea of what my ‘genre’ should be?

No.

Ask yourself, “Do I write because I am passionate about a story? Or do I want to mindlessly enter data to fit some formulaic template readers will chew up and forget as soon as they’ve swallowed it?” Decide what you want to be known for, and pursue that goal.

I am an author. I have accepted that my head occasionally makes noise that steals my creativity. For the last few years, I have chosen to ignore the voices and immerse myself in my chosen craft, and I do this for a purely selfish reason: I want to tell my own stories.

I don’t care if my novels are acceptable to the general reading public or not. I am proud to be a niche reader and proud to be writing the niche stories I want to read, stories that don’t fit into the boxes that genre-Nazis would like to enforce on all authors.

This supremely selfish aspect of my personality keeps me going, keeps me pouring my heart, my life into something others likely won’t see, and if they do chance upon it, they may not find it to their taste.

The fact is, I am writing novels and doing the best I can to turn out a good book. This is all I care about, and I am proud of what I do, whether my work resonates with a broad spectrum of readers or not. I love what I write, and a niche group of readers seems to enjoy it, women more often than men.

That makes sense to me, as I am a woman, and this is what I want to read. While I’d like to have the world love my work, ultimately my own enjoyment is all that matters.

And that is the wisdom this old lady would like to impart to you: Write because you have a passion for a story, learn all you can about the craft, and develop your own voice.

Don’t listen to the voices on the wind, because they will suck the joy out of you. Listen to the still voice in your heart, and write something you will want to read.

I’m a reviewer as well as a reader, but don’t write your novel for me. Write it for yourself, and enjoy the ride. Chances are, I will see the good in your work and the good will more than outweigh the flaws.

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Character Development: The Trickster #amwriting

In previous posts, I have discussed the hero and his/her journey in detail. Their arc is critical, but the hero must have friends and enemies, people who help or hinder him. Each of them has an arc, some large, and some small.

My lead characters always have companions. I am a great fan of both Joseph Campbell and Christopher Vogler, and the hero’s journey is central to much of my work. In his book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, Campbell discusses his theory of the journey of the archetypal hero found in world mythologies. Quote from Wikipedia, the fount of all knowledge:

In his 1949 work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Campbell described the basic narrative pattern as follows:

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered, and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

Even better for our purposes, in his 2007 book, The Writer’s Journey, Mythic Structure for Writers, Christopher Vogler takes Campbell’s concept of the monomyth and applies it to storytelling.  His book offers insights into character development and takes the mythical aspects of the hero’s journey and places it into pop culture, from movies to television, to books. I am on my third copy of this book.

It occurred to me that the father of one of my main characters is the archetype known as “the Trickster.” This is the wise friend who can sometimes work against you, but whose presence adds an important layer to the narrative.

Tricksters:

  • Cross Boundaries
  • Break rules
  • Disrupt ordinary life
  • Charm us with their wit and charisma

Wikipedia also tells us:

All cultures have tales of the trickster, a crafty creature who uses cunning to get food, steal precious possessions, or simply cause mischief. In some Greek myths, Hermes plays the trickster. He is the patron of thieves and the inventor of lying, a gift he passed on to Autolycus, who in turn passed it on to Odysseus. In Slavic folktales, the trickster and the culture hero are often combined.

Often in mythology, the bending/breaking of rules takes the form of tricks or thievery.  When I need a thief, I automatically think of Loki—the consummate trickster of Norse mythology. Loki sometimes helps the gods and other times behaves in a malevolent manner towards them. He is also a shapeshifter and can change gender at will.

When I realized the trickster was emerging in the character of Elgar, I was thrilled. He is a good father, a widower. The son of the shaman, Elgar would be the first to tell you he isn’t fit for that task. His younger son has been chosen instead, and this book revolves around his son’s vision quest and his path to becoming his clan’s next shaman.

Elgar is a bit of a player in some ways, yet he has scruples. He takes chances but has great personal charm, so he is the clan’s speaker. His greatest weakness is that he gets bored easily, and trouble always ensues.

What I love about having the trickster emerging in this tale is the way he livens things up. He is the ray of sunshine in what could be an unremitting tale of gloom and doom.

The following is the list of character archetypes as described by Vogler:

  • Hero: someone who is willing to sacrifice his own needs on behalf of others

  • Mentor: all the characters who teach and protect heroes and give them gifts

  • Threshold Guardian: a menacing face to the hero, but if understood, they can be overcome

  • Herald: a force that brings a new challenge to the hero

  • Shapeshifter: characters who constantly change from the hero’s point of view

  • Shadow: character who represents the energy of the dark side

  • Ally: someone who travels with the hero through the journey, serving variety of functions

  • Trickster: embodies the energies of mischief and desire for change

I think the rogue is an important component of any epic tale. He lends a touch of fallible humanity to the cast that can be otherwise too perfect. His influence on the hero also offers us moments of hilarity and pathos.

When I recognized my trickster, I began looking at my other characters, to see what role they represent in this cast. This gave me a reason to go back to The Writer’s Journey, and look again at my other characters and their archetypes to make sure I am using them to their best advantage.

I highly recommend The Writer’s Journey, Mythic Structure for Writers, by Christopher Vogler. It is one of the foundation books in my reference library, and I refer back to it often, especially in the early stages of a manuscript, when I am trying to decide how to maximize a side character’s potential.

 


Credits and Attributions:

Renard the Fox, drawn by Ernest Griset, from a children’s book published in 1869 PD|100 via Wikimedia Commons.

Wikipedia contributors, “The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=The_Writer%27s_Journey:_Mythic_Structure_for_Writers&oldid=804454608 (accessed December 5, 2017).

Wikipedia contributors, “Trickster,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Trickster&oldid=811022016 (accessed December 5, 2017).

By scan from an unknown publication by an anonymous poster, in a thread, gave permission to use it. Re-drawn by User:Slashme [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Day 8, #NaNoWriMo2017: The Detour

When I was planning my manuscript for NaNoWriMo and the month of November, I had intended to write nothing but short stories.

Unfortunately, the inspiration I had lacked for the rough draft of my current novel-in-progress (set in the Tower of Bones world of Neveyah) struck me at 2:30 a.m. on November 1st, taking us to the mid-point crisis in that story.

As a result, I have written the entire second quarter of that epic fantasy proto-novel, nearly 22,000 words in total over the last six days. But that is how NaNoWriMo sometimes goes for me. I plan to be a rebel, and end up following the rules.

On December 1st, I will copy those new chapters from my NaNo Manuscript and paste them into my original rough draft. Once that is done, the new words will bring the total up to around 60,000 words.

If all goes as planned, I will spend the rest of this month writing short stories, and won’t get back to that story until December 1st.

But as you may have noticed, things don’t always go as planned. When inspiration strikes, you must write, as some stories simply burn to be written. Write when you feel the passion, and you will have done your best work.

The creative process is different, from person to person. I use daydreaming and visual art to fire up the creative muse. With these prompts, I have little trouble getting submerged in my work.

As every writer knows, sometimes finding inspiration for what I am supposed to be working on can be elusive. But some random image or phrase will trigger my imagination. At that point I switch gears and write whatever that story is.

During most of the year, I usually have three manuscripts in various stages: one unfinished first draft, one in the second draft stage, and one near the finish line.  Every day I write new words on my rough draft first thing in the morning, unless I have an editing contract. By ten a.m. I move on to work on the others. Focusing on my rough draft first allows me to come to the more finished stories with a different, less biased eye.

At the end of the day, when my creative mind is tired, I find myself alternating between playing my game and adding a few words here and there to my rough draft.

But during November, my writing time is wholly devoted to writing new words. By the end of the day, my brain is fried, and my creative genius has died an untidy death.

As a result, some of my NaNoWriMo ramblings are brilliant—just ask me and I will tell you so. However, the majority of them not so much.

But every word I write can and will be recycled into something better, something useable, and something worth reading. In writing this stream-of-consciousness prose, I’m getting the ideas down before I forget them.

In 2015 and 2016, the manuscript I patched together for NaNoWriMo was like a quilt made up of short stories. This year’s manuscript will be a patchwork too. It will be made up of scenes and vignettes, parts of stories mingled with complete stories.

This jumble is like a bank, but instead of a place to keep money, it’s a depository of ideas and concepts for short stories, flash fictions, and essays. I will come back to this convoluted mish-mash of genres and prose again and again, whenever I need the core of a new story.

The first 22,000 words of this year have been different from the previous two years, in that my work has been a continuation of an established work-in-progress. However, I have now come to a stopping place.

Now I am experimenting with point of view through short stories. I thought of the perfect plot in which to use the little flâneur that lurks in all of us. Yes, I am leaving the fantasy genre for a brief stint in literary fiction. Besides the flâneur, I have an idea for the story of a woman, navigating the shoals of social ostracization because of her husband’s conviction for embezzlement.

Once those are done,  I will return to fantasy with an installment of Bleakbourne on Heath, and a short story set in Neveyah, the world where Tower of Bones is set.

As my homage to paranormal fantasy, I have the idea for another Dan Dragonsworthy story, set in the Drunken Sasquatch, the neighborhood tavern favored by Seattle’s ‘alternate’ population.

If I have time, Astorica, my gender-bent alternate universe, may see another flash fiction.

I have so many ideas and this month of madness is the time for me to get them all down. In fact, I’ve been talking to you long enough—I have to get back to writing!

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