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I, the undersigned, resolve to . . .

new-years-resolution-be-more-awesomeMy New Year’s Writing Goals. Attainable, me thinks. Sorry I’m a few days late . . .

Education & Networking
• Become member of the Florida Writer’s Association
• Attend Florida Writer’s Association Conference in October
• Attend 9 of the local writers club meetings.
• Read 10 novels and write a short synopsis of what I learned.
• Blog once a week

Writing
• Finish rough draft of The Gideon Plan.
• Write two new short stories or resurrect two old ones.

Publishing
• Publish one short story or receive 10 rejection letters trying.

How about you guys? What are your writing goals?

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Metamorphosis of a Story- Part Seven

SwanFinding the Right Market

It’s been a little while since I posted on the progress of Swan Lady. Beta has been finished for awhile and I appreciate those who got back to me with their comments.

The next part of the story’s journey is tricky. I need to find it a home. At first glance, this seems like it would be fairly easy, but its not.

I need to find a magazine that publishes stories like Swan Lady. Now, I can’t just find any magazine that publishes fantasy and send it in. Every magazine has its own little niche and it takes a little time to investigate each magazine to find out what that niche is. So far, I’ve checked out three: Asimov’s, Tales of the Talisman, and Apex. Asimov’s seems to only publish established writers. I can’t compete with that crowd because this is my first story. Tales of the Talisman publishes dark fantasy. Apex is literary. Swan Lady is a (bitter) sweet story and wouldn’t fit in either of these. So, the search continues.

Despite the slow going, there is some good news: I’ve written more than one short story and one of them would fit well in Tales of the Talisman. My story, Pool Sharks was written about ten years ago and I recently resurrected it. I have gotten some feedback on it and I am now in the progress of getting it in shape to send in. I’ll let you guys know how that goes. A copy of the story is here.

WIP UPDATE: I don’t know about you guys, but my Christmas and New Year’s holiday is frantic. The kids are home for two weeks. We got lots of family visiting. We travel. All and all, its just a hard time to write. So, I’m giving myself a little break on the Gideon Plan. In the mean time, I’ll read, get some Short Stories queued up, and basically just recharge my batteries so I can go at it again come the New Year.

Planner vs. Pantser– FIGHT!!

Mortal CombatWriters have some strange jargon. Planner and Pantser appeared on my radar about a year ago. When I first saw them I think my response was along the lines of, “What the . . . ?”

They are easy to remember:

Planner: Plans the novel from start to finish and then writes. “Thou shalt outline or your story is going to publisher hell.”

Pantser: “Flies by the seat of the pants.” In other words, just wing that mutha’.

This is a pretty big thing debated in the writing community. I attended a writing workshop last Saturday and the first thing out of the speaker’s mouth was, “Outline!” The crowd kinda shifted in their seats and mumbled to one another, but what were they to do? They were held captive by this outlining fiend.

So, Dan’s two bits, because I have the e-soap box right now . . .

Our speaker made the analogy of what person in his right mind would build a house without a blueprint? Nobody, that’s who! Great analogy. Problem is, I’m not building a house, I’m writing a story.

A lot about writing a story is about discovery. How many times have we written a scene, going in full well knowing what is supposed to happen and our characters take it in a completely different direction? Sometimes this is good and sometimes its not, but this is what writing is about. You can’t always force it to your will. How do you blueprint that? You can’t.

Video game analogy time! Number three rule of game design—you will make a game design doc at the start of the project, and by the end its best use will be to wipe your butt. You know why? It’s because what sounds good on paper doesn’t always work out on the screen. Game designers need time to figure out what works best for their game and their audience. This is true with story writing too.

Now, let me back track a little before folks think I’m a pantser. I’m not espousing that either. Going back to this presenter, his talk was about story structure: beginning, middle, and end. He was adamant that people understand what each entails. I agree with him, however, this in no way entails that a writer outline—it simply means that a writer needs to understand story structure. Our presenter said that he speaks to published authors all the time that don’t outline—it’s because they understand story structure. This is key!

So, I challenge my writer friends out there—whether you are a planner or a pantser—do you really understand story structure? Heck, do you even know what it means? It could save you some headaches!

WIP Update: I hit a milestone today. I finished the bursts for my protagonist (uncertainty about particular scenes was conquered). Next step–I go through  all the bursts and arrange them so they create a rough draft. After that, I tackle another character’s bursts.  Yay me!

How to Beat the Blank Page

writers-block1-300x200We’ve all been there: staring at that blank monitor screen, dreading the glowing white void. All our dreams seem to be sucked away into that nothingness.

We ask ourselves, “What happened to the great scene that was floating around in my head just yesterday evening?” We make an excuse to get away from the screen, figuring, in a little while, the muse will show up and all will be well. Meanwhile, three hours later, after making cookies and watching a couple of shows on Netflix, were lying in bed reading a book with tears welling in our eyes, “God, another day without writing. I’m a failure! Why do I even try?”

Curse you blank page!

No one but us writers seem to understand why the blank page is such a terrifying adversary. I’m sure it has doomed many a budding career. Fortunately, I have developed a method to whip it.

I’ve discussed writing in bursts before. This is a method where you don’t write in complete thoughts, rather just write down little snippets of narrative as they come to you. This is how I beat the dreaded white page—every single time..

Foremost, what we are looking for, is to get past the first 10-15 minutes of writing. This is how long it takes someone to get into the so called “zone.” You know—where the pump is finally primed and the words are flowing like so much water from the faucet.

  1. Pull up that dreaded blank page. Stare at it. Don’t be afraid of it, because in a second, its ass is going to be kicked.
  2. Yesterday, or the day before, or sometime this morning when you were in the shower, a scene was in your head. You may not remember all of it, but I bet you remember at least one snippet of it. Write that down. It doesn’t matter what it is.  It can be a short description. It can be a line of dialogue.  It may not be a complete sentence.  Heck, it doesn’t even have to be all that good.
  3. Oh look, the page is no longer blank. Score one for you. Think back on that scene. Write something else you remember about it. Again, it doesn’t matter what it is. Also, this is important— the snippets don’t have to be in order of appearance of the scene. Just write it down. Double space-it helps fill up the blank page. Also, don’t edit. Keep the fingers going.
  4. Rinse and repeat. Soon, you will have a string of bits of your scene. It won’t make sense to anyone but yourself, but that’s fine. After about 10-15 minutes of this, you will find that the muse has suddenly returned and you are in the zone.
  5. Feel free to go back and put your little snippets in order of appearance. I would suggest keeping them double spaced. As you put them in order, you will find more snippets come to you. Write them down.  Put them in order of appearance. Feel free to enlarge your original snippets as things come to you or join snippets with other snippets if they go together.
  6. Voila. No more blank page! Also, I bet you anything by the time you are finished, you have a pretty good rough draft for a scene.

WIP Update: After kicking a lot of blank page ass this last week, I’m pretty pleased with my progress. I’ve set a goal of finishing my bursts for the story’s main character by the end of the month, but I’m getting stuck on the plot toward the very end (the story’s climax).  I’m not really sure what happens exactly. I may need to blog about this next week.

Yes, Virginia, There Really is a Monomyth

monomythA long time ago, in a video game school far, far away . . . one of my teachers gave a lecture about story. He talked about the Hero’s Journey and recommended it’s structure for story creation. His presentation impressed quite a few of my friends and though I didn’t fully appreciate it at the time, I filed the Hero’s Journey to the back of my mind to be studied later.

The Hero’s Journey goes a little something like this:

In the late 1940s, Joseph Campbell, a mythologist and writer, wrote a book called The Hero with a Thousand Faces. This book argued that all ancient myths followed some type of form or pattern. Campbell called it the monomyth or the Hero’s Journey. His work greatly influenced George Lucas when he wrote Star Wars.

Over the years, I have tried to understand Campbell’s work, but I just didn’t get it. He used jargon that I wasn’t familiar with and his descriptions of the patterns seemed vague. Overall, it just seemed too academic and I kept putting it to the side.

Fast forward to my writing ‘career’ in the last year or so. One of the things I have struggled with is plot and story structure, particularly middles and endings. I read a few books on the subject, but nothing seemed to help. I decided to look at the Hero’s Journey again.

This time, things clicked. And it’s because of Christopher Vogler.

Vogler is a writing consultant for the movie industry. He has a solid grasp of the monomyth and he knew its concepts could be used to help writers. However, he found that a lot of people he worked with had the same problem I had—they just didn’t understand Campbell’s work. So, he broke it down for them into everyday lingo. He later wrote a book about it–The Writer’s Journey.

A synopsis of the structure outlined in Vogler’s book is here. It finally helped me understand the concepts of the Hero’s Journey. Soon, I was watching movies and dissecting them based upon Vogler’s structure. There really is a monomyth!

For those of you that would like to have a better understanding of story structure, I highly recommend Vogler’s work. He is NOT pushing for a formula as some people suggest, he is arguing that all good stories have a form that the human consciousness seems to understand and expect. It was a life changing book for me—pure and simple.

WIP Update: I’m neck deep in the Gideon Plan. I have decided to focus on the main character’s story first, using the Hero’s Journey as a guide. I’m writing a lot of ‘bursts’ and expect to be done at the end of the month. At this rate, I should be finished with the novel in oh . . . about five years . . .

Defrosting Han Solo

Four months ago, I made the difficult decision of putting my much beloved story the Gideon Plan in suspended animation.

I felt like I was doing the story an injustice by trying to do something so large in scope when I was not ready. I decided to start out small, write some short stories and then work on something a little bigger—novella sized maybe.

Over the last four months, I wrote five short stories, which I am pleased with. Then I got stuck. I didn’t want to write short stories anymore. I wanted something larger. I thought about going back to Sphinx, which was scoped for about 40-50,000 words, but I couldn’t get into it. The result: I’ve written very little over the last 45 days and I am frustrating myself.

All this while, my mind has kept wandering back to the Gideon Plan. I kept telling myself the same thing—it’s too big! It’s too over scoped! It has no chance of getting published because you won’t do it right! It’s going to take you years to complete!

But, you know what? It’s the only thing I really want to write about right now.

So, maybe it’s stupid of me, but I’m going back to it . . . and you know what? I’m pretty damned excited about it.

Defrosting time . . .

Writing is Like . . . Pie

A few weeks ago, I ranted about the concept of having to write every day because there is many times where there are more important things to do to make you a fiction producing machine. It made me wonder, how do I spend my time in the whole writing process? For a month, I have been keeping track of the time I put into the different areas of writing. I wanted to share it. I give you (drum roll)—a pie. A pie chart to be specific.

This represents a total of 94.75 hours I put into the writing process for the month of October and what I did with that time. Here’s a break down of what each slice means.

Reading– This is reading works of fiction. A writer reads . . . a lot. This is also closely related to Craft Analysis, because I certainly do a lot of it while reading, but I also just read for pleasure lots of times.

Writing– Current WIP, various writing exercises, and random writing. Includes rewrite time. I did not do nearly as much writing as I wanted to this month. I hit writer’s block about three weeks ago and it made for a rough month. Oh well—there’s always November!

Research– Any type of research that is related to my WIPs.

Inspiration Searching– Looking for ideas for a new story. I spent quite a bit of time doing this this month. This is mostly non-fiction reading.

Critique Review– Gathering and synthesizing feedback from WIPs.

Story Thinking– Down time to just think about WIPs and possible stories. For me, a lot of this just dead ended for me. Very frustrating.

Craft Analysis– Analyzing other works of fiction (not just reading it, but looking to see what they did right, wrong, etc.), and researching craft in general (for instance, I spent quite a bit of time researching the Hero’s Journey.)

Publishing Research– Looking into the market to find homes for my WIPs.

Click to enlarge!

So, what do you think? Does this reflect the efforts you put into your own writing? What’s different?

Ciao for now.

P.S. Good luck to my NaNo friends!