Tag: Writing (page 3 of 47)

Troublemakers

George RR Martin
He’s smiling because he just killed someone you love.

Writers are essential to modern entertainment. Without them there are no movies, no TV shows, no plays and no novels. Just about anybody can tell you who their favorite writer is and why. Look up those writers and they can tell you what inspires them, how they got started and what’s coming next. Some writers will even lay some ground rules for good writing, from creating good characters to avoiding contrivance in plotlines.

What people don’t tell you about being a writer is that it means bucking the system.

I should clarify my meaning. To write fiction is to buck the system. A lot of writers who struggle their way to success – and it is a struggle, don’t let anyone tell you different – are not what many in the common populace associate with ‘successful’ in their minds. They tend to think of CEOs in suits that cost more than some cars, movie stars with legendary good looks and politicians who decide the course our world takes.

Large men that look like Santa Claus’ evil twin brother? Housewives from Arizona? Unemployed British ladies?

Naaaah.

Writers are iconoclasts. They’re troublemakers. They stir things up because they ignite people’s imaginations. They encourage their audience to think, to interact, to take joy out of something that can become more than a mere distraction. Even the people who rise up in arms against a work or a franchise are engaged in an activity that excites them even if that excitement takes the form of indignant fury.

This is a good thing.

The CEO worries about the bottom line. The movie star worries about paparazzi. The world leaders worry about any one of the Four Horsemen riding up to his or her door.

The writer of fiction should worry about doing something new that wakes somebody up from their miasma of daily living.

Something worth noting about the writerly minds behind many of the thriving stories in our Kindles, TV screens, bookstores and theaters is that all of them are causing trouble in one form or another. They’re setting their work apart. They’re trying something new. They may not get it right and they might even piss some people off, but they’re making the attempt. And even if they don’t realize it, the people they’re making angry are engaging them in the creative process. There’s a lot of energy to be had in the debates, arguments, praise, criticism and fanatical gushing that comes in the wake of a new work that has the chops to make it through the slaughterhouse of rejection that stands between the new writer and the public eye. And the people that are talented, dedicated and lucky enough to make it through got there by not giving up on what they waned. They pushed back against the pressures of modern life. They crammed their passion into whatever cracks they could find. They made messes. They broke shit.

And in the end it paid off.

I want to be one of those troublemakers. Looking at the people who’ve made it, and how they’ve done it and what they’ve done it with, how could I not?

It’s Shorts Season

Red Pen

The goal since I was about 10 has been, to put it simply, getting published.

Back in 80s, when this goal took shape fully in my embryonic little mind, getting published meant traditional print. Robert Heinlein, Tom Clancy, Stephen King, Clive Cussler and Diane Duane got themselves ink in hardcover and paperback books. The Internet was an infant. Reading fiction on a handheld device smaller than one’s Trapper Keeper sounded like something out of Star Trek.

Here we are, in 2011. We’re still waiting for our jetpacks, but electronic word delivery is thriving while many traditional publication schemes are dying on the vine.

It’s still out there, to be sure. I’ll be shelling out for the next Song of Ice and Fire and Dresden Files books. But I’ve gotten caught up (mostly) with Chicago’s professional wizard thanks to the gift of books through the Kindle. And publishers like up-and-comer Angry Robot are on dual tracks of traditional dead tree formats and the shiny hotness of e-publishing.

I think it’s past time I shook myself free of the big-hair coke-sniffing Reaganite idea of only ever making it as an author if I get a book on the shelves in a Barnes & Noble. Sure, Starbucks is going to keep its live-in partner alive for a while but most traditional bookstores are really feeling the pinch. The Internet, on the other hand, isn’t going anywhere.

Neither are authors like Chuck Wendig.

Yeah, he gave me another kick in the ass this morning. I’ve been wondering how exactly I’m going to juggle writing one novel and rewriting another and still have a shot of getting fiction into the hands of readers before I get much older. And then Chuck’s post underscored something that’s been staring me in the face: I’m sitting on a bunch of it.

What’s to say I can’t write one novel, rewrite another AND put together a short story anthology?

I know a few of these stories are available to you currently for free through the link above. Others have appeared before (or have been promised to – I’m looking at you, Polymancer). But the free fiction’s pretty raw. Like a bunch of carrots in the store, you need to wash them off and maybe take a peeler to them before they’re at their best.

In other words, I need an editor.

I’m also going to need a cover artist. Maybe a photographer, maybe a more traditional pen-and-tablet artist, but somebody with visual arts skills far exceeding my capacity to doodle is going to have to help me out. I’m not about to wrap up a couple stories in twine, dump them on Amazon and say “Here you go, suckers, buy buy buy!” I’d like to think I’m a bit more professional than that.

I have no idea how I’m going to pay these intrepid and conjectural helpers, but hopefully something can be worked out. If you’re reading this and want to help, let me know.

Finally, in this anthology-to-be is going to be one story never before seen. Partially because it’s going to be another of those odd hybrids of disparate genres, and partially because I haven’t written it yet. It’s my hope that this, coupled with revised & edited versions of previous tales bundled into an easy-to-read one-stop shop will give folks enough incentive to pick it up.

And in doing so, they might become interested enough in my voice, style or sheer insanity to want to read more, which is where the novels and future shorts will come in.

One can only hope.

ABW, BTFO, etc.

The Dreaded Hiatus

Courtesy football-talk.uk
Don’t worry, the blog probably won’t turn into this. Probably.

So The Art of Thor will come back next week, when I’m not so out of practice with StarCraft 2 and am back to my normal schedule of writing on the train and not wasting two hours in the car screaming at douchenozzles driving BMWs who think they bought the road along with their pretentious Bluetooth headsets and designer shirts monogrammed with the initials BIYM,

In other words, it’s on hiatus.

That strikes me as a somewhat dirty word for fiction writers. Going on hiatus means an interruption of the story. It means your audience is left hanging. And unless they’re deeply invested in your narrative or the characters, they’re going to go elsewhere for their entertainment, and you may have some trouble bringing them back.

The alternative is delivering a sub-standard product.

Think about it. If you don’t have the proper preparation, breathing room and time to edit and revise what you’re working on, if you shove it out the door just to shove something out the door, there’s no guarantee it’s going to be any good. And if you want to hold onto your audience, you’ll have to deliver quality, not just quantity. There are approximately 1.34 bajillion blogs, story sites and author portals on the Internet, and most of them aren’t dispensing anything all that new or interesting. Now, this isn’t to disparage any of the authors whom I’ve read and even worked with in the past. But it’s a fact, and here’s an example off the top of my head. The law of averages states that for every Chuck Wendig or Machine Age or JR Blackwell there’s between 5 and 5000 substandard hacks trying to push their schlock onto the teeming masses.

Hell, I might even be one of them, but that’s beside the point.

The point is, you won’t get anywhere or hold onto an ever-growing audience if you don’t give them something worth reading or watching. Doing that takes time. Time isn’t going to just saunter up to you and sit in your lap for you to take advantage of, either. You have to go after it. Chuck goes into detail about this and in a way that probably isn’t quite so indicative of his libido. Although one never knows.

So you need to take time to go about your entertainment the right way. And sometimes that means taking time away from other endeavors like ‘regular’ blog features or playing video games or training yourself to be the next dog whisperer. Given my schedule and the ways in which I’m trying to change & take charge of it, that’s meant getting some things in order and working around other events, and while the dust is settling and the end of a touch of darkness is in sight, there’s still going to be chaos here for a day or two.

In other words, the hiatus isn’t necessarily bad and Art of Thor is taking one til next week.

Assuming Control

Bard by BlueInkAlchemist, on Flickr

There are things we can’t control, and things we can. For example, we as individuals can’t control the price of gas, the degree to which our water pipes rust or the behavior of elected officials. We can, however, change our commuting patterns & schedule to consume less gas, adjust our behaviors to use less water per day and vote for different people in the next election. Things that we can’t control may frustrate us now, but when we consider what we can control instead of what we can’t, things become more clear and less stressful. Normally.

Case in point: you can’t control the expectations and tastes of an agent, but you can control your writing and its presentation.

It’s not up to the whims of a muse or the machinations of fate or the trends of the industry. You control your writing. If you don’t write something, nobody else is going to write it. Period. Schedules are going to change and even get thrown into upheaval, writers get distracted by issues large and small, and when the day is winding down and you finally make it home, sometimes you just want to vegetate in front of some rapidly-moving brightly-colored images. There’s nothing wrong with any of this, it’s part of life, but you must keep in mind that the only person who can write what you want to write is you.

For example, I can see the next few months of writing laid out in front of me but I know I won’t get there if I do nothing.

By the end of July I want to be finished with Cold Iron. The outline tells me I have about six chapters to go. I’m getting started on Act 3, so to speak. I should be able to maintain the momentum of the narrative if I can carve out more time for it around everything else that’s being held together with chicken wire and duct tape.

August is when I begin the rewrite of Citizen in the Wilds. There are at least three major changes I need to make, and there will be more than that as things take shape. I may adjust the ending to reflect a different or more coherent line of thought from our hero, even if it ends up making him less heroic. The goal is to make him more human. If that means he does something that pushes him away from the shining ideal of heroism, so be it.

I may drop the current working title for something else. Not just for marketing purposes. The title of the book should tell you more about its contents, and I don’t know if Citizen in the Wilds works when our heroes are only in the Wilds for a portion of its action. There’s also the fact that when I’m done with the rewrite, the book will be different. I want it to be more unique in its content, more driven in its narrative and more immediate in its appeal. Like a prime cut of meat, it’s at a decent starting point but needs a better marinade and proper cooking time.

After that I begin editing Cold Iron. The pruning shears will stay out. I’ll reload the darling-slaying shotgun. I’ll vivisect the thing and ensure the characters dance on their strings exactly how I want them and look human and three-dimensional while doing so.

That’s the kind of thing you need to do as a writer, I feel, from time to time. You must assume control of your work and push yourself to improve it. Otherwise, you might as well not bother, or at most try to sell yourself as a novelist for a collectible card game or a scriptwriter for Michael Bay.

Hooks Hurt

Courtesy Alcor Films

Peace, however comforting, is stagnation. Conflict, however messy, is life.” – Bob Chipman.

Sooner or later, you’re going to run into difficulty. It’s a fact of life. Everything isn’t always hunky-dory. A tire goes flat, a check bounces, a bone gets broken, a job market tanks, a lover cheats, a bill gets skipped, a chore gets neglected, a payment gets forgotten. It happens. There’s no way around it.

Even when you do everything right, even if you put yourself onto the rails of a carefully-laid plan for moving forward, someone or something is going to put a penny on those rails and you’ll have to respond accordingly to the subsequent disaster. That’s life. It’s a mess. It’s conflict.

Why should the lives of our characters be any different?

It’s fantasy, you might say. It’s fiction. We can have our characters exist in a consequence-free world if we want. It’s our world so it’s our rules, right?

This will work in a video game like Grand Theft Auto or Just Cause. But can you imagine the world of Harry Potter as one without conflict? Or A Song of Ice and Fire? Or hell, Jersey Shore? Yeah, I said Jersey Shore’s fictional. Those might be people in a reality show, but I challenge them to be ‘real’ in any sense of the word in person. I mean if they look fake, sound fake, act fake and give out fake expectations…

Yeah. Conflict. Let’s have some of that.

We want to live vicariously through our fiction. But fiction without conflict and without consequence is ultimately boring. The stories we truly enjoy, the ones that stick with us and pull is back in just by glancing at a title or cover, are the ones with deep conflict, long-lasting consequences for the characters, the sorts of things we dive into fiction to escape from. Why?

Because we empathize. We understand. And in the end, we root for the characters who are just as under the gun and behind the 8-ball as we are.

In writing one draft and preparing to revise another, with a tip of my hat to the brutally honest people of Book Country, I’ve realized that with this conflict comes passion, even if it’s dark and often misdirected passion, and that passion is an emotion onto which readers can also grab hold. Or, in other words, it’s something that will grab the reader and pull them bodily into the narrative.

I was wondering where my hooks were. I think I answered my own question.

Without conflict, there’s no passion. Without passion, there’s no hook.

Therefore we must begin with conflict. And we can’t let up on it until the end.

The conflicts may change. One may end as another begins. Or multiple conflicts may intersect or even collide with one another. Good. The more conflicts and chaos, the more deep and nuanced the story becomes. The challenge for the writer is to keep all of this chaos straight, at least in their mind, to keep it from becoming a jumbled mess of angst and post-modern darkness.

I’m not saying to open with something exploding or a big gunfight or a little spaceship being chased by a bigger one. You can, but it’s kid’s stuff, really. Open with a deeper, inner conflict. One set up by society rather than bullets. Find the deep things that bother your character, their fears and what pisses them off. Tap one of those veins right at the start, and you’re more likely to suck in a reader within your first page.

Conflict should suck for our characters, and be as prevalent and relentless, as it is for us. Otherwise, what’s the point?

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