Tag Archives: writer life

Research and Development #amwriting

I love learning how other authors work. I recently watched a 2015 podcast, Adam Savage Interviews ‘The Martian’ Author Andy Weir – The Talking Room. This is a fabulous interview, where Andy explains his intense research for the bestseller, The Martian, and his writing process.

The MArtian Andy WeirAndy Weir is genuinely a nice person and is the best example of an inadvertent teacher that I’ve ever seen. This interview is a brilliant seminar on how to research and plot a book. He writes hard sci-fi with a heart, but the principles of creation are the same for any genre.

If you haven’t read The Martian, I have to say it is my favorite sci-fi novel of all time. DO PLEASE watch that interview—his method of writing and researching is genius.

Targeted research is crucial if you want your fiction to be plausible. Identify what you want to know, use the internet, ask an expert, and create a searchable file or database of information that backs up your assertions.

Once you establish the technological era you are writing in, you know what you need to research and how theoretical your narrative may need to be.

Here are some of my go-to sources of information. I’ve published this list before, but here it is again:

If you seek information about low-tech societies (the past):

My best source of information on low-tech agricultural (farm) life and culture comes from a book I found at a second-hand book store in Olympia in the mid-to-late-1980s. Lost Country Life by Dorothy Hartley is still available as a second-hand book and can be found on Amazon. This textbook was meticulously researched and illustrated by a historian who personally knew the people she wrote about.

I also discover a lot of information on how people once lived from the art found at Wikimedia Commons. Under the heading  Category: Painters from the Northern Netherlands (before 1830), you will find the brilliant works of the Dutch Masters, artists living in what is now The Netherlands.

These painters created accurate records of ordinary people going about everyday life. Their genre art depicts how they dressed and what was important to them in their daily lives.

Looking things up on the internet can suck up an enormous amount of your writing time. Do yourself a favor and bookmark your resources, so all you have to do is click on a link to get the information you want. Then you can quickly get back to writing.

Resources to bookmark in general:

www.Thesaurus.Com (What’s another word that means the same as this but isn’t repetitive?)

Oxford Dictionary (What does this word mean? Am I using it correctly?)

Wikipedia (The font of all knowledge. I did not know that.)

oxford_dictionaryTED Talks are a fantastic resource for information on current and cutting-edge technology.

ZDNet Innovation is an excellent source of existing tech and future tech that may become current in 25 years.

Tech Times is also a great source of ideas.

Nerds on Earth is a source of valuable information about swords and how they were used historically.

If you are writing a contemporary novel, you need to know what interests the people in the many different layers of our society. Go to the magazine rack at your grocery store or the local Big Name Bookstore and peruse the many publications available to the reading public. You can find everything from mushroom hunting, to culinary, to survivalist, to organic gardening. If people are interested in it, there is a magazine for it. An incredible amount of information can be found in these publications.

We all agree that while the early pioneers of science fiction got so much of our modern reality right, they also got it wrong. So, we can only extrapolate how societies will look in the future by taking what we know is possible today and mixing it with a heavy dose of what we wish for.

SpaceX

NASA

Digital Trends

If you write sci-fi, you must read sci-fi as that is where the ideas are. Much of what was considered highly futuristic in the era of classic science fiction is today’s current tech.

Ion drives and space stations are our reality but were only a dream when science fiction was in its infancy.

Think about it: your Star Trek communicator is never far from your side, and your teenagers won’t put theirs down long enough to eat dinner.

sample-of-rough-sketched-mapMAPS: If you are writing a story set in our real world, your characters will be traveling in places that exist in reality. You want to write the landmarks of a particular city as they should be, so bookmark google maps for that city. Even if you live there, make sure you write it correctly because readers will let you know where you have gone wrong.

GOOGLE EARTH is your friend, so use it!

If you are writing about a fantasy world, quickly sketch a rough map. Refer to it to ensure the town names and places remain the same from the first page to the last. Update it as new locations are added.

Please, make sure your literary murders are done in a way that doesn’t fly in the face of logic. Do the research on poisons, knife wounds, and consider all the possible reasons why that particular murder wouldn’t work in reality. Then write a murder that does work.

Talk to police, talk to doctors, talk to lawyers–many are willing to help you with your quest for accuracy about their professions. Also, you can Google just about anything. Fads, fashion, phone tech, current robotics tech, automobile tech—it’s all out there.

We may be writers of fiction, but we are also disseminators of information and dreams. It’s a big responsibility!

Do the proper research, target it to your needs, and don’t allow yourself to be sidetracked by the many bunny trails that lead you away from actually writing.

 

2 Comments

Filed under writing

Winding up 2020: Random Thoughts on the Industry #amwriting

2020 has been a horror show in many ways. If I had written a novel based on a sketchy, random plot like this year gave us, no one would read it.

My review of 2020 is one star. The pacing was completely off. Just about the time I would begin to enjoy the year, some element of random weirdness was inserted just for shock-value. Overall, 2020 lacked believability. I found it difficult to sympathize with the main characters, possibly because they portrayed themselves as such outrageous caricatures.

All that aside, it’s been a good reading year for me. Being in lockdown for much of it has meant I had a lot of free time to devote to expanding my digital library.

I always review the books I enjoyed. I have mentioned before that 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.

The problem goes beyond my not caring for the style or voice of the piece. Lack of proofreading and garbled sentences are problems in some. Two weeks ago, I read a traditionally published book where the editor didn’t catch a confusion between the words affect and effect, which meant the sentences the word affect was used in made no sense, “affectively speaking.”

Maybe a casual reader wouldn’t be bothered by that, but it jarred me out of the story.

I suggest looking at the first pages of a book by using the “look inside” option at Amazon and the other large online booksellers. The opening pages often show how awful or great a novel will be, so use that tool and don’t buy a book that you haven’t had a look at first.

Rushing to publish a poorly edited book 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.

Some big publishers set impossible deadlines for the next book and race to launch what they hope will be a follow-up bestseller. However, because the authors were pushed to cough up a book prematurely, the resulting novels sometimes fail to live up to the hype.

The current state of traditionally published books is proof that the system is flawed. This last year, I read several books written by bestselling authors and published by the large publishing houses. These were novels I had anticipated and looked forward to enjoying but didn’t.

By the time I was halfway through them, it was clear the manuscripts were given a quick once over and pushed out the door, in a hurry to hit a hot market.

We have to consider our readers, who deserve the best you can give them. If you are just beginning in this craft, I have some suggestions, things I wish I had known thirty years ago.

Learn the mechanics of how to write in your native language. Grammar and punctuation are the traffic signals that keep your sentences and paragraphs from becoming traffic jams. This is a foundational skill every author must have, no matter what genre you write in.

Join a writing group and meet other authors, either in your local area or online. We grow and learn by talking to others in the industry.

Develop a thick hide. You must 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.

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? 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. Find a good, professional editor.

  • Always check the references of anyone you engage for professional services.
  • 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 is patient.
  • If you disagree with a suggestion, discuss it with the editor and find out why they don’t understand what you intended to convey. Sometimes all you need to do is rephrase an idea.

If you have a symbiotic relationship with a knowledgeable editor, you will turn out a professional-looking manuscript.

Don’t give up your day job. Very few traditionally published authors receive hefty advances. Even well-known authors struggle to make ends meet.

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.

Over the years, I have read many brilliant books by talented authors in all genres. These authors were writing on both the indie and traditional sides of the industry.

For me, finding the gems in the library makes wading through the lemons worthwhile. I especially love it when an indie book hits all the right chords.


Credits and Attributions:

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

3 Comments

Filed under writing

5 things I’ve learned #amwriting

I’ve been writing for all of my adult life, but for most of it, not professionally. For the majority of my writing life, I was new, untutored in the craft, writing words that shouldn’t have been shown to anyone. I didn’t have the information I needed to make my work readable and didn’t know how to get it.

I felt embarrassed for even thinking that I could be an author.

One day in 1990, I stumbled upon a book that was offered in the Science Fiction Book Club catalog: How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card. The day that book arrived in my mailbox changed my life. It was possible for me to become a writer, and one of my favorite authors was going to tell me how to do it.

In the years since that book, I have amassed a library of books on the craft. Some are brilliant, some not so much, but I always learn something from them. However, personal experience is a great teacher, and I’ve learned many things by trial and error.

So here in no particular order are five things I would like to pass on to you:

Make a style-sheet as you go, a glossary of words and spellings unique to your story, and be sure to list names especially. I use an Excel spreadsheet, but use anything you like, and that will help you stay consistent in your spellings.

Develop a good system for naming your files and save regularly. Save each version of your manuscript with a different name so you can go back and retrieve bits you may need later. I use a system like this:

Heavens_Altar_V5.docx

That stands for Heaven’s Altar version five, and I work out of Word, so the extension is automatically a docx.

Find a local group of writers to meet with and talk about the craft. Critique groups are great, but they are only one small part of the picture. Authors need to network with other authors because we need to discuss the craft with someone who doesn’t look at you with glazed eyes. I gained my extended author network for by joining The Pacific Northwest Writers Association and going to their conferences. This is how we educate ourselves. I also gained a local support group through attending Write Ins for NaNoWriMo.

Don’t even consider signing with any slick-talking publisher that contacts you out of the blue, saying they want your work if you haven’t submitted your work to them. How can they possibly want work they haven’t seen?

Make use of SFWA’s Writer Beware site. These predators want your work all right—and want to sell you publishing services you can do for yourself. You won’t benefit from the publisher’s “services,” but they will benefit from your desperation to be published. They will publish your work unedited, and your payment is the glory of having it published, as you will never see any royalties. They will expect you to market their product and offer you all manner of for-payment services that are dubious at best. Worst of all, you will have signed away the rights to your work for nothing.

Even though you are writing that novel, write short stories. Short stories are a training ground, a way to hone your developing skills. They’re also the best way to get your name out there. My advice is to build a backlog of work in lengths from 2000 to 5000 words ready to submit to magazines, anthologies, and contests. All those fabulous scenes and vignettes that roll though your head can be made into short pieces. Get the Submittable App and see who is asking for what sort of work, and start submitting.

These are five things that I wish I had known in 2010 but didn’t.

7 Comments

Filed under writing