Sunday, December 26, 2010

Know the Industry?

Authors are told to 'learn the industry'. If you can't actually work in the publishing industry, then you're supposed to study the trade magazines, and learn what you can that way. As far as I can figure out, "trade magazines" for the "publishing industry" equals Publisher's Weekly. At least, that's the only magazine dealing with the publishing industry that I can find at the Omaha Public Libraries, and I can't imagine any other place in this berg more likely to have such magazines.

Anyway, for some time now, I have dutifully made my way to the library on a particular day of the week, just to read the most recent issue of Publisher's Weekly. Well, the most recent they have available; by the time they get it processed and ready for use, it's a month old. So by the time I read about an 'up-coming' book signing or fair, it's already gone by.

What am I looking for as I read this magazine? Nobody ever explained that to me, except for a blanket statement, like, "Oh, you know, what editor is moving where, what agent is selling manuscripts like hot cakes." These days, does that knowledge do me any good? Seems to me I don't need to know the latest editor at Penguin or DAW, or wherever, because you don't submit directly to the big publishers anymore; most of them no longer have slush piles. They expect agents to do their first reading for them.

And even if you can figure out which agent is selling manuscripts 'like hotcakes', that agent is probably too busy to take on another client, so what does that get you?

So, I'm reading, but I'm not sure what I'm looking for. Is there a Cliff Notes for this magazine, something to point out the important bits?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Bear Ancestry

I think I must have some bear in my family tree somewhere.

I vaguely remember reading a scifi book back in the 60s where the author wrote about some semi-cat creatures; not quite human, but more than a normal cat. They had been created in a laboratory to-- Well, my memory fails me, but it made sense in the book. And, of course, there's also stories about mermaids, centaurs, werewolves – all those creatures that are not quite animal, not quite human.

So, the idea of having some non-human ancestors isn't that shocking to me. And this thought – that I must have some bear in my family tree – came up last week. The weather's turning cold, the days short and dim, and I found myself becoming surly, eating everything in sight, and spending my time longing for my nice warm bed. Yes, I wanted to hibernate! So I started thinking about great-great-grandpa. What kind of bear am I related to?

Probably not polar bear, because I REALLY hate extended cold weather. And now that I've mulled it over for a while, my sluggish mind has realized that bears are not the only animal that hibernates, so maybe great-great-grandpa wasn't a bear. Squirrel? No, I don't think so. Even on my best days, even in my youth, I didn't do much frolicking around or chattering away. No, I think my gait is a little closer to a bear's amble, more deliberate, you know? And if I'm faced with a problem, I'm likely to worry it a bit, break it down into pieces in search for tasty grubs. Wait. I prefer nuts to grubs.

Still, I'm thinking I've got more bear in me than squirrel. What about you? If one of your ancestors was an animal, what type? Which of your habits and behaviors point to that relationship? Occasionally, a writer compares a person to some animal, so I'm not the only one to think in this direction. To me, this type of 'exercise' is just one more aspect of writing that can be great fun.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Holiday Study Part 2

I recently started examining holidays and how/if they would be established in Colony X on some distant planet. There is another American holiday in November that I haven't yet examined. It would be stretching back a bit to look at it now, but otherwise, it will be another year before I get to it, so … why not?

Veteran's Day is an opportunity to remember those soldiers who have made it possible for us to live in our version of freedom. I don't see this colony as holding over many (if any) holidays from 'the old home', as they are looking for a new beginning … their version of freedom. Likewise, I don't see them as fighting any wars to establish their colony, since the planet has no 'intelligent' natives, and the old home hasn't followed them to this planet. So I don't see any reason for them to establish a 'Veteran's Day', not for many generations. After they've grown enough to swarm over the planet and form opposing governments that inevitably go to war with each, then it might happen. On the other hand, they might have someone who stands out as a hero – someone who successfully warns them of some impending doom so that they can avoid it. That might make a big enough impression that the people – looking for an excuse to party – might decide to celebrate Brok's Day. The Americans have several of that type; Martin Luther King Day, Washington's Birthday, Lincoln's Birthday (those two now rolled into Presidents' Day) and so on.

I can't speak for all Americans, but it seems to me that for most of us, Veteran's Day is simply an opportunity not to go to work. Retail uses holidays as an excuse to have sales. Fraternal orders based on military service might have some kind of service or remembrance on Veteran's Day, but if you don't belong to one, don't have a close family member who belongs to one, you aren't likely to care. And so I see Brok's Day as developing, over the generations. After all, once the river has been dammed, removing threat of flood – or whatever Brok saved the colony from – would anybody really care? So Brok's Day, at some point during the year, to celebrate the continuation of the colony. Go, Brok!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Fun with Holidays

There is very little about writing fiction that I do not find 'fun'. I like using my imagination, and fiction lets you do that a lot. One thing that I have to think about when I'm writing science fiction is to not forget the holidays. (Holidays come up in other types of fiction, too, and must be thought out carefully.) Just for an instance, suppose I am writing about a new colony on an undeveloped planet. The colonists have some supplies and equipment, but still must depend only on what they can do themselves in order for the group to survive. To me, it makes sense that they would find some reasons to take a day off, a chance to play and celebrate whatever progress they've made. A day to remember why they are there. And some of those festival days would continue, even after the colony and culture has matured and the 'need' for such opportunities to forget their worries has waned. What would those early holidays celebrate? What would they be like a few generations later, when the culture has matured?

Since I've just cooked and eaten our traditional Thanksgiving dinner (and am in no hurry to clean up the dishes), I'll examine that type of holiday today.

Long ago, before the pilgrims came to North America, it was pretty traditional in Europe to feast and 'party hearty' in the autumn and early winter. The easiest way to store an abundant crop was to fatten up the people with most of it. Otherwise, fruits, vegetables and grains might rot and be of no use to anyone, and people would be very hungry in deed by the time any springtime foods became available. To my thinking, Americans still tend to do that, and I have a tendency to have my Colony X do the same. Maybe they don't need to store their crops as body fat, but I think it makes sense for a group that depends on agriculture to celebrate an abundant crop by having a party. So yes, my Colony X would have a Thanksgiving-type holiday. And it would probably continue even after most of the population is no longer involved in growing food, because by then, it would be part of the colony's tradition. Would they have pumpkin pie? Maybe not pumpkin, but they would have something made from local foods.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Where to Break?

Not long ago, a question was posed in one of my writing groups. A member had finished her novel and was ready to send out queries, and wondered how to determine where to break for chapters.

Huh? I was flabbergasted. The idea of one giant document that contained an entire novel / 300+ pages / 100,000+ words – just made my spine crawl with fear.

Of course, every writer is different, but I tend to write my novels AS chapters. Usually a chapter is a day, or if the day is particularly busy, I might split the day into two chapters in an effort to keep them somewhat the same length. But as the others in the group discussed chapters, I was reminded that the end of a chapter is actually supposed to be a mini-cliff hanger, something to spur the reader to continue reading.

Well, there goes my 'a day is a chapter' idea. And in truth, it wasn't a very good way to keep the chapters more or less the same length, either. Some were barely 2000 words, others 6000 or 7000. And I thought I had a book ready to be sent out for consideration!

I've been pondering how to solve this problem. Do I really have to go through another re-write and find a mini-cliff hanger for the end of each chapter? Can you imagine how poorly my protagonists would sleep if, at the end of each day, some impending doom loomed on the horizon? I wondered if there was an easier solution, both for me and for my characters.

Maybe I could just decide, "A chapter is 5000 words." Then find the end of a paragraph that was closest to that number, and declare the chapter ends at the end of the paragraph. Not exactly a moment of suspense, but people would need to continue reading to try to find a 'natural break' where they could turn out the light and go to sleep. Would that be too gimmicky? Too irritating?

Or another idea would be to eliminate the 'chapters'. It is fiction, after all. The idea is, if Tuesday ends in the middle of page 47, the next day (not necessarily Wednesday) would start in the middle of page 47. My reasoning is that starting a new day on a new page might make it too easy to turn off the light and put the book down. If the words just continued to flow, would the average reader just continue to read?

Any ideas or comments on this?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

When is Enough Enough?

When I first started writing, I was sure my first draft was my final draft; I didn't need to do any re-writing. A lot of 'writers' still believe that their first efforts are totally perfect and cannot be made any better. I know a few authors for whom this is pretty much true, but they actually do their re-writing in their head, where they ponder every possibility, every word choice before they commit any words to paper. The vast majority of authors still have a lot of work to do, even after they've written their first draft.

Personally, I know that after I've written my outline (in the case of a novel), I'll have a rough draft, and then three more drafts where I concentrate on one specific aspect of my writing, before I do what I think will be my final polish. Sometimes I'm wrong, and I'll wind up going through a few more drafts before I try another 'final polish'.

On the other end of the spectrum are those 'writers' who can't stop re-writing. And since they're never done, their work never gets submitted anywhere. They're looking for perfection.

I don't expect perfection. I'm not perfect, so how can I produce perfection? I look to write a good story, one that might move the reader, one that certainly doesn't leave them confused because the sentences are poorly constructed. Usually, after my three re-writes, my final polish is looking for typos, punctuation and an occasional phrase that could be tightened. Most of the time, that's enough for me.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Goldilocks Planet 2

Okay, I've been thinking about that 'Goldilocks' Planet they found recently. Haven't had time to consult with any physicist yet, but sometimes you can get quite a long way with just some common sense and imagination. Let's ignore the crushing gravity for now, and think about where we might place our colony.

With a planetary day and a planetary year virtually the same length, one side of the planet perpetually faces the sun. That would get hot, I'm guessing. And the opposite side would be far too cold. Of course it's possible that either side could be in the nominal temperature range, depending on exactly how far from its star the planet is located. But first thought about this says the 'twilight zone' is the place for any colonies. It could be a windy place, as the heat of the sun side blew over to be cooled on the night side, but it would be the place of temperate temperatures.

Okay, we're also going to ignore (for now) the psychological problems that might arise from living with perpetual sunrise or sunset.

So, we've got this strip of twilight, and this is where we're going to live. But I'm not sure the entire twilight zone would be comfortable. Those areas that tend to be sparsely populated on Earth – near the poles – could be too cold. The equator area might be too hot until you got well away from the daylight side. Therefore, the section that we might reasonably populate might look more like a crescent (one on each side of the planet).

Of course, if the entire twilight area is ocean, then the colony will have to float.

The article I read said one side faced the sun virtually perpetually. Which brings up the possibility that the twilight zone might actually migrate very slowly around this planet. Every century or so, people might have to abandon sections of the city that have strayed into the uninhabitable sections, and build new sections in areas that had recently become habitable. And every few millenia or so, sections of the formerly inhabited would start to appear in the opposite twilight zone, to either be razed and rebuilt, or simply used again.

So many ideas to explore when you let your imagination roam free.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Goldilocks Planet 1

After decades of reading stories concerning colonies on other planets, I was thrilled to finally hear scientists had discovered a planet that was in the "Goldilocks Zone" around another star. Woohoo! Bring on the story ideas!

Well, that planet is not exactly another Earth, so in order to be 'realistic', I've got to do some thinkin'.

Temperature: Not too hot, not too cold. Warm enough to allow liquid water. Yeah, water's good. I can work with water.

Gravity: Okay, this planet has about 3 times the mass of Earth. Hmm, does that mean a 100-pound man on Earth weighs 300 pounds on Goldilocks A? I'm going to have to check on that. Even if gravity isn't a full 3 times Earth-G, it's still going to take some getting used to. Some kind of biological augmentation? Like I said, I need to research this aspect.

Planetary year: In this case, about 37 days. Wow. That's fast. How would colonists deal with a year that feels more like a month? And with a year this short, is there any room for 'seasons'? Can you imagine a winter that lasts 8-9 days? I'll have to check on this, too, but I'm thinking it would take an exaggerated elliptical orbit, or a lop-sided orbit to produce anything like seasons. It's possible, so … I'll take it under advisement. Could be interesting to play with.

Planetary day: In this case, about 37 days. Oh. That basically means it keeps one blistering-hot face toward its sun, and one frozen face toward the stars. Wait, didn't the scientists say it was not too hot, not too cold? Sure, in the twilight area between the two sides. So that's where the colony would need to be, with either perpetual dawn or perpetual sundown on the horizon. That is definitely going to take some thinkin' about, as well as some research.

I'll get back to you about this 'Goldilocks Planet'.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Death in the Family

I was so shocked to get word today (or yesterday?) that Realms of Fantasy was going under. Again. Horrendous confusion for several moments, the only semi-coherent thought in my head something on the order of, "But … but … but … I just send them a submission!"

Yes, as so often is the case, self-centeredness was the first reaction.

And then confusion crowded in, blotted out everything else as I tried to figure out, "Why can the 'Big Three (or Four?)' science fiction magazines manage to eke out an existence even in these hard times, but apparently a fantasy magazine can't? I'm sure I'm not the only one wondering that. It must be mind-blowing to the RoF publisher, editors and staff.

I don't know the answer to that. Probably nobody does. I'm sure if the publisher and editors had any ideas on the subject, they would have used them to try to stay afloat. According to Shawna McCarthy, fantasy out-sells science fiction three to one, so somehow, somewhere, the math just doesn't make sense. Since I'm a big fan of mathematics, this whole thing feels kind of … surreal.

Let's have a moment of silence for Realms of Fantasy, a moment to think about the stories it MIGHT have published for our entertainment. Now let's heave a sigh and trudge off into a bleaker future. Sad as it is to say, may RoF RiP.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Nice Rejection

I've been looking for an agent for my second novel. (In a fit of frustration, I sent novel 1 straight to a publisher, so it's sitting on a slush pile right now.) I got a nice rejection this morning from my latest query to an agent.

I don't take these rejections personally. These people don't know me, so how can it be personal? I appreciate that their desks are full of hopeful submissions and queries, and they have to work through them, because tomorrow will bring another big batch to swamp them.

I've noticed that rejections of a short story differ from rejections of a novel. The rejection of a short story is likely to be brief, a simple, "It doesn't meet our needs," and it might even be on a piece of notepaper, meaning a half-page or 1/3-page form, if it's hard copy form rejection. Even an email rejection is likely a form rejection that gets pasted into the email box.

Agents responding to a query about a novel usually send it in the form of a letter, if it's hard-copy. Whether hard or electronic, the ones I've been getting have been longer than a short story rejection; the agent spends several sentences explaining that their workload is horrendous, they can't take on new clients right now unless the project seems red hot, they need to concentrate on their current clients, that this in no way reflects on my ability as a writer, and good luck in my efforts. (Yes, I paraphrased.) I almost feel like sending them a thank you note for such a nice rejection, even if it is (most likely) a form rejection pasted in an email or mail-merged into a letter.

Although getting a rejection is (obviously) not the outcome I was hoping for, it's far nicer than not getting ANY response from an agent. Some claim they are just too busy to respond to any query except those they are interested in. Maybe they get that many queries, but it just leaves me with a cold feeling about that agency. Maybe they need a part-time assistant to send out nice rejections for them. Or maybe they don't feel they need to be nice to writers they don't already represent.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Pet Peeve 1

I want to talk about one of my pet peeves.

Now, I'm not so stodgy that I insist the language remain exactly the same as it was in my youth. I just don't think that's realistic. The world is changing and language needs to change also, or we'll soon notice we can't verbalize our observations about the world. Slang and dialects are part of that, so that's not the type of thing I usually get upset about.

This particular pet peeve is this: "My co-worker that has red hair…" I hear this all the time, not to mention read it. In this example, 'that' refers to 'co-worker', so a person has just been referred to with a non-person pronoun. In my mind, 'that' can refer to sofas, cars, houses, and even animals. But when you are speaking about a person, it is far more respectful to refer to them as 'who'. It is acknowledgement that they are human. "So I said to my co-worker, the one who has red hair…"

I could be wrong. I don't profess to have any kind of high-level college degree in English. It just seems to me that if you are referring to people, you should at least acknowledge that they are people, and not 'things'. After all, what goes around comes around, right? Would you like to be called a 'thing'?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Not Exactly Writing

I recently wrote about my figures concerning how many hours I could spend on a 5000-word story in order to make writing worth the time. If you'll remember, I had arrived at the conclusion that if I spent 25 hours on a 5000-word story, I needed to sell it for $0.05 per word to make $10 an hour.

I was counting that as hours spent in writing and re-writing, editing and polishing. I can easily measure them. Have I opened this file? Start the timer. Moving on to something else? Stop the timer.

It's not so easy to measure research, time spent submitting, and all the other stuff that comes with the territory of being a fiction writer. That's because you don't know how many times you'll have to submit any particular story. If you spend 24 hours writing a story, are you going to stop submitting after you've spent an hour checking on guidelines and stuff? No, I don't think so. That would be 25 hours spent making $0 per hour. No, keep submitting, even dipping a bit below that $0.05 per word, because $7 or even $5 an hour is better than $0 an hour, right? So I won't count the time I spend submitting.

And research – how could I possibly count the time spent on that? For one thing, it is seldom research for the benefit of only one story; the facts I discover about the Jupiter moon could easily be used in any number of stories, not just the one I'm currently working on. And there's the science reading I do in hopes of finding something that I might use, someday. Some of what I read might be useful tomorrow, or next year, or never. Or all of them. To what story would I 'charge' that time?

So, when I talk about how much time I can spend on a story, I'm talking about the actual writing stage. The Befores and Afters will just have to count as 'hobbies'. Everybody should have some hobbies.

See ya next week.    Trudy

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Writing By the Numbers

I've been doing some number crunching. Okay, I had trouble falling asleep last night, and this was one thing going through my mind. Consequently, the numbers are a little rough.

I'd been doing some market research, and although some markets sounded like fun, they didn't pay much. Some didn't pay at all. And I've arrived at the conclusion that even though I can make an odd buck or two through freelancing and working assignments for temporary agencies, I'd rather spend my time writing. Not just any writing; I want to write fiction.

Still, making a few bucks for the occasional steak dinner would be a good thing.

So, I've got to start treating my writing as more of a job. Here's what last night's rough numbers told me. Let's say I aspire to make $10 an hour at my writing. If I'm selling to a market paying $0.01 per word, I can spend 1 hour per 1000 words. My short stories tend to be around 5000 words, so that's 5 hours I can spend on that story. Not a lot of time to compose, re-write, edit and polish. If I could sell that 5000-word story to a market paying $0.05 per word, I could spend 25 hours on it. That sounds a little more do-able. Therefore, I should concentrate my efforts on submitting to those higher paying markets. Consequently, this morning I have rearranged my market list from 'deadline' (useful for contests and anthologies) to 'pay rate'. Yes, writing about rabid, badass tumbleweeds does sound intriguing, but that particular market is now very low on my list, because the pay rate just doesn't make it worth the effort.

Of course, if none of those top-paying markets is interested in my 5000-word piece, then I would keep submitting down the line. Bringing in a few bucks is better than no bucks, and it would at least be a publishing credit, which I don't currently have. Since every market wants to know what else you've published and where, it is apparently important to them.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Waiting So Far

I decided it was time to start submitting my shorts more consistently. Maybe I mentioned that before. About a week ago, I sent out a story that had sold once. Yes, I signed the contract and everything, but the market went belly-up before the story was published, so I never got paid and all rights reverted to me.

This story is a fantasy based in my Atlan universe. This one is about a BlackBird (ie, Warrior) who visits a well-known neighboring village and finds a sister Atlan from a lost tribe has been taken prisoner. This is a huge discovery, but will only amount to anything for her people if she can 1) rescue the prisoner and 2) keep the badly wounded woman alive long enough to get her to her home village.

So far, I like this market. It seems to have some empathy for the authors and the agony they go through as they wait for a response. When you submit to them, you are sent an acknowledging email that includes a reference number and a link to a webpage where you can check on the progress of your submission. When I submitted, my story was #186 in the Infamous Slush Pile. Five days later, it was #102.

This is nice. I wish other markets were this organized. Maybe it only works if the market accepts e-mail submissions. Certainly if this had to be done by hand for a market accepting only hard-copy submissions, it would require time, not to mention a person devoted to do that, and would slow down the process of getting through those submissions. But for those modern, computer-savvy markets who invest in this kind of thing, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I figure I've got about another week before they get to my story. That will help keep the butterflies in check for a few days.

See ya next week. Maybe I'll have news?!    Trudy

Sunday, September 12, 2010

To Think or Not To Think

I was trying to get caught up on reading my newsletters, and one editor's comment was that thinking about writing was not writing. Wait a minute, I thought. Wasn't this the same newsletter editor who only a few weeks ago extolled the virtues of spending your time wisely, of doing double-duty by thinking about your writing while washing the dishes or pulling weeds? Indeed, this was the same newsletter editor. So … wasn't that a contradiction?

I paused (briefly) to think about that. I didn't like to; my feeling is that if the reader has to stop and puzzle out what's been written, then the writing needs improvement. But this is what I came up with, absent asking that editor to clarify her meaning: If ALL you are doing is thinking about writing, then you aren't writing.

Well, duh.

On the other hand, I have to have some time for thinking, or I can't write. What better time to figure out a character's back story than those last few minutes before falling asleep? Why not explore different scene outcomes while doing housework drudgery? And I can't think of a more pleasant way to spend a long trip than by engaging in some semi-directed day-dreaming about a story I'm working on.

The way I see it, thinking about writing is fine. But the job doesn't get done if you never put those thoughts down on paper. Or computer screen, these days.

Now, let's have a show of hands. What are you doing while you think out the details of your story?

See ya next week.    Trudy

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Waiting and Waiting

Last week, I submitted a short to a market that claimed that most responses were made 'within a day'. Those, I assumed, would be most of the rejections. I haven't heard back from them yet. I refuse to assume that means they want it. Maybe they want it. Maybe they're thinking about it. Maybe they never got the email. I don't know, and according to their instructions, I shouldn't inquire for three months.

The worst part of submitting stories (which is not the same as the worst part of being a writer, in my estimation) is the waiting. It's kind of like, you've wanted home-baked bread all day, and you finally got home from work, made the dough, let it rise, shaped it, let it rise, and got it in the oven. Now you wait for the bread to bake, wait for it to cool enough for you to start eating. Except, with bread, you have a pretty good idea how long it will take before you can pop that first bite of buttered goodness into your mouth. When you're waiting for an editor's response, you really have no clue how long this torture will last.

Okay, I might have heard back from this editor in a day or two. (I rather expected I would. This is not the first time I've submitted to this market.) Since I haven't heard from them yet, a tiny germ of hope has begun to grow. Even though I've heard writers and editors say, "Don't hope until you get the contract," hope does have a habit of springing up whenever and wherever it can. It's hard to keep a good emotion down.

On the other hand, I keep reminding myself about a friend who has been waiting for five years for a publisher to get back to him regarding his manuscript, which they have for a second look. Five years! It's reached the point where he's afraid to ask about it, because it's been so long.

How do I wait for that response – any response – without going crazy? Like so many other writers, I start a new story, or a new novel, or something. I keep working. Oh, yes, I set a little timer to remind me when I can inquire about this submission, but otherwise, I try to shove the memory deep down inside and keep working.

How do other writers get through this time of torture? Is there some kind of secret to it that I haven't learned yet?

See ya next week.    Trudy

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Organizing More Than Thoughts

I used to think I was a fairly organized person. Oh, my desk at work didn't always look like it, what with file folders and papers heaped all over it from corner to corner, but I was using those file folders, processing those papers, and when I was done with that chore, they would all be put away, and I would start on the next task. My supervisors knew that if they needed some new project done, they just needed to give me the parameters and turn me loose; it would Get Done.

Then I came home and it was time to start sending my short story and novel manuscripts out to try to sell them. Total confusion.

At this time, I have two novels and a dozen shorts ready for a new home. I have a list of places I can send them, but is it a complete list? Probably not. So I keep looking for new places. I also go back every few months to those markets already on my list and check to see if their guidelines have changed. Particularly if that market was closed to submissions the last time I checked. Sometimes, it seems I have too many options, too much information. I have tables with the basic information on the various markets, then a folder with detailed information for each market I'm truly interested in. I have a table with ALL the submissions I've made, then a portion of that same table duplicated on the document for any particular market, so I can see at a glance which stories have already been submitted there. Files and documents and tables—oh, my!

I keep thinking there's got to be a better way, but all the methods used by other authors that have been explained to me seem to be just as complicated. Why is this so hard?

All my efforts have not kept me from the embarrassment of sending a story to the same market a second time. Color me beet red! It doesn't keep me from having the strong desire to throw my hands in the air and give up. Color me frustrated. It does cut into my time for writing. Color me irritated.

Unfortunately, all my efforts to get this process organized can't color me published. Yet.

See ya next week.    Trudy

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Counting Your Words

Some of the advice a new writer gets is that you have to write, preferably every day. Gay Haldeman says, "If you write a page a day, at the end of the year, you have a 365 page book." Others give the same advice as a certain number of words per day, but the point is, you should write every day.

Okay. That gets you a rough draft. It's easy to count how many words you've added to the end of what you had yesterday. I've been wondering, "How do you count your productivity when you're re-writing?"

Re-writing doesn't involve blank sheets of paper where you place new words. It involves considering the words you've already got on the paper. Is there a better word than this one? Would this scene be better if it came earlier? You are, in short, rearranging what you've got. You move things around, add words, delete words… How do you count that?

I have a method of how to designate how much rewriting I've done in any given day. I start each day with a new shade of that draft's color. Is this my red draft? Then today, I use pink, or brick. When I'm done, I highlight the pink/brick section, and that tells me how many words I've 'gone through' that day. But the inaccuracy bothers me. My second draft might be twice as long as the rough draft, so obviously I've been adding quite a few words. But third draft tends to be considerably shorter. Following drafts might be shorter yet, as I manage to tighten it up even more. So, if I work on a section of 2000 words, and I wind up with 1700 words, do I count 2000 or 1700?

Most the time, I just go with the number of words I wind up with. I'm not sure it's fair, but it's a simple process, and lets me be consistent in how I'm tracking things. I just keep wondering how other authors count their words when they're doing re-write. I suppose I ought to ask. Maybe they've got a better way.

See ya next week.    Trudy

Monday, August 16, 2010

Why Go?

Not too long ago, I asked my husband – or maybe he asked me, I forget… Anyway, the question was, Why do I continue to go to sf convention panels on writing when I've been to so many of them, I've heard all of it before?

At the time, I arrived at the conclusion that I go to them because I do, occasionally, get a new tidbit I either hadn't heard or hadn't fully considered before. I went because I was hoping to find those tidbits that might help me become a published writer.

And every once in a while, I stumble into a gold mine. That's what happened this weekend, when I attended a series of three panels on different aspects at Celebration V, a big Star Wars convention. I admit, I hadn't held much hope for learning anything new at a media convention, but going to some panels on writing promised some time in chairs that were marginally more comfortable than the hard benches in the hallways.

The first panel was on plotting and character development. It was interesting to hear how that author plotted his stories, and I'll give his method a try, or at least a study. This was a little more than a tidbit, maybe as much as a nugget.

The second panel was on … well, what I remember of it (without consulting my notes) were some suggestions about doing description. I have had to work on description as I learned my skill, but I think I've learned to do a passable job. Still, different eyes and all that, so let's count this one as a tidbit, at least.

The final panel was by Aaron Allston, and concerned dialog. I didn't think I had any problems with dialog, so I was looking for tidbits. Anyway, we had Aaron at our own convention (OSFest in Omaha NE) a couple years ago, and I hadn't gotten to even meet him until the Dead Dog Party after the convention, when I was too tired to see straight. So at least I could hear what he had to say.

In one short hour, I learned about individualizing character voices, making them reflect the point of view of that character, how to use generational speech patterns, jargon, accents… And in the last few minutes of the panel, he gave a wealth of information on how to include humor in your dialog, even though he was not able to go into that subject very far. Aaron has obviously analyzed these things in great depth, and did his best to pass on what he had figured out. Wow. I went looking for tidbits and was handed a gold mine. That kind of unexpected bonus will keep me going to panels for some time.

I'll be home next Sunday, and should be able to get my blog posted on time, unless I get confused about what day of the week it is. See ya then.    Trudy

Monday, August 9, 2010

Little Differences

A few years ago, I began working on a piece that involved a vampire and a werewolf. Since then, I've read any number of books that involved either a vampire/werewolf team or a main character of one persuasion, with an occasional appearance by the other. These days, I'm not only working with one such team, I now have another, set on another 'Earth universe'. And for that matter, I also have two other universes that include vampires and werewolves, though not necessarily as main characters.

In the instance of using a type of character that is as well known as vampires, which has been used, re-thought, and sometimes re-invented by any number of other writers, one must be careful to create something a little different in 'your' vampires. I am not that familiar with the original Dracula – even that story has been retold and re-imagined a number of times – and have no idea how Dracula became a vampire, although I do remember how he turned humans into subservient vampires. If that was the only way of creating a vampire, there would not have been a Dracula. So, how does one start a race of vampires? Even if you don't explicitly explain it in your story, you should have some idea how it happened.

Are there a lot of vampires in your universe, or only a few? Several recent writers have a huge population of vampires 'coming out' and mingling with humans. They seem to make it work, but to my mind, such a large number of vampires would run the risk of turning humans into nothing more than a food source. Therefore, I tend to make my vampires extremely rare. Mine also do not burst into flames in sunlight, but they do 'burn at the drop of a sunbeam', so they tend to sleep during the day. And they can survive for a very long time on 'extremely rare' pieces of meat, although if you get them mad, they might drain your blood to teach you a lesson. If they live a long time, how do they manage to avoid being detected, or do they even try?

All characters take thought about their background, their lives. When you're using a type of character that someone else has already created, you must either follow the 'rules' about that type of character, or create your own rules. Whichever way you go, have a reason for that decision.

Next weekend is another convention. Don't be surprised if I'm late … again.    Trudy

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

After Life Intrudes

You hear about people who do their writing in 'stolen' moments – the lunch hour of their day job, the bus ride to and from their day job, half an hour after the kids go to bed. I used to be one of those, because I had a day job, a family that expected to be fed occasionally, a house that tended to get dirty when I wasn't looking. I did what I could when I could, and dreamed of the day when I could devote whole days to writing.

I'm still waiting.

I no longer have the day job, but other aspects of 'life' intrude from time to time. The science fiction non-profit I belong to recently had its annual convention, and for the week preceding, I pretty much lived on granola bars and diet colas as I tried to handle all the million details that needed to get done. The weekend convention passed, and you would think I would be able to get back to my writing. Didn't happen. More details to tidy up, plus a trip to plan, which meant getting the car tended, packing… If I wasn't busy with any of that, I was too tired to do anything but play mindless games. Finally, the convention is done, the driving done, and the vacation has begun.

Now can I get back to writing? I hope so. All those friends in my head have begun to think I've forgotten them. Ha! Like that could happen! See ya next week. Trudy

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A Challenge Issued

A member of one of my writing support groups – Broad Universe – has issued a challenge to other members, of sorts. We're supposed to set a goal to hit for words written in a day, for five days a week, for ten weeks. Keep track of how many words you write, and report your progress to the group every week. It's intended to give people a goal, support if they don't meet it, and congratulations if they do.

I'm off to a very rocky start. In six days, I've managed to write 453 words, 484 words, and 1006 words. I was hoping for 1000 words a day.

In my defense, I've got a lot going on in my life right now. I'm on the committee for OSFest 3, a local sf convention, and that is coming up in about four days. I was finally tracked down by my high school graduating class (not that I was trying to hide), and I spent the last 2 days traveling to and attending our class reunion. And my free-lance business does require some time. Which is exactly why this 'challenge' was issued. It's supposed to make us not be satisfied with a few stolen minutes of writing, but get us to actually devote some time to it.

That's actually what I'm supposed to be doing. Having retired from my day job, I was going to spend mornings on my free-lance stuff, afternoons on my writing, and maybe actually talk to my family in the evenings. Somehow, things have gotten all scrambled up, and I'm back to those 'stolen' moments for my writing.

I will be lucky if my numbers are even that good this next week. But the week after that … well, I'll have to wind things down after this year's convention, but at least I won't have people wanting answers at all hours of the day and night, and then I can try to straighten out my schedule, concentrate on getting some real writing done. Wish me luck.

Oh, and by the way, since I expect to be crumpled into a small fetal ball by next Sunday, after 3 days of convention, I probably won't manage a blog.    Trudy

Sunday, July 11, 2010

What to do, What to do?

Daw decided they did not care to offer for my maiden book. They weren't sure they could make an economic success of it. So, I'm back to the same question that has been bothering me since I finished it – what is my best option for getting this published?

This question probably faces every writer who finishes a story of any size … Who would be most likely to publish it? It's tough enough when you've finished a short story, but when you've finished a novel, you often feel befuddled, and keep second-guessing your choices. At least, I have. By the time I finished this novel, I'd been hearing that 'the big boys' of publishing no longer had a slush pile; that you had to have an agent. So for three years, I have sent queries to over two dozen agents. It would have been more, but it takes time to shuffle through long lists to find the ones that are not only legitimate but good, and who might be interested in representing my efforts.

When I saw an announcement that Daw was opening its slush pile, it seemed to be a sign to me. Since they have passed on this opportunity, what do I do now? Do I continue with the other two 'big boys' who still have slush piles? (One of them has been taking 'a second look' at a friend's manuscript for five years now.) Daw was quite speedy in their rejection, but that doesn't mean any others would be.

Still, I can't just sit here on my thumbs. I won't make any progress at all if I don't make any effort.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Another Look at Work Data

I figured while I was vacation, I really couldn't expect to get much data that would serve any purpose when I tried to use it 'back home'. But I did try a little experiment a couple nights this past week: There were a couple times when I actually got the computer for a couple hours at a stretch without any external distractions (such as my spouse asking things like, 'Are you done yet?', 'Did you see that email from ….?') So I sat down and opened up a story I'm trying to take from outline to rough draft, and I just worked through, to see how quickly I could manage it. My speed was about 500 words per hour. Wow. Am I good or what?

I suppose that doesn't sound like much. During my time as a secretary for a day job, I would have thought that a paltry amount. After all, I kept trying to get my typing speed up to 100 words per minute!

However, I now know that typing from copy and typing while composing really can't be compared like that. I already knew that typing from dictation could take 3 or 4 times as long as the voice took to say it (depending on how perfectly they wanted it replicated). When I researched these types of things, in order to set my price for free-lance typing, I discovered that composing (while typing) had an average speed of 5 words per minute, or about 300 words per hour. I'm able to work so fast on this particular story because large chunks of the 'outline' is already in rough draft form. It's too bad I wasn't paying more attention to how fast I was working when I composed the outline!

So, I would guess the rule of thumb is that if you are looking to write your rough draft, and you want to get down 1000 words per day, you should probably plan to spend at least 3 hours a day at it. Subsequent drafts would, I hope, move along faster.

I'm headed home now, and should be able to get back to something resembling a work schedule. See ya next week.    Trudy

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Stumbling Blocks

Sometime in May, I started keeping track of how much writing I get done each day. I wanted to try harder, but needed to know how much I was getting done as a starting point. Boy, am I all over the place.

Some days, I might do more than 4,000 words. Other days, I would struggle to do 300 words. And there have been a number of days when I didn't manage to do any writing at all. Well, I did go to a convention, and then drive to Florida. When we're on vacation, my spouse feels that we must spend twelve hours a day at the theme parks, so that doesn't leave much time – and even less energy – for writing.

But the thing is, I'm not managing 1,000 words a day. Frankly, I'm not even managing 100 words a day. Since the mantra is that a writer needs to write every day, does that make me a wanna be, rather than a writer?

Not in my mind. If I turn out to be a wanna-be, it'll be because I never find an audience, not because I don't manage to write every single day.

You know that old saying, "No man is an island"? Well, neither am I. I have family members who expect certain things from me, like some housework, meal cooking, and so forth. There's a certain amount of housework, yardwork and so forth that is expected of me by society, if not my family. Even as a writer, I have to spend some time researching markets where I can submit what I do write, and so forth. So I can't spend every minute of every day writing, no matter how much I want to. And I do want to, most days. I dream of taking a vacation to a place where I would need to do the minimum of housework and cooking, and could spend 90% of my awake time writing. I've had one or two like that, and I would like to schedule more of them.

Life is full of stumbling blocks, like things that need to get done before you can sit down to write. The trick is to stumble, and then get back up and move forward. So I'll work on getting some writing done as many days as I can, as well as aiming for more days where I get 4,000 words written, rather than 300. Wish me luck. See ya next week.        Trudy

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Dreams as Muse

Late with my blog again! Where do these days keep disappearing to?

I had a strange dream last night, and as I was trying to describe it to my spouse this morning, I thought back to other dreams I've had, particularly the ones I've tried to make into stories. Have you ever done that, used a dream as the basis for a story? Legend has it that Frankenstein started as Mary Shelley's nightmare, and a lot of non-writers think that all a writer has to do is convert their dreams into stories. I have tried it, and it's not as easy as those non-writers think it is.

Dreams may be extremely vivid while I'm having them, but fade quickly once I wake up. As I struggle to write down the beginning, the middle and end are fast disappearing from my memory.

Dreams may make perfect sense while I'm having them, but not in the cold light of day. When I try to explain a dream to my spouse, or write it down, I wind up using such explanations as 'somehow I know this', 'for some reason this happens', and so on. Stories don't work when they're full of somehow and unknown reasons, so I need to fill in those blanks as I convert the dream to story. Most of the time, that plays havoc with what came later in the dream. So far as I can remember it.

What limited success I've had in using dreams is when a particular dream manages to inspire a scene. A single scene. That's about the best I can hope for. And sometimes, even that doesn't work out. Of course, that doesn't keep me from dreaming.

So, how well do your dreams work as a muse? See ya next weekend. Trudy

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Dare Something New

I’m late this week because I was out of town, and then because I traveled even further out of town. Sorry about that.

I attended Conquest in Kansas City. I’ve been going there for many years, and enjoy it. The first day we were there, I had some down time, and turned to the rough draft I was working on. Unfortunately, I found myself bored with it. I decided I needed some time away from that story. After all, I’d been working on it pretty exclusively for 4 or 5 months. But none of the other stories I had half-written appealed to me, either.

Like at most conventions, I attended a number of panels and discussions, some only marginally of interest. (Why is it they put all the best panels opposite each other?) Sometimes I pushed the wallflower me into a corner and actually TALKED to friends, letting the conversation wander this way and that, loop back and take another path…

Then I went back to my room and started a new story. It doesn’t take place in any of the various universes I’ve already planned out and written stories for. It involved ideas from several panels, had found encouragement in the conversation with friends, who were willing to assist in exploring ideas. I can’t say that I pounded out a 5,000 word story in a couple hours, because I wasn’t that inspired. The idea was there, but changing that idea into a rough draft has been a little more difficult as I actually tried to make it believable. But it’s come along nicely, thank you, even though I’ve only had a few hours to spend on it since I started it last weekend.

So, dare something new. Just as some women find a new pair of shoes to be refreshing, and some people find a new hobby to give a fresh flavor to their life, your writing may need an infusion of something new from time to time. Don’t get stuck in a rut. See ya Sunday. Trudy

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Writer's Block

I’m glad this doesn’t happen (often) when I’m writing. I sat down to write this week’s blog, and my mind went blank. What could I possibly write about this week? Writer’s Block!

Happily, that only lasted long enough for me to realize the inability to write was a subject I could write about. And my fingers were off and running along the keyboard!

I’ve heard people talk about Writer’s Block, where an author has days, weeks - maybe even months or years – where they can’t write anything. Apparently, their characters don’t talk to them, they can’t see how the story progresses, and they are stuck in limbo. I shudder at the thought.

I don’t know if I can truly imagine a really bad case of Writer’s Block, but I have had times when I just couldn’t figure out what happened next. One day, I would be typing along just fine, and when I came back to that story the next day, I would not be able to see how the story should progress. Should Ann discover she’s pregnant? Should Bob call his old friend for help? Does the alien really want to be friends? Either I can’t see any direction in which to go, or all the possibilities are extremely unsatisfying, unlikely to get the story where it needs to go.

A few years ago, I reached one of those points, and finally, in desperation, I went back a few pages in what I had already written, and changed one of my previous decisions about what direction to take the story. I was soon typing along like crazy, my block gone. It worked that time, and a couple times since then, too. I hope it keep working, because I really can’t stand the thought of not being able to get these stories out.

See you next week. Trudy

Sunday, May 16, 2010

How Fast Can You Write?

First, everybody cross your fingers! I sent my romantic fantasy adventure manuscript to DAW on Friday, right before we headed for DemiCon in Des Moines!

At one of the writing panels I attended at Demicon, one author admitted that she had completed her latest manuscript (her 7th) in about 7, or maybe 8, weeks. She had to; she had a deadline to meet. Her first manuscript had taken her a year to complete. Later comments centered on how many books one had to have published each year in order to ‘make a living’ at writing. There were a lot of variables in there to be considered, but I found myself wondering about my speed of writing.

Gay Haldeman often advises aspiring writers to write ‘a page a day’, and that way, by the end of a year, they would have 365 pages written. Good advice for those just getting started, but I am a little bit beyond that stage. Once I’ve written the first version, I will rewrite and polish, so that I wind up with about 5 drafts of the same story. And I also let the story ‘rest’ for a time between rewrites, which is why I have more than one project in the works at a time. But basically, I wondered, how quickly could I finish one book?

I decided to set my sights on 1,000 words per day, which is actually about 2 pages (single-spaced). In one year, I could write 365,000 words. Would that produce a book a year? I considered my first manuscript’s statistics:
Outline = 1,000 words = 1 day
Rough Draft = 120,000 words = 120 days
Draft A = 150,000 words = 150 days
Draft B = 130,000 words = 130 days
Draft C = 110,000 words = 110 days
Final Draft = 100,000 words = 100 days

Which comes to a grand total of 611 days. Uh, oh, that’s definitely more than one year. Now, theoretically, rewriting will go faster than composing the rough draft, because you aren’t dreaming up new stuff, you are looking for ways to say things better than you originally said it. But at first glance, I need to step up my efforts, if I ever want to reach the point where my work is frequently placed in front of potential readers.

With that in mind, I’d better get back to work. See ya next week. Trudy

Sunday, May 9, 2010

And Then What?

I’ve been stuck trying to outline a mystery. This would be my first mystery, and maybe that’s part of why I’m stuck; I don’t feel like I know what I’m doing. I’ve even read a couple books on ‘how to write a mystery’, but I’m still stuck.

I’ve got my main protagonists. I’ve got the opening situation – a dead body in the trunk of a burning car. I’ve even got a minor complication to work in, in that some tiny clue will remind one of the characters of a significant time in her past. And then what?

I don’t know.

After finding the body, the Medical Examiner would fill in details, like the body’s gender, age, general size, and – hopefully – reason for death. Assuming the detectives on the scene could not figure that stuff out, and that would be determined by how badly the body was burned. That is where I’m stuck. There’s too many possibilities. Male or female? Child, teen, middle adult or old age? If female, was she pregnant?

Hopefully, deciding a few things would help me figure out those mundane little pieces of the plot – who killed this person, and why? The problem is, I’m too afraid I’ll make the ‘wrong’ decision.

I suspect there really isn’t any ‘wrong’ decision. At this point, any decision I make will point me in a direction, more decisions to be made, and so on, until the plot is settled. All I have to do is figure out which of the possibilities leads to the story I want to tell.

So wish me luck. Next weekend is Demicon in Des Moines, but I should be back on Sunday, so I’ll see you then. Trudy

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Characters React!

Last week, I talked about characters’ history, a past that shaped their personality. I thought about that this week as I wrote a difficult scene. I had two men, same age, cousins who had grown up like brothers, in the same town, with the same extended family, sharing everything. One evening a woman they had both dated reappeared, ready to exchange sexual favors for a job at a company they both own.

Now, I could have made that woman a desperate divorcee with two kids to support, but she’s not that type of woman, and this wasn’t her story.

So, I wondered, I’d made those men so much alike, how did I have them react differently to this?

Chuck was easy. He squirmed. He wasn’t interested in this woman, but couldn’t bring himself to toss her out. He brushed her hands away, told her repeatedly he couldn’t help her, dodged all her efforts to get closer.

Bob couldn’t react the same way. I paused to consider. What would have been different during their lives, and how would that influence their reactions in this situation? I actually came up with two things, one in their past (parents) and one in their present (girl friend). Chuck’s old-fashioned parents had taught him to be nice to women. Bob’s more modern parents had taught him to give respect where it was due. Plus, the girl Bob wants was extracting herself from an abusive marriage and was easily unnerved by conflict. So when the divorcee set her sights on Bob, I made him stand absolutely still. He doesn’t respect her, but he can’t order her out without upsetting the woman he wants. Eventually, he tells her to go to HR for an application, expecting to talk to HR as soon as she leaves. He looked calm, but his blood was boiling, because all the time the divorcee rubbed against him, he was thinking of the woman of his dreams.

Two men with the same background in so many ways. But I still managed to make them different when confronted with the same situation.

Everybody is different. Make sure your characters have differences when the need arises. See ya next week. Trudy

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Where Has Your Character Been?

Some writers seem to think that a character is whatever group of traits they feel like throwing together at a whim’s notice. Or they don’t bother to think beyond what they want that character to do in the course of the story.

Have you ever heard a writer say that a character ‘refused’ to do what they wanted him or her to do, or that their characters took over the story? I’m always eager to read that author after I’ve heard that. They have thought out a history and personality for their characters, so their characters are not simply puppets. That always makes the stories more interesting.

One of my characters is an only daughter, born after her parents had eight sons. You might think she would be a tomboy, and indeed, she started out that way. But once she approached her teens, her father – who had never given up his womanizing ways – realized that other men would see HIS daughter the same way he saw women, the same way all his sons saw women. And that was not what he wanted for HIS daughter, so she was chaperoned every place she went. What does this tell me about this girl?

1. With eight older brothers, she had to learn how to hold her own, so she was quite adept at rough and tumbling, when the need arose.
2. After so much freedom as a child, never being left alone as a teen had her chaffing something fierce. She was desperate to get out from under her father’s thumb.
3. Since she wasn’t stupid, she knew why she was chaperoned everywhere, and also didn’t trust any man she met.

So, with one quirk in a character’s father, I’ve produced three traits of my character. There were other people, other events in her history that also influenced her as she was taking shape. She is a complicated person, just as real people are. That’s the kind of care you should be taking in creating your characters. Make them ‘real’. And then they will tend to tell you how the story goes.

See ya next week. Trudy

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Where to Submit Your Efforts

I just got back from Constellation, an sf convention in Lincoln NE. This was its first year, and it was a small and intimate convention. There was one editor there, Tyree Campbell of Sam’s Dot Publishing. I’ve talked to Tyree many times, at many conventions over the years. This time, he turned to me and asked, “How come you’ve never submitted anything to me?”

Caught off guard, I decided truth was the best policy, so I smiled and said, “I haven’t worked my way down to you.” Then I explained that I start by sending my stories to ‘the Big Boys’, and work my way down to the smaller markets. He agreed that in general, that was a good idea.

As we continued our conversation, I lamented that I had written a novella two years ago and submitted it to an anthology. I had come ‘that close’ to being accepted, but in the end, they had declined my piece. In two years, I had not found another market where I could submit that novella. “Send it to me!” Tyree declared.

Yes, he was full of surprises this weekend. I wasn’t surprised by the idea that Sam’s Dot might use a novella. But it’s a rather unusual genre, one I didn’t think much of anybody published.

Anyway, I’m excited. And hopeful. And a little stunned. I certainly had never thought I’d find an opportunity like that at a small local convention. But I’m not going to ignore it. And if you find yourself face-to-face with a similar opportunity, I hope you won’t ignore it.

See ya next week. Trudy

Monday, April 12, 2010

What Would You Give Up?

Time got away from me this past weekend. We went to Willycon, a very small SF convention held on campus at Wayne, Nebraska. We always enjoy Willycon because – being such a small convention – the opportunity to get some serious face-to-face time with the guests of honor is very much there.

This year’s Author Guest of Honor was David J Williams. He was a wonderful man, full of common sense and encouragement, like so many authors. One of the things he said in his first panel on ‘the life of a genre writer’ was, you have to decide what you are willing to give up in order to write. I wanted to say, “I would willingly give up housework.” Of course, that’s not acceptable – nobody wants to live in the midst of filth and chaos, and I and my family are no different.

I commented later in the weekend that writing – for me – had become something of an obsession. So … what have I given up? I’ve thought about that in the past 24 hours, and I’ve found a few things. I’ve given up all my other ‘hobbies’ – painting, knitting, embroidery, to name a few. I seldom cook a meal anymore that can’t be shoved in the oven and forgotten for a couple hours, or slapped together in half an hour or less. Bless my family’s patience for putting up with that. And, I reached a point where I could give up my full-time day job. (I retired and only need a part-time job to make up the difference.)

Mr Williams explained that when he started writing, he had a very demanding job that sometimes stretched late into the weekday evenings, but his weekends were devoted to writing. No going out, no social life, just work during the week, and writing on the weekends. It worked for him.

So, if you really want to write, what have you given up to do it? If you weren’t writing, what would you be doing with that time? See ya next week. Trudy

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Every Tom, Dick and Harry

Let's talk about characters. Most stories have some, so they must be important.

Don't get confused; a spear-chukker is not a real character. A spear-chukker is someone who comes into the picture long enough to do one thing, and is probably never seen again; the native who throws a spear at a hovering helicopter, the neighbor who complains about the barking dog. Spear-chukkers may or may not be given a name, and are given the skimpiest of descriptions.

A real character is more than a name and some physical attributes. They have personalities that are theirs because of their history, their hopes and dreams. Let's suppose Tom, Dick and Harry are all told, one day, that their girl friend is pregnant. The first reaction of Tom, age 17, might be a slight smile, for this proves that 'he is a man'. Dick, age 36, might panic, because how is he going to tell his wife? And Harry, age 71, might wonder who the father is, because he hasn't actually touched her in six months.

On the other hand, Tom, having watched his elder sister pop out a baby with every new boy friend, might encourage his girl friend to get an abortion and plan better. Dick might immediately file for divorce from his barren shrew of a wife, and Harry might have been waiting for years for an 'heir', knowing himself incapable of reproducing.

Every decision you make about your characters' past will influence their reaction to what happens in your story, so pause to think about those past experiences, and pick them carefully.

See ya next week. Trudy

Sunday, March 28, 2010

More Real Life

I keep coming up with ways ‘real life’ can be analogous to writing. Well, give me a break; real life has conspired to give me a head cold for the trip home, and all my thoughts are sticky with ‘head cold goo’ and won’t move around well.

So, I started out in Florida, where nobody paid attention to the posted speed limit of 70. The far left lane (of 3) was for those driving at 80+. Then I got to Georgia, where the Florida Speedway quickly became the Georgia Parking Lot – miles of stop / creep / stop / creep. I forget how many times it happened, pretty much the entire length of I75 through Georgia, except going through Atlanta. And seldom, when you finally got to the point where you could speed up, was there any clue for the jam.

Did you know that if you enter Nashville on I24, and want to leave Nashville on I24, there is no lane you can get in and stay in and stay on I24? I felt like I was playing hop scotch; skip left two lanes for a left exit, skip right one lane for a right exit, skip right another lane for another right exit, then skip left two lanes for a left exit!

Stories are kind of like that, don’t you think? If there’s nothing getting in the protagonist’s way as you tell the story, the story zips along at 80+ mph and gets done quickly, leaving the reader to wonder what all the fuss was about. If something does get in the way – whether you call them bumps, problems, challenges, or stalled trucks – the speed of the story will be inconsistent, and the tension will build. Likewise, if your story line jogs here and there, as your protagonist tries this angle, and then that path, it will help to keep your reader on their toes, wondering which way the story will go next, and will the protagonist actually get where he wants to go?

So, ‘map’ out your story line, and don’t forget to add some difficulties. Road trips never seem to go as smoothly as we expect they will, do they? A story that travels a straight line to its obvious conclusion isn’t much of a story. See ya next week. Trudy

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Real People

There was one panel on writing at Megacon, and during that panel, an audience member asked how much ‘real life’ did they have to give their characters?

Enough to make them seem like real people.

Like those of us who actually have to deal with problems and issues, your characters need some, too. Let’s examine 3 recent, consecutive days in my life, and see if anything is applicable to a character.

Day 1 – Went to a water park, but forgot to take my sunscreen with me (left it right there, by the front door, as I walked out) and got sunburned. If your character is described as ‘pale’ or ‘freckled’, and you place them in the sun for hours, but they don’t sunburn, they won’t seem real. I have one character who, challenged to an all-day cross-country marathon by a couple American Indian crewmates while on planetside R&R, put on a sunsuit (think UV-blocking leotard with gloves and helmet) in order to avoid a sunburn. If you don’t want this character to have this problem, don’t have them forget their sunblock.

Day 2 – Heard a ‘funny noise’ every time the car brakes were applied. Turned out to be nothing, but what would be the consequences if your character heard the noise? Would they take the time to have it checked out and miss something important when they aren’t on stake out? Or would their brakes fail while chasing (or being chased by) the bad guy?

Day 3 – Was reminded by my car to ‘change oil soon’. This used to be an idiot light on the dash, now it flashes on the radio screen. And according to the reminder sticker on my windshield, I still had 1000 miles before I needed to do that, which could take 10 weeks to put on my car. If your character ignores this ‘gentle’ reminder, gets so used to it being on his radio screen, how long before his engine seizes up?

So, when you come to it, ‘real life’ issues can not only add dimension to your character, but also add complications to your plot. Pick your issues well, and use them wisely.

Will be driving home next Sunday, so might not get a blog posted until Monday. See you then. Trudy

Sunday, March 14, 2010


Just attended a big comic convention in Orlando called Megacon. Not much happening there about writing (except for comics), but lots of panels on art (mostly comics), costuming and independent film making. Surprisingly, a lot of these ‘other’ subjects still had some bearing on writing.

Let’s take an easy example: continuity. Movies, I understand, are not shot scene 1, scene 2, and so on. They will shoot ALL the scenes that happen in the living room, and then ALL the scenes that happen in the garden, and so on. They have someone who keeps track of the details, to keep the continuity consistent. So, if the story has Mary in a blue sundress and ponytail in the living room, and she goes out to the garden to cut some flowers for a vase, she doesn’t show up in the garden in a pink sweatsuit and a beehive.

I’ve seen authors who can’t seem to keep track of their own continuity. One had the protagonist picked up at the airport, taken to a grimy vehicle in the parking lot, where she and the acquaintance climb in. That’s the end of one chapter. At the very beginning of the next chapter, they are still outside the vehicle, and the protagonist – who was so dismayed by the filthy condition of the vehicle's exterior – leans her back against that vehicle as they discuss their next activity. It is boggling to my mind that not only did the author miss this in all her rewrites, but apparently, it was also missed by all her alpha- and beta-readers, her agent, her editors,…

So, some could say that I did nothing ‘writing related’ during this con weekend. I don’t agree with that, because a) I learned things, which is always good for a writer, and b) I kept figuring out how to take that info and apply it to writing.

See ya next week. Trudy

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Time Commitment

Have you ever taken a guess how long it would take you to finish a project, and then found that actually doing the project took a vastly different amount of time? I’m very good at that: If I guess a project will take an hour, it might actually take anywhere from 10 minutes to 4 ½ hours. I guess that why I call them a guess.

Practice helps. After years of commuting to the same job location from the same home, I knew it took me about 20 minutes to get there most mornings, a couple minutes more to take the same route home in the afternoon. But I still had this tendency to forget about the time needed to gather my stuff together, get it to the car, and then get it into the other building at the end of the ride. Some things are so routine, we tend to forget they take time, too.

What’s this got to do with writing? As an as-yet unpublished writer, I don’t have any publisher, editor or even agent breathing down my neck about when I’m going to get my next piece of work done. I could re-write my novel 47 times, if I wanted. Of course, if I did, I wouldn’t get anything new written, and my chances of getting published would plummet.

Writers need deadlines, in my opinion. And new writers like me need to set our own deadlines. Gay Haldeman often says, “If you write one page a day, every day, at the end of a year, you’ll have written 365 pages, and that’s a book.” That seems like an achievable deadline, even if you are working a ‘day job’. One page a day. And the second year, you could edit one page a day. It’s not prolific writing, but it is writing, and you will make progress.

But don’t ask me how long it takes to write a page.
See ya next week. Trudy

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Peek a Boo

I've been doing some critiquing for an on-line critique group I belong to, and this story is about to make me pull out my hair. It looks like a rough draft; incorrect punctuation, strange sentence construction, incorrect use of pronouns, wandering verb tense ... The list goes on and on. To my mind, this story isn't ready for a critique.
I understand that sometimes people want to get someone's opinion about whether a story idea is viable. Fine. Get a friend to read it for a general impression. But don't waste the time of a critiquer on a rough draft.
In my mind, a critique will point out blunders you haven't noticed as you've tried to craft this story, and some of those blunders might be huge, while others are really tiny. But when you send out something with lots and lots of grammatical errors that you couldn't be bothered to fix, you are wasting their time, as they attempt to find a tactful way to tell you to clean up your manuscript. You have to clean up all those punctuation and verb tense problems anyway, so why not look like you are at least trying to do a professional job?
Like all those other writers who are taking the time to critique your work for you, I would really rather spend that extra 5 or 10 minutes working on my own story. I don't mind helping a fellow writer, if that writer seems willing to do a re-write by hunting down and correcting what mistakes he/she can find without my help. Think of it as a quest to turn out a perfect manuscript. If you can do that much for a critiquer, you are that much closer to having a manuscript that's ready to be seen by an editor.
My husband has joined me on vacation, so now it's two of us cramming blog posts into our occasional visits to the local bookstore with free wifi. Still, it wasn't bad this time. See ya next week.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Do Your Homework

Sunday night, I finished a 2-day road trip from H***. I didn’t have any car troubles (except nearly running out of gas after dark in the wilds of Mississippi), but a trip that I expected to take 24 hours over two days took more like 30. Why? Lack of planning, although I had convinced myself I had things well in hand, before I actually left home.

Back when my family was driving to Orlando for our vacations, we had a ‘regular’ route. But in February, I wasn’t sure I trusted the weather in those Kentucky mountains, so I picked a ‘southern route’, to get out of the snow as fast as I could. What I didn’t notice, as I planned this route, was that the road that took me into Birmingham AL never came out again, and never connected to the road I wanted to take out of Birmingham. And just because a road is shown on the map as a divided highway doesn’t make it ‘limited access’, nor does it guarantee a consistent speed limit. I have taken so many vacations sticking to Interstate highways, I had forgotten these very basic things. Hence, the southern route that had looked so promising took a lot longer to make it work.

What does this have to do with writing? It reminds me of a basic tenant of writing that I didn’t understand for a long time … do your research.

I write fiction. I don’t actually have to research anything, do I? It’s all a matter of my imagination, right? Well, yes and no. I decide the route I take, but if I expect a character to, oh, say, commit murder, then I’d better make sure there’s a connection between what comes before that drives that person to murder and whatever actions he/she takes after the murder. And will the plot be an interstate, with very few options to veer off course, or only a highway, with plenty of opportunities to take a wrong turn or get caught in a slow zone?

Do your research. And when you think you’ve got things all planned out, take another look.

Now to find some wi-fi to get this posted. Assuming I can do that, I’ll see ya next week.