Posts Tagged ‘writing’

Character Questions

Posted: August 23, 2015 in Writing
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When I come up with the first inkling of a story, it tends to be a scene with a character in the midst of some action or in a certain location. It’s very “scenario first, plot later” which that alone sums up a lot of my strengths and weaknesses as a writer. It’s much more conducive to Dungeons and Dragons than novels, but meh. Plot comes from characters and you need to know your characters before you can formulate a proper plot. At least that’s how I operate.

Recently, I took a class run by Delilah S. Dawson (who is awesome) and it was all about turbocharging your characters in order to make your novel stronger. I got a lot out of it.

But there was one thing I wanted to share with the class but I only just found it again a couple days ago.

In college, I went to film school. It’s a different medium than writing novels, so it inherently has different strengths and weaknesses, but many aspects of good storytelling are universal. When I got to my last semester of college, I finished my thesis and all the required classes for my major. All I had to do was fill out my credit total. One of the classes I took was an acting class. I was upfront with the prof that I wanted to know something about the other side of the camera, not really ever expecting to be a proper actor. He was cool with that. And also thoroughly freaked out because he ran theater classes for my parents in the general vicinity of 1979 and I was the first second generation student.

Acting is all character.

Prof Patterson had one assignment which gave you a laundry list of questions for you to get in your character’s head. That’s no different than writing a novel, at least the way I write. When I was moving into my house and cleaning out a boxes of old college crap a few years ago, I found the assignment and I typed up the questions into a word doc. It got lost in the shuffle when I got this new computer, a few months ago but I found it again. It has been useful for me and I’m sharing it in case that’s the sort of thing that’s useful to you. Not every question really works for every situation. Acting 201 didn’t really worry about science fiction or fantasy, but it works for the most part.

Questions below the jump.


NaNoWriMo Redux Roundup

Posted: December 3, 2014 in Writing
Tags: ,

So let’s see. Remember how I said I was modding out NaNoWriMo and it was really going to be 61k in 36 days? How’d that go?



I actually don’t really want to talk about any of this. Because of the lameness. But I feel I have to. Half the point of starting this blog way back when was simply to think aloud to get my crap together. Still. 50-50 that I actually press publish.

When I did this in 2012 as the final push to finish Amity, my kid was all of six months old. Infants are adorable, but often as lively as a sack of potatoes. My kiddo was not mobile and went to sleep at the drop of a hat. Now? Yeah… he’s two. Anyone else who has ever had an offspring is nodding in understanding. My kiddo is a fantastic little two year old and very low maintenance … for a two year old. He’s still a ball of fire. Who is starting potty training. And had to ditch the binky cold turkey. A two year old who is confused and pissed as to why he can’t have his binky can and will raise a lot of hell over it. I vastly overestimated the writing time I could carve out of life.


It is what it is. There’s nothing I can do about it. The kiddo needs what the kiddo needs. Insert witty zen-like phrase.

I still got In A Murphy Minute up to 50k (total, remember I started in October with high 20s). I wanted to be at 90k by tomorrow. Unless I can start bending the space time continuum, 40k in 36 hours is not going to happen. I did get a sizable chunk of it done though. That’s better than most months I have so I guess I will live with it.

What about the content of all those words?


Seriously. Meh.

I am having a lot of problems with Murphy right now. Honestly, that’s part of why I’ve lost headway on my wordcount this past week. I had a moment where I realized I was hitting the halfway point of the novel, and I still had not introduced the actual antagonist. It was a big double you tee eff moment. I wanted to give the relationship between my two main characters the attention it needed. By making the romance the A Plot and the magical gangsters the B Plot, I let the antagonists sit around on the sidelines waiting to be introduced for much too long.

My original framework for the plot was build when the protag was a guy and the character was a lot more abrasive. By making her nicer and expanding the roles of some supporting characters, large chunks of the middle of the book were not going to make sense as originally conceived. But that was ok. The first act and the last act were going to stay the same. I knew where I started, and I knew where I was heading if I got lost.

Still, it has made the middle tough because, even though I updated my working outline, that stretch of the plot is a lot less refined than the rest. Now I’ve got this big realization that I’m still have not introduced one of the primary characters that drives the whole fucking thing and the book is over halfway through the expected word count.


So I am having a serious lack of confidence in this book right now. I am sorely tempted to work on a different project. I have another novel that has been dominating my brain lately as opposed to the one I am supposed to be working on. I am resisting the temptation, though, because that is how novels never get finished.

But I can’t keep going on a project I have no faith in. Even though Amity never sold, I never lost faith in it until the rejections piled up. And still, I have a plan in the back of my head to strip down 90% of it and rewrite it as a single PoV in order to resurrect it some day.

And I think that’s what I need to do with Murphy Minute. A plan. Even if I don’t fix the first half of the book now, I think I need a game plan of how I am going to get the plotting into shape. With a game plan, I think I can regain my confidence in the book. One thing that I learned writing Amity, is that most of my editing will probably occur in the first act anyways so I am not terribly concerned or surprised by this fact. I know the characters better when I get to the end of the book.

I also finished the steampunk book I was reading yesterday. For today’s New Book Day, I decided that I needed to hit up a couple rereads that will jazz up my writing. Certain books inspire my writing on a level that others do not. So today I started my annual read of Nine Princes in Amber, my single all time favorite book.  I think I may follow up with a reread of Breach Zone which I was reading when I first started writing the novel. I might follow up with some Delilah S Dawson books as well. The romance disguised as sci fi is exactly how I’m handling writing Murphy Minute and surrounding myself with more of it should help. Not that the other books I’ve been reading haven’t been good or anything. I’ve actually been on a very good streak of excellent reads. I just think reading more spiritual kin to my own novel will be a positive.

And positives are what I need so I can finish and make this a damn good book.

Soundtrack for the Novel

Posted: April 13, 2014 in Junk, Writing
Tags: , ,

I had a conversation on twitter today about the music played while writing. This is something that fascinates me to no end. I enjoy the process of having other senses and other mediums bleed into my writing. I imagine it comes from all those years in film school.

Every novel I write, including the unfinished ones, has a very specific soundtrack and playlist. That counts double for the current one I’m working on since it, quite literally, puts the punk in godpunk.

I’m going to make things quick tonight because I have a word count I’d like to hit. Below is a sampling of the music rolling around in my noggin as I write a book about a punk rock singer with magic powers.

2 Minutos

Civet … saw them live in Hartford a few years back. Close to the sound of the band in the book I’m writing, although my protag does not look like them

Ninja Dolls


Dropkick Murphys (duh) … Fun fact: I have a crack in my cheekbone from DKM on St Patrick’s day in Boston a couple years ago

New Riot … The best mosh pit ever was these guys in Providence opening for Reel Big Fish

So the antihero is firmly established in all corners of literature, film, and storytelling what-have-you. They’re the gruff, but lovable, people who cut corners and kicks asses but overall their karmic balance tilts towards the good. Eventually. The antihero is flawed, troubled, and screwed up a little bit. They’re a type, though, and have become a trope in their own right. Unless someone is mucking around with the trope, we know the antihero is ok even if they bust heads and break laws. They’re chaotic good to use the convenient DnD alignment chart.

I could rattle off all sorts of examples of the antihero in our genre in any medium. I’ve even got some examples on this here blog.

But that’s not really what I’m here to talk about.

Antiheroes can still be likeable. What do you do when you’re reading a book and you don’t like the characters?

A lot of times, it means you put the book down and pick up the next one. If you’re anything like me, you’ve got a huge To Read Pile and a To Buy List a mile long. The physical books I have in my To Read Pile are actually as tall as my kid. That doesn’t count anything on my Nook. It’s easy to just cycle out to the next book.

How can the writer still hook people even if their readers can’t stand their characters? This has been on my mind a lot because the godpunk novel I’m writing right now has a screwed up protag that drinks away her problems.

I’ve had this happen a few times, and not really with books I expected. Chuck Wendig‘s Miriam Black, Diana Rowland‘s Angel Crawford and Lee Collins‘ Cara Oglesby all start out as deeply flawed, screwed up people. Some of them remain this way. (At least as far as I’ve read, out of date on all three series) I never disliked any of them though even though it’s almost expected a little bit when you’ve got characters that are so messed up.

desertspearThe characters I didn’t like were Peter Brett‘s Jardir, Myke Cole‘s Harlequin and Delilah Dawson‘s Ahnastasia.

This blog post has been stewing in my head for a long time and I think I’ve finally twigged on to why I still consider all their books absolutely flipping fantastic anyways.

First and foremost, they’re all great writers. All the other parts of the books are expertly crafted. Worldbuilding, plot, supporting cast… all the set dressing is there to let the protags shine. Cole’s militarized magic has the plausibility to draw in readers. Dawson’s alternate world steampunk vampires are a fully realized mishmash of genres that are ripe for exploring. Brett’s got the sprawl, in both plot and worldbuilding, to support the massive tomes he writes. I’ve talked about all three authors around here frequently because these traits in their writing are the same kinds of traits I want to hone in my own. If anyone is looking for examples to act as torch bearers to level up their own work, you can’t go wrong with any of them.

Set dressing is fantastic, but character is where things happen. I wrote about Jardir last year when I read The Desert Spear. I think he’s a serious asshole. Even though Brett’s sprawling series has a lot of POV characters, Jardir is set up against who I consider the primary POV. It’s easy for him to come off as a bit of a backstabber. And he does. And I never warmed up to him. Eventually though, I understood him, even if I still didn’t like him. I knew why Jardir had to stand opposite of Arlen. Now, I actually like Arlen but the course of the novel is better when the lines between protagonist and antagonist are blurred.

breachzone-usCole does something very similar with Harlequin in his third book, Breach Zone. In the earlier books, he is at odds with the hero. Each of the first two of Cole’s books had different protags, so I wasn’t surprised that Breach Zone would. I did think it was an interesting choice to go with Harlequin though. Everyone is the hero of their own story, right? He always came off as a stuffed shirt kind of guy in the first two books. He’s not bad, not really. To me, Harlequin was the Bill Lumburg of the Shadow Ops universe. He was the middle management guy that got through the day by being a bit of a pain in the ass to the people around him. If Oscar Britton had a red stapler, Harlequin would have taken it.

Harlequin ended up being awesome by the end of Breach Zone. Cole leveled up his writing and that book is really a romance novel disguised as military fantasy. (Romance hiding in SF is a blog post for another day by the way) In one of the two threads in Breach Zone, we get to see how Harlequin became the super by the book guy. The state of his mind isn’t what I thought it would be in the past tense thread. When he was handed the tough situations, he found refuge in the rules. The rules aren’t his end all be all, they become his shield and he becomes much more human for it.

In Dawson’s Blud books, they are interconnected and set in the same world. There is overlap with characters and history but the books aren’t reliant on one another. In the second Blud book, Wicked as She Wants, Ahnastasia is a completely new character and the sole POV character. There is no luxury of her having a past. She comes out of the box (ha! literally!) as someone I really would not want to be involved with. This is aside from the fact that Ahnastasia is a bludwoman who would consider me breakfast. She is 100% a spoiled princess. True story. She’s a blud princess of Muscovy and all the pretentious snobbery that comes from said spoiled, sheltered life.

wickedasshewantsBy the end of the book, I want to high five Ahna for the awesome things that she does. Dawson nails the slow burn of Ahna’s character arc. There’s never any prophetic moment when Ahna changed her outlook on life and the people around her. It hit me somewhere around the two-thirds mark that “Wow, she’s been kind of awesome for a while now.” I am sitting here trying to think of another book where the slow burn was written with such a deft touch but I seriously can’t think of one. Dawson had nothing else to prop up Ahna while she was being a jerk. There were no other POV characters and there were no other timeline threads. Ahna has one, single, linear character arc. As I’m sitting here thinking of the mechanics of that from the Writer / Analysis point of view rather than my Reader point of view, I am all the most impressed by it.

I think it is worth noting, that with all three of these authors, Brett, Cole and Dawson, I had read previous books of theirs. To a certain extent, they earned the benefit of the doubt. I liked their writing already so that “you have 50 pages to hook me” gets a bit of a fudge factor. Not that I wasn’t hooked by any of the books in question. They already built up reader trust before throwing down characters that I wouldn’t like.

So where do all these examples leave me and anyone else writing “problematic” protagonists?

Well, character arc is key. Ahna, Jardir and Harlequin were not the same people from the beginnings to the end. You can have great characters, but if they’re stagnant, that means the plot of whatever you just wrote didn’t really have any stakes or agency to it. Hook the reader and then let the plot change the character. With a problematic, troublesome, or just plain unlikeable character, there is a lot more riding on that change. The plot becomes more critical because each bump in the narrative needs to shift the character down that arc a little more forcefully. The supporting cast and their attitudes to the protagonists cast a sharper reflection on how that arc is progressing.

I think following that change in a character is a big pay off to the reader. You’ve gone through three hundred pages and bam! Results. Find the treasure? Get the man? Save the world? Yeah, cool and all, but we’ve all read that story a thousand times. How did the treasure change someone. What had to happen to get the man? Did saving the world come at the expense of someone’s soul?

That’s what readers really want, I think, deep down inside.

Now that this has topped 1400 words and I’ve spent a large chunk of my afternoon noodling about characters I didn’t like when I opened the book on page one, I’m hitting that point where I realize how picking apart what works with these books will help my own writing. I’m seeing more of the missteps I took with the now dead Amity I tried to shop around. More importantly, I’m seeing what direction I need to head in to find the right steps for the book I’m working on now.

When I was in film school, the old adage was a quote from one of my favorite directors, Sam Fuller, “You gotta have story!” Picture a 70 year old with big glasses chomping on a cigar with a raspy yell when you say that quote. Storytelling is storytelling, no matter the medium, I used to always think. And it’s true. In a novel, you need a plot, but the more I write, the more I’m seeing it’s a lot more nuanced than that. Where the story comes from matters a lot more in a novel where you can, quite literally, be inside someone’s head with all their thoughts, dreams and desires.

I hope that conclusion can help people level up their own work. I think it will help mine. But hey, this hasn’t all been 1700 words of thinking out loud. Go read those books I talked about. Even if you don’t need examples to help level up your work, screwed up, problematic, difficult and unlikeable characters make for good reading. Why?

Because they gotta have story.

R.I.P. Amity

Posted: March 5, 2014 in Junk, Writing

Amity … October 15, 2009 – March 5, 2014

I didn’t want to admit this, but I have to. My novel is dead.

Really, it’s been dead for a while, but I’m saying it aloud now, today’s the day on the death certificate. It’s been in a vegetative state since November-ish. For the writerly types, it’s been trunked.

Also notice I actually admitted how long ago I started the damn thing. Fun story, I actually started it in Ireland. My reading material I brought with me on the honeymoon sucked. I abandoned it in a bed and breakfast in County Claire and started putting pen to paper. One of the protags was named Claire because of that. Anyways, I didn’t really want to admit how long I worked on it either, but I feel like I need to. Saying all this stuff out loud is the only way I can digest what went wrong and make the current work in progress better.

I actually finished the draft of my novel on my 29th birthday. I detoxed from the crazy final push of the novel where I wrote 45% of it in five weeks. Then I spent eight months editing. My edit process was mostly addition but there were plenty of subtractions. I cut out heirlooms from the twin protag’s dead mother. I cut out the first five pages all together because it rambled. I enlisted a dozen or so beta readers. Some were well versed in sci fi, some weren’t. My best beta reader was my wife. I think it was largely that she knew exactly what kind of things I needed to here while some people were hesitant to hurt my feelings. I polished a lot. I dedicated scenes to Myke Cole and Saladin Ahmed because of the influence they had on my writing. The one I dedicated to Cole was actually my favorite scene in the whole book. I polished and polished and finally, at the end of August, decided it was go time.

Querying a novel for the first time is a special kind of hell. All the other writers who have gone through it are nodding knowingly. I compiled an agent list, made data spreadsheets, wrote up my query letter, all that good stuff. I remember I stared at the computer for an hour with my hand hovering over the send button. I clicked it and almost threw up. I sent out my first batch of five at 1030 or 11 at night on a Wednesday.

At ten am the next day, not twelve hours later, I got a request for pages.

Holy shit I was jacked up. It wasn’t my first choice, but damn I was in a happy place. Even if that first one didn’t bite, I must have been doing something right and someone on my list would want to rep my awesome little space adventure of long lost pirate twins. It was a long five days until I got that rejection.

And then all the rest started coming in. I got a few one line “No thanks” emails. I got plenty of form emails. A few of them didn’t even copy my name over and just said “Dear Author.” I even had one say “Dear [Insert name].” Seriously, with the brackets and everything. Some never bothered sending anything back. Some took a really long time. The record was four months. That one trickled in back in February. Not even a nibble from anyone after that first one.

I distracted myself by working on the next (and now current) novel, with mixed results. I say they’re mixed because I am restarting it after ditching 11k words and genderflopping my protag. But the frustration was there. A lot of it. I know why form letters are used. I know how practical they are. I get all that. I still felt like I was screaming into a vacuum. If I didn’t know what I was doing wrong, how in the ever loving hell was I going to fix that?

Months removed from writing off Amity as a lost cause, I can see the forest for the trees a little bit. I’ve joined with the Online Writing Workshop. My wife and some twitter pals recommended it to me. More than one author I really enjoy have used it successfully. I haven’t put any novel chapters up there yet, but I twigged onto a pattern after some of the crits of a side project short story. (Other than the fact I suck at commas) My characters are strong. The skeleton of my plot is. But I rush from one tentpole moment to the next without letting the plot grow in between. With the short story in question, I had these two really important, intense moments I wanted to hit… and didn’t hit enough in between to connect them.

I can see where I did that with Amity now. I have these scenes and moments I’m crazy proud of. They’re not connected right though. Especially towards the end of the book, as I was hitting the high word counts in the last act, the plot makes some jumps which must have hurt it. There must have been some jumps in the front end too, since that’s the part that went out with the query letter. Honestly, I think the middle of Amity was the strongest. As counterproductive as it sounds, I need to take my time with my prose. I need to not write so damn slow, but that’s a problem of time management.

I think it was too easy to miss where I needed to tighten up the prose itself, too. I don’t think it was in a “married to the prose” kind of way. It was too familiar with it to see what was wrong. I spent years with this manuscript and my brain could just fill in the intent of the broken sentences without having to actually fix them. Overfamiliarity is also why I don’t write characters like myself.

I like to think I’m improving. I’ve gotten sick of behind the scenes work with the godpunk novel and I’ve started going headlong into the word count again. The opening is completely new from when the protag was a guy. I’ve backed up the timeline a couple days. The protags don’t need to meet on page one. I hope it’s getting better.

Most days I can convince myself that all that time spent working on Amity was not a waste. It made me better at what I’m doing and all that good stuff. I’ve had a quasi-independent sequel for a long time now. I may still write that. Bernadette, Claire and Tomas don’t want to fade off into the ether just yet, but they’re going to have to dig out of a coffin first.

Because, for better or worse, Amity is dead.

Ah November. That magical wordsmith month of NaNoWriMo.

Wordsmiths all across the world throw down to crank out a first draft in thirty days.

That’s not really my bag. Last year I threw down NaFiTFuThiMo, National Finish The Fucking Thing Month, as my final push for Amity. My goal wasn’t actually by the end of November, it was actually a few days later and I wrote “The End” on my first novel at exactly 3:42pm on my 29th birthday. But that was a novel I had started long before. I only actually wrote around 40% in the 34 days between my Halloween “oh shit I need to get working” moment and my birthday. So roughly 40k words, not the mythical 50k minimum that NaNoWriMo shoots for.

Even if I hadn’t already started plugging away at my current novel, thirty days is not realistic for me. I’ve attempted NaNoWriMo before back when I had more free time (i.e. before a kiddo) and it collapsed after 28k-ish words because the lack of a plot created a big vortex of suck. I need more planning than that. Most everything I write, from short stories to the novels, percolates in my head for a long time before I commit anything to paper. Even if I’m not creating formal outlines, there’s usually a large structure kicking around in my noggin before I start a thing. NaNoWriMo requires too much pantsing for my likes not to mention the mythical 1667.66 words a day isn’t practical with a toddler.

But I have made realistic goals with the idea of actually producing finished novels in a much better timeline.

To that end I actually wrote a whole entire outline for the next novel before I even started a thing. This is the one that centers around the punk rock band and Greek deities. I’ve had issues with the opening of this novel. Part of me just kept saying “Power through it and deal.” In itself, that’s not really a bad thing to do. I add much more than I subtract when I edit subsequent drafts…. except on the front end of the novel. With Amity, most of my rewriting was in the first act. Once I finished the whole thing, I knew the characters better, hence a lot of the edits early on in the novel. For the current godpunk book, I accepted this as … well, simply the way it is. No reason to fight it.

But the thing that was really tripping me up was the chemistry between the two main characters, the POV punk rock guy and the Greek goddess he ends up rolling with. They weren’t hitting the chemistry they needed to carry a whole novel. That’s a problem. I’m not writing romance, I’m writing godpunk modern fantasy with this one but nothing about the plot works without the relationship between the two protags. Seriously, the story falls apart to a pile of awkward shreds of nothing if they don’t have a romantic comparability.

I wasn’t sure it was there. There was an almost-relationship in Amity. There were feelings and attractions but it wasn’t central to the plot. It was something I let grow between two characters but it was never under a direct microscope. In the godpunk book, the relationship is the story. Beginning, middle and end. It was also turning into a stumbling block. I was actually toying with the idea of starting over and remaking the POV character into an entirely different person and hope some chemistry happened. I had actually picked a drop dead point. “If it’s not happening after this spot in the plot….” then I was going to ax roughly 10-12k words and start over. Not a fun thought.

My wife is awesome though and got me going on about all the stuff yet to come in the book and got me all excited for it again rather than dwelling on the hurdles. And then the punk rock lead singer and the Greek goddess started stealing things. And making fun of New Jersey. They’ve bonded now in the most mundane ways which are more important than the fantastical ones. And I think the book is going somewhere now.

I’m sitting on 11k-ish handwritten words and it’s starting to turn into something. Finally.

I’m gonna go write more now. They’ve got more things to steal.


Posted: September 18, 2013 in Genre, Junk, Writing
Tags: , ,

I’m going to talk, pontificate and/or think aloud some different methodologies going into my work lately. This is another one of those blog posts that has been marinating in my noggin for a good week or two. It’s also one of those ones that needed to marinate for a good week or two in order for my thoughts to really be coherent. Not to mention I still suck at time management. That time management thing will be coming up again later by the way. This is also a blog post in two parts, completely separate but still related. Also, I’m not taking the time to write two whole blog posts in one sitting instead of just writing one.

Part One – Methodology of Writing

If you follow me on ye olde twitter, you’ll have noticed in between all the RTs, that I’ve started writing my next novel. First and foremost, yay writing! That’s what we’re all here for. Or at least that’s what I’m here for. Secondly, what’s the best way to cut down on the nervous jitters of shopping around the first novel? Start on the second. This is the Rhode Island godpunk book I’ve mentioned a couple times before, although originally it was going to be set in Connecticut. Working title is In a Murphy Minute. Usually I just name the file after the main character, the word file for Amity was originally just called Bernadette. This time I just named the file after the protag’s band. It might stay, might not.

I’m taking a lot of lessons from writing Amity and applying them to In a Murphy Minute. First off, ideas in my head rarely stew in my head for less than six months regardless of length. Novels, short stories, flash fiction… they are almost all old ideas by the time I commit them to paper. I can think of one story I’ve ever written where I came up with the whole thing out of the blue on the spot and truly pantsed the whole thing. Minute has been stewing in my head for two years at least. It started rolling around in the front of my head last year when I finished the first draft of Amity and actually let myself think about another book. I still ended up backburnering the whole thing until Amity was buttoned up completely though.

So I’m still handwriting my first draft. Crazy right? It’s the only way I can work on it during my lunch breaks at work and frankly, that’s one of the best times for me to get something done even if it is only a half hour. It gives me something positive to look for during my day. There are two big changes to my writing methodology going on with Minute versus the last book.

First off I outlined the whole entire thing, soup to nuts, before starting. When a story is rolling around in my noggin, I tend to think about the front end way more than the back end. I’m not really sure why this is, it’s just something my brain gravitates to and I just work with it as is. This has been problematic in the past. Unfinished Novel Attempt Number 2 (out of three, Amity was my fourth try at writing a novel, Minute will be the fifth) got up to 25k words before I realized all I did was provide a set up and some worldbuilding and didn’t actually have a plot. When I wrote Amity I had a very detailed outline of the first act that sputtered out into vagueness that I would meat up as I got closer to the specific part of the outline. My notebook was crazy disorganized as a result as I would cross out stuff that wasn’t valid anymore and whatnot. In hindsight, I think it killed my productivity at times. When I made my final push and wrote the last 40% in five weeks, I sat down and outlined straight out to the end before I did it. Helped me focus a lot. I found I still had the space to go off the rails if I needed to. There were single bullet points that would mushroom into entire chapters. There were also two pages that would detail out a single conversation. So I took that level of outlining and applied it to the entirety of Minute. The front end of the outline is still a little more detailed than the back end. And the whole story went a couple places I didn’t expect it to. Which is a good thing. I spent two weeks and it’s nineteen pages long, if I remember right. It’s actually in my car right now and I’m too lazy to get up and get it to count.

I think it’s been two weeks well spent and will cut down on the overall time of writing the novel drastically. I have a target Draft One Day in my head but I’m hesitant to say it out loud in case it drop the ball utterly. It’s waaaay shorter than the [redacted because I don’t want to admit how long I spent writing Amity] I took to write the last book. Like only 10% as long. And I suck at time management so I’m not sure exactly how realistic that is but I need to get more prolific with novels if I ever want to have hope of giving my day job the middle finger…. well… ok I actually give my day job the middle finger every day because I hate it. But I’d like to give it the middle finger while I’m telling it to screw forever.

The other big thing that’s different about this new books is the POV. Minute is going to be written in first person. Holy shit you have to make a lot of different choices that way. The protag has to be present for so much more when you’re plotting because if Cole (Mr. Punk Rock Protag) doesn’t see it, it doesn’t get written. More than a couple times in the outline, I felt my hands were tied with the movements of characters because I’m not used to plotting this way.

But there are a lot of advantages to this I’m finding already. Everything is much more personal, much more immediate. I’m in this guy’s head way more that I’ve been with any other character I’ve written. It’s not always an easy experience because Cole is a fundamentally broken person (another blog post coming up there). In the case of Moment, I think first person is also working to the advantage of the secondary protag too. She’s mysterious to Cole. Because we as readers never get to go into her thoughts either, she’s mysterious to us too. The question of how much to let the audience know is already answered for me. As much as she wants to let Cole know. In Amity, there were scenes that I thought it was a delicate balance. There were three protags and a lot of secrets between them but the audience knew. No issues with that here in Moment. If Cole knows it, the audience knows it. Simple.

The tone of a first person novel is also vastly different than a third. There’s a narrator tone going on with a third person. I rotated POV chapters in Amity so even if all three protags were in a scene, the audience only knew the thoughts of one. And I shifted some of the language I used depended on the POV. The difference in tone for Moment might just be since Cole is so very different than anyone in Amity and wouldn’t get along with any of them. In Amity, I doubt I swore a dozen times. I went a hundred pages or so before the first one even though I swear like a sailor in real life. In Moment I’m dropping eff bombs in the first paragraph. I swore more in the first three pages than in all of Amity. This is a Chuck Wendig Blackbirds level of swearing here. I’m dusting off some of my little use favorites like “shitknickers” and “assmuffin” and my all time personal favorite (coined by an actual sailor I went to high school with), “fuckcock.”

It actually doesn’t come naturally in my writing even though it does when I talk but it’s all part of getting into this character’s head.

Part Two – Methodology on Blogging

This is actually something I’ve been thinking about because the latest kerfluffle in the SF community came up. Seriously, can we go more than two weeks without some god damn issue or other? Especially since half of them are non issues that people turn into issues because some subset is intolerant and assholish. It actually has to do with the reviews I do on this site.

See, I love talking shop. That’s both the writing and the reading. I don’t view them as fundamentally different. If I hadn’t read a crap ton of sci fi and fantasy books since I was a kid, I wouldn’t exactly have a desire to write them now would I? I don’t have a lot of people to talk shop with in real life. Rhode Island isn’t exactly a hotbed of SFF authors. Being a small part of the community motivates me and all that good stuff. It’s why I started this blog almost two years ago. And a majority of my posts have actually been about the books I read.

Because damnit, I like talking about good books. I’ve had authors tell me that tapping out some good words about their book has given them a kick in the motivational pants. I’ve had people specifically seek out the books I’ve raved about and then they enjoyed them. My parents, the crazy well read people who have so many books in the genre that I never had to seriously bother buying my own until I was 20 have found new favorites by reading my blog. I know I’ve sold at least six copies of Wes Chu’s Lives of Tao. There’s an entire Rhode Island Air Guard unit that are Myke Cole fans because I let one borrow my copy and they all passed it around. This kind of stuff makes me happy.

And damnit, I think I’ve gotten good at writing these reviews. When I started they were a bit short and clunky. Now I like to think they’re pretty focused and usually around 1k words.

Therein lays part of the problem though. That’s a thousand words that I’m not applying to my novel. If you go back and look at my posting frequency, I was dropping two or three posts a week during summer of last year. I was reading just as much because it was slow at work and that’s how I roll. My posting frequency dropped like a rock when I made my final push for Amity. Then once I was done my first draft, I had to start doing all my Amity work on the computer at home. So any time I was spending here was eating into time I could spend on my writing. My post frequency is down to two or three times a month. I feel bad about it. The last few review posts I’ve done sat around for a week or two after reading before I had the time to type out the review. I’m feeling like that’s unfair to the book / author I’m reviewing.

The latest kerfluffle in the SFF community between writers and reviews… well frankly I think it’s kind of dumb and boils down to “Some people are being assholes” and “Some other people use the word bully over zealously for whatever ever reason I don’t give a shit enough to psychoanalyze.” But more than anything I kind of see why a lot of published authors don’t touch reviews with a ten foot pole. Which is unfortunate because I think that the ideal of a respectful, constructive dialogue can actually exist. (Search for the Gav Reads blog and Peter Brett for an example)

I actually get a not-insignificant percentage of my traffic to this blog from authors I’ve talked about RTing things on twitter. On my top ten posts, numbers two, three and ten are all review posts. But recently, all the rest of the top ten have become the ones about other stuff. Cons, and writing and genre tropes. A lot of that shop talk I love.

I think I’m going to make a concentrated effort to focus more on the stuff and shop talk kind of posts because they seem to resonate. It’s not like I have a huge audience to lose or anything. Sadly, it’s also more than a little bit of having to prioritize my time. After my family, my kiddo and my horrible day job, I only have X amount of time left in the day and I can’t spend so much of it pounding out thousand word reviews at the expense of other important things I love to do.

I think I will still pontificate about books. Being a fan of books comes first, long before anyone out in the community started writing them. I don’t think any of us should cut out the fan part of us. But I need to find a more efficient way to do it. Maybe I’ll actually use that Goodreads account I opened up back with it was new five… six? years ago. Whatever it is. It thinks I’ve been reading Un Lun Dun since 2008.

So that’s all I got today. I’ve killed 2.2k on this so I’m out of gas in terms of witty conclusion. I’m going to click “Publish” and then finish typing out a short story I want to edit up and shop around.

Or sleep.


Editing: First Pass

Posted: March 18, 2013 in Writing
Tags: , ,

Amity v1.6 is a thing. At least on paper. I just finished my first complete read through of the novel and need to input the results into the computer so I can print it up for the beta readers. By the way, holy crap printing is expensive.

So even though I had to transcribe the entire thing from my hand written notebooks to the computer, chunks of it were already transcribed prior to my completion of the novel. There was a stretch a while back where I used the act of typing it into a word file as a kick to the pants to get going with new words. Something to get me back into the swing of things, I guess. So this pass really was the first time I had read it cover to cover. Three people have read the first two chapters before, my wife and two buddies from work who kept bugging me to read part of what I was working.

I’m digesting my thoughts on it as I type this blog post. I literally did just finish about ten minutes before firing up wordpress. I think my initial thought is “Holy crap I’m a bad typist.” EverQuest may have taught me to type fast, but not particularly well. I’m really glad I did a pass before giving it out to the beta readers just to catch all the fuck ups that spellcheck didn’t catch. I spell a lot of things wrong that are really other words it seems.

Names are something I screwed up with minor characters a lot too. I had a lot of bracket notes saying [Doctor’s name] in them. The protag’s mother had three different middle names in the course of the book. A few names didn’t even get fixed in the pass, I decided to wait to use the search function in word before fixing them. I think a lot of that happened because I didn’t always expect minor characters to show up more than once. Even though I often made notes on the opposite page of the notebook as I was going (I only write on one side of the page to leave space for said notes), sometimes I’d be in a new notebook by the time the character showed up again. In the next book, I think I’m going to make it a point to keep a character list on the inside cover of my notebooks and transfer it from one to the next as I go. It’ll save myself a lot of trouble.

Plot points. This is something I’m a bit worried about, mostly because I didn’t seem to worry in my first pass. Aren’t I supposed to be worrying? I only found two points that I had to juggle about. I never felt the need to slash scenes out or deconstruct things and rearrange them about. I am going to hope that’s because the skeleton of my novel was written long before the actual novel itself. I don’t detail every single nuance ahead of time. I like to leave space for my characters and narrative to surprise me, but I need a road map of where I’m going. Not having that road map caused the first three attempts at a novel to founder. The plot map changed significantly six or eight times as I went where I had to stop and re-write all the plot points on out to the end. I’m hoping that got most of it out of my system. I also think that the overall structure is something that more sets of eyes are going to help with majorly. The plot as it stands was set in stone six-ish months ago so it is probably engrained into my noggin to much for me to see what it needs.

I do know that I want to add more in a few spots, but I want those other opinions before I start adding them in wantonly just to have to cut them out. The novel stands at a trim 72k. That’s a bit shorter than average. Before I was typing it, I was estimating that it’d come in at an average 80k upwards to 85k. I guess I wrote the last few chapters large. The front end of act three is where I think I can meat up the story the best. I have bracket notes suggesting just that.

Originally, as I was going, I was worried that the two sisters would sound too much alike. I use three POVs in the novel and it was touchy towards the beginning when I wasn’t fully committed to just those three. I want to make sure each character had a flavor to the text. I think I got better at that as I went so some of the first act might need to be rearranged.

And speaking of POV… halfway through typing the novel into the computer I had a horrible realization… The book might be better if I take the primary protag and rewrite her chapters as first person instead of the limited third I use. Just her chapters though, leave the other two as is. It’s a scary thinking of rewriting a third of the damn book already. After the beta reads are in, I may just do a couple test chapters and see how it goes.

My only other big concern is the tech level in my book. I’ve been contemplating a whole blog post on that subject in SF in general. It threw me for a loop when I read Redshirts and everyone has a smart phone. I had to stop and realize… yeah all that stuff I grew up watching in Star Trek TNG, that’s just daily life now. And that’s my default vision of science fiction more often than not because it was the fancy stuff when I was a kid. I had to consciously change every reference to a ‘data pad’ to a ‘tablet’ in my book because data pads don’t make sense anymore.

Anyways. The next step is beta readers which is pretty fucking scary if I do say so. But they’re going to be instructed to red pen the hell out of it. The worst I can do is say “Nope, gonna leave it as is” but that’s the sort of thing that will stop sounding great until I get a manuscript full of red ink back.

Getting to Know Your Characters

Posted: March 13, 2013 in Writing
Tags: ,

There are so many parts of a story that can turn it into something wonderful. Plot, world building, tone, language and so on. There’s a lot. There are arguments for everything and in the end, most end up being a matter of personal taste. The more writing I do, the more I find that a lot of those building blocks hinge on knowing your own characters.

Plot? How am I going to know what’s going to happen unless I know my characters?

World building? If I don’t filter it through my characters’ eyes, it’s just a DnD sourcebook.

Language? Without knowing my characters, how can I put words in their mouths?

See what I’m getting at? An InkPunks blog post a while back talked about how Zelazny wrote short stories about his protags before writing them into novels. One of Saladin Ahmed’s short stories in Engraved on the Eye works out as backstory for Throne of the Crescent Moon. Sam Sykes has done annual Valentine’s Day blogs where his characters answer relationship questions.

I kind of got to know my characters on the fly in Amity… I’ve noticed a few bits in act one that aren’t quite matching up with act three since it took me so long to get from one to the other. This time, I’m going to get into my character’s heads before I start writing the next novel. In addition to helping out with the Connecticut godpunk novel, this whole thing will keep up my creative momentum while I’m doing the initial editing passes of Amity.

First, I’m going to try the short story route. The “now” of the novel, isn’t when the protag/POV character gets the powers which are central to.. well… everything. How he becomes who he is independent of the novel’s plot. So the short story is going to work out as backstory similar to the way Ahmed’s story works for Throne. Backstory that’s crucial for the character, but only referenced in the plot itself.

Second, I’m going to go the meta route. I started doing this a little bit on twitter a while back by writing quotes from various characters of mine on twitter. It wasn’t really a concentrated effort and tapered off when I made my big push to the finish for Amity back in November. This time around, I’ve made an actual twitter account. I’m going to see where it goes. It might not work out. Maybe no one bothers to look at it. Maybe both. But it’s a small investment of my time with the potential for a solid payoff. @ErisKatsopolis by the way.

Third, I’m going to dust off something from college and an acting class I took. I wasn’t a theater kid, but as part of my film degree, I thought it would be fun to use a couple electives for what was happening with the other side of the camera. Also there was a hilarious moment on the first day of class because I was the prof’s first second generation student. One thing the prof did in that class was give us all a handout of 47 questions and we had assignments to run through them all to get in the characters’ heads. It’s a lot of typing and I’m not actually sure where the prof got it from so I’m not sure on the kosherness of typing it out here anyways. If anyone is interested, ping me and I’ll share. But there are some in depth questions involving goals, happy/sad memories, family life and education. Even short answers can get you a lot of information about your characters.

Approachable Authors

Posted: February 19, 2013 in Conventions, Stuff, Writing
Tags: ,

I spent a good portion of my day talking up my Boskone weekend to anyone that would listen (i.e. my wife and that’s about it). I had one of those moments where I stepped back from it all and thought if I could tell thirteen year old me that I could go shoot the breeze with an author or trade digital high fives via twitter… damn that thirteen year old would be stoked. Also confused because I think I was still rocking the Tandy computer back then and internet and twitter would have been mythical concepts. And then excited again because at thirteen I would have known to take the information from the time traveling version of me who just told him cool shit about the internet and run to the market with it and made a butt load of money. A whole butt load.

Before I tangent off into time travel paradox, I am serious that it would have blown my mind. Even five years ago it would have.

See I picked up all my reading habits from my parents. Being from Connecticut and New Hampshire, it’s not like there were big city cons and huge bastions of fandom for me to grow into. Oh it was probably out there in some form, but it wasn’t their scene regardless, especially since I was six when my parents were my age. Hell, I barely knew anyone other than my parents who read the same kind of SF I did. Authors were mythical beings up on a pedestal. They were personified by a paragraph and a mug shot on the last page if I was lucky. They certainly weren’t people you could talk to.

So early on in high school I eventually figured out that being a writer was something you could just do. And I started putting some things on paper. At the time, most of what I read was either epic fantasy or space opera, both sub genres that lend themselves to massive ongoing series with sprawl. Being an extrovert isn’t something that always comes easily to me now as an adult so back then I was kind of an introvert and really got into the world building and stuff. Funny considering I didn’t get an opportunity to play DnD until I was seventeen. So, being emotionally invested in these worlds, some of the stuff I put on paper was epic fantasy fanfic.

Now I wasn’t playing with someone else’s characters. It was like a Wild Cards story. I was playing on the map but I brought my own toys. That is to say, I wrote characters and plots that were off to the side who might have waved at a main character from the actual series.

This coincided with getting a computer with a consistent internet connection and finding out about a thing called email groups. Just thinking about email groups is laughably archaic now but it’s what we had back in the day (because I never did time travel to invent twitter ten years early) and damnit we were happy with it. I joined an email group for the author of this favorite world and was thrumming full of energy because holy crap the Author was a part of it! Well brilliant thirteen year old version of me brought up fanfic. I didn’t even know what the fuck the world ‘fanfic’ was until someone said “Oh… Author doesn’t like that stuff.” There was a round of back and forth direct with the Author and I couldn’t tell you exactly what I said. I was frazzled nerves at my keyboard going “Oh crap oh crap oh crap oh crap…” I’m sure whatever exactly I said was probably standard nervous weird kid. The problem became the response I got. I don’t remember specifics but it was condescending and snarky and frankly, just douchey. Did being a weird teenager blow something out of proportion? Not that badly. I know tone can get misconstrued in email, especially back in the day when email wasn’t ubiquitous but somethings you can’t miss that much.

It discouraged me at a time when that wasn’t exactly helpful. I took a small sampling of writing classes in high school and college. I even had the head of the creative writing department at my college tell me “Please take our program” and I didn’t do it. I stayed with the film program I had started. It was eight years from that time in high school until I had an inkling that writing might be a good thing for me. It was another three before I actually acted on it.

I’ve never read any of that Author’s books again.

Now this is a story I don’t actually like to talk about. I doubt I’ve told it a half dozen times and I never have (and never will) say who the Author was because said Author is still publishing. After typing it out here, I’m debating deleting the whole thing because it’s going to nag at me for days now. But when I talk about how much sheer awesomeness I feel at the state of current fandom, I can’t convey it without telling where I came from.

Ever since I made headway into the internet I was always reasonably tech savvy. Probably more so back in the Wild West days of the internet where you could teach yourself what was going on without needing advanced coursework. But thanks to that Author, I never sought out SF fandom online. I still read voraciously as ever but authors remained a mug shot and a paragraph.

The first toe into the SF community was after reading Old Man’s War in 2009 (Zoe’s Tale on the awards lists that year got me to go find the first book of the set). John Scalzi’s blog is essential reading for anyone even tangently interested in SF. I started getting a lot of book recommendations from his Big Idea feature which remains one of my favorite things to read in the entire community.

After going to a writing conference at the University of Rhode Island (got a lot of dirty looks for being a genre writer) and having a writing group fail (again, literary vs genre problems), I realized I am at my most productive when I am around writing. I sure as hell wasn’t finding good ways to be around it kicking around in Rhode Island. My adoption of twitter, creating this blog and my first literary con all happened within six weeks of each other.

Authors have become real people.

Twitter is fucking magic. I started with Scalzi and worked outward. I’ve had conversations with a plethora of different authors, a lot of times not even about books or writing. I made the “Hope your flight doesn’t make it to Providence… the airport is in Warwick” joke to Tobias Buckell who got a chuckle out of it. I had a discussion with Madeline Ashby about how American infrastructure isn’t designed for public transportation outside of big cities (three hours by bus to go to work from my old apartment). I follow a cadre I’ve dubbed the Writer Dads because they’ve all got kids in the little kid bracket (Buckell, Saladin Ahmed and Peter V Brett). I discover more new authors who sell me as a person now and make me want to find out what they have to write. People like Chuck Wendig. I’ve had more than one author tell me I turned around a crappy day because I sent them a tweet saying how much I liked their book. It’s hard to explain how awesome that made me feel. Writing is fucking hard work, it can drain your psyche. But the littlest of things can make you feel like King of All the Words though and when you feel like King of All the Words, magic happens. (or Queen of All the Words as applicable. It’s not applicable for me what with being a dude so I chose the word that was)

I mentioned yesterday how at last year’s Boskone, I was kicking myself for not talking to the pros more… or at all really. I always feel like I’m in this awkward spot where I know enough not to ask the obvious questions but not enough to ask the good questions. With the crappy weather on Sunday and my friend I went with Saturday not able to go for a second day, I almost stayed home. But I had this moment of zen where I was like “Fuck it! Ima gonna do this!” and I went for the day and went to Myke Cole’s kaffeeklatch.

If you want the epitome of approachable authors, it’s Myke Cole. This guy could run a master’s class in public speaking and he will talk to you about anything. He’s also got some of the coolest swag associated with his books ever in the history of book swag. I think the kaffeeklatch may have been one of the coolest things I’ve ever done because it was so… normal. It was a small group with similar interests hanging out shooting the breeze and talking some shop. I didn’t realize it until later in the day, but I walked away from there more determined to get on that side of the con table. It was kind of a “Fuck discouragement! Look at all the cool shit you could do on that side of the fence with all those other cool people!”

It was a full circle thing for me because Myke Cole was the first person I reached out to in anyway out in the nebulous social media. I was all “Dude! Your unit logo is awesome, is it available on a tshirt?” and he was all like “Absolutely. Cafepress.” And I never did get a shirt made because I thought it would be cheating getting a cafepress shirt that didn’t send him a dollar for it.

Someday I’ll get to the other side of the fandom fence where all the authors get to play and talk shop and curse together over low word count days. And lately I am starting to actually believe myself when I keep saying that I’ll get there. But it’s truly wonderful to know there are people who will lean over the fence and talk to you.