Thursday, March 31, 2011


This time last year and in the months before that, I was not using any kind of formal plot document to help my writing.

19999058.gifWhile that's an excellent way to learn how to tell a story, it slowed me down. I'm familiar with anecdotal evidence from other writers who have never used any kind of plot doc to write and some have been VERY successful. They just dive in knowing two or maybe three things about the story they want to tell and let the words and feelings carry them away. That actually worked for me on a couple of stories when I knew the beginning and the end and the whys of both, but it's harder for works that are longer than say 6000 words or so.

The basic elements of a plot are illustrated above and it looks a lot like climbing a mountain and then trying to ski down the other side. I've found that for me, I need to know where the loose rocks are, where there's danger of avalanche and what kind of amenities there are at the bottom. There needs to be at least one line across the center of the peak there labeled TENSION, the thing that gets forgotten. Even better would be an arc that is held at the climax by a line and label that reads TENSION.

This is why I need a plot document. I'm playing around with a version of Blake Snyder's Beat Sheet  and I'll let you know how that goes, but for now it's helping me find all the places where there's not enough tension in the story; tension between characters and within themselves in regards to the actions they have to take. I've played with using the Levitz Paradigm, with basic character sheets and a lot of other tools that are scattered around the web like nuggets of gold.

What I'm getting at here is that any writer is going to go through a bunch of ways of doing his work until he decides what works best for him. There are things like this that don't get said often enough. If you're struggling with your work, don't give up. Find a way to work that works for you. With having a plot doc at hand (essentially a map of the story) and character sheets to reference, when I get stuck in a spot I have easy reference at hand that will allow me to work through the obstacle more quickly.

I didn't say better, though, just more quickly. Remember there's a difference. That's what editing is for.

So now I'm learning how to plot things out. It really boils down to knowing the beginning and end and the whys of both but also knowing a couple of the middle bits of a story and why they're important are essential for me. Your mileage may vary.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


General Semantics:
Korzybski’s central goal was to attain a "consciousness of abstracting," or an awareness of the map/territory distinction and of how information gets deleted/distorted in the linguistic and other representations used. He considered sporadic and intellectual understanding of these concepts insufficient and argued that full sanity can be achieved only when the consciousness of abstracting becomes constant and a matter of reflex.
Social Credit:
Assuming the only safe place for power is in many hands, Social Credit is a distributive philosophy, and its policy is to disperse power to individuals. Social Credit philosophy is best summed by Douglas when he said, "Systems were made for men, and not men for systems, and the interest of man which is self-development, is above all systems, whether theological, political or economic." 
The brilliant SF editor John W. Campbell to Robert A. Heinlein:

Your prime strengths are two -- reality of personalities who have reasonable emotional reactions, and a reality of technical-political-social culture against which they can react...
from Robert A. Heinlein - In Dialogue with His Century by William H. Patterson.

PBS News Aggregator on hold, but developing:
Think about it: What if on a broad story like the economic crisis, you could pull together a NewsHour interview with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on changes to borrowing policies for US banks along with a Frontline clip from “Breaking the Bank” on the merger of Bank of America and Merill Lynch? Of course what we’re talking about is not simply aggregation, but also curation — and actually, considering the hours of shows PBS has at its disposal, mega-curation.

 13 Writing Tips from Chuck Pahlaniuk:
"Their window-dressing philosophy must be: 'If the window doesn't look quite right - put more in'."

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Exploring Ideas

Things are just popping up in my head these days. While I've been finishing the latest draft of one story, ideas for others have been slipping in and saying "Hey, when you're done with that one, what about this?"

These ideas are just nuggets, not fully-formed plots or anything. Just a snippet of "what about" mixed with "then what if" and tossed with "what next". What happens with them is that they go into a notebook I've been keeping for a little over a year. It's a spiral notebook that I take with me to the day job so that if something pops up, I can write everything I know about it at the time and forget it.

That's right, forget it.

Since I'm not a full-time writer I haven't yet been able to juggle multiple projects. I think I know how to do it, but I'm already juggling the full-time day job (which is what pays the bills and buys the whiskey) and the writing (which isn't paying anything except in experience and contacts). Oh, yeah, I have a family, too. Subdividing the writing isn't in my best interests at the moment, so I have to write down ideas and let them marinate when I go back to the immediate work at hand. This means I'm probably one of the slowest writers around.

That said, when I was just writing The Long Range I was able think two or three stories ahead because they were all interconnected. Plus they were just for me, so I was the only person I had to please. This last story took me way longer than I wanted it to, but I wasn't writing it for me. I had to give it as much focus as I could. It's a job and that means I had to do it as well as I was able.

So when I get an idea while I'm writing those projects for others (and I'm excited to do them!) I have to let it sit. When I get back to them, like I have today, I read it over and ask myself if it still appeals to me. If it doesn't, then I move on to another. If I like an idea I start looking for an angle that I hadn't seen before, if none comes I move on to the next one and so forth and so on.

I look to see if I can combine ideas, too. Sometimes I'll scratch one idea off and add it to another with a note of where it came from. Then I close the notebook and forget it for the time being. The notebook is a mess to look at and has pieces of paper paperclipped and stapled to it, various colors of sticky notes in there, too.

It takes a longer time to decide which of those ideas I'd like to explore further in a story.

Unless of course I get excited about something and start pounding away at the keyboard. But that's another process.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


Well, it's been a bit since I've been here. Sorry for the silence, but that's why you should follow me on Twitter, anyway, right? Here are some quick bits:

  • Last night I finished a new draft of the story I've been working for Actionopolis/Agents of D.A.N.G.E.R. to follow up Evolver. I'm really happy with how it's turned out as it's much better than the first draft. I'm waiting on notes back and then hopefully we'll know when it'll be out. I'm going to guess and say 'soonish'.

  • I'll be touring the floor at Planet Comicon at the end of the month in Kansas City where I hope to meet Tony Harris and Ben Templesmith as well as reconnect with all my friends who I only ever see at comic conventions. 

  • It's tournament time for us college basketball freaks and despite all the haters (and really, doesn't it take a lot of energy to hate?) I am rooting for my Jayhawks to make a strong run in the NCAA tournament. They've won the Big XII (or shared the regular season title) for seven years straight but the competition this year was tougher than ever. With Nebraska and Colorado leaving the conference after this year, it'll be interesting to see what happens next. I hope we get to play Oklahoma and Oklahoma State twice a year again. I miss that from the old Big 8 days.

  • I woke this morning realizing I had left a plot element dangling. I have to get back to that and fix it tonight. I mention this because I dreamed of writing last night. I think this means something.

  • Then later, after coffee and exercise, a new opening line to the novel I started came to me. The novel's been on hold while I've been finishing this story up because I have a hard enough time finding Time to Write being a part-time writer, so juggling multiple stories while one of them is for someone else is not something I'm good at. It'll happen, just hasn't happened yet. Anyway, that new first line is rolling around in my head for a while before I'll add it to the manuscript.

  • I've been reading a lot since the holidays and I'm just now finishing up Mike Carey's fifth (and final?) Felix Castor novel, The Naming of the Beasts and loving it. Carey's one of the great comic book writers who's got a wealth of ideas and I'll continue to support him. You are reading his very excellent creator-owned work THE UNWRITTEN, right? If not, there are two trades out at least, and maybe a third. I'm also halfway through a bio of Robert Heinlein. Fascinating read, that.

  • As always I'm late to the party on quite a bit of pop culture stuff, too. I recently found time to watch David Tennant's Dr. Who run and now I'm getting into Torchwood's second season. Maybe it's just this season, but it seems to be a lot about family and relationships. I love that stuff. 

And that's got to be enough for now. I won't promise when I'll be back to say 'hi' again, but it'll be soon. (Well, soonish.) I'll come back later to drop in links, but I want to get this posted now.