Archive for June, 2011

Inside Writing Jokes (and the Importance of New Eyes Periodically)

I have the privilege of belonging to a close-knit writing community.  This is awesome.  I suggest you find a writing community and join it too, because they are invaluable in many ways.

What I have found, though, is sometimes things can get too familiar.  We’ll be celebrating our fifth anniversary in a few months, and in that time period many of us have worked on and off on the same novels, completing new drafts and critiquing drafts for others, and it’s gotten to the point where I know some of my fellow writers’ stories almost as well as I know my own.

As such, we’ve developed a thoroughly ridiculous number of in-jokes – about different stories, characters, and the community at large.  And sometimes, when things are so comfortable for us, it’s hard to remember that we’re not writing for just ourselves.

A good reader is priceless, but sometimes, when one person has looked at different drafts of the same story over and over, they can get as bogged down in it as the author does, with vague memories of scenes from past versions and characters that have since been written out.  This is not to say that it’s bad to have the same person read different drafts, because they can let you know if the story is becoming more solid and that you’re heading in the right direction.

If you bring in a new reader periodically, someone who has never seen your story before, it’ll give you an idea what someone picking your book up from the shelf in a bookstore might think.  A repeat reader will say “Your plot is much tighter, and I really enjoyed this scene in the forest.  Also, have you thought about adding in more foreshadowing earlier in the story?”  A new reader will have a much more instinctual reaction to the story, since they’re unfamiliar with its twists and turns.

Both types of readers are excellent and provide different sorts of feedback.  Plus, it’s nice to have someone familiar enough with your story to bounce story fixes off of.

Luckily, our community gains new people periodically, giving me, thus far, a self-replicating collection of possible readers to foist things upon.  Bwha.

What do you look for in a reader?  How many do you prefer, and what ratio do you like for second+ drafts?

Writing Serially

I belong to a prompt community.  I joined, oh, four years ago or so with the idea that I’d be able to use the prompts to stir the creative juices.  It hasn’t really worked out.  Oh, it’s not the community’s fault.  They are awesome, talented writers and the prompts are usually very interesting.  Something about the medium just doesn’t work for me.

Oh, sure, sometimes a prompt jolts something out of the creative centers of my brain.  When I joined originally, you had to post once every three months to stay a member, and I could usually manage something in that time frame.  But a few years ago they changed the requirement to once a month, and I knew the likelihood of ye olde brain coming up with something purely prompt based that often was pushing it.

(This is not to say that I have problems with ideas.  If anything, there are too many ideas floating around.  They just tend to be novel-shaped.)

So I decided to work on a serial novel, with a new part going up every month (or more often if I got around to it).  I’d already completed Hidden Worlds serially, so I knew it was something that I could do.

Two years later, I’m still working on that story.  I use the prompts to direct the next part, and feedback has generally been very good.

I outline very vaguely so this works well for me.

What does writing serially do for you?  I use it as a side project which helps me get through harder sections of my main projects.  It also allows you to work on something a relaxed pace and gain readers over time.

Things you should note about serial writing:

1.  Do it consistently.
I put up a new section every month.  This means my readers can expect a new section on a regular basis, that I know when it’s due so I’m thinking about/working on it when I should be, and that it doesn’t get eaten by other projects/life.

2.  Outline, at least a little.
The thing with writing serially is that you need to have an idea where the story is going to go, what kind of story it is, what promises you want to make to your readers.  What do you do if you get 25K in and realize you’ve written yourself in to a corner?  Alternately, if you make it three-fourths of the way into the story and do a genre change out of right field, people will not be happy.

3.  Reread the last few sections before picking back up.
This helps you remember where you are, what you named your characters, and what you were thinking when you left off.

Some publications are taking serial stories on now.  If you’d like to try for one of those, you need to have the entire story at least outlined before submitting.  They will not be as lenient as my prompt community if something goes off-kilter.

What about you, Squiders?  Ever write something serially?  What have your experiences been?

Subgenre Study: Alternative History

My mother recently read Leviathan and Behemoth (books 1 and 2 of the Leviathan Trilogy) by Scott Westerfeld.  For those who haven’t read them (and you should) they are kind of an odd mix of steampunk and alternative history.  But she liked them and asked for recommendations of other books similar to them.

“The steampunk part or the alternative history part?” I asked.

“I don’t understand why people change history,” my mother replied.

I recommended His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik to her.

As I attempted to explain to my mother, alternative history is a way to answer the question “What if…?”  What if Germany had won the second world war?  What if the Napoleonic Wars were fought with dragons?  What if some deity decided the fate of the battle before it started – would it still be worth fighting?

Alt. History is an odd subgenre, one of the ones that spans both science fiction and fantasy but technically belongs to neither.  A book like His Majesty’s Dragon technically is fantasy, because of said dragons, but what about a story like the one mentioned above, where Germany won WWII?  It probably falls closer to science fiction, since it’s working on speculative events, even if said events take place in today’s past.

“I just don’t understand why people mess with history,” my mother said.

The short answer is that writers mess with everything so something as large as the History of the Human Race is certainly not exempt.  It provides a huge amount of fodder, even if you just change or exaggerate events a little.  It provides an almost irresistible pull to twist one fragment of time and watch the ripples move through everything that came after it.  What if Columbus had never discovered the New World?  What if Napoleon had been able to invade and subdue Russia?  What if the Cold War hadn’t been so cold?  Some things in history happened out of sheer, dumb luck – but what if that luck hadn’t held?  What new and differing technology would have to be available for some things to happen, or to not happen?  Really, the possibilities are endless.

Alternative history allows us to see the world as it might have been, for better or worse, and that’s a lot of power.

So, Squiders, what are your favorite alternative history books/stories?

Australian Interlude

Can’t talk, have Australians.

(I love to say this, people’s first reaction is almost always complete befuddlement.)

Blogging shall resume with Friday’s post, but to tie you over, here’s a picture of a landsquid and a turtleduck.


Revisiting Short Stories

Early on in this blog, I wrote a post wondering what the deal was with short stories, why everyone insisted on telling you to write them when they do not prepare you for novel-writing (and vice versa), and whether or not there was any sort of point.

Well, I figured it out.

Life’s been weird this year.  I haven’t really been able to work on my novel projects (for a variety of reasons), but I have been able to write and edit several short stories.

No, they don’t help you hone your novel-writing skills.  But they give you a chance to experiment, a chance to get things done and out, and a chance to see some growth.

Let’s face it.  Novels take time.  Even the speediest of writers still takes about a month per first draft and the rest of us, well.  Then there are edits and rewrites, critiques and yet more edits.  Then you’ve got to write a query and a synopsis, research agents (assuming you don’t have one), and then submission can take years before you get a bite, assuming you ever do.

It’s a lot of work and success is long in coming.

I admittedly turned to the short stories because I was going insane not getting things done, and depending on length I can turn one out in a few hours to a few days.  But it’s been so freeing.  When you submit a short story somewhere, you don’t need to write a query, you just tell the publisher your title, genre, and word count, and you’re good to go.  Responses come more often, and it’s easier to have multiple projects out.  And best of all, I’m getting more encouraging responses than I ever have in my on/off year of novel submission.

So, no, they don’t help with the novels.  But they help you feel like you’re doing something, that your writing actually does not suck, and that maybe, one day, you will get this.  And we each of us need that boost from time to time.

100th Post Celebration

Tada!  100 posts!  Not too shabby for me and the Landsquid.  In celebration, I give you the top 5 posts thus far:

Collaborative Writing – Characters
Writing with a Partner – Collaborative Editing
What Would You Put on a List of the 100 Best Scifi/Fantasy Books?
Of Sleep Deprivation and Haiku

Give me some feedback, Squiders.  Would you like me to post more often?  Less often?  (Currently I’m on a MWF schedule.)  Topics you’d like me to cover?  Topics you’d like me not to cover?  How do you like the drawings?





Summer Slump

Ah, summer.  I love it yet I hate it, because I don’t really function above 85 degrees and I burn easily, but I love the blue skies and the flowers and the afternoon thunderstorms (provided I am not out in them).

But I find it hard to get anything creative done.  It’s like the sunshine saps my creativity.  I go to work and then I come home and I work in my garden or I go for a walk or I write inane blog posts and feed Cheez-Its to the Landsquid, and by the time I get to writing (or thinking about writing) I’m exhausted.

And I worry that this is becoming a new trend.  I no longer have breaks that I can use to get some writing done at work, and the new house and yard take more work than I’m used to.

But then, I think, perhaps, I’m normally not terribly productive in the summer in general anyway.  I’m distracted by socializing and usually between projects.  But I can’t guarantee that.  I would need more data to know if it were true.

Do other people find summer drains them of their motivation?  Is it the heat?  And if it’s the lifestyle changes, what’s the best way to deal with them?  Any tips?

Til then, I shall just sit here and sip my lemonade.