Tag Archives: Author Stephen Swartz

When your Sequel Makes a 90 Degree Turn, by @StephenSwartz1

My good friend, author Stephen Swartz, had a brilliant post this weekend on plot and the three-act structure. I couldn’t explain it better, so here is his post. Please, do click on the link at the bottom of the excerpt and go out to his post and read it to the end!


A week ago, SUNRISE, the sequel to my 2014 vampire novel A DRY PATCH OF SKIN launched and let me tell you it has been anything but a roller-coaster ride. In fact, when my personal copies arrives I was so excited I did not open the box for a day. Then I picked one up and routinely flipped through it to be sure there were no ink splotches on any page. You see, I’ve read it already – about 15 times!

But I cannot let it be. There is a third book to write if this is going to be a trilogy. I kinda expected to give it the trilogy treatment when I started Book II. Of course, it’s been three years since Book I came out. I thought that would be it, the end, one and done in the genre of literary horror. I am not even a horror author. I just needed to prove something to my teenage daughter: the truth about vampires! But I digress…

It was easy to set up Stefan Szekely’s departure from his family castle, leaving his vampire parents behind. I simply replicated my own history with my parents. I extrapolated a vampire version and recited similar scripts. How does the adult child relate to the elderly parents?


Stephen goes on to show us how he employs the three-act structure for plotting the story arc, with excellent graphics to illustrate it. You can find the rest of Stephen’s article here at his website, Deconstruction of the Sekuatean Empire.  Please click on the link to find the best parts of this informative post.

When your Sequel Makes a 90 Degree Turn

 

Stephen Swartz is the author of literary fiction, science fiction, fantasy, romance, and contemporary horror novels. While growing up in Kansas City, he dreamed of traveling the world. His novels feature exotic locations, foreign characters, and smatterings of other languages–strangers in strange lands. You get the idea: life imitating art.

After studying music and even composing a symphony, Stephen planned to be a music teacher before turning to fiction writing. Today Stephen teaches writing at a university in Oklahoma. Stephen Swartz has published poetry, stories, essays, and articles for scholarly journals in the U.S. and Japan.

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Reblog: A Question of Quests, by Stephen Swartz #amwriting

My good friend, Stephen Swartz had an excellent blogpost on Sunday. (He usually does, but don’t tell him I said so.) Anyway, since I accidentally hit “publish” instead of “schedule,” thereby posting today’s post yesterday (DOH!) I offer for your reading pleasure:

A Question of Quests

by Stephen Swartz.

 >>>—<<<

swartz_efwd1_frontcvr6x9_bw_670_cs-3_thbA little more than a year ago, I set out on a quest, pushed by fellow writers who encouraged me to try my hand at writing an epic fantasy. Well, good folks, I did that. I typed every day of the year with a story firmly in mind. On good days in the summer I wrote for a full eight hours. I actually wrote a novel following a hero’s quest. Then I wrote a novella about a little princess in another part of the realm. Then I merged the two stories. The result is a 235,000 word tale of daring-do chocked full of all the epic wisdom I could stuff into it–which, I am learning, may be relevant in our heated political season.*

stephen-swartzBy “quest” I mean a journey of some kinda hero’s journey, in Joseph Campbell parlance. However, in writing an epic fantasy, a quest could be a hero going in search of something of value, or a hero simply trying to travel home from far away, perhaps from a place of tribulation. A quest could mean a bubbly travelogue, much like Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Or, a quest could be a hero going to a particular place where he intends to do something important. This last option is the pattern I adopted for my epic fantasy. (e.g., A man with a plan, out getting a tan, and learning to pan the jokes of his sidekick Tam.) My model for a quest was Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, although I bent over backwards to avoid borrowing anything from it. Likewise, I started reading George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, but I deliberately avoided any dragon references which my readers might tease were similar to Martin’s use of dragons.

Then, much to my chagrin, I discovered a problem. A fatal flaw. An underlying faux pas. A fundamental error. So…what to do with a 235,000-word tale of rousing adventure that falls short of being an epic fantasy? Maybe call it epic sci-fi? That just might be crazy enough to work! You see, there are some rules….


For the rest of the story, continue on to A Question of Quests, Deconstruction of the Sekuatean Empire.

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#amwriting: November is National Novel Writing Month #NaNoWriMo2016

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Dragon_Fangirl’s home-made nanowrimo-2016 “kick-it-in-gear “desktop

Every year starting on November 1st several million people sit down and attempt to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days, most while holding down jobs and raising kids.

Four years running, 2010 – 2014, I used the month of November to lay down the rough draft of an intended novel. I made an outline in October and drew maps and such so that on November 1st I could hit the ground running. Most of the time, once I have that foundation down, I can write off the cuff, and that is how three of my books came into existence.

However, last year I already had two novels in the final stages and one simmering on the back burner.  What I lacked was short stories. I had the brilliant idea to write a short story collection, because I knew I had to build my backlog of submittable work. As a result, and despite having a viral plague during the entire month of November, I wrote 42 short stories for a total of 105,000 words.

That’s not counting the blog posts I also wrote. NaNoWroMo 2015 was a prolific year despite the plague!

For many participants, the challenge of sitting down and using the “seat of your pants” style of creative writing is what draws them to sign up.

On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30.

In 2011, the year I wrote Huw the Bard, I spewed the basic rough draft in the most unlinear way possible.  I had the plot outline and followed it, sort of.  With that as my guide, no matter how off track I found poor Huw (pronounced Hew), I still managed to get him to the end I had originally envisioned.

The next year, my novel didn’t go quite as smoothly, and I had a few hiccups.

But that novel was really only a writing exercise for me, just to see if I could write in that particular genre and I fell out of love with it. Since it didn’t have a grip on my heart, and by November 15th I had written 50,000 words of a story I hated, I began a different story.

I kept the work I had already done, as that book was as done as it was ever going to get. But I’m not silly – I had no intention of wasting that word count, so at the bottom of the last page, I began a new novel, which eventually became The Wayward Son, and was just published last month. At the end of that November, I had written 115,000 words total and had 2 completely different novels to show for my efforts.

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2016-placeholder-book-cover

This year my book has the working title of November Tales 2016: 30 days of Madness and Pot Pies by Dragon_Fangirl: The literary ranting of an author on the edge.

Once again I am embarking on a binge of writing short stories and essays.

Many authors are unwilling to commit to NaNoWriMo because it takes discipline to write 1667 words a day.

Also, they fear having to recoup any perceived losses should they find themselves in the middle of NaNoWriMo when they suddenly realize they’ve gone terribly astray. Or they fear writers’ block.

It happens. Not to me usually, because I know the secret: If you can’t write on the subject you intended, write about what you are experiencing and what interests you at that moment. Yes, it’s not that fabulous fantasy novel you began but are stuck on, and no epic dragons will be in it. (Unless you are Stephen Swartz. His real life has epic dragons. And bunnies.)

The key here is you will be writing, and that is what is important.

Rule 1 of NaNoWriMo: write.

Rule 2: Write 1667 words every day.

Rule 3: Every time you rewrite the scene with a slightly different outcome, it counts toward your word count. Don’t delete – just change the font color to red in that section, and begin rewriting the scene the way it SHOULD have been written in the first place, using the usual black font.

In December, cut the offending scene out of the ms, paste it into a separate document and save it in a ‘Background File’ in the same folder as the main manuscript. By doing that, you don’t lose prose you may need later.

During National Novel Writing Month, every word in my manuscript over and above 50,000 counts toward my region’s total word count. So if that means I have a lo-o-o-o-ong, multicolored manuscript for a few weeks, so be it.

For me, if I don’t begin to make those changes when I first realize they need to be done, I might forget until Dave Cantrell, my first reader and structural genius, points it out. (I daily thank God for Dave, and am grateful the internet connects to California.) (♥)

As one of the Municipal Liaisons for the Olympia Washington Region, I am required to attend most of the write-ins, which happen at different coffee shops or libraries. I handle the daylight hours, as I don’t drive after dark. It does eat into my day, which is why my husband thinks of it as National Pot-Pie Month. But I do get a lot of stream-of-consciousness writing done at these events and I have made life-long friends among the writing community of Olympia and the surrounding area.

If you want to sign up for this year’s month of madness and mayhem, get on the internet and go to:

www.nanowrimo.org

Sign up, pick a NaNo name – mine is Dragon_Fangirl, and you are in business. Look me up and make me one of your writing buddies. Spend the rest of October organizing what you think you will need to begin you story on November first. Then, on the first day of November you begin writing. If you apply yourself, and write (AT the minimum) 1667 words every day, on the 30th of November you should have a novel…or something.

nanowrimo-yodaIn reality, if you set aside one or two hours a day, and pound out the words as fast as you can during that time, you will get your word count. Never delete, and do not self-edit as you go along. Just spew words, misspelled and awkward as they may be. They all count, misspelled or not, and it is the discipline of writing that we are working on here, not the nuts and bolts of good manuscript.

Revising and correcting gross mistakes will come in the second draft, when you have time to look at it with a critical eye. What you are doing now is getting the ideas down.

Never discard your work no matter how much your first reader says it stinks. Even if what you wrote is the worst drivel she ever read, some of it will be worth saving and reusing later.

Spending a month immersed in stream-of-consciousness writing is not a waste of time. You will definitely have something to show for your efforts, and you will have developed the most import skill a writer must have: self-discipline.

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#amwriting: Interview with author Stephen Swartz

Today is the final installment in my series of interviews with working authors who are also teaching writing craft. This has been a wonderful series, as each approaches the craft from a different angle, and my final guest has a great deal to offer.

stephen-swartzA little background on today’s guest, author Stephen Swartz. He is a Professor of English at a major Midwestern university, and is a world traveler, often spending his summers teaching in Beijing, China at the University of International Business and Economics. Also, he is the author of numerous short stories and novels, and is a fellow founding author of Myrddin Publishing. He has also published poetry and written for scholarly journals on the subject of composition and identity, linguistics, and psychology.

CJJ: What do you enjoy the most about teaching?  Conversely, what would you change about your job if you were able?

SS: I’m rather parental when it comes to teaching. I like seeing my students become excited about writing and push themselves to explore their potential. I enjoy seeing their writing improve paper by paper, not only technically but also in showing their deeper thought processes. As it is, there are constraints on what I think would be best when it comes to writing instruction. Partly, it is a matter of budgeting, enrollment, and accreditation requirements. It is also a matter of what students are interested in career-wise; many do not think they will need to write in their careers. So I have limitations I must work within. And, of course, each semester brings a new mix of students so I must constantly adapt the lessons to accommodate them; it really is like reinventing the wheel. Writing fiction keeps me balanced.

CJJ: As you know, many authors are writing for children, preteens (middle-grade), and YA. In a comment on this blog recently, you said, “Meanwhile, the style (I think) should match the nature of the story and especially the mindset and education level of the narrator.” Can you expand on that idea a little?

SS: What I think I meant was in reference to the sophistication of the language the narrator of a story uses. That’s the author’s responsibility. If the narrator of a story is well-educated (for example, see my vampire novel A Dry Patch of Skin), he would speak in a well-educated manner, with sophisticated style and a large vocabulary. A less educated character (or a child) would speak differently, using simpler vocabulary and often incorrect sentence constructions. A foreign character speaking English would have similar language limitations; the dialog should show those limitations. However, we cannot let the language be too authentic if doing so would cause the reader difficulty. I once wrote a character who was supposed to speak with a Scottish accent; the result was rather bad. Having just enough (a particular repeating word or phrase) to hint at the accent would have been enough. I’ve been fortunate to have both studied linguistics and foreign languages as well as listened to speakers of varying ages and accents. I lived in Japan for five years and teaching English there taught me how non-native speakers “butcher” the language. I think I captured that effect well in my novel Aiko, set in Japan. Besides formal training, I also think I have a good ear for speech and so I do my best to replicate the character’s way of speaking based on the real speaking I’ve heard.

aikoCJJ: You have published eight books, in a variety of genres, and are now finishing up an epic fantasy novel (of EPIC proportions!). Yet, none of your characters have a sameness to them. How do you visualize your characters when you begin to place them in their story?

SS: Excellent question. My answer must, however, be simple. I’m schizophrenic. My mental defect allows me to grab pieces of other people’s lives, behavior, speech, and motivations which I then craft into plausible, even realistic, fictionalized personas. I recognize I have a few stock-in-trade character I use over and over with names changed and perhaps a quirk switched for a different quirk. I suppose I take one of my stock characters and customize him/her for the role I need him/her to play.

The hardest character to write is the protagonist because that character usually starts as a version of myself. The challenge is to let the hero act as the hero would naturally act (following his/her motivations and typical behavior) and not as I, the real me, would likely act. When I wrote out the story of a friend of mine who grew up in Greenland, I was writing a female protagonist—and using the first-person point of view. That novel was based on her life so I could imitate her way of speaking from interviews with her. The challenge for me in writing that novel was to make her language style change from her childhood to her teenage years to her adulthood.

For my current work-in-progress, the epic fantasy, I returned to a basic male protagonist, a hunky dragonslayer, and cobbled together a bit of a movie star, a little of me, and a pieces of other people I know to create the singular hero.

CJJ: In your upcoming novel, EPIC FANTASY *WITH DRAGONS, you portray a variety of races in a fantasy environment, each with unique cultures. What tips can you give in regard to keeping fantasy cultures diverse, and yet not devolving into too much backstory?

 SS: Not truly different races, not in the sense that Tolkien has them with dwarves and hobbits. I tried to keep the ethnicity in my story more subtle. Given the setting (no spoilers here), there is a wide variety of “types” among the cast members, not just to make a politically correct checklist but because they mix well in interesting ways. One famous author (I think it was Dostoevsky but it may be a more modern writer) liked to think up unique people and ponder how they might interact if put in a room together. I did the same with my epic fantasy only on the larger stage of the story world.

Regarding the world-building, I cheated a bit in this novel by setting it in a familiar setting (again, no spoilers here). Readers may recognize it eventually but it is not explicitly “given away” in the text. Even so, as I traced the path my hero would take on his quest, I marked certain locations on the map as being “different” societies with unusual customs—not different races or ethnicities. Like all good epic fantasy tales based on a quest, there is a series of episodes—self-contained mini-story arcs, strung together, one adventure after another—so the structure is easy to arrange. Following the geographical layout of the setting, what “can happen” to our hero necessarily changes from location to location.

A better example of world-building may be my science-fiction trilogy The Dream Land, which involves a pair of nerdy teens who discover a doorway to another world—which I created as a fully realized planet with continents, oceans, history and culture, and several different races, as well as unique flora and fauna. The world-building was half the fun of writing those novels; pushing my hero and heroine into this new world and watching them figure things out was the other fun part.

I think the key to “keeping fantasy cultures diverse, and yet not devolving into too much backstory” is to remember that, to the characters in the story, it is all known and common (usually) so they should speak and act toward everything there as though it was all common to them. You have to find creative ways of introducing ideas and details without them coming out as a “Let’s go meet Bill, your cousin, who, as you know, is also my long-lost brother” kind of writing. In my current epic fantasy novel, I can get away with some of that “messaging” because my hero is on a quest and does not know about the places he visits, so having a local character explain things is quite natural. People like to talk, so I let these “local yokels” ramble on and the history and customs of the place come out in a more natural way.

CJJ: In all of your novels, there is a certain amount of world building, even the novels set in contemporary environments. What advice can you give regarding making the settings feel real to the reader while keeping the backstory minimal?

SS: Research, if it is a real place. Read other books about the location, fiction or non-fiction. As I wrote A Girl Called Wolf, which is set in Greenland, I also read a very evocative book on the travels of early explorers written by a woman undertaking her own contemporary travels there. Her writing and descriptions painted such vivid pictures for me that I could describe the locations both accurately and passionately.

The most realistic setting I’ve ever used was my own city in the set in the same year I was writing it. I’m referring to my vampire novel, set in Oklahoma City with places named, set in 2014, when I was actually writing it so what happened in real time happened in the book. That was a fun exercise. But then our hero goes to Europe so I went back to researching.

For make-believe worlds, I think it’s simply a matter of transposing what we know of real locations to an imaginary location. For example, in The Dream Land Trilogy, I would think of an Earth animal and reinvent it as something more exotic: the common mount, a horse, became a 3-toed donkey with a dewlap, stripes on half its body, long rabbit ears, and a rat tail. Similarly, I’m more science-focused so even in a fantasy story I remain concerned with such things as the distance of the planet from its sun and the ratio of land to ocean, and so on. Even in my epic fantasy, a genre where magic is required, I have magic operating on scientific principles but it is explained in highly metaphorical language—but it still looks like magic!

CJJ: Thank you for indulging my curiosity, Stephen. I love talking craft with you around the virtual water cooler at Myrddin, and enjoy your blog, The DeConstruction of the of the Sekuatean Empire.

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You can find Stephen Swartz at any of these places:

Stephen Swartz Amazon Author Page

Website: The DeConstruction of the Sekuatean Empire

Stephen Swartz  Myrddin Publishing page

Twitter: @StephenSwartz1

Stephen Swartz’s FB Author Page

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