Friday, August 31, 2012

The Wind-Up

I'm somewhere in the empty shaft, there.
Image attribution.
One thing I've always struggled with is the Elevator Pitch.

And my god are there a ton of websites that offer advice on how to craft the perfect EP. Nearly 3 million hits on Google when searching just the term. 60,000 hits when you add the word 'template' and I'm afraid to look at how many 'examples' there might be. A lot of the top results have to do more with business than with the storytelling aspects we're talking about here on this blog.

Here's the definition I gleaned from Wikipedia's entry on the subject:

...it should be possible to deliver the summary in the time span of an elevator ride, or approximately thirty seconds to two minutes.
This definition is closer to what I was expecting from Hilari Bell through the Science Fiction Writers of America website:

...two sentence pitch, which you could recite if you managed to trap an agent or editor in an elevator with you. They actually call these two sentences an "elevator pitch," or sometime a "logline pitch," a term that comes from screenwriting.
That's the one I had heard over and over sometimes through my friends at The Confabulator Cafe and my various other readings across the internet and in books from the library.

 It's not that I don't know what my book is about, I can sum it up in one word. But it's being able to convince someone that's it's worth their time or money to check it out is what I am less than confident in. I know I'm not the only one, too.

A two-page synopsis isn't too hard, and neither is the four or five paragraph query. It's just getting down to that quick-hit, high concept that's giving me fits. It helps that I can sometimes steer conversations with new friends to my writing and I can try out a version of the EP. It'll be hard to tell if anyone will really buy the book because it's not available yet.

Querying is something I've been working on, too, and dammit if everything I write trying to describe the big beats of the story doesn't sound like it should be recited by Don LaFontaine over a movie trailer. That's boring to me.

But I guess that's the business of it. Have any of you ever read solicits for comic books? Not exactly the same thing but close, more like what the old TV Guide listings used to be. A quick hook and that's it. That's not quite enough for the Elevator Pitch, is it?

I want a hook and a bit of description to draw a reader in and then I want to sink that hook deep.

I guess what I'm talking about is more along the lines of back cover copy.

Sigh. Gotta keep working at this. All the things that go into wanting to be a writer are multitudinous and various and sometimes frustrating. This is the career I'm choosing and supporting with my day job.

So, if you have any tips for writing an elevator pitch feel free to share them in the comments. Also, do point your browser over to the Cafe today and check out my newest flash fiction and all the other really great stories the Confabulators have offered up this week. There's some GREAT stuff there based on a painting by a friend of the Cafe.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Juggling

Nik Wallenda wirewalks Niagara Falls. I just want
to write stories and have a life. Image Attribution.
I've got multiple projects in various stages of development so here's the list:


  • The novel from last November is deep into a second revision. Based on notes I've gotten and comments from folks still reading it, I think I'm on the right track to get this done by the end of October. (crosses fingers)
  • A collaboration that's exciting and is still in its early throes of becoming something grand. Something I hope I can share with you all at some point. I hate to mention it, but it's part of what I'm working on.
  • Planning for the new novel this November. Notes are being taken, some research is being done.
  • Weekly assignments for The Confabulator Cafe.
  • This here blog thing where I update three times a week, or more.
  • Some short story ideas that are still percolating.
And on top of all that, I'm working a new day job. I'm not complaining at all, mind you. I'm just saying that I've got as many projects as any other writer out there who's in a similar situation.

So how does anything get done? The new job can kick my ass some days and I don't want to sit down and write. I may be stuck on one thing and then I'll move to another and I may get stuck there, too. The Cafe can be pretty daunting when our assignments are to write on things I haven't really thought about. And as far as populating this blog with regular updates, that's harder than it sounds too. 

Just think about all the typing that has to happen. 500 or so words for each blog post (or more). Unless the assignment at the Cafe is to write a flash fiction of 1000 words or so. (Which we're doing this week. You should really go over and check it out. While you're there pull down the flash fiction menu and see all the stories we've written.)

And then there's the day job. I've got a commute so I can think about writing while I'm driving but I really need to pay attention to the road, but I've been able to work out several sticking points while I"m in the car. I keep a piece of paper and a pen handy to write things down when I get stopped. I've also got a cool note app on my phone, but with that keyboard being so small, it's often faster to write things down. That app, though, has a neato voice function so I can leave myself a voice note if I want to. I don't do that often, but I have the capability.

Really the juggling comes with balancing the need for interaction with my family and the need to write stories. Since I've started the job the stories have taken a bit of a back seat but now that I'm settling in and finding a routine, I'll get back to them. I'm not worried. 

So the juggling act comes in multitasking, which is a word I intensely dislike. The mind doesn't really multitask. You're fooled into thinking it does but that's just not what happens. You can't switch like that. One of the things I'll have to do is figure out the bus system and take advantage of someone else driving every day in order to get a bunch of writing done. Or reading. 

Yeah, I'm reading every day, too. A writer has to read. 

I'm curious how you all accomplish the juggling act. Any advice? Share, if you will, in the comments. Maybe I can use some new tactics. Probably I can use some new tactics.

Let me know.

Monday, August 27, 2012

One Small Step

The crew of Apollo 11 prepares to go to the moon. Image from NASA.
The passing of Neil Armstrong is unexpected to me. In my head, he's a giant of a man who stands head and shoulders over all of us alongside Edwin Aldrin and Michael Collins and the entire NASA team that got those three men to the moon.

Armstrong considered the accomplishment of being the first man on the moon as just part of his job. He commanded the Apollo 11 mission and the amount of work that went into accomplishing the mission was enormous. He was responsible and took his responsibilities seriously. He is an example of how one should conduct himself in his work and in life in general.

He acknowledged the 'special' part of landing on the moon. (And I don't want to hear anything about conspiracies regarding the moon landing, either. It happened, he walked there, so did Aldrin; stop saying they didn't.) But there was work to be done and they had very little time to do it. If you don't know, there was only about 30 seconds of fuel left on board the lunar module when it touched down. Talk about nerves of steel and flying with absolute precision to land on the surface of another heavenly body no one had any idea of how stable or deep the dust was, he was calm as a glass lake. You can hear it in the communications with Flight.

He's an inspiration, a hero, and a gentleman.

I tell people I remember my mother setting me in front of the TV to watch the moon landing and I'm pretty sure I DO remember it though I was a little less than two years old when it happened. What I know is that Neil and Buzz and Mike were part of my life's journey since the beginning and losing Neil is a sign that I'm aging just a little. It's also a reminder that one can be famous for doing what's expected of him (just look at sports figures who excel and are grossly overcompensated). Neil acknowledged the accomplishment but then wanted to live as a private person.

Good for him.

This is a terrific picture of the building from the same vantage as I
approached it. Image attribution.
I never had the opportunity to meet Mr. Armstrong but when I visited Purdue several years ago I was stunned by the Hall of Engineering that had recently been opened on the campus. I came around a corner and found it just like this and - WOW. It's impressive with that giant (and it's GIANT) spaceplane nose coming over the top like that. I stood, stunned, and took it all in. I walked around the statue of Neil there and marveled at the structure. During my visit I found excuses to go look at it several times.

Upon my return to Kansas I told my space geek friends about the building and how it just took my breath away. Neil had been there and walked in the same space he'd been in at some point. That was enough for me.

The example he set by just being a man, a person who did his job and what was expected of him, is one that we should all follow. Just doing our jobs is important because people are depending on us to do what's asked. If there's glory or remuneration to be had as a result of doing that job, fine, but there's no need to parlay that into something more every chance you get.

No, take the time to enjoy your accomplishment but move on. It's difficult to be the first person to do anything of the magnitude of orbiting, landing, or walking on another world but you can do that and still be you.

Photo from NASA.
The small step that Neil took on the Moon that day in July 1969 is very small, indeed, compared to the one he took after he (and Buzz and Mike) returned to Earth. Let's celebrate all the things he did after walking on the moon, shall we? He lived a full life, a good one. He's more than the one accomplishment as that accomplishment belonged to many, many more than just him.

And where did it start? With a challenge to the American people to do something that seemed impossible, to invent technology previously thought far beyond our capabilities (unless one was writing science fiction), and to do it in a hurry.

From President Kennedy's speech at Rice University to the death of Neil Armstrong, we've come a long way and a lot of people made things happen. Things that are now taken for granted. Every job, large or small, is important to the completion of any mission. Let Neil's life and accomplishments inspire you to do your job - no matter what it is or how significant (or not) others may think it is - and to be good at it.

I have and I will.

Friday, August 24, 2012

What I've Learned: Theory v. Practice

Despite being cute, this is a very
functional model for storytelling.
I've started plotting out a new novel. I'm building on the successes I established from working on my current work in progress: I'm thinking ahead, planning the research that needs to be done to make the book believable in the context of the world I'm building.

To make it easier on myself, it's an SF story set in the modern world rather than somewhere in the galaxy though it's got lots of room for the fantastic. There are two pages of new notes over the last couple of days in addition to two other pages I've been working on since last December.

The advice I offered on Wednesday, to ask questions, is exactly what I'm doing to prep for this new book. Everything on the page starts with the 5 Ws + 1:


  1. Who
  2. What
  3. Where
  4. When 
  5. Why
  6. How
with modifiers for the main characters, the key villains, and even some supporting characters, too. Asking each of these six things about every plot point is showing me exactly where the book is going to go. From my experience of last year, this is how I'm building the middle of the book. I need to have a definite beginning and a very definite end before I can start writing.

Well, what I really need is one or the other. When I started writing last year, I didn't have a beginning and it was a couple of days in before I knew the exact ending. Having a chunk of Middle ready to write is fine and way beyond anything I had had in previous years. Knowing the ending is what fueled me to finish the book.

As I'm revising the novel now, the beginning has been the biggest pain in the backside and has caused a lot more grief/work/revisions than might've been necessary if I'd known what my opening should be. So that's a goal for this year's novel. 

I find the whole process very liberating. Maybe it's 'leveling up' and maybe it's the things that I've been doing all along but just not in as organized a fashion. Am I confident I know everything I need to in order to start writing? Nope. But I've got a couple of months before I get to the point of actually opening a new document on the computer to do that.

Do me a favor and stop by the Confabulator Cafe today, too. You'll find a lot of great writing advice this week about how each of us keeps the reader turning the pages. 


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Ask the Question

It would be a wonderful world if we could all agree on what's important.


  1. A roof overhead, safe water to drink, and food on the table.
  2. Health care.
  3. Education.
  4. Good roads to drive, if you have a car. A city-operated transit system if you don't.
  5. Earning a living to support oneself.
I could go on and so could you. But this isn't about politics today. Rather, it's about the stories that politicians tell or allow to be told that influence you to vote a particular way. You know, or I hope you do, anyway, that not everything that's said in a political campaign is true and some of it is outright lies. On all sides. Both major parties are guilty of it and so are other parties, too. Make no mistake, politicians will tell you what you want to hear or alternately try to scare the hell out of you with tall tales of what 'the other guy believes'.

Let's take the five things I've got listed above. Each of these are topics for the upcoming election that seems like it's been going on for the last two years. Which one will you hear the least about? 

Education.

I have a theory as to why, but it's not important to the story that I'm telling you right now. Just know that it's (in my mind) the third most important thing that needs to be dealt with in America right now and it's the one thing that will get NO air time from any candidate or the President. Instead, you'll be given fables about how a particular person who lost her home because of such and such economic policy is now struggling to make ends meet or how another person lost his job and can't put food on the table because of whatever. Stories of loss are powerful and affect you greatly if you let them.

Those stories are important not because they're true (or at least true enough) but because they play on your heartstrings. They tug at you. The writers of such stories embellish quite a bit and the last thing anyone in a campaign wants you to do is question the story. These writers are working on behalf of people who will promise you one thing and take something else away while you're distracted. 

What I try to do each election cycle is look into the Whys of what's being said. Too often, I'm disappointed that the influence of others is working on those who want my vote. So I have to dig deeper to find out what those others want and why they want it and how they anticipate getting it by having an elected official in their 'debt'.

I'm not trying to influence you, my six readers, to vote a particular way. Instead I want you to ask the questions of those asking for your vote. In America, the voice of the people is what's supposed to be the law of the land. The majority of people. You may think that your voice doesn't matter and I understand why but that doesn't excuse you from saying what's on your mind anyway. It may vary from issue to issue but if we can agree that health care is important for everyone, aren't we then just hammering out the details?

Don't let anyone tell you a story that you know isn't true. Don't believe everything you hear or see, either. Find out what's true, what's real, what the motivation is. Then add your voice to the others that think the same way you do. Don't just do it because it's easy; it's not supposed to be easy. Americans are supposed to work for our freedoms and not just hand them over to anyone who says he knows better than you what's right for you. 

If you're American and you vote (and if you're over 18 you SHOULD) then you have some work to do. Don't just listen to mainstream/lamestream media tell you what they think for you. Form some opinions for yourself.

And if you're one of those people who debates the 'lifelike' portrayal of special effects in films (like, say, the lava at the end of The Lord of the Rings), then you're capable of doing the same amount of work to determine where you should cast your vote. All you have to do is care enough to do that.

All you have to do is remember what everyone needs or is entitled to. Start with that list of five things at the top and see where they take you. Get involved in the story, learn the background, and don't let someone show you some unlifelike special effects just to get your vote.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Artist & Writer

I took last week off from the blog to get some time to focus on my new day job. Nothing too exciting to tell about it so I'll leave that for you to imagine on your own. Or if you see me in person you can buy me a drink and I'll tell you a story about it.

If I'd been around last week I would have noted the passing of two giants in the field of fantastic fiction: Joe Kubert and Harry Harrison. Both made their marks on me for the same reasons but in very different ways.

Kubert is best identified with Sgt. Rock, the leader of Easy Company, the roughest, best fighter's in America's Army during World War II. I like Rock as a character and a leader, but the war stories never really did it for me. I don't know why. I've tried them several times over the last twenty years or so and the artistry is excellent, the stories are good, they're just not for me. I've never been a big fan of war comics, anyway, even the SF ones. Rather, Kubert - for me, at least - is better identified with two superheroes: Hawkman and Ragman. 

Hawkman was in the Justice League, but it was his origin story in DC Comics Secret Origins TPB in the 70s that got my attention. Kubert's art was just so dynamic, straddling that realistic/Neal Adams style and a the more cartoony work of some of his other peers. (And I use that term loosely. Kubert didn't have many peers, artistically.) His work at the time was exactly what a superhero comic should have been. At least for me. 

His Ragman was big because I saw so much untapped potential in that character in the too-short-lived eponymously named series that Bob Kanigher wrote. Being Jewish, (not me, Ragman) I was fascinated by Ragman who was just SO different from every other superhero on the racks at the time. When I wanted to write comics, I did a proposal for a Ragman graphic novel that could have led to a revival of the character at the time, but it was rejected and I used the story somewhere else. 

In all, Kubert had more influence on me as a creator than anything else. I didn't try to draw like him or write like him but I saw the energy in his work and that was what inspired me. I'm sad I won't have any more new comics to look at and appreciate, but he left behind a most impressive body of work and he will be missed.

Harry Harrison, on the other hand, hit me between the eyes with his satiric Stainless Steel Rat series. The ineffable Jim diGriz, with his quick wit and brilliant skills as a thief worked his way deep into my psyche as a teenager. I got a collection of the first three novels from the Science Fiction Book Club back in the early 80s and devoured it. When subsequent books were released to the SFBC, I bought 'em and read them, too. I loved Harrison's dry style, the quick pace of the books and the adventures were stirring. diGriz falls in love at the same time I was becoming interested in girls and I thought that maybe things would kind of work out the same way for me. 

(I was a kid. A teenager. Sue me.) Of course they didn't. The novels weren't real life, but they were convincing enough for me to get lost in. The unfortunate effect was that I didn't really seek out any other of Harrison's works, like the great Make Room, Make Room! until much later in life. I stopped reading Harrison when I got hold of a copy of Bill the Galactic Hero, which didn't do anything for me. I thought I'd outgrown the author. I kept the SSR books, though.

Knowing that I'll never be as amusing as Harrison has kept me from trying to put too much humor into my stories. Telling jokes is one thing, being able to write them down and hope they make others giggle or even guffaw is something else, entirely. I'm not sure I can do it. What Harrison's influence over me is that he gave me respect for the craft of humor, of the light touch. I don't have it and I may never but that's okay. Not everyone can be Harry Harrison, but I'm lucky enough to know two writers who do have as light a touch as him. I'm learning from reading their works how much can be done, and appreciating the work they put into being amusing. 

So thank you, Joe. Thank you, Harry. You were part of my youth and my adulthood. I'm glad you were. I'm sad you're both gone. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

Endings

Thanks, Sparky, for all the great comics. Image
borrowed from here.
Today marks the end of Summer for me. I'm one of those kind of people who builds and builds lists of unattainable goals and always kicks himself in the butt for not completing them. My biggest hope for the summer was to have the novel revised and ready to go out for submissions.

I didn't get that done.

There are a ton of other things that were on my list that I never got to but I'm not going to share them with you because some of it would be really embarrassing if it got out. (Now that I've piqued your curiosity, I'll dodge that shuriken and talk about stories.)

Since this is a blog about stories and storytelling, here's the story of the revisions on the novel.

Upon completion of the Zero Draft last winter I found I was burned out from writing. I'd spent six and a half weeks banging out the book and I was pretty tired. Additionally, I had a self-imposed deadline to finish another project so that could get out to be published. Then there was another project that needed my attention so that it could get into the publication pipeline. Add in a couple of short stories I wanted to write and the hectic day job and I kept myself pretty busy through the spring.

Then summer hit and I wanted to ensure that the novel would get out on the street to find a new home. I worked hard at revisions, moving quickly and efficiently through the manuscript and adding and subtracting words like crazy. I finished the first revision (which made the book an official First Draft) and felt pretty proud of myself. I sent the book out to some trusted readers for feedback.

I went back to my short stories and something clicked: I realized what I'd been doing wrong in my writing for a long, long time. I wrote a little bit about feeling as though I'd leveled up in my writing last week and it was in regard, mostly, to having too many passive sentences in my work. So as I was editing the shorter bits I grew more and more confident that I was actually making progress as a Real Writer.

Of course I was, that's the point. But when I went back to look at the official First Draft of the novel, I realized I hadn't caught a majority of the passive sentences when I did that revision. Worse, I added more.

Sigh.

So I ended up creating more work for myself. Bah. Back to the keyboard!

All this to say that I could wallow in the fact that I did the thing wrong when I had a chance to make it right. When one is facing the barrel of 100,000+ words to go back and edit again and this time try to catch as many more little things as one can, it's pretty overwhelming. However, if I hadn't spent the time this summer working the piece the way I did, I wouldn't have leveled up, I wouldn't have completed the first revision and we'd be talking about something else today. A lot of that is due to the urgings of my writing buddy, Rachel. She made it okay for me to do what needed to be done as many times as necessary.

So when I look back at my summer, I can see just how much I did get done. Not as much as I wanted (does one ever get everything they want? I doubt it) and not exactly what I wanted but that's beside the point. What I got done was significant and I can't just write that off.

Ugh. I didn't intend that pun!

As far as stories go, I'm a Writer as of this summer and I got a lot finished. There's more to do but then there always is.

If you're of a mind to, please click over to The Confabulator Cafe and read what the group is saying about quitting this week. Lots of great stories about the pains and foibles and hooraw of being a writer.

I promise sunflowers tomorrow, too.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

The Trunk

It could be that I have filled each of these with
unfinished stories. Imagine that. Image borrowed from here.
The novel I'm working on, the one I wrote a Zero Draft of for NaNoWriMo last year, isn't my first. It's actually my third completed and my fifth attempted.

So what happened to the others? I hear you asking. I'm here to tell you.

They're Trunked.

Well, three of them are. There's one unfinished that still lives on my desktop because I love it too much to put it away and stop thinking about it. I'll tell you about it in a second here.

First let's tell the story of The Trunk.

This is the place where manuscripts go to languish in a kind of Author's Limbo. These manuscripts in various states of 'finished' are sometimes just stories that needed to get out of a writer's system, sometimes completed and sometimes not. I don't know who created the term but some cursory (read: lazy) searching on the internet may make it attributable to Stephen King. Oh, yeah, HIM. I recall that he's the first person I saw using the term, so for the sake of the rest of this post I'll lay the term at his feet. I'm sure he won't mind. (Please correct me if I'm wrong on this, okay?)

These stacks of paper are tossed into the Trunk and forgotten. The point of the Trunk Novel is that it's something that tickled a writer enough to start on the project but maybe it needed more thought or a heavy round of editing that the writer just wasn't up to. I suspect that the one thing that most Trunk Novels have in common is that the author just wasn't ready to write the stories or to give them the attention they needed in order to be ready.

I've talked about the novels I've Trunked with a friend or two and one of them (a full-time freelance writer) was incredulous. "You know what I'd do with unpublished scripts? I don't have any. I can't write something that I don't get paid for."

So the Trunk Novel is a luxury to someone like me with a day job and time to write in the evenings, mornings, and weekends. Does that make me a less serious writer? I don't think so. I think it just means that I'm still learning my craft.

Actually, that's exactly what it DOES mean. I'm not a full-time writer but everything I've learned previously about writing is brought to bear on each current project and hopefully each one is better than the last.

And that brings me to the novel that's sitting unfinished on my desktop. It's well over 50,000 words (I wrote it during November 2010) and that's only about half-done. I'd written myself into a corner and had a pressing deadline to start another project that took months to complete and when I had the energy and wherewithal to go back to it, other things were crowding my brain for attention. Including the novel I'm revising now.

It's an ambitious SF novel, and truth to tell, it was a little over my head as I was writing it. I needed to learn things that I got out of writing, finishing, and continuing to revise my now-current work. I think that when I finish this one, I'll get back to the 2010 book. However there's a story that's begging to be told for this year's NaNo run and it's pretty good. I'm afraid that the unfinished manuscript may end up in The Trunk.

I'm not saying that everything I write for NaNoWriMo is going to be a good novel. It probably won't be. And if The Trunk fills up with aborted efforts that end up making the stories I DO finish better, then it's a worthy vessel filled with ideas that I can always go back to when I am a full-time writer. Since I own my home and have no plans to move ever again, it also means that I don't have to move the sucker, either.

And that makes me as happy as having written all these stories that may never see the light of day. Each is a treasure and a learning experience and I value each of them.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Servant of the Words

Image attribution.
Writing is a compulsion with some of us. It's deep in the DNA, infused in the blood, whatever. One must write if one wants to be a writer.

So, a story about writing. I'm struggling with what to write for three articles that I have to complete today for The Confabulator Cafe. The subjects are wide-ranging, overlap, and are actually more personal than I'm normally comfortable with writing for the site. 

I've worked hard to keep a lot of my personal life off the web. There are things that are only for those people I know well to know about me. I relish the person-to-person interactions over just filling pixel after pixel with spew about this or that. I sometimes write about what I have to drink at night and it's come to my attention that perhaps I have a reputation other than what is true. So what, I say. Anyone who has that idea about me doesn't know me.

I don't write about my family in general on this blog, either. That's none of your business and I don't need to know a lot about your business, either. There's such a thing as oversharing.

My politics are better known than maybe I'd like them to be, but dammit sometimes you have to say what's on your mind to the audience you have. If you disagree with my politics, I'm fine with that. I'd rather have a conversation that's rational and intelligent about any disagreement and hope that both sides would come to an understanding if not an agreement. Whatever you think you know about me or my politics or what I drink, you don't know me.

Not that there's any danger of anyone thinking that I'm other than what I am. As vague as I can be, I am honest about what I write here. I struggle with all sorts of things, not much comes easy. 

I don't want to be all high-falutin' or anything, but what you get here is only a portion of me. And you should remember that about anyone who has any kind of presence on the Internet, including you, dear reader. Don't presume that you know someone from what they write. They, after all, are impelled to write by some inner working that turns the gears that churn out the words.

While I'm considering what to write for these three articles, I will keep these things in mind and that makes what I have to write more difficult though not impossible. So many times I've written things that I later erased because they were too personal. But I had to write them in order to work out whatever it was that was hanging me up. Some of them are saved in other places, some are not. All were written, though.

And that's the point. I serve the words and in the end they serve me, too. I lay them out for you to consume or not based on what I feel. In the end, no matter what else, they are an incomplete version of me. 

Friday, August 03, 2012

Some Common Mistakes

Image attribution.
Since I'm trying to make this blog more about telling stories, today we'll begin exploring those stories that either Can't or Shouldn't Be Told. And by that, I mean that these are stories that can't or shouldn't be told by writers whose confidence and experience isn't where it should be in order to tell these stories.

The Too-Personal Story

This is the one that reveals too much about a writer in some way that could be potentially embarrassing. Perhaps it's just an anecdote that you found funny and you wanted to share it because - well, because when you laugh at something you feel better. Even if it's nervous laughter. Everyone has biases they know are inappropriate and the vast majority of us work hard to overcome those biases. What writers have to be careful of is revealing those biases too obviously in their work. Writers can be a terribly self-aware lot, superstitious and cowardly, too, and the common defense to a bias revealed in the work is the writer saying "It's only a character, not me and not how I really feel". And sometimes that's true. I leave it as an exercise for the reader to determine when it isn't.

The You Had To Be There Story

Sometimes a writer is able to recreate the sequence of events that actually happened leading up to what amounts to a centerpiece. There are heart-wrenching tales that make readers cringe in sympathy (you've got examples you're probably thinking about right now) and there are silly circumstances that make readers laugh and sometimes those stories are true but the names and locations have been changed to protect the writer from a lawsuit. Every writer knows that even True Stories told for public consumption have to be amped up, the angles of the drama skewed just a little in order to make it more compelling. This may be the writer's attempt at retelling a college anecdote in a new way that disguises what really happened. However, if you weren't there, you can't fully appreciate what it is that made the writer want to tell it and I imagine that if you didn't share that experience with the author you wouldn't find the original version at all compelling.

The Half-Anecdote

You know how when someone starts telling a story in a party situation and they stutter and falter and start saying things like "Wait, I'm not getting this right"? Yeah. That's the story that shouldn't be told by that person. Ever.

The Too-Specific Story

This, I suppose, might be considered an alternate version of The You Had To Be There Story. This is a story that has very specific references that will not make any sense to the reader. Usually it's in the setting or in a poor description of the characters involved. The reader is left scratching his head thinking that he missed something. Sometimes he'll go back and re-read something in order to ascertain if that's the case or if the writer just didn't connect somehow. Most often that story is dismissed and never thought of again.

The Story You're Dying to Tell

And this is the point: you may not be ready to tell the story that's been burning in your head for a long time. Patience, grasshopper. Learn the craft, make the mistakes, get some experience before you try to tell the whopping great yarn you've got stuck in your head. Spend time developing it. I've got a series that I've been noodling with over the last fifteen years that I'm still not ready to tell but it's there on paper in my files, some copies are digitized on my computer and every time I open them up, I add something I've learned since the last time, some detail or nugget. I've tried to tell this story as a comic book and as a radio play but those weren't the right formats for it. This is a series of novels and I really want to get it out. So I keep notes until I'm ready to start typing.

And now that I've built it up and discussed it in public I'll have to release it some day. Not yet, though. I'm not ready to tell it. I don't have the right experiences and perspective. I will. And maybe sooner than I think. Or maybe not.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

The Circle of Write

I wasn't sure what I wanted to write about today since I missed blogging on Monday and the thing I put up yesterday was weak, at best. Honest, but weak.

I'm reluctant to tout having 'leveled up' last week even though it seems to've been pretty major a breakthrough being able to identify passive sentences as I'm writing them. I need to work it some more before I can say that I've definitely passed that particular milestone.

But then as I considered these things I suppose something clicked that both are important in their way. I mean last week was pretty good for working out problems in the novel. I ran my solution past my writing buddy Rachel and she was enthusiastic that I'd come up with that. (At least she gave me that impression. She might not've cared one way or the other. Her book came out the day before and if you haven't checked out Monster in My Closet, you should.)

So two things intertwined to help me see what I'd been missing in my first big work, the first one I wholeheartedly believe in. See, if I'd known a little more what I was doing last November I wouldn't be struggling to revise this novel and it would likely be out collecting rejection slips for me.

Which I've managed to get with some short stories that I've been sending around. No one's biting on the shorter works and I'm tempted to shelve them for the nonce (love that word!) and focus on writing new works with the new knowledge then sending THOSE out. I mean I've made some room for new ideas and once upon a time I would have attacked those ideas with vigor and gusto and no clear idea what I was going to write. Now I need to have two images: opening and closing. If I don't have both, I can't write the story. With only one image I don't know what the story's about.

Except I do. I write about characters and their relationships. That makes my SF more like space opera and my suspense stories a little more powerful. (I hope.) I can't just write a situation any more. But it's easier to write the people. Their foibles, loves, hopes, dreams, failures, and all. Characters come from base outlines, much the way humans come from a particular set of DNA with little peccadilloes to give us individuality. This individuality is what contributes to our everyday lives and all the things that go into making us, well US.

Which is kind of why I missed blogging on Monday. Things just got in my way and I threw something together on Tuesday because I felt guilty and I absolutely shouldn't do that. You all know that if I'm not blogging I'm writing or I'm doing something that will contribute to my writing. I don't need to say it.

So I guess I've talked my way around a blog post. Funny how that worked.